Archive | December, 2019

A Theodor Herzl Pocketknife And Anti-Semitism

31 Dec

I have been thinking about Theodor Herzl lately.  I know it is because of the upswing in anti-Semitism and Herzl’s role in establishing the State of Israel, which now leads to anti-Zionism, which is finally being realized as just another name for anti-Semitism.

It was Herzl who, after the horrible affair of French anti-Semitism when an innocent Jewish officer, Alfred Dreyfus, was sent to prison despite his innocence, became an ardent Zionism.  Herzl campaigned for the establishment of a homeland for the Jewish people. He was a founder of the Zionist Organization, which encouraged Jewish immigration to what was then Palestine, to form a Jewish state.  I have visited Herzl’s grave in Jerusalem at the cemetery on Mt. Herzl. (See blog below.)

Perhaps I am thinking about Herzl because I am going to Budapest next fall.  Herzl was born there in 1860 on the Pest side of the river.  Herzl’s family lived next door to the famous Dohany Street Synagogue, which I am going to see when I am there. I will also see where Herzl spent his early years as I am also going to Vienna, where Herzl went to college.

But it is Herzl’s defense of the Jewish people against anti-Semitism and his desire for them to have a safe place to live reverberates with me.   I keep asking myself, is it true?  Do all Jews really need to move to Israel to escape the hatred that seems to be rising throughout the world?  There are days when I am just stunned by what is happening. And I consider this option.

However, I feel safe where I live. I know people of all religions are supportive of interfaith discussion and community. I belong to several groups, like the Sisterhood of Salaam/Shalom, that work to create positive relationships.  But even here we have had a vicious anti-Semitic attack several years ago when three people were killed at the Jewish Community Campus and Village Shalom, the home for the elderly. The irony is that all three people murdered were not Jewish.  It was a raging anti-Semite who committed the crimes.

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It was a little bit of a shock when I found a Herzl penknife in a small drawer in my bedroom while on a recent cleaning binge.  It was a reinforcement of my feelings of dread. The little knife belonged to my husband’s father.  We have no idea where he got it, or why he had it.  But it shows age and use.

The pocketknife is slim.  About 3 inches by ½ inch by 1/3 inch deep.  Engraved on the front is a Star of David, with inlaid white and blue stones (a few pieces are missing or damaged) and an engraved portrait of Herzl with his name underneath it in Hebrew.

There are two blades, one is engraved on both sides.  On one side is a symbol of what looks like an ancient king or warrior holding two blades and underneath it is:  SMF Solingen.  The other side of the same blade has two lines of writing that is a bit worn.  The bottom word is Germany.  Above it are two words: perhaps, Leopold Borwitz.  Let me know what you think!?

I have found out that Solingen, Germany, where Adolf Eichmann was born, is known for its blades, it is the main industry of the region since the middle ages.  It is actually known as the “City of Blades.” Knifes and blades for all reasons, cooking, hunting, killing, protection, pocket-knives, cutlery, swords, scissors and razors and other items made of steel and silver are produced there. The city was bombed repeatedly by the British because of the many weapons companies.

I found this company mark that is similar to mine on Items from Solingen, Stocker & Company, SMF, Solingen.   Their mark has added lines in the clothes and sword, but otherwise it is the same mark. On the company website are many pocketknives/penknives that are similar in size to mine, some are vintage models, others are newer.

The painful part is that this company made knifes for the Nazis!  Among the vintage knifes are ‘rare’ German Nazi Luftwaffe paratrooper knives, World War 2 Nazi Gravity Knives, SS daggers, Hitler Youth daggers, and more.  Imagine my shock as I think about anti-Semitism, and I find a knife with Herzl and a Star of David, and then I find out that this company made knives for the Nazis. I believe this company went out of business in the early 1970s.

In 1932 the city of Solingen had only 265 Jewish residents before the war. By 1933 over one hundred had already left Germany by emigrating.  By 1938 the official Jewish population was only 89.  Some of these souls died in Dachau, some in Theresienstadt. A few survived the war. But the Jewish community along with its synagogue was destroyed.

I have been to Germany.  It actually now has a thriving Jewish community made up mainly of Jews from the former Soviet Union and Israelis who families were Germans before the war and can claim citizenship.

