How I Discovered My Rabbinic Ancestry
by Arthur Kurzweil
CHAIM JOSEPH GOTTLIEB, THE STROPKOVER REBBE
After examining the rebbe's book in the library, I wondered if there were any disciples of his alive and in New York. I discussed the question with a librarian in the Jewish Division, and when she noticed that the "approbation" (seal of approval) for the book was written by Chaim Halberstamm, the Sanzer Rebbe, who was a contemporary of Chaim Joseph Gottlieb and whose descendants live in New York, she suggested that I contact them. I made a few phone calls, but no one seemed able to help me. A few days later a Jewish newspaper in New York, The Jewish Week, called me for an interview. I was going to be interviewed on radio station WEVD the following week to talk about some of my genealogy research, and the newspaper wanted to make a feature story out of it. In the interview I mentioned my belief that I was a descendant of the Stropkover Rebbe, well aware of the fact that it was still speculation. The newspaper ran the story, and it was the best thing that could have happened at the time.
In response to the article, I began to get phone calls from people who also claimed descent from the rebbe. The first call, in fact, was from someone whose name sounded familiar. I recalled that my mother's cousin, Maurice, had suggested I call him for more information about the family. I never did, although I did file his name and number away for future use. It is significant that I mention this because although it is true that my interview with the newspaper offered me an opportunity that few people get, it is equally true that had I followed the advice of my mother's cousin, I would have discovered the same thing. It is important to track down the most obscure leads because they might very well bring you to a pot of genealogical gold.
The man told me that he too was a descendant of the Stropkover Rebbe, and we proceeded to compare notes. Within a few minutes the man realized that he knew who I was and that we were definitely related. He knew my mother and her brother and her parents from years ago. When I asked him how we were related he said, "We're cousins," but knew little more than that. It was an answer I had learned to expect. So many times in my research I had encountered people who were sure we were related, but knew nothing more than that. Although he wasn't able to provide any more information about our relationship, just the fact that he felt we were related and that he also knew he was a descendant of the Stropkover Rebbe, permitted me to be more at ease about my claim of descent. But, of course, I was not satisfied and wouldn't be until I was able to document my relationship to Chaim Joseph Gottlieb with names and dates and carefully spell out each generation between us.
What the man on the phone was able to do, however, was to give me the name of another man who might be able to help. His last name was Gottlieb and he was a cantor. I called him and I was spared the need to make introductions since he had heard me on the radio the night before. He asked me to hold the wire and came back a minute later with a copy of the rebbe's book, although it was a more recent edition. It was a reprint of the original with an added preface that was a biography of the rebbe! On the phone I told the man everything I knew about my family, including all the names I knew, but he was unable to match me up with the genealogical information provided in the biography. I was disappointed but not discouraged. A final piece of information that he told me was that the man who wrote the biography lived in Brooklyn. He gave me the man's phone number.