Thursday, July 19, 2007
Stan's birthday ,occasion at Brenners and forthcoming quest to Rostov, Vilna and Kovno
Dear Dan, Jo and world,
I am extremely exhausted tonight, preparing for my forthcoming trip to the former Soviet Union (Kiev, Rostov, Moscow, Minsk, Vilnius, Kaunas on trip to research our families in Rostov and Lithuania, but felt the need to put at least something up here on the occasion of what would have been Stan's 83rd birthday. We all miss him terribly and it would have been wonderful to share with him the joy of our geneological hunt into both sides of his family, which has succeeded beyond all expectation in terms of where we were at soon after his death when we started this project. My biggest excitement recently was finding in a book at Yeshiva University in NY that Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Spektor was the grandfather of Joseph Rabinovitch and ttherefore our great-great-great grandfather. Stan always told me we were descended from Rabbi Spektor, but only recently, when reading the biography of Rabbi Spektor by Rabbi Efraim Shimoff, based on Toldos Yitzhak, by Yitzhak LIfshitz, Rabbi Spektor's secretary, did I find the exact connection. According to the book, my great-grandfather Yosef Rabinowitz (or Rabinovich) was the grandson of Rabbi Spektor and the son of Chaim, the rabbi's oldest son. According to Lifshitz, when Chaim died at the age of 40 in 1874, Rabbi Spektor took charge of his grandson, then 19 and taught him Talmud and Jewish Codes and found him a bride. (According to U.S. census records, her name was Lena Lincoff and the newlywed couple emigrated together to New York in 1875, where they had 9 children, the youngest of was our grandfather, Walter Rabinowitz (b 1893), who changed his name to Ruby at the time he was being inducted into the U.S. Army in 1917 and sent to fight in France.
I have learned a lot also about Rabbi Spektor's role as the chief shdadlan (negotiator) with the Czarist government on behalf of the Russian Jewish community after the beginning of the pogroms of the 1880's, and his outreach to the leaders of West European Jewry (the Rothschilds and many others) to pressure the Czar to lay off the Jews (A lot of these messages were written in a kind of code so as to throw off government spies) and his gingerly embrace of the Hibbat Tzion (Lovers of Zion) movement, the first stirrings of Zionism in Russia that came 15 years before Theodor Herzl. So the great rabbi has come alive and as a very sympathetic and complex character. But I digress...
Tonight, we think of Stan and all of his wonderful qualities and zest for life and the wonderful legacy of values and insight he has left for us. We hope that our lives since your passing, Dad, including this quest, would do you proud and hope that somehow, somwhere you may be aware of all of this. I know it goes against all of your theories and convinced athiesm, but what the hell...
Last weekend, Tanya and I had a enjoyable and meaningful reunion at the home of Sandy and Mel Brenner of some of the surviving members of the older generation of Ruby relatives; Mel and Sandy Brenner, still going strong at 82 and 78 respectively, Marsha and Shelly, Robert Felenstein and wife Jane and Janice Brenner, the radiant ballerina. As viewers will notice, none of us are as young as we once were, but everyone was lively, upbeat and full of the wisdom of having kicked around this planet for a while. We had a delicious lamb roast, drank wine, talked about many things, including politics. Mel reminisced about having been a McGovern delegate in 1972 and there was a group effort to try to understand why this country has elected so many Neanderthal Republicans over the past 40 years. It was wonderful to reconnect to the liberal passion that was such a part of the lives of Stan and Helga and has been passed down to myself, Jo and Danny and to Janice as well. Excellent values, if I do say so myself. Many thanks Stan, Helga, Mel and Sandy for passing them along to us. Maybe they will come back into fashion in 2008. Too bad Stan and Helga had to leave us during the darkest period of Bushism. But to cite Ted Kennedy and Helga, "The cause goes on and the dream will never die..."
By the way, Sandy recalled that our great-grandmother Rose Ratner always reminsced with her about Rostov that it was the most beautiful city in the world and showed us a set of dishes collected by her mother Til decades ago, each emblazoned with a Rose in memory of her beloved mother, Rose Ratner.
How did 150 plus years of our family get from the shtetl to where are now? Well, I think I have to plunge back into the shtetl to understand some of that, so I'm playing guinea pig for that role. I'll be posting on our findings in Rostov and Lithuania when we return on August 8 or perhaps while we are there if we find a working computer. In the meantime, lehitraot and enjoy the photos I am putting up here from the get-together in Massapeaqua. (I'll put up a few more in subsequent posting).