By Deb Silverthorn
When Elijah visits the Seder of Bette and Dr. Gary Morchower, it is four generations in person and three further back on whose table the family Elijah’s Cup sits. The Morchowers are the “custodians” of the family treasure and they cherish it.
“My grandparents came to this country to give our family a better life and this cup is just a snapshot of the struggle they went through. Its spirit, travels and trials parallel the story of the Jews and when we use it at our Seder next week, I will tell the story of how it, and we, got here,” said Gary. As the oldest surviving male Morchower, he hosts the cup.
The Morchower cup’s history dates to 1908, when it was gifted by Hersh Ber and Baila Morchower to their son, Henry, and his wife, Rose, as a wedding present. Henry left the family home in Poland for New Jersey, where, for the next six years, he sold goods from a pushcart, saving his earnings to send to his wife and his children, Helen, Earl and Mindell, who remained in Poland during the outbreak of World War I. While Henry was gone, Rose would milk the family cows and cross the border into Austria to sell the milk to survive.
Once the family was reunited in the United States, it grew to seven with children Harry and Blanche born in New Jersey. Earl grew up and moved to San Antonio, where he met his wife, Dena Heubaum. Together they moved to Dallas, where he founded Dallas Handbag Company and the branches of their family tree extended with the births of their children, Gary and the late Diane.
Gary, now retired, was a pediatrician in Dallas for more than 47 years. One of Temple Emanu-El’s first bar mitzvah boys and a Highland Park High School graduate, he later graduated from Tulane University and its medical school before serving in the U.S. Army Medical Corps.
He was introduced to his future wife, the former Bette Denenberg, after she served his father and sister on a Braniff flight where she was working as a flight attendant. His father spoke Yiddish and Bette answered him. It was beshert. Married by Rabbi Gerald J. Klein in 1977 at Temple Emanu-El, the couple used his grandparents’ Kiddush cup at their wedding.
In 1999, the Morchower home sustained a fire, leaving the residence a total loss. Most of the family’s belongings were gone but, amidst the ashes, they found the very melted, almost unrecognizable Elijah’s Cup of the ages.
“The cup is like us and like our people … resilient,” said Bette Morchower as she polished the cup. “The majority of what we lost in the fire didn’t matter, but this really did.”
The Morchowers visited with many local silversmiths, and none could assure they were able to restore the precious item. Lys Denenberg, Bette’s stepmother of blessed memory, brought the cup to Ettie Weinberg, who managed Temple Emanu-El’s Judaic Treasures gift shop. Weinberg, who had long sold silversmith Ben-Zion David’s work, sent the Morchowers’ cup to him hoping he could perform the restoration.
Ben-Zion, the eighth generation of Yemenite artists specializing in Yemenite filigree, has Judaica and jewelry in galleries and museums throughout Israel and has exhibited his work in the United States, Australia and Europe. His ancestors crafted in silver for more than 2,000 years; when the late Shimon Peres was granted knighthood, he presented to Queen Elizabeth II a pair of candlesticks that Ben-Zion had created. Ben-Zion’s family came from Najran, Northern Yemen; his studio and the Jewish Culture Museum of Yemenite Art are now in Old Jaffa. Despite his expertise, the Morchower cup was still a challenge.
“I started working with my father and grandfather when I was 10 and I’d never seen anything like it. I remember looking at it at first, melted and smashed — really broken — but Hashemhelped me with this very damaged item,” he said.
“Our family came to Israel from Yemen in 1950 and the art has been lost by many. It was a challenge, but we returned it to the family. I am excited we could help and, in hearing of their continued simchas through the years, that they’ve held on to their tradition,” he said.
The cup has been part of decades of Seders for the Morchowers and, since its restoration, at many special family occasions, reaching the great-great grandchildren of Henry and Rose Morchower. It was used at the wedding of Dr. Karen Morchower and Drew Donosky and, for the latest generation, at the b’nai mitzvah of Sarah Simon, Shannon Simon, Jacob Leifer, Zachary Leifer; the bris of Megan and Andrew’s son, Benjamin Eli; and the naming of Karen and Drew’s daughter, Maci Blake.
“The cup is a gift to all of us, a piece of our family including those who came before us. Every year, Uncle Gary tells the Passover story as well as the story of our family cup. His lively telling of the cup’s story is a family tradition we look forward to and it reminds us we’re blessed to be of a strong people and a strong family,” said Stacy Simon.
For Temple Emanu-El’s Rabbi Debra Robbins, the cup and its holders are a physical expression of the story of redemption we celebrate at this season.
“In the Morchowers’ resolve and in the cup’s restoration, we see the heralding of a better future. The cup represents all that is to come,” said Robbins. She stood with the family as they witnessed the fire burn their home, then hung a mezuzah once they moved to another home; she has officiated at family simchas since.
“It’s very powerful and, as we come together,” said Robbins, “when we come together, we bring God to one another.”