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Stavishtshe Story

By Ida Schwarcz

Related to: Stavishche (Town)Stories

The People and the Stories

 

Megillat Esther

Esther Malka Spector was born on Purim in 1890, so she was named for Queen Esther rather than for a female ancestor. She was born in a shtetl in Ukraine called, by Jews, Stavisht, and by Russians, Stavishtshe. The word STAV means lake in Ukrainian and indeed the town is on a river, which widens in a number of places to form lakes and ponds.

In trying to get an impression of my mother’s birthplace, I consulted maps and encyclopaedias. The Hebrew periodical Eshkol had a lengthy article on Ukraine, which included a statistical summary of population figures of many small towns. In 1897, seven years after my mother was born, Stavisht had a population of 4.269 non-Jews and 3,917 Jews. In 1920, a year after she left, a year after the beginning of the pogroms, there were 3,608 non-Jews and only 760 Jews. At present there are perhaps a dozen Jewish families in Stavisht, most of who came from elsewhere.

The only photo of Stavisht I could find appeared in an article in the New York Times in 1994 written by Martha Lear, who had gone to visit her mother’s birthplace. She was told that there were only 99 Jews in Stavisht when the Nazis came in on July 17, 1941, and all 99 had been murdered. I wrote to Ms. Lear, care of the Times and her publisher, but she did not reply.

At Yad Vashem there are a few mentions of the Nazi destruction of the Jews of Stavisht. Since Stavisht had a plentiful supply of running water, there were a number of mills that used waterpower and a brick factory, which used the clay of the riverbanks. The shtetl was surrounded by fertile countryside dotted by small villages mostly populated by Ukrainian peasants. Many Jews were artisans, small shopkeepers, and peddlers.

Esther Malka's family, however, were mainly merchants and religious functionaries.[My father’s father was a mason, that is a ba’al melakha, an artisan, and it was considered a bit of a comedown to marry into such a family, even though he did have yikhus] As a child I had often heard stories of my mother’s brothers and nephews. We kept in touch with her relatives in the Midwest. It was only when I was in my teens that I came to understand that my mother was her mother’s only child, but that she had six half-siblings. My mother’s father, Levi Spector, did not, it seems, have any problems getting women to marry him.

The name Spector has a number of possible meanings. It probably derives from the word Inspector, mashgiah in Hebrew. Thus, the profession it describes may be that of a mashgiah ruhani, a spiritual advisor if you will, in a yeshiva, or a mashgiah in a slaughterhouse. Beider says “teacher’s helper” which I reject, since the word for that is bahelfer or belfer, which is a Jewish family name. According to Dr. Samuel Spector of Yad Vashem, all Spectres of that particular area of Ukraine from which my grandfather came are probably related.

Levi Spector, my grandfather, was a redhead, a hazzan, and also composed some of the melodies he chanted in shul. The red hair and beard and the musicality have come down to some of his descendants. My cousin Freddy Spector, Levi’s great grandson, is a violinist with the Chicago Symphony, and could always be picked out because of his bright red hair.  

Levi Spector was born around 1840, in Sokolifke, not far from Stavisht. His father’s name was Eliezer Menahem [my brother has a grandson named for him] but I do not know his mother’s name. I did not think of asking my mother during her lifetime. Eliezer Menahem’s father’s name was probably Israel. According to my mother, her grandfather was a kabbalist and had written books on kabbalah which were never published.

Levi Spector had also written books and did manage to publish one of them, "Mishpat Hakore", about Hebrew grammar for hazzanim. My brother tracked it down at the Jewish Theological Seminary Library and republished it. I found a copy at the Jewish National University Library on Mount Scopus.

Since my grandfather came from Sokolifke I did some research on the shtetl. There are a number of books about this shtetl and I have read all of them, but have found no mention of my grandfather’s family. Ten years ago my daughter and I attended the Sokolifker reunion in Buffalo, New York, where many immigrants from that shtetl had settled.. We found no relatives. I have a vague memory of my father telling us that Eliezer Menahem Spector had 24 children from three wives but that only three had reached maturity.

The sibling of my grandfather’s that I knew was his sister, Sarah Trachtman. I remember visiting her with my mother and brother at a home for the aged when I was a little girl. My mother was close to Sarah's daughter, Lisa Beaver. the only relative on her father’s side in the New York area. Only recently, through the white pages of the internet, I reconnected with Lisa’s son, Murray Beaver and his sisters, Nohmie Meyers and Shirley Nelson. We met Murray two years ago in New York and visited his sister Shirley in Boynton Beach Florida a year ago. As a side note, Nohmie’s husband Jack Meyers is a first cousin of Tsipora Sharett, Moshe Sharett’s wife.

