Smokey March 23, 2008 – August 16, 2022

You may have noticed that I haven’t been blogging in recent weeks. There’s been a lot going on in terms of our move, but mostly I just haven’t had the heart. My beloved cat Smokey was diagnosed with a cancerous mass in early July, and on Tuesday we had to make the heartrending decision to let him go before he started to suffer. Smokey was my baby—I loved him with all my heart, and he loved me back. And so as I do with all my family members, close and distant, I want to honor his memory on my blog.

Smokey was born on March 23, 2008, in Southwick, Massachusetts. We had been looking to adopt two kittens after losing our last surviving cat Lily in the fall of 2007. I saw an ad on Craig’s List for a newborn litter, and we went out to Southwick to check out the new kittens. The kittens were born to siblings—the people had three cats, all black and white tuxedo cats, one female, two males—and the brothers had impregnated their sister. I was a bit concerned about the genetic consequences, but decided to ignore the issue.

There were six kittens—five of whom were black and white tuxedos, not surprisingly, and then there was Smokey. He was gray and white—the oddball in the litter. In fact, the family was referring to him as Oddie. I knew I had to have any cat who was an oddball. We asked the family which kitten seemed most friendly, and they pointed to a female, and she was our other pick, and she became Luna.

Here’s Smokey the first time we saw him. He was just a few weeks old.

We had to wait a few weeks until the kittens could be weaned, so we returned on Mother’s Day in 2008 to pick up Smokey and Luna. Luna was, as predicted, friendly and outgoing; Smokey was shy and hid under Maddy’s bed until he was sure we were safe.

He and Luna were bonded tightly—slept together, played together, and bathed each other. And soon they also bonded with our dog Cassie, who treated them like they were her babies, allowing them to cuddle up and knead their paws into her soft belly like she was their mother.

Smokey and Luna were inside cats only, but they loved going to the Cape and watching the birds and squirrels and chipmunks in the yard outside our screened porch.

Smokey and Luna on the porch.

When Luna died unexpectedly in the fall of 2014 when she was only six, I was shocked and devastated. I worried about Smokey. But although he seemed to look for her at first, he soon adapted to being the only cat. But when Cassie then died in June of 2015, Smokey was bereft. He started chewing on his leg, leaving a raw bald spot. Maybe he was picking up our sadness. Hard to know.

So to ease our pain and his, we adopted two new kittens in August of 2015—Zoe and Chloe. We brought them to our Cape cottage from the no-kill shelter in Provincetown and opened the carrier, waiting to see how Smokey would react. He sniffed, hissed gently, they hissed gently back at him. And then they became his babies.

Just as Cassie had allowed Smokey and Luna to pretend-nurse on her, Smokey allowed Zoe and Chloe to do the same. He bathed them, protected them, played with them. And he never again chewed on his leg. He was just happy to have his new babies to love.

Smokey remained shy forever around strangers, but with his family he was frisky and friendly and so affectionate. He was the ultimate lapcat—always happy to sit on me or next to me or with Harvey, squinting his eyes with love, rubbing his head into us to get us to give him some attention. He slept next to me every night, quietly curled up near me. When I sat in my chair working on my computer, he would jump up and squeeze in next to me, and as soon as I put the laptop aside, he would jump right onto my lap and sit there for as long as I allowed him to do so. He was my constant companion, a comfort when I was sad. He never resisted a hug or a kiss.

He was also well traveled. He first lived with us in Longmeadow, then adjust easily to our move to East Longmeadow in 2009. He loved going to the Cape, and he even tolerated the ten-hour drives to Florida and back. And I feel so lucky that he also got to spend a few weeks in our new house. In fact, he adjusted more easily than Zoe or Chloe to the newest environment. Here he is in the new house.

This photo was taken just a few days before he died. He was as beautiful then as he was all his life.

