Ruby Family History Project Blog

Looking for Hermann's shul

Joanne is in Berlin, ailing from an infection she may have caught in Budapest. She is looking to visit the Berlin locations where our Ringel relatives lived their lives during the 1930s—namely the Ringel apartment at Schüterstrasse 12, the orthodox synagogue Hermann Ringel attended, the Weissensee cemetery where he is buried, possibly the school that Helga attended.

Today, she visited the address of the synagogue on Pestalozzistrasse, near to the apartment, which Helga had mentioned in her interview for Walter's Ruby Family Narratives. However, all she finds is a plaque on the wall and a cluster of memorial Stolpersteine in the street.

The synagogue is marked but not here now to see.  Do we think Herman came to this shul? I have not had time to find out if these stone markers are here because they were members of this shul or if this was later a large apartment building.  The dates of deportation vary.  Chilling.  We later saw other gold stones.  Need to read more about it.

Rabbi Spektor letters discovered in Paris

The following was posted as a comment in March 2014 on the old Ruby Family HIstory Project blog. It sounds like M. Malthete has discovered an important trove of Rabbi Spektor papers.


When I travelled to Kovno for the 1st time in July 2007, and when visiting the "Green House" (Jewish Museum) in Vilna, I learned that Rav Itschak Elchanan Spektor had written to the Alliance Israelite Universelle (Paris, France), asking for material help for the Persian Jews. The very day after we came back, I began to search in our archive (I am librarian, in charge of the Hebrew manuscripts at the library of the Alliance Israelite Universelle). I did not find this letter, but I discovered 15 years of correspondance between Rav Itschak Elchanan Spektor and the AIU, from Aug 1881 unto 3 weeks before his death, in Feb 1896. I have numerized all these letters and their draft answers. The letters are in Hebrew and the responses in German.

Epigraphist & Paleograph
in charge of the Hebrew manuscripts
and of the funds of ancient Hebrew printed books
Library of the Alliance Israelite Universelle, Paris, France.

Recapping the corkscrew chronicle

Other than having posted an artsy image of the Walter Ruby Jim Crax corkscrew, I see that I never gave a full account of how I came to acquire that precious bit of family memorabilia. So I'll recap the start of it and then resume posting with more recent related developments.

In July 2013 I was having a lot of success finding images and resale transaction records for Ruby patent corkscrews, but so far had not had a solid lead on how to possibly acquire one. Then Google revealed that one had sold on eBay just three months earlier in April. Looking at the transaction record on eBay I found that it did not identify the buyer but that I could contact the seller. I wrote to him with my story and asking if he would identify the buyer. He did, and soon I was in touch with Robert Leopardi, who turned out to be an active collector and trader in vintage corkscrews.

Fortunately, Robert still had the piece and it was a duplicate of another in his collection, so he wrote that he would be willing to sell it to me but that he was traveling and needed to research other sales before setting a price. I also soon left on a trip and thus it took till the end of August to complete the transaction. Meanwhile, I also wrote to another collector, Josef L'Africain, who runs a blog about vintage corkscrews and had posted an item about a Knudsen corkscrew based on the Ruby patent.

This had fed my conviction that Knudsen had acquired the bottle opener design patent rights from my grandfather and then proceeded to manufacture and sell an updated version of the device. I wrote to Josef with questions and the gist of my patent-right transfer story. He got back promptly expressing interest but was also on a collecting trip in Europe. He said he would look into it later, but I didn't push him on it till some months later.

Robert got back with information on comparable sales in the range of $125-$225, and thus set his price at the midpoint, or $175. I probably could have asked him to go lower but I was more excited about owning the object. I didn't object to him making a nice profit on his earlier purchase. He had done me a service by buying it and holding it for me for a few months. I accepted his offer and made arrangements for payment and shipping. I'll describe my reactions upon receiving it in the next post.

Jim Crax corkscrew

I should have posted this in August when I received the Jim Crax corkscrew in a private sale. This is the Walter Ruby designed and manufactured pencil corkscrew. I also have hopes of acquiring a copy of the Knud Knudsen version of the device, but for now I am happy to have this family artifact. I am not a great photographer but here is my attempt to show it off in its environment.

