JTA – When a large auction was held at Sotheby earlier this month by objects belonging to Frank Sinatra and his wife Barbara, the item that made most headlines was one of the smallest: a hand-crafted yarmulke, owned by Frank, bought for nearly $ 10,000 of an unknown party.
But uncommonly, until now, the story why Sinatra had a kippa, where and when he got it, and the memorable night nearly 40 years ago when several members of the Rat Pack were among the unlikely honors at a fundraising dinner for a Jewish day school in Jersey Shore.
Kippah was presented to Sinatra on an evening in May or June 1981, at the old Teplitzky hotel in Atlantic City. The reason was the annual distribution dinner held by the Hebrew Academy of Atlantic County, then located in Margate, New Jersey. And the man who presented the kippah to a tuxedo-dressed Blue Eyes was Samuel "Sonny" Schwartz, a long-term journalist, columnist, radio host, and man-in-town in the Atlantic City area.
A photo of the occasion was shared with us by late Schwartz's daughter, Pauline, who said that a framed version of the picture hangs in her mother's home to this day.
Every year on its galaxy, the Hebrew Academy would honor a man of the year. The Academy "would choose a person in the community who had influenced society, and through this person's relations we could raise funds for the school," recalls Rabbi Mordechai Weiss, the long-standing principal of the Hebrew Academy. Sonny Schwartz was honore in 1980, as his daughter said was "a great deal for our family." She remembers saying the Hamotzi blessing that dinner with the evening emcee, the Jewish comedian and the Rat Pack fixture Joey Bishop.
Schwartz was a main organizer of the dinner next year, and honoreen was his close friend Paul "Skinny" D & # 39; Amato, the famous owner of the resort's 500 clubs. D & # 39; Amato, among other achievements, is known for hosting in 1946 the very first achievement of Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin. He also ordered Sinatra during various lean times in the singer's career.
D & # 39; Amato was one of the rare non-Jews to receive the credit. Another non-Jewish honoree another year, according to Rabbi Weiss, was Ivana Trump, the then-wife of the future president. (Donald Trump, during his Atlantic City days, should appear on the Sonny Schwartz radio show.)
On the occasion of the 1981 dinner, D & # 39; Amato brought several of his showbiz friends together.
"I remember the dinner very well," Rabbi Weiss said. "At dinner that honored Skinny, Jerry Lewis, Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. appeared, and Danny Thomas filmed a video played for all the patrons at dinner. The entire ballroom was turned into a nightclub with a big stage stretching Almost all of the ballroom, the children of the Hebrew Academy choir also performed that evening.
"I still remember the first joke that Jerry Lewis said at dinner," Weiss added. "He looked at Skinny straight into his eyes and said" Skinny! Teplitzky s"
It has long been known that the Catholic, Italian-American Sinatra was a lifelong admirer of the Jews and a supporter of Jewish reasons, returning to childhood in North New Jersey. He often visited Israel and he raised money to several buildings where it still carries his name.
When Frank performed in Hebrew academic dinner, the singer was presented with a kippa, an emblazoned with "Frank" and musical notes. Tapping the picture is, with all indications, the one that was sold in Sotheby's auction.
"When I saw the picture, one was auctioned, I knew immediately that it was from that time, because my dad got one at the same time," said Pauline Schwartz.
Schwartz widow Connie also presented us with a picture of a kippa, which – because Schwartz was a journalist – has typewriters instead of musical notes. However, both tips spell the names completely in lowercase. Rabbi Weiss said he also got a similar kippa.
Who actually did the kippa? It's about a debate. Rabbi Weiss believes it was the idea of the late Rubin Wishkin, a former president of the day school, and that it was actually crocheted either by Wishkins wife Miriam or by someone who kept Wishkins.
Pauline Schwartz believes it was one of Weiss & # 39; daughters, or maybe Weiss & # 39; wife.
A group of South Jersey Jews have discussed their memories of that night on a Facebook thread ever since the news of the auction, and opinions differ from the origin of the product. Several credited one of the rabbi's daughters, but she said she didn't remember to do so, and probably would have been too young to have known how to crochet in 1981.
Skinny D & # 39; Amato died in 1984. Frank Sinatra and Sonny Schwartz died in a few months apart in 1998. Teplitzky was closed in 1987, but the name was revived briefly a few years ago for a coffee shop in the also-side-shuttered Chelsea Hotel, which was at Teplitzky's former place. The Hebrew Academy of the Atlantic Region is still operating, although it is now called the Trocki Hebrew Academy and is based in Egg Harbor Township.
Resurfacing of the kippah has been exciting for those around the Jewish community then.
"I really thought they were doing it all these years?" Pauline Schwartz said. "It's really something … when you find out the story, there's one object that tells you so much if you find out the story behind it.
"It's a snapshot of a time period and a place, and it symbolizes almost a magical type of thing that happened when all these celebrities got there, and that was all to honor this Jewish day school in Margate."