After he was diagnosed, he tolerated being given meds every morning without ever growling or hissing. In fact, other than the time he hissed at Chloe and Zoe, I had never heard him growl or hiss at all. He continued to act like he always had until just a week or so ago. But when he stopped eating and no longer could jump up on the bed by himself, I knew his time had come. It was both a hard decision and an easy one. Easy to know we were doing the right thing for him, hard to give him up, to say goodbye to our most precious, most gentle, sweetest cat ever.

I miss him so much. I see him out of the corner of my eye when I’m not looking carefully. I reach for him at night, but now Chloe has taken his spot on the bed. Chloe and Zoe will help to fill the hole that Smokey has left in my heart, but there will always be an ache, something missing from our home and from our lives.

Rest in peace, my sweet boy.

At a Crossroads: The Future of My Blog

I am at a crossroads.

I have been thinking a lot about the future of my blog lately because I am feeling a bit blocked, a bit overwhelmed. Some of my sense of being blocked comes from the fact that too much of what I have been researching recently is overwhelmingly sad. So many of the families I am now focused on were killed in the Holocaust. Each time I need to search Yad Vashem to find out what happened to some cousin, it takes something out of me. Even though these are all very distant relatives, each name is real. I feel compelled to tell their stories, but it does have a real impact on me.

Yet how dare I complain, given what so many of them experienced? I know how important it is to tell these stories and to remember what happened and to honor all of them and their lives. But it is truly wearing me down.

For almost nine years, writing this blog has been a true labor of love for me, and it’s given me the opportunity to do numerous things I love to do: research, writing, connecting with friends and family members, and connecting with fellow family historians and genealogy bloggers. I still love the research, and I still love the writing. I still love connecting with others who are interested in what I write.

But for the first time since I started blogging in 2013, I am having a hard time finishing the posts I’ve already researched and written—that is, doing the technical work where I add all the footnotes and images before hitting publish. It is very time-consuming and frankly boring.

Also, I have noticed a substantial drop in the number of people blogging about genealogy. People who used to post frequently and regularly have either stopped posting completely or are posting very infrequently. The community of genealogy bloggers has become smaller and smaller, and that is a loss for me. I enjoy reading about the work of others almost as much as I enjoy having them read about mine. And if others have lost interest in their own research, it makes sense that they will have less interest in my research also.

But I am not going away or stopping. I started the Blumenfeld branch of my tree back in August 2021, starting with my 4th great uncle Moses Blumenfeld, brother of my three-times great-grandmother Breine Blumenfeld Katzenstein. Breine had five siblings, so there are four more to do after Moses. And Moses had three children, and I am only on his second child, Isaak. And Isaak had ten children, and I am only up to Isaak’s son Moses IIB, the fourth of those ten.

So there is still so, so much to do on the Blumenfeld family. I will complete the Blumenfeld family story no matter how long it takes. I’ve made some wonderful connections recently, and I want to share those on the blog. That’s the most rewarding part of this whole endeavor.

But to help me balance all that is going on and give me a break from the constant pace of preparing posts, I’ve decided to cut back to posting about once a week instead of twice a week.

What about you, fellow bloggers? Are you feeling some burn out? How do you stay motivated?

The Boston Marathon 2022

As a mother, I have been blessed with many days that have brought me immeasurable joy and pride—the days my daughters were born, their first words, their first steps, their first days of school. Watching them perform on stage in theatrical and musical performances. Bat mitzvahs, graduations, a wedding, and the births of my grandchildren. Those are the big events. Then there are so many smaller events that have filled my heart with so much love and joy—when they’ve done something kind to a friend or family member, when they’ve made someone smile, when they’ve made me laugh until tears roll down my face. Being their mother has been a constant source of joy and pride.

Yes, there were and still are moments that I get exasperated with them. There were times I’ve lost my temper or said something too harsh. Times I was in too much of a rush or under too much stress to be as patient or attentive as I should have been. And there were times they also didn’t behave as I might have wanted them to. But overall being a mother has brought me the greatest challenges and the greatest rewards of my life.

