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Testimonial For Rabbi Geffen
Rabbi Tobias Geffen and Mrs. Geffen with their children and grandson David.
"He's the Dean of Southern Rabbis"
Tobias Geffen is an 86-year old scholar who has devoted his long life to the Jewish people of Atlanta and Georgia and the nation.
By William Hammack
From The Atlanta Journal and Constitution Magazine May 5, 1957
This article ws provided by Rabbi M. David Geffen
Sitting on the auditorium stage at the new Atlanta Jewish Center was a white bearded patriarch who looked as if he had stepped from the pages of the Old Testament. An overflow crowd of Atlanta's Jewish citizens and Gentile guests had gathered at a testimonial dinner to pay tribute to the patriarch - Rabbi Tobias Geffen, the dean of Orthodox Jewish rabbis in the South. For almost half a century, the 886-year old scholar has devoted his life to his congregation, Shearith Israel, and to the Jewish people of Atlanta and Georgia and the nation.

The word "rabbi" means "learned man," and Rabbi Geffen is not only a deeply learned man, but he has encouraged learning among several generations of students, teachers and Jewish leaders. And as his eight children grew up, he insisted that they seek what Solomon asked God for - wisdom.

It so happened that this Orthodox Jewish Rabbi sent six children to a Methodist institution, Atlanta's Emory University.

In 1919, the year that Emory College moved from Oxford, GA., to Atlanta, a dignified bearded man in a frock coat, accompanied by his son, paid a call on Bishop Warren A. Candler, that stalwart of Methodism and, at the time, chancellor of Emory University. The bearded man, Rabbi Geffen, introduced his eldest son, Joel, and said he would like Joel to enroll at Emory. But, continued the rabbi, a problem existed. In those days, classed at the university were held from Tuesdays through Saturdays. The rabbi then pointed out that his family was Orthodox Jewish, and their religion forbade them to write on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath. Could there be found a way, the rabbi inquired, for Joel to attend Saturday classes without having to write anything?

Joel Geffen says today, "Bishop Candler told my father that he would be happy to work out the problem so that my classwork would not interfere with my religious beliefs. It was remarkable to see the understanding between my father and the bishop. I entered Emory that fall."

Young Joel attended classes on Saturdays, but he took no notes. He remembered all he could of the lectures, and classmates were glad to furnish their notes when he needed them. If written examinations were scheduled on Saturdays, instructors made arrangements to give Joel those tests on other days of the week.

"I went to chapel, too," Joel Geffen said. "And to Bible classes. I recall one of the first questions asked me in Bible class was, 'Do you believe in sprinkling or immersion?'" He chuckled. "I have to admit I couldn't answer that."

"I found a wonderful spirit of understanding and cooperation at Emory." Joel Geffen went on. After my experience at the university had been such a pleasant one, I was followed at Emory by my brother, Louis."

Louis Geffen observed, "There was one other problem connected with our going to Emory. Members of Orthodox Jewish families not only do not write on Saturdays, they don't ride or drive on Saturdays, either. And when we were going to college, we lived six miles from the campus. However," Louis grinned, "we solved that problem too. We walked. Twelve miles a day."

Joel and Louis were followed by a procession of young Geffens - from the old Fair Street School (now Ed S. Cook Elementary School) and the old Boys High and Girls High - to Emory University. From the year the institution opened its doors in Atlanta until 1937 - a period of 18 years - there was at least one child of Rabbi and Mrs. Geffen enrolled at the university - an Emory attendance record that few, if any families have approached. But although the crop of the rabbi's children ran out in '37, as Emory President Goodrich C. White commented, there is today a Geffen at Emory, a grandson of the rabbi, the son of Louis - David Geffen, who is a sophomore this year.

How did Tobias Geffen, on a rabbi's slender salary, manage to send his eight children to college? Rabbi Geffen's answer to this question reveals one of the qualities of the man - he has always believed that study and learning are vastly more importance material things. To educate his sons and daughters, he nursed, not just nickels, but pennies. Mrs. Geffen scrimped and saved and did without and made things do. The children helped; they worked to lighten the educational load. Some of them won scholarships and several of them shortened their college days by taking summer courses.

