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God Bless America: 1942

August 1942. "Window of a Jewish religious shop on Broome Street." We'll take a calendar and two cans of Magic, please. Medium format nitrate negative by Marjory Collins for the Office of War Information. View full size.

August 1942. "Window of a Jewish religious shop on Broome Street." We'll take a calendar and two cans of Magic, please. Medium format nitrate negative by Marjory Collins for the Office of War Information. View full size.


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Torah "Scroll"

It's more likely that what's being sold is not the Torah scroll itself, but the "mantle" - the embroidered cover. These covers are usually made of silk or velvet, and are custom-embroidered with dedications in honor of or in memory of loved ones. The salesman's sample in the shop window, with its generic text, is a scaled down version of the real thing.

What every Jewish woman should know

When I married in 1975, I got a similar book; topics included information on keeping a kosher kitchen, with all the special rules for making a kitchen kosher for Passover; the Orthodox Jewish rules about men and women keeping a respectful distance from one another unless married or closely related; and the rules about separation between husbands and wives during the menstrual cycle and after giving birth, and how to prepare for going to the mikveh (ritual bath) when one's period was over. Usually these sorts of guides also give some philosophical remarks about topics such as modesty, inner beauty from having a good character, etc. The first English Jewish cookbook, The Jewish Manual, by Lady Judith Montefiore, not only gave Victorian-era kosher recipes, but included two chapters at the end encouraging young Jewish women to develop their spiritual characters and modesty, with references to the heroic women of the Bible.
Also, my guess is that the Torah scroll in the window might have been aimed either at children, or as an aid to boys preparing for their Bar Mitzvah, to practice reading the Hebrew from a scroll, but without the signs for vowel sounds or punctuation, as in the Torah scrolls used for formal readings in the synagogue.

Something Looks Familiar

This Chanukah Menorah has been in my wife's family for who knows how long. It might even have been bought in this Broome Street store,
we still use it.

Genuine Land of Israel Taleisim!

In addition to the many books in the window are a variety of Jewish ritual objects: Shabbat candlesticks, Chanukah menorahs (the objects with 9 candle holders), and two taleisim (tallitot), the striped and fringed prayer shawls worn by Jewish men for morning prayers. The sign (just below and to the left of the "God Bless America" banner) says, in Yiddish: "Genuine Eretz Yisroel (Land of Israel) Taleisim / Best Quality / Lowest Prices / To Be Had."

re: Powdered depilatory?

I used to work with some African-American guys that used shaving powder to avoid the formation of keltoid scar tissue, which they would get if they nicked their skin with a conventional razor. The shaving powder is mixed with water to form a paste, applied to the skin, and allowed to sit for a few minutes. After that the paste and the hair is scraped off with a butter knife. The one thing I remember more than anything is that the stuff smells terrible and stinks up the whole room!

Powdered depilatory?

I've used both wax and cream depilatory (left the latter on my legs too long getting ready for a date, once, and looked like I'd been attacked by something), but I haven't heard of powdered depilatory. I wonder if it was mixed with water to form a paste and used like the cream depilatories, like Nair. Does anyone know?

[It's mixed with water. -tterrace]

Rute Boye, my dad had several young black men in his command in the Marines who had a terrible time with razor burn and keloids. I don't know if they knew about the shaving powder. One of my AA adopted sons gets really bad keloids from every little scratch. I expected him to have a hard time with shaving but, fortunately, he has a very light beard.


Broome Street is named after John Broome (1738–1810), a NYC merchant and politician; he served as Lieutenant Governor of New York from 1804 to 1810.

Hebrew and Yiddish

As HenryTheK points out, the titles are in both Hebrew and Yiddish. Examples of Yiddish are The Wise Men of Chelm (the book with banner letters in both the upper right and lower left of the display) and an English primer (englischer lehr-buch). Books in Hebrew include the Zohar (Kaballah) on the Song of Songs (the large leather volume given pride of place under the God Bless America banner), various prayer books, and, on the far left, third row from the bottom, Olami, a history book I recognize from grade school in the sixties. I've seen real Torah scrolls as small as those in the window, but, like Capn_Jack, I wonder what such a holy object would be doing out front in a shop that way. My guess on the guide for women in English is that it would be aimed at potential converts to Judaism: Christian gals contemplating doing what you used to have to do to marry a Jewish guy. Finally, what a brilliant reflection in the glass: the lamp post, the metal fire escape, and the white rectangular object on the sill in front of the open window, destined to remain a mystery forever.

Faux Torah

My eye tells me it is far to small to be a "real" Torah. This one is most likely made with printed paper scrolls. The ones in the synagogue are much larger and are hand lettered on parchment panels sewed together. I had one like the one in the window as a kid, but it tore almost as soon as I got it.

No Gillettes Here

There is a prohibition, among Orthodox Jews, on shaving the four corners of the face. I suppose that a depilatory, like Magic, was thought to be a legal way to circumvent this and be groomed. I'm unaware of depilatories being used today. Meanwhile, the types of books in the window look not too different from those in a current Jewish book store. BTW, Guides for proper practices by Jewish women are still available in different forms. Also, some of the titles are in Yiddish and others in Hebrew. Calendars are not featured nowadays, probably because they are widely available from funeral homes and charities. Yet Another memory from Shorpy!

[Magic Shaving Powder is still being sold today. - tterrace]

Sure is great

If it's 1942 and you are Jewish, it certainly is great to be an American... just as the banner says. There never was another time where that could have been a truer statement.

Torah Faux Pas?

I wonder if it's entirely "kosher" to display Torah scrolls (that's the twin-cylinder object on the lower left) in the store window. Individual Jews don't normally own Torah scrolls today -- if they want a copy it's possible to buy it in book form in Hebrew, English, or both. The Torah scroll is housed out of sight in the altar at the temple or synagogue, and a feature of especialy the Conservative Saturday morning service is taking it out of its niche and parading it around the room.

Seeing it in the store window strikes a false note. Any Talmudic scholars out there who might care to comment?

It's Magic!

Here's a contemporary can of the stuff!

Enticing Title

Well I'm wondering just exactly "What Every Jewish Woman Should Know" is all about.

Re: Magic razors

I'd prefer one that could magically shave me while I was still half asleep.

Magic razors

It looks like a straight razor on the Magic can's label. There are straight razors available today branded as "Magic" - anyone know anything about Magic razors?

[Probably Magic Shaving Powder, a depilatory first marketed in 1900, and sold here to accommodate the Orthodox Jewish clientele. - tterrace]


I prefer it in bottles. Makes me feel classier.

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