My Goldschmidt Family Project: Looking Back and Looking Forward

With this post, I come to the end of my Goldschmidt research—at least until I get new updates or make new discoveries. I’ve done my best to find whatever records, stories, and photographs exist for Jacob Falcke Goldschmidt and Eva Reuben Seligmann, my four-times great-grandparents, and their descendants.1

I started blogging about my Goldschmidt relatives a little over three years ago on January 12, 2018, making it the longest of any of my family research projects.  And it’s been such a rich and rewarding journey. I’ve connected with Goldschmidt/Goldsmith cousins in France, England, and all over the United States. Some of those cousins have roots in the US that are as deep as mine—going back to the 1840s when Simon Goldschmidt/Goldsmith arrived or the 1850s when my great-great-grandmother Eva Goldschmidt Katzenstein arrived; some are the children of those who were born and raised in Frankfurt, Germany, and were forced to leave their comfortable and successful lives to escape from the Nazis as recently as the 1930s or 1940s.

One thread that runs through so much of the Goldschmidt family is an interest in the arts and literature—whether in writing, as with Milton Goldsmith and Anna Seghers, or an interest in antiquarian books, as with Alfred Goldsmith and Emil Offenbacher, or in music like Florence Goldsmith, or  in creating art like William Sigmund and Martha Loewenthal Wolff, or by working as an art historian and curator like Yvonne Hackenbroch, and, of course, then there are the many, many Goldschmidt family members involved in collecting and dealing in art—from the Goldschmidt brothers Jacob Meier and Selig to Julius Falk Goldschmidt to the Freres Tedesco family and so on.

Alfred Goldsmith self-portrait, Joseph J. Felcone, The Old Book Table. A Record of its First Seventy-Five Years, 1931–2005 (New York: The Old Book Table, 2006), p. 5.

Painting by Martha Loewenthal Wolff

Of course, there were also many merchants, entrepreneurs, doctors, lawyers, engineers, and scientists in the Goldschmidt clan. But when I think of my father’s artistic ability and his passion for art, architecture, music, and literature, I attribute it to his Goldschmidt DNA. His mother was artistic, and she was the granddaughter of Eva Goldschmidt. My great-uncle Harold Schoenthal, also a grandchild of Eva Goldschmidt, was also an artist and an architect. My daughter is also very artistic, though she did not pursue it as a career. When I see my grandsons drawing, I think, “It must be their Goldschmidt DNA.” I may not be artistic, but I’d like to think that my love of reading and writing comes from that Goldschmidt DNA as well.

The Seventh Cross by Anna Seghers

The Rabbi and The Priest by Milton Goldsmith

After three years of research, it’s hard to boil down in one post all that I have learned. That research has exposed me to so much of American Jewish history and German Jewish history—from the late eighteenth century right up to 2020. The Goldschmidts kept my brain busy during this pandemic time, and they provided me with some truly memorable Zoom calls with cousins.

It has been an amazing experience. I am indebted to so many of my Goldschmidt cousins that I fear if I make a list, I will leave someone out. But thank you to all of you who shared your family’s photographs, letters, memoirs, documents, and stories. I hope that I’ve served our extended family well by recording the stories of their lives for posterity. And please stay in touch! I want to meet as many of you as I can in person someday soon.

Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Madame Stumpf and Her Daughter, 1872. Courtesy of the National Gallery.
Once owned by the Freres Tedesco Gallery, Paris

A work from the Guelph Treasure
Reliquary of the arm of Saint Blaise (Herzog Anton Ulrich Museum, Dankwarderode Castle). User:Brunswyk, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons. Once owned by J&S Goldschmidt

It’s bittersweet to reach this point and know it’s time to move on to the next project. But I’ve gone as far as I can go in the Goldschmidt research—at least for now.  I need to decide what to do next. I’ve been dipping my toes in several ponds to see which one grabs my attention.

Before I reveal where I am going next, however, I need to take a break for a bit to catch my breath and to catch up on the research it will take to start that new project, whatever it may be. But first, I will introduce my new novel. So stay tuned!


