Hans Bodenheimer was born in Bad Nauheim, Germany on January 3, 1913. His father died in World War I, so he was raised by his mother and grandparents. His grandfather, an observant Jew, took him to synagogue often and inspired Hans to his eventual calling as a Rabbi. After graduating from seminary in Germany, Bodenheimer took his first rabbinic position in Felsberg, Germany in January of 1933, two weeks before Hitler came to power on the 15th. After Kristallnacht on November 10, 1938, Bodenheimer was sent to the newly-constructed Buchenwald concentration camp. He remained there for 5 weeks and was released on the condition that he leave Germany no later than March 31, 1939. His experiences at the camp for those five weeks, punctuated by starvation, brutality and fear, opened his eyes to the true horrors the Nazis were inflicting on the Jews.

Reluctant to leave his homeland, his future wife, mother and grandmother behind, Bodenheimer later appreciated his good luck to have secured a visa to the United States, but he was not happy at the time. Arriving in Hartford in 1939, where his sister and her husband had settled some years before, he brought with him a hundreds-year-old Torah scroll rescued from his synagogue prior to Kristallnacht. To Bodenheimer’s great regret, he was never able to get his mother out of Germany and she died in the Holocaust.

Bodenheimer did not enjoy life in the US until his future wife, Alma, arrived in 1941 and they were married shortly after. Her optimistic outlook and company improved his experience and he began to develop an appreciation for life in his adopted country. In 1941, 18 German refugees, Bodenheimer among them, began meeting to discuss founding a synagogue. On the anniversary of Kristallnacht in 1942, Tikvoh Chadoshoh, “New Hope,” formally incorporated, with Bodenheimer as spiritual leader.

Although he had attended seminary in Germany, Bodenheimer did not feel fully qualified as a Rabbi and referred to himself as Reverend. He pursued further study at Marbeatze Torah Institute in Brooklyn and received Smicha (ordination) there in 1968, officially adopting the honorific of Rabbi.

Tikvoh Chadoshoh built their first building, at 25 Cornwall Street in Hartford in 1956, then moved to Bloomfield in 1971, where its successor, B’nai Tikvoh Sholom, remains. Bodenheimer led the congregation until his retirement in 1996.  He also become a sofer, or Torah scribe, chaplain of the Hartford Fire Department and served as a vice president of the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Hartford. He published a book, From Bad Nauheim to Bloomfield: My Journey of Faith, in 1999. He died on August 13, 1999, at age 86.

2 Comments

  1. Rev. Bodenheimer taught our bar mitzvah lessons at the Emmanuel. That would have been late ’65 and early ’66. I never knew anything about his backstory. He was a good teacher and I don’t know how he tolerated us. 12-year-old boys (and girls, too, really) can be really obnoxious. He must have had an urge to whack us on our heads with skillets. I still admire his restraint.

  2. Author

    Thanks for sharing! I tend to think patience with students is something that every rabbi and cantor needs to cultivate. 🙂

Comments are closed.