Friday, September 19, 2008

Wrong again

Phooey! The death certificate that I ordered for the Joseph Rabinowitz buried Sept. 2, 1920 at Mount Hebron arrived yesterday. He was age 46 and had been in the U.S. for 14 years—originally from Russia. Son of Elias Rabinowitz and Ella Tarman (?). Resided at 587 Beck Street in the Bronx before his 10-month convalescent stay at Montefiore Home & Hospital. Diagnosis of his last illness was chronic endocarditis.

So that's not our guy. Beautiful embossed-seal reproduction of the original, though. The search goes on.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Two takes on the migratory narrative

I've just submitted this short article about two sessions from the recent conference to ZichronNote, the journal of the SF Bay Area Jewish Genealogical Society. I am posting here as well as part of my blog coverage from the conference. BTW, next Sunday I am on a panel at the SFBAJGS monthly meeting to discuss these and other sessions for a "Highlights from Chicago" panel discussion.

Between the decision to leave home and the beginning of a new life in America or elsewhere, migrating Jews from the western regions of the Russian Pale encountered a difficult transition in East Prussia. The fascinating presentation "Litvak Migratory Decisions in the 19th Century and Their Consequences," by University of Klaipeda professor Ruth Leiserowitz, filled in the gaps in the migratory narrative during a well-attended Monday afternoon session in Ballroom A.

One of the world's leading experts on Prussian social history, Leiserowitz is also a professor through and through. She basically read the paper in her almost expressionless accented English. But the material was so compelling that it overcame any dryness in her presentation style.

Whether motivated by economic opportunity, draft evasion or technology-driven global awareness, migrants faced challenging economic and logistical obstacles during the first legs of their passage to a new life. Along the way, they spent anywhere from weeks to years to the rest of their lives in Prussian port cites like Memel and Libau.

Using statistics and anecdotes (and some well-chosen slides) to help tell the story, Leiserowitz covered the details of their illegal border crossings and their lives in the margins of Prussian society. Because of her focus on the transition period instead of the more familiar arc of voyage and arrival, her portrait is bittersweet—more about the circumstances driving families to fragment than those bringing them together in a new land of opportunity.

There were other sessions for that. This one shined a light on chapter of Jewish history, including my family's, that deserves to get more attention. For much more information, see Leiserowitz's Jews in East Prussia online exhibit at

For a different take on immigration, I attended the Wednesday presentation "HIAS Archives: What Can and Cannot Be Found There," by HIAS historian Valery Bazarov, in which described the small bank of filing cabinets in the society's New York office as "bursting with Jewish immigration history."

The same could be said of the presentation itself. Though Bazarov has given this talk many times before, his animated speaking style brought that history to life with accounts of cases mined from HIAS' long and honorable past. Thus we hear the story of a Jewish infant surviving from the steerage of the Titanic, of the South African family coming to New York to be able to adopt two black African children, of Holocaust refugees in Lisbon and Shanghai.

In each case, the HIAS files were crucial in solving mysteries and bringing families together. Today the "archive" includes records from many but not all of the society's 150 branches around the world, and Bazarov says it is his mission before he retires to locate any boxes that may be still hidden. Since HIAS is a service agency for helping immigrants, it does not an archiving mission. Records may be scattered about in different files, and most data is not indexed for searching.

Bazarov himself may be the best search engine when it comes to HIAS records. I can say this with surety since he helped my brother a year ago in locating fragmentary records about my own mother's refugee experience in Marseilles and Lisbon.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

All our Rabinowitz names can be found at Mount Hebron Cemetery

Walt, I started looking at the Mount Hebron cemetery records again, and am feeling hopeful that the Joseph Rabinowitz who died August 31, 1920 and is buried in the Isaac Elchonon Independent Society plot may be our guy after all. You might recall that I had chalked it up to a near miss when I blogged about it on August 1. The problem is that Italiangen shows a Joseph Rabinowitz who died that day at age 46. Our Joseph would have been 66.

Now I am considering the possibility that Italiangen has an error. We've seen other cases of transcription errors. It wouldn't be hard to believe that 46 was entered by mistake instead of 66.

Besides the name of the burial society (that society buried about 100 people at Mount Hebron between the years 1913 and 1987--no other names that I recognize), the other indicator is that there are people in that cemetery (all buried by other societies) that match the names of every member of the family except Blossom.

Actually, though there are two Julius Rabinowitzes there, we know our Julius is in Montefiore Cemetery. And sure, each name by itself is common enough to have many occurences, but what is the chance that there would be a Joseph, Lena, Sadie, Abraham, Henry and Seymour Rabinowitz along with a Meta Cannold and of course Walter Ruby? It looks to me that this must be the family cemetery.

Also, I just ran a search for Joseph Rabinowitz in the 1920 census (we had not previously found a Rabinowitz family record for that year) and I discovered that a Joseph Rabinowitz was a patient in Montefiore Home & Hospital in The Bronx as of January 5, 1920. I did a little reading on the history of Montefiore and learned that before it became a world-class research hospital it was a rest home for Jewish patients with chronic diseases like tuberculosis and diabetes.

I am going to order a copy of the death certificate for $10 from NY Municipal Archives. And it looks like you will have another field trip to do. I can provide you with all the plot numbers or you can do the searches yourself here. By the way, there are seven Lena Rabinowitzes buried there. The best bet appears to be the one who died January 30, 1948, when she was a ripe old 87 or 88. At first, I thought that might not be her because I recalled that she wasn't listed as a survivor in Blossom's obituary, which I thought was earlier, but I just checked and Blossom died on November 4 of that same year.

I've got a good feeling about this. If this is the right Joseph, his death certificate and/or gravestone should give us the answer we have been seeking.


Thursday, August 21, 2008

Meeting with Minsk researcher Yuri Dorn at O'Hare Airport

I've skipped a number of items from the IAJGS meeting that I hope to write about, but trying to stay in real time, I'm on the flight home having had my last and possibly most important interaction of the trip just before leaving. (Actually, this is posted from home the next morning.)

Well-known Minsk research Yuri Dorn would be speaking at the Belarus luncheon tomorrow afternoon, but since I would be missing that I had contacted Yuri beforehand to see if we could arrange another time to meet at the conference. You may recall that I had recently been in touch with Yuri with my inquiry about 1858 census records from Novogrudok.

Yuri was happy to meet but he was not planning to arrive at the conference until Thursday morning. Since I was leaving Wednesday evening, the one chance to meet might be at O'Hare Airport as he flew in on Wednesday afternoon. My return flight was out of Midway, but it turned out that there would be a window of perhaps 45 minutes to meet if I would come to O'Hare.

That's what I did. We arranged to meet at his baggage claim and then proceeded to the Hilton bar to discuss my project. Yuri of course remembered the work he had done a year ago for Walter, and thus had some familiarity with our Rabbi Spektor connection and some of the facts of Spektor's life.

I filled him in on the details of Spektor's birth in Rosh, marriage and rabbinical training in Volkovisk, and early career in Isabelin, Baraze, Nishvez and Novogrudok. We talked about the name change from Spektor to Rabinowitz and I gave him my theory about the Novogrudok census. His first reaction was that it is likely someone who had come to the town only seven years earlier would not likely be listed in such a census, but would instead be considered a resident of his birth town.

I hadn't considered this before but recalled that our Tulbowitz relatives from Rezhitsa were still considered townsmen 20 years after they had resettled many thousands of miles away. But Yuri said this is not a sure thing so my Novogrukok theory was still worth checking out.

He said it might also be possible to look for revision lists and similar records from Spektor's birthplace in Rosh. I asked about vital records, mentioning that I had had no success in finding any Spektor or Rabinowitz family records in the Belarus online indexes.

Yes, he said, sadly all the "medic records"--births, deaths and marriages--from most of western Belarus had been lost during the war. There is very little hope that any such records will be found, either in Minsk or in regional archives. By contrast, when I inquired about records from Mogilev in eastern Belarus on behalf of Dale Friedman of Berkeley whom I had spoken to earlier in the day, Yuri said that, yes, vital records for towns in that guberniya are likely to be accessible.

Nevertheless, Yuri felt that our Novogrudok search would still be worthwhile, and there will be other avenues to pursue should that turn up empty. We left things that I would follow up with a detailed email and that he will begin working on our case when he gets back to Minsk.

He also made a request that we contribute the story of Rabbi Spektor's early life to the project his research group has undertaken to renovate a Minsk synagogue. I'm not quite sure how our information can help in this worthy project, but of course I told him that I and/or Walter will be pleased to help any way we can.

Rzeszow research group meeting in Chicago

Continuing to focus on interactions at the conference directly relevant to our search (as opposed to sessions and discussions that were merely interesting), I'll mention the Tuesday morning meeting of the Rzeszow Research Group.

First of all, 20 lashes with a wet noodle — I need to work on my Polish pronounciation. It is voiced something like zhe-shov—there is not 'R' sound at all. Marian Rubin, the helpful leader of the group who had recently supplied me with photocopies of some of our Ringel birth records, teased me good-naturedly about my typical newbie's error.

She introduced me to Eden Joachim, a leader of the JRI-Poland SIG (later I learned also of the Litvak SIG) who was JRI-P's liaison to the Rzeszow group. Also in attendance were a dozen or so others with family from the town, including several members of the extended Reich family who produced famous relations both in Rzeszow and in the U.S. (one example is former Cabinet secretary Robert Reich).

Also in the meeting was Logan Kleinwaks, whom I wrote about in an earlier post. In conversation, Logan said he had some Ringel members from a nearby town in his family, so I will want to follow that up later. Also, on the Reich thing, I didn't remember until later that Schija Ringel's mother had the maiden name Reichman. I wonder if there is a connection.

The meat of the meeting was Marian's report, with frequent amplifications from Eden, on the status of Rzeszow records availability. The gist is this: I probably have all the birth and death records that are available, but there is a slew of census data from various 18th, 19th and 20th century years that should contain Ringel family information.

