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.”

Sad news of passing of Zippora Elhanan z"l

I have just gotten off the phone with our wonderful relative in Rehovot, Shmuel Elchanan, who had informed me shortly before by e-mail of the passing of his beloved wife Zippora last December at the age of 76. As Shmuel explained, Zippora suffered a stroke at the Weizmann Institute where she had been a faculty member for 50 years while chairing a session at an International meeting on Photosynthesis, her subject of research for years. If I understood him correctly, she was rushed to the hospital and remained in a coma for five days before passing.

Shmuel, whom I have never met face to face, but have had several extended phone conversations about our family history, is a wonderful man with I feel an instinctive kesher (connection). His warmth, understanding, deep empathy, primal Jew to Jew connection and sheer humanity amidst all the horrors he and our people have endured, is emblematic of what I have loved about Israel and Israelis all these decades; indeed, what keep my love for Israel unconditional though I have spent far too little time in Israel over the past decade and despite my disappointment with Israeli policies toward the Palestinians, etc. I am so sorry we never got to meet Zippora, who must also have been a wonderful person.

Shmuel urges us to come to Rehovot to talk family history and we really should all do that as soon as possible. It is so moving to me that he is so connected to Rehovot and the Machon Weizmann which is of course where Jo, Danny and I spent that mind blowing life transforming year of 1961-62 as children, when our father Stan was there on sabbatical. Rehovot is a kind of lodestone for us and here it is again.

In the meantime, Shmuel has agreed to a conference call with Dan and myself to help us to better understand many things, including that 'last letter' from his parents to his elder brothers of June 6, 1944, when they thought they and Shmuel himself were about to be liquidated by the Nazis. Kol hakavod (all honor) to Dan for getting hold of Ethical Wills and finding those letters as well as gthe last will and testament of our common ancestor Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Spektor. Thanks also to Moshe Spector and Jeff Spector for connecting with Dan and providing us with so much new information.

Shmuel also mentioned a book by a well known Israeli writer, Hanoch Bartov, entitled "BEYOND THE HORIZON, ACROSS THE STREET" published in 2006, about our family. Apparently the book focuses on the stories of young men killed in the 1948 War of Independence, including one of Shmuel's older brothers, who had apparently served alongside Bar-Tov, It is unfortunately only in Hebrew which I read with great difficulty but I'm sure we will find a way to get the relevant sections translated.

Tomorrow, July 27, I will finally make it to the Mt. Carmel Cemetery in Queens and, God willing, see the graves of Joseph Rabinowitz and Lena Lincoff Rabinowitz, our great grandparents.


Friday, July 25, 2008

Schija Ringel birth record image

The hits keep on coming. Marian Rubin's package arrived today with four printouts of Ringel birth records from the Rzeszow archives. I'll have some comments about this later. For now, feast your eyes on the June 13, 1856 birth record of another of our great grandparents, Schija Ringel, the man who would later move to Berlin, marry Feigla Kaufler, and raise three children, Hermann, Rosa, and Bette Ringel.

Schija's record is highlighted. Click to enlarge.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Unexpected "will" in book from Shmuel's mother Shulamit

[Update: Following Walter's call with Shmuel Elhanan, we know there are errors in the original post, which I will leave to preserve the context for future posts. Yitzhak Rabinowitz did not change his name; his sons change theirs. Shulamit's family should be Rosenblum. Other spellings are in error.]

So after reading YES' will several times and reflecting that our family maybe held up his hopes in item 3 if having failed him in most of item 2, I began leafing through the other chapters of the book. Imagine my surprise in finding as the last item in the Holocaust section the text of the letter written by Shmuel's mother Shulamit Rabinowitz from Kovno on June 6, 1944 to her two older children just days or hours before she expected to perish along with her husband Yitzhak and eight-year-old son Shmuel.

This letter (and a shorter one that follows by Shmuel's father Yitzhak Elhanan Rabinowitz) is incredibly moving. She remains proud, though she is accepting of her likely fate. Her biggest regret is that Shmuel (whom she calls by the pet name Muka) will have his life cut short. Beyond that, rather than summarize I will let you read for yourself.

We know that in fact Shulamit, Yitzhak and Shmuel did not perish in Kovno. At this time, I do not know the full story of how they escaped and made their way to Palestine. I believe that Walter knows at least a short version of the story and perhaps he can fill us in. He may also follow up directly with Shmuel for more of the details.

What I do know based on Shmuel's 1996 correspondence with Morris Spector is that Yitzhak Elchonan (he later dropped the Rabinowitz name) died in Tel Aviv in 1992, Shulamit died in March 1996 in Haifa, and that Shmuel is alive and well in Rehovot at age 78 with his wife Zippora. They have two sons Benjamin and Ofra.

