The Eulogizer: Chicago restaurateur, Jewish newspaper publisher


JERUSALEM (JTA) — The Eulogizer is a new column (soon-to-be blog) that highlights the life accomplishments of famous and not-so-famous Jews who have passed away recently. Learn about their achievements, honor their memories and celebrate Jewish lives well lived with The Eulogizer. Write to the Eulogizer at Read previous columns here.

Colorful Chicago restaurateur

Nathan Batt, owner of a Jewish restaurant located in Al Capone’s home in Chicago which counted celebrities and politicians among its clientele for decades, died Jan. 19 at 93.

"He had a great restaurant, but he was a great man," said James "Jimmy" Lemons, a cook for Batt who now owns Lem’s, a legendary barbecue restaurant on Chicago’s South Side. "Me being black, and him being Jewish and white, made no difference. He hired me for my skills – for what I could do and how I could cook. Got to the point he’d say I cooked Jewish food better than most Jewish people!" According to the Chicago Tribune the menu at Mama Batt’s restaurant, which closed in the late 1970s, included classic foods such as matzo balls, blintzes, fried kreplach and kasha.

Celebrities – including Jerry Lewis, Perry Como, and Danny Thomas – reportedly stopped by, and the late Mayor Richard J. Daley was a regular as well. "If the mayor got a cold, we’d send a big bowl of chicken soup to his office – the Jewish penicillin," said Batt’s son, Harry.

Batt was born in Omaha, Neb., and his family opened a diner following a move to Chicago. After graduating from high school in 1935, Batt worked at his father’s restaurant. Two years later, he married his childhood sweetheart, Rebecca, who died in 2005 after 68 years of marriage.

The location of Batt’s was itself a part of the restaurant’s appeal. It was located in a crumbling hotel that Capone had used as a headquarters, and in its later years was the subject of many attempts at renovation, which eventually failed. Sports Illustrated featured Batt’s in a 1969 feature article on the popularity of tabletop sports games such as Strat-O-Matic Baseball in the era before video and computer games.

Texas Jewish newspaper publisher

Joseph W. Samuels, publisher of Houston’s Jewish newspaper, the Herald-Voice, and a major supporter of the city’s Holocaust museum, died Jan. 19 at 95.

Samuels bought the Jewish Herald-Voice in 1973, when he was 57, fulfilling his father’s dream, his wife, Jeanne, said. "It’s a very cohesive community, and we like to contribute to that fact," she said.

Fred Zeidman, former chairman of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, said Samuels was “the epitome of what is good and honorable about journalism." Indeed, the newspaper’s website was full of tributes from past and former journalistic colleagues, as well as friends and family members: “Joe and Jeanne, and now their children and grandchildren, have been the community’s partners in conveying the news and interests of our organizations and institutions,” said Lee Wunsch, president & CEO of Jewish Federation of Greater Houston.

Samuels was born in Dallas, and was raised in the Jewish Children’s Home in New Orleans, after his father died. He attended Isidore Newman School, which had been established to educate children in the home, and which continues today as a college prep school. He worked several jobs as he pursued a degree in communications at the University of Houston, where he met his wife, Jeanne Franklin, whom he married in 1943. Samuels served in Italy and Southwest Africa with the Army Air Corps during World War II.

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