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“If I Were a Rich Man ….”

Posted by Big John on September 24, 2008

Remember that “basket full of old family photographs, newspaper clippings and other odds and ends” ?  …

Well amongst the ‘odds and ends’ I discovered a blackened metal brooch. It appeared to have some writing on it and a design that looked like stars. I cleaned it up with some metal polish and discovered this …

After a search of ‘the web’ I discovered that this is a piece of silver and gold Mizpah jewellery. Unfortunately the hallmarks on the reverse side are illegible, but according to one source, it was probably made between 1896 and 1916.

I understand that the word Mizpah comes from the Bible … “and Mizpah; for he said, The Lord watch between me and thee, when we are absent one from another.” (Genesis 31:49), and I gather that Mizpah jewellery is worn to signify an emotional bond between people who are separated.

So could this brooch have belonged to my grandmother and did she wear it when my grandfather was serving in the Army during World War I ? The dates seem to fit, although there is no way of knowing for certain.

The photograph on the left shows my grandmother holding a baby who could possibly be my dad (born 1901) and I have to ask the question … Could she have been Jewish ? … She was called Mariah, a Hebrew name, but if she was of that race and faith no one in the family ever mentioned it to me, and now it’s too late to ask.

I don’t know if it’s possible to be a little bit Jewish, and in any case I’ll never know if I am, but ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ is my favourite musical, I always laugh at Jackie Mason, I love salt beef sandwiches, I fancy Barbra Streisand, I hate to ‘pay retail’… and …

I’m noted for my ‘Chutzpah’ !  😀


8 Responses to ““If I Were a Rich Man ….””

  1. Chris said

    Oy vey!

  2. Shana said

    Well if it’s any consolation, I only found out at my Grandads funeral that my Grandma was Jewish…yet we still had ham sandwiches!!

  3. Terri said

    Great post. What a lovely brooch and I love the photo of your grandmother. Such a pretty young woman with a wonderful smile.
    I found this interesting because my grandmother (my dad’s mom) came from Poland to the US in 1908. But over the years, for various reasons we began to wonder if she was also Jewish at one time. She was a devout Catholic, but I couldn’t help but wonder if being Catholic was the “safer” religion during that time.
    And like you, I also have some “pull” toward Jewish things. Guess we’ll never know for sure.
    Had heard about the fire in the tunnel. Hope you get over to France soon! I’m counting down till we leave Monday night.

  4. ferouzeh said

    Hallo John: I was intrigued and did a little search myself: maybe you found this too but here it is:
    Another interesting and collectible type of Victorian jewellery was the MIZPAH ring or brooch, given to love ones when parting, generally due to war. Bearing the word Mizpah (literally watchtower,) which translates as a Hebraic parting salutation, The Lord watch between me and thee, when we are absent, one from another. Mizpah jewellery offers an ideal collection theme, but beware of modern imitations. (
    Could it be that your granfather gave it to your grandmother when he went to war ?

  5. ferouzeh said

    here is another one that mention the Great War:
    “”Mizpah is an emotional bond between people who are separated, and Mizpah jewellery is worn to signify this bond. It is based on a quote from the Bible, in Genesis Ch. 31, verse 49: “The Lord watch between me and thee, when we are absent one from another.” Because of this meaning Mizpah jewellery was very popular at the time of the Great War.””
    Let us know more please

  6. Big John said

    Thanks for the information Feruz. Very interesting. I suppose people who were not Jewish could wear this jewellery and my grandad may well have given it to my grandma; although he was Irish, and a shamrock or a bottle of Guiness would have been more his style. 😆

  7. Ginnie said

    Fascinating, John. And I agree that you definitely have “chutzpah”, which is what makes your blog entries so much fun.

  8. I know my great grandmother was Jewish and brought the money into the family for the dwelling #6 Booth Street, Audley, Stoke on Trent, Staffs. The family are all now Anglicans except great grandson who is an atheist.

    Loved the pictures John!


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