But this does not help to solve the mystery of this knife.  When was it made?  I am assuming it came after the Second World War. Perhaps to commemorate the establishment of Israel?  I am not sure I will ever know.  I looked on EBay and other websites to see if I could find another penknife like this. But there were none!

My little Herzl pocketknife takes on so many meanings in my mind.  Its history, its maker, why my husband’s father had it?  Many thoughts are going through my mind.  Anti-Semitism, Anti-Zionism, Nazis, Germany, Herzl, Israel.  They all seem to coalesce in this knife.

As the new year begins, I hope for a year of peace and civility.  I hope that as it says in the Torah, we will beat our swords into plowshares (Isiah 2:4).  And that is the message I will take from my knife.  A company that can make weapons for the Nazis, then can make a knife to commemorate Herzl and Israel.

I am hoping that 2019 was an aberration and that 2020 will bring light back to us all.

 

https://zicharonot.com/2014/05/05/remembering-those-who-passed-yom-hazikaron/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solingen

https://www.reference.com/history/history-rostfrei-knives-644fa4d4588eebbe

http://www.dg.de/en/maker/smf-solinger-metallwaffenfabrik-solingen-stoecker-rzm-m7-9

 

Taking A New Name In America

29 Dec

We always hear of people saying the family’s name was changed at Ellis Island.  Well my family came before there was an Ellis Island.  They came through Castle Garden in New York City.  And they themselves changed their names.  This is the story of the Litvak/Goldman side of my family.

Here are the descendants of my great great grandparents Rasha (Goldberg) and Yaacov Litvak who were bakers in Bialystok, Russia.

As they came to the United States each of my great grandfather’s brothers changed their last name from Litvak to Goldman.  I guess it makes some sense as their mother’s maiden name was Goldberg.  My great grandfather was the last of the brothers to venture to the USA, but once here he changed his name as well.  Baruch Lev Litvak officially became Louis Goldman.

In a previous blog I recounted my maternal grandmother’s mother’s family (see blog below.  The information in this blog also comes from conversations I had with my grandmother in the 1970s as well as a document my aunt wrote with my grandmother.  We are lucky to have all of this information.

Yaacov and Rasha Litvak, also known as Jack and Ray, had seven children.  All of them immigrated to the United States in the late 1800s.  Avram/Abe, Duddie/David, Barnett, Leah, Tzipora/Tzippy, Chia/Chaya, Louis/Baruch Lev.

Avram/Abe had two daughters, named Martha and Florence, and one son

Duddie, or David, had three children. They also have both English and Yiddish names.  Chappie/Louis was married to Bessie.  They had two sons, Bennie and Miltie.  Itzacast/Harry and Lobel/Sophie were Duddie’s other children. (My grandmother remembered much more about those cousins she saw more often.)

Barnett married Sarah and had six children. Hymie, Ray, Bessie, Phil, Dora and Jack. She remembered a lot about this family. Hymie married Mary and had three daughters.  Phil married Selma and had two daughters.  Bessie married Harry Brinsley.  They had one son, Bert, who died young.  Ray Berber married two times, but never had children.

Then there is the somewhat sad story of Dora who supposedly died by suicide when she as just 18 years old.  The family legend is that she was pregnant by her boss.  This would have been in the early 1900s.

However, I decided to look into this story.  Is it true?  Did she die?  I am not so sure.   I did find her in both the 1900 US census living with her parents, Barnett and Sarah Goldman with siblings as mentioned and a few more: Abe, Hyman (Hymie), Rachel (Ray), Harry, Bessie/Betsy, Solomon, Philip, Jacob/Jack and Dora who was just two.  I know there are extra children here.  Some of these could be cousins who were living with their uncle.  Perhaps my grandmother’s memory was not quite correct.   Or perhaps some of them did not live to adulthood. And so my grandma and aunt did not know of them.

I did find two women name Dora Goldman who died around the time she would have been 18. But I also found a Dora Goldman on someone else’s family tree who has her linked to my Barnett and Sarah. This Dora Goldman married and had a daughter in 1922.  She had a second child in 1923.  But her first husband must have died young, because, Dora remarried in 1934.  She lived in New Jersey.  Is this the right Dora?  I do not know. The tree that linke them did not have a marriage license or a death certificate where I could check Dora’s parents’ names.

I guess I hope that she did marry and did not die by suicide.  I have to continue to research her and see if I can find the marriage license.