Yesterday was one of those days of immeasurable joy and pride just as last October 11 had been when Maddy ran the Boston Marathon for the first time. Yesterday she did it again. Of course, I am proud of her determination and her hard work and her accomplishment of running 26.2 miles on one of the hardest marathon courses in the world. But it is more than that. So much more than that.

Maddy works at the Lenox Hotel in Boston, a beautiful old hotel with so much style and class that it puts any other hotel to shame. And it happens to be located just a block away from the Marathon finish line. It is the perfect place to watch the thousands of runners as they finally reach their goal after hours of running. You are a witness to all their excitement, exhaustion, and elation as they see that finish line in front of them. And so, of course, we stayed at the hotel to watch and to witness Maddy’s completion of the marathon for the second time.

From the moment we entered the hotel on Sunday night, we were treated like VIPs. Everyone told us how proud they were of Maddy, how excited they were, and how much they loved her. From the top management of the hotel to the woman who came to clean our room, we heard over and over again how kind she was, how special she was. What more could a parent ask for?

And then we waited and watched as the participants passed the Lenox. First, the amazing grit and determination of the wheelchair and hand-cycle participants, then the awe-inspiring runners who were pushing a loved one in a wheelchair through the racecourse, then the elite runners arriving in just over two hours, and then wave after wave of runners from all over the world of all ages.

The fourth wave were the runners who ran for charity, not based on a qualifying time, and in my mind, they are the most important of all. They are not doing it solely for the athletic challenge, but to make life better for others at the same time.

Maddy was in that fourth wave. In the three times she has raised money in order to run in the Marathon (the first time cancelled because of COVID), she has raised close to $50,000 from friends and family for the Boston Medical Center, a non-profit 514-bed academic hospital in Boston; its mission statement states that the hospital is “driven by a commitment to care for all people, regardless of their ability to pay, providing not only traditional medical care, but also programs and services that wrap around that care to enhance overall health.” Maddy’s ability to raise that kind of money for the hospital is a testament to how many people care about her and support her efforts.

As we waited for Maddy to approach the finish line, we tracked her on the Boston Athletic Association app. She was running with her friend Mo, and they stopped to send us a selfie they took as they passed the halfway mark at 13.1 miles—their big smiles glowing with pride and happiness. Maddy’s oldest and dearest friend Anna traveled from western Massachusetts with her family to stand along the race route to cheer Maddy on and give her a hug. Our cousins in Newton waited along Heartbreak Hill to cheer her on as well.

Anna and Maddy

And then we saw on the app that Maddy was crossing Mass Avenue and then turning onto Hereford Street and finally on to Boylston Street, just a few blocks away from where we were standing. We noticed that Mo was now trailing her just a bit and later learned that Mo had graciously told Maddy to run ahead—perhaps to get all her glory alone as she passed us, arms high, smile beaming, with her co-workers and friends and her parents yelling and screaming her name as she ran by and then crossed the finish line.

We then waited for her to return to the hotel, her home away from home, the place where so many who love her were waiting to cheer her accomplishment. As she walked in, the DJ played “Eye of the Tiger,” and the crowd cheered and applauded and then allowed us, her parents, to give her the first hugs.

And then, as she was being hugged and greeted by others, she noticed that the 95-year-old owner of the hotel was also in the lobby, sitting in a wheelchair, waiting to see her. Maddy went over and gave him a hug and spoke to him, and my heart almost exploded with pride and emotion.

So yes, yesterday was one of those days you dream of as a mother when you are raising a young child and hoping that they will grow up to be hard-working and determined and kind and generous. That they will be filled with joy and self-confidence. And most importantly, that they will be loved and loving.

