Friday, November 23, 2018
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.
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!
Tuesday, July 3, 2018
(Note: this started out as an early morning FB post rant, but became longer so I am uploading it here)
If anyone would've told me 6 years ago - you know, during the time I first joined Footsteps, and was trying to find my footing in the world outside the cult-ure I grew up in - that I would wake up one morning in Jerusalem, and be excited to join 150+ rabbis from all over the world for 10 days of studying:
I would've either laughed at your bad attempt at impossible humor, or would've seen it as a failed Kiruv attempt...
Well, it's 6 years later, add "Modern/Progressive/Liberal" to the titles of the 150 rabbis, and I am awake early in the morning, in Jerusalem - the same City where my grandfather was ordained 55 years ago, the same City where my great-grandfather was a Hasidic Rebbe (spiritual supreme leader) for 40 years - and I am super excited to start the Rabbinic Torah Study Seminar (RTS) 2018, at the Shalom Hartman Institute!
Today, I am joining 150 colleagues (damn, never thought I will ever again call other rabbis "colleagues"), to explore, challenge, and learn from each other. No, I am not Religious (okay, in an Orthodox sense) again. Heck, if you ask if I believe in the Monotheistic-Abrahamic traditional concept of God, I am a bigger Atheist than ever before.
But I am excited.
I am excited because I love our tradition.
I am excited because I see a world where I can cherry-pick my spiritual and traditional practices, and that is not just okay, but beautiful.
I am excited because I reached a point in my life where I am comfortable enough in my own skin, to look back and embrace what I love about my childhood and Yeshiva (Rabbinical School) years and rejoice with it.
I am excited because frankly, the next 10 days are going to be fun.
An ex-Orthodox girl, former Rabbinical student, current proud radical progressive-liberal, LGBTQ worrier, and a woman of trans experience who couldn't care less about not fitting into anyone's box,
Abby C. Stein
Abby C. Stein
Saturday, January 27, 2018
I wrote this last year on the Jewish Holocaust Remembrance Day, and the response was really positive, mostly. I love genealogy, and it felt like an opportunity to “say their names” - remember. One unexpected result, was a slew of Nazis/Anti-Semites/haters Holocaust deniers trying to attack me on Twitter, I guess feeling triggered by a list of actual people, most of my direct grandparents that kinda contradicted their hateful or ignorant world view.
So, I decided to share it again, and this time to update links for each name to Geni, because when we say Never Again, we mean it (and add their hate in the bottom, because, well, know thy enemy).
Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day (or Yom HaShoah in Hebrew), remembering one of the biggest, and the most brutal genocide in human history. Between 1938 and 1945, and even more so with the roll-out of the infamous Final Solution in 1942, a fascist regime - by fueling the hate, racism, xenophobia, and antisemitism in one of the world's most ‘enlightened’ cultures - killed over a third of the Jewish people. At the same time they carried out a less discussed genocide against other minorities, such as the Romani People, people of lesser physical ability, and the LGBTQ Community.
As a Jew - three of my four grandparents are holocaust survivors. As a proud member of the LGBTQ community, and trans woman - the Nazis killed thousands of my fellow community members, and set back medical transgender research by a few decades. They shut down Magnus Hirschfeld’s “Institut für Sexualwissenschaft” (Institute For Sexology), burned all his research, and killed most of its members. The Holocaust formed, and is still forming parts of who I am, in ways that I want it to, and in ways that I would prefer it stays out. It is who I am.
|Mass grave of Jews killed during the|
Holocaust, in Kopaygorod, Ukraine
Today, I wanna share with you all a list I compiled two years ago when I spoke at the Holocaust Remembrance day ceremony at the Columbia Hillel (center for Jewish student life at Columbia). In the past years, as I have been speaking for more and more diverse communities around the world, I have mentioned a few times that over 25 of my ‘direct’ ancestors (not family - cousins, aunts and uncles, etc. that number is way too high for me to count) went through the holocaust - some survived, some were killed. Often I am met with disbelief; so here is an exact list, with some details I remembered offhand. And while I am at it, why not give you all a crash course in my genealogy.
- Moshe Schnek - lived in Kanjiža, killed in Auschwitz in 1944.
- Esther Schnek (née Mentzer) born in Kanjiža, killed in Auschwitz in 1944.
- Rachel Stein (née Fogel) - born in Vyzhnytsia, Bukovina (modern Ukraine), survived Nazi exile in Transnistria. Died 1957 in Israel.
- Chaya Sheindel Teitelbaum (née Halberstam) - born in Bobowa, Galicia (modern Poland), killed in Auschwitz in 1944.
- Gitel Mentzer (née Goldberger) - born ca 1847 in Kanjiža, killed by the Nazis in 1944.
- Mordecai Aaron Mentzer - lived in Kanjiža pre war, killed by the Nazis in 1944.
- Eliezer Schnek, killed in 1944.
- Rachel Schnek, killed in 1944.
In total, 25 of my direct grandparents, great-grandparents, and great-great-grandparents went through the Holocaust. 9 survived, 16 perished.