Rose and Morris Kornsgold didn’t push their children to become religious leaders.
Yet two of their kids, Jay and Helene, are rabbis. And Jay’s son, Noam Kornsgold, is also a rabbi.
For the Philadelphia family, Judaism is deeper than an identity. It’s the religion they practice, but it’s also the values they live by, according to Rabbi Helene Kornsgold, who serves Temple Israel in Charlotte, North Carolina.
“In any decision-making, that was our basis. Our Jewish values,” she said.
Helene Kornsgold is the director of education at Temple Israel. Jay Kornsgold is in his 28th year serving Beth El Synagogue in East Windsor, New Jersey. And Noam Kornsgold is the director of education and programming for Camp Ramah in the Berkshires in Wingdale, New York.
Laura Brandspiegel (married name) is the only child of Rose and Morris Kornsgold to do something else with her life. But as a pediatrician, she’s doing OK, especially by Jewish standards.
“We call her the black sheep,” Rose Kornsgold joked.
The family’s rabbinical lineage is a byproduct of their immigration to the United States.
Rose and Morris Kornsgold both survived the Holocaust and made it to Philadelphia in the late 1940s and early ’50s. Rose Kornsgold even ended up in a 1949 Jewish Exponent picture showing her first day at a South Philly elementary school.
The photo complemented an article about 200 refugee children starting school in the city. After the Exponent republished the story in 2017 during its 130th anniversary, Kornsgold’s granddaughter spotted it and called her. That call led to a May 2018 article about the matriarch’s journey from Poland to Russia and back to Poland after World War II.
After the war and Kornsgold’s father’s death, her mother boarded a ship to the United States and never looked back. Since Rose and Morris, who she met in Philadelphia, lost most members of their families, their religion was important to them. They also wanted their children to have a way to connect to their identity.
“They grew up with no grandparents, no family or anything,” Rose Kornsgold said. “We wanted them to be with students that were like them.”
The first-generation American family kept kosher and observed Shabbat and all the Jewish holidays. They belonged to an Orthodox congregation, Etz Chaim, and then a traditional one in Adath Zion. The parents sent their kids to Jewish day schools like Solomon Schechter (now Perelman Jewish Day School) and, for high school, the Akiba Hebrew Academy (now the Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy).
The kids liked it. Their friends were Jewish. They were always attending synagogue events and youth group events. As they explained, it was just their lives.
“It surrounded us,” Helene Kornsgold said.
And as Rose Kornsgold explained, it didn’t keep them from living normal lives in other ways.
“They went to ballgames. They did all that stuff,” she said. “Just not on Fridays and Saturdays.”
Yet for Jay Kornsgold and Helene Kornsgold, rabbinical school was never part of the plan.
Jay Kornsgold wanted to be mayor of Philadelphia. But then one day his father asked him what he would do when he wasn’t holding a political office.
After deferring law school for a year and then another year, he realized that the issues he cared about were Jewish education, Jewish observance and intermarriage. He wanted to help other Jews in those areas.
All of a sudden, “the idea of serving as a religious leader was intriguing to me,” Jay Kornsgold said.
Helene Kornsgold went to college to become an investment banker. But then she got a job in investment banking and hated it.
She was looking for something with more meaning. While working with young associates at the JCC in Manhattan, she found it.
“I decided I wanted to not just work with them, but pass something on to them,” Helene Kornsgold said.
Helene Kornsgold does not have kids, but Jay Kornsgold and Brandspiegel each have three. Helene Kornsgold said they imbue the next generation with the same sense of identity and values: observing Shabbat, joining synagogues, attending day schools.
Noam Kornsgold discovered that he wanted to be a rabbi as a student at the Abrams Hebrew Academy in Yardley. The rabbis at the school began pulling him out of lunch to come study and discuss Talmud.
He still doesn’t know why they did it; he just knows he was hooked.
“I learned I was pretty good at it. I liked what I was learning,” he said.
Noam Kornsgold is only 26, but he already has a 10-month-old son. Jay Kornsgold joked that his grandson must become a rabbi.
“We are passing on that tradition to our kids and hopefully to our
children’s kids,” he said. JE