What s Hidden In Your Bathroom? Remodeling Job Reveals History

Students at the University of Cincinnati Hillel Jewish Student Center are about to launch a search across the United States following a discovery in the bathroom of a librarian who lives in the Cincinnati suburb of  Wyoming, Ohio. Marble slabs that were formerly the walls of Linda Towles’ shower are actually memorial tablets bearing the names of the founders of Hebrew Union College, according to Rabbi Abie Ingber, director of UC’s Hillel Jewish Student Center. The college was founded in 1875.

In a July 1 announcement about the find, Ingber said the Hillel students are planning a national search for the descendants of the names engraved on the marble memorials. Two of those descendants, Lawrence Hoffheimer of Virginia and Cincinnati attorney Daniel Hoffheimer, were introduced at the July 1 announcement.

Two of the tablets, weighing hundreds of pounds each, were carried out of Towles’ home last March by UC Hillel students after Towles, who was remodeling her bathroom, saw names chiseled on the back of her former shower walls and asked Ingber to stop by and take a look. For years, Ingber has been collecting Jewish artifacts from around the nation – artifacts now cherished at Hillel – that had formerly been stored and forgotten or thrown into junk piles.

Ingber says he first agreed to pick up what he thought were ordinary memorial or donation boards because “God decided to hide them in a shower for a century.” But at first glace, Ingber says he knew the writing on the back of the old shower walls was a significant discovery. “As soon as I saw all of the cities and states listed with the bequests: Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, New York, Iowa, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, Arkansas – I realized there was only one event in the Jewish community in the last century that would merit this kind of national attention, and that was the founding of Hebrew Union College (HUC) in 1875,” Ingber says. Before HUC was founded by Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise and established in Cincinnati, American rabbis studied for the clergy in Europe.

Ingber says it took months of research for him to confirm his hunch that the donation boards were in memory of the founders of HUC. He says he found his proof in a 1901 report from the Union of American Congregations, which listed the names, cities and donations in exact order with the text, “In Memory of the Departed Benefactors of the Hebrew Union College.”

“We found a piece of Jewish history that was literally written on the bathroom wall,” Ingber says. “And, it’s arguably a piece of history of one of the most significant decisions made in the American Jewish community in the 19th century.”

In addition to searching for descendants of the founders, Ingber says he wants to remind homeowners nationwide to be on the lookout for similar discoveries if they’re remodeling older homes. “If you come across something unusual, alert your local university or historical society. You may have something of significance.”