Friday, November 23, 2018

Rejection? A Stein Family History/Story (and, A Whole New Family!)


Okay, I am officially weirdly obsessed with my extended family on the Stein side - the one I didn't know existed till about a few weeks ago. The one my family intentionally (I think) decided to ignore after the war (we are talking siblings, aunts/uncles, and first cousins, who at times lived within walking distance), because, well they weren't Hasidic or religious anymore. Almost shocked.

Read on if you want the full story (with some Geni.com links...) - stop reading if you think I am just a genealogical nerd.
Great-grandfather's grave

The story starts with my great-grandfather, Rabbi Israel A. Stein (1916-1989 - https://tinyurl.com/IsraelAStein). He was born in Vyzhnytsia, Modern Ukraine, the same place where his father and mother were born. As far as my family is concerned today, the only Steins that are part of our family are his descendants. More precisely, the kids of his 3 sons, one of which is my paternal grandfather. Of my great-grandfather's relatively big family before the Holocaust in Ukraine, only one sister survived (https://tinyurl.com/MaytaRoth-Stein). She has a son who lives in Jerusalem, and we have a relatively close family relationship with him.
That was the extent of the living family we had, so I was told. And, my family, just like me, is quite obsessed with extended family - hell, my father considered every Twersky, some of which we only shared a direct ancestor with ~150 years ago, to be a cousin.
On the Stein side of the family, I was told that my great-grandfather had 2 first cousins (Leo and Hery, sons of his uncle Meir: https://tinyurl.com/meirStein) who lived in the UK, and had no living kids; end of story. That usually came attached with an assertion, that if there was any additional family, even distant ones, we would know about it, because "we care about family;" and, that after the holocaust, even 3rd cousins were a big deal.
For years I had no reason to doubt this narrative, or to challenge it. Even when the assertion that "we care about family" went out the window the day I came out as transgender. Although, that should've been a sign. If an entire family can reject me for who I am today, what would've prevented them from having done that in the past as well? After all, some Hasidic families have quite strict "guidelines" of who can be part of the "family."
Then, I found them. Not one single far fetched cousin, not some 4th or 5th cousins - but a whole branch of aunts and uncles, first cousins, and an entire family of living 2nd and 3rd cousins, mostly living in Israel!
Only catch? they are ALL secular (as far as I can tell).
It all started a few months ago, when I decided to look up my great-great-grandfather, whose name was Efroim Stein (my brother Efroim's namesake), on Geni.com (https://tinyurl.com/EfroimStein). I knew that his father's name was Joseph (and that his father was Eliezer Stein from Vyzhnytsia), and his mother's name was Chaya. We knew a few more details about this grandpa Joseph: we knew that he lived between Romania/Ukraine, and Mannheim, Germany (something quite unique in the 19th century, when people didn't just casually move from Ukraine back to Germany - although the Stein family is indeed originally German). We knew that he is buried in Mannheim, which meant that he lived there towards the end of his life (he passed away in 1915).
With all the above info, I set out to do some research.
I found another Efroim Stein on Geni - unique but still possible. I quickly realized that the same Efroim, was also the son of Joseph and Chaya. He was also from Ukraine/Romania. He was born in 1872 - all in line with my great-great-grandfather. It was clear that this is him, in a different family's tree!
Most interesting, he had a whole bunch of siblings, 5 full and 3 half to be exact. The names of his brothers, Pinchas, Leizer, and Moshe - are all names that I knew we had in the family (Ashkenazi Jews almost always name their kids after deceased grandparents - so names can tell a lot about a family's history). Out of the 8, 6 have living families. Another telling detail was the fact that Grandpa Josef's grandkids' birth places - where listed - was split between Romania and Mannheim.
Turns out that Grandpa Joseph got remarried when he arrived in Germany (to Pesia; https://tinyurl.com/PesiaK-Stein), had 3 more kids, and some of his kids from his first wife, Chaya (Who passed away in Ukraine, and is buried there) also ended up with him in Mannheim. Turns out that the last of his kids passed away in 1961 in Israel, and the last of his grandkids, as far as I can tell, in 2004 (https://tinyurl.com/MendelStein).
What that means is as follows (just a few examples): My great-grandfather's mother, Rachel Stein (née Fogel), who passed away in 1958 (and is buried on Har HaMenuchot in Jerusalem), and lived in Jerusalem her last years, had a BROTHER-in-law, who lived just a few miles from her, and as far as I am aware, they had no relationship (sounds familiar?). My grandparents, who got married in Jerusalem in 1959, had a living great-uncle in the SAME CITY, that was not invited to the wedding (and he was one of literally a handful of family alive after the war). My great-grandfather, the one I was told was so close with his family, visited multiple times - till the mid 80's - cities where he had FIRST-COUSINS (his only living family); as far as I know, he had no relationship with them.
My grandfather, who always said he would love to know more about the Stein side of the family, has many living 2nd cousins, especially in Israel (where he visits almost annually), and ignores their existence (though he might not be aware of them).
Very long story short: it's good to know I am not the first person in the family to be rejected for living a self-determined life…
I managed to find multiple cousins on Facebook, and if only I was a bit braver (or weirder...) I would've tagged them on FB. For now, I am secretly hoping to run into them one day!

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