the Origins of
the Naars of New Jersey:
By Devin Naar
the following article Devin Naar takes you through the numerous
steps needed to trace his family tree.You can use these steps as an
example of how one would go about tracing their own. Devin Naar would
love to hear from you. If you have questions or comments regarding this
article, please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
January,2002, my father, Harry I. Naar, received a letter from Mr.
Andrew J. Jones, a resident of a town just minutes from our home in
Lawrenceville. In his letter, Jones said that he is the great-great
grandson of Judge David Naar (1800-1880), a prominent political figure
in New Jersey during the Civil War era, and in fact, the first Jewish
mayor of an American town –Elizabeth, NJ. Jones asked if my
I, sharing Judge Naar's surname, were related to him. At that point, I
could not answer the question. Of my family's history, I only knew that
my great-grandfather, Benjamin H. Naar (1880-1954), was the first
ordained Rabbi of Congregation Etz Ahaim, a Sephardic synagogue in
Highland Park, NJ, having come over through Ellis Island in 1924 from
Salonica (Thessaloniki), Greece, where he also had served as a rabbi.
Jones thus sparked an exploration of my roots in an attempt not only to
connect my family with that of Judge David Naar and Andrew Jones, but
also to reinvigorate an appreciation of my Sephardic heritage. Through
this project, I have discovered much about the Naar family history. In
this article, I will summarize my discoveries, explain how I arrived at
them, propose hypotheses about the relationship between the Andrew
Jones/Judge David Naar branch of the Naar family and mine, and share
what I hope to discover in the future.
First, I will present what I theorize
to be the relationship between
the Andrew Jones/Judge David Naar branch and the Salonica branch of the
Naar family, and explain the history of each. It seems likely that both
branches trace back to a single Naar family of pre-Inquisition Spain,
living in the town of Granada, in the province of Castille. Upon the
Inquisition of 1492, the Naars fled to Tomar, Portugal. When the
Inquisition came to Portugal in 1496, Naars became Marranos, or
crypto-Jews, to avoid persecution. From Portugal, the two distinct
branches of Naars developed: one fled to Salonica, in what was then the
Ottoman Empire, and the second, to Amsterdam in the Netherlands. By
about 1550, the Naars that fled to Salonica had reverted back to the
open practice of Judaism. Naars remained in Salonica well into the 20th
Century, and a few still reside there today. Because of the Great Fire
of 1917 that burned down most of the ancient Jewish quarter, economic
instability, the Holocaust, and/or a combination of other factors,
Naars immigrated from Salonica to the United States, Israel, and Latin
America during the 20th Century. It is from the family members who
immigrated to the United States from Salonica that I am descended.
The other branch of the family
remained in Portugal as Marranos until
the end of the 16th Century. Between the end of the 16th Century and
about 1620, this branch of the Naar family remained for some time
primarily in St. Jean de Luz and Rouen, France, and Antwerp, Belgium.
By about 1620, many members of this branch had settled in Amsterdam.
Here, like the Salonica Naars, this branch reverted back to the open
practice of Judaism. In pursuit of their trade activities, Naars moved
from Amsterdam to Hamburg by about 1630, to Curaçao in the
Netherlands Antilles by about 1660, and to London by about 1830. From
Curaçao, during the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, Naars
locations such as St. Thomas (where Judge David Naar was born),
Venezuela, Colombia, Suriname, Haiti, Jamaica, and the United States.
Naars also came to the United States from London during the early 20th
Century. By the 1920's, three groups of Naars lived on the east coast
of the United States, originating from Salonica (New York/New Jersey),
Curaçao/St. Thomas (New York/New Jersey), and London
My quest to
discover the history of my ancestry that began as a small inquiry among
my immediate and extended family mushroomed into an exploration of
sources at the Mercer County Public Library, the library at Washington
University in St. Louis (where I am a student), various college
libraries across the country (via inter-library loan), archival
materials in New Jersey and in New York, the internet,1
through correspondences via mail, e-mail, telephone, and fax with The
Jewish Community of Thessaloniki, the Hebrew Congregation of St.