There is a very formal process for obtaining the census data supplied usefully in the from of Excel spreadsheets, and it involves money—$180 to be precise—to be paid to JRI to fund the various indexing projects that it manages. That is separate from a mandatory contribution of $150 to obtain 20th century vital records that are available but are of limited interest to us at this time.

I certainly don't begrudge JRI's contribution policy and completely understand the logic behind it. I'll just note that of all the SIGs I have encountered, JRI is the most formal and organized in its pay to play policy. It should be said that it is also the biggest and probably most accomplished of all the JewishGen SIGs.

And, yes, I do want to get my hands on that spreadsheet. I guess my $180 check will be on the way soon.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

East Prussia expert Ruth Leiserowitz has Wohlgemuth gravestone from Koeningsberg

Here's a quick item following the Litvak SIG luncheon, at which East Prussia expert Ruth Leiserowitz was the featured speaker. I'll follow up later with details of her presentation about Jewish records from Memel, as well as on her session on Litvak migratory decisions from Monday—both plenty interesting and useful.

For now, I will mention that I spoke with her briefly afterwards about the Wohlgemuth families of Memel and Koenigsberg, about which she was very knowledgeable. We didn't have much time, but she told me that she had photographed a Wohlgemuth gravestone from the old Jewish cemetery in Kaliningrad and that it was up on her website.

Here's the link and here is the photo.

We have an Isaak Wohlgemuth in our family, the brother of our great grandfather Julius Wohlgemuth. However, this is a different one. Ours was born in Koenigsberg but died in Berlin in 1929. We already have a photograph of his gravestone from the Berlin Jewish cemetery. This new Isaac died in 1896, while our Isaac was born in 1865, so he is not likely to be a direct forebear (or he wouldn't have been named Isaac). But perhaps we have another uncle here. More work to do.

Correcting Cannold data in Ancestry

One tip I picked up last night at the Ancestry session was about making corrections in their census index records. Having struggled twice in the past to find and then find again some months later the 1930 census record for our great aunt Meta Cannold, this feature gives me the ability to submit a correction so that future researchers (including myself) are not misled.

Because of an apparent indexing transcription error, they had Meta and her sons listed at Connold instead of Cannold. Here is what I submitted: "Meta and her sons Harrison and Thaddeus are named Cannold. Meta (nee Rabinowitz) was married and divorced from Lester Cannold. For more information, contact Dan Ruby at ."

According to the site response form, my information will be reflected in the index view of the record in a short time and in search results after several weeks.

Wohlgemuth connection made at Chicago conference

I should have done this long ago, but I've just now submitted our nine family names and towns to the JewishGen Family Finder. Of course I have used this useful resource numerous times to locate other researchers, several of whom have turned out to have helpful information. Now other people looking for our names will find me. It will be interesting to see how many queries will be sent my way.

One connection I made yesterday showed me the benefit of this kind of listing. The conference provided a similar capability for registrants to list their family names, and that data was made available to other full-conference attendees. Unfortunately, since I paid for three conference days instead of the week, I didn't get a copy of the conference binder, but my data is in there for others to access.

Monday morning I got a call from a Sigrid Belinkoff, who wanted to talk to me about the Wohlgemuth name. We arranged to meet up the next morning to compare notes. She was a lovely lady from Los Angeles who is researching her Shandling family, which includes an ancestor Minna Fluegeltaub, who appears to be related to the Wohlgemuths of Memel. According to Sigrid, Fluegeltaub was derived from Wohlgemuth, both having to do with winged flight.

That was new to me. I had Wohlgemuth as "well-being" or something similar. A quick name search I ran later did not confirm a connection between the names, but it is something to follow up on later. Sigrid said that her Fluegeltaub was also related to a Wing family in Portland OR, and that she is in contact with several researchers in Oregon who have more information about them.

All of that was interesting but a seeming tangent until she began to focus more on Minna from Memel. I revealed to her the results of my recent interaction with Eli Wohlgemuth, with whom she was unfamiliar (other than having read Walter's account of meeting Eli in Kaunas). When I called up the email I had from Eli, I began to read it aloud to her. There in the first paragraph were the facts that Rabbi Yeshaya Wohlgemuth of Memel had two Minnas in his life—a sister and a daughter. It was not immediately clear which if either of these Sigrid's Minna could be, but it definitely seems to be a likely clue.

Sigrid left me with at least three important contacts with Wohlgemuth knowledge to follow up with. I'll be doing that in the days ahead as we continue to make some progress on our ancestors, the Wohlgemuths of Koenigsberg.

JewishGen-Ancestry deal called an alignment of interests

The big news at this year's IAJGS meeting was the Tuesday night announcement of an alliance between and While an announcement was expected, the details of the relationship go deeper than I had imagined.

Under the deal, Ancestry will make much of the content of JewishGen databases freely available on the Ancestry site, develop new search capabilities that will make that data more accessible, and take over the hosting of JewishGen's site. Except for technical services, JewishGen will continue to operate independently.

The deal gives Ancestry instant credibility as a repository of international and U.S. Jewish historical and genealogical records. For JewishGen, it provides a robust technology platform for future growth, along with a modest flow of income coming a one-time payment and ongoing affiliate revenue share.

Jewish genealogists and researchers are expected to benefit from the integration of JewishGen content and Ancestry technologies. Perhaps that accounted for the palpable buzz in the main conference ballroom Tuesday night before the announcement. Many Jewish genealogists have something of a love-hate relationship with Ancestry, the world's leading commercial genealogy site. Clearly something big was in the works that went beyond the advertised subject of the session, "The Jewish Collection at"

The first one up to announce the news was David Rinn, chief financial officer for The Generations Network, parent company of Ancestry. com. At first, I wondered why the CFO instead of the CEO, until Rinn began to display his own Jewish family tree. He emphasized that he was speaking both as an executive employee of TGN but also as a user of Ancestry and JewishGen.

He frankly acknowledged the current limitations of Ancestry's Jewish resources, which contain more than 9 million records but are mainly limited to collections from the United States. Rinn ticked off the many international projects that the company has underway, but then said that as a Jewish researcher "I would consider suspending my Ancestry account until it provided eastern European content."

Rinn's family history and candid comment began to warm up skeptics in the audience, many presumably wondering how Ancestry's aggressively commercial business model might mesh with JewishGen's community ethic. He emphasized that JewishGen content will be accessible for free in front of the Ancestry "paid wall," but that advanced search capabilities and other special features would be added value for Ancestry subscribers.

Then he turned over the podium to David Marwell, the director of JewishGen's parent organization, The Museum of Jewish Heritage. Here is the gist of Marwell's remarks:

Earlier in the conference, JewishGen founder Susan King had been honored. Now begins a new chapter in the life of JewishGen. It was a long negotiation conducted with good will on both sides. The principles of the deal: (1) records remain free and freely accessible, (2) provide a stable technical foundation, (3) provide more data more quickly.

While Ancestry and JewishGen have differing business models, the deal is possible because of a happy coincidence of interests. Ancestry opens a major new market for selling its services. JewishGen gets a technology platform that ensures its future. In addition, JewishGen gets unspecified compensation in the deal, plus will get a percentage of revenue from future Ancestry signups referred from JewishGen.

The technical deal is for so-called pipe and power. They provide the servers and the bandwidth. JewishGen will administer its own site but may get help from Ancestry in improving the JewishGen user experience.

Marwell ended by thanking various members of JewishGen leadership with their help in reaching this important agreement. Then Rinn recapped the news and handed the session over to Ancestry indexing director Crista Cowan for a deeper dive into Ancestry's plans for its new Jewish collection.

I won't describe her full talk, other than to say the future she described of Ancestry features overlaid on JewishGen content is pretty compelling. Ancestry provides myriad capabilities that would greatly enhance the user experience and success rate.

Of course, that will all happen on the other side of Ancestry's wall. Clearly the company's goal is to get as many Jewish genealogists as they can to cough up $30 a month or $150 a year to gain those benefits. How many do so will depend on how much added value Ancestry can provide with its fuzzy searches, community features and sharing tools.

My take is that this is a fair proposition, as long as the playing field stays open. If Ancestry can wow me with its added value, I can choose to pay their fee, but I haven't lost any access if I choose not to.

However, I have to say I'm leery that Ancestry may use its market position to lock in customers. I can use lots of different services, but I want to have one location for my master family file. If Ancestry's service is good enough to convince me to maintain my tree there (or integrated with TGN's Family Tree Maker), will I ever be able to migrate off of it? Am I buying into a life-long financial commitment?

I'm sure these questions and others will be asked at a JewishGen general session Wednesday evening. I am leaving today at 5 pm, so I'll miss that, but I'll keep an eye on the email lists in upcoming days to gauge the user reaction to this important announcement.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Arrived in Chicago

Okay, I'm here Monday morning at the International JGS meeting in Chicago. I had hoped to have caught up on the last few weeks by now, but did not manage that, so this week will be something of a flash forward. I hope to record my observations from the conference several times a day.

After registering, I was going to graze a couple of the early morning sessions, but instead settled in at the lobby cybercafe, where Shelley Dardashti and some other bloggers were already at work. As I chatted with Shelley, she also greeted Logan Kleinwaks, the web developer of a new site called

He uses optical character recognition software to automatically index a huge list of historical directories. Shelley sat him down for a demo and interview, and I sat in while they talked. I won't go into the details since I don't want to scoop Shelley's story. All I will say is the Logan's site looks incredibly useful. More about that later.

Friday, August 08, 2008

A translator's cautionary tale

On August 4, I received a reply to my inquiry from Miriam Samsonowitz, the translator of Toledot Yitzhak. She wrote:
I do have the book Toldos Yitzchak which I have not read through fully. It's not an easy book to read because it is written in old rabbinical idiom, is extremely verbose, and the author moralizes for most of the book and just includes biographical details in between the moralizing.