The shtetl Zhashkov, very near Stavisht, had close ties with Sokolifke. Indeed, the Sokolifker Rebbe, Rabbi Rabinowitz, often spent time in Zhashkov. Levi married his first wife, Freda Sataloff, in Zhashkov and they lived there. Freda bore him two sons, Shlomo Eliyahu and Velvel. Shlomo Eliyahu was married to Eva Gorobtzov and had five sons, four of whom reached maturity. These four sons and their mother eventually immigrated to Chicago after Shlomo’s death. I knew them all.

Velvel lived in Kremenchug. He had only one son that I know of, Yitshak Spector, who also came to Chicago. Yitshak was a very learned man, a maskil. According to my mother he was the secretary of Nahum Sololow, editor of Hatsefirah. I think it more likely that he was the agent for the sale of Hatsefirah in his area. Yitshak attended the University of Chicago and received a Ph.D. for his translation of the Kitsur Shulhan Arukh. He worked as a Hebrew teacher in Chicago and even published a Hebrew journal, which expired after three issues. Then he wended his way westward, probably working as a melamed and hazzan. He settled in Seattle where he changed his first name to Ivar and eventually became a professor of Russian studies and published some books. I have one of them. I wrote to him about 20 years ago and he denied all connection with my family. However, Library of Congress has established Yittshak as Ivar and one look at his picture in his book shows the family resemblance.

After his first wife died Levi remarried (I do not know his wife’s name) They had two children, Bobel and Shimon. I remember seeing a photo of Bobel and her family as a child, but I do not know her married name or where she lived. Shimon Spector lived in Cherkassy and I have a photo of him and his wife and his three children, Shmarye, Dasi, and Gita. All three were engineers in Baku in 1930.

After his second wife died Levi was matched up with my grandmother, Nehama Tetievsky. They were divorced very soon after my mother’s birth because two years later Levi had remarried again, to Sarah, and was the father of a son, Yitshak. Then a daughter, Shifra, was born. Levi and his family moved to Tripolye near Kiev, where he was a hazzan. My mother visited him every year.

The branch of the Spector family with whom I have kept in touch is the group of brothers who settled Chicago and my mother’s youngest half- brother who became a milkman in Milwaukee. There were probably relatives who had settled in the Chicago area before World War One and they were the ones who brought Eliezer Menahem, called Leyzer Mendy (Leo), Avraham(Abe), Mordekhai (Max) and Yisrael Hayim (I.H. or Doc) there. The three oldest had studied pharmacy in Ukraine. They passed their licensing exam and opened drugstores in the Hyde Park Kenwood neighbourhood of Chicago.

In the summer of 1938 my mother, brother, and I took the train to Chicago and stayed with Leo. He had a nice house with a yard where he lived with his three sons, Efrayim (Freddy), Izzy (Yisrael Levi) David and his daughter Alice. Alice was named for Ellis Avenue, where their drugstore was located. For Leo and his wife, Alice and Ellis were pronounced the same. Also living there was his wife Maryam’s mother, Leah, my mother’s first cousin on her mother’s side. A maid came in to help out. I remember watching the maid doing laundry. I was fascinated by the wringer. I stuck my hand in to see how it worked and she stopped the machine before my hand was crushed. I spent much of the three weeks we were there in the basement where there was a collection of boys’ books and I went through all of them. My younger brother David played with his cousin David, about the same age. Abe worked for Leo in the Frolic Drugstore near the Frolic Theatre on Ellis Avenue.

Max had his own drugstore. Of course both stores had soda fountains. I remember one visit to Max where he offered to make us sundaes. My mother said, “ Farvus nisht a Monday?” So Max concocted a super sundae and presented it to my mother, “Tante Esther, nadir a Monday!” The youngest brother, Israel Hayim, was able to go to high school, college, and medical school in Chicago and everyone was very proud of him. He removed some warts from my mother’s face and from my brother’s abdomen. The one time we went down to Lake Michigan that summer, we were not allowed to go into the water because my brother had to keep his abdomen dry. I still remember my resentment—there was nothing wrong with my belly. My mother’s half- brother Itsie came with his wife Brukhe (Bertha, sister of Maryam, Levi’s wife, and thus my second cousin) from Milwaukee to see us. They brought us some toys. Itsie told my mother he would have liked to give her some money but he had just bought a house. This sentence was repeated by my father when we returned home empty handed.