  1. I would be remiss in my duties as a family historian if I didn’t mention that in addition to their four sons Meyer, Seligmann, Lehmann, and Simon, whom I’ve studied in depth, my four-times great-grandparents Jacob Falcke Goldschmidt and Eva Seligmann had a daughter Jette Goldschmidt. She married David Gruenwald of Poembsen, Germany, and they had two children. One died as an infant or was stillborn, but the other, Jacob Gruenwald, was born in 1820, lived to adulthood, married Sarah Nethe, and had fourteen children born between 1847 and 1872. All of this information, however, is based purely on a secondary source, a report in the Alex Bernstein Collection at the Leo Baeck Institute. I’ve tried to locate more information about Jette’s descendants, but so far have not succeeded. If the day comes when I can, I will add Jette’s family to the blog. 

Two Cousins Whose Lives Tell the Overall Story of the Goldschmidts

As I draw to the close of my Goldschmidt family history project, it seemed quite appropriate that I recently received photographs of two members of that family who  exemplify two very different stories of this family’s history, my cousins Herman Goldsmith and Hannah Goldsmith. Hannah was born in America in 1848 and lived until 1939, and Herman was born in Germany in 1912 and lived until 2016.

First I received this photograph of Herman Goldsmith and my cousin Susan and her husband Richard. Susan said it was taken in June 2013 when Herman was 100 years old. He would turn 101 on December 6, 2013, and live until October 27, 2016, just a little over a month before he would have turned 104.

Richard and Susan (Vogel) Neulist and Herman Goldsmith, June 2013. Courtesy of Susan Neulist

I wrote about Herman here. He was the son of Julius Falk Goldschmidt and Helene “Leni” Goldschmidt. Julius Falk Goldschmidt was the son of Falk Goldschmidt, and Leni Goldschmidt was the granddaughter of Jacob Meier Goldschmidt. Since Falk and Jacob Meier were brothers, Julius and Leni were first cousins, once removed, making Herman his own cousin.

After escaping from Nazi Germany to the US in the 1930s, Herman settled in New York City where so many Goldschmidt family members ended up. He remained in touch with his Goldschmidt relatives. Susan said he visited her grandmother, Grete Goldschmidt Heimerdinger, every week for many years.

Grete was also a double cousin as she was the daughter of Marcel (Maier) Goldschmidt, son of Jacob Meier Goldschmidt, and Hedwig Goldschmidt, daughter of Falk Goldschmidt. Hedwig and Marcel were first cousins, and so like Herman, Grete was her own cousin.

And since Hedwig Goldschmidt, Grete’s mother, and Julius Falk Goldschmidt, Herman’s father, were siblings, Grete and Herman were first cousins, both the grandchildren of Falk Goldschmidt.

But they were also both descended from Jacob Meier Goldschmidt, Herman’s great-grandfather and Grete’s grandfather, so they were also first cousins, once removed, through Herman’s mother Helene “Leni” Goldschmidt and Grete’s father Marcel Goldschmidt. Oy vey! No wonder they were so close! Susan described Herman as “quite the gentleman and full of wonderful stories.” I wish I knew more of his stories.

I also received a wonderful photograph from my cousin, Bruce, the great-great-great-grandson of Fradchen Schoenthal, sister of my great-great-grandfather Levi Schoenthal, and also the great-great-grandson of Simon Goldschmidt, brother of my three-times great-grandfather Seligmann Goldschmidt.

So Bruce is my double cousin. He’s my fourth cousin, once removed, through our Schoenthal side and my fifth cousin through our Goldschmidt side.

Isn’t Jewish genealogy fun?

Anyway, Bruce’s great-great-grandmother was Hannah Goldsmith Benedict, daughter of the above-mentioned Simon Goldschmidt. Hannah and her brother Henry were the first Goldschmidts born in the US, Henry in 1847 and Hannah in 1848. I’ve written much about Hannah and her family—here and here and here  and here and here and here and here. Hannah married Joseph Benedict in 1867, and they had five children, including Jacob Benedict, Bruce’s great-grandfather. Jacob had two daughters with his wife Clara Kaufman: Helen, born in 1907, and Marian, born in 1908. Helen was Bruce’s grandmother.

Bruce told me that this photograph was dated August 24, 1908, and shows Hannah Goldsmith Benedict with her husband Joseph and their two granddaughters Helen and Marian. At that time Jacob Benedict and his family were living in Paducah, Kentucky, and Hannah and Joseph were living in Pittsburgh. Jacob’s brother Herschel was living in Pittsburgh, and his brother Harry was living in Michigan by 1910.  But the photograph was apparently taken in Kenosha, Wisconsin. I wonder how that happened….