She says she will translate or make copies of pages for me for a fee, but she doesn't sound terribly enthusiastic. She does provide me with some interesting leads that could be helpful, one to a rabbinical genealogist is Israel and the other to the editor of Yated Ne'eman in Monsey NJ. That is R. Pinchos Lipschitz, a great grandson of none other than Ya'acov Halevi Lifschitz, the author of Toledot Yitzhak.

All that was very interesting, as was an article she attached, "The Reliability of Genealogical Research in Modern Rabbinic Literature," by Rabbi Meir Wunder. It is very long and in some places arcane, but contains some important ideas. I will excerpt one section about genealogical errors and the concept of yichus, or lineage, and then urge you to go to the full article on the Rav-SIG online journal.
Moving on into the second half of the 19th century, we do have famous experts in rabbinic genealogy, but even so, their writings include guesses, assumptions, and mistakes. They were very knowledgeable, and in their period the genealogical data of families were preserved, but they had no sure means to check the veracity of their findings. Contact was through letters, which were slow; very few managed to make use of the libraries of Western Europe with their important manuscripts. Poverty was rampant, and one way to put bread on the table was to research and edit yuchsin scrolls for the wealthy who had money, but still lacked the prestige of great lineage. Thus, if the facts were shaky or uncertain, one might build castles in the air without a solid foundation. An example of this is relating the Maharsa, Rabbi Shmuel Eidls, back to Rabbi Yehuda Hechasid, which is totally false, because the Yiddish names Berish and Mendel, in the chain, were not known in the middle ages in Germany.

Inexact terminology also makes it difficult even to this day to clarify yuchsin. Terms such as neched (grandchild), or she'er besari (my relative), or mechutanim (in-laws) were used to describe much more distant relationships. Another example of lack of clarity occurs when someone writes: “Yitzchak the son of Avraham, the rabbi of such-and-such a community.” Who was the rabbi, the father or the son? Other proofs are needed to make that clear. The lack of punctuation, especially commas, causes confusion. If it says, “Yitzchak son of Avraham, son-in-law of Reuven,” then Yitzchak is the son-in-law. But, if the comma is omitted, then Avraham is the son-in-law. In cases where someone married twice, it may be unclear who was the mother of each child. This fact would affect the whole chain of yichus.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Video: Eli Wohlgemuth

Video of Feb. 10, 2008, shloshim observance in memory of Rabbi Isaiah Wohlgemuth of Brookline MA, including presentation of Wohlgemuth genealogy by Eli Wohgemuth of Montreal.

The segment with Eli begins about 27 minutes into the video. Depending on your connection speed, you'll have to let the download run for 10 to 15 minutes before you will be able to advance to the 27:00 minute marker.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Kovno ShtetLink page gets massive update

Great news today from the JewishGen ShtetLink Project that the Kovno ShteLink page has been taken over by the inestimable Eilat Gordin Levitan. Here is the updated site, containing a wealth of content about Kovno before and during the Holocaust. His Rabbi Spektor info is similar to what Levitan has published elsewhere, but there are many other things to look at here, starting with the slideshow at the top of the page. Enjoy.

Short takes on Thursday developments

Events are moving faster than my ability to write them up, especially since I have another job. Here are capsules of items from yesterday, July 31. I expect to expand on these over the weekend.

• Most important was our conference call with Shmuel Elhanan, in which we learned many new details of his story between the liquidation of the Kovno ghetto and the reunification of his family in Palestine. One highlight is the account of how Shulamit's letter was delivered to the brothers, leading to their action to change their names in honor of their father.

I have a recording of the 33-minute call, and I am going to want to take the time to transcribe some of it. Unfortunately, I probably won't be able to post actual audio of the call. I used a new iPhone app to do the recording, assuming I would be able to transfer the sound file to my computer. Now I discover the app is fairly brain dead and is only meant to capture recordings on the phone, not transfer them to the Mac.

While we gained important new information, there is only so much that can be accomplished in a phone call. Shmuel suffered a minor stroke recently, and it is clearly difficult for him to handle all my queries on the phone. Walter and I agreed that we need to visit Shmuel in Israel as soon as we can. We are both looking into the possibility of making a trip in December. Maybe Joanne will come too.

• Last night, I attended the first of several San Francisco Jewish Film Festival screenings, a wonderful film called "Emotional Arithmetic" about the impact of Holocaust memories on a family in Quebec in 1985. It has an all-star cast including Max von Sydow, Susan Sarandon, Gabriel Byrne and Christopher Plummer. For me, it resonated on the subject of the psychological after-effects on survivors' family relationships. Let's say that I recognized things about our family in seeing this portrayal, including the performance of Ray Dupuis as Sarandon's quietly suffering son. This is a remarkable movie that will be available soon on DVD.

I'll be seeing "Love Comes Lately," an adaptation of several Isaac B. Singer stories and "Every Day the Impossible," a documentary about Jewish women Partisans in WWII, on Saturday and Sunday, and maybe some others later next week. Last night, was the closing night of the first week of the festival, and the last of the San Francisco screenings at the Castro Theater. Saturday is opening night at the Roda Theater in Berkeley. For closing night, "Emotional Arithemetic" director Paolo Barzma discussed the film with festival director Peter Stein and took questions from the audience.

• There was ridiculous traffic on the Bay Bridge getting home, but I did a bit of research work when I finally did get back. I followed one of Morris Spector's recent leads and found myself with a searchable database for Mount Hebron Cemetery in Queens. This is where both of Stan's parents, Walter and Selma, are buried, and where we have visited several times in the past. It occurred to me to look for Joseph Rabinowitz there, which I did and had a brief moment of elation when I found a JR who died August 31, 1920 and was laid to rest by the Isaac Elchonon Independent Society. It has to be the right one, no? Well, I cross-checked the date with the ItalianGen NYC death record database, and I find that the JR who died that day was just 47 years old. There is a different one that died at 65 in November 1920 that we were hoping for. It looks like another near miss.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Photo of Zvi Hirsch Rabinowitz

Google Books is an amazing resource, the result of the online goliath's project to provide search access to all the world's printed literature. In some cases, their collection contains the entire text of books. More often, a table of contents and sample pages are provided. Other times, only small excerpts of text around the search term are offered.

I have only begun to delve through the myriad hits returned for Rabbi Spektor. Have a look for yourself.

Here is a clip from volume one of the book "The Brisker Rav," a biography of HaRav Yitzchok Ze'ev HaLevi Soloveichik, by Rabbi Shimon Yosef Meller, in a section about the response from various important rabbis to a new government regulation that secular subjects must be taught in yeshivas.

I am sure there are others, but this is the first time I have seen a photo of Zvi Hirsch Rabinowitz, the son and successor of Rabbi Spektor in Kovno. At the time of this incident in 1892, Isaac is still living and Zvi is a rabbi (not the chief rabbi) in Vilna.

Walter thought he saw a resemblance of Stan in the photographs of YES. I'm not sure who Zvi looks like.

New details on Rabbi Spektor's early career

Here is a new-to-us document that offers many rich details on Yitzhak Elchanan Spektor's early life and career. I found it on the web site of Kehillas Zichron Mordechai, the orthodox community in Teaneck NJ. The site aggregates biographical articles about important Gedolim (Torah scholars) past and present.

The fascinating YES article is adapted by Miriam Samsonowitz from Toldos Yitzchak by Rav Yaakov Haleivi Lifshutz, and is reprinted on the site from an orignal article in the publication Yated Neeman, published in Monsey NY. Unfortunately for us, the chapter ends as YES is assuming his post in Novogrodok, where his two younger sons and grandson Joseph were born.

The depth of information in the chapter shows that it is not enough for us to rely on Shimoff for retelling the information in the Lifshutz book. As far as I know, there is no complete translation of Toldos Yitzchak, so this adaptation is the closest thing to it. I have an email address for Miriam Samsonowitz in Jerusalem, and I plan to contact her to see if she also has a translation or adaptation of other parts of the book.

Here is the highly recommended full article. Below are a series of excerpts that contain new and interesting information.

Yitzchok Elchonon was orphaned at the young age of 10 when his mother passed away, an unfortunate tragedy which was not uncommon in those days.

The youth's exceptional abilities first reached the wider public when he became acquainted with a travelling wealthy Jew called Reb Moshe from Keidan. A learned Jew who had written a commentary Imrei Moshe on Megilas Esther and Toldos Moshe on the Haggadah, Reb Moshe had been traveling for his business through Volkovisk and the nearby cities when he came across the young lad and perceived what a genius he was. He praised him glowingly to friends of his, Reb Eliezer Yezersky and his righteous wife Bluma, from the town of Volkovisk. As soon as they heard what Reb Moshe had to say about the lad, they hastened to make a shidduch between Yitzchok Elchonon and their daughter Sara Raizel.

A short time before, a different shidduch had been offered for Yitzchok Elchonon with the daughter of another well-to-do householder from Volkovisk. Yitzchok Elchonon, 12 years old at the time, had been invited to the house of the man, where he was grilled for several hours by a panel of Torah scholars to see if he measured up to the proficiency in Torah study which had been claimed about him.

Various pastries had been set out on the table for the occasion, and due to the extreme pressure he was under, the lad ate them in a way less refined than the prospective kallah had expected. The young girl disapprovingly pointed this out to her mother, and they both agreed that a youth lacking such basic refinement was surely not worthy of entering their family! The shidduch was cancelled on the spot.

Reb Eliezer's wife Bluma was aware of this mishap, but she negated it explaining that the lad was surely so occupied by his love for Torah that he probably hadn't paid attention to how he was eating. Sara Raizel was similarly impressed with the young scholar. The negotiations were quickly concluded and Yitzchok Elchonon was engaged to be married to Sara Raizel at the ripe age of 13.

Many years later, when Yitzchok Elchonon's fame had spread throughout the entire world and he was the famous rav of Kovno, he once passed through Volkovisk on his way to visit his father's grave in Roush.