Thomas, the American Jewish Archives, faculty members at Washington
University, Dr. Neil Rosenstein, a well-known Jewish genealogist, and
especially Dr. Nathan Reiss of the Jewish Historical Society of Central
Jersey, among others. A lot of my time has been spent guessing: I look
for a source on a relevant topic, check the index, see if the name Naar
appears. Sometimes it does and sometimes it does not. Hours and hours
of internet searches have also consumed time that could (should) have
been devoted to my studies here at school. It has been a tedious task
and often times very frustrating.
I began my search by looking for
information about Judge David Naar
because he was a relatively prominent figure. Sure enough, there is an
entry for Judge Naar in the Encyclopedia Judaica! I then consulted many
sources and annotated bibliographies. Before long, I came upon a
relatively extensive family tree in Malcolm Stern's First American
Jewish Families, 2 which I found at my
library. Although Stern's tree turned out to be far from complete and
even erroneous in some respects, it nonetheless gave me a good start.
Beginning with David Naar's father, Joshua Naar (1769-1834) in
an island off the coast of Venezuela, the tree traces the family up
until about 1950, to locations beyond Curaçao, such as St.
Jamaica, elsewhere in the Caribbean, New Jersey, New York and other
states along the east coast of the United States. Because of Joshua's
origin in Curaçao, I searched for sources on the Jews of
authoritative source that I came upon was The History of the Jews of
the Netherlands Antilles, 3 written by Dr. Isaac
Emmanuel, a Rabbi and historian who wrote many of the sources that I
would subsequently consult, and who I would later discover was a
personal friend of my great-grandfather. Emmanuel's work provided
extensive information on the Naars of Curaçao, and their
Amsterdam back to about 1620.
Shortly after this discovery, I
received a family tree in the mail from
Andrew Jones, which he had received from a Naar in New York. This is
one of as many as four Naar family trees that may exist. It contains a
paragraph in the bottom left-hand corner written in Old Portuguese
briefly describing the Naar family's history: leaving Spain in 1492 to
escape the Inquisition and moving to Tomar, Portugal, twenty three
leagues from the capital at Lisbon, where they became Judeo-Christians,
or Marranos, to escape further persecution in Portugal. The paragraph
then names Isaac Nahar, presumably the individual at the base of the
tree, his son, his grandson, and some great-grandsons. Interestingly, a
second version of the tree also exists and is housed at the American
Jewish Archives (AJA) in Cincinnati. 4 It is
separately-prepared copy since, although it follows the same template,
the handwriting is different and the AJA version contains four fewer
individuals at the top of the tree. Both trees contain about one
hundred individuals beginning at the base with this Isaac Nahar. 5
first tree ends at the top with "Ellen of D'Naar," who most likely is
the same as Eleanor Naar (1832-1833), a daughter of Judge David Naar,
who died in childhood. The AJA tree ends before Ellen, with her older
brother, Joshua (1830-1851), who is recorded on the tree as "Joshua of
D'Naar." Also of note is that in neither copy are all fifteen of David
Naar's children indicated (Joshua was the seventh and Ellen/Eleanor,
the eighth), suggesting that both copies had been completed by 1832 and
not updated thereafter.
In addition, New Jersey historian and
longtime journalist for the
Trenton Times, Harry J. Podmore, records some history of the Naar
family in a series of articles published in The Community Messenger in
the 1920's. Located both at the Trenton Public Library, and in the
Rutgers University Library Archives, as part of a compilation of
newspaper clippings and documents referred to as "The Joseph L. Naar
Papers," 6 Podmore addresses the existence of a
In recounting David Naar's fiftieth wedding anniversary in 1870, he
states that "From the roof of the arch [in the assembly room] hung the
genealogical tree of the Naars, dating back to the time of the
discovery of America by Columbus." 7 This would
at least a third version of the tree exists, tracing the years 1492 to
1870. Additionally, Podmore notes that a genealogical record of the
Naar family exists that traces the generations from 1492 to 1894. 8
may suggest that either a fourth tree exists, or that this tree is the
same as the one displayed at the wedding anniversary in 1870, although
subsequently updated over the years until 1894. Either conclusion
remains uncertain. Unfortunately, the present whereabouts of either the
third or fourth (if the fourth is indeed separate) trees are unknown.