Was the long, arduous effort by the rabbi and his wife to educate their children worth the self denial they subjected themselves to? What became of the Geffen children after they left college?
Here they are today...
Rabbi Joel Geffen of the Emory class of 1922, wears three hats. He is director of the department of field activity and community education of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York; he is director of the Metropolitan New York Council of United Synagogues of America, and he is national spiritual adviser for the National Federation of Jewish Men's Clubs.
Louis Geffen, Emory class of '23, is an Atlanta attorney who heads his own law firm. As a member of the judge advocate general's corps in the Army during World War II, he was chief prosecutor of the first Japanese war criminal suspects to appear before Allied courts in Japan.
Rabbi Samuel Geffen, Emory class of 1926, who won his Emory law degree in 1931, is rabbi of the Jewish center of Forest Hills West, Long Island.
Dr. Abraham Geffen, Emory '37, is chief radiologist at Beth Israel Hospital in New York City.
Mrs. Abe Simon (Lottie Geffen) attended several summer courses at Emory, received a certificate from the old Atlanta Normal Training School, and studied at Columbia University in New York. She was a schoolteacher in Atlanta, and is now president of her late husband's business firm in Spartanburg, S.C.
Mrs. M. Carl Wilensky (Bessie Geffen), Emory class of 1929, was an Atlanta schoolteacher. Her doctor husband (also an Emory graduate) is an ophthalmologist in New Orleans, La.
Mrs. Ralph Raskas (Annette Geffen) obtained her A.B. degree at Emory in 1933, her M.A. in 1934. A former Atlanta schoolteacher, she is now the wife of a businessman in St. Louis, Mo
Mrs. Sam Ziff (Helen Geffen) received a scholarship to the University of Georgia in Athens, won her degree there, earned her master's degree at Columbia, and was working on her Ph.D. when she married. Her husband is a businessman of Minneapolis, Minn.
The father of these successful people, a man who believed that religion and education should be the chief interests in a person's life, was born in Lithuania. So was his wife, the former Hene Rabinowitz. Tobias Geffen earned his rabbinical degree in that country, and he and Hene were married in 1898. as the terrible pogroms directed by the Russians against the Jewish people of Lithuania grew in violence, Tobias Geffen finally made a soul-shaking decision: he resolved to leave his native land and his people, because he was, and is,a man who loves liberty, and he was determined to bring up his children in a climate of freedom. So in 1903, he and his wife and their first two children, Lottie and Joel, arrived in New York. Louis is the first native-born American in the rabbi's family; he was born in New York's East Side. In 1910 Rabbi Geffen and his increasing family came to Atlanta where he became rabbi of Congregation Shearith Israel. His three youngest children were born in Atlanta. For almost two score and 10 years he has conducted services at Shearith Israel, and he constantly studied and wrote. The author of six books of sermons and other works, he is recognized today as one of the foremost Talmudic and Biblical scholars in the nation.

But Rabbi Geffen did not confine his energies to scholarly pursuits alone - he entered with zeal into the life of his adopted city and state and nation. He organized the first Hebrew school in Atlanta; he started the first effort in the city to collect funds for the aid of needy families in European countries after World War I; he was directly and indirectly responsible for the support of many charitable institutions.

As the fame of the rabbi and his deeds spread, his home became the first port of call in Atlanta for traveling rabbis, Jewish scholars and other visitors from all over the world.

"Frequently," remembers Louis Geffen, "the Rebetzin, my mother, would have to use the limited supply of food which she had prepared for her children for these Orchim, or visitors. And many times, we children would have to give up our beds for these guests. But we learned the principle of sharing from our father and mother. They set for us an example of unselfish living and of concern for the welfare of others. I suppose," Louis Geffen said thoughtfully, "that was one of the finest lessons of the many which were taught to us in our home."

While Tobias Geffen taught and studied and wrote, he did not shirk his routine duties as rabbi. In his life of service to Atlanta, he has married more than 3,000 couples. He still enjoys performing this happy task, and these days he is marrying the grandchildren of couples he joined in wedlock during his early days in Georgia. He has, of course, officiated at the weddings of numberless children of couples he married. For example, not long after he came to Atlanta, one of the original members of his congregation, Samuel Goldstein, asked the rabbi to perform the ceremony at the wedding of Mr. Goldstein's daughter, Minnie, to Joseph Weiss. Some 28 years later, the rabbi officiated at the wedding of the son of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Weiss, Arthur, an Atlanta businessman and retired Marine major who won the Silver Star at Guadalcanal during World War II. Arthur Weiss and his wife, the former Edith Lempert, were among the some 550 persons who attended the testimonial dinner for Rabbi Geffen at the Jewish Community Center.

The rabbi's eight children were on hand, the first time the far flung clan had gathered together in 18 years, and so were many of his 16 grandchildren. Rabbi and Mrs. Geffen also have two great-grandchildren. All the rabbis of the Atlanta area were present, and among the Gentile guests were Dr. James P. Wesberry, pastor of Atlanta's Morningside Baptist Church, and his wife. The toastmaster at the event, Dr. Irving Greenberg, introduced Atlanta's Mayor William B. Hartsfield, and Dr. Goodrich C. White, president of Emory University, who paid tributes to the rabbi. David Geffen read a poem he had written in honor of his grandfather; Sidney S. Gulden, president of Congregation Shearith Israel, presented Rabbi Geffen with a testimonial scroll; Barney Medintz unveiled a portrait of the rabbi, a splendid painting by Atlanta artist, Leiber Freedenthal. This portrait, presented by Meyer Balser, president of the Atlanta Jewish Community Center, and a group of friends, will hang in the library of the new synagogue which will soon be built by Congregation Shearith Israel. And then in further, and especially appropriate tribute to the scholarly Rabbi Geffen, the library itself was formally dedicated to him by his younger colleague at Congregation Shearith Israel, Rabbi Sydney K. Mossman

The testimonial dinner was a fitting tribute to Tobias Geffen who is, as Rabbi Mossman said, "a revered rabbi and a distinguished scholar. But more important than these, he is a man whose whole life has been spent in doing justly, loving mercy and walking humbly with the Lord our God.
Click here to read about Rabbi Geffen and the kashering of Coca Cola