After leaving his home in Yedinitz, Bessarabia, my grandfather Sam Glicker’s older brother Shabetai started his trans-Atlantic voyage in Rotterdam, Holland on July 26, 1913, on the steamship Rotterdam. Two days after sailing from port, the journey was interrupted by an event Shabetai was sure to remember. A crew member, Jan Dunke, jumped overboard. Luckily it was a clear day and the waters were calm. A life buoy and life boat were launched and for two hours Captain Stenger doggedly steered the ship in a circular route searching for Dunke.
When the life boat was first launched with the chief officer on board, Shabetai may have been one of the 2,192 steerage passengers who made their own leap–to the conclusion that the worst had happened and the ship was sinking. The panic had passengers screaming and crying until they could be reassured by the crew. If Shabetai was on deck at the time, he may have been one of the passengers searching for a glimpse of the man in the sea. Remarkably, a small dot was spotted and Dunke was sighted swimming toward the ship. He was plucked out of the sea, and returned on board. Two hours after Dunke jumped into the sea, he was in the ship’s hospital, the S.S. Rotterdam was back on course, and Shabetai was headed for America.
Here’s the ship manifest that recorded Shabetai’s departure from Rotterdam on July 26, 1913 and his arrival in New York City on Monday, August 4:
I never guessed anyone would consider a post titled “Tombstone Tuesday” morbid and yet I’ve heard that comment. Sharing headstone photos of relatives is a natural extension of research and writing about family history. A headstone can be a treasure trove of clues for a genealogist: a birthdate and date of death, whether a spouse, parent, grandparent or great-grandparent.
In the case of Jewish genealogy, a matzevah [Hebrew word: headstone] can be even more valuable. It often shows the Hebrew and/or Yiddish name of the relative as well as their father’s Hebrew or Yiddish name. This information can lead to or confirm other family relationships. In the case of my aunt Clara Firester, her headstone shows her Hebrew name was “Chaya”, in memory of her great-grandmother Chaya Tuba Itzkowitz. This confirmed the name that was listed on the death certificate of Clara’s grandfather (and my great-grandfather) Charles “Chaskel” Itzkowitz for his mother.
I’m very fortunate to have the skills to read the Hebrew and Yiddish names inscribed on headstones. Not everyone does. Almost daily I see a posting on the group page of “Tracing the Tribe – Jewish Genealogy on Facebook” asking for a translation of the Hebrew or Yiddish name on a matzevah. My skills are minimal, though, since I only acquired my knowledge of the Hebrew alphabet as a young adult. With a desire to read Hebrew, I started by checking out a “Berlitz Learn Hebrew” book from the library and studying it during feedings for my younger son. Little did I know at the time that one day this knowledge would help with my chosen hobby.
My knowledge of Hebrew tells me more about Clara. Clara’s name, Chaya, is the feminine derivative of the Hebrew word for “Life”. It is a sad irony that Chaya was the name for Aunt Clara since she died so early in childhood at the age of 3.
Posting headstone photos is valuable for one other reason. Not everyone can visit a cemetery. Those descended from Kohanim (Hebrew word: men who are descended from the Biblical tribe of Aaron), are often unable to visit a cemetery for religious reasons. They might have no opportunity to view a matzevah in person. Even, their parent’s matzevah!
With families scattered far and wide, if may be years or never that a cemetery visit is possible. A digitized photo may be the only opportunity to view a headstone for some.
So I’ll continue posting headstone photos. I might consider a new title, though. Instead of “Tombstone Tuesday”, perhaps “Tuesday Treasure”?
I found a new blog at BreakingGenetics.com written by a youngish fellow, Jeremy Balkin, who works at Family Tree DNA, a firm that does genetic testing. While I clicked through to the blog because of my desire to better understand genetic testing, what caught my eye was something different.
In Jeremy’s profile, he brags about placing 7th in his 4th grade Spelling Bee. Jeremy, how’s this for one-upsmanship: I placed 2nd in my school’s spelling bee when I was a 6th grader at P.S. 174 in East New York, Brooklyn. The boy who won went on to compete in the borough spelling bee. His surname was Hamburger, a name not easily forgotten. On second thought, maybe it was Frankfurter? He was eliminated in the first round with the word ‘mathematics’. What a waste! I knew how to spell ‘mathematics’. I could have aced that round. I could have been on my way to Brooklyn spelling bee champion. Continue reading
Benjamin Spiegel and Fannie “Feiga” Shechtman Spiegel lived in the area of Russia known as the Pale of Settlement (see also Spiegel Family Outline and Outline of Flo’s family). They lived in Kiev, Russia (now Ukraine)–most likely in the nearby shtetl Pavalitch since few Jews were allowed to reside in the city of Kiev at the time.
Contemporary map showing location of Pavolitch, Ukraine
Elias Firester was born on June 27, 1881 in Suceava in Bukovina, Austria (now Romania)–known also as Suczawa in Polish or by its Yiddish name, Shots.
Map showing Suceava, Bukovina and surrounding territories
Elias was the first-born child of Leiser Firester and Malka Braunstein Firester (see Firester Family Outline and Flo’s Family). By the time Elias was 14 years old, he had four younger siblings: brother Max (Marcus/Mordecai) and sisters Frieda (Frume Sure), Anna (Chane), and Lea. Elias spent his childhood in Suceava close to his maternal grandparents Marcus “Mordechai” and Frume Sara Braunstein and their extended family, including his aunt Mindel Braunstein Leib. Continue reading
Lena Itzkowitz Firester was born on April 18, 1886 in Iasi, Romania. Lena was known in Iasi by her Yiddish name Leah Feiga, named for her maternal grandmother. Her parents were Charles (Chaskel) Itzkowitz and Gussie (Gittel) Schwartz Itzkowitz (see Itzkowitz Family Outline and Flo’s Family). Lena was their first-born child.
Iasi, where Lena spent her childhood, was a source of cultural innovation in the Jewish world. The first professional Yiddish theatre group was founded by Abraham Goldfaden in Iasi in 1876. Goldfaden’s Yiddish theatre spread from Iasi to Bucharest, Roumania, and became popular entertainment and a thriving industry in both Russia and New York City. Iasi is known for another cultural first: HaTikvah–the poem that has been sung as Israel’s national anthem since Israel’s independence day in 1948–was first written by Naftali Herz Imber while he was visiting Iasi in 1878. Continue reading
Abraham “Abe” Wolf was born in Tureczki, a small village near the town of Turka in Galicia in Austria-Hungary (now Ukraine).
Map showing Tureczki-Wyzne
His parents were Hersch Wolf and Golda Ruchel Katz Wolf (see Wolf Family Outline and Harold’s Family). Abraham’s date of birth is an open question. His birth date was recorded on documents as occurring on a variety of different dates from 1903 to 1909.* Dates of birth are often imprecise for immigrants, so it’s not so surprising. Continue reading