The next child of Jacob and Rasha was Leah Kramer and her husband who had six children: Ray, Issac, Louis, Bernie/Dverie, Jack and Rasay/Rashie. Rashie married but died quite young.  ( Rashie’s daughter Rachel/Ray had several children including one son who perished from injuries sustain in World War 2.  She also had several daughters.)

I think it was Louis/Label Kramer who had two sons, Irwin and Donald. A one son had or daughter (not sure if the name was Bernie or Dverie) had four daughters, Shaunie, Peralie, Shushkie and Rosie and one son, Hymie.

Tzippy/Tziporah was married twice, as her first husband died. She had Fannie/Chifeque, Harry and Jack.  Fannie had three daughters, including Ruthie Abrams.  It is funny because Grandma said we were close to her.  And I actually vaguely remember this name. Tzippy’s other daughters were Lillian and Shaynie.

Back to Ruth Abrams. She had a daughter named Berenice, who was married, last name Inhober (?). Who lived in NY and wintered in Florida.   Ruthie also had a son who was a cab driver.  Now this is a story I heard hundreds of time.  One day he picked up a fare and was shot to death!   There were family  debates about this incident.  Some say he was perfectly innocent and just a crazy guy killed him.   But then there are those who said he might have been a ‘wise guy’ who got into trouble with the Jewish mob.

I wish I had answers to this question.  But I don’t. Having his first name would help, I am sure.

Chia/Chaya never had children and died quite young.

Louis Goldman, my great grandfather, who married Ray/Rachel Wolf and had five children. This family has been identified in other blogs.

Of course, the questions are always there. What happened to these families?  After the third generation they lost touch.  My father and aunt and uncle knew them.  But we, the next generation, only have vague memories about a scattered few of these cousins.  But I know that the next generations are spread out in the world and show up in my DNA feeds as third, fourth and distant cousins.

 

https://zicharonot.com/2019/12/19/the-descendants-of-esther-lew-and-victor-avigdor-wolff-wolf/

 

https://zicharonot.com/2016/03/08/louis-of-the-blessed-heart/

 

Sentimental Musings: My Parents And “Animal Farm”

25 Dec

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I have to start this blog with a confession to my siblings, “I have Mom’s copy of Animal Farm.”

To be honest, this is a big deal.  When our parents died nine months apart, and we cleaned out their homes, we searched for certain important, sentimental items.  The 1946 edition of Animal Farm fell into this category.

In my family,  Animal Farm is not just an allegory about communism using farm animals.  Instead it is the basis for our parent’s relationship.  Dad lived in the Bronx.  Mom lived in New Jersey.  My Dad’s aunt lived near my Mom and shopped in the family bakery.   She decided that my Mom and Dad had to meet.

In order to appease his aunt, my Dad took the train, the subway, the ferry, who knows how many types of transit to travel to meet my Mom. (The timeline it took to get to meet her and the numerous transits increased over the years.)

It went well.  Mom loaned Dad her copy of Animal Farm to read.  Of course, after he read it, he had to make the return trip back to New Jersey to deliver the book back to her and discuss it.  This was the start of a great love story that lasted the 59 years they were married.

Obviously Animal Farm holds a place in all of our hearts.  And it was missing.  But maybe not so much.   I sort of remembered that Mom gave me the book when I was in college.  As an English major I had to read many books, so I often went home to see if we had any in our family library.  Animal Farm came back to college with me and has stayed with me for the next 40 something years.  However, I did not know exactly where it was in my house.  Actually, I just hoped it did not get lost in one of my moves before settling in my current home of 34 years.

So why am I writing about it now?  Two reasons. I have been thinking of this book a lot lately.  I have been focusing on how it starts off with the saying that all animals being equal, but ends with /the new dictate that some animals are better (or more equal) than other animals.  I have also been thinking about pigs running the government, not that I have any intention of making a political statement here.  I decided I wanted to reread it and wondered if I did still have it.

Reason two, I have been on a cleaning binge, which includes sorting through and giving away some of our thousands of books with the idea that we will downsize our home.  Since I am on winter vacation from work, I decided to continue my house cleansing and search specifically for this book.  Well I found it. There on a shelf, tucked between two larger books, was the green cover of slim book: Animal Farm. 

It is the Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1946 edition.  Not sure if it is a first printing, because it does not note that on the page.  However, it was in 1946 that it was published in the USA.