The two older sons to whom the letter was written both went to Israel as well. They were not in the United States when Shulamit wrote to them, but in Palestine. Benjamin was felled in the Israeli war of independence in 1948. Amos lived until 1965 and died in Tel Aviv of natural causes.

Here are the two documents, three pages by Shulamit and one page by Yitzhak. (Click to enlarge.)

By the way, Riemer's introduction to Shulamit's letter contains several errors. First, Shulamit became a Rabinowitz when she married Yitzhak, who was a great-grandson, not a grandson, of YES. Shulamit's last name was Rozenbloom before she married. When she mentions "your grandfather, grandmother and Aunt Jennie" in the letter, those are Rozenbloom family members.

Isaac Elchanan Spektor ethical will

There is much that can be said about this document. Perhaps readers will want to contribute their reactions in the comment section.

(For legibility, I have cropped in as tightly as possible on the text. You can click the images for a larger view.)

"Ethical Wills: A Modern Jewish Treasury""

Well, we had heard some time ago from Shmuel Elchonan, our third cousin in Israel, that the Rabbi Spektor's "ethical will" had been published in the 1980s in a book titled "Ethical Wills: A Modern Jewish Treasury." I finally got around to tracking down the book and ordering a copy.

Here's a quick plug for, a online book source that aggregates the used book collections in independent bookstores around the U.S. (maybe the world). When I went looking for this title on Amazon, they had it listed but no new or used copies were available. Then I tried Alibris, and found at least six copies available at a range of prices. My copy cost $14.15 plus shipping and was actually sent from Sea Shell Books, a bookseller in Clearwater FL. It is in very good condition with a handwritten inscription by the previous owner.

Anyway back to the contents of the book. It is a collection of Jewish ethical wills, categorized into four groups for Traditional Wills (mostly written by rabbis), Wills from the Holocaust, Wills from the Land of Israel, and Wills of Modern and Contemporary American Jews.

The book was edited and annotated by Jack Riemer with translations by Nathaniel Stampfer. The frontispiece is shown below. Rather than try to summarize the Rabbi Spektor will, I will post images of the full translation in the next post, and then after that tell about the other surprise that awaited in the book.

Schulim Kaufler death record

Schulim Kaufler was born in 1798 or 1799, son of Izaak and Beili (Bayla) Kaufler. He married Reisel Bluma Singlust in 1825 (see their marriage record in a previous post). They were very prolific, producing 10 children, including Abraham Mojzesz Kaufler, their third. Abraham was the father of Feigla, our great grandmother.

Schulim passed away in 1847 at age 48 or 49. Here is his death record.

Bayla Kaufler death record

Bayla, also called Beili in some records, goes way, way back. She is Feigla's great-grandmother, thus our GGGG grandmother. She was born in 1773, married Izaak Kaufler, had four children including Schulim Kaufler, and she died at age 58 in 1831.

Here is her death certificate, full size and detail.

Schulim Kaufler and Reisel Bluma Singlust marriage record

This is from June 20, 1825. Separately, there is also a marriage bann (a pre-marriage legal announcement) that I am not posting for now. The marriage record fills a full ledger page, as opposed to birth and death records that are partial pages.

The complete page appears first, followed by a detail section with the names of the bride and groom highlighted.

Advances on several fronts

Yesterday was another red-letter day for me, so I want to get some updates in here before other news arrives. I have to hurry, because there is lots to do today for Festival Preview.

Okay, first in the morning I got email from Marian Rubin of the Rzeszow Research Group that she has some of our Ringel birth records, including Schija's, and that she is making copies and sending them to me by mail. She warns in advance there is no new information beyond what is in the index data we have already seen. Even so, it will be exciting to have images of those records. I'll wait to discuss them in more detail after Marian's mail arrives.

Next came a delivery from of a book I had ordered, Ethical Wills: A Modern Jewish Treasury. I was thrilled to finally read the words written for posterity by Isaac Elchanon Spektor in 1888, but found an even greater treat elsewhere in the book. I will report in the next post.

In the evening, I visited the Mormon Family Research Center again, ready to locate and scan images of the Kaufler family vital records (described here in previous messages—use the label tags at right to find related posts). There are quite a few records to capture, so here I focused on a few "high-value targets."

The following images include the 1825 marriage certificate of Feigla Kaufler's grandparents, Schulim Kaufler and Reisel Bluma Singlust; the 1831 death record for Schulim's mother Bayla (also Beili), who was born the daughter of Abraham in 1773; and Schulim's own death certificate from 1847. All of those mentioned are our direct ancestors.

In each case, I will show the full size image and one or more detail sections of the image. Note that these are second-generation scans. I printed them at the LDS and scanned them at home—next time I will bring a thumb drive with me to the temple and save the scans directly, so the quality will get better when I redo them next time. But these are good enough to post now.