Joseph Benedict, Helen Benedict, Marian Benedict, and Hannah Goldsmith Benedict. August 24, 1908. Courtesy of Bruce Velzy

Another mystery to solve. But seeing one of my earliest American-born relatives with her granddaughters is very exciting.

It’s so fitting to close my Goldschmidt family blog posts with photographs of these two members of the family. Hannah Goldsmith and Herman Goldsmith were first cousins, twice removed, since Hannah’s father Simon Goldschmidt and Herman’s great-grandfather Meyer Goldschmidt were brothers.

Hannah was born in the United States when the country was still very young. She lived through the Civil War, World War I, the Roaring Twenties, and the Great Depression, dying in November 1939 while her German cousins were being persecuted and fleeing from Nazi Germany. She was 91 years old.

Just two months before Hannah died, her cousin Herman arrived in the US as one of those cousins escaping from Germany. Herman Goldsmith was born in 1912 in Frankfurt, Germany, and had grown up in the comfort of the large and well-to-do Goldschmidt family. Unlike Hannah, his life was radically changed by the events of the 1930s. But like Hannah, he saw so much in his lifetime, living until he was almost 104. He not only lived through World War I, the Weimar Republic years, the Depression, and World War II—he saw the radical changes that came after the war—the creation of the state of Israel, the Cold War, the assassination of JFK, the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, the moon landing, the gay rights movement, the rise of the internet, 9/11, and the election of the first Black man to serve as president of the US.

Can you imagine the stories Herman and Hannah could tell each other as well as us?  They lived such different lives in such different places and times, overlapping in time between only 1912 and 1939, but on different continents. But together the lives of Hannah Goldsmith and Herman Goldsmith tell us so much not only about the richness of the Goldschmidt family’s story, but also about the history of Jews in America and in Germany.

Thank you to Susan and to Bruce for sharing these photographs. And thank you to each and everyone of my Goldschmidt cousins who have helped me understand and appreciate our shared history.

 

2020: The Year of the Pandemic

 

Image by iXimus from Pixabay

I’ve already written six posts about life during the COVID pandemic, and I am certainly hoping that this is, if not the last one, one of the last ones. The vaccinations have started, and some of my doctor and health care worker friends and family have already had their first inoculation. My mother, as a resident of a long-term care facility, should be getting her first shot in the next couple of weeks. I don’t expect that I will get mine until early March at best, but I already feel some lightness in the air that surrounds me. I can foresee the day when we can once again hug our children and other loved ones without fear of being infected or infecting them.

In the end, I’ve realized that that is what I want more than anything else. Sure, I miss restaurants and movies and theater and concerts. I miss eating in the homes of my friends and having them come to mine. I miss traveling to other parts of the country and the world. But I haven’t missed any of that nearly as much as I miss the feel of my daughters’ hugs or of my arms around my grandsons, kissing their sweet little heads. I want to do that without fear and with a full heart. I long for that more than anything else. And if I continue to be lucky and do all I can to be safe, maybe by the late spring that will be possible. Maybe.

So much is still unknown. But 2021 has to be better, doesn’t it?

Sadly, that’s what I wrote a year ago on this blog. 2019 was not an easy year. My father died in February, and by November we had to move my mother to a memory care facility. I was filled with hope for 2020, but we were not even three months into the year when everything crashed around us.

But we were among the lucky ones—so far. We didn’t get sick, my mother didn’t get sick, my kids didn’t get sick, and although some other family members had COVID, no one got seriously ill. My friends are also all fine. We truly have nothing to complain about and lots to be grateful for.

But my heart breaks for those who died or whose loved ones died. I will never forgive Trump for failing to be a leader. Instead of telling us early on that we need to wear masks and accept restrictions that could save lives, he made the decision to make wearing a mask a sign of weakness and the failure to wear a mask a litmus test for loyalty to him and his campaign for re-election. How many lives might have been spared if only we’d had a leader who believed in science and public health and moral values instead of money and greed and self-aggrandizement? We will never know.

Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

But one of the first changes in 2021 will be a change in the White House (despite Trump’s deluded and corrupt attempts to claim he won the election). I don’t expect miracles from Joe Biden. But I expect decency and empathy and a willingness to follow the advice of scientists to get us back on our feet in this country. For that reason alone, 2021 has to be better than 2020.