Years later I discovered that the reason for my mother’s trip was to see if her nephews and brother could give us some financial assistance. We were in dire straits in 1938. A few years ago, when I met my cousin Isabelle Soref, daughter of Itsie, for the first time, I learned that the house in Milwaukee had been purchased with every penny her parents could save and they were barely able to support themselves and their three daughters. Max married Sophie from Zhashkov and they had two children, Solomon, my age, and a younger daughter Florence.

About ten years ago Alice, daughter of Leo, decided to have a family reunion in Chicago. There were present descendants of three of Levi Spector’s four wives. There I met the granddaughter of Doc who had been divorced when his only son, Marshall was a baby. (I have never met Marshall.) Levi Spector died of hunger and disease after other pogroms of 1919 as did my other grandfather and my two grandmothers.

I have often wondered why my grandmother Nehama Tetievsky married my grandfather, a much older man, twice widowed, father of four children. My theory is that she was the youngest of seven siblings and by the time she should have been married her parents were dead and no dowry was available. She was the daughter of Yehudit and Hirsh Tetievsky. Hirsh was a successful merchant who went to various fairs, yeridim, to do business. He became friendly with Meir Zinkov of Shpole at a yerid. Since Meir had a son who was a good scholar and Hirsh’s oldest daughter Leah was of marriageable age (15? 16?) they decided to make a shidukh. When Moshe Monis, the bridegroom, and his parents came to Stavisht to see the bride, they noticed that she limped. “ So I’ll give you another 150 rubbles for the dowry,” my great grandfather offered and so they were married.

Leah and Moshe Monis Zinkov had 10 children, six girls and four boys. Moshe Monis was considered a leading member of the Jewish community of Stavisht. When someone would ask my mother about her family she would say, “Ikh bin fin di Moishe Monises” and she was regarded with awe.

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The most famous son of Stavisht was Avraham Hartsfeld. In his biography, written by Shimon Kushnir, translated into English, not too well, there is mention of the Zinkov family. Moshe Manis was known as an able merchant who had a finger in every pie. He owned a textile store at a time when textile dealers were considered part of the aristocracy. Moshe was famous not only for the enormous gifts he made to the synagogue and to various charities but also for his scholarly sons-in-law. Avremele[i.e. Avraham Hartsfeld] frequently visited the Manis [sic! He means Zinkov] home to listen with awe and admiration to the learned Talmudic discussions which the young men would carry on with their friends.”
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One of Leah’s daughters, Rahel, was married to a famous rabbi, Meir Meirson. They lived in Vienna where he was known as the Viener Gaon. One of their children, Sarah, married Dr. Avraham Y. Brawer and they came to Erets Yisrael around 1922. Dr. Brawer was a leading geographer as is his son Dr. Moshe Brawer. Sarah’s daughter Judith, named for my great grandmother, died about 15 years ago. The youngest daughter, Hulda, born 1930, married an Italian Manfredo Liberome. I was at the wedding in Jerusalem. She is a widow now, living in Firenze, Her two children have married into notable Italian Jewish families. Yosef and I are hoping to visit her next spring,.  

The other five Zinkov daughters also married rabbis. Because so many rabbinical families have married among themselves, my mother used to claim a relationship with any rabbi mentioned in her presence. “O, dus is mayner a kuzin.” Of the four sons, I have personal ties to the children of one, Gedalya Aharon. He and his wife and three children emigrated to Uruguay in 1926. I had heard his name mentioned when I was a child and for some reason it stuck in my mind. Shortly after I started working as a librarian at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, I was introduced to a rabbinical student named Alejandro Lilienthal from Montevideo. I said, “My mother had a cousin, Gedalya Aharon Zinkov, in Montevideo.” Alejandro recognized the name and put me in touch with my cousins Misha, Judith, and Szima. Misha was named for his grandfather, Moshe Monis, Judith for our common great grandmother, and Szima for her mother’s father Shimon Kotliar. After the first exchange of letters we corresponded regularly. We met in Israel when Szima and Judith and Misha’s wife Esther came to visit Judith’s son Aron in Jerusalem. I came with my son, daughter-in-law and my (then two) grandchildren. I spoke Yiddish with Szima and Judith; Aron and his wife Ronit spoke Spanish to the older generation and Hebrew to me and my children and the four children played together quite harmoniously.

