Leah Strolowitz Adler: An American Immigrant Success Story

As I have written before, one of the fascinating aspects of doing this research is what I’ve learned about the experience of Jewish immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  It is remarkable to me how children who arrived without speaking English and living in poverty were able to assimilate successfully into American society and make a good life for themselves and their children in this country.

Leah Strolowitz Adler is a good example of this remarkable transformation from a poor Romanian immigrant to an American success story.  Thanks to her granddaughter Jean, I’ve been able to learn a fair amount about Leah and to obtain several pictures of her.  Leah was born on May 25, 1900, in Iasi, Romania, the seventh and youngest child of Jankel Srulovici and Tillie Rosenzweig.  She was only seven years old when she immigrated with her parents and siblings to New York City, where soon afterwards her father either died or disappeared.  She lived with her mother and siblings and her two cousins, Isadore and Betty Goldschlager, in a tenement in East Harlem.  While her older siblings went to work in sweatshops to support the family, Leah went to Public School 101 in Harlem on 109th Street, where she completed eighth grade in 1915.  Jean recalled that Leah told her that although she was happy to leave Romania, she found the transition to America difficult.  Leah remembered standing on line at the public school in NYC and being teased for speaking Yiddish.  Obviously, however, Leah soon learned English and even went on to Julia Richmond High School.

After she finished school,  Leah lived with her mother and sisters, working in a millinery shop, until she married Ben Schwartz on June 26, 1921.  Jean shared with me the story of how Leah met Ben.  Leah had been friendly with or briefly dated Ben’s brother Emmanuel. While Emmanuel was overseas during World War I, Leah dropped by his optometry office for an eye exam and met Ben. Ben asked Leah out for a cup of coffee.   The family story is that when Leah finished her piece of cake, Ben offered to buy her a second piece, and she knew right then that “he was a keeper.” Ben was American born and also an optometrist, according to his draft registration and various census reports.

Here are some photos of Leah, taken by Ben, during their courtship around 1920. She looks like a genuine American woman of the 1920s.  She certainly seems to have left her poor immigrant beginnings behind her.

Leah c. 1920

Leah c. 1920

leah

leah

This is Leah and Ben around 1920:

1920 Leah with Ben Schwartz

1920 Leah with Ben Schwartz

Here is a photograph of Leah around 1921, reading a Yiddish newspaper, the Jewish Morning Journal.

Leah c. 1921

Leah c. 1921

Leah and Ben moved to the Bronx and had a son Ira (named for Isidor, Leah’s oldest brother), born in 1923, and a daughter Theodora (“Teddy”)(named for Tillie, Leah’s mother) born in 1927.  Here is a photograph of Leah, wearing a fur coat and holding Teddy in February, 1929, when Teddy was two years old.  Notice the price of the baby clothes in the window of the shop behind them:  79 cents.

Leah and Teddy February 1929

Leah and Teddy February 1929

Sometime in the 1930s, Leah’s divorced sister Bertha came to live with the Schwartz family for a number of years (at least until 1940, according to the US census of that year).  Teddy still remembers her mother Leah commenting that it was a good thing that her father Jankel could not see them all working on Shabbos, suggesting that Jankel must have been an observant Jew.

According to Jean, Bertha taught Teddy to sew, but Leah was upset because she wanted her daughter to do more with her life than the sewing work that Leah and her sisters had done.  I found this remarkable, given that women had so few choices back in the 1930s, but Leah clearly had a progressive vision and did not want her daughter to limit herself in anyway.

Teddy and Leah and Ben 1944 after her high school graduation

Teddy and Leah and Ben
1944 after her high school graduation

Teddy did grow up to be independent. After graduating from Taft high school in 1944, she attended NYU and became an occupational therapist, a professional woman long before that was common.  Because she hated the cold, she moved by herself to Atlanta, Georgia, after seeing an advertisement for a job there.  She soon met the man who would become her husband, Abner Cohen, whose family had deep roots in Atlanta. Teddy and Abner stayed in Atlanta where they raised their three children.

Jean recalled that Leah was scared to death to fly and so she and Ben would take the seventeen hour trip by train from NYC to Atlanta once or twice a year. Jean remembered, “At the station, while we waited for the train to arrive, we placed copper pennies on the track and after she disembarked and her train left, we would collect the flattened Abe. Grandma baked wonderful rugelach and some round brown sugar cookies. We made such a to do about her cookies that she would arrive toting the dough already mixed and  formed ready to bake.”