Closing the loop with Rebe

I was embarrassed to say that a full three years had elapsed since I had met Rebe Eisenstein in her Hackensack apartment and that I had not been back in touch to give her any kind of update. The truth was until connecting with Warren I had no new information. But that did not excuse my not having followed up. At her advanced age, there is no time to wait to follow through on promises. My delay already had cost any opportunity to speak with her cousin Elliot.

So it had been weighing on me for some time. Now after having spoken directly with Mark, I was happy that I could call her with first-hand good news. She picked up on the first ring and knew who I was before I finished saying it. We should all be so sharp at 93. I began by apologizing for my absence but she told me not to worry, and that things happen in their time and with a reason. Then I told her the news about Mark. She was thrilled. I recounted the various details that I gave in the previous post.

I then expressed my condolences for the loss of Elliot. She told me that, compounding their grief, Isolde's only son Jonathan also died just weeks after Elliot's death. I followed up by sending Mark's address and phone number to Isolde the next day and sharing my sympathy with her as well. I was happy to relieve my conscience and close the loop with the two of them. I believe by now Mark and Rebe have spoken directly but I have not heard a report.

Mark Zimkin fills in the gaps

As promised, Mark knew about my family research and eagerly took my call when I reached him after returning home from Pittsburgh. Actually, I should say he hadn't read the blog since he prefers not to use a computer. But Warren must have told him the relevant parts. We had a rambling two-hour conversation that covered quite a lot of ground in no particular order. Since the first call, we have had a followup conversation. I have a few notes from the calls but most of the following is from memory.

First, given our prior fears that he may have been deceased, it was wonderful to find him in more or less decent shape. He does have health issues, including some vision loss resulting from his chronic diabetes. Financially, he is not necessarily thriving but is well set up with his Canadian pension, co-ownership of the condo where he lives, and occasional work selling ad space for a Las Vegas publisher.

As a Canadian citizen, he would have better access to health care there than in Nevada and he worries that he would have to return to Toronto if his health deteriorated. He says he loves the Southwestern climate and wants to stay put in Las Vegas. How he landed in Vegas is a long story that I will not be able to do justice to, but it goes something like this. The last we knew of Mark was in the late 1980s when he visited Zimkin relatives in New York. At that time he continued to live in Toronto following the death of his mother and divorce from his wife. He was a merchant in women's accessories, running a showroom named Jonathan Marks and later another using his first and middle names, Mark Raymond. Scarves, purses, ladies' accessories.

I don't have a lot of detail about these businesses, but Mark says he remained in Toronto until 2008, when he joined up with a real estate publishing enterprise that put him on the road selling realtor ads across the western United States. He would go into a region, Tucson, say, and set up shop for a few weeks or months at a time, staying in residence apartments in Vegas, the Napa Valley, Taos, you name it. He drove a nice car and he loved the adventure of it, racking up memories wherever he went. Since I live in Oakland, Calif., he went into detail to recall the Buttercup Bar and Grill in Jack London Square.

Eventually the publishing business failed to pan out. Mark was on the road and short on options when he met by chance with a Canadian-Greek businessman, who hired him and set him up in Las Vegas to sell toilet systems to hotels. That lasted for a few years and unfortunately went belly up, as well. The apartment that he rented was available for sale at very low price in the distressed 2010 market. Mark's buddy from Toronto, Steve Rosen, agreed to go in on it with Mark, putting up most of the capital investment. Mark pays the condo fees and utilities, but otherwise has very comfortable apartment. The Village Green borders right on the Las Vegas Country Club, he noted to me.

In addition to Mark's personal journey, our conversation covered new information I had for him about some of his Zimkin relatives, his memories of his father Arthur and mother Frieda Zimkin, his limited knowledge about his Rabinowitz family line, and more. Having just reconnected with his Safter cousins from Frieda's family, he was anxious to also reconnect with his Zimkin kin. I gave him the sad news that Elliot Wineburg, his father's cousin who he had been close to, had passed away after an accident in 2011. However, two other cousins, Elliot's sister Isolde and Rebe Eisenstein, now 93, were alive and well. Mark also wanted to know about Rebe's sister Floral and especially her daughter Jeannine, but I said he would need to speak directly to Rebe.