Finding it also confirmed my belief that I used it in school, because tucked inside was a mimeographed sheet explaining who all the characters represented. It is a great cheat sheet that was presented to us by our teacher.

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My true confession is over.  I hope my siblings will be happy to know that the book is safe.  Its pages intact and its importance to our family will live with this retelling.

Personally, I will now reread Animal Farm and compare the fate of the world now with the way the world was moving in the years after World War Two.

 

The Descendants of Esther (Lew) and Victor (Avigdor) Wolff/Wolf

19 Dec
GG Grandparents

Esther Lew and Victor Wolff

In the late 1880s and 1890s many of my great grandma Ray’s siblings came to settle in the United States, specifically in the New York City area.  In fact, of the nine children of Victor and Esther (Lew) Wolf/Wolff, eight eventually left their small town, Ciechanowiec, in the Bialystoker region of Russia to move to the United States.

As a young child, I remember going into New York for the Cousins’ Club.  These crowded and noisy events were filled with all the descendants of these siblings and their descendants.  Eventually we stopped meeting.  I believe it was when the last siblings passed away.

Since I was always an inquisitive person, I was the grandchild who sat down in the early 1970s with all of my grandparents and asked for their stories.  It paid off, because I now am writing their histories.

From my Grandma Esther, I got the names of all of her mother’s siblings and all of the children.  Later in life, when my cousins saw my determination to chronicle our family, I was sent an additional document written by my aunt, my father’s sister, that gives a bit more detail for some, but not as much for others as Grandma’s reminiscing.

So for all those who are interested, here are the nine children and the many grandchildren of Victor and Esther.  I am not sure of the list in age order, as Grandma and my aunt had it a bit differently.  I will go with Grandma’s list.

Sarah:  She never had children of her own.  But she raised the daughter of her sister.  And actually Grandma said she had two children: Esther (Meshugganah Esther to the family) and Abraham, who might also be the child of Anna/Champka. (See blog link below.)

Rosie (Lichtenfeld): had four children: Benny, Jack, Jules and Esther. (My aunt was friendly with Benny’s two daughters Rhoda and Janet.)

Anna/Champka:  She came as a young widow from Europe with three children and pregnant.  It was her youngest Estelle/Esther who was raised by Sarah.  Her other children were Ray, Fanny and Abe (who also might have been raised by Sarah).   (See blogs below.)

Israel(Ezriel Aharon): He was the one who remained orthodox.  His children were Esther, Ray, Jack, Fannie and Charles. His children were all born in Europe. So they came later. Fannie never had children because she had tuberculosis.

Cheika/Chia Vrona/Wrona: This is the sister who never came to the USA. But two of her children came: Louis Verona who lived in Atlanta. Julia/Yudia who had three children Esther , Irene and Louis.  Ichie never came to the USA.

Ray/Rasha: My great grandmother who married Louis and had five children. Minnie, Esther, Jake (who died young) Philip and Sam.

Simcha/Sam: He had three sons Hymie, Victor and Charlie.

Harry: married Minnie and had four children: Esther, Julius/Yudel, and Goldie survived.  His daughter Rosie died when she was in her 20s.

Jacob: He was the youngest. That I know for sure. He had a daughter, Gertie who married Dave Stern. And two sons Hymie and Victor.

I remember there were many children named  Hymie, Victor and Esther.  (I wrote about the Esthers as well, see the blog below.) But my Uncle kept in touch with one Hymie who came to several family events.

I do know the names of some of the next generation. And occupations of some of the original siblings and first cousins. But I think this should be a good start in knowing the family.

https://zicharonot.com/2018/05/08/updated-esthers/

https://zicharonot.com/2015/01/27/serendipity-wins-in-finding-a-family-connection/

I Know These Names

17 Dec

As the snow continues to fall outside and I have a snow day from my job, I decided to continue searching in my Grandma’s Photo Album.  Since my last photo once again lead me to the Yad V’Shem data base and to another story of death during the Shoah, I searched for perhaps some happier photos.   I was successful.

I found three photos from the 1940s.  The first two were taken on November 25, 1945. Perhaps the photo with the three people is a wedding photo for Felix and Martha, along with Martha’s sister, Rosa.  They are celebrating something, as Felix and Martha are wearing flowers. The two women look so much alike. They have the same exact smile.   I know that they must be sisters.

