Life is Beautiful

John David, a chain of men’s clothing stores, founded in 1904, in business until 1964.

Registered Clothes tuxedo
Tuxedo, tailored by Registered Clothes for John David, worn by Ismar David at the Weizmann Dinner at the Waldorf Astoria in 1947.

“I conceived the idea of a haberdashery shop, as attractive as the exclusive ones, where goods of real taste would be displayed with prices marked plainly so that passers-by would not be afraid to enter.”1John David Dead: Merchant Here. President of Large Chain of Clothing Stores is Stricken in Atlantic City. New York Times, November 16, 1937, p. 23 With this concept in mind and the savvy to recognize the potential of Times Square as a retail area, Pittsburgh-born John David (no relation) opened his first store on 42nd between the Sixth Avenue subway station and the forthcoming Times Square hub. His no less forward-thinking successor, Ralph E. Ladue bet on Fifth Avenue as “the best shopping area in the world”2 Men’s Store Goes Uptown on Fifth, New York Times, May 5, 1954, p. 47. and in time, there were three John David stores along Fifth, at 43rd, 49th and 56th Streets, as well as stores along Broadway at 32nd, Dey and 42nd Streets as well as a store in Brooklyn. Ladue saw the future of selling trademarked goods. By featuring brand names, he felt that customers got a twice the guarantee, one from the retail store and one from the manufacturer.3Boyo, Gene, John David Chief Began as a Buyer. New York Times, May 9, 1954, p. F1 and F10.

In the autumn of 1947, Ismar David had mixed feelings about attending the Weizmann Dinner. He wrote to Alisa Wirz, “Mr. Weisgal insists that I go to the Weizmann reception and dinner, which takes place on the 25th of the month. I think I will go. Unfortunately, I’ll have to dress for it (tuxedo required). My life here is very expensive. You’ll remember the saying, ‘Life is beautiful and expensive. It can be cheaper, but then it’s not so beautiful anymore.’ Apart from the beauty, I think I have to put myself out there.”4 Undated letter to Alisa Wirz, 1947. Translated from German. “Mr. Weißgal besteht darauf, daß ich zu dem Weizmann Empfang & Dinner komme, am 25. Dieses Monats findet es statt. Ich glaube ich gehe. Leider muß ich mich dafür verkleiden (Smoking Pflicht.) Mein Leben hier ist sehr kostspielig. Du erinnerst Dich an das Sprichwort ‘Das Lebe ist schön u. teuer, man kann‘s auch billiger haben aber dann ist es nicht mehr so schön.’ Abgesehen von der Schönheit glaube ich aber, daß ich ein bischen representieren muß.” He bought a tux from one of the John David stores on Fifth Avenue.

The suit was made by Registered Clothes and featured the generous proportions and quality materials that had been popular (and possible) before the war. Registered lived up to its promise of, “care lavished…stitch by stitch that culminates in a suit of clothes ready-to-wear—yet the nearest approach to individual tailoring.”5Advertisement in the Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle, September 20, 1946, p. 9. The fabric is sumptuous Melton wool. The double-breasted jacket has heavy weight (probably nylon) lining and faille lapels. The trousers are double pleated and have braided stripes, a watch pocket, double pleats and six buttons for suspenders, with a typical tiny v-shaped vent at the back of the waistband.

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American Debut

Edith Piaf, 1915–1963, France’s little sparrow, legendary, iconic singer.

A street performer from the age of fourteen, Edith Piaf burst onto the Paris nightclub scene in 1935. The petite singer captivated French audiences with her unique renditions of chansons réalistes, songs of love, struggle and loss. International renown preceded her American debut at the Playhouse Theater on West 48th Street in Manhattan in 1947, where Piaf headlined a variety show that began its run on October 30. The opening act, Les Compangnons de la Chanson, whom Piaf herself had discovered, were “nine young Frenchmen in white shirs and blue slacks” who showed “how ‘Au Claire de la Lune’ sounds, 1, as played by and American hot band, 2, as sung by a Cossack chorus and, 3, as played by a symphony orchestra.”1Atkinson, Brooks, At the Theatre, Edith Piaf, Minstrel from Paris, and Les Companons de las Chanson in a Variety Show of Continental Entertainers. New York Times, October 31, 1947, p.26. The show was extended through Decemer 6th.2Calta, Louis, Edith Piaf’s Show Will Extend Run, French Variety Program Held Over at Playhouse a Week by Clifford C. Fischer. New York Times, November 25, 1947, p. 38