Since then, I had a wonderful call myself with Rebe and I put the two of them together for a direct conversation. I will have a short post about my call with Rebe coming up. For now, back to Mark. He has many warm memories of his grandfather David Zimkin. Mark would visit his apartment near Yankee Stadium. He could not remember having been told anything about David's wife, his grandmother. Of course, by the time Mark was a boy, Sadie Rabinowitz Zimkin had been deceased for more than 20 years.

The one Rabinowitz family member that Mark has any memory of at all is Harrison Cannold. On several occasions, he went with his father to the store where Harrison worked, Maxie's Hats in Time Square. Once Harrison gave Mark a college sweatshirt as a gift. He recalls Harrison talking about his trips to Mardi Gras, somehow connected with the hat business.

Mark proudly recalled his father's intellectual bent. He thought that the classmate's inscription in Arthur Zimkin's Morris High yearbook said it best: "From A to Z, a man of letters." Mark recalled Arthur's photography passion. Every print was stamped Photo by Arthur J. Zimkin. Once on Mark's grandfather's birthday, Arthur filled every picture frame in the house with his images of David Zimkin. Mark also recalled that Arthur's best friend was Edwin Schlossberg, the uncle of Caroline Kennedy's husband.

Mark recalled that Arthur planned to pursue his many hobbies and interests after his retirement from the Post Office. That is why it was so shocking that he had a stroke and passed away overnight just two months after the retirement. Mark got the news by phone.

As much as he admired his father, Mark was really a mama's boy. Frieda carried on her life in New York for several years, but then moved to Toronto to be near Mark and his wife. She helped out in the business and lived in her own apartment. She was a great help and comfort to Mark until one day in 1977, getting out of a car and feeling weak, she said to Mark, "You know, mothers don't last forever." She was diagnosed with a terminal cancer. Mark was by her side throughout. He brought her food that she said she craved—Chinese or Coney Island hot dogs—but then she couldn't eat. She did not hold out for even as long as the doctor had prepared them for.

After that time, he mostly fell out of contact with his Zimkin and Safter relations. Other than the 1987 visit to New York, Mark had fallen out of sight to both sides of his family. Now partly through my interest in his Rabinowitz relationship and also the active searching by Warren Safter, he has turned up alive and fairly well. All the parties—Mark, Warren and his two cousins, Rebe, and myself—are happy to be reconnected and intend to maintain the ties. The Safter cousins are planning a trip to Las Vegas for Spring 2014, and I expect to join them and Mark for a reunion there.

Warren discovers Mark in a real estate transaction

In late August, after having exchanged emails with me, Warren Safter ran a Google search on Mark Zimkin and found a new bit of information buried in the records of Las Vegas real estate transactions. RS Capital, a limited liability corporation with a Mark Zimkin listed as a member and registered agent, purchased the property in December 2010. When Warren sent me the link for that, I was able to also find a Clark County property parcel record showing it was a unit in the Village Green Condos in East Las Vegas. It was current as of May 2013 and still showed Mark Zimkin as one of two owners.

Rosh Hashanah was coming up in a few days, so Warren decided to use the occasion to send Mark a greeting to the Village Green address. He told me he had done so, but it was not top of my mind a week or two later. One thing I was distracted by was the excitement of a baseball pennant race. My Pittsburgh Pirates were finally going to the post-season for the first time in 20 years. My sports-mad nephew Zach even convinced me to go with him for the two playoff games in Pittsburgh.

It was there, in the hotel the night after the team won the first game, that I got Warren's email that Mark had replied to his New Year's card and that the two had spoken at length. Warren had told Mark about me and my research, and he said that Mark looked forward to speaking with me. The Pirates lost the second game and eventually lost the series to St. Louis. I waited to get home to place my call to Mark. More on that in the next post.

Blog's bait draws another Zimkin cousin

Cousin bait is a term used by genealogists to describe the tendency of public postings to attract family members to come out of the woodwork. In the Rabinowitz-Zimkin matter, we have seen that first Harriet Berkowitz and then Rebe Eisenstein came forward with very valuable Rabinowitz information that would otherwise have been lost to history. In January of this year, another relative of Mark Zimkin, a Warren Safter from Jasper, Ga., left a comment on the blog offering more information about Mark.

Unfortunately, I didn't see the comment for a few months and when I did send Warren email after that he overlooked my message for several months more. But by August we were finally in sync. It turned out that Warren was Mark's first cousin on Mark's mother's side, the Safters. Warren's father Jack Safter was Frieda's brother. There was also another Safter sister Rose, whose two daughters Myra and Marsha also remembered Mark.