The outline of individuals on
these trees in combination with marriage records from The History of
the Jews of the Netherlands Antilles, birth records from the extensive
Mormon genealogical database at www.familysearch.com, information from
Malcolm Stern's compilation, and information from Andrew Jones, enabled
me to derive an uninterrupted lineage from Isaac Naar, born before
1492, to Andrew Jones in the present. However, information regarding
the individuals toward the base of the tree, who lived in the 16th and
17th centuries, had not been sufficient to construct this part of the
tree as confidently. Luckily, in an article that I acquired through my
University's inter-library loan system a few months later, written in
French and Portuguese by I. S. Revah, 9 an
professor and Sephardic historian during the 1960's, the generations
from the years about 1492 to about 1676 are explicitly traced. Revah's
article is a description of a series of manuscripts written by an
individual named Isaac de Mattatia Aboab (1631-1707), who would turn
out to be the great-great-grandson of Isaac Naar. His work traces the
Naar, Aboab, and Curiel families for over 175 years from Spain to
Portugal to Amsterdam, and elsewhere. In the article, it is clearly
stated that the Naars fled Spain and became Marranos, or
"nouveaux–chrétiens" in Portugal. In addition,
there was a detailed
outline of the descendants of Isaac Naar, thereby providing enough
information to effectively interpret the base of the tree.
Interestingly, according to Revah, 10 Isaac
Naar, at the
base of the tree in both the AJA version and Revah's outline, adopted
the alias Rodrigo Ianes in 1497 in Portugal to hide his Jewish
This adoption of a
Spanish-Portuguese, Catholic-sounding alias would
initiate a more than two-hundred year trend of members of the Naar
family adopting such aliases. The adoption of aliases was a fairly
common practice among Jews of the era who wished to conceal their
Jewish identities. Information I had previously encountered in a list 11
such aliases of Sephardim in Amsterdam and Hamburg in the 17th Century,
and information from various articles from Studia Rosenthaliana, a
Dutch-based journal focused on Jewish history of Amsterdam, now became
clear. Isaac Naar's son was Mestre João, and Mestre's son
was Diogo de
Pina (1548-1612). However, neither Mestre's nor Diogo's Hebrew names
are known. It then made sense that Diogo de Pina's sons are known both
as Moseh Naar and Duarte Ramires Pina (1584-1624); Isaac Naar and
Francisco Ramires Pina (1592-1641); Eliau Naar and Manuel de Pina
(1595-1638); etc. According to manuscripts that Revah discusses, when
the Naars finally returned to the open practice of Judaism in Amsterdam
by 1620, they re-adopted Hebrew names that they thereafter used in
addition to their aliases. These aliases remained for business and
public purposes, while the Hebrew names were reserved for the
synagogue. Interestingly, according to Emmanuel, in addition to the
aliases Pina or de Pina, other aliases such as Gillao, Chillon, and
Mendes Chillon, also became associated with the Naar family. 12
With an understanding of the Naar
family from Spain to Portugal to
Amsterdam, I sought to discover the precise relationship, if any,
between this branch of Naars and my branch of Salonica Naars. My
initial hypothesis, which was reasonable and historically plausible,
was that the split took place in 1492: Isaac Naar fled to Portugal and
became a Marrano while a brother or cousin fled directly to Salonica, a
location most likely chosen opportunistically, as Dr. Nathan Reiss
suggested to me in an e-mail. A second hypothesis that I constructed
focused on another individual named Isaac Naar (1633-1686), a Rabbi and
doctor born in Hamburg to former Marrano parents. I had come across his
name early on in my research but had not initially pursued further
information on him. I first came upon his name in The Universal Jewish
Encyclopedia, and I later found a brief biography online, at
www.jewishencyclopedia.com. This Isaac Naar, (to whom I will refer as
Rabbi Isaac Naar), became involved with Sabbetai Sevi, the so-called
"false Messiah" during the messianic movement in the 1660's. In 1666,
Sabbetai Sevi appointed Isaac Naar as Rabbi of Livorno (Leghorn),
Italy. Knowing that Sevi's headquarters were largely in Salonica, it
seemed reasonable to believe that Rabbi Isaac Naar could have gone to
Salonica at some point, because of his close alliance with Sevi, and
given rise to some children there, thereby initiating the Salonica
branch. This hypothesis would later be proven wrong, as it became clear
that Naars were living in Salonica almost a century before Rabbi Isaac
Naar was born. However, the notion of Italy as a stepping stone from
Portugal to Salonica, as we will see, remains in the picture.