Leah and Ben

Leah and Ben

Leah in 1968 with a cousin Margie

Leah in 1968 with a cousin Margie

Leah and Ben's 50th anniversary 1971Leah and Ben’s 50th anniversary 1971

Eventually Teddy’s parents Leah and Ben moved to Atlanta, where they lived the rest of their lives.

So Leah Strolowitz Adler, who was born in Iasi and moved to America at age 7, not speaking English and living in a Harlem tenement, grew up and lived a comfortable life in New York, raised a daughter who became a health care professional, and retired with Ben to Atlanta, where she was able to get to know her grandchildren, including Jean, my fellow family historian.  To me, it is a remarkable story, another example of the amazing resilience and persistence of the immigrant generation who made life possible for all of us today.

 

Enhanced by Zemanta

Brotmans, Resslers, Rosenzweigs, and Goldschlagers: All Roads Meet on Pacific Street in Brooklyn

Gussie and Isadore

Gussie and Isadore

This is probably the most moving discovery yet for me personally.  I am so excited that I don’t know where to start.  This story involves the Brotman family and the Ressler family AND the Rosenzweig family and the Goldschlager family.  It’s the final piece of the puzzle about how my grandparents met.  It came as a posthumous gift from my much beloved Aunt Elaine, who truly was not only our family matriarch, but also our family historian.  Aunt Elaine, you always wanted to tell me these stories, and I was too young and dumb to care.  I know you would be so happy that I am finally interested and recording them for all time.

Fortunately, someone was interested in her stories back then.  It seems that not only did my brother listen to my aunt, so did my cousin Jody’s husband Joel, my aunt’s son-in-law.  He interviewed her about the family and took careful notes.  Jody and Joel just found his notes while going through some boxes in their house, and Jody emailed them to me.  There is so much information in there that it will take me a while to digest it all and write it up for the blog.  Joel’s notes cover stories and anecdotes about the family and reveal some new things as well as things we now know but that I did not know a year ago.  But here’s the story that made me say out loud, “Oh, my God!”  And then to stop and sit in amazement.

You may recall that a while back I wrote a post about how various members of my family met their spouses, including my grandmother and grandfather.  I wrote:  “My grandfather Isadore supposedly saw my grandmother sitting in the window of her sister Tillie’s grocery store in Brooklyn and was taken by her beauty.”  That was the family story passed down the generations.

When I wrote about this story recently, what I couldn’t figure out was what my grandfather was doing in Brooklyn.  He had always lived in East Harlem since arriving in New York and did not live or work in Brooklyn in 1915. So what would have brought him to Brooklyn from East Harlem when he first saw my grandmother?

The answer is revealed in the notes Jody and Joel just sent me.  The story begins with my aunt telling Joel that my grandmother Gussie Brotman used to go to her sister Tillie’s grocery store after school.Gussie at Tillie's storeIn case you cannot read that, it says, “After school on Friday Gussie would go to Tillie’s house in Brooklyn at her grocery store.”

In 1915 Tillie and Aaron were living at 1997 Pacific Street in Brooklyn.    As Joel’s notes continue:

Isadore sees Gussie

“Isidore Goldschlager visiting a cousin who lived down the street from the grocery store. As he got off the trolley he saw Gussie on milk box and said to his cousin there is a very beautiful girl.  Isadore said he wants to meet her.” (emphasis added)

 In  1915, the Rosenzweigs were living at 1914 Pacific Street, right down the block from 1997 Pacific Street where Tillie and Aaron Ressler lived. When I wrote that post back on February 5, I did not yet know about Gustave Rosenzweig and his family.  I had no idea that my grandfather had cousins living in Brooklyn on the same street where my grandmother was living.

Rosenzweigs 1915

Rosenzweigs 1915

Gussie living with TIllie 1915

Gussie living with TIllie 1915

So the cousin that my grandfather was visiting was one of the sons of Gustave Rosenzweig.  In 1915, Abraham was 26, Jacob  was 21, and Joseph was 17.  Abraham and Jacob were in the Navy, and Joseph was working as a driver’s helper.  My grandfather was 27 in 1915, so my guess is that he was hanging out with Abraham, who was closest to him in age.