Thousands of Jews surged to the residence where he was temporarily staying to seek his blessing. Among them was an unfortunate woman who sought his blessing -- and then discovered to her shock that the great rav whose blessing she sought was the young man whose hand she had rejected years before because of his table manners!


Six years after his marriage, and shortly after the time that his own father passed away, Rav Yitzchok Elchonon concluded that he could no longer remain on his parents-in-law'largesse. In 1837, when he was 20 years old, he accepted the offer to become rav of the small village of Zebelen. His wage was fixed at five Polish gold coins a week, and with the time, it was raised to six Polish coins.

This was barely enough to keep body and soul together. At first, his parents-in-law in Volkovisk sent the young couple meat and challos for Shabbos. This food is what kept him alive since during the weekdays he basically fasted. But then his parents-in-law lost all their money and could no longer send him food or any other support.

During this period, his first son Chaim was born. Chaim was similar in appearance to him, and with the time they discovered that he was blessed with many of Rav Yitzchok Elchonon's virtues.


He quickly went to visit the Karliner Rav, and found him sitting on his rabbinical chair discussing Torah with two distinguished scholars of that time -- the gaon of Antipoli, Rav Moshe Hirsch, and the gaon Rav Turdos, who was a moreh tzedek in Karlin. Both of them were known to be great lamdonim, and diligent, profound scholars. Rav Yaakov of Karlin showed them a passage in his book "Mishkenos Yaakov", which had just been published, in which he had replied to a question by Rav Dovid Luria concerning a "petzua daka".

The scholars were deeply engaged in a pilpul discussion about the topic, and they paid no attention to the newcomer who respectfully stood off at a distance. Rav Yitzchak Elchonon was somewhat embarrassed to push himself forward particularly since he appeared very young and his beard had not yet grown out. He felt unworthy of pulling up a chair and sitting with these well known Torah luminaries.

However, after he followed their discussion for a while, he summoned his courage and spoke up: "Why, the entire basis to this discussion is written explicitly in the Chelkas Mchokek Even Ezra, section 65!"

The scholars stopped their discussion and looked critically at the young unknown man. They then welcomed him and asked him to identify himself and thus they found out he was the rav in Zebelen. The Karliner Rav remembered that a few weeks before he had received a shaalah from the Zebelener Rav. He then opened the Chelkas Mechokek and they found the passage exactly as Rav Yitzchok Elchonon had said. Rav Yitzchok Elchonon was then offered a seat among them with great deference, and he was included in their lengthy pilpul. They eventually began to discuss a Tosfos, and with great skill, Rav Yitzchok Elchonon smoothly explained the difficult passages. They were thrilled to see such wisdom and proficiency in so young of a man. Finally, as an exceptional gesture of respect, the Karliner Rav asked Rav Yitzchok Elchonon to give him the pleasure o f beinghis Shabbos guest. The Rav's two other distinguished visitors furthermore honored Rav Yitzchok Elchonon by accompanying him back to his inn.


When Rav Yitzchok Elchonon became rav in Baraze in 1839, he received a cool reception from some of the townspeople who felt that a 22-year old rav could not possibly be worthy of their town -- the Karliner Rav's recommendations notwithstanding.

One of these townspeople was Reb Yosele Leipziger, a serious scholar who was involved in many of the town's charities. A few days after Rav Yitzchok Elchonon was instated in the town, Reb Yosele entered the rav's house to pay his respects. While there, he asked him an extremely difficult question which Rav Yitzchok Elchonon was able to answer on the spot without even consulting a sefer.

"This question was raised by the Korbon Ha'Eda on the Yerushalmi," he told Reb Yosele nonchalantly, and then proceeded to offer his own brilliant answer.

Reb Yosele was dumbstruck. Before he departed he said, "I have asked this question from many rabbonim, but I never heard a satisfying answer from anyone until this minute. Your answer alone has satisfied me."

That week, Reb Yosele sent him several loaves of bread and chickens as a sign of his reverence. From then on, he never stopped praising Rav Yitzchok Elchonon and treated him with the utmost honor.


The psak on which he achieved outstanding acclaim, however, involved a get and a marriage permit document over which he had been at odds with the great gaon Rav Eizik of Shavel.

The details of the case were as follows: Reb Nochum of Kaltinen had asked Rav Yitzchok Elchonon to arrange a get for his brother-in-law which was then sent to Shavel. Since he was at that time totally immersed in studying Tur Even Ezra, he didn't quote in the document the words of the Achronim which dispute the view of the Tur concerning the version of the permit document -- even though he of course knew their reservations very well.

When the Shavel Gaon saw the permit document, he was upset and declared, "How does such a young rav get involved in arranging a permit document according to the Rishonim, without paying attention to the Achronim who dispute this version!" He irately sent the permit document back claiming it was written improperly according to the view of the Achronim, and he told Reb Nochum that the Barazer Rav doesn't know from his right or left in laws of Gittin and Kidushin!

When the document arrived in Baraze, Rav Yitzchok Elchonon's rebetzin received it and saw the sharp reaction of the Shavel gaon. She didn't want her husband to suffer grief before the holiday of Shavuos which was a few days away, so she hid the document and didn't tell him about it. She also worried that the Baraze townspeople would heard that the Shavel gaon had criticized her husband's decision and perhaps decide to send him away.

Rav Yitzchok Elchonon saw the secret whisperings in his household and he soon realized that something was wrong. After confronting his wife and insisting to be told, he found out about the Shavel gaon's reaction to his psak.

When he heard what it was about, he laughed. "Do you think that I didn't know the reservations of such Achronim as the 'Get Mekushar'and the 'Beis Meir'?" he exclaimed. "However, I repudiated their reservations against the correct words of the Tur." He sat down before Shavuos and wrote his reply to the Shavel gaon in which he explained away these Achronim's reservations against the Tur. He wrote in the tshuva, "I am sending you my reply immediately so it might reach you before the holiday and add to your holiday joy, knowing that the rav who arranged this permit document was not ignorant of the laws of Gittin and Kiddushin."

He later received a softly worded reply from the Shavel gaon headed with the title "The great rav" and worded in great respect. Despite his new esteem for him, the Shavel gaon continued to spar with him and dispute his decision.

Rav Yitzchok Elchonon then sent him a second reply. Replying to Rav Yitzchok Elchonon's second letter, the Shavel gaon wrote with even greater respect, addressing him "HaRav Hagaon" which -- unlike the latter half of the nineteenth century -- was bestowed on only a very few.

To disciples of his in Shavel, the Shavel gaon remarked that he had become involved in an issue with a rav who is a mighty gaon, a true lion.

After receiving Rav Yitzchok Elchonon's reply to his second conciliatory letter, the Shavel gaon sent him a letter of apology and appeasement asking his forgiveness for slighting his honor. It was after this event, that Rav Yitzchok Elchonon's fame spread far and wide.


Shortly after this, Rav Yitzchok Elchonon's friend and admirer, Reb Nochum of Kaltinen, was visiting the large town of Nishveze for treatments from the famous Jewish doctor Dr. Kisselevsky. This famous doctor had been sent specially by the Count Radziwill who owned the district to study medicine so he could be his court doctor. In the manner of those times, Dr. Kisselevsky was not only great in medicine but was also a considerable Torah scholar, a great giver of charity, and a beloved personality. He was among the leaders of the Nishveze community.

When Reb Nochum came to Dr. Kisselevsky for treatment, they also enjoyed a riveting conversation on numerous topics, as Jews from different towns are wont to do. Reb Nochum mentioned his veneration for Rav Yitzchok Elchonon and various stories of his greatness which were already circulating at the time. Upon hearing this, Dr. Kisselevsky spoke with the parnessim in the Nishveze community who were just then looking for a rav. They decided to send Rav Yitzchok Elchonon a k'sav rabbanus to become the rav of their town.

The Jews in Baraze were shocked when they heard of this development. They were angry at even hearing the suggestion and they resolutely declared that such a thing would not be! They would not allow their beloved rav to leave them under any circumstances!

Reb Nochum had to plot an underhanded scheme through which to steal Rav Yitzchok Elchonon away in the middle of the night using the services of his old melamed, at present the rav in the town of Opina. They waited for a freezing cold night and had Rav Yitzchok Elchonon walk out unattended to a set spot. Once they got Rav Yitzchok Elchonon to the outskirts of the town, a wagon suddenly appeared, pulled by fast horses, which was to transport him to Nishveze. He was taken through a side route winding through fields and forests so that if the Baraze Jews pursued after him, they wouldn't be able to catch up with him.

It was the thick of the winter during the month of February. Rav Yitzchok Elchonon was starving and frozen to the bone when his wagon made a short stop at the home of a Jew located at the periphery of a forest.

He entered the small house hoping he would be able to warm his bones and have a bite. Seeing the young rav by himself, his host began to question him where he had come from, who he was, and what urgent mission was he on that brought him out in such a terrible frost. Rav Yitzchok Elchonon replied that he was traveling to take the position of Rav in Nishveze.

The host gave the young man an austere look and then began lecturing him for even thinking that a young man such as he could assume the mantel of the rabbinate in such a large, distinguished community.

Finally the shivering Rav Yitzchok Elchonon pleaded with him, "I'm about to die from hunger and cold! Do you have something I could perhaps eat? Then maybe I could pay better attention to your lecture."

This host, who was somewhat of a scholar, later settled in Nishveze himself. Later on, whenever he would bump into Rav Yitzchok Elchonon, he would mention for the umpteenth time his improper tirade in the forest, and beg forgiveness for daring to rebuke Rav Yitzchok Elchonon without knowing what a prince of Torah he was.


Rav Yitzchok Elchonon was accepted in Nishveze with great honor, although there were a few distinguished parnessim who did not look favorably at their community being led by such a young man. They sneered, "This young fellow, who hardly has a beard, should sit on the rabbinical seat of respected and ancient Nishveze!"