A valuable source that I later
encountered, written in German by Michael Studemund-Halévy, 13
examines grave inscriptions and genealogies of families buried in
Hamburg, further confirmed the Naar family lineage I had constructed
from Portugal to Amsterdam to Hamburg. However, Revah's work contains
the most detailed outline of the family, including a branch addressed
neither by Studemund-Halévy nor Emmanuel: an offshoot that
Portugal to Pisa, Italy in the mid-16th century and whose members had
adopted the aliases of Mendez and Rodriguez. 14 This
suggests the possibility that Pisa served as a stepping stone from
Portugal to Salonica in the mid-16th century. Consequently, a
Portugal-Italy-Salonica migratory pattern still seems plausible. Dr.
Reiss suggested that this pattern is supported by the fact that many
Jews of Salonica had Italian names because they had initially fled from
the Iberian Peninsula to Italy, only to be ousted by the Inquisition
when it arrived there several decades later. A source that I consulted,
Histoire des Israelites de Salonique by historian Joseph Nehama,
asserts that the Naars came to Salonica from Portugal as Marranos and
helped to establish a synagogue called Lisbon Hadash ("New Lisbon") by
1550. 15 If Nehama's assertion is correct,
contradicts the Rabbi Isaac Naar hypothesis. While Nehama does not
mention whether or not the Naars came directly from Portugal to
Salonica, it is possible that they had an interim stay in Italy much
like the Amsterdam branch had interim stays in St. Jean de Luz, Rouen,
and Antwerp before settling in Amsterdam. Nehama's assertion, however,
that the Naars came from Portugal to Salonica seems to increase the
likelihood that the Amsterdam and Salonica branches are related
connection may have existed sometime before 1550. However, another
question still remains.
About halfway up both of the trees
from Andrew Jones and from AJA, the
spelling of the surname changes from Nahar to Naar. That is, Judge
David Naar is the first individual on the tree to have the spelling of
"Naar." My subsequent research indicates that the separate spellings
using the Roman alphabet really are inconsequential as it represents a
mere transliteration from the Hebrew. Other variants of the name using
the Roman alphabet include Na'ar 16 and
Naär. 17 Podmore
says that family oral tradition indicates that the original spelling
contained the "h," but upon migration to English-speaking countries,
this nearly-silent "h" of the Spanish was dropped. 18
However, Podmore's explanation seems contradictory to other information
I have discovered. Hebrew spellings from which Naar and Nahar derive
are different. My direct ancestors and I, spelling our name 'Naar' in
the Roman alphabet, spell it in Hebrew as (nun-ayin-resh). This word,
pronounced bisyllabically, most often as 'na-ar', means "boy" or
"youth" in English. However, Reiss suggests that because Sephardim do
in fact pronounce the 'ayin' very subtly, a bit like a hard "h" made
far back in the throat, the possibility that could be transliterated as
'Nahar" seems plausible; however, I have yet to come across any
examples where this is the case. Contrastingly, David Naar's ancestors,
according to epitaphs on tombstones in Curaçao, 19
and Hamburg, 20
who spelled their name either 'Naar' or 'Nahar,' spelled their name in
Hebrew, regardless of the Roman spelling, as (nun-hey-resh). This word,
pronounced as the bisyllabic word, 'na-har," means "river" in English.
This contradicts Podmore's explanation of the spelling change, as his
claim that the "h" was (at least initially) silent is clearly
fallacious because a Hebrew spelling of nun-hey-resh indubitably
indicates that the "h" was pronounced.