The third photo, from July 14, 1947, is inscribed: “To you, dear cousin, from Rosel.”  I am sure the ‘dear cousin’ is my grandmother.  It surprised me because this photo was taken a few days before my grandmother’s 41 birthday.

These two girls are much younger than my grandma.  Closer in age to my mother, who would have been 18 in 1947.   So perhaps they are the surviving children of one of my Grandma’s first cousins.  There were so many of them.  Her mother had seven siblings and her father three or four.  Although my grandmother’s siblings survived, many of her cousins perished in the Shoah.

Martha, the girl who I think married, looks so much like my mother.  Not her smile, but the shape of her face.  I can see that they are somehow related.

Now I am on a search to see where they settled after the war.  I have emailed cousins and my siblings in this search.  Mainly because I remember these names.  I have heard together.  I have heard my grandmother say them.  One of my mother’s first cousins has no memory of these people.  But since I spent so much time in Israel and traveled there with my grandmother, I am hoping these are among the people that I met so many years ago. (See blog below.)

I know my grandparents sent money to relatives after the war.  Were these people among those who they helped?  I do not know. My grandfather once said that he was always helping grandma’s family.  But I know he did not mind.  It was something that had to be done.

I wish these photos included a last name as that would make my search so much easier.  But in the long run, perhaps it does not matter.  At least I know they survived and that alone gives me joy.

 

https://zicharonot.com/2014/08/19/old-photographs-bring-memories-to-life/

https://zicharonot.com/2019/09/26/another-photo-another-trip-to-the-yad-vshem-database/

https://zicharonot.com/2019/06/17/my-obsession-with-grandmas-album-leads-to-the-shoah/

https://zicharonot.com/2018/07/20/viroshov-wieruszow-a-jewish-community-destroyed/

https://zicharonot.com/2014/04/28/speaking-yiddish-always-brings-me-holocaust-memories/

 

Back to My Grandfather’s Mysterious Brothers: First Jacob

10 Dec

My paternal grandfather had two brothers.  One disappeared when Grandpa was a young man.  I am still trying to figure out where he went and what happened to him.  Samuel’s story will have to wait to another day.

I plan to focus on my Grandpa’s younger brother, Jacob.  He was an interesting and upwardly mobile man.   Jacob came from nothing and became an attorney, lived on the upper east side of New York City, and then in the 1950s moved to England.  Those are all facts I know from my grandmother, father and aunt.

What I have been told.  Jacob was married to Dorothy.  She was, in the words of my grandmother, a person who did not really want anything to do with the poorer members of the family.  And that was mean, my grandma said, because my grandfather is the one who helped Jacob go through high school and college by being the main support of the family.

Jacob had two children:  Delilah and Rupert James.   My grandmother would say, their names say it all, “Who names their children Delilah and Rupert!”  Those who remember my grandmother can probably hear her say that.

My aunt, my father’s sister, had slightly different memories because she took piano lessons at Jacob’s home, with her first cousin, Delilah.   I think they had separate lessons as my aunt was several years younger.  However, the fact that she was provided these lessons makes me think my great uncle and his wife were not horrible. This is what they did to help.

But I am thinking that perhaps he went overseas to be an international lawyer. He would have been in his late 50s.  Either at the top of his career, or ready to retire.  I am not sure.

I found two articles in the August 24 and 25, 1953, European edition of “The Stars and Stripes,” the Unofficial Publication of the US Armed Forces in Europe.  And it has an article about an attorney, Jacob Rosenberg, and a case he was working on about an American citizen” imprisoned for 17 months in a Communist Hungarian prison after a conviction for espionage.”  Could this be my great uncle?  See link here: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/1136/miusa1942d_066165-01008?pid=54273&treeid=&personid=&rc=1458,3094,1604,3119%3B128,3283,262,3306%3B1210,3430,1357,3454%3B1214,1079,1353,1101%3B1180,3095,1305,3119%3B1342,3093,1421,3115&usePUB=true&_phsrc=axO536&_phstart=successSource

As far as I know, after they moved to England there was basically no contact with the family in the USA.  Or at least our branch of the family.   He left right around the time I was born.  I have no memory of him or his family.  Just the names.

What I have found out and have not found out.  I have no marriage record for Jacob and Dorothy, but I know she was born in Russia somewhere between 1901-1903.  From a 1925 census, I know that he was still living at home when he was 29, so I know he married when he was at least 30.