The photo is of Mark and Phyllis Zimkin at Warren Safter's wedding on June 26, 1966. Below are Mark's parents Frieda and Arthur Zimkin on the same occasion.

While Warren shared his Safter information with me, I was able to pass along what I had learned from Rebe about the Zimkins. Here are highlights of my summary for Warren.

* Sadie lived apart from David and Arthur Zimkin in a sanitarium in Montclair NJ. She hinted that Sadie may have been abusive to her son and this was the cause of her separation. Sadie died at the sanitarium in 1929 when Arthur was 16. Arthur wrote in a letter to Rebe's mother that the "going home" melody from Dvorak's New World Symphony was stuck in his head on the day of his mother's funeral.

* Rebe was the daughter of David Zimkin's sister Hannah. She knew Arthur well as a boy and stayed in touch with him throughout his life. Arthur introduced Rebe to her husband Alvin, and the two men remained close friends.

* She told a number of stories about Arthur's interests in music, philosophy, photography and politics that are very consistent with your information. She didn't mention philately.

* Rebe received a letter of condolence after the death of her daughter from Frieda sometime after Arthur's death. Frieda was then living in Toronto with Mark and Phyllis. In 1977, when Rebe received news of Frieda's death, she traveled to Toronto to pay a condolence call. She recalls that the house was also a showroom for a business called Jonathan Mark selling scarves and maybe jewelry. She felt she received at cool reception from Phyillis' mother.

* After that, she was not in touch with Mark until he contacted her about 1987. She sent him money and also put him in touch with another cousin Eliot Goldman, a psychiatrist, who evidently referred Mark to a colleague in Toronto. Rebe says that Eliot later received information about Mark through this connection. Rebe says she asked Mark if he had reached out to the Safter family for help, but he said he could not ask them. She also recalled that Arthur had possessed letters from the composer Sebelius and she wondered where those were and if they might be sold.

* Mark also came to New York sometime after that accompanied by a woman (Phyllis was by now out of the picture). Eliot took them and Rebe to dinner at a Swiss hotel. Mark was very enthusiastic about a new business he was starting. After that, Rebe did not hear from him for a while and when she called the number Mark had left for the new business the woman who answered was cold and did not know Mark's whereabouts.

* Rebe does not know what finally happened to Mark but she believes "he is no longer in this world." She said that Eliot probably knows and said that I could contact him directly if I wished to pursue it. So far I have not done so.

At this point, I did what I should have done years before, emailing to Isolde Goldman to ask for contact info for her brother Elliot. Isolde's reply was quick and rather brusque. Elliot had passed away after an accident in December 2011, and whatever information he had about Mark Zimkin was now irretrievably lost. This news left me feeling more guilty than ever about not having followed up on my promise to Rebe to find out what had happened with Mark. The one relief was that Isolde let me know that Rebe, now 93, was still alive and residing independently in her Hackensack apartment.

She gave me the phone number but I waited for further developments before calling.

The Zimkin saga continues

Mark Zimkin has turned up alive and reasonably well in Las Vegas. Readers will recall that I had been looking for our second cousin since learning of him from another cousin Harriet Berkowitz five years ago. Like Harriet, Mark was a previously unknown to us descendant of Joseph and Lena Rabinowitz. Harriet told us that he was the son of Arthur Zimkin, who was the son of Sadie Rabinowitz and David Zimkin. (For review, Harriet is the daughter of Seymour Rabinowitz, brother of Sadie. We are grandchildren of Walter Ruby Rabinowitz, brother of Seymour and Sadie.)

My search for him had turned up Mark's 1965 marriage in Montreal to Phyllis Schwartz and a 1977 death record for his mother Frieda Zimkin noting her last known residence in Canada. After that the trail went cold until I was contacted in 2010 by a Zimkin family relation Isolde Goldman, who put me in contact with her elderly aunt Rebe Eisenstein, a niece of David Zimkin.

As I recounted in a 2010 posting, my brother and I visited Ms. Eisenstein, then aged 90, at her apartment in Hackensack NJ. She provided much useful information about the Zimkin family, including many details I did not post to the blog, but she did not know what had happened to Mark since she had last seen him on a visit to New York in the 1980s.