There will continue to be more deaths and illness from COVID for months and months. I know that. There will continue to be people who spread hate and ignorance and fear. I know that. We won’t make as much progress as we need to on fighting climate change or securing universal and affordable health care or adequate protection from gun violence or ending systemic racism. I know that. Our political system will not be cured when Trump departs, nor will all our other societal problems.

But I do have hope for 2021. I have to. We all have to. Without hope we have no dreams for a better future. Without hope we resign ourselves to the worst version of human nature. Without hope we keep repeating the same mistakes over and over.

So I am starting 2021 with hope. Hope for kindness and wisdom in our leaders and among all of us. Hope for a return to trust in science and facts and the electoral system. Hope for progress on fighting racism, climate change, poverty, and gun violence. Hope for the end of COVID-19. So much to hope for, all of which will take effort and energy and commitment not only among our political leaders but among each and every one of us who has dreams of a better year, a better country, a better future.

And I hope that a year from now I will feel that this hopefulness was justified.

Image by DarkmoonArt_de from Pixabay

Thanksgiving in a Pandemic

I’ve been in a bit of a funk the last week or so. It’s COVID, it’s politics, it’s the weather. November is  hard for me. I hate when the trees lose their leaves, the grass turns brown, the sky turns gray, the temperature drops.

So I am going to take the advice of an old friend and list the top ten things that fill me with gratitude—in no particular order. I find when I focus on the things for which I am grateful, it makes me feel better. So here goes.

  1. I am thankful for my husband and my children and my grandchildren. They are the rocks in my life, the ones who get me from spot to spot, no matter how roiling is the water beneath our feet.
  2. I am thankful for my parents. My father is gone, and my mother is struggling. But they were a constant source of love and support in my life, and I hold all the memories close to my heart.
  3. I am thankful for the rest of my family, including all the cousins I’ve found on this genealogy journey. They all remind me how connected we all are—all humans—regardless of where we grew up or when or how.
  4. I am thankful for my three cats, whose ability to live in the moment and to provide constant companionship, affection, and comfort has been so very important during the last nine months.
  5. I am thankful for my friends—my friends from high school, from college, from law school, and from the community where I have lived since 1983. So many times in the last nine months I have turned to my friends—by Zoom, text, telephone, email. They have made me laugh, they have given me perspective, they have given me strength. I hope I’ve done the same for them.
  6. I am thankful for the genealogy village—those who read my blog, those who help me with my research and with translations, those in the Facebook groups who comment and help answer my questions. Family history research has been one way I’ve escaped from the anxiety of the pandemic. It has given me focus and a distraction and continues to keep my brain working.
  7. I am thankful for the good fortune I have to live in a comfortable house in a wonderful community of neighbors. In the course of our daily walks we’ve gotten to know our neighbors and their dogs and feel so fortunate to live where we live.
  8. I am thankful that I don’t have to worry about where my next meal will come from or whether I will be able to get adequate medical care or whether I will be harassed or injured because of my race. In a time when so much feels dangerous, I’ve learned more than ever to appreciate just how privileged I am.
  9. I am thankful for the beautiful world we live in. We’ve taken walks and hikes in places we never knew about before and in places that we’ve always loved—the beach and the woods, the mountains and the lakes. I learned early on that getting into a quiet place surrounded by nature was often the best thing to do to find solace and calm the noise in my head.
  10. I am thankful for science and for doctors and nurses and all the frontline workers in hospitals and grocery stores and elsewhere who are putting their lives on the line to do everything possible to keep us safe.

That’s my top ten. There are probably hundreds if not thousands more. What are yours?

Happy Thanksgiving!

Blogging in a Pandemic, Part IV: It’s Getting Too Real

I’ve written a series of posts over the last five or six weeks to record the experience of living through the pandemic, trying to find some good news among all the darkness. Writing them has been therapeutic for me, and from the responses I’ve gotten, I know that they’ve resonated for others. I am, however, finding it harder and harder to find the light in the darkness. But I am trying.

The last two weeks have made it harder because the virus has come to my community with a vengeance. Many people have died, including the mother of one of my dear friends and the sister of another friend. Our local nursing homes have been ravaged, including 21 deaths in the Jewish Nursing Home near us. Other friends have had loved ones become ill with the virus. I live in dread of hearing that my mother or someone in her memory care facility is infected. My anxiety level has increased to the point that most of the things I was finding helpful—long walks, yoga, Zoom sessions—are becoming less effective.