From the 1930 census, I know that he was already an attorney at 34, married to Dorothy with one child, Delilah.  They lived at 881 Washington Avenue.

From the 1940 census, I know that both children were born.  Delilah was 12, (but as she was born in 1929, she was really 11) and Rupert (misspelled Rugsert) was 8.  Now they are living uptown on East 88th Street.  And there are two women living with them, a Jeannie Goldstein, who is older than Dorothy.  And a much younger woman, who I think was a maid.

I do not know why they moved to England or the exact date they moved.  I don’t know when he or his wife died.  But I do know a bit about his two children.

Delilah traveled back and forth between the USA and Europe/England many times in the 1950s.  She was on the Queen Elizabeth several times, the Noordam, the Wosterdam, the Flandre and more.   On one ship manifest for entering the USA, her profession is listed as pianist.  So all those years of piano lessons paid off for Delilah.   I remember my aunt telling me that Delilah played beautifully!

I do have information about a Delilah Rosenberg getting married in 1961. But I do not have the marriage record, so I cannot confirm it is her.  However, I cannot find her traveling back and forth after that date.  So perhaps she settled.

As for Rupert.  I found his high school yearbook.  In 1948 he was a senior at the Columbia Grammar and Prep School where he was on the Dean’s list four times, on the Debate Council, a member of the History Club, on the Literary Board of the school newspaper.  To see his senior photo, go here:  https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/1265/43134_b191888-00000?backurl=&ssrc=&backlabel=Return#?imageId=43134_b191888-00036

It turns out Rupert was voted best student in his senior year: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/1265/43134_b191888-00000?backurl=&ssrc=&backlabel=Return#?imageId=43134_b191888-00045

I had to find out about this school because I was sure it was not a public school, like DeWitt Clinton High School, where my Dad went. I found out that Columbia Grammar and Prep School is the oldest private non-sectarian school in the USA!  It was founded in 1764 by the forerunner of Columbia University.  It separated from the University in 1863.  It moved to its current location at 93 street near Central Park West in 1907, so Rupert would have gone to this building.    A women’s school, The Leonard School for Girls was opened in 1937.  ( I could not find yearbooks for the years Delilah would have been in high school.)   And in 1956, when they both were graduated, the two schools merged. (Wikipedia, see link below.)

He started using the name James Rupert Rosenberg.   I know he got married on December 19, 1953 to Elizabeth Ann King.  There is a small newspaper article which states: that he was married at Our Lady of Victories Chapel in Kensington, London, England.  This is a Roman Catholic Church, which might have upset his parents.

It is a centuries old building dating back before the 1500s! It stopped being a Catholic Church after the Reformation, but in 1794, when French Catholics fled France during the French Revolution, it once again became a Catholic Church.  The Church was destroyed during WW2.  The rebuilt Church did not open until 1959, so I assume my cousin and his wife married in a temporary space? (Information from the church website, see link below.)

His wife was the daughter of the late E.A. C. King of the Indian Police.    I wonder if the King family lived in India or Burma before her father died. Her mother is just listed as Mrs. King (I hate that.)

In any case, his father, Jacob, was in the United States when James Rupert got married.  So perhaps James is what brought his parents to England.  James died when he was only 59 years old in January 1991.

I still have many unanswered questions about the family of my great uncle Jacob.  But at least he is no longer just a name.  And his son, my father’s first cousin, now has a face.

Once again, thanks to my distant cousin, Evan Wolfson, who has helped so much in my research.   Here is an earlier blog I wrote about finding out the mysteries of my grandfather’s family:  https://zicharonot.com/2019/07/18/some-of-my-paternal-family-mysteries-solved-but-not-all/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Columbia_Grammar_%26_Preparatory_School

https://www.cgps.org/

https://www.ourladyofvictories.net/history.html

 

Childhood Events Definitely Impact My Adult Choices

5 Dec

When I was a child, I remember going to my grandparents’ cousin’s candy store on Bergen Boulevard near Journal Square in Jersey City.  My brother and I have discussed their names, as it is a memory from long ago, over 50 years.  He remembers the wife as Anna, and I remember the husband, as Morris.  We will go with these two names.

Like my grandparents, they were from Europe.  I believe that Morris was my grandfather’s second cousin.  That is a connection I have yet to finalize.  But I am pretty sure he was not a first cousin.  However, in the area they came from in Galicia, Mielec, my grandfather’s family was large and very intermingled.

