MSJE Acquires its Oldest Artifact – Seventeenth Century Kiddush Cup Pre-Dates City of New Orleans by 41 Years

NEW ORLEANS, March 6, 2024 – The Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience is now displaying the oldest artifact in its collection: a silver kiddush cup made in the year 1677. The cup was recently donated to the museum by members of the Fraenkel family, in honor of Albert Fraenkel II (1928-2023) and his brother Francis “Shorty” Fraenkel. Albert had been the eighth-generation keeper of the family heirloom. 

Kiddush cups are used by Jews when saying a prayer for “the fruit of the vine,” or wine. While many kiddush cups are ornately adorned with grape or other Jewish motifs, the Fraenkel cup is a simple cylindrical beaker with a tapered form, embellished with simple bands and hammered dimples. It stands a modest 3.5 inches high and holds approximately four ounces. Its beauty resides in its simplicity and the stories it evokes.

Albert Fraenkel’s great-grandfather, Felix Fraenkel, the fifth generation to own the cup, brought it with him when he immigrated to New Orleans as a teenager from Rothbach, France, around 1852. Many Alsatian Jews immigrated to Louisiana in the mid-nineteenth century, seeking economic opportunity and an escape from antisemitic laws that had existed throughout Europe for centuries. Albert and his brother Francis “Shorty” Fraenkel both grew up in New Orleans. Albert, an avid researcher into his family’s genealogy, traced the generations of his family back more than 350 years in Alsace, France, and even traveled there to meet newly-discovered relatives.

Albert’s son Jeffrey Fraenkel, owner of the internationally-recognized Fraenkel Gallery in San Francisco, points out that one of the silversmith’s marks on the bottom of the cup is the symbol of the city of Basel, Switzerland. “I took the cup to Basel a few years ago and showed it to a silver dealer, who was really impressed,” says Jeffrey. “It amazes me that the cup originated there and, through the Fraenkel family, somehow found its way back to Basel some 340 years later.”

The museum’s 5,000-piece collection of Southern Jewish items includes many artifacts that immigrants brought with them from the “old country.” Most of these date to the mid-to-late nineteenth century and the early twentieth century, according to Kenneth Hoffman, the museum’s executive director. “That an immigrant took pains to pack a religious item like this kiddush cup for a trip into the unknown, tells us a lot about the importance of tradition, religion, and community,” says Hoffman. “We are grateful to the Fraenkel family for this most meaningful donation.”

The Fraenkel kiddush cup is currently on display in the museum’s From Immigrants to Southerners gallery.

Images:

  1. The Fraenkel kiddush cup
  2. Cup bottom detail
  3. Albert Fraenkel (1928-2023) shows photos of his family’s kiddush cup
  4. Kiddush cup on display at MSJE