And the rush of some to resume “normal life” even though it means risking more lives, including their own, is infuriating, as are the actions of those who are putting political ambition and money above the health and well-being of people.

But I know we are among the very fortunate ones. We have a safe home, resources to pay for what we need, food in the house and delivery services bringing more as needed, and, so far, our health. We have the support network of our children, our relatives, our friends, and our community. We have each other. I am always mindful of that.

My three cats are a real source of comfort; they are oblivious to what’s going on outside, and they only care that we are here to feed them and to pet them. They cuddle up next to me day and night and give me some peace.

And little things make me smile. Our neighbors drawing hearts on all the driveways and leaving painted stones on all the doorsteps and paper flowers taped to our windows.

The discovery of more places to walk where we can avoid close contact with people and enjoy the quiet of nature continues to be soothing.

The weekly Shabbat Shalom zooms with family are a needed break from the constant talk of COVID19. Who cannot smile when a five-year-old wants to play Twenty Questions by Zoom?

This week my younger daughter was celebrated by her friends on what would have been Marathon Monday with cards and posters and a bottle of champagne. I can’t tell you how much that meant to her and to us.

There is so much love out there, and the best of human nature can outshine the darkness of illness, death, and the suffering of so many.

One small example from my genealogical activities. While all this has been going on, I’ve connected with a few more cousins who found me through my blog. I think people stuck at home are turning to family history for consolation and also are uncovering photographs and letters that were buried in boxes or trunks in their attics and basements.

One of these cousins sent me scans of some photographs of my Benedict cousins, including this terribly torn photograph of Hannah Goldsmith Benedict, the first cousin of my great-grandfather Isadore Schoenthal:

I was thrilled to receive this photograph—a definite moment of joy. But heartbroken that Hannah’s photo was so damaged. Could it be repaired, I wondered?

I posted it in the Free Photo Restoration group on Facebook, and when I woke up the next morning, three group members had posted repaired versions. Aren’t they amazing?

These people obviously spent a great deal of time fixing this photograph and asked for nothing in return. I was overwhelmed with gratitude. It made me smile, and it reminded me once again that most people are kind and good and generous and loving.

I need to keep all these reminders in front of me as things outside get scarier and scarier.

Passover During A Pandemic

Every year for as far back as I can remember, my family has gathered for Passover. In my childhood, we had seders at my aunt and uncle’s house with my cousins Jody and Jeff. Then we all started doing a second seder together at our house. Every year, no matter what else was happening, we had seders. They were wild and chaotic and so much fun. Passover was my favorite holiday and was my first introduction to Jewish culture, history, and religion.

Once I married, the tradition shifted, but nevertheless, every year we had seders, one with my family at my parents’ house, one with my husband’s family either in New Jersey or the Bronx or later in Newton. They were all wild and chaotic and a great deal of fun.

Then we had grandchildren, and we began hosting one of the seders at our house, relieving my mother of the burdens of preparing the seder. We love hosting the seder, although the craziness beforehand and during makes me appreciate what all those who had hosted in the past were experiencing. Trying to convert our house to Passover dishes and pots and pans while also cooking some food ahead of time, renting tables and table cloths to accommodate the crowd, and then attempting to participate in the seder while also warming and serving food was a logistical challenge.

Passover 2019

But seeing my family gathered together around our table made it all more than worthwhile.

My dad and Remy, Passover 2016

Harvey and Nate

So here we were, facing Passover during the social distancing brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. How were we going to celebrate without being together? Would this be the first year ever in my memory that I would not be going to a seder? The thought saddened me, as I know it did for Jews all over the world.

Fortunately, my nine-year-old grandson Nate presented us with a challenge and an idea. Could we do a virtual seder using Zoom, the platform his school was using for remote learning? We spent some time learning how to use Zoom and thinking of how we could do this.

We scanned the Haggadah my family has used forever (The Haggadah for the American Family—mostly in English and accessible to all) and figured out who would read which parts. We added back in the handwashing we usually overlook. Nate and Remy practiced the four questions. Then we distributed a PDF of the scanned Haggadah to all who would be attending with their parts designated in the margins. As a final touch, Nate filmed himself doing an introduction and explanation of how things would work, and I emailed it all to everyone along with a Zoom invitation.