The best part of going to the candy store, of course, was the candy.  We could eat whatever we wanted, within the reasonable constraints of my mother. The other part was seeing Morris and Anna, who were always excited to see us.  They never had children of their own, but they loved us.

Sometimes, my Mom would drive my grandmother, my brother and I to visit them in the candy store.  I have good memories of being there. My grandmother and Anna always had a good time visiting.  So even though it was my grandfather’s cousin, my grandmother often went to visit without him.  And since she never learned to drive, my Mom had that job and we got to tag along.

Morris always sat behind the counter and ran the cash register. He sat there because he no longer had legs, he lost them to diabetes.   Anna ran the store.  She was tiny and very energetic.  That is why what happened is so sad.

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Morris’ rocking chair. Now owned by my brother.

Anna died first.  I don’t think she was that old.  But when she died, Morris could no longer stay alone. The store was closed; their belongings were sold or given away, and Morris went into a nursing home.  I remember my parents speaking about it, because we were gifted his rocking chair.  It did not go to the nursing home with him.  My brother still has the rocking chair in his home.  The tangible evidence that Morris and Ann were part of our world.

The nursing home Morris lived in for the rest of his life was in Bayonne, New Jersey, close to where our family dentist had his office.  Usually we all went to get our teeth done at one time.

But on this day, it was just my Mom and me.  As we drove away from the dentist office, she turned to me and said, “I want to go visit Morris.  I know he lives near here.”I don’t remember how old I was, somewhere between 10 and 12.  To be honest, I thought we were going to the candy store.  But I was in for an unpleasant and emotional surprise.

When we arrived at a large one-story building, my mother and I entered and went to the desk, where Mom announced that she wanted to see Morris.  The woman stopped what she was doing and called to someone, a nurse/supervisor/care giver came out.   Both were so surprised that we were there to see him.  The supervisor said, ‘Oh my, who are you? You are the first people who have ever come to visit him.”

My Mom was stunned.  “Are you kidding me.  He has nieces and nephews.”  But she was not joking.  No one had visited Morris in the year or so he had been living there.

The nurse walked us to his room.  In fact, by the time we got there, I think three or four nurses or caregivers were following us.  Mom walked in first and knelt down beside Morris.  “Morris, It’s me Frances, Nat and Thelma’s daughter.” She said in Yiddish as she reached out to him.

Morris started cry.  He put his hands on either side of Mom’s face and sobbed, “Frances Frances.” Her name was like a chant.   While Mom hugged him with one arm, she put out her other arm, I knew that meant I needed to come over.

“Here is Ellen,” she said.  My face was now embraced by his hands as he cried into my hair and stroked my face.  I was crying by then as well, as were Mom and the nurses/caretakers.  We stayed and talked to him for about an hour.  It felt longer.  He spent most of the time crying and hugging us. And asking about all the family. I have never forgotten.

As we went to leave, the supervisor asked Mom for her address and phone number in case they needed to reach someone.  They had no contacts for him.

We went and sat in the car.  My Mom cried for an additional half hour or so.  Just sobbing, with her arms crossed on the steering wheel and her face down in her arms.  I cried with her.  It was one of my saddest moments as a child.  When we got home, my Mom called her parents.

I never went back to the nursing home.  I think because every time I thought of him, I started to cry.   But I know my Mom and my grandparents went.  To be honest he did not live long after our visit.   My sister, who is four years younger than me, does not remember Morris or Anna. But what she does remember is my grandparents and my mom talking about him.  And my mother always talking about what happens to someone when they are all alone in the world.

For the past ten months I have been a Spiritual Care Volunteer at an elder care facility.   Over and over again people have asked me:  How can you do that?  Doesn’t it bother you? Isn’t too difficult when someone dies?

The answer to all these questions is an emphatic NO.  Each week when I go, I am greeted by smiles and joy.  I speak to each one of them.  Some days I give them hugs.  Sometimes someone cries, especially if they have recently lost a loved one.  Most of them have family members who often come to see them.  Most important to me is that I know that I am going every week.  I am giving them the attention that Morris so deserved and did not receive.

This childhood event definitely impacted my adult choices. Each time I go, I feel a little lift to my heart, knowing that I have helped to brighten someone’s day.  It is the best feeling, because each time I go, a little of the sadness that has followed me for over 50 years, whenever I think about Morris, dissipates.