December 2017 Newsletter from the Jewish Historical Society of North Jersey – Part I
Our newsletters are currently being written by a revolving group of Board members and guest writers drawn from our membership list. We encourage readers who wish to submit prospective future newsletters to do so. Topics can range from neighborhoods, businesses, camps, or community centers and could include family memories or personal experiences you have had in the north Jersey area. Jerry Rubinowitz, a member of the Jewish Historical Society of North Jersey, has written our December 2017 newsletter. Due to the length and the accompanying photos of this newsletter it will appear in two installments. Part I follows and Part II will be published and distributed tomorrow evening.
Where to begin…? Our maternal grandfather, Morris Blender, arrived in the United States in 1911 and took up residency on Jasper Street in Paterson. He married and he and his wife Dora had four children. Within a couple of years after their fourth child was born, Dora became ill and passed away. A couple of years later, he was introduced to my grandmother Katie, who had been widowed, and who had three children of her own, before her husband Louis passed away. Katie and Morris were married, and Katie and her three daughters, including my mother Ruth, moved to “the farm” as we all called it. Morris owned a dairy farm on Prospect Street in Fair Lawn, where he was among the first Jewish families to move to the tiny community that was at that time part of the Township of Saddle River. Together they had two more children totaling nine. There were eighteen grandchildren in total from these nine and I am sure that I speak for virtually all the rest of the cousins that instead of three families, there was, in fact, only one. I for one, grew up not even knowing which of my cousins came from which marriage. As the family grew and got older several moved to Paterson and eventually some moved back to Fair Lawn once again.
A short history of where Katie and Morris came from is necessary to continue this story. Katie came from a small shtetl in Russia called Kraslava. Morris came from Hrubieszow in Poland. That town was in an area of Poland that was, at various times, under the control of Russia, sometimes Germany and at other times part of the Polish Empire. Morris was born there while it was under Russian control and he left and immigrated to the United States on his own. He left behind quite a large family of parents, aunts, uncles and cousins. Several of his cousins were not yet born when he left. Over the years he kept in contact with them all but none of them emigrated to the U.S. except for his brother Sam, who also became a farmer in Fair Lawn. Once World War II began, Morris lost touch with all his family and we were always told that they all perished in the Holocaust. Grandpa Morris would not speak about them or his life there but would merely say that they were all gone.
Let’s skip ahead many years to 1997. It was at this point in time that my wife Linda and I became interested in genealogy and began to put together a family tree that had eight legs. We used the parents of each of our four grandparents as our base. Genealogy is a fascinating subject and with perseverance it opens the door to a vast study of yesteryear. The possibilities are endless. With the advent and expansion of the internet universe the horizons are broadened beyond all belief. Sources are available today that not too many moons ago were unheard of. When we first started, we could search the records of Ellis Island, ships’ manifests, census reports, immigration and naturalization records by going to the archive offices of the United States in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C. etc. Searching references of foreign records of birth, death, marriage, etc. could be made by a trip to Salt Lake City, Utah. There the public records have been copied and placed on micro-film at the Library of the Church of Latter Day Saints. Unfortunately, all the records from Poland were not available at the same time as my ongoing project. More recently, those records were made available at their libraries in New York and several other cities. Suffice it to say that as of today, all those records are now available for searching at various sources on line via the internet. A searching by name tool has been developed called “Soundex”, whereby the searcher need not know the exact spelling of a person or place. The tool will provide all the possible alternatives and search using multiple possibilities.
Not having any luck finding the records of Grandpa Morris’s family, one of my cousins, who was also interested in finding out the history of the family, began to search the internet by asking for anyone who might have known the fate of the Blender family from Hrubieszow. Over a period of time, and having made many inquiries without success, he began to ask only about anyone who knew anything about the town of Hrubieszow itself. Finally, a person from California responded and as a result of a phone call information was exchanged about a person from Monticello, NY who knew all about Hrubieszow. With much perseverance, my cousin spoke to that Monticello contact and asked if he had ever heard of the Blender family from his home town. He indicated that he had never heard of this family, but he did know of the “Blander” family. Close enough, my cousin thought. What did he know about where they had all been killed? The startling response was, “they were not all killed. Many of them still live in Israel, including a dear friend of the person from Monticello. As a matter of fact, he said, “he will be in California for a Bar-Mitzvah soon. “Do you have his phone information?”, he was asked? “Of course”. The search was now on, and here begins the real story.
My youngest aunt, who has lived in Fair Lawn all her life, and speaks a little Yiddish got on the phone and called the phone number in Israel. Avraham Blander answered and my aunt proceeded to tell him, as best she could, that she thinks they may be related. Avraham became very wary of this inquiry and hesitated to respond directly to her questions. Finally, she said that her father’s name was Morris or Motcha and that his father’s name was Szia. Upon hearing the name “Szia”, Avraham’s response was “you mean my Uncle Szia?” The door was now open and all sorts of newly discovered family information began to flow. Avraham had been born in 1927, some sixteen years after Morris Blender had left Hrubieszow, and they never knew of or heard of each other. Indeed, he was coming to the U.S. for a Bar-Mitzvah in California in October and would make a detour on his way home to Afula, Israel.