Nevertheless, the day of the first seder, I was feeling a bit blue. Sure, I had a lot less work to do, but that made me feel a bit at loose ends. Was it really Passover? I set the table for two with our seder plate filled with the usual ingredients, our cups for Elijah and for Miriam, our matzah holder, and salt water for the parsley.  It looked empty. We even put on nicer clothes than what we’ve been wearing since self-quarantining to make the day feel special. And then we waited for our guests to arrive in the Zoom waiting room.

Our seder table 2020 (before the seder plate was filled)

And they all showed up on time, ready to go. After chatting a bit and saying hello, our grandson Remy, only five, asked if we could have a virtual group hug. Can you imagine how happy that made me? We all reached out our arms to each other. What an amazing insight for a five-year-old—to recognize that we all needed that embrace, even if it was only across the internet.

I asked if everyone had a seder plate, and sure enough, everyone had made the effort to put together as best they could a plate with charoset (or an apple), moror, an egg, a shankbone (or a plastic sheep), and parsley or some other green. It was so uplifting, seeing that everyone had made the effort to make this a real Passover. Here are a few examples; you can see the creativity involved.

In fact, my younger daughter Maddy went all out and made chicken soup and matzoh balls, something she had never cooked before, and it looked amazing. My older daughter Rebecca made homemade macaroons. Everyone cared enough to do whatever they could to honor our holiday and our traditions. Suddenly it felt like this was really Passover.

Once we started the seder, it was almost as if we were all in the same room. Nate and my husband shared the responsibilities of being the leader, an honor Nate had certainly earned by virtue of his efforts and creativity in getting the seder organized. We went through our Haggadah as we usually do, adding a few extra comments appropriate to the situation—talking about the need for handwashing, adding an eleventh plague for COVID19, and recognizing the current meaning of the lesson that the wise child is the one who works for the benefit of all humankind, not just for him or herself.

Nate and Remy did a beautiful reading of the four questions, first in English and then in Hebrew. Then I read something our rabbi had written, describing how this Passover is different from all other Passovers and making us all think about our gratitude to those on the front lines of this pandemic—the medical personnel, those working at grocery stores and drug stores, the delivery people, the police and fire and other emergency personnel. Her words also gave us hope that as with our ancestors in ancient times, we would pull through and get out of this contemporary time of captivity.

And then we shared our dinners together, gefilte fish, soup, or whatever we each had prepared for that evening. Nate and Remy searched for the afikomen in their own home, and we sang for Elijah, but didn’t let anyone else inside. We pulled out whatever we had for dessert, and then we said good night.

Of course, it wasn’t the same as being together. Zoom makes it hard to have individual conversations or any real extended conversations that aren’t interrupted by the chatter of everyone else. And there are no hugs and kisses to say hello and goodbye.  But we had celebrated Passover. We had been together. We had remembered our own family traditions as well as the traditions of Jews everywhere around the world and throughout all time. We had had a seder.

Next year we hope we will be together in one space. But maybe this year’s seder will be the one we will always remember best. Because we all cared enough to make it real, to feel the connection to each other, and to appreciate what our traditions have taught us about hope and freedom and gratitude.

Blogging in a Pandemic, Part II

As we enter our third or really our fourth week of social distancing, self-quarantine, or whatever else you want to call it (no closer than six feet from anyone but each other, washing our hands religiously, no restaurants, no stores except when we can’t get delivery of groceries, and so on), I have to say that this week things suddenly seem much harder and much sadder. But we are still fortunately feeling fine despite having flown twice in March, and we feel very, very relieved, and are so grateful to be home.

And we also feel very grateful that so far our families are also okay and our friends. I almost am afraid to write that for fear of tempting the corona gods. But I know that magical thinking is just superstition. We all just have to keep staying apart, staying safe, and staying home. The anxiety sometimes feels unbearable, but my mantra has always been and continues to be—one day at a time.

We’ve taken some wonderful walks in places nearby, a few of which we’d never been to before. And we’ve taken many walks in our neighborhood, chatting with neighbors from at least six feet apart, and feeling a sense of community and warmth that can be overlooked when we all just drive in and out of our garages.

I’ve cleared out a drawer filled with expired medicines and other products, organized our “junk” drawer, and discovered dust in places you cannot imagine. Every day I try to think of at least one small project to accomplish, even if it is simply remembering to mail a check.

