Processing Archivist Amy Lazarus and I recently had the opportunity to look into several reels of tape found with the William A. Rosenthall Judaica Collection. These reels were especially intriguing as we had no immediate way to listen to them and only the slightest hint at their content–a note slipped into one of the boxes indicating that they dated from Rabbi Rosenthall’s time at the Woodsdale Temple, home of Congregation L’Shem Shomayim in Wheeling, West Virginia. Rosenthall served as rabbi of this congregation from his appointment in August 1958 until he left in February 1962 to take the position of executive director of the World Union for Progressive Judaism.
For assistance, we reached out to Rick Zender, curator of the John Rivers Communication Museum located on the College of Charleston campus. The museum holds a wide range of devices used throughout communication history, including radios, telephones, phonographs, and televisions. They also hold a reel-to-reel recorder, which Rick helped us use to listen to the reels of tape from the Rosenthall Collection.
One of the reels contains a recording of a service held on the morning of Rosh Hashanah at the Woodsdale Temple. In the following clip, you can hear Rabbi Rosenthall reading from the prayer book during the service. Documents from Rosenthall’s personal papers tell us that the congregation adopted the Union Prayer Book in 1897; it was replaced by Gates of Prayer in 1975.
A second reel contains a recording of a skit performed at the 1959 convention of the West Virginia Federation of Temple Sisterhoods, which was held in Wheeling. A write-up in the June 1959 Woodsdale Temple Bulletin describes the convention:
“In the estimation of the ladies of the Congregation the outstanding event of the spring was undoubtedly the 31st Biennial Convention of the West Virginia Federation of Temple Sisterhoods of April 14 and 15. For the first time in many years our own organization was the hostess sisterhood. Wheeling buzzed with consecrated activity, and the afterglow is one of resounding success… Not only was Wheeling brought into bright focus in Sisterhood affairs by the convention itself but also–indeed, especially–by the happy assumption of the State presidency by our tireless Janis Stein. She succeeded Helene Rotgin of Charleston. A talented crew presented a delightfully amusing skit, ‘The Case of the Mistaken Tuesday’ after the buffet supper.”
“The Case of the Mistaken Tuesday” was written and directed by Irene Rosenthall, wife of Rabbi William A. Rosenthall. In the skit, a woman happens upon the Sisterhood convention while intending to attend a lecture by the rabbi entitled “Sex and Judaism,” which is actually scheduled to take place the following Tuesday. The members of the Sisterhood take the opportunity to explain to her the group’s purpose and activities in both word and song. Lyrics of hits from several contemporary musicals, including The King and I, My Fair Lady, Damn Yankees, Oklahoma!, and South Pacific are tweaked and utilized to elucidate these activities. In the following clip, Sisterhood members discuss several initiatives, including religious school teacher training and stationary sales, then describe the work of the Sisterhood “Caravan” to the tune of “Some Enchanted Evening” from South Pacific.
The finale of the skit is a celebration of the convention set to the tune of the title song from Oklahoma!.