To keep things manageable, I will post the images in separate posts.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

My genealogy calling card

I needed something other than my Festival Preview business card for meetings like today and for my upcoming Chicago trip, so I put this together this morning before going to the meeting.

I couldn't find the more recent headshot I have been using, so this one is my old New Media column photo. The research names and towns are meant to make it easier for people to connect me with researchers interested in the same subjects.

Sunday afternoon at the SF Bay Area JGS meeting

Today I attended my first SF Bay Area JGS meeting and had a wonderful time putting faces with names of people I have met online, plus meeting new people I will want to follow up with in the future. The guest speaker for today was Schelly Talalay Dardashti, the blogger who runs the Tracing the Tribe blog.

The meeting was held at the Jewish Community High School of the Bay in the lower Fillmore area of San Francisco. The society alternates its meetings among sites in San Francisco, Berkeley in the East Bay and Los Altos on the peninsula.

There were about 25 people attending, and I got a chance to chat with several of them over instant coffee and cookies before the meeting got underway. Jeremy Frankel, the president of the group whom I had met a month ago at the Oakland Mormon research center, greeted me warmly and began to introduce me around.

I was especially pleased to see Dave Howard, with whom I have corresponded a good deal about his Rezekne research. We found that we had as much or more to share in person than by email.

I was wearing a nametag, and as I waited for a chance to introduce myself to Schelly, she read my tag and said, "So here's the famous Dan Ruby." I guess that is a case of one's reputation leading the way, which surprises me since I feel like such a neophyte in this world.

Also in attendance were luminaries in the Jewish Gen world such as Steve Morse, Judy Baston and others. After the meeting, I chatted some with Judy at the Jewish Community Library, just down the hall. She is an leader of both the Litvak and Poland JRI interest groups, and I hope to get to know her more in the future.

Some new people I met who are active locally were Dale Friedman from Berkeley and Kathryn Doyle, who works at the California Genealogical Society and Library in Oakland and lives in my town of Piedmont. In fact, she thought I might have been the husband of the more famous Ruby resident of Piedmont, Eileen Ruby. (Eileen is the mother of Mike Ruby, who works for me part time at Festival Preview, but is otherwise unrelated.) I explained to Kathryn that the other Ruby family are Rubinsteins and we were Rabinowitzes.

Anyway, I'll look forward to seeing several of these people in Chicago next month, and at future meetings of the Bay Area group.

I enjoyed Schelly's presentation, even though a lot of it was pretty elementary. I was surprised that when she asked who in the room was writing a blog, mine was one of just a couple that went up. This in a room of people who have made considerable contributions to online Jewish genealogy, and also are tech-savvy Bay Area residents.

For example, Steve Morse's One Step page is commonly acknowledged as among the most useful online research tools anywhere. But blogging is evidently viewed as more of a young person's medium, and most of these folks make web sites or publish to email lists or moderate bulletin boards — online formats that may be friendlier to the generally older crowd that is interested in genealogy.

Nevertheless, I got some good ideas and leads from Schelly's talk. Her suggestions about the leading genealogical blogs will point me in some useful directions. I was interested to hear the story of how her blog got started as a project of the Jewish Telegraph Agency, and thus its relationship to the wider world of Jewish media.

Schelly came to blogging from a career in publishing, so I wasn't surprised to hear of her sometimes bumpy adjustment to the style and voice of blogging versus newspaper journalism. I have made that same transition. She sees her role as mainly a "just the facts, Ma'am" informational blogger, rather than what she calls a "muser," someone who riffs in a more personal style.

She described her caution about covering possibly controversial subjects and her discomfort in voicing her personal views. While I'm sure such discretion is a useful survival skill in the world of Jewish journalism, I quietly urged Schelly after the meeting to embrace the blogging ethic and let loose with her opinions.

Of course, I have the luxury of writing a blog hardly anybody reads, whereas Tracing the Tribe is the most widely read blog about Jewish genealogy, so that's easy for me to say. In my other life, though, I run a group blog and news aggregation service about music festivals, so I have some expertise about online media. When I next see Schelly, perhaps in Chicago, I'll look forward to exchanging ideas some more.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

What we learn from Einseidler, Part 3

In part 1, I summarized the Einseidler papers. In part 2, I covered Einseidler's discoveries about the descendants of Moshe Joseph Spektor. Here, I will do the same for the descendants of Jacob David Spektor.

The most surprising thing we learn about Jacob David is that he marries a woman 31 years his junior (to be continued).

Monday, July 14, 2008

What we learn from Einseidler, Part 2

But back to Einseidler. What is new and different that we learn from the papers? Most of the new information relates to two brothers of Isaac Elchanan. We know from Shimoff that Isaac had two older and one younger brothers. Of second brother Abraham Aaron, Shimoff writes that he was accomplished in the rabbinate, but he died young before having children. Shimoff tells us Spektor was deeply affected by his brother's death.