Upon this discovery, I became
discouraged. My initial conclusion was
that, since the Hebrew spellings of the name were different, my Naar
family of Salonica was distinct from David Naar's family. Perhaps
Nehama had been referring to a Naar family in Salonica that was
distinct from the Naar family in Amsterdam. Could there have been two
Marrano families in Portugal in the mid-16th Century sharing the name
Naar? Perhaps. However, Emmanuel, in his Precious Stones of the Jews of
Curaçao, writes regarding the Naar family of
Curaçao and Amsterdam,
that "In Salonica they [the Naar family] belonged to the Cohen family
in the early 1600's and ranked among the outstanding members of the
community… Like the Salonica branch they were also keenly
communal and religious life." 21
From where Emmanuel draws this conclusion remains uncertain; yet, the
clear implication is that the two Naar families of
and of Salonica are related. However, Emmanuel does not address the
different Hebrew spellings of the name. At that point, I had
encountered Naar spelled only nun-ayin-resh in Salonica and only
nun-hey-resh in Amsterdam, Curaçao, and Hamburg. Upon
obtaining a copy
of another volume by Emmanuel, entitled Gedole Saloniki Ledorotam, a
book in Hebrew documenting prominent figures among Salonica Jewry, I
came upon a further complication in the name-spelling mystery. In this
volume, as in a book entitled Matsevot bet ha-almin shel Yehude
aSaloniki by historian Michael Molho, which contains tombstone
engravings and epitaphs from Salonica, the name Naar is spelled
nun-hey-resh. The most recent individual listed is Zacharia Naar, who
died in Salonica in 1908. 22 This at first
the nun-ayin-resh Naars were distinct from the nun-hey-resh Naars.
While it is uncommon for two distinct names, such as nun-hey-resh and
nun-ayin-resh to be of the same family, it is nonetheless possible.
Emmanuel notes that, for example, the name Curiel, (whose family
members, coincidentally, had married into the Naar family of Amsterdam
in the 17th Century) had two Hebrew spellings: koof-resh-aleph
aleph-lamed, meaning "he who calls G-d," and koof-resh-aleph-yod
aleph-lamed meaning "my plea to G-d." 23 Thus,
difference in spelling of the Hebrew names of nun-hey-resh and
nun-ayin-resh does not necessarily signify that the families are
distinct. The notion that the two Naar families are in fact related
became further reinvigorated in my mind upon discovering an entry for
Aharon h'Cohen Naar, in which Molho spells the surname nun, then ayin,
written in parenthesis, then hey, written in brackets, and then resh.
In August, I had spent some
time at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York City. There,
I came upon some original documents from Salonica, including a civil
registry of families most likely recorded directly before World War II.
25 Written in Ladino and Hebrew, this
source lists Naars
spelled only as nun-ayin-resh. So the question is: What took place
between 1908, when Zacharia Naar died, and World War II, when the
registry was recorded, to account for the apparent shift in spelling
from the use of 'heh' to the use of 'ayin'? Some historians note that
there existed a "phonetic phenomenon of the substitution of similar
sounding letters" in poetry among Jews of Turkey and the Balkans. 26
this same phenomenon have applied to name spelling? Perhaps. However,
Reiss suggests a more plausible answer: under the Ottoman Empire,
Turkish, the language spoken in Salonica, was written using the Arabic
alphabet. It was not until Kemal Atatürk, and his attempts to
westernize Turkey beginning in 1923 that the Roman alphabet was adopted
there. So in those days, when Hebrew was written in the vernacular, it
was in the Arabic alphabet. Around 1918 Salonica went from Ottoman to
Greek hands, and the vernacular changed from Turkish to Greek, and the
script changed from Arabic to Greek. Certainly in that transition a
change in the transliteration to the Roman alphabet could have
occurred. Could Aharon h'Cohen Naar represent a transitional figure in
terms of the spelling of the name? The implications of the combination
or uncertainty in the spelling of his surname remain unclear, but the
fact that the 'ayin' and 'heh' are both considered suggests that the
relationship between nun-hey-resh and nun-ayin-resh is substantial.
Explanations that reconcile these two Hebrew spellings of the name Naar
continue to be on the forefront of my investigations.
If only I were more fluent in
Ladino, Hebrew, French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Greek, Dutch, and
Italian, my research would be much less complicated. The basic
questions left that I hope to answer are: (1) Which members of the Naar
family came to Salonica, exactly when and for what reasons, and
precisely how are they related to the Naars who remained in Portugal?
(2) What accounts for the change in spelling of the surname from
nun-hey-resh to nun-ayin-resh in the Salonica branch and when and to
what extent did this change take place? As for Andrew Jones and me, it
seems very plausible that he and I share a common ancestor. Most
likely, we share this common ancestor before 1550, thereby making us
tangentially related, but nonetheless related. Even if it is nothing
but a good story, my voyage back in time has been worth the effort
and I am not ready to stop just yet. Now, more than ever before, I am
proud to be not just a Jew, but a Sephardic Jew, with identified and
yet-to-be-identified ancient roots.