Ismar David attended in November, well before the Weizmann Dinner on the twenty-fifth: “I went to the theater yesterday and it was unusually beautiful. Madame Piaf, a French singer, was the main part of the evening. She sang simple songs ravishingly beautifully and accompanied by fantastic facial expressions. In addition, an unbelievably funny French group of nine men appeared. They presented musical parodies for the most part, with a lot of humor and spirit. An athletic group, a dancing couple and an emcee also appeared. All were especially good.”3David, Ismar, Undated letter to Aliza Wirz, 1947. Translated from German. “Gestern war ich in einem Theater wo es ungewöhnlich schön war. Madame Piaff eine Französische Chancon [sic] Sängerin war der Hauptteil des Abends. Sie sang einfache Lieder hinreißend schön u. begleited [sic] von fantastischer Mimic. Außerdem trat eine unglaublich komische französische Gruppe von 9 Man auf die mit viel Humor u. Esprie [sic] hauptsächlich musikalische Parodien vortrugen. Ferner traten eine Athleten gruppe ein Tanzpaar & ein Conferancier [sic] auf. Alle besonders gut.”

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Dinner at the Waldorf

Weizmann Dinner, a $250 a plate fund-raiser, celebrating Chaim Weizmann’s seventy-third birthday and the completion of the Institute of Physics and Physical Chemistry Building of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, that took place on November 25, 1947 at the Waldorf Astoria and was sponsored by the American Committee for the Weizmann Institute.

Weizmann Institute of Science
Rendering of the development plan of the Weizman Institute of Science from the Weizmann Dinner program, 1947.

Including a concert by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Serge Koussevitzky, the Weizmann Reception and Dinner was “the type of tribute reserved for few mortals.”12,000 at Weismann Dinner Cheer ‘First President of Jewish State’, New York Times, November 26, 1947, p. 6 Or perhaps just the sort of acknowledgement Meyer Weisgal would devise for his esteemed friend and colleague, Chaim Weizmann. At Weisgal’s request, Kurt Weil made a special arrangement of the Hatikvah. The BSO also played The Star-Spangled Banner, Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 4, Beethoven’s Egmont Overture and his Third Symphony. Former Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau, Jr. spoke. Albert Einstein sent a message: “In these days of fateful decision you have presented our case before the world with a vision that no other among us could muster.”2Ibid. An estimated $500,000 was raised to finance construction and support the work of the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot. Because the benefit took place 4 days before the United Nations General Assembly would vote on whether the British Mandate in Palestine should be terminated, excitement was palpable. When the chairman of the reception committee, Abraham Feinberg prematurely referred to Weizmann as “the first President of the new Jewish state,”3Ibid. the attendees cheered. Ismar David was among them.

In late October 1947, David was in New York for an extended stay to study printing methods.4David, Ismar, Brief biographical points provided to Cooper Union, 1954. He had arrived in Boston on a Transcontinental & Western flight from Paris on the 16th and would return to Jerusalem on January 12th. Helen Rossi facilitated a meeting with Robert Leslie. He met with Harper Brothers and other publishers and “a known commercial artist.”5David, Ismar, undated letter to Aliza Wirz, 1947. Translated from German. He had time to visit museums, see Edith Piaf in concert, and work diligently, too.6David, Ismar, undated letter to Alisa Wirz, 1947. Translated from German. <em>“Inzwischen bin ich weiter sehr fleißig. Ob der Fleiß an einem Erfolg führen wird, weiß ich nocht nicht.”</em> The work included a design for a book that Ellen Thorbecke wanted to publish.7David, Ismar, undated letter to Aliza Wirz, 1947. Translated from German. <em>Abends Ballin [sic] Thorbecker u. andere neue Bekannte. Das Muster för ein Buch, das Mrs. Thorbecke schreiben u. heraugbringen möchte, ist inzwischen fast fertig geworden.</em> (Did it also include the program for the Weizmann Dinner?) But the trip was otherwise eventful. While in New York, he received word that his mother would be arriving, first in San Francisco, then in New York, on her way to Palestine. It was “like a dream.” He had not seen her for 16 years.8David, Ismar, undated letter to Aliza Wirz, 1947. <em>“Alles wie ein Traum hier nach jenen 16 Jahren.”</em> And he attended the black-tie tribute to Weizmann in a tuxedo he bought from John David on Fifth Avenue. A few days later, he wrote to Alisa Wirz, “The Boston Symphony Orchestra played before and Morgenstern and Weizmann spoke. The Jewish State was the center of both speeches. Almost 4 days of excitement and tension followed. Yesterday, finally, ‘The votes.’”