I am so blessed that both of my daughters have fulfilled those dreams for me in so many ways. Rebecca, through her work fighting against gun violence and as a loving and devoted mother, wife, daughter, sister, and friend, has also given me many days of intense joy and pride. And yesterday was only one of the many days when Maddy has brought tears to my eyes with her kindness and love and joyfulness and her determination to do her best at whatever she does.

But yesterday—well, yesterday was one of those truly special days that I will always cherish.

1950 Census Day!

I was going to post more about the Blumenfelds today, but I am too distracted and excited because the 1950 US census has been released, and I just want to dive right in and start looking for all my family and friends who were born before 1950. I’ve already found my mother and maternal grandparents and my husband’s parents and brother, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

My grandparents and my 19 year old mother on the 1950 US census

So I’ll be happily buried in the search page which you can find here. Even if you aren’t a family history/genealogy geek like I am, I bet you will be interested in finding all those pre-1950 people you know.

Florence Goldschlager Cohen: A Life Filled with Love

Thank you to everyone who commented or emailed or texted me to express their condolences regarding the loss of my mother. I am deeply grateful to you all for your support during this difficult time. I hope to be back to regular blogging soon.

I wanted to share a little more about my mother’s life. She was born on October 15, 1930, in Brooklyn, New York. She was the third child of my maternal grandparents, Isadore Goldschlager and Gussie Brotman, whose stories were told in my family history novel, Pacific Street. My mother Florence was twelve years younger than her brother Maurice and thirteen years younger than her sister Elaine and so was very much the baby in the family. Her family lived in a small four unit building in the East Flatbush section of Brooklyn at 1010 Rutland Road. My grandfather was a milkman whose route was overnight and whose earnings were limited, although my mother said she never felt poor. There was always good food on the table and a roof over their heads.

Goldschlagers 1931

My mother loved growing up in Brooklyn. Her best friend Beatty lived in the building, and as I wrote about here,  I was able to reconnect my mother and Beatty about six years ago after they’d been out of touch for seventy years.

My mother was a good student although being left-handed back then meant that the teachers tried to force her to write with her right hand. But she was too left-dominant for that. She was a voracious reader from a young age and visited the local library in Brooklyn often to borrow books.

Florence and Elaine Goldschlager

When she was eleven, her parents decided to move to a new apartment complex in the Bronx called Parkchester where my aunt had moved after she got married. My mother was devastated to leave behind her friends especially Beatty and her beloved dog Sparky.

Beatty and my mother c. 1940

But she adjusted to life in the Bronx and made new friends and graduated from high school in 1948.

Florence Goldschlager 1948

Two years later she met my father at a Jewish singles camp, as I described here. They were married in 1951 in New York and had a long and happy marriage until my father died in 2019.

Florence and John Cohen 1951

My mother was a stay-at-home mom until 1965 when she decided to get a job as a teacher’s aide in the local elementary school. Because she proved to be so skilled as a teacher, she soon moved up to be a resource room teacher working with children with different learning styles and challenges. She was a devoted, well-respected, and beloved educator for many years, and even after she retired from full-time teaching, she continued to tutor children for most of the rest of her life.

She had many interests and never stopped loving books as well as theater, music, travel, knitting, cooking, gardening, Cape Cod, and especially animals. She was absolutely crazy about dogs and cats, and our home was always filled with both. She had a wonderful sense of humor and incredible taste in clothes, decor, food, and art.

But perhaps the most important thing I can say about my mother is that she was an unbelievably kind, loving, and compassionate woman—especially to her family, but also to her students, her colleagues, her friends, and everyone who ever had the good fortune of spending any time with her. I know I will keep her close to my heart for the rest of my life.

You can learn more about my mother and her life in her obituary found here.

Ny mother and me, c. 1954

My Mother

To my readers.

I will be taking some time off from blogging. My mother died on Friday, February 11, 2022, and I need to take care of myself and my family. I will likely post something soon about my mother, but for now I leave you with a few photos of my beautiful, wonderful, beloved mother. I already miss her more than I can express.