1 Such as:
www.ancestry.com, www.genealogy.com, www.sephardicstudies.org,
www.jewish-history.com, Sephardic list-serve, and more.
2 Malcolm H. Stern, First American Jewish
Families: 600 Genealogies, 1654-1988, (Baltimore: Ottenheimer
Publishers, 1991), p. 224.
3 Isaac S. and Suzanne A. Emmanuel,
History of the Jews of the Netherlands Antilles, (Cincinnati: American
Jewish Archives, 1970).
4 Referenced in James W. Clasper and M.
Guide to the Holdings of the American Jewish Archives, (Cincinnati:
Hebrew Union College, 1979), p. 563.
5 Isaac Nahar will hereafter be referred
to as Isaac Naar; I will address the difference in spelling later.
6 Joseph L. Naar (1843-1905) was the son
of Judge David
Naar. Joseph succeeded his father as editor of the True American
newspaper published in Trenton. From: Joseph L. Naar, Papers,
1880-1951, LCCN: 88-798044; located at Special Collections and
University Archives, Archibald S. Alexander Library, Rutgers University.
7 Harry J. Podmore, "Jews in Trenton
History: Installment XXVII," The Community Messenger, (Nov. 1927), p.
8 Harry J. Podmore, "Jews in Trenton
History: Installment VIII," The Community Messenger, (April, 1926), p.
9 I. S. Revah, "Pour l'histoire des
Portugais. La Relacion Généalogique d'I. de M.
Internacional de Bibliografia Luso-Brasileira, (1961), V. 2, pp.
10 Revah, "Pour l'histoire," p. 296.
11 Dona Deli, "Aliases," at
12 Isaac S. Emmanuel, Precious Stones of
the Jews of
Curaçao: Curaçaoan Jewry 1656-1957, (New York:
Bloch Publishing Co.,
1957), p. 174.
13 Michael Studemund-Halévy,
Biographisches Lexikon der
Hamburger Sefarden: Die Grabinschriften den Portugiesenfriedhofs an der
Königstraße in Hamburg-Altona, (Hamburg: Christians,
2000), pp. 663-670.
14 Revah, "Pour l'histoire," p. 296.
15 Joseph Nehama, Histoire des Israelites
L'Age d'or du Sefaradisme Salonicien, (Salonique: Librairie Molho,
1936), V. III, p. 90.
16 Hindle S. Hes, Jewish Physicians in the
Netherlands, 1600-1940, (Assen: Van Gorcum, 1980), p. 115.
17 Isaac da Costa, Noble Families Among
the Sephardic Jews, (London: Oxford University Press, 1936), p. 100.
18 Podmore, Installment VIII, p. 3.
19 Emmanuel, Precious Stones, pp. 166,
174, 373, 377, 405, 423, 464.
Biographisches, pp. 663-670.
21 Emmanuel, Precious Stones, p. 174.
22 Michael Molho, Matsevot bet ha-almin
Saloniki, (Tel Aviv: Hotsa'at Makhon le-he ker Yahadut Saloniki, 1974),
p. 599. Zacharia ben Shlomo Naar written as nun-hey-resh.
23 Emmanuel, Precious Stones, p. 284.
24 Molho, p. 351. Aharon ha'Cohen Naar
written as nun, then
ayin, written in parenthesis, then hey, written in brackets, and then
25 "Salonica Register of Population
WWII?" in collection
entitled "Jewish Community of Salonika," RG 207, Box 11, Item 3, p.
302. At the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York City.
26 Uri Melammed, "An Epistle and
Supplication by Rabbi Meir
ben Moses de Boton" Studies in a Rabbinic Family: the de Botons,
(Jerusalem: The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 1998), p. 143.
Planning a Family Reunion
by Bernice Bernstein
Bernstein, a new member to our JHSCJ Board, has prepared the following
step-by-step instructions for planning a Family Reunion. We think that
anyone who ever thought about doing this will find it invaluable. If
you personally are not inclined to undertake this type of project, we
suggest you share this plan with your family and friends. Bernice
points out that it takes time and patience but it results in a
wonderful gathering of your family. Now, we invite you to explore the
creation of the "Aaron Family Reunion" as narrated by Bernice.