Jerry Rubinowitz, member, Jewish Historical Society of North Jersey
The image on the above left is of Carol Lazerowitz (Blender) on the left. Matla Blander, Avraham Blander’s wife, is on the right. The above right picture is of Avraham Blander on the left with his daughter Devorah on the right.
The above left photo is of Avraham Blander’s son-in-law (Chaim Zev), Chana’s husband, on his moshav in Israel. The above right photo is of the aunt and cousin of Morris Blender – Ethel Vilder Bilinsky on the left and Edna Mordekovicz (Blander) on the right.
December 2017 Newsletter from the Jewish Historical Society of North Jersey – Part II
Our newsletters are currently being written by a revolving group of Board members and guest writers drawn from our membership list. We encourage readers who wish to submit prospective future newsletters to do so. Topics can range from neighborhoods, businesses, camps, or community centers and could include family memories or personal experiences you have had in the north Jersey area. Jerry Rubinowitz, a member of the Jewish Historical Society of North Jersey, has written our December 2017 newsletter. Due to the length and the accompanying photos of this newsletter it was scheduled to appear in two installments. Part I was sent last night and Part II appears below.
Part II – From this point, our story moves on to several events. The first, relates to the family reunion when Avraham and his wife Matla came to N.J. Virtually all of Morris’s descendants met at my Aunt Carol’s house for this occasion. We spent one of the most exciting afternoons possible together. In the limited time that we tried to find out all about the families that none of us ever knew about. Meticulous notes were taken to fill in the missing links in family tree. The Bergen Record newspaper had been made aware of the forthcoming reunion and they had recorded the history of this search. During the week of Thanksgiving in 1998 the lead story in the second section of the paper read “lost family found on the internet”, followed by the entire story. There is more to the story of Avraham Blander. When the Germans arrived in the shtetl of Hrubieszow and herded the Jewish population off to the concentration camps, they left a small band of youngsters in their early teens to tend to the Jewish part of the town. During that period about 50% of the population was Jewish. Avraham Blander and his friends were among that group. As an aside, it should be noted that Henry Orenstein, the Toy and Doll manufacturer, was one of the group that included my grandfather Morris’s cousin who authored a book that chronicled this series of events titled “I Shall Live: Surviving the Holocaust”. That book was published in 1990 by the Oxford University Press. He and his friends were later led to one of the concentration camps where they remained until they were liberated. Following the war, he eventually found his way to Eretz Yisroel and took up residency in Afula. He married his wife Matla and raised a family there.
Now begins the next chapter of this wonderful story. Avraham had told us that his cousin Edna was coming to the U.S. with her husband, Shmuel Mordikovicz. They too lived in Afula and had raised three sons. They were going to let us know when they would arrive. In preparation for their arrival and our excitement at the possibility of a ‘face to face’ meeting with that the part of the family that had been thought to be long lost but was now rediscovered, we began to arrange for an even bigger family get-together. The day of their arrival finally was upon us and the family gathered for yet another welcome celebration. Contact had been made with one of the TV stations and WOR-TV sent a new team to interview and film this historic event. In preparation of this second get-together, I used a large banner to lay out the Blender family tree with as much of the lost part of the family being included as I had gleaned from Avraham when we first met.
I guess I should point out that Avraham and Edna were the off-springs of two of Grandpa Morris’s father’s brothers. Anyway, when Edna and Shmuel Mordekovicz arrived, they brought with them one of their sons, Avi, who we later learned lived in East Rockaway, NY. He had been here for several years already. When they first came in they were still apprehensive as to whether this story was true or was a hoax. We sat down at a table and took out the family tree layout and when they looked at it they saw exactly where they fit in and indeed their names were already filled in. It was if a bright light went on. I still get goose bumps remembering their expressions. The historic plot now deepens. Edna was one of a group of young teenagers that are to as ‘the children of the forest’. She too grew up in the Hrubieszow area, in a nearby shtetl called Cihobusz. Much has been written about them. They survived the entire occupation of Europe by the Germans hiding and living in the forest. Shmuel and his brother survived the concentration camps and became part of a very famous rebel group. They were part of the passenger uprising on the “Exodus”. Yes, the same ship about which Leon Uris wrote the famous book, later made into the movie “Exodus” directed by Otto Preminger. He tells me that to this day the surviving passengers celebrate an annual get together. He still has the original newspaper clippings and other original documents of that voyage. The afternoon that we spent together was reported on that evening on Channel 9 News and was forever recorded in our minds. Shortly after that get-together, Edna and Shmuel sent us an invitation to their youngest son Gadi’s wedding in Israel and, of course ,we went. There we met other cousins and their descendants as well as Grandpa Morris’s surviving aunt.
If you are interested in the Bergen Record account of my family story the link follows immediately: https://jhsnj.files.wordpress.com/2015/01/article-full.pdf
Jerry Rubinowitz, member, Jewish Historical Society of North Jersey
The above left image is of a dinner at the home of Avraham and Matla Blanda in Afula, Israel. The above right image is of the wedding of cousin Gadi Mordekovicz in Caesarea, Israel – left to right – Edna Mordekovicz, Carol Lazerowitz (Blender), Matla Blander, Avraham Blander.
The above left image is of Shmuel Mordekovicz, a passenger on the ‘Exodus’, Devorah Keren (Blander), Chana Zev (Blander), (two daughters of Avraham Blander). The above right picture is, of course, the famous ship, ‘Exodus.’