She said she believed Mark was probably "no longer in this world," based on something she had been told by her cousin Elliot Wineburg, Isolde's brother, a New York psychiatrist who had also seen Mark on that visit to New York and may have had subsequent contacts with him. Rebe suggested that I contact Elliot to learn what he might know.

I am very sorry to say I did not contact Elliot at that time. Truth is, I dragged my feet on the whole matter, posting an initial report on the Rebe meeting but not following up with the many rich details she provided about the Rabinowitz family, about which she had numerous first-hand recollections.

Much of Rebe's Rabinowtiz information was troubling, raising questions about a history of mental illness in the family that I hesitated to explore candidly in the blog. The most important disclosure was Rebe's explanation for what we already knew, that Sadie had been hospitalized during the last years of her life and died in a sanitarium in New Jersey in 1929. She told us that Sadie had been physically abusive to her son Arthur, and that this was the reason she was sent away.

For whatever reasons, I did not follow up on Rebe's disclosures and as a result never reached out to Elliot Wineburg for more information about Mark. That's where things stood until a few months ago when I got another contact about Mark on the blog. More on that in the next post.

Walter salutes Rabbi Joachim Prinz on march anniversary

By Walter Ruby

When we were kids, Helga would occasionally cite Rabbi Joachim Prinz as one of her heroes; one of those who best expressed the Prophetic tradition of Judaism. I recalled that he was a German-born Reform rabbi who fled Berlin in the 1930's to the U.S. and eventually became President of the American Jewish Congress. I also knew dimly that he was involved in the U.S. Civil Rights movement, but had forgotten exactly what his role had been. His name came back to me forcefully this week because I needed to draft an op-ed for my boss at the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, Rabbi Marc Schneier about the Jewish role in the 1963 March on Washington. Here it is on Huffington Post.

So it turned out that not only was Prinz involved in the movement, but that he was the main Jewish speaker at the March on Washington--indeed, that he spoke directly after Mahalia Jackson's medley of spirituals and directly before MLK"s 'I Have a Dream Speech". Here is Prinz's speech.

Obviously, Mahalia Jackson was a hard act to follow (Prinz's first words were :"I wish I could sing!") and 'I Have a Dream' was a VERY hard oratory to precede, but what an amazing thing that this little known rabbi was sandwiched between the two of them at the end of a long day of oratory, which shows the pride of place the Jewish community had at the March as the closest ally of the black community. Almost no one remembers Prinz's remarks today, which is a great shame because his speech was incredibly powerful in its own right, especially in his evocation of the lessons of Hitlerism and the Holocaust. He said,

"When I was the rabbi of the Jewish community of Berlin, I learned many things. The most important thing that I learned is that bigotry and hatred are not the most urgent problems. The most disgraceful, the most shameful and the most tragic problem is silence."

Pointing out that Germans in the 1930’s “had become a nation of silent onlookers” in the face of Nazi hatred, brutality and mass murder, Prinz intoned, “America must not become a nation of onlookers, America must not remain silent, not merely black America, but all of America. It must speak up and act, from the President down to the humblest of us…”

How true, 50 years ago and how true today! What a clarion call to all of us to get re-engaged in fighting the Republican campaign to roll back voting rights and to Stand our Ground against Stand Your Ground and the evil work of the gun lobby. Right On, Jo, for your work on that issue.

I am finding it incredibly inspiring to connect with Prinz giving the greatest speech of his life and reminding us of the heroic role that American Jews played in the Civil Rights movement, including the Freedom Rides and the tough and dangerous parts, during which Schwerner and Goodman were martyred along with Chaney in Mississippi.

I am also including here a moving piece in The Forward with interviews with key Jews who were at the March on Washington and descendants of the principles, including Rabbi Prinz's son Jonathan (Joachim Prinz in sunglasses is pictured alongside MLK).

Here is Joachim Prinz's Wikipedia bio.

I don't recall ever interviewing Joachim Prinz--he was, I think, largely retired by the time I got into Jewish journalism, but I somehow feel I know him through Helga. Right now, I feel personally connected to him and very much want his story up on Ruby Family History. He made Helga proud to be Jewish and human on a hot August day in 1963, and he is doing it for me at this moment exactly 50 years later. Joachim, L'Chayim!