[for my aunt, Elaine Goldschlager Lehrbaum, 1917-1995]
Many of you who are more recent followers of the Brotmanblog may wonder why the blog is called the Brotmanblog. In the past several months I have barely mentioned the name Brotman because I have been focused on searching for my grandfather’s family, the Goldschlagers and Rosenzweigs. But if you go back to the beginning of the blog, you will see that my original search focused on my grandmother’s family, the Brotmans. That’s where I started my genealogy adventures. It made sense. My grandmother Gussie Brotman Goldschlager, my mother’s mother, was the grandparent I knew best, the only grandparent I knew as an adult. She was the only grandparent my husband ever met, though she died a year before we were married. It was only natural that I would start my journey trying to learn as much as I could about her and her siblings and her parents. Once I had found as much as I could find about the Brotmans, I then moved on to my grandfather’s family. The next chapter will be my father’s family. But it all started with the Brotmans.
Why do I bring that up now? Because this weekend I will finally get to meet a number of the Brotman cousins I only learned about through doing this research. There will be over thirty of us gathering in NYC to meet and eat and to visit the Lower East Side, where our grandparents and great-grandparents (and for some, great-great grandparents or parents) lived in New York. We will walk to 81/85 Ridge Street where the Brotmans first lived, now a public school, once a tenement building, and then we will tour the Tenement Museum to learn more about what life was like for all of them.
If you have not read any of my posts about the Brotmans, I have provided links here and below to some that will capture the essence of their lives. Even if you once did read them, you may want to re-read them if you are joining us this weekend and want to remember some of the details and themes I wrote about months ago. The Brotman story is the classic Jewish American immigration story, a story of poverty and heartbreak as a family moved from Galicia to NYC in the late 1880s to a story of assimilation and success as the future generations built businesses, moved beyond the Lower East Side, became professionals, and moved to the suburbs after World War II. My Brotman great-grandparents were hard-working realists who did what they needed to do to survive.
Although I was able to piece together a fair amount about their lives through census reports and other documents and through some stories my mother remembered about her grandparents, aunts, uncles and mother, at first there was no one else besides my mother and my brother to whom I could turn for information. My cousins shared stories about their grandparents, but they also knew little about the early lives of their grandparents and had no one left to ask either. So mostly I relied on documentation to learn what I could. I was able to put together a fairly complete history of the Brotman family in America and decided to move on to my grandfather’s family.
Then, like a gift of manna from heaven, about a month ago my cousin Jody sent me some notes that her husband Joel had taken from a conversation he’d had with my Aunt Elaine years ago about her family. I’ve referred to one part of those notes before—the story of how my grandmother Gussie met my grandfather Isadore on Pacific Street in Brooklyn, where my grandmother was living and where my grandfather’s cousins the Rosenzweigs were living in 1915. In the next day or two I’d like to share a few more tidbits from Aunt Elaine, via Joel’s notes.
But before I do, I want to point out that these notes are incredibly accurate. Although the conversation Joel had with my aunt must have taken place in the early 1980s, my aunt’s memory for details was astonishing. For example, she refers to the fact that Hyman’s son Emanuel worked for Kislack Realty. I checked with Manny’s children, and they confirmed that in fact Manny was President of J.I.Kislak Mortgage Corporation in Newark, NJ., which was a subsidiary of J.I.Kislak, Inc., a large residential and commercial Realtor based in Jersey City. Also, my aunt knew that David Brotman worked in the coat industry, that Max was in the cigar business, and that Abraham worked for a deli in Coney Island.
On the Goldschlager side as well, my aunt’s facts are corroborated by the information I found in my research. David Goldschlager lived in Scranton, PA, for some time and was in the hat business. Betty married a man in the dry goods business and moved to Arizona. I point out how accurate this information is to demonstrate how remarkable my aunt’s memory was and also so that you will trust the other statements she made and their accuracy when I report on those in upcoming posts.
In some ways finding these notes was frustrating. If I had found them last summer, much of the time I spent trying to figure out who Max was or whether Abraham was related to us or whether there were any other children would have been unnecessary. My aunt knew it all, and it is in these notes.
But as Glinda the Good Witch tells Dorothy at the end of The Wizard of Oz (the movie) when she reveals to Dorothy that the ruby slippers could take her home and the Scarecrow asks why Glinda had not told Dorothy that from the beginning:
Glinda : Because she wouldn’t have believed me. She had to learn it for herself.
Tin Man: What have you learned, Dorothy?
Dorothy: Well, I – I think that it – that it wasn’t enough just to want to see Uncle Henry and Auntie Em. And that it’s that – if I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own backyard, because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with. Is that right?
Glinda: That’s all it is!
And then when the Tin Man, Lion and Scarecrow all say that they should have helped Dorothy figure it out, Glinda replies:
She had to find it out for herself.
And so I did as well. If I had started with Aunt Elaine’s notes, I never would have worked as hard to learn how to research and find these things for myself. I would never have felt the amazing sense of satisfaction I’ve gotten from putting pieces together and from finding cousins who could help me put those pieces together.
Having my aunt confirm through these notes what I have learned and what I have done is a real gift. She was someone I adored and miss dearly. It’s like having her here with me again, hearing her say, “You see, Amy Kugel, I always knew you could do anything you wanted. And I knew some day you would want to know more about your history, your family.” But, as Glinda told Dorothy, she knew I had to find it out for myself.