It was at this meeting that I discovered that the beautiful English letters I had received were written by Misha’s daughter Beatriz Yavitz, a psychologist. Szima and Judith visited me in Cincinnati and I put them in touch with other members of the family. When Beatriz’ son Lanny was an exchange student in Ann Arbor Michigan, I drove up to meet him. His father, Jaime Yavitz, is Director of the National Theatre of Uruguay. A year after our marriage, Yosef and I went to visit his family in Argentina. We took a hydrofoil to Montevideo where we stayed with Szima and Judith and got to meet the whole family except for Misha who had died a few years before.

Last month Yosef and I drove to Jerusalem to Talpiot Mizrah to visit the home of Aron Naor whose son Ilan would be bar mitsva that Shabbat. We met with Judith and Szima who brought us wonderful gifts, copies of photos of Leah and Moshe Monis Zinkov and of Gedalya Aharon and his wife. I have no photos of my grandmother Nehama, so I look at the photo of Leah and imagine that my grandmother looked like her Szima told us that her grandfather, Shimon Kotliar, had been born after his father died, so he was named for his father. As a young boy he had been sent to live with an older brother in Okhrimiva. The Jewish women of Okhrimiva had banded together to keep khappers out of their shtetl. [Khappers were kidnappers who took Jewish boys for the Tsarist army where they served for 25 years. More than half of these boys died before finishing their service] I put this story on the internet and received a letter from someone whose ancestor named Kotliar had lived in Okhrimiva. I passed this letter on to my Zinkov relatives.

I know very little of my grandmother’s other two sisters. I know that her two brothers were innkeepers. Moshe is mentioned in the 1910 Kiev business directory. His son Avraham came to America and married Bessie from Tarascha. Their children were Sam and Sarah. Sarah, who changed her name to Susan, is ten years older than me. She became my big sister. She gave me books and took me to places like the Roxy and Radio City Music Hall. I was her maid of honour when she married Irving Rosenberg. He died when their son Andrew (Avraham for her father ) was an infant and Susan raised him alone. She moved to California some years ago to be near her son and grandchildren. She wanted to visit us last October but Hadassah cancelled the tour for which she had made reservations. Nehama’s other brother Ya’akov married Sima and had a number of children.

Their daughter Leah was married to Ephraim Mazur, the bookkeeper of the local credit union. He was very highly regarded in Stavisht. The Mazur family is mentioned in Yaffa Draznin’s “It began with Zaide Usher” I get a kick out of the fact that through two marriages I am related to Olga Loyev, wife of Sholem Aleichem. Two of Leah’s daughters married into my mother’s paternal family. Brukhe (Bertha) married my mother’s half brother Itszie Spector. Maryam married my mother’s nephew Leo. One daughter, Sonia, married her father’s brother, Ya’akov (Jake) Mazur. He was a violinist and taught his nephew Freddy. One of Jake’s sons Harry, claimed that Kurt Mazur was a relative who had converted to Christianity. Another daughter, Rose, married a man named Bernstein. Their son, David Bernstein, married his first cousin Esther Bernstein.

About ten years ago I was a delegate to a convention of PNAI in Jerusalem. A friend, Ellen Ginsburg, and I were chatting and laughing and a man sitting next to me asked what the joke was. I said, ”We were just reminiscing how we found out that her mother and my mother both came from Stavisht.” “Wait a minute, the man said, “ my mother came from Stavisht!” We did a little genealogy and sure enough, he was David Bernstein, grandson of my mother’s first cousin Leah Tetievsky Mazur. Now David is 20 years older than I am, but he is of my son’s generation! A few years ago Yosef and I attended the wedding of David’s granddaughter here in Israel. [David died November 14, 2001] Leah Mazur’s youngest daughter, Yocheved, (Eva), married Henry Dietz and lived in Princeton West Virginia. I met her only once about thirty years ago. Her daughter Freida is married to Norman Bernstein and lives in Milwaukee. I visited her some years ago and we exchange New Years greetings. Eva’s son, Calvin Diets is a pharmacist in Princeton. We are not in touch.

The Dietz family is mentioned in Abraham Shindeling’s three-volume work on the Jews of West Virginia.   Leah’ s brother Avraham Tetievsky migrated to Buffalo where his four children grew up. Dr. Hyman Tetewsky, who changed the spelling of the family name, is a radiologist and amateur musician. His wife Gloria is a pianist and composer. They have three sons, the oldest of whom, Avram, is a computer engineer and lives in Sharon Massachussetts with his wife Barb and their two children. The other sons, Larry and Sheldon are not married. Hy’s brother Jerry Tetewsky was a concert violinist. The other siblings, Reuven and Anna did not have any children. Leah and Avraham had a sister, Rebecca, who married a man named Auerbach from Zhashkov and had a son, Jack. Auerbach was changed to Haver along the way. Jack passed away a few years ago in Buffalo New York.