I’ve also started to accept that I will never do some of the things the internet keeps throwing at us: free courses online, free tours of museums and national parks, free videos of exercise classes, and so on. I just can’t focus long enough to do those things. Fortunately, doing genealogy in shorter spurts than usual and writing my blog still provide me with a way to escape from the pandemic pandemonium.

Now we are preparing for a Zoom seder. The planning has given me an opportunity to work with my nine-year-old grandson on that project. In fact, we’ve had more contact with our kids and grandsons during these weeks than we usually do, though not in person. I am reading the wonderful book Hatchet by Gary Paulsen with the older grandson and playing chess online with the younger one. And we’ve had Zoom cocktail hours with friends and with family. So it’s not all bad.

What really prompted me to write this particular post was one of those little benefits I’ve gotten from people spending all this time at home. My brother, who also has been spending more time at home than usual (but who is still working since he is a doctor), was going through a box of papers and photographs that had been my father’s and discovered this photograph.

I know this is not great quality (and my brother’s scan of it does not help). But I am so excited by this photograph. Let me explain why.

This is a photograph of my father as a baby being held by his father with my aunt sitting on her father’s left. My father had written the ages in the margins, and although he had not written the names, it was easy to deduce the identities from the relative ages and the facial characteristics using other photographs of my grandfather, of my aunt as a young child, and even of my father as a baby.

Eva Schoenthal and John Cohen, Sr. 1923

My aunt Eva Hilda Cohen and my grandmother Eva Schoenthal Cohen, c. 1925

My grandmother and my father, c. 1927

But what made this so special is that I had never seen a photograph of my grandfather with his children. All the photographs I had of him were either of him alone or with my grandmother. So seeing this photograph was really touching. Look at how he is looking at his son. There is such joy and love on his face.

It was especially touching because I knew that my father had had very few years living with his father before my grandfather became disabled from multiple sclerosis and was ultimately institutionalized for the rest of his life.  He died long before I was born, and for most of my life I knew almost nothing about him. I didn’t ask when I was young because my father seemed to be reluctant to talk about him. I didn’t know if that was out of sadness or anger or indifference. But I didn’t want to upset him either way.

One of the gifts of doing genealogy and talking to my father in the five or six years before he died in February 2019 was that he finally did talk a bit about his father. And in doing so, I realized that even though he had not spent many years living with his father, my father had loved him. His reluctance to talk about him was due to pain and sadness, not anger or indifference.

The fact that my father saved this photograph and hid it away in a box we never saw before is telling. This must have been a photograph he cherished, something special that he didn’t want mixed in with the hundreds of other photographs he had taken over the years of vacations and friends and family. I am so glad that my brother discovered it and that he shared it with me. It gave me new insights into my father and his father.

Have you discovered any wonderful photographs or other treasures while staying at home? Have you always planned to label and/or scan your family photographs? Maybe now is a good time.

Blogging During A Pandemic

Ordinarily on Tuesday mornings I post about my genealogy research. I have such a post ready for today, but decided that I needed or wanted to write about the present, not the past, today. Often when I am researching a relative from the past, I wonder how they coped, what they felt, what they thought during some personal or public crisis—during wars, the Holocaust, the Depression, the flu epidemic of 1918, and so on. Today I thought I would share with my future descendants answers to those questions for me and my family regarding the current pandemic.

First, let me say that so far everyone in my immediate family has been symptom free. We may be infected, but we have no way of knowing at this moment. My grandsons, my daughters, our son-in-law, my husband, and I are fine. So far. And our extended famiy members and our friends are also fine. So far. Most importantly, my vulnerable 89 year old mother is safely locked down in her wonderful and loving assisted living facility. It’s terrible that I cannot visit her, but it’s also the smart and ethical thing to do. And we have all been able to Skype with her—which she seems to love. As long as she knows we are here and thinking of her and have not just walked away, I can sleep at night knowing she is safe. So far.

Of course, all those “so fars” are what makes much of this so nerve-racking. No matter how strictly we stay isolated away from others and how often we wash our hands, no one is suggesting for a minute that we won’t all end up getting the virus. All they are saying is that doing these things will slow down the progress of the spread so that doctors and nurses and hospitals will be more able to handle the flood of cases. So am I anxiety-free? Hardly. Is anyone?