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About the Weizmann Institute

Weizmann Institute of Science, a leading multi-disciplinary research institution in Rehovot, Israel, with faculties in biology, biochemistry, chemistry, mathematics and computer science, and physics.

Weizmann Institute of Science
Entrance of the Weizmann Institute of Science, photographed c. 1959.

On October 17, 1944, the Zionist Organization of America passed a resolution calling for the establishment of the Weizmann Institute of Science as a “living tribute”1American Zionists will establish a “Weizmann Institute of Science,” JTA Daily News Bulletin, New York, NY: The Jewish Telegraphic Agency, October 17, 1944, p. 2. to scientist and revered Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann. The Institute would be a fulfillment of Weizmann’s dream and be located on the site of the Daniel Sieff Institute, which he founded in 1934. Due in no small part to the gargantuan fund-raising efforts of Meyer Weisgal, the cornerstone for the Biophysical and Chemistry Research Center was laid on June 3, 1946. At the ceremony, Weizmann famously said. “I hope science will be the angel of peace, and though it has been harnessed by the dark forces of mankind, it will overpower them and serve humanity’s higher ideals.” 2 Cornerstone of Weizmann Institute Laid at Rehovoth Before Distinguished Audience, JTA Daily News Bulletin, New York, NY: The Jewish Telegraphic Agency, June 4, 1946, p. 3. On November 2, 1949, the institute was dedicated and formally renamed.

It is likely Ismar David attended both events. He designed the scroll that was deposited in the cornerstone in 1946 and the key for the Institute’s dedication in 1949. He designed the program for the Weizmann Reception and Dinner at the Waldorf Astoria in 1947 as well as the Golden Book that was a tribute to Chaim Weizmann in 1948. His influence, if not far more, can be seen in the lettering above the entrance of the Institute.

Ismar David holding photo of the Weizman Key
Ismar David and an unidentified woman, probably at the dedication of the Weizmann Institute of Science, November 2, 1949.
Posted in W

The Cheerful One

Alisa Wirz Werblowsky, 1920–2014, champion swimmer, champion shot-putter, folk dancer, teacher.

Alisa Wirz
Alisa Wirz with kittens in Jerusalem, c. 1950.

Born Liselotte Wilhelmina Wirz in Munich, Germany, Alisa Wirz Werblowsky received a new Hebrew name, reflecting her sunny disposition, from her classmates in Jerusalem. Like her mother, Bella Thannhauser Wirz, with whom she emigrated to Palestine in 1933, Alisa was a strong-willed, independent woman. Both were outstanding swimmers and, in 1942, became the first women to swim the Sea of Galilee. They bested the existing record (5 hours) by 40 minutes. Alisa repeated her feat in 1944 in 3 hours and 20 minutes, improving on her former time by one hour and ten minutes. She taught English and sports at the Reali School in Haifa before she attended Boston University’s Sargent College of Physical Education in Cambridge to study for her masters. Her aim was to “organize a physical education school which will contribute to the welfare of her people in establishing a Jewish National state.”1Refugee Girl Swimming Champ, B.U. Student, Plans Phyiscal Culture School in Palestine. Jewish Advocate, Boston, Massachusetts, November 28, 1946, p. 5. When she furthered her studies at the University of Wisconsin at Madison in 1948, she may well have become the first Israeli college student in the state of Wisconsin.2Cohen, Leon. Excitement over Israel’s birth suffused state Jewry in 1948., The Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle, May 2, 2008, accessessed July 26, 2023. During her years in the United States, she taught and performed Israeli folk dancing, was active in Jewish youth group activities and lectured occasionally. During the summers, she worked a Jewish sleep-away camps in New Hampshire. She was for American newspapers at the time, the very model of Israeli youth: athletic, capable, enthusiastic and committed. After her return to Israel, she married scholar R.J. Zwi Werblowsky.