Isadore age 27

Isadore age 27

I have wondered whether my grandfather ever saw these cousins once they all got to NYC, whether he knew them well.  Well, obviously he did.  If he had not been close to them, he would never have come to Brooklyn.  He would never have seen that beautiful red haired woman sitting on the milk box.  And this would never have happened:

Isadore Goldschlager and Bessie Brotman  marriage certificate

Isadore Goldschlager and Gussie Brotman
marriage certificate

Isadore and Gussie marriage cert 2And if that hadn’t happened, then my Aunt Elaine and my Uncle Maurice and my mother would never have been born, and then all my first cousins and my siblings and I would never have been born.

That little stroll down Pacific Street brought the Rosenzweig/Goldschlager family together with the Brotman family and thus created my family.  How could this not be my favorite story ever?

This is another one of those moments when all the time spent studying census reports pays off.  If I had not found the 1915 census reports for the Resslers and the Rosenzweigs, I would never have known they lived down the street from each other.  If I hadn’t looked at all those other documents, I would never have learned about my grandfather’s cousins and his uncle Gustave.  If I hadn’t started this blog, Jody and Joel might never have found these notes in their boxes of papers and provided the last piece of the puzzle. If Joel hadn’t listened to his mother-in-law, we wouldn’t have her memories and stories to tie it all together.  It should remind us all to ask questions and take notes and listen to our parents, our aunts and uncles, and our grandparents  so that we can learn everything we can while we can.

Thank you, Jody and Joel.  Thank you, Aunt Elaine.  Thank you, Uncle Gustave, for moving to Brooklyn.  Thank you, Aunt Tillie, for taking my grandmother to Brooklyn. And thank you, Abraham Rosenzweig, for taking my grandfather for that walk down Pacific Street so that he could meet and marry my grandmother.

Enhanced by Zemanta

It Takes A Village: Mystery Solved!

Immigrant children, Ellis Island, New York.

Immigrant children, Ellis Island, New York. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I received a lot of exciting documents today, but I cannot write about them all at once.  I want to write first about the one that resolved a longstanding mystery I had almost despaired of ever solving.

Just to refresh your recollection (or to tell you the story for the first time), my great-great aunt Tillie Strulowitz arrived at Ellis Island with her husband Jankel and three of her seven children, the older four having already emigrated.  They were detained at Ellis Island because of questions about Jankel’s health, and I was able to obtain, with the help of the generous people at JewishGen, the file for the immigration hearing. From that I knew that he had been admitted to the United States and had not been deported or died before arriving in the US, as some of his descendants believed.

But I still could find no evidence of what happened to him after January, 1908, when he was admitted.  He was not on the 1910 census with Tillie and the children. Tillie was listed as a widow, but I could not find a death certificate or a cemetery burial that proved he had died. I began to wonder whether Jankel had abandoned them or been institutionalized or returned to Romania.

I wrote to the JewishGen discussion group for a second time to ask for help, and I received many very helpful and creative suggestions.  I pursued each one of them, but with no success.  The only one that I had still not been able to put closure on was a suggestion from a man named Barry Chernick who had found a death recorded for a Jankof Israelwitch in April 1908.  Barry hypothesized that this might be Jankel because Israelwitch could be an Americanization of Strulowitz or Srulovici.  Since Srul is Yiddish for Israel, perhaps the family had switched their name after leaving Ellis Island.  It seemed like a long shot, but I figured it was worth a try and wrote away for the death certificate.

Well, today I received the death certificate for Jankof Israelwitch, and I am certain that it is the death certificate for Jankel Srulovici.  My conclusion is based on the following clues: his birth place (Romania), length of time in the US (4 months—he died in April 1908 and arrived in the US at the very end of December 1907), his father’s name (Israel—Jankel’s first born son was named Israel or Srul in Romania), his residence (East Harlem, where his family was living from 1910 and afterwards), and his age (57).

Jankel Srulovici death certificate

Jankel Srulovici death certificate

The death certificate also revealed on the reverse side that he was buried at Mt Zion cemetery, so I went to their website and searched for Jankof Israelwitch, and there I was now able to find that he is in fact buried there under that name.  The fact that Tillie and Isidor and Pincus are also buried at Mt Zion (though not in the same sections) is further corroboration that this is the right person.

reverse side

reverse side

And so now, thanks to the assistance of so many people at JewishGen and especially Renee and Barry, I can put closure on the life of Jankel Srulovici.  He did not abandon his family, he was not deported, he was not institutionalized, he did not divorce Tillie.  No, he died what must have been a painful death from a metastatic growth in his ribs.