Thanks for your support.

Amy

Florence Goldschlager 1931

Florence Goldschlager, c. 1944

Florence and John Cohen 1951

 

My mother and me, c. 1954

My parents

 

 

The Homestead Restaurant in Northampton: Another Small World Story

Once again the genealogy gods are playing with my mind and convincing me that I must somehow be related to everyone I know.

This past weekend I was texting my friend Marlene to make plans to get together for dinner. We were going back and forth, trying to find a restaurant that has outdoor seating and that will take a reservation. Then Marlene texted, “I have a cousin who owns a restaurant in Northampton. I’ve never been there though.”

I texted back, “That’s funny. I have a cousin who owns a restaurant in Northampton, but I’ve never been there or met him.” I couldn’t remember his name or the name of his restaurant at that moment, so I went to my Ancestry app, knowing that he was a nephew of my cousin Roger. Roger and his husband David have been tremendously helpful to me in my genealogy research, as readers of my blog know. Roger is my third cousin, once removed, on my Katzenstein-Goldschmidt line. We are both descended from Gerson Katzenstein and Eva Goldschmidt.

After checking my tree and finding the right name and the name of his restaurant, I texted Marlene, “My cousin is Jeremy Werther. He owns the Homestead restaurant.”

Much to my amazement, she responded, “He’s my cousin also!”

It seems Jeremy is Marlene’s second cousin, once removed, on his father’s side, and he is my third cousin, twice removed, on his mother’s side. We were just blown away. I’ve known Marlene and her husband Jim since 1982, and certainly as far as we knew, we had no relatives in common. How could it be that after almost forty years we had just discovered that she was the second cousin of the father of my third cousin, twice removed? We both just had to laugh and marvel at what a small world it is.

And, of course, that sealed the deal—we were going to Jeremy’s restaurant for dinner. We made a reservation at The Homestead, and I prepared various family tree charts to share with Marlene and with Jeremy.

It was a fabulous meal. Everything was so fresh and beautifully prepared and presented. We had two different salads, a roasted carrot dish, a bluefish dish, and two pasta dishes among the four of us. We shared most of the dishes as they are served as small plates to be shared, and it made for a very relaxed and enjoyable meal—each dish better than the last. And the service was stellar—friendly, efficient, and attentive without being intrusive.

Although I forgot to take photos of our meal, Jeremy gave me permission to include a few photos from their Facebook page. This is just a small sample of Jeremy’s artistry.

No photo description available.

But the best part was meeting Jeremy, who seemed amazed by the fact that two of his cousins had shown up at his restaurant without any warning—two women he’d never met before.  He sat with us as we explained all the connections and shared the charts with him.  He was as gracious as one could imagine—all of us sharing in the crazy joy that comes with discovering the magic of family history.

Restaurant —Homestead

My cousin Jeremy, chef and owner of the Homestead

Outside dining at the Homestead

If you live in the Pioneer Valley, or even if you don’t, be sure to visit The Homestead at 7 Strong Avenue in Northampton, Massachusetts. You won’t be disappointed.

 

Rosh Hashanah 5782: Make It A Better Year

I am an eternal optimist. But wow, it’s hard to be an optimist these days. Natural disasters abound, precipitated by and exacerbated by climate change—floods, hurricanes, drought, fires, tornadoes, and historical heat levels never before seen. COVID, which for a brief period of months appeared to be getting under control, continues to spread, hospitals are once again overwhelmed, and people continue to die. People would rather trust conspiracy theorists and take drugs meant for livestock than listen to science and medical experts and take a vaccine that has been proven to be effective.

Human beings continue to be treated as less than human—whether it’s because of their race, their gender, their religion, or their national origin. Immigrants are denied entry, women are denied the right to control their own bodies and treated as breeders, and people of color are abused and killed without any consequences for those who assaulted them. Gun violence hasn’t abated and in some places is worse. Our government is broken because hatred and greed and the lust for power rule instead of reason, kindness, and compromise. Our Supreme Court has become nothing but a rubber stamp for those who would oppress others. Add to all this the personal issues so many are facing, and it’s damn hard to be an optimist.