Since my mother grew up as the only child of her mother, she called herself a libidige yesoyme, a living orphan. Both parents were alive, but only one was present. Nehama supported them by renting out one room of their two-room house and by giving lessons in Yiddish reading and writing to groups of girls. My mother went to a government school for Jews until she was ten. Then she was apprenticed to a tailor, sewing heavy sheepskin jackets, peltslakh. She worked for six months without pay and then started earning. She worked long hours, six days a week. As a young woman, my mother was quite well dressed because she made her own clothes and was a fine needlewoman. She loved music, had a beautiful voice, and sang as she worked. She also took dancing lessons. She desperately wanted to play a musical instrument and exchanged lessons with a gentile girl. My mother taught her fine sewing and she taught my mother how to play the balalaika. That is why I was forced to take piano lessons when I was a little girl.

The years went by and there was no bridegroom in sight. Many young men had left for America. My mother was pretty, but she had no dowry. When she was past twenty five, very much an old maid by the standards of the time, a relative named Resnick who lived in Lukashifke, decided that she would be a suitable bride for Tsevi Moshe (Hershmoyshe) Kitaigorodsky, who was 23. They were introduced to each other and had three dates, chaperoned by my father’s younger sister Molly. They were engaged and married in 1916. My mother was short, pretty and plump, a fine figure of a woman, with black hair and dark eyes. My father was short and thin, very nearsighted and thus not eligible for the draft. They were married at a time when there were rumblings of revolution. A year later their first child, a boy, was born, and died in the typhus epidemic in the wake of the pogroms. My parents managed to cross the border into Bessarabia then part of Romania with their second son. There was a smallpox epidemic in the refugee camp where they lived and their son died. A little girl, Nehama was born. Life in the refugee camp was very difficult. My father had a reputation for honesty and he was chosen as a representative of the refugees when various commissions came to investigate the conditions in the camps.

At the Diaspora Research Institute I found a photo of a commission headed by Dr. Bernstein-Cohen. At the very end stands M. Kitaigorodsky, representative of the refugees. My father had arranged for his siblings to cross the border and come to the refugee camp by paying an agent to smuggle them out. His two older sisters, who had come to the United States before World War One, sent papers for their three sisters and brother, and my mother’s aunt Sarah Trachtman sent papers for my parents and sister. My father’s siblings preceded him to the United States.

My parents left from the Romanian port Costanza in October 1923 and arrived at Ellis Island on November 1, 1923. It was a harrowing three weeks in steerage and my mother and sister became ill. When they came to Ellis Island they were not allowed to enter the country but were sent to hospital. I have a copy of the manifest, but the page that tells of the disposition of their case is torn, so I do not know when they were allowed to enter. My sister, Nehama, one and a half years old died December 26, 1923 and was buried in Staten Island.   The tragedy of losing her three children affected my mother very deeply. She never spoke of her children in our hearing. When I was a teenager my father showed me a photo of my sister, but warned me not to tell my mother about it. My mother cried day and night until a landsman, Barukh Zeiger (Singer) told her of a mutual friend whose grief had sent her to an asylum. My mother decided to snap out of it. She went to the Yiddish theatre, to concerts whenever she could.

During all this time, from 1924 until 1930 she worked as a finisher in the garment industry and was a member of the ILGWU. She told me of going out on strike in 1926 and being thrown into jail. She and the other women who had been imprisoned raised such a ruckus, singing Russian and Yiddish songs, that the policemen sent them home. When she got home and took the "rat" (a device to add height to a hairdo) out of her pompadour, pebbles fell out of her hair, because the strikers had been stoned. After six years of yearning for a child, going from doctor to doctor and being told that she could not have any more children she became pregnant. She claimed it was Rosh Hashana 5590, when the haftara is of Hannah praying for a child. The time span fits. I was born on the ninth day of Sivan, 5590, June 5, 1930 and my brother was born September 4, 1932.  

My mother lived to see her grandchildren, my son Barnea Levi, and my daughter, Nehama Batya, as well as my brother’s five children, Eliyahu, Amram Levi, Aharon, Nehama Yuta, and Goldie. My mother died in September 1981 and after my father died in 1984, they were both buried in Erets Hahayim, a cemetery near Bet Shemesh in Israel.

  • Last Modified: 06-08-2012
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