One of those who was against his appointment was a wealthy learned Jew called Reb Shemaya who refused to sign the k'sav rabbanus.

"What is Nishveze coming to?" huffed Reb Shemaya, "Shall I have to stand in front of such a youngster? This is unheard of in Nishveze!"

However, the town's great scholars stood squarely behind Rav Yitzchok Elchonon, and they did their utmost to convince the wealthy men and the notables in town to agree to the appointment. "Let us test the Baraze Rav and see how well he holds his own in pilpul!" they suggested.

Their suggestion was accepted reluctantly by the parnessim. Even though Rav Yitzchok Elchonon had already been offered the rabbinical appointment, he had a well established reputation and had resolutely defended his psakim many times in the past, he was not insulted by the sudden challenge.

The greatest scholars in town engaged him in intense pilpulim for two long weeks. These were Nishveze's keenest scholars, many of whom afterwards became gedolim and great rabbonim in Lithuania. After these two weeks of razor-sharp pilpulim and arguing, they were forced to acknowledge that Rav Yitzchok Elchonon had bested them. They proclaimed that despite his shining reputation, the world does not even know half of his great accomplishments in Torah.

When the wealthy Jews and notables of Nishveze heard this, they all proceeded to sign their names to the rabbinical appointment document. Even Reb Shemaya agreed to sign his name.


Rav Yitzchok Elchonon spent four happy years in Nishveze. The town prided themselves on having such a distinguished rav, and they fully submitted to his authority.

After four years, Rav Yitzchok Elchonon was victimized by a informer, who slandered him to the authorities claiming that the rav had tampered with the censoring of certain works. In the wake of this attack, Rav Yitzchok Elchonon was forced to travel to the city of Kubrin once a month to be interrogated by the authorities.

Jewish communal leaders from Novordok came to his aid, and they promised to help rid him of this unfortunate burden -- on condition that he kindly consent to become the Rav in Novordok.

The Nishveze Jewish community heard suspicious rumors that the Jewish community in Novordok wanted to whisk away their rav, and huge protests broke out. Sleuths were sent to shadow the rav 24-hours a day so he could not be spirited away. Any suspicious character who might be targeting their rav was unceremoniously chased from the city.

After investing huge efforts and laying numerous plans, a way was finally found by the Novordok community to steal the rav out of Nishveze. He was crowned the rav of their community in 1851 on 28 Iyar.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Walter's Madrid conference article is published

Walter's report from the recent interfaith conference in Madrid, "Saudi King's Perestroika Moment," was published today in The Jewish Week. Here is the full article. An excerpt follows:

No one articulated the spirit of Saudi perestroika better than the father- and-son team of Sheik Abdullah Bin Bayyah, vice president of the Jeddah-based International Union of Muslim Scholars and his thirty-something son, Cheikhna Bin Bayyah, who divides his time between business operations in Saudi Arabia and his duties as executive director of the Global Center for Renewal and Guidance in London.

The elder Bin Bayyah, who wore a long flowing robe and keffiyeh, remarked, “Without a doubt, there are a lot of influential people opposed to what the king is doing, but after participating in this historic event, I feel confident that there is no turning back.”

His son, who was clad in a stylish business suit, said he looks forward to the day when he will enjoy the same freedom of expression in Jeddah as he does in London. “What is happening today in Saudi society is a badly needed paradigm shift related to the age of globalization,” he said. “People like my father understand the need to open things up, so let them get on with the task. If they don’t get the job done, my generation is going to step forward and do it for them.”

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Walter visits Pleasant Ave.

When sending me his cemetery photos today, Walter also passed along images he snapped last week on a visit to the Pleasant Ave. block in East Harlem where the Rabinowitz family lived in 1900. The actual building is long since torn down to make room for a large new high school that was erected in 1940.

Here is that building today, no longer Benjamin Franklin High School as it was when constructed in 1940 but since 1983 the Manhattan Center for Science and Mathematics.

The view across the street and the photo of a neighborhood resident may give a better idea of what Pleasant Ave. might have been like in earlier times (minus the modern vehicles).

Wild goose chase

Walt, Sorry you had to take time for a mission that came up empty. I guess that comes with the genealogy territory. You have to be careful not to jump to conclusions. In this case we had a Joseph and Lena Rabinowitch buried together in a Queens cemetery, with no additional data other than their burial dates. Now of course there were many, many Joseph Rabinowitzes in New York in the relevant years, and there were quite a few Lena Rabinowitzes as well. Where I went wrong was in assuming that a married Joseph and Lena would automatically be our family. The odds say there wouldn't be a lot of Joseph and Lena Rabinowitz couples, but now we know there were at least two.

So I don't think the trip could have been avoided. There was nothing online to suggest that they weren't our Joseph and Lena. Sometimes leads don't pan out. I guess the lesson is not to count your chickens.

I came back after talking to you and did some searches for Joseph and Lena death records using the ItalianGen resource that Morris mentioned recently. They have a searchable database of NYC death records by borough (also marriages). Each record contains date of death and age at death so you can calculate birth year. Therefore it was possible to sort through the scores of Joseph Rabinowitzes to find three or four plausible matches.

Thus we have in Manhattan a JR who died in 1920 at age 65, in Brooklyn a JR who died in 1940 at age 84, and in Queens a JR who died in 1941 at age 85. Any of those would be just about right, and there is one more in Manhattan (died 1917 at 60) that is fairly close. Actual death certificates can be ordered for $10 a pop, but there may be ways to narrow the list before doing that. Also, it is possible that our Joseph's record was not captured in the ItalianGen archiving project, so it could be that our JR is none of those four.

Trying the same technique for Lena turned up three possible matches. Using 1858 as Lena's birthdate, we have a LR dying in The Bronx in 1921 at 64 (1857), in Brooklyn in 1916 at 57 (1859), and in Manhattan in 1948 at 88 (1860).

The other Rabinowitz burial records that I discovered along with these erroneous ones are more definitely valid. Julius Rabinowitz, his wife Annie and son Abner are all at Montefiore Cemetery in Queens. Having just undertaken this expedition, I won't ask you to go on another cemetery visit until it fits easily in your schedule. We know this one will be right because the burial record has Julius' father as Joseph and mother as Lena Lincoff.

Oh well, thanks again. I hope it didn't blow your whole day.


The wrong Joseph Rabinowitz (Joseff Rabinowitch)?

I finally made it today to the Old Mt. Carmel cemetery in Queens to see the grave of Joseph and Lena Rabinowitz, our great-grandparents, which Dan had discovered online. I found the grave but I am pretty sure this was the wrong couple--at least I hope so, because if these are really our great-grandparents, it would spoil the whole narrative in terms of Joseph having been trained in Talmud and Jewish codes by his grandfather Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Spektor, the Gaon of Kovno, who also found him a wife and then presumably the two of them emigrated together in 19875. The problem is that the Joseff Rabinowitch (note the wierd spelling) buried in the Queens cemetery was 73 at the time of his death on February 11, 1940, which means he would have been all of 7 in 1874 when Joseph's father Chaim Rabinovich (or Rabinowitz) died and his grandfather would have taken him in. That doesnt make sense in terms of the marriage or of Joseph and Lena going off to America together 18 months after Chaim's death.

Also the grave in Queens cites Joseff's father's name as having been Ya'akov, not Chaim. The woman buried alongside Joseff in Queens is named Gruna, the daughter of Reb Moshe, although according to the records in the Old Mt. Carmel cemetery office, she was identified as Lena Rabinowitch when her body was brought to the cemetery a few days after her death on June 16, 1941 at the age of 78.

The burial society known as Karutz Berezer has long been dissolved although the gravestone has been under Endowed Care since 1973, which means someone is paying for it to be taken care of. The only Joseph Rabinowitz buried in Old Mt. Carmel with the correct spelling died in 1935 at the age of 56.

I now called to Sandy Brenner, Stan's cousin, whose family lived with Stan's in Long Beach in the mid 1930's. Sandy, who was born in 1929, knew Walter Ruby and his sisters, Blossom and Meta, as well. She has no recollection of ever hearing anything from Walter, Meta or Blossom about their parents, Joseph and Lena, which leads her to believe they must have been dead by the time she was a kid--unless of course Joseph and Lena were estranged from Blossom and Meta, as well as Walter. But Sandy knows n othing of any estrangement.

So taking it all together, I am chalking this one up as a false 'Joseph and Lena Rabinowitz' sighting. Hopefully in the next two weeks or so I will get to the archives on Varick Street and try to find documents about their arrival as Morris Spector has recommended.

I tried now to attach photos to this posting, but for some reason it isnt working. I may e-mail the photos to Dan and ask him to attach them to this positing. There are two photos of the Rabinowitch gravestone and something even stranger; what very much appeared to be an American Eagle or something very much like it on a tree stump in a cemetery in Queens. I got one good picture of it before it flew away holding its prey in its beak.

Lithuanian prosecutor investigates Jewish partisans

This story has been brewing for a while. The present-day Lithuanian government is investigating alleged war crimes committed by Jewish partisans during the war. This is denounced by many Jews worldwide as an attempt excuse atrocities by Lithuanian Nazi collaborators on the basis of some kind of moral equivalence. But whatever actions Jewish brigades may have taken in 1943 and 1944 can never be equivalent to the hundreds of thousands of Jews who were slaughtered.

Here is a detailed report on the controversy from the BBC.

Separately, I received today an email from a documentary filmmaker, Richard Bloom, who is at work on a film called "The Litvak Connection," which will report on Lithuanian and Latvian war criminals in the United States. Here is the text of his email.

Dear Mr. Ruby,

I have meant to drop you a note to let you know that during my research for a documentary, I came across your blog.
I am just about finished with The Litvak Connection- a film about the role of Nazi collaborators in the murder of
Lithuanian and Latvian Jewry,and the connection to present day war crimes issues.

