I was so busy cooking and schmoozing during our fun Thanksgiving fest that I forgot to take photos. Some family archivist I am! I did manage to take the above picture of Leah and Charlie (in matching holiday orange) at our Thanksgiving table. I wanted to take a group photo of our 12 guests but never got around to it. But given my propensity for living in the past, I guess I shouldn’t fault myself for enjoying the present so much that I neglected to document it for the future!
Other than the photo above, I have this photo my brother-in-law took of Charlie with our adorable nieces Franny and Hallie. As usual, I thought there wouldn’t be enough food for our crowd but we now have enough leftovers to feed the combined reunions of the Osmond and King families. Anyone for turkey pot pie? I just made turkey soup from the carcass and will be enjoying roasted brussel sprouts through the week. We had a wonderful time with family and friends, eating, talking, eating some more, celebrating Charlie’s first Thanksgiving, and remembering those who couldn’t be with us. We had a plumbing disaster in the middle of our dinner, leading to a cascading waterfall of raw sewage in our basement but, given all that we’ve dealt with this year, we didn’t let it affect our gathering in the least. (In truth, I refused to even look at the mess until the next day—denial can sometimes be a very useful survival tool!)
My Chicago family had Thanksgiving at my cousin Sarah’s this year where my sister got a hold of one of my Aunt Bobby’s old photo albums. It included snapshots we had never seen of some of our long-departed relatives. Sue managed to sneak some photos out in her underwear (just kidding, they were very kindly lent for digital scanning) and I was especially thrilled to see the following two pictures of my rarely photographed great-great-grandparents, Moshe (Morris/Moses) and Rivka (Rebecca) Goldkind.
Moshe and Rivka were born in Staszow (Stashev), Poland in the late 1850s, a few years before Abraham Lincoln was elected President. They emigrated to Canada in 1910 with their married daughter, Alta Toba Korolnek (my great-grandmother) and their three other children, Pearl Blima, Gittel Chana, and Harry Goldkin (the final “d” in Goldkind regularly appeared and disappeared over the years). I could stare at these photos for hours, thinking about these Old World relatives and what their lives were like, wishing I could converse with them at length. What a thrill it is to find images I’ve never seen. Zayde Goldkin is sitting here with “Cappy” and “Goldie,” my cousin Goldie Handelsman and her husband Julius Kaplan. Parts of my family tree get very confusing since both my great-great aunts Pearl Blima and Gittel Chana married Handelsman brothers and then two of the Handelsman daughters also married brothers. Goldie married Julius on November 10, 1929. less than two weeks after the stock market crash that brought on the Great Depression. How young and vibrant they look, I wonder if they lost a lot of money in the crash.
As anyone familiar with this blog knows, I am obsessed with family history, my own, of course, but also other people’s including the Henry C. Jensen family who were the first inhabitants of our hundred-year-old house. Henry Jensen was born in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany, the same year as my great-great-grandfather Moshe Goldkind, though the two men could not have had more different upbringings. Here is the only other photo I’ve ever seen of my great-great-grandfather. In this 1939 image, Zayde Goldkind is hanging out with three of his great-grandchildren, my cousins Diana Saunders, Rhoda (Rivka) Glickman, and my five-year-old mother on the far right. I look at the date on the photo and can only imagine what would have happened to these folks if they hadn't had the good sense to hightail it out of Poland when they did. None of my relatives who stayed in Staszow survived the war.
Here’s the only other shot of Rivka Goldkind that I’ve seen, this one taken in the late 1920s or early 1930s with her grandchildren: my Aunts Ruth and Anne and my Uncle Dave, three of my grandfather’s siblings. Auntie Anne is still with us, the only surviving child of Itshe Meyer and Alta Toba Korolnek. She is currently a great-great-grandmother of four.
Why am I so interested in my family now? And why was I so not interested in it when I was a boy and had the chance to interact with the generation that could still remember every nook and cranny of the old shtetl? I’ve been listening to Yiddish songs all weekend on my iPod and yet when I was surrounded by that language as a kid it seemed like nails on a blackboard to me. We always had Thanksgiving with my grandparents, and like all secular holidays we celebrated, our traditions were so blended with Jewish rituals that I half-believed Thanksgiving was a Jewish festival on par with Rosh Hashanah (didn't everyone baste their turkey with chicken fat?). I remember various Old World Thanksgiving visitors at our table, including my ancient Aunt Gittel Chana, my great-grandmother’s sister who lived in Chicago. She was born in Staszow on October 15, 1897 and died in 1973. I doubt I said two words to her in my lifetime. What I wouldn't give for that chance now.
The middle Goldkind girl, Pearl Blima, the one who married Gittel Chana’s husband’s brother, died in childbirth on June 27, 1927. She had a difficult time with her pregnancies, bleeding dangerously, and should not have gotten pregnant again. But her doctor thought that if she had another baby the problem would correct itself. Instead, both she and the baby died. She was 39 years old. Here is her obituary from the Chicago Tribune along with a photo I found from her passport application several years earlier. My great-grandmother is called “Tobey Korolnek” in the obituary but I’ll eat my yarmulke if anyone ever called her that.
If only I could raise this generation of relatives from the dead for a few lengthy interviews. What would they think of the lives of their many descendants? Maybe some of these ultra-orthodox Jews would rise from the grave on their own volition if they caught wind of my daughter's new play that opened last night for a four-week run. It’s a professional musical version of “A Christmas Carol.” Leah plays Martha Cratchitt and Miss Fezziwig and she is absolutely brilliant, if I may say so. (Here she is at yesterday's opening night party with the actor who played her papa, Mr. Fezziwig.) The cast, consisting of adults and children, is superb, and I urge you to check it out if you have a chance. It’s playing at the Lonny Chapman Theatre in North Hollywood through December 20. I’ll be seeing it several more times before Christmas, and despite the non-Jewish content I hope that if any of my Old World relatives were still around they would be kvelling over Leah and exclaiming the Yiddish version of Tiny Tim’s fervent prayer:
“God bless us, everyone!”