Spektors of Belarus

What we learn from Einsiedler, 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 Einsiedler 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.

What we learn from Einsiedler, Part 2

But back to Einsiedler. 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 Einsiedler'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.

What we learn from Einsiedler, Part 3

In part 1, I summarized the Einsiedler papers. In part 2, I covered Einsiedler'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).

Meeting with Minsk researcher Yuri Dorn at O'Hare Airport

I've skipped a number of items from the IAJGS meeting that I hope to write about, but trying to stay in real time, I'm on the flight home having had my last and possibly most important interaction of the trip just before leaving. (Actually, this is posted from home the next morning.)

Well-known Minsk research Yuri Dorn would be speaking at the Belarus luncheon tomorrow afternoon, but since I would be missing that I had contacted Yuri beforehand to see if we could arrange another time to meet at the conference. You may recall that I had recently been in touch with Yuri with my inquiry about 1858 census records from Novogrudok.

Yuri was happy to meet but he was not planning to arrive at the conference until Thursday morning. Since I was leaving Wednesday evening, the one chance to meet might be at O'Hare Airport as he flew in on Wednesday afternoon. My return flight was out of Midway, but it turned out that there would be a window of perhaps 45 minutes to meet if I would come to O'Hare.

That's what I did. We arranged to meet at his baggage claim and then proceeded to the Hilton bar to discuss my project. Yuri of course remembered the work he had done a year ago for Walter, and thus had some familiarity with our Rabbi Spektor connection and some of the facts of Spektor's life.

I filled him in on the details of Spektor's birth in Rosh, marriage and rabbinical training in Volkovisk, and early career in Isabelin, Baraze, Nishvez and Novogrudok. We talked about the name change from Spektor to Rabinowitz and I gave him my theory about the Novogrudok census. His first reaction was that it is likely someone who had come to the town only seven years earlier would not likely be listed in such a census, but would instead be considered a resident of his birth town.

I hadn't considered this before but recalled that our Tulbowitz relatives from Rezhitsa were still considered townsmen 20 years after they had resettled many thousands of miles away. But Yuri said this is not a sure thing so my Novogrukok theory was still worth checking out.

He said it might also be possible to look for revision lists and similar records from Spektor's birthplace in Rosh. I asked about vital records, mentioning that I had had no success in finding any Spektor or Rabinowitz family records in the Belarus online indexes.

Yes, he said, sadly all the "medic records"--births, deaths and marriages--from most of western Belarus had been lost during the war. There is very little hope that any such records will be found, either in Minsk or in regional archives. By contrast, when I inquired about records from Mogilev in eastern Belarus on behalf of Dale Friedman of Berkeley whom I had spoken to earlier in the day, Yuri said that, yes, vital records for towns in that guberniya are likely to be accessible.

Nevertheless, Yuri felt that our Novogrudok search would still be worthwhile, and there will be other avenues to pursue should that turn up empty. We left things that I would follow up with a detailed email and that he will begin working on our case when he gets back to Minsk.

He also made a request that we contribute the story of Rabbi Spektor's early life to the project his research group has undertaken to renovate a Minsk synagogue. I'm not quite sure how our information can help in this worthy project, but of course I told him that I and/or Walter will be pleased to help any way we can.


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