How thousands of these collaborators immigrated to the U.S and many other nations, lied on their visas that they weren't complicit in war crimes, were admitted and became citizens.

How for over 30 years, there was practically nothing done to investigate and punish these individuals and eventually the role being played by the U.S Office of Special Investigations and Operation Last Chance to try and bring justice for the victims and the failure of most European countries (especially Latvia and Lithuania) to investigate, prosecute or take back denaturalized
and deported citizens from the U.S.

The film should start to make the rounds of Jewish and other documentary film festivals starting in December.

Richard Bloom

Thank you, Richard. We will look for your film when it is showing next year.

Julius Rabinowitz wife Annie's death notice

Jan. 3, 1942

Blossom's maiden name was Ruby

Engagement: Dec. 6, 1936

Marriage: Feb. 18, 1937

Aside from the satisfaction of turning up records for another great aunt, this is significant because we did not know that other members of the Rabinowitz family other than our grandfather Walter had changed their surname to Ruby. According to Stan's cousin (on the other side of his family) Sandy Brenner, Blossom and her husband Ben were close to Walter and were dinner guests at the Ruby home in Long Beach. This tends to confirm that Walter and Blossom may have been closer to each other than he was with some others of his siblings.

Blossom Goldman obituary

I found a November 4, 1948, obituary notice for Blossom Goldman nee Rabinowitz. She was married to Benjamin E. Goldman, a business owner. The eight different paid death notices for her indicate that she was very active in Jewish community and family life. Siblings Meta, Henry, Arthur and Seymour are noted as surviving her. (Who the hell is Arthur?) There is no mention of any children.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Bluma Rabinowitz Salomonson cited in Tradition article

Among the Spektor descendants who have not gotten much coverage here, at least so far, is Bluma Salomonson, the daughter of YES son Benyamin Rabinowitz, who was one of the first members of the Spektor family to go to Palestine.

Here she turns up in the academic paper in Tradition. The author cites a chapter about YES written by Samuel K. Mirsky in the 1958 book Guardians of Our Heritage (New York: Bloch Publishing Company, 1958), which evidently contains excerpts from a memoir by Bluma in which she recalls going to a summer resort with her grandfather, the great rabbi.

The reference to the Bluma material in the Tradition article is shown below. Besides its depiction of the kindly rabbi feeding a cat, and Bluma's comment that "his love for nature was limitless" (both characterizations that strike a chord), the really interesting thing is the uncategorical first sentence: "Bluma Solomonson was the only grandchild of his who survived the Holocaust."

Of course we know this is not true. We know that Benyamin Rabinowitz's grandson and his family survived the Holocaust, but Benyamin's son Israel Isser, Shmuel's grandfather, died in Kovno before the war. We think there is another sister of Bluma and Israel Isser, Yetyl, who lived in Kharkov, Russia, and we don't know her life story.

So maybe Rakeffet-Rothkoff has it right on a technicality and Bluma is the only Spektor grandchild from that side of the family who survived. However, we of course know that Joseph Rabinowitz was another Spektor grandchild who, having emigrated to New York City in 1875 and living to a ripe old age, remained living after the end of the Holocaust. [Correction: Joseph died in 1940, so R-R gets a pass on that count too.]

The obvious conclusion is that Rakeffet-Rothkoff, like other Spektor biographers, knows nothing of the later life of Joseph Rabinowitz. That may not seem surprising except that the author is affiliated with REIT at Yeshiva University. Walter has a theory that Joseph was involved with a group of American followers of Rabbi Spektor. In the paper, Rakeffet-Rothkoff writes about the group under Rabbi Moses Mayer Matlin that founds the yeshiva named for the rabbi in 1897, which eventually evolves into Yeshiva University.

Presumably, if Joseph Rabinowitz had something to do with Rabbi Matlin's project, the historians at Yeshiva University would know something about him. Yet it seems that they don't. So I don't know where that leaves us concerning Joseph's religious activities in New York.

Anyway, I've ordered a used copy of Guardians from Alibris. I'll have it in a week and we will learn what other interesting information Mr. Mirsky has in his chapter. Meanwhile, here is the segment of the Tradition article with the Bluma quotations:

YES journal article sheds new light

I've run across the online site for the academic publication Tradition, a "Journal of Orthodox Jewish Thought," a few times in my research, but hadn't gotten around to paying for any downloads till today.

There are a number of other interesting hits to investigate, but so far I have reviewed only the journal's major article on Rabbi Spektor published on the occasion of the centennial of his death in 1997. The author is Rabbi Aaron Rakeffet-Rothkoff, professor of Responsa literature at the Yeshiva University Gruss Institute in Jerusalem.

Most of the article contains analysis of YES' theological writings, focusing on two of the matters in which he was most influential, concerning the problems of shemita and aguna. In both cases, YES argued for a lenient interpretation of Jewish law, and his rulings on these matters carried great weight with Jewish communities around the world.

We may come back to those subjects at a later date, but the main interest of the article for us in its biographical sections. Most of the author's information is from the usual sources, but he introduces a new source, a chapter from a 1958 book called Guardians of Our Heritage, that seems to have some intriguing new information.

So here are three pages from the Tradition article in this post, and then I will follow up with the most interesting tidbit in the following post.

Other Kovno relatives in these photos?

Besides finding the image of Shulamit's famous letter, I downloaded several other photos from the Hidden History exhibit that may include family members.

First, in happier times in Kovno in the 1930s, here is a group of Jewish schoolteachers at a social gathering. Our great-great aunt, Bluma Rabinovich, the younger sister of our great grandfather Joseph Rabinowitz, was a schoolteacher in Kovno at that time. Quite possibly she is one of the women in the picture. (The photo credit is "In Memory of Shalom Zvi Rachkovsky.")

Here, undated, is a photo of Kovno's Jewish Council. The caption tells us that chairman Dr. Elkhanan Elkes is seated third from left and vice-chairman Leib Garfunkel is seated at far left. Is it possible that Shmuel's father Yitzhak Rabinovich is one of the other men in the picture?

The credit on this photo is "Avraham and Pnina Tory, Israel. Photograph by George Kadish, Beth Hatefutsoth, Israel." Avraham Tory was the leader of the community that spearheaded efforts to archive historical documents from Kovno. He managed to bury three crates of artifacts, including the photos by documentarian Kadish, two of which he was able to recover after the war.

On both these questions, our upcoming call with Shmuel should clear up whether our Rabinowitz family members are among those in the photos.

Image of Shulamit's 1944 letter

Among the artifacts in the Hidden History of the Kovno Ghetto is a photograph of Shulamit Rabinovitch's June 1944 letter to her sons in Palestine. The photo is credited to Shmuel Elhanan. It is interesting that the date is given here as June 27, not June 6 as in the Ethical Wills book.

The caption includes this information: "Shulamit Rabinowitz was deported with her husband and child. They survived camps in Germany and eventually were reunited with their family in Israel."

With the new date information and the timeline, we can now place the letter as having been written 12 days before the start of the week-long liquidation of the ghetto, when the remaining population was rounded up for deportation to Stutthof and Dachau concentration camps.

Kovno ghetto timeline

Reading of the Rabinowitz family's terrible experience in Kovno under Nazi occupation, I realized that I needed a better understanding of the sequence of historical events. Looking online, I found a very wonderful multimedia exhibit The Hidden History of the Kovno Ghetto, presented by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

The online exhibit is incredibly rich with photos and other artifacts, and so much well organized information that I have still not read it all. So I highly recommend that you check it out. Make sure you have the latest Shockwave plugin for your browser to view the multimedia content.

One useful feature of the site is a timeline of events, which I have borrowed below along with a few images. This content is a tiny fraction of the whole site, so please check it out.

1941 June 24
German forces enter Kovno at night, encountering Lithuanian "activists" engaged in pogroms against Jews.

1941 June 25
George Kadish takes his first photograph of the words "revenge" written in blood.

1941 June 25
SS Brigadier General Walter Stahlecker, Commander of Einsatzgruppe A, enters Kovno. Pogroms against Kovno’s Jews are accelerated.

1941 June 26
Lithuanian nationalists set fire to several synagogues, killing some 1,000 Rabbis and their followers.

1941 June 27
Lithuanian "partisans" kill 60 Jews at the Lietukis garage.

1941 July 2
SS Colonel Karl Jäger takes over security and police command in Lithuania.

1941 July 7
Avraham Tory begins working on his diary.

1941 July 10
Order issued for 30,000 Kovno Jews to move into the ghetto.

1941 July 24
Kovno municipal authorities confiscate property of arrested and murdered Jews.

1941 August 2
Einsatzkommandos lead mass shootings by Lithuanian auxiliaries of more than 200 Jewish men and women at Fort IV in Kovno. Most of the women held at the fort endure rape and other forms of abuse; some are released.

1941 August 15
The Kovno ghetto is closed under police guard.

1941 August 18
"Intellectuals Action" -- 534 Jews, including many professionals, are killed at Fort IV.

1941 September 15
Kovno Jewish Council issues 5,000 craftsmen certificates, also known as "life certificates," intended to protect holders by ensuring them work.

1941 October 1
Daily work brigades begin to Aleksotas military airfield.

1941 October 4
The "Small Ghetto" and the Hospital are liquidated. Some 1,800 people are killed.

1941 October 28
The "Great Action" in the Kovno ghetto.

1941 October 29
9,200 Jewish men, women and children, separated from the Kovno ghetto population during the so-called "Great Action," are shot at Fort IX

1941 October 29
Ghetto labor brigades resume.

November 1, 1941
A 22-month-long "quiet period" begins

1941 November 25
The Education Office is established under direction of cultural leader Chaim Nachman Shapiro. Shapiro also launches a secret archival project and encourages artists and writers to begin documentary efforts.