On the positive side, I am just so proud and impressed by my daughters. Our younger daughter has had a terrible week in so many ways. She’s been training for the Boston Marathon for months, only to have it postponed until September. She was supposed to go to Florida for five days. That trip was canceled. And yesterday she learned that because all the restaurants in Massachusetts have been ordered to close, she will be out of work until they can re-open. Yes, each of these disappointments upset her, but with her usual optimism and strength, she has quickly rebounded and found the positive. She noted that running in September means she can celebrate her birthday when we are all in Boston to watch her cross the finish line. She has been surrounded by love and support from her incredible network of friends and her family and feels so grateful to them all. And when confronted by the reality of losing income for some unknown period of time, she remarked with her characteristic wit, “Well, with all the restaurants, bars, and stores closed, I will be spending a lot less money anyway.”

There have been lots of disappointments. My grandsons were looking forward to a trip to St Martin with their parents. Canceled. Grandparents Day at their school. Canceled. A performance by our older grandson. Canceled. But they also have taken these disappointments in stride—upset, but accepting the wisdom of those decisions. Our son-in-law celebrated his birthday this week—no fancy dinner out, no celebration with friends. But he found joy in being home with his family, sharing a homemade cake. If you look closely at each disappointment and how we respond, you will find that love and gratitude will quickly help you forget that disappointment.

Our older daughter has taken on the role of being our protector. Weeks ago before we were getting any really clear guidance from the government, she was warning us that we should not go to Florida in March as we had planned. She begged, pleaded with us, not to go. But we, being the stubborn teenagers in this scenario, pooh-poohed her concerns. After all, we consulted four doctors (yes, really. Four different doctors.), and all told us we shouldn’t cancel the trip, that we would be fine. Our daughter was apoplectic. The night before we left (yes, we did go), I couldn’t sleep. I knew she was right. But we went.

We practiced as much self-isolation as we could.  We didn’t see people. We walked, and we sat on the beach. We didn’t eat in restaurants unless there was outdoor dining. But after four days of anxiety, we decided it was just too much. There were rumors that all domestic flights would be canceled. So we left. We came home. Our daughter had been right all along.

I don’t want to make this political, except to say that I wish that my two daughters were in charge of our government. Where is the compassion, the honesty, the directness, the sense of hope tempered by the sense of urgency and wisdom that we all have needed since January when the first news of the viral spread in China was published?

So now we are home.  We are trying not to panic. We are not hoarding toilet paper or food or water. We have what we need. So far.  We are staying in touch with our family and our friends. We are grateful for modern technology, which allows us to see each others’ faces, hear their voices, read their words.  We are reaching out to others, and others are reaching out to us. That part feels good.

But the physical isolation is hard. How I wish I could hug and kiss my daughters and my grandsons. And my mother. I am worried about them all, and I am worried about my friends. And yes, I am worried about my husband and me. I know the worst is yet to come. And no, I am not ready for it. But we have no choice.

Stay home, everyone. Be wise. Be compassionate. Do the ethical thing, and keep away from others as much as and as best you can. Find love and gratitude even in these dark days.

 

 

 

Holiday Wishes

I will be taking a short break from blogging until early 2020. So let me wish all of my family, friends, and loyal readers a wonderful holiday season. Whether you celebrate Hanukkah, or Christmas, or Kwanzaa, or all of them, or something else, or nothing at all, we all need ways to find light and hope in the darkest time of the year, a year that for many of us has been a dark year. I will not miss 2019. May 2020 bring light, love, and hope around the world and to all of you.

On that note, I will once again share one of my favorite quotations.

 

 

 

November 15, 2019

Today would have been my father’s 93rd birthday. Tomorrow it will be nine months since he died on February 16, 2019. Nine months is a long time—long enough for a human baby to gestate and be ready for life outside the womb. And yet it is just a flash in a life that lasted over 92 years.

These nine months have been the hardest of my life—dealing with not only losing my father, but watching my mother decline as well. Life without my father has been just too hard for her to bear.

So today I’d like to dedicate my blog to them both, two people whose love for each other was the key to almost all of their happiness, two beautiful young people who grew to be loving parents, adoring grandparents and great-grandparents and aunt and uncle, and loyal and caring friends to people in their community and elsewhere.

Florence and John Cohen 1951