According to Einseidler's reading of the literature, the eldest Spektor brother, Moshe Joseph, then married Abraham's widow, in observation of the law of chalitza, in which an unmarried brother of a deceased married brother is obligated to marry the widow (unless he is released from the obligation in a ceremony involving the taking off of the brother's shoe).

In this case, Moshe kept his shoe and married the unnamed widow and they later had a daughter Shifra. From here, things get a bit surprising as Shifra marries a man named Aryeh Spector. This could be an example of a husband assuming the wife's name, if she had an honored name they wanted to carry on, or it could be coincidences of two unrelated Spektors finding each other, or it could be some kind of intermarriage.

In any case, Shifra and Aryeh have at least two children, Chaim Shmuel and Meir (born in 1884). Meir goes to Palestine in 1910, marries Esther and has three children, Jacob, Emanuel and Rachel. Rachel later marries David Belkin.

His older brother, Chaim Shmuel, also appears to marry another Spektor, Frieda daughter of Shlomo. The same possibilities apply here as above, though in this case Einseidler indicates that Chaim and Frieda are indeed cousins.

These possible Spektor-Specktor marriages would be one way for the family to expand to support claims of other Spektors to a relationship with the rabbi. We'll have to look more closely at the origins of Aryeh Spektor and Frieda Spektor to determine what other Spektors can claim a relation by marriage to the family of Isaac Elchanan's older brother.

Whatever turns out there, we know from the Pioneers book that Chaim and Frieda have another son Aryeh in 1909 in Halle, Germany, his grandfather having evidently previously passed away. Aryeh also goes to Palestine in 1933, and has two children Chaim Samuel (named for his predeceased father) and Simcha.

If all that is right, then we have five descendants of Moshe Joseph Spektor living in Palestine in the pre-war years. If we are next able to track Jacob, Emanuel, Rachel, Chaim Samuel and Simcha Spektor, we will be closer to identifying living descendants from that line.

Okay, on to part 3 for the information on brother Jacob David Spektor.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

What we learn from Einseidler, Part 1

While Morris keeps feeding me more information, I am trying to catch up with his earlier fax transmittal of the David Einsiedler papers. These include not just the three installments of the researcher's handwritten reports but also copies from nine source documents that are cited in the research.

I've now had a chance to process the information and will do my best to sift out what is new to us. Einsiedler draws on mostly published information. The most well known are the Shimoff biography and Lifshitz's Toldot Yitshak. But there are four or five different biographical encyclopedias that have listings for members of the Spektor/Rabinowitz family. Several are comprehensive works of important rabbis in history. There is one for Lithuanian rabbis only, and another for the rabbis of Novogrodok. David Tidhar's encyclopedia of pioneers of Israel is especially helpful, with three substantial biographies of Spektor descendants in Israel.

There is one problem. They are all in Hebrew. I have been able to identify which document is which using Einsiedler's list as an index. With a number of the documents, I have been able to see where words like Spektor and Rabinowitz appear. I was actually pretty pleased with myself that I was able to call on my inferior Hebrew skills to sort through the papers.

As far as I know Morris does not have translations for the documents. If not, we should think about economical strategies to get that done. There are probably about 40 pages that we would want to have translated. I just found a Bay Area Hebrew translator listed on Craigslist. She charges $39 a page. I hope we can do better than that.

There is one source that is of greatest interest to me — the page from the Novogrodok book with entries for Isaac Elchanan Spektor and his successor Baruch Mordecai Lifshitz. (I don't know the relation, if any, between that Rabbi Lifshitz and Spektor's later secretary and biographer Jacob Halevi Lifshitz.) Anyway, the Spektor entry on that page also mentions Zvi Hirsch Rabinowitz. Zvi was born the year Spektor took up the rabbinical post in Novogrodok.

Perhaps we can find a way to get this one page translated as a way to get the ball rolling on the whole set.

In addition to the Einseidler collection, there is another important Hebrew document in our collection, Shmuel Elchanan's compilation of his family information that he sent to Morris Spektor in 1996. While I am unable to decipher most of it, it appears that it is the source of all of the detail information for the descendants of Benyamin Spektor that is in Morris' Spektor descendant chart. Surely I will want to get a full translation, but for now I will assume that the key information in it has been reflected in that chart.

Actually, as a further reality check, I have an annotated version of the Morris descendant chart that was marked up by Shmuel Elchanan. This mainly corrects spellings in the English translation of names and places that Morris must have rendered from the original Hebrew.

Since there is a lot to write about the Einseidler papers, I will continue in the next post.