1941 November 25
Jews from Berlin, Frankfurt, and Munich, destined for the Kovno ghetto, are shot at Fort IX.

1941 November 29
2,000 Jews (including 1,155 women and 152 children) from Vienna and Breslau are shot at Fort IX

1941 December 1
SS Colonel Karl Jäger reports that "our objective, to solve the Jewish problem for Lithuania, has been achieved." He claims a total of 136,442 Jews are killed by Einsatzkommando 3 and Lithuanian auxiliaries.

1941 December 31
Communist resistance groups in the ghetto merge to form the Anti-Fascist Organization under Chaim Yelin.

1942 January 11
SS orders the evacuation of a portion of the ghetto in order to make room for transports of German Jews. The deportees never arrive in the ghetto; they are sent directly to Fort IX and executed.

1942 January 12
Ghetto workshops begin operations.

1942 February 27
Germans confiscate books. Ghetto inmates hide many books and Torah scrolls, but those not hidden are sent to Frankfurt.

1942 March 12
A shoemaking workshop is organized to repair military boots and other footwear.

1942 March 25
SS Colonel Jäger orders an area of Kovno ghetto evacuated by May 1; 3,000 persons are forced to moved to other areas of the ghetto.

1942 April 21
Jewish Council appeals to parents to send their children to the ghetto school.

1942 April 26
Jewish Council issues regulations regarding the vegetable gardens and the communal soup kitchen.

1942 May 1
Germans again reduce area of the ghetto by redrawing boundaries. Crowding worsens.

1942 June 2
73 people are sent to dig peat in Palemonas, six miles from Kovno.

1942 June 28
The Ghetto Police orchestra plays for schoolchildren in former yeshiva. Organizers asked audience to refrain from applauding out of respect for dead.

1942 July 2
German order requiring work for all men older than 15 and all women aged 17 to 47 with no children under 6.

1942 July 24
Germans issue order prohibiting pregnancies and births in ghetto.

1942 August 16
Jewish Council calls on women with children under 8 years of age to register for gardening in the ghetto.

1942 August 26
Germans prohibit all religious observances and order schools closed.

1942 October 23
Germans deport 369 Jews from Kovno to the Riga ghetto (Latvia).

1942 November 18
Jewish Ghetto Police hangs Meck publicly in ghetto. The next day, his mother and sister are shot at Fort IX.

1943 February 28
Burial of Rabbi Avraham Duber Shapiro, Chief Rabbi of Kovno, who dies after a long illness.

1943 June–July
Zionist and pro-Soviet underground unite under the leadership of Chaim Yelin.

1943 July 24
Exhibition of Esther Lurie’s drawings in the graphics workshop.

1943 September
In anticipation of forced retreat, Germans begin to use Jewish prisoners and Soviet prisoners of war to exhume and burn corpses from mass graves at Fort IX.

1943 September 15
Gestapo transfers of control of Kovno ghetto administration and workshops. The transfer signals the transformation of the ghetto into a concentration camp and signals end to more than 22 months of relative calm in ghetto.

1943 October 1
Jews in the Kovno area concentrated into 8 labor camps.

1943 October 26
Russian and Ukrainian auxiliaries assist Germans in deportation of 2,700 Jews from Kovno. Those of working age are transported to Vaivara and Klooga, Estonia, while very young and old are deported to their deaths at Auschwitz.

1943 October 19
Dr. Elkhanan Elkes writes his "Last Letter."

1943 October 28
43 partisans try to escape for Augustow Forest. Only two men succeed.

1943 November 23
Ten armed partisans escape on foot to Rudniki [Rudninkai] Forest, 94 miles away; six reach their destination.

1943 November 30
Some 1,000 are taken to satellite camp in Aleksotas

1943 December 2
Chaim Nachman Shapiro and his family are killed at Fort IX after being led to believe they were to have safe passage to Switzerland

1943 December 25
Prisoners who had been forced to exhume corpses at Fort IX escape.

1944 March 27
In an effort to obtain information about the underground, Gestapo agents arrest and torture some 130 Jewish ghetto policemen at Fort IX. Thirty-six men are killed after refusing to cooperate, including Police Chief Moshe Levin and his assistants, Joshua Greenberg and Yehuda Zupowitz.

1944 March 27-28
After work brigades leave the ghetto for daily work assignments, Gestapo and Ukrainian auxiliaries begin to round up those left behind, mostly children under 12 and adults over 55. The so-called "Children’s Action" continued another day, during which a total of 1,300 Jews were murdered.

1944 April 3
Final meeting of the Jewish Council.

1944 April 4
Germans liquidate all remaining offices in the ghetto institutions.

1944 April 6
Underground leader Chaim Yelin is arrested in central Kovno after an exchange of gunfire with police. He is executed in early May after being tortured.

1944 July 6
Germans surround the ghetto, in preparation for its liquidation.

1944 July 8-13
As the Soviet army nears, the Germans begin six-day liquidation of ghetto, evacuating the former ghetto’s remaining population by train and by barge for deportation to the Stutthof and Dachau concentration camps in Germany. The camp is set aflame to smoke out those still hiding in underground bunkers.

1944 July 19
Stuthoff concentration camp registers 1,209 women and children from the Kovno ghetto.

1944 July 26
Jews from the Kovno and Siauliai ghettos are transported from Stutthof to Auschwitz.

1944 August 1
Soviet Army enters Kovno. A few Jews who survived hiding in bunkers are liberated.

1944 August 4
Avraham Tory returns to Kovno and retrieves three of five crates he buried containing his ghetto diary and other ghetto documents.

1944 October 17
Chairman Dr. Elkhanan Elkes dies in Dachau.

Another review of Bartov raises sensitive Judenrat question

Thanks to Walter for posting the Danny Rubinstein review of the book by Hanoch Bartov that covers the story of the Rabinowitz-Elhanan family in Kovno and Israel. Here is another review that addresses the question about the role of Jewish councils in Nazi ghettos, such as the committee Yitzhak Rabinowitz served on in Kovno during the terrible years between June 24, 1941, when the Nazis invaded Lithuania, and August 1, 1944, when the Soviet Army entered Kovno.

The author of this review reaches the conclusion that men like Yitzhak had acted honorably in their unwelcome roles in administering Nazi policies while also acting to preserve lives and a historical record.

Here is a link to the article "Compelled to Collaborate" at The Jerusalem Post website. The text follows:

Compelled to collaborate
Nov. 9, 2006

Beyond the Horizon, Across the Street (in Hebrew)
By Hanoch Bartov
Kinneret, Zmora-Bitan
287 pages
NIS 84

This book may look like just another chapter in the seemingly infinite story of the Holocaust, but the reader is instantly captivated by an extraordinary tale of an unusual Jewish family, told by an outstanding writer.

The deeper you delve, the more you realize that the story raises questions capable of shaking old perceptions of those who "collaborated" with the Nazis during the Holocaust.

I ought to declare a slight involvement in this story, having witnessed the beginning of the dramatic saga while serving as a young soldier in the Jewish Brigade with both the author and one of the five members of the exceptional family he describes.

The tale begins shortly after the end of World War II.

The Jewish Brigade had moved from the Adriatic coast of Italy, where it had participated in combat, to a point touching the Austrian-Yugoslav border. The brigade's three battalions were spread around the nearby villages, and some of these towns - Brasigella, Ponteba and Camporosso, on the way to the border town Tarvisio - became a sort of transit camp for thousands of Holocaust survivors. These Jews were assembled there, away from the prying eyes of the British.

The war against Nazi Germany was over by then, and the first priority of the unofficial leadership of the brigade (under the guidance of David Ben-Gurion and the Jewish Agency in Jerusalem) was to get the survivors to Italy's ports for transportation - legal or "illegal" - to Palestine.

It was in Brasigella that Amos Rabinowitch, of the brigade's third battalion, met his father Yitzhak and 15-year-old brother Shmuel one day in the summer of 1945.

Unaware that her husband and son Shmuel were alive and that Amos, the eldest son, would be found with the brigade's soldiers in northern Italy, the mother, Shulamit, was walking 350 km. from the Baltic Sea toward Italy. She, too, finally met her family in Brasigella. Yitzhak and Shulamit arrived in Palestine six months later.

Hanoch Bartov knew Amos; they had served in the same regiment. After the war, Bartov attended the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and there he met Benjamin, brother of Amos and Shmuel Rabinowitch. Benjamin served at that time in the Palmah, and the testimonies of those who knew him reveal that he was endowed with a fine mind and wide intellectual interests. He was killed in the War of Independence.

Amos and Benjamin knew Hebrew since their childhood in Lithuania, and being the sons of a devoted Zionist family, they made their way to Palestine in April 1940. The parents assumed that they would follow their kids, but the myopic Soviet regime, not known for its humane virtues, didn't allow them to leave the country even though they, like their sons, had British certificates to enter Palestine. When the Germans invaded Kovno in 1941, the parents were thus forbidden to leave. Though they were separated from their son, Shmuel, they all miraculously survived the misery, persecution and death the Germans directed against the Jews.

Bartov is keen to explore the great stories of the past. He demonstrated this impulse when he toiled to produce the volumes on Dado (David Elazar), chief of staff during the Yom Kippur War. His handling of the Rabinowitch family's survival is indeed proof of his integrity. It took him years to pursue this story.

What troubled him for so long was the role of Yitzhak Rabinowitch under the German occupation. Suspicious that Rabinowitch had in some way collaborated with the Germans, Bartov often wondered how he could have survived the Gestapo's barbaric rule. Was his behavior kosher?

Our perception of such Jews, who were as a rule compelled to collaborate with the German authorities, is harsh. Bartov, like many of us, shared this severe attitude.

In 1989, he was helped by an unexpected book - Natan Alterman's Over Two Roads, Pages from a Notebook. Bartov felt as if he had been extricated from hell. This dilemma of how to interpret the Judenrat phenomenon had also been excruciating for Alterman, and when he recorded his heretical reflections in a confidential notebook in 1954-55, his thoughts were a voice of defiance.

