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The Year That Was: 2017

Ironically, a year that nationally has left so many of us bilious with rage has also been a pretty nice year, personally. Eric and I got to see a lot of our family this year, both in New York and New Jersey, and out in Portland, Oregon and Seattle. In November, my aunt and uncle and three of their kids came to NYC to be honored by Keshet, a Jewish group that raises LGBT awareness. My aunt and uncle have been activists in all things for more than 70 years, and were active in PFLAG in Seattle in the 1990s. Their daughter Janet nominated them for an award. Since Uncle Jack doesn’t come out East as much as he used to, he wanted to see “as many cousins as possible” and we did that at a nice lunch on Veterans’ Day this year.

Since my aunt, who lived in Queens for 60 years, moved to Seattle, it is on us to go out to visit her, and in the process, I got to see all of my Seattle cousins (who live in various parts of the world) come in to Seattle for our summer visit. We got to see Eric’s cousins a month before they became grandparents, and I got to see the baby that made my cousin Susan a grandmother as well. Earlier in the year, Andrea, John, and Jason came to NYC for a visit and we got to see them as well.

Eric and I also went to visit Tony in Champaign-Urbana, but we actually changed our plans thanks to a DNA test. A cousin in the Goldberg family tested fairly close to my aunt and uncle who also did AncestryDNA tests. So instead of driving straight to C-U from Indianapolis, we spent the night in Indy and wound up having lunch with Annette at an Indian buffet. Genealogy takes you on some interesting detours!

Meanwhile, because AncestryDNA has practically doubled its database of testers in a year, I wound up finding and visiting third and second cousins in my (still unknown) birth father’s family. I am moving a lot slower on this search than I did on the search for my birth mother’s family. First, because this information probably means more to me than it would to the people I think are possibly my first cousins or siblings. Second, my birth mother’s siblings were such a suspicious and paranoid bunch, I figure I can take this one a lot slower.

Work was busier than ever this year since a veteran of our library retired. I taught at CUNY again in the Fall, which I loved, but I was very tired in the end. The students were great and I loved teaching again with Lisa (third Fall in a row), but when the Daily News was bought by tronc, a lot of “integration issues” took up a lot more of my time than I thought it would.

Eric got involved in a second chorus, and he wound up directing a play at the local Historic Edison Valley Playhouse, across the street from the Italian restaurant where we got married (it’s now an Indian place). So I now have several earworms related to “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown.”

I have also been very inspired by the many friend I have on Facebook who have renewed their activism and have shared many wonderful experiences and ideas in this “current era.”

Happy New Year!

Seth

 

 

 

 

 

She Was an Immigrant

Stollers

Meant to write this in time for #tbt and International Women’s Day. This photo shows my great-grandmother Dora Stoler (l), her daughter Rochele, and her first husband and my great-grandfather Zvi Hirsch (r) and her mother Maita Abramowitz (standing), probably taken in 1917 before my great-grandfather was killed in the marketplace by a soldier on a horse.

It’s hard to imagine what people’s lives were like back then. And my great-grandmother, from what I can tell, was clearly what we call “indomitable.” The Stollers lived in Karelitz (known today as Karelichy in Belarus) and the town, like many towns in that area, suffered the ravages of pogroms, World War I, a revolution or two, and then a civil war and a war with Poland. By 1921, her son, who had come to America, had to locate her and her daughter via the Red Cross. My mother told me that when they were finally found, “They were surviving on potato peels.” There was also a famine in those years, and the Russians were happy to let other nationalities starve.

Most third-generations think that everyone back home was poor, but indications are, she might have had some money back home. That’s often why people didn’t come here. They might have been better off not working like a dog here. In the 1950s, a man showed up at my grandmother’s house to say that he had been a servant to the family back in Karelitz. Poor people don’t have servants. My grandmother gave the man my late grandfather’s tools so that he could work here. Stoliar in Russian means carpenter, and many in the family were carpenters.

My mother recalls that when Dora Stoller came to America finally, the first thing she did was complain to my grandmother that she wasn’t rich already. “If I had come to America when you did, I would have owned all the property by now!” Not the words of a poor woman.

It has been hard to find records for Dora. She appears on no census records, nor does her son. She wound up living with her son and his family at some point, driving his wife crazy. When Uncle Ben died of his mustard gas injuries in 1934, she “blamed” his wife, who promptly cut Dora out of her life and her daughter Toby. Dora married at least once more, if not twice more, while here. Her second husband was Wolf Mechanic. Wolf lost his first wife in March 1930 and by August he was marrying Dora. On her wedding certificate and her marriage license, she signed her name in English AND in Yiddish, which I have never seen anyone else do in America, and I have seen many death certificates.

Life in America was not easy. Her youngest daughter, Rochele, had some sort of mental illness. Possibly PTSD from seeing her father killed, or worse. Rochele got married and had children, but at some point she wound up hospitalized, and her husband was notoriously alcoholic. Her two sons wound up in foster care, and not with family, which is odd.

My mother had no real fond memories of her grandmother–she probably was not the grandmotherly type–but her grandson, Rochele’s son, did have good memories. Somehow, she made sure to visit with the boys. According to the oldest of Rochele’s sons, she got married a third time in 1944 (Wolf had died in 1937). He asked her, “You’re 77! Why would you get married NOW?” and she said, “I don’t want to be a burden to anyone.”

I have found no record of this third marriage. It’s possible she never married him but said she did. Either way, by the late 1940s she was living with her daughter. She probably had Alzheimers. She would wander, but a cousin told me, “a little girl at the end of the street caught her before she hit Coney Island Avenue.” And she wound up dying in a hospital on Wards Island in 1950. She is buried in the Karelitzer Society’s plot at Mt. Judah.

It’s hard to imagine what her life was like. But she seemed to be a real survivor and she knew who she was and had a real sense of herself and where she came from. And she shared that with a grandson who for whatever reason was taken from the family while his mother languished in institutions.

And, she was an immigrant.

 

 

 

 

Caravan of Camel Crickets

For some reason, the camel crickets just keep on coming back to the Bookey House. Everyone in Great Neck seems to have them. Eric and I spent about an hour in the basement cleaning up a lot of old paperwork, and no sight of them. I went back down 15 minutes later, and there’s about five of them.

They look like spiders, but are actually blind crickets that jump very quickly, almost like they have vanished. The only creature in this house that can seem to follow their movements is Nero. To date, Nero has about 17 confirmed kills/injuries. He just keeps tapping them until they stop moving. Sometimes, they are mortally injured.

They are harmless, but scary looking, like the giant insects in Starship Troopers. Ugh.