The Aaron Family Reunion
may know your branches but do you know your roots?" That was the theme
I chose when I began making arrangements for an Aaron Family Reunion to
be held in the Spring of 2001. Our family consisted of about 160 people
with roughly 64 living in California.
The first step
is to make a list of all your family members. Six months before setting
a date and making arrangements for the reunion, write a letter to all
of your family members. I sent a letter to all my relatives who had
attended a reunion in Donaldson Park, Highland Park, NJ in 1980,
informing them of the planned reunion. I asked them to return an RSVP
cut off sheet at the bottom of the letter indicating whether they would
attend. I gave them several possible dates to check off. I realize now
that by the time I sent this letter out, we had lost practically one
generation and gained another. When some letters were returned
with"address unknown," I got in touch with relatives whom I thought
would know where some of the people had moved. They either gave me
information I needed or gave me a hint as to where they might be
living. I also searched 'phone directories' on the Internet and was
able to locate some of my missing relatives.
Finding a place for the reunion to be held. I tried to keep the cost
low, as I wanted to have as many people attend as possible. I did not
want the cost to deter them from coming because they may have had the
added expense of staying overnight in the hotel. I visited several
hotels in the area and met with the banquet managers to see what they
had to offer. I finally decided on a Sunday All-You-Can-Eat-Buffet at
The Sheraton in Woodbridge, NJ. The buffet was open to the public but
we had a room reserved only for the Aaron Family that was located next
to the buffet. When I received about 50 "yes" answers I reserved the
room, which could accommodate 75-80 people.
I sent a card (I had it made in Kinko's in a bright color), titled
Aaron Family Alert. The information on the card contained where the
reunion was being held and indicated if more information was needed to
call or e-mail me.
A letter was sent out with all the particulars, including date, time,
directions and cost of banquet and hotel. The cut off date was two
weeks prior to the reunion for returning monies, and the number of
family members who would be attending. Much to my delight, I received
96 replies. This was also a problem, since at this point there was not
much I could do about making other arrangements for a larger room. The
room was a little crowded but everyone was so happy to see and meet
each other that no one seemed to mind. I also asked the family to bring
pictures, letters and memorabilia they might have that would be of
interest. One of my cousins graciously hosted all of the out of town
guests the evening before the reunion.
I was very fortunate to have my cousin, Jerry Liboff, from Alaska, who
is a member of the Central Jersey Jewish Historical Society, help me
make this reunion a memorable one. As one entered the room, we had a
long table with pictures of our great grandparents and their siblings.
One could also peruse through albums with old pictures from Europe,
pictures from the early, mid and late 20th century, including pictures
of our 1980 reunion.
As each person arrived, they were
given a name tag which was color
coded and represented each of my great grandfather, Moses Aaron's
siblings and their families. For example: Bernice Frant
Bernstein>Jacob Frant>Tylle Aaron Frant>Moses
and their descendents. As a centerpiece, we had Moses Aaron's face
The piece de resistance was a 16 mm film that we were very lucky to
have obtained from one of my cousins. It was a family gathering that
took place in New York in 1952. As a matter of fact, my dear late
father, Jacob Frant, presided at the gathering. It was a happy and
bittersweet moment for us to watch the film. Most of us were quite
young, but our grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles were all etched
in time. Everyone loved the film. We had to show it numerous times.
I've had it made into a video and have since added more "found" film
from the past. By having it transferred to video, copies can be made
for anyone who is interested in obtaining one.
Seventh step: We
videotaped the reunion, took individual family pictures and one big
Although it was a lot of work, it was
a day, which I will always
remember. I had an opportunity to meet relatives that I hadn't seen
since 1980, and also to meet many new members of the Aaron family.
Families came from Alaska, California, Florida, Maryland, Virginia and
Wisconsin. I planned the last two reunions which were held locally and
I am presently working with my cousins in California to have one there
I did most of the planning myself, it was very time consuming and I
would suggest that anyone planning a reunion, to try to recruit family
members who would be interested and willing to help.
We just sent out our first
newsletter, called the "Aaron Family Roots"
and also have our own Aaron Family website. Acknowledgements from our
family members who attended were so wonderful and enthusiastic in their
comments communicated to me, that I would encourage anyone, who has
family members who cannot get together frequently, to go forward with
this type of endeavor.