Tefillin are two boxes, each with a passage of the Torah inside of them, with two leather straps attached. Each day, except on the Sabbath and Jewish holidays, men are required to put one on their forehead and one on their right arm while praying, to remember the promise that God made with the Jewish people thousands of years earlier. Keeping with the tradition, my great-grandfather Jack Coopersmith brought his tefillin with him from Poland to New York City’s Lower East Side sometime around the 1920s. Although my great-grandfather did “Americanize” by learning English, he still upheld his Jewish traditions. Jack had no interest in learning English. However, my great-grandmother Esther believed that it was extremely important to know in English in America. Every day she sat with the New York Times and a Yiddish-English dictionary and slowly learned the language. She finally managed to convince Jack to learn the language when she told him that their son would not be accepted into public school if Jack did not know English. And so, Jack learned the language, even though there was no requirement to do so. Esther knew that the only way to get Jack to learn English was if not knowing the language would harm his children’s future. The bags which hold the tefillin were embroidered by his grandson Shimmy’s wife in Israel, around the 1970s. After he passed away, my great-grandfather left his precious tefillin to my father, so that he too may continue in this tradition.

Place(s): Poland,Lower East Side

– Sarah

Relationship:  Great-grandchild of im/migrant or more Great-grandchild of im/migrant or more