New York Times Profiles The Yarmulke Basket at Bialystoker Synagogue


bialystoker-shulUzi Silber reports in the New York Times:

Like most synagogues, the Bialystoker Synagogue, on the Lower East Side, keeps a stash of skullcaps in the foyer, for anyone who forgot to bring one. In a tattered wicker basket, under a collection of limp nylon kippot and forgettable leather circles, lies a layer of shimmering velvet and satin yarmulkes in gaudy pinks, lemons, baby blues and golds.

They are genuine antiques, and not just bits of textile treasure. Inside each is an inscription: names and dates from some long-ago wedding or bar mitzvah. The most recent in the trove was produced in the disco era, but several harked back to the Eisenhower years. They chronicled events not just at Bialystoker, a century-old Orthodox synagogue in a landmark building, but also from around the region, perhaps left by visitors, or brought by congregants cleaning out the drawers of parents who have died.

“People decided they didn’t need as many yarmulkes as they’ve accumulated over the years, so they delivered them to the synagogue, where they could be put to good use,” said Sheldon Silver, the speaker of the New York State Assembly, who has been a member of Bialystoker since 1957. “My wife prohibits me from bringing home any more yarmulkes from Jewish weddings.”

For generations, celebrants at fancier affairs have provided guests with custom-made commemorative skullcaps, sometimes inscribed with a tidbit of poetry or inspiration. During the events, these color-coded kippot, often matching the bridesmaid dresses or the table napkins, form a unified sea across the congregation and dance floor. The more opulent the affair, the more extravagant the skullcap.

The old wicker basket can be seen as a velvet- and satin-lined chronicle of the Jewish-American experience. Here is a look at a few of the old souvenirs inside, and the couples at whose weddings they were worn.


WED June 18, 1967; Aperion Manor, Brooklyn

YARMULKE Eggshell satin

THEN It was a rainy Father’sDay. Guests were served a buffet. The couple flew to St. Thomas, in the Virgin Islands, that evening.

SINCE THEN The Nowitzes, who are 63 and met while students at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, moved to Olympia, Wash., from Woodbridge, N.J., eight years ago, following their two grown children. He was an engineer, she a librarian. They have three grandchildren.

Ms. Nowitz: Someone told me it was lucky if it rains on your wedding day. Turns out to be true – our marriage survived 43 years.


WED Sept. 8, 1963; Eastside Gluckstern’s Restaurant

YARMULKE Baby blue satin

THEN Shirley grew up on the Lower East Side, a few blocks from Gluckstern’s; Ratner’s, where she had a bridal shower; their wedding photographer; and the store on Grand Street where she paid $300 to have a wedding gown made – on the condition she return it. “It was made specifically for me with the option not to buy it,” Mrs. Gollin recalled.

SINCE THEN The Gollins – she is 72, he 75 – have two sons and seven grandchildren; they moved a decade ago from Parsippany, N.J., to a retirement home in Manchester, N.J.

Mrs. Gollin: I had very long hair, and every bride wore their hair down in those days. I wore mine up. This was me, I wasn’t going to change. And my dad was yelling at me, ‘You can’t walk down the aisle like that.’ I wore it up. I actually walked from the beauty salon, from Grand and Essex, with my crown on my head to the apartment. That was me.


WED Sept. 10, 1960; President Hotel, Swan Lake, N.Y.

YARMULKE Gold satin

THEN One hundred fifty wedding guests stayed at the hotel, in the Catskills, from Thursday through Sunday brunch.

SINCE THEN Mr. Mendelson, 73, and his three older brothers closed the last of their chain of kosher butcher shops in Miami two years ago, unable to survive the competition from large supermarkets. Mrs. Mendelson, 69, worked in the meat business in the early years, then mostly raised their three children, who have produced four grandchildren.

Mr. Mendelson: During the summers, we’d open another shop in the Catskills – Mendelson & Sons Kosher Meat Market – serving all the hotels and bungalow colonies. That’s where I met my wife. We closed the shop in the Catskills the year after Woodstock.


WED Nov. 18, 1978; Congregation Agudath Shalom, Stamford, Conn.

YARMULKE Gray velvet

THEN A mutual friend told Gail about the nice Jewish boy she had for her, while informing Abe about Gail in parallel fashion. They married 14 months later. “My groomsmen wore – I’ll never forget this because they wanted to kill me – white shirts with pink ruffle trim,” Mrs. Boms said. “Oh, God, did they want to kill me.”

SINCE THEN The Boms, who are both 57 and live in Brookfield, Conn., have two grown children and are expecting their first grandchild in November. She is a radiology technician, he a pharmaceutical executive.

Mrs. Boms: One of my husband’s best friends was at the Concord Hotel. We were taking two weeks off for our honeymoon. So we went to Barbados and we came back, and we said we don’t want to go back to work – to reality. So we went to the Concord, not knowing it was a Jewish singles weekend. We just stuck to ourselves.


WED Aug. 16, 1969; Great Neck Synagogue, on Long Island

YARMULKE Pink velvet with lace

THEN The rabbi refused to allow snapshots during the wedding ceremony; then, at the reception, the photographer forgot to capture the groom’s family.

SINCE THEN Mr. Marquis, 66, retired in 2002 after 22 years as a podiatrist in the Navy and now lives in Alabama, where he has a private practice. Mrs. Marquis, who trained people in computers at the Defense and Education Departments, died last winter at 64, of a heart attack.

Mr. Marquis: It was a beautiful marriage. She was a lovely woman. Kind, considerate; she was my blessing in life. Is it possible to get the yarmulke? It would be a tremendous memento.

{NY Times/}


  1. Lets also remember that the Bialystoker Synagogue has a plaq to the memory of one Bairush BR Mordechai Dov Halevi – Benjamin Siegel.

    AKA – Bugzy Segal