Thoughts on the new revelations—and a glorious day with Gene

Bravo to Dan for all of his amazing research since we got the death records for Joseph Rabinowitz and Lena Lincoff Rabinowitz. I also very much would like Bertha Yesersky to be the sister-in-law of Rabbi Spektor, as it would tie things up nicely with a pink ribbon, but as the culprit who led us down the garden path with my Alex Haley moment in the Yeshiva University archives three years ago, just assuming that the Joseph Rabinowitz mentioned in the Shimoff book and Toldos Yitzhak as having been trained in the Tamlud and Jewish Codes by Isaac Elchanan Spektor, MUST by our Joseph, the grandson of the great rabbi, I will now play the role of skeptic who warns about making such conceptual leaps. In short, I've been burned once before and its a powerful lesson.

Still, as you say, there is the name Bertha Yesersky popping up as Joseph's mother, and we know Sara Raizel Yesersky was the wife YES married at the age of 13, so there must be a family connection there. I must say that even as it became more and more clear that our Joseph Rabinowitz was NOT after all, the son of Rabbi Chaim Rabbinowitz and the grandson of YES, I never lost my bedrock faith that we were descended from Rabbi Spektor in some manner, because Stan Ruby told me so on a number of occasions during my childhood and he obviously would not simply have made that up. Obviously that information came from his father, Walter Ruby, but the exact nature of the connection got a little muddled over the years. So to see the name 'Bertha Yesersky' on Joseph's death certificate is certainly very powerful and compelling.

I went with Gene to the Mt. Zion cemetery on Saturday to check out and photograph the graves of Joseph and Lena Rabinowitz, only to learn to my dismay that Jewish cemeteries in the U.S. are locked up on Shabbat. Then we popped over to Mt. Hebron to see if by chance that onje would be open and Gene could meet Walter Ruby and Selma Ruby, but of course it was locked as well. I had somehow understood that the cemeteries would be open, but the offices closed, but I had figured we could find the graves without their help as we had the row number etc. Most disappointing because I may now not get a chance to go until after returning from the second of two trips around Sept 7. Gene plans to go on his own before that, but he seems to have lost the battery of his camera, so may not be able to take photos.

He has gotten interested in the family history thing recently; as he has realized that he lives between two cemeteries in Queens; one holding the remains of his great-great grandparents and the other his great grandparents. He was asking me a lot of questions about who they were etc, and that gives me a great feeling about what we have managed to do over the past five years to preserve and unearth the memory (much of it previously lost) of these forgotten generations for our kids and generations to come. All of this is a profoundly spiritual experience for me as I approach 60. Also for next month, I will make a trip to Varick Street to look for the ship record of the arrival of the families of Joseph Rabinowitz and Lena Lincoff in New York.


After Gene and I struck out at the cemeteries, we drove around talking and ended up in Flushing, Queens, so I took him to see one of the forgotten pieces of New York history, a Quaker meeting house on Northern Boulevard built in Cape Cod style that goes back to the 1690's, and a site a few yeards away where the English Quaker settlers of Flushing (a Dutch name) in 1655 demanded religious liberty from Peter Stuyvesant, the leader of nearby New Amsterdam whose sovereingity extended well into Long Island and up the Hudson River to Albany. The plaque at the site makes the point that the origins of the First Amendment to the Constitution (at least the freedom of religion part) flow from that incident in Flushing. Its one of those examples of forgotten history that we pass a million times a day and are blissfully unaware of and I think it impacted Gene a bit. Flushing, long very Jewish, nowadays has become New York's largest Chinatown (and Koreatown and Japantown and a little distance away India, Pakistan and Afghantown and is a wonderful place to step out of prosaic American reality and be swept into an Asian one. After our excursion the two of us went to a Japanese/Korean restaurant and discussed Israel and the Palestinians for several hours. All in all a great day with my son, even if we did miss the great-greats.