Like my great-grandfather Moritz, Jankel’s brother-in-law, Jankel died soon after arriving in America.  How awful it must have been for the two sisters, Tillie and Ghitla, to lose their husbands after making the brave and difficult decision to leave home and start anew in this country.  Yet somehow they both continued on, they raised their children, and they made a life for themselves as widows in the United States.  I continue to be amazed by the resilience of the immigrant generation.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Where they lived: East Harlem in the Early 20th Century

One of things that puzzled me when I started looking at the census reports for the Goldschlagers between 1905

English: Looking from 96th Street in the south...

English: Looking from 96th Street in the south, northward along Second Avenue towards Spanish Harlem. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

and 1915 was where they were living.  I had always assumed that my grandfather, like my Brotman ancestors, had settled in the Lower East Side when he arrived in New York.  I thought that was where all poor Jewish immigrants had settled in the late 19th and early 20th century.  Yet at the time of the 1905 census, my grandfather was living at 2213 Second Avenue, near the intersection with 115th Street, in the neighborhood we know as East Harlem or Spanish Harlem.  He was living by himself (at age 17) in a building with some families with Jewish names but mostly families with Italian names.  What was he doing there? Why was he living up there and not on the Lower East Side?

When Moritz arrived, they remained in East Harlem on 109th Street, and after Moritz died, Betty and Isadore moved in with Tillie on 109th Street.  In 1915, all of the surviving Goldschlagers were still living on 109th Street.  Eventually, Isadore moved to Brooklyn, and David, Betty and their mother moved to the Bronx, until Betty and Gisella moved to Bayshore, Long Island in the 1930s.  But why had they started and stayed in East Harlem?

330 East 109th Street today

Some quick research revealed that East Harlem was a huge Jewish community in the early years of the 20th century, but that that community had disappeared and was for the most part forgotten.  As David W. Dunlap wrote in The New York Times in 2002, “On the map of the Jewish diaspora, Harlem is Atlantis. That it was once the third largest Jewish settlement in the world after the Lower East Side and Warsaw — a vibrant hub of industry, artistry and wealth — is all but forgotten. It is as if Jewish Harlem sank 70 years ago beneath the waves of memory, beyond recall.”  Dunlap then described the many signs that Jews once lived in East Harlem in the churches that were once synagogues.

Former Temple Israel Jewish synagogue, now Mt. Olivet Baptist Church. Detail: Star of David.

Mount Olivet Baptist Church in East Harlem, originally Temple Israel

The neighborhood had been rural until the subway and elevated trains arrived around 1880.  Soon after tenement buildings were constructed, and immigrants moved in, first German and Irish immigrants, then Jewish and Italian immigrants.  According to Wikipedia, there were 90,000 Jews living in East Harlem in 1917; however, the neighborhood was predominantly Italian and came to be known as Italian Harlem or Little Italy.  That is consistent with my study of the names in the 1905 census.

Photograph shows 105th Street between Madison and Park avenues in 1929, with traces of Jewish Harlem, including the Hebrew Home for the Aged in Harlem <i>(left)</i> and the synagogue called Beth Hamridash Hagadol of Harlem.

My mother remembers that her father spoke several languages and was quite fluent in Italian.  He must have learned Italian living in East Harlem in his first ten years in New York.   He was not a religious person and had left Romania at least in part to escape the anti-Semitism there.  Perhaps living in a mixed neighborhood made him feel more American, although obviously there was a well-established Jewish community there as well with many synagogues and other institutions.   Maybe it was cheaper than the Lower East Side, maybe the Lower East Side was already filled beyond overcrowding, or maybe East Harlem was a better neighborhood, not a cheaper neighborhood.  I don’t know what drew my grandfather there or why he stayed.

It’s always good to learn something new.  Now I know not only something new about my family, but also something new about the history of New York City and the Jewish immigrants who settled there.

2287 1st Avenue, East Harlem, New York.