Abba Kovner, the poet and a heroic survivor of the resistance, reported in a book published in 1981, On a Narrow Bridge, that in a conversation he had with him, Alterman said: "Had I been in the ghetto, I would have been with the Judenrat."

This was shocking to Kovner, but not to Bartov.

The story of the Rabinowitch family slowly eroded his earlier harsh judgment, but it took years for him to sit down and write it all with a trembling hand and a torn conscience.

Alterman stated it unequivocally: "The Judenrats' route was necessary." Yes, there were many occurrences of abuse and criminality, but there were also cases of compassion and helping hands. Bartov did not seek to pass judgment, but found himself overwhelmed by empathy and ready to come to terms with Yitzhak Rabinowitch.

Joanne, Lani, Dan skype it up with Sharons of Afeq

I spoke to Joanne a little while ago and was touched to hear of the skype phone call she and Dan held with the entire Sharon clan--more than 25 of them according to Jo--gathered in Afeq together with Lani. Good for Jo and Lani for making this happen for all of us.

I'll let Jo and Dan describe it, but Jo's account to me was of a magical coming together and of love and appreciation of each other on all sides. Great that patriarch Ze'ev and matriarch Penina could be there and that Lani got to meet them and all the rest of the wonderful Sharons; Raya and Amiram, Ruti (who I havent seen in 30 years) and her son Yuval, sweet Dalit and Tal and their brood, Ahikam and Gali and their katanchik Netta, and Karmit (with a toddler not yet born when I was in Israel in 06) and Nir, who was then in the army--all of them and more (sorry to those I didnt mention) gathered improbably at Raya and Amiram's small house of the edge of the kibbutz with that view acorss the fields to the hills of Galilee, all there to appreciate Lani and to reconnect--all very powerful stuff.

I know Ahikam and others in our Israeli family have connected palpably to the genealogy search and has contributed a lot of information and so that project as pushed forward by Dan has made a major contribution to us all coming together. Wow, zeh mamash kef, be'emet yotzei meen ha klal--the whole thing is a real high, totally out of the ordinary. Family, I love all of you, those with us now and those who have departed, our dear parents and so many others and dare I say, those yet to come. What a compelling sense of connection and belonging.



Review of Hanoch Bartov's Beyond the Horizon, Across the Street

See below review of Hanoch Bartov's Beyond the Horizon, Across the Street sent to me earlier today by Dan, after we learned of the book in an email from Shmuel Elhanan.

At its core, the book is a history of the Spektor-Rabinovich-Elhanan family from the days of the Gaon of Kovno to World War II and the Holocaust. It tells the story of the two older Elhanan boys, Amos and Binyamin, who had moved to Palestine as youths in the 1930's and who Bartov came to know as comrades in the Jewish Brigade in World War II. The family was reunited after the war when Amos found them in a refugee camp in Italy, having miraculously survived the Holocaust in the Kovno ghetto and the death camps.

Unfortunately, the book itself is only in Hebrew. Just reading about it is very powerful as it so palpably connects our own family with the larger sweep of Jewish history of the past 150 years from Isaac Elchanan Spektor and the shtetl through the horrors of the Holocaust and the emergence of the Jewish state. And, of course, the review helps to answer many of the questions Dan and I had for Shmuel whom we hope to interview by phone in the coming days, though there will be plenty more to ask him.

The excerpt follows. Go here for the original.

2006: In an article entitled “Another Page from an Epic Chapter,” Danny Rubinstein reviewed Mihutz laofek, mi'ever larehov (Beyond the Horizon, Across the Street) by Hanoch Bartov.

"In 1943, at the age of 17, Hanoch Bartov, a native of Petah Tikva, joined the Palestine Regiment of the British Army, which was fighting Nazi Germany and which features prominently in his novel "Pitzei Bagrut" ("The Brigade"). In the Jewish soldiers' barracks at the end of World War II, one heard tales of emotional encounters between a Jewish soldier and a member of his family who had survived the Holocaust. At the time, Bartov heard, but did not have a strong recollection of, one story. It was about a man named Amos who had immigrated to Palestine, joined the British Army's Jewish Brigade and found his parents and younger brother, who had been in a displaced persons camp in Italy and had miraculously survived.

After the war, Bartov moved to Jerusalem, spending much of his time with a group of university students who were commanders in the Haganah (pre-state militia). One of them was Binyamin, nicknamed "Rabi," who was killed during the summer of 1948 in a battle in the Negev. Rabi was Amos' brother and he was also astounded to learn, after the war, that his parents and younger brother had survived the Nazi inferno after being thought dead for some time.

Many years later, in May 1978, on the morning of Israel's 30th Independence Day, the telephone rang in Bartov's home. He was busy completing a biography of David "Dado" Elazar, chief of staff during the Yom Kippur War, whom many see as one of its victims. The older man on the other end of the line introduced himself: "I am Rabi's father."

The reason for the call was the obituary Bartov had written about Rabi and the members of his generation - the "1948 generation," who fell in the War of Independence. Bartov recalls that he was surprised to hear from the bereaved father. "I was thunderstruck," he wrote. Following the telephone call, Bartov felt he must continue writing about and preserving the memory of his many comrades-in-arms who had died in that cruel year of 1948.

That call thus led to a connection spanning many years, between Bartov and the two parents who were Holocaust survivors. He began visiting their North Tel Aviv home and heard about their experiences in their native city of Kovno in occupied Lithuania. He interviewed relatives and friends of this couple, and perused letters and memoirs. The result is "Mihutz laofek, mi'ever larehov" ("Beyond the Horizon, Across the Street"), which has appeared 25 years after the conversation with Rabi's father and presents one East European Jewish family's fascinating story. The family's life revolves around the destruction of Europe's Jews and Israel's establishment - namely, what is sometimes termed "Holocaust and rebirth."

"Holocaust and rebirth" is an epic chapter in Jewish history, although many consider it to be an overused, anachronistic topic. Bartov relates the saga of an intriguing family that enjoyed considerable social status and whose history he finds moving. He has been able to convey some of that emotion to his readers. Although he avoids excessive emotionalism, some passages will cause the readers to feel goose bumps and a lump in their throat.

The family is Rabinowitz-Elhanan. The father, Yitzhak Elhanan, was a descendant of Yitzhak Elhanan Spektor, a prominent 19th-century Jewish leader who was Kovno's chief rabbi under the Russian czarist regime. In 1924, in Berlin, Yitzhak married Shulamit Rosenblum, daughter of a wealthy Jew who was proud to be a descendant of the great Rashi, loved Zion and was related to Israel's third president, Zalman Shazar, and to supreme Court chief justice Dr. Moshe Zmora.

While Yitzhak and his wife remained in Kovno to manage their extensive family business, Shulamit's elderly parents moved to Palestine in 1933, investing in private property and orchards (for example, the Rosenblum orchard, site of the present-day Givat Shmuel, adjacent to the Geha Highway). Their three sons were born in Kovno: Amos (1925), Binyamin "Rabi" (1926) and Shmuel (1930). When World War II broke out, the parents sent the two older sons to Palestine, where they grew up with their maternal grandparents in a spacious apartment on Tel Aviv's Rothschild Boulevard.

The parents and their youngest son remained in Kovno. Although Holocaust scholars are familiar with the story of the Kovno ghetto, readers will be stunned by the eyewitness reports on the insane cruelty of the Nazis and the masses of Lithuanian collaborators there. The book introduces us to a previously unknown document from the ghetto: a letter from the head of the Juderat, Dr. Elhanan Elkes, who considered it to be his last will and testament. He wrote it in Hebrew two days before his deportation to Dachau, where he later perished, and sent it to his children in London.

Preserved by a Holocaust survivor, this letter describes the events leading to Elkes' appointment as Judenrat head and notes how, with "shaking, worried hands," he and the other Judenrat members tried to steer the "mad ghetto boat in the middle of the ocean" to save as many Jews as possible. Elkes addresses his son Yoel: "My beloved Yoel! Be a loyal son to your people! Concern yourself with the welfare of other Jews, not with the welfare of the gentiles. In our long exile, they have not given us even a fraction of what we have given them. Try to settle in Palestine."

Elkes' children did not settle in Israel, but instead made their homes in the United States and England. Bartov believes this is the reason why they avoided publishing their father's last will and testament for so many years. Along with the letter, Bartov summarizes the debate in the Israeli public on the role of the Judenrats (many books and research studies exist on this topic).

In addition, he presents not only the memoirs of Elhanan and Shulamit; he also describes the adolescence of their sons Amos and Binyamin. The drama's climax is the chance meeting between Amos, a soldier in the Jewish Brigade, and his survivor-brother Shmuel. Amos was looking for his parents (who were separated when the ghetto was liquidated and did not know the other's whereabouts) and arrived one day in Pontebba in northern Italy to meet a friend.

That evening someone told him that a truck had just come in from Munich "and there might be somebody there who has heard something about your father." Amos approached the truck and that very moment Shmuel, his younger brother, jumped to the ground. Although in this passage Bartov tries to offer a simple description, without emotional clichés, there will almost certainly be a tear in the reader's eye.

Rabi, Bartov's comrade, was killed in 1948. Amos died from a fatal illness at age 40. Shmuel, who immigrated with his parents, fought in the War of Independence, serving with the elite Palmach strike force and participating in the battle of Malkiya. He may have been one of the "last ones on the ridge," to use a term coined by Yitzhak Tischler, who describes the battle in a book and is also mentioned by Bartov. Shmuel accompanies Bartov on his meetings with Shmuel's parents.

Certainly one of the most important of the "1948 generation" writers, Bartov has always been considered an excellent reporter. Few have perhaps read his superb reports for the Lamerhav newspaper, some of which appeared in books, which I enjoyed very much and made me laugh. In "Beyond the Horizon," the writing is somewhat heavy, perhaps due to a sense of awe for the book's contents. Sometimes Bartov burdens the reader with details that do not contribute to the protagonists' dramatic saga, which definitely deserves to have been written.”