Alisa (known in the family as Fitzi) lived with her mother at 8 Keren Kayemet Street in Rehavia from the late 1930s. She remained in contact with Ismar David for many years, mainly through seasonal greeting cards.

Alisa Wirz
Undated photograph of Alisa Wirz on skis in Jerusalem, after it had the largest snowfall registered since the beginning of meteorological measurements, 1950.
Posted in W

About the S.S. Flandre

S.S. Flandre, 1952–1994, ocean liner on the French Line, used for North Atlantic and Caribbean service, until sold to the Costa Armatori Line in 1968. Cruised the Caribbean under the names Carla C, Princess Carla (while leased to Princess Cruises) and Carla Costa, and was inspiration for the TV series, The Love Boat. Transferred in 1992 to Epirotiki Line and renamed Pallas Athena, mainly for week-long cruises on the Aegean Sea. Irreparably burned in a dockside fire in 1994.

On board the S.S. Flandre
A party, perhaps the Gala Night, aboard the S.S. Flandre, 1959.

Despite a very inauspicious debut voyage—the Flandre had so many problems that dockworkers nicknamed it ‘the Flounder’1Othfors, Daniel, Flandre (II): 1952-1994. Also known as Carla C, Carla Costa, and Pallas Athena, The Great ocean Liners, updated April 11, 2018, accessed July 4, 2023.—this French Line flagship had a long distinguished career, earning the affection of generations of crew and passengers. Built at a cost of $20 million and launched on October 31, 1951, the 20,469-gross-ton-vessel was relatively small and swift. It could travel at a speed of 23 knots and reach Le Havre from New York in six days, including a stop in Great Britain on the sixth day. Interiors were splendidly outfitted, especially in first class. Ads compared the ship to “a veritable chateau-on-the-sea” and the voyage to “6 extra days ‘in France’” with prices in 1959 ranging from $337 (First Class) to $200 (Tourist). All passengers enjoyed superb French cooking, French wine, orchestra for dancing and concerts, sports, accommodations for children, and the proverbial much more.2French Line advertisement, Boston Globe, May 4, 1959, p. 26.

S.S. Flandre menu cover
S.S. Flandre menu

Hortense Mendel and Ismar David boarded the S.S. Flandre on May 25, 1959. It would be their first and only trip together outside the United States. Until then, vacations usually meant summer holidays in Rockport, Massachusetts, although in 1955, they went to Aspen for the International Design Conference and from there to the Pacific Coast. That Ismar’s naturalization papers were issued in 1956 perhaps explains why they had traveled only domestically in the early years of their marriage. (Hortense had been to Europe several times and to the Carribbean and South America, since applying for her first passport in 1925.) The Flandre landed first at Plymouth and then at Le Havre, two days before the couple’s sixth wedding anniversary. After lunching on roast loin of veal and potatoes Bataille, they debarked in Le Havre to begin a nearly two-month trip that included visits to France, Israel, Germany, The Netherlands and Great Britain.

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The Hapsburg Versailles

Vienna’s Schönbrunn Palace, the 1,441-room summer residence of the Hapsburg rulers, built on property they acquired in 1569.

Schönbrunn Palace
Schönbrunn Palace, Vienna, Austria. Photographed in June 2023.

Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach’s initial 1688 drawings set a grand design in motion, but it was not until three quarters of a century later that Empress Maria Theresa and her architect, Nicolaus Pacassi, began the decades of building that would culminate in the extravagant Schönbrunn Palace. Built on a scale to rival Versailles, the magnificent baroque complex was and remains renowned for its gardens, follies and zoo, much of which have been open to the public since 1779. On November, 11, 1918, when Emperor Karl I issued his proclamation relinquishing governmental power and departed Schönbrunn, the new Austrian Republic took possession of the palace with almost immediate plans to make it a museum. The zoo had been devastated by the war, but by the next year, tours of the rooms were likely taking place1Schmöckel, Sonja. Schönbrunn in der Zwischenkriegszeit – Schloss ohne Kaiser, accessed June 21, 2023. and more and more of the formerly private garden areas were opened to the public. From April 20, 1919, organized groups of children were permitted to visit the Fasanengarten (the pheasant garden).

Like Vienna, the city of Breslau was not within the theater of combat, but its citizens suffered profoundly economically and from shortage of food. From the onset of the war, prices soared. As wheat became scarce, bakers were allowed to augment wheat flour with potato flour. In 1915, bread was rationed. And later, other foodstuffs as well. Then, during the disastrous Kohlrübenwinter (Turnip Winter) of 1917, the potato harvest was only 50% of its peacetime output.2Käser, Peter. Mitten im Krieg: Der Kohlrübenwinter 1916/17 in Deutschland. Die Behörden raten, jeden Bissen 83 Mal zu kauen, Heimat Museum Vilsbiburg, February, 2017. The only relatively plentiful substitute was the rutabaga. German authorities published copious instructions on how to make everything out of turnips, as if it was actually possible to make everything out of turnips. Consequently, women struggled to make soup, cutlets, bread and cake out of a vegetable that had traditionally been animal feed and had significantly less calories than potatoes. The populace were severely malnourished. Many died. After the Armistice, organizations and individuals stepped up to help children affected by the war. The newly-formed Save the Children in England and Sweden provided food and clothing for kids in cities across Germany. Julie Bikle in Switzerland, for instance, organized 6-week, later 8-week, stays for German children with families and institutions in eastern Switzerland. Others spearheaded similar programs in Holland and Denmark.

Ismar David turned four just one month after the First World War started. He could nevertheless remember that bread was sold a day after it had been baked, so that slices could be cut thinner. He recalled picking the chaff from his teeth, because fillers were used to extend volume. And he was one of the, in his words, “starving war children,” who were sent to vacation outside of the country after the war. His host family had a maidservant whose pleasure it was to rise early and devise desserts for the household. Every day something different. So far, we have no record how the trip was organized, where David was sent or how long he remained. We only know that he passed through or near Vienna, a city which also had its share of suffering children. He cannot have been much more than 10, when he and another boy in the program ran off for a day to experience the wonder of Schönbrunn Palace.

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32 Minutes with Hortense Mendel

In the olden days before digital photography, double exposures were either made with considerable effort and planning or, simply, by mistake. These three mash-ups of Hortense Mendel in her Bronx living room with landscapes of a New England boat basin were obviously done the easy way.

Fortunately, we can still see enough of what inspired her husband to snap a few pictures in the first place. The almost cinematic image sequence encompasses family history (the cast-iron gothic-revival mantel clock with hand-painted pastoral, a remnant of the sturdy middle-class background of Hortense’s German-born father) and popular culture (the “Lacy Lavender Supreme” African violets, a house plant whose availability and varieties had only really begun to take off in the previous ten years). It touches on spiritual awareness (the havdalah candle) and personal details (Ismar David’s own pocket watch). Hortense herself is reflected in the large mirror on a sea of patterned wallpaper, fussing over some unseen domestic activity. Maybe she was setting the table or packing for the couple’s regular summer vacation in Rockport, Massachusetts. The weather was warm enough to open the window. In any case, we are privy to a glimpse of their private lives, simultaneously immediate and very, very far away.

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Promised Land

Ellen Thorbecke, 1902–1973, photographer, journalist, author.

Ellen Thorbecke
Portrait of Ellen Thorbecke from the jacket of Promised Land, Harper & Brother, 1947.