2287 1st Avenue, East Harlem, New York. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Enhanced by Zemanta

The Goldschlagers

Having reached (for now) a dead end on my research of the Brotman family, I have decided to turn to, or rather return to, my research of my grandfather’s family, my Goldschlager relatives.  I had previously done a fair amount of research on the Goldschlager line, but had put it aside when I found my Brotman cousins. For some of you, the Goldschlager story will be perhaps of less interest, although it is itself a wonderful story of American Jewish immigration.  For others, in particular my first cousins and siblings and my mother, the Goldschlager story will be of great interest.  And for those who are interested in genealogy generally and/or the history of Jews in Europe and America, this story should also be a great interest.

So although this blog is called the Brotmanblog (and will continue to be so titled), I have created a new page for my Goldschlager ancestors and relatives.  If you are interested, please check it out.  I also will be writing some posts to describe the research I’ve done to uncover the story of my grandfather, his siblings and his parents and grandparents.

In this first Goldschlager post, I want to tell the story of my grandfather Isadore.  Isadore was born in Iasi (or Jassy), Romania.  He was the oldest child of Moritz (Moses, Moshe, or Morris)and Gitla (Gittel or Gussie) Goldschlager.  He was born in August, 1888; his younger brother David was born the following year, and their younger sister Betty was born in 1896.  Isadore was named for his grandfather, Ira Goldschlager.  I was very fortunate to find a researcher in Iasi who located and translated several documents relating to these relatives, including birth records and marriage records for Moritz and Gitla, my great-grandparents.

Moritz and Gittel's marriage certificate

Moritz and Gittel’s marriage certificate

He even took a photograph of the house were my grandfather and his parents and siblings lived in Iasi.

The Goldschlager House in Iasi

The Goldschlager House in Iasi

When my grandfather was 16 years old, he left Iasi and walked through Romania to escape the tzar’s army and persecution.  Romania was one of the most anti-Semitic and oppressive countries in Europe at the time, and many Jewish residents decided to escape in the early years of the 20th century. In a subsequent post, I will write more about the conditions in Romania and the history of the Fusgeyers—the “foot goers” who left Romania on foot.  My mother said that she does not remember her father talking about Romania very much, except to talk about the horses and the music, two things that he loved very much.

My teenaged grandfather arrived in New York City in 1904 without any relatives and under his brother’s name.  In 1905 he had a job as a storekeeper in a grocery store and lived in what is now East Harlem at 113th Street, apparently alone or perhaps in a boarding house.  His father Moritz arrived in 1909, and his mother Gittel, brother David, and sister Betty in 1910.  Sadly, it appears that Gittel, David and Betty arrived shortly after Moritz had died.

By 1915, Isadore and his mother and siblings were living together in East Harlem.  David was working at a hat maker, Betty as a dressmaker.  Isadore’s occupation unfortunately is not legible on the 1915 census form.  Edit:  On closer examination, I believe it says “Driver Milk,” which is consistent with what he was doing for the rest of his working life.

1905 NY census

1905 NY census

1915 NY Census for the Goldschlagers

1915 NY Census for the Goldschlagers

By 1917, when Isadore registered for the draft, he was working as a driver for a dairy company and married to my grandmother Gussie and living in Brooklyn.

Isadore's World War I draft registration

Isadore’s World War I draft registration

He continued working for dairy companies and eventually became a foreman.  He and my grandmother had three children. As a milkman, my grandfather worked at night to deliver the milk by morning.  When he delivered milk to people in the poor communities, they all loved him so much that they would bring him food.

My grandparents moved to Parkchester in the 1940s with my mother, who was only twelve at the time.  When I was born ten years later, my parents also lived in Parkchester, just a few buildings away from my grandparents, so I spent my first four and half years living right near my grandparents.

My grandparents and me 1956

My grandparents and me 1956

Although my grandfather died before I was five years old and thus my memories of him are vague, I do have a memory of him as a loving grandfather.  Perhaps it is the stories I’ve heard all my life about him rather than my own memories—it’s hard to know.  I know that my mother and her siblings loved him a great deal, that he was a big tease with a great sense of humor, and that although he left Romania at fifteen and never received a high school education, he spoke several languages and was a very smart and witty man.  He must have been an incredibly strong person to have left his family at such a young age; most likely he helped the rest of his family come to the United States once he got here.

I wish I had known him longer, and I wish I knew more about his life both in Romania and in New York.  Perhaps as I pursue this line of research I will learn more.  I have just located one of David’s grandsons, Richard, and David’s son Murray is 92 and living in Arizona.  I am hoping that Murray may know more about David’s life in Romania and the relationship between the two brothers, David and Isadore.

Enhanced by Zemanta