A Kisey Eliyahu is a special chair associated with Elijah, the Old Testament Prophet who, as legend has it, will return some day and usher in messianic times. It often sits on the bima (stage) of a traditional Jewish congregation and is used only for very special rituals, such as circumcision. Dr. Morton Freiman, a plastic surgeon based in Florida, commissioned the chair depicted here in honor of the members of the Hollender family who perished in the Holocaust. Morris Hollender contributed the vignettes about each one of his family members who perished. Below, Dr. Freiman relates the story of how the chair has become yet another powerful symbol of Jewish cultural continuity associated with the Hollender family.
The Story of the Hollender Chair
By Morton E. Freiman
Morris Hollender has an older sister named Serena who survived the Holocaust. She married Max Nuhomovic in Czechoslovakia and moved to the United States in 1948. They lived in South Miami and in the early 80’s moved to North Miami Beach. Hospitality was their forte. Serena’s elegance was revealed in her table setting at “shabbos” meals with delicacies that could make any chef jealous. With it was her sense of humor. Tina and I sat many times around the Nuhomovic table with several couples of the community and conversation between us was frequently of children and grandchildren. The painful part was that Max and Serena did not contribute to that aspect of the conversation. I never mentioned it but it caused me great pain and I know that Max and Serena did not even think of it in that way but enjoyed the small talk of everyone else’s progeny and took great interest in them. It still hurt me deeply.
One day I received a phone call from a talented cabinet maker named Dale Bowie who was a patient of mine. We met literally by accident when he injured his hand at work. He knew of my interest in wood and informed me that a rare shipment of rosewood planks had arrived in Miami from South America and that I may wish to join him at the shipping warehouse. He said that the rosewood forests are being destroyed and this may be our only chance to get this quality wood. I was not impressed with the brown splintered beams at first but he encouraged me to buy 3 pieces at $200 each claiming I would not be disappointed.
We brought them to his shop and placed a them in a wood shaving machine which delivered high gloss, richly patterned rosewood panels. We placed them against my bookcases in the living room across from the couch. For weeks I studied and pondered what to do with such beautiful wood. One unique aspect was a pattern of a flame in one of the pieces and the idea of crafting a “kisey Eliyahu” percolated in my mind. The various drawings had the flamed aspect of the wood for the back of the chair. I presented the idea to Dale Bowie and I explained that I must make this chair for the community in memory of the Hollender family members who perished in the Holocaust. Dale Bowie agreed to do it with a full heart and refused payment. Tina made a pillow in Jerusalem in memory of the Hollander family members for the chair. The first bris inaugurating the “kisey” was on Jan. 28, 1990. The baby was Yisrael Nachum Levine. Serena and Max were present and we informed them that Yisrael Nachum was the first Hollender baby. Each time the chair was used, the baby became a Hollender baby and Serena was informed of each one. A small book was prepared called “The Hollender Babies” with the names of each child. Morris wrote short summaries of each member of the family and the dates of their yahrtzeits. Presently there are 138 Hollander babies. The last one to use it was in 2008 when Tina and I made aliya and the chair made its way to the home of my daughter Chana in Teaneck NJ.
The Hollender chair developed an unusual sanctity of its own over the years. Women who had difficulty in conceiving came to our living room to sit on the chair and recited Tehilim. In addition pregnant women did the same to pray for a healthy delivery and child. Above all were Serena’s visits who came yearly on 3 Sivan,the yahrtzeit of her parents Mordecai and Miriam. She lit a candle and recited the appropriate prayers as would be said when visiting parents’ graves, which did not exist. And so, the “kisey Eliyahu” became the spiritual marker for that sacred site. May their memory be blessed.
Below: Inscription embroidered on the Hollender Chair’s pillow cover: “A Chair of Elijah in memory of the Hollender family, Mordechai and Miriam and their sons and daughters, Matilda, Sholem Zishe, Wolf Lieb, and Hentshe.”