Ellen Kolban grew up in Berlin and on the estate of her father in what is now the Czech Republic. She attended conservatories and studied piano—her mother was opera singer Hermine Grundmann—before studying economics at the University of Berlin, where she met her first husband. As Ellen Catleen, she became a free-lance journalist, writing about music and theater for the Berliner Tageblatt and the Neue Freie Presse. In 1931, she bought her first camera, a Rolleiflex, and began to use it professionally when she traveled to China.

She spent much of the decade in Shanghai and Beijing, where her second husband, Willem Thorbecke, served as ambassador of the Netherlands. Ellen Thorbecke provided stories and images for a variety of German publications, as well as economic reports for the Berliner Tageblatt. Her series Chinareisen ganz allein (Solo Travels in China) appeared in the Deutsch-Chineseische Nachrichten. In 1934, English publishers Kelly & Walsh published Thorbecke’s first book about China, Peking Studies, with illustrations by another expatriate in China, Friedrich Schiff. Thorbecke and Schiff established a certain style in this and subsequent books together that cleverly wove commentary and imagery, sometimes penetrating the conceptual boundary between drawings and photography.

The war forced Thorbecke and her family to leave China for South Africa in 1941. In 1944, Harper & Brother approached her to make a work similar to her books about China, which would illustrate the development of Palestine and her family lived in Jerusalem for a year. They spent part of 1945 in Lebanon, where Ellen Thorbecke worked on a book about Beruit, that would remain unpublished.1 Lundgren, Ruben and Rik Suermont. Ellen Thorbecke: From Peking to Paris, Lecturis, 2021, p. 257 The family lived in the United States from 1946 until 1960. In the early years Ellen Thorbecke traveled and spoke extensively, addressing European issues and often the Middle East. “She is noted for fearlessness in her reports and opinions and her addresses correct many a prejudice and misconception.”2Writer to Give Talk on Israel: Mrs Thorbecke To Speak in City, Pensacola News Journal, March 6, 1949, p.12
In 1960, they made the Netherlands their home, but still spent half each year in Florida.

Ismar David visited Lebanon in 1945 and made, at least, a color sketch for the cover of Problem Area, Thorbecke’s unpublished Beirut work. Harper issued her Palestine book, Promised Land, in 1947 with cover, illustration and typography by David. The lively integration of text, photography, drawings and diagrams continued in many ways the style Schiff and Thorbecke had begun to develop in 1934. John Haynes Holmes wrote “This book will do more for the Jews in Palestine that a dozen official investigations and a thousand conference resolutions”3 Suermont, Rik. The Photobooks of Ellen Thorbecke in Ellen Thorbecke: From Peking to Paris by Rik Lundgren Ruben and Rik Suermont, Lecturis, 2021, p. 27

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About J.S. Haimson

Jacob S. Haimson, bookbinder.

J.S. Haimson’s bookbinding establishment was located at 25 King George Avenue in Jerusalem. Palestine Post art critic Theodore F. Meysels called him one of the “three outstanding craftsmen” who created the cover for the sixth Golden Book of the Keren Kayemeth, the Jewish National Fund.

Ismar David, who made the design and the lacquer covers for the binding, Werner Hess, goldsmith, and the bookbinder Haimson have between them produced a book which is bound to arouse the admiration not merely of the bibliophile, but to every lover of beautiful things.1 Meysels, Theodore F., Three Outstanding Craftsmen, Palestine Post August 30, 1940, p. 4.

It is highly likely that David created this ad that appeared in a 1944 Haifa, Jaffa and Tel Aviv telephone directory. J.S. Haimson offered services in: book binding, photo albums, picture mounting, picture framing, map mounting, files and folder, fancy leatherwork and cardboard boxes. The logo on the following page of the directory is probably David’s design as well.

J.S. Haimson, Bookbinder
Ad for J.S. Haimson, bookbinder,
in the 1944 telephone directory for Haifa, Jaffa and Tel Aviv. Israel State Archives
J.S. Haimson, Bookbinder
Page with logo for J.S. Haimson, bookbinder,
in the 1944 telephone directory for Haifa, Jaffa and Tel Aviv. Israel State Archives
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