Meet the Yeserskys

Meet the Yeserskys

Receipt of Joseph Rabinowitz's death certificate earlier this week provided near conclusive evidence that the simple story of our relation to the illustrious Rabbi Isaac Elchanon Spektor is false. To have been true, we needed Joseph's father to have been named Chaim or Aryeh but it was in fact Abraham.

However, Joseph's mother's name opened a new possibility for a close familial connection to the rabbi. She was named Bertha Yesersky. You can see the death certificate here. The thing that is interesting about that is that Isaac Spektor was married to a Sara Yesersky at the age of 13 in 1830, and thereafter lived with the Yesersky family in the town of Volkovisk for a period of six years.

You may recall that Spektor was raised by his rabbi father Israel Isser in the town of Ros', just a few miles north of Volkovisk. After his marriage to Sara, he came to study in Volkovisk under the eminent rabbi Benjamin Diskin. He lived on the largesse of his father in law Eliezer Yesersky for those six years until he took on his first rabbinical appointment in another nearby village, Izabellin.

Now let's suppose that Eliezer and his wife Bluma have more children than just Sara. Since Joseph Rabinowitz is born in 1855, his mother was probably born somewhere in the range 1820-1835. What if Bertha Yesersky is a daughter of Eliezer and Bluma and is born in 1825? Then should would be five years old at the time of her older sister's marriage, and she would spend the next six years of her life closely influenced by the young man who would become a great rabbi who is sort of her big brother.

Interesting but it might be a stretch. To check it out, I start looking up Yesersky on JewishGen and Ancestry, and there is no shortage of good leads. Right away, I see that there are two people listed as Yesersky, or Yezersky, researchers, a Joan Sohn in Toronto and Jay Cohen in Silver Spring, Md. I emailed both of them introducing myself, and both replied within a few hours.

Since then in email exchanges with Joan and Jay, as well as with two others, Steven Director and Robert Isard, I have learned a great deal about the Yesersky family both in Volkovisk and nearby cities as well as in Philadephia, where most of them ended up when they came to America. I will try to summarize.

Several of the Yesersky family members have a similar theory to mine but with Miriam as Sara's sister. That could well be, but there is a further twist in their case because Miriam was later married to Shmuel, son of Rabbi Joseph Lieber. The odd thing is that Shmuel would take the Yesersky name as his own, which seems peculiar on first thought but is not completely outlandish.

Especially in this family, where name changing seems to be the norm. But let me cut to the chase. Shmuel and Miriam have at least three children. We know that one of them Solomon raised his family in the nearby village Swizloch while another Zvi Hirsh moved to the bigger regional city Grodno. Both brothers had sizable families and many of their descendants would end up in the Philadephia, as I said.

One such was Louis Isard, who was born as Louis Yesersky, the son of Hirsh, in Grodno in April 1880. How his name changed—his and many other relatives who also became Isards—is not well explained. But hold that thought.

In the late 1950s, Louis is recovering from a heart attack and receives a visit from an Israeli cousin Tsvi Jezerski. Previously Louis didn't like to share a lot of family lore, but Tsvi prevailed on him to set down on paper the fascinating details of his family history. That included a family tree and a remarkable story involving not one but two illustrious rabbis.

You can read Louis Isard's note for yourself, but I will run through the high points. Louis says that his grandfather Shmuel Yesersky is the son of Rabbi Joseph Eliezer Lieber, and that Lieber is the son of the very famous Rabbi Judah Low Edel of Slonim, a city only 30 miles from Volkovisk. Two generations older than Spektor, Edel was known as a great Torah scholar and was the author of an influential book of teachings and several Hebrew lexicons. Here is his biography in the Jewish Encyclopedia.

Louis writes that Edel's grandson Shmuel becomes the husband of Miriam Yesersky, who he describes as the sister of Isaac Elchanon Spektor. He also writes that one of his uncles, Leib Yesersky, was among the founders of the Isaac Elchanon yeshiva in New York in the late 1890s.

The note seems to have a few things mixed up, but mainly it checks out with known facts. We know that both Miriam Yesersky and Sara Yesersky are from Volkovisk (which by the way we don't know about Bertha). If she is a sister, she would be Spektor's sister-in-law, and would have grown up with him in the household. The fact that her son Leib goes to America and is a follower of Spektor there suggests the great influence that Isaac had on the family.

So I am inclined to accept Louis' story at pretty much face value, despite all the peculiar name changing. Now the question becomes can we connect our Bertha Yesersky with the Yeserskys of Volkovisk. So far there is no hard evidence but there is one tantalizing tidbit.

The note-writing Louis Yesersky Isard had a sister name Bertha Yesersky who born in 1878. If our Bertha born around 1825 was a sister of Sara Yesersky, and Miriam was also a sister, then the older Bertha is the great aunt of the younger one. With the Jewish prohibition on naming for living relatives, the older Bertha must have passed away before 1878. Maybe her passing was the cause for that naming.

So I was going to quit on that point, but I just came across an oversight in my work. Almost a year ago, I was contacted by Shirley Portnoy for help on something related to Rabbi Spektor. Unfortunately, I was just then going into the hiatus in my research from which I am now emerging, and I fear that I was not at all helpful to Shirley.

Well I just this moment stumbled across her old correspondence, and guess what? She is also related to Yeserskys from Volkovisk and Grodno. Her great great grandmother is Sarah-Taibe Yezerski and she also mentions a Gruna Yezerska. I'm going to go write to her now with apologies for my long absence but perhaps bringing her some useful new information.