So how do I greet the new year? How do I wish people a shana tova, a good year, when things look so dire?

In these times it’s important to look backward instead of forward, I think. I find strength in knowing that my ancestors and others faced what must have seemed to them insurmountable obstacles and yet they survived—oppression, concentration camps, awful diseases, poverty, and hunger, things that most of us cannot imagine. They didn’t have our resources, our medical knowledge, our technology, our access to information. But they persevered. Of course, millions died from all those causes, but millions also survived. They went on with their lives—they fell in love, they pursued careers, they had children. They somehow found hope. We must also.

We must dig in deep and find the strength to make the glass at least half full. We must fight against climate change, COVID, evil politicians, and hatred and prejudice. Maybe we need to wallow for a bit and feel the despair. But then we must get back to making this a better world for our descendants so that someday they, too, can look back and be amazed by the resilience of their ancestors.

And so, shana tova. Make it a good year. It’s up to us.

By Gilabrand (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

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I will return to “regular programming” next Friday after the holiday.

July 2021: Scenes of the Outer Cape

I will be taking a break for the first two weeks in August, so I will leave you with some of the highlights of July in Wellfleet. See you soon!

Low tide at Indian Neck Beach:

A hike over Uncle Tim’s Bridge to Cannon Hill

My garden:

My cats:

After the storm:

Long Nook Beach in Truro, the ocean beach we frequented when I was a child:

That’s it for now. See you in August when I will return with stories about a whole new branch of the family tree!

One Thousand Posts

This is the 1000th post I’ve published on this blog. It all started almost eight years ago when my cousin Judy Ruzicka, a Brotman second cousin, suggested that instead of emailing my research discoveries to all the Brotman cousins, I create a blog where people could subscribe and see my research. I had at that time read and followed a few blogs, but had never thought about creating one. Judy did the initial setup on WordPress, and I started to publish. Haltingly at first. Posting one census record or death record and adding a few words.

This was my first post. No commentary or analysis, just an image.

Bessie was Joseph's second wife and mother of five children

Bessie Brod Brotman Moskowitz—the first image I posted back in September 2013

And then it grew. I started realizing that I could tell stories about the relatives I was researching. I could put together narratives, and when I started doing that, I could see where I had holes in my research or where I needed more sources. And suddenly I found that I had more than my Brotman cousins reading along. I had other bloggers reading as well. And I started reading their blogs, and that gave me ideas for my own research and my own writing.

From there I discovered I could share my blog on Facebook and connect with more researchers and learn even more about family history research. The blog became a bigger and bigger part of my life. I at one point was posting three or four times a week and writing posts that were sometimes 3000 words. But I then learned that sometimes too much is too much. People didn’t want to read that much in one day or that often. So I cut my publishing schedule to twice a week and my post lengths to about 1000 words.

Then the best part started to happen. Cousins started to find me through my blog. Someone would Google their grandfather’s name or their great-grandmother’s name and find them mentioned on my blog. They would contact me, and I would learn more about that part of my family—often leading to photographs, letters, documents, and memoirs and memories. The blog itself became a way of advancing my research. Today I have connected with well over 200 living cousins, many because they found my blog.

Joseph Brotman’s headstone, the avatar I use for WordPress and for my blog

So as I post Number 1000, I wanted to stop and recognize and thank all those who have supported this endeavor by reading, commenting, sharing, and finding my blog. From Judy Ruzicka, who started it all, to all the family members, friends, and fellow genealogy and other bloggers who read the blog—whether periodically or regularly—thank you for giving me this platform to share and expand my family history project.

Now—on to post 1001! I will be taking a break to spend some time with my kids, but I’ll be back in a couple of weeks.