Rabinowitzes of Harlem

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.

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.

Short takes on Thursday developments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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).


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