I haven't written in a while. I've been meaning to but you know that old song about the best intentions so I'm not going to sing it for you.
We light "Yarzeit Candles" on the anniversary (Yarzeit) of the death. My brother went off to Disney with his girlfriend for the weekend, but before going reminded me it was "Grandpa Ben's Yarzeit" and asked me to light a candle for him. Good thing I wouldn't have remembered. He gets a notice each year from Young Israel or rather my sister-in-law did before she died last year. Seems he gets them now so good to know.
"Grandpa Ben" is a term I heard growing up so often that at times I felt the presence of his ghost lurking around our home. If he lurked anywhere it would be there as he built the house we lived in growing up and his wife my Grandma Mary and his daughter Ada Rappaport lived there for decades. He died way before I was born, before my mother married my father. He was a nebulous sort of figure that was mentioned often yet really gave me no feel for who he was in life.
It's easy to say Ben was a hard worker, possibly too hard a worker as he died young in his mid 50s of a heart attack. Or possibly he would have had the heart problem no matter how hard he worked as his brother died on the young side and his father died the year before Ben came to America. Ben's mother Sarah lived a good life as did her daughter Esther, but Sarah came to America as a window in her early 50s. Add in each relative spelled it a little differently with variations Chitrik, Khitrik or Hitrik on various forms and an occasional Chitzik which might be a mistake or might be a clue to more information. As always time will tell.
What can I tell you? It's easy to say Ben started with a truck but that's the end of his story not the beginning of his real story. He was a carpenter by trade and moved back and forth with Mary from Philly to Baltimore in search of work. Grandma didn't like Baltimore it was dark, damp and cold. Baltimore was gray and people were always "washing their stoops" something that seemed as foreign to her coming from Tampa as her Southern accent seemed to Ben's family. By the time my mother was born in 1926 they have moved to Atlantic City where Ben worked as a carpenter in construction and Grandma Mary managed a store on the Boardwalk. The store had an ice cream counter and sold cigars, her brother's cigars and she was near the ocean again even if it was cold. Mary dreamed of Florida and waxed poetic to Ben on how beautiful it was however seeing how Ben came from Chernigov ....Atlantic City probably seemed good enough. Also his brother was nearby in Philly as was his mother and Grandma had family in Philly so Atlantic City was where they lived for many years.
In 1935 at the height of the depression a friend of his asked Ben to drive to Miami Beach with him to work on a job. It was a long drive in those days and better driven with another driver. South Beach was in the middle of a small building boom at the height of the depression when jobs up north were scarce and paid not as well nor were they as plentiful. It was a long drive and upon arriving he called up my Grandmother on the phone and begged her forgiveness saying "Mary you were right it's beautiful here" and he told her there was plenty of work and that were going to move to Miami. Grandma, according to my mother, was excited dancing around the house that they were going to Florida, she was going "home" soon. Grandpa worked on the dome of a small Synagogue that was being built on Washington Avenue, made money, took on more jobs and sent for Mary, Ada and my mother Annette to come down on the train. The little reddish dome on the building on the corner was the dome my Grandfather Ben worked on upon arriving in Miami. My mother donated a picture she had of him working on the dome to the Jewish Historical Museum Mosaic in Miami.
It would be easy to say Ben's legacy started with a truck.
The first truck he bought for his new construction business in Miami.
Ben Rick Construction
That's Ben while on the construction of their home.
That's the house almost finished.
Ben built homes all over Miami.
He'd buy a big lot, build 3 homes, sell them.
He'd buy another lot, build 3 homes, sell them.
Eventually he built subdivisions in the 1940s.
Large projects with 300 homes over several blocks.
He was supposed to start work on Key Biscayne but he died.
He worked with Norman Giller's father as well as the Mackle Brothers.
The picture at the top of the blog was found in my mother's things.
It was taken in the 1940s but I'm not sure where.
A nearby man is wearing a Guyabero shirt. Perhaps they were in Havana.
It doesn't look like any place in Miami I've seen before.
Hard to say. I didn't have it when Grandma was alive to ask...
Grandma loved wearing ribbons and bows in her hair.
No more cold winters for Grandma.
Sadly, Ben died young and she never remarried.
But that's just the basic facts.
The real story is more interesting.
It shows the twists and turns in people's lives.
How Jews of that generation often met far from their homes.
The story below is how Mary, a Southern Belle, met Ben.
Ben was an immigrant, running away from Pogroms in Russia.
He built a new life in Miami eventually as well as many homes along the way.
The good thing about doing genealogy whether on Ancestry or any website you use is that people who were just names really come to life. And the questions in your head that made no sense find answers sometimes. And sometimes they lead to more questions so that every answer unlocks the door to another mystery.
So before seeing the house my grandfather built, let's fully understand the picture above. My Grandmother was a Southern Belle raised in Tampa who visited Quincy Florida often as her older sister Annie Abrams Falk lived there. The family owned tobacco plantations or rather farms, but Grandma Mary called them plantations at the Turn of the Century in North Florida. She called it "shade tobacco" and she said tobacco more like "tabacka" with a Southern accent. They sold the cigars out of the Tampa Bay Hotel as well as many resort locations and eventually out of a store on the Boardwalk in Atlantic City she managed after she married Ben.
Understand this was Grandma Mary's world. She was raised in Florida, yet had relatives "Up in Philly" and for some reason she was born at a 22 room farmhouse/hotel her family owned in Malaga NJ. Most of her life was lived Down South. The pretty yellow house below was where her brother Jake lived and where she "taught music" and had a "music room" for her piano study.
The house Grandma Mary's family owned in Tampa.
A random typical house in Quincy, Florida
A field worker picking tobacco.
Note the map below shows how close Quincy is to the Georgia border.
Really the Florida/Georgia Line you could say ;)
Quincy near the Georgia Boarder.
This census was a real find for many reasons. It confirms my mother's suspicion that her Grandma Ida Abrams (Chaya Etel bas Joseph in Hebrew) was originally married to a Seidenberg not a Seiden and the name was shortened when they came to America. My mother came up with that theory while visiting Key West as the family was in the tobacco business and the Seidenbergs were also in the tobacco business she thought there might be a relationship beyond happenstance. I always thought she was reaching a bit on that one but this census shows Jacob Seiden listed as Jacob Seidenberg so it seems Mother was right after all. Jake's father died in "Russia" when he was a baby and his mother Ida remarried Wolfe Abrams. For many years Jake went by Jacob Abrams but as he got older he went by Jake Seiden. Jenny was the 2nd daughter, Maurice's Hebrew middle name was Pinchas and I was pretty sure I was told that his English name was Phillp. Annie is in the right order as is Mary the "baby" who was the youngest. It's definitely her so she was born more likely in 1894 as another census in 1900 in Philly shows her existing prior to 1900. I almost threw that out as a set of cousins but both the order and names of the children is exact and well... people lie... even Grandma Mary. Note the ages for the older three children are correct but both Annie and Mary were alive a good five years before they admitted to later in life. Happens...
In 1900 they are listed with a family named Rabowetz.
Most likely a poor spelling of Rabinowitz.
Note the names of the children in both families are almost the same.
The names were given in the same order suggesting they could be cousins.
After Ida passed away Mary was sent to her sister Annie in Quincy, lived by Jake's fiance in New Orleans and finally sent up to her sister Jennie Polakoff in Philly. Jennie told Mary she needed a job as she was not in Tampa anymore and she got somehow got a job at Wannamaker's as a model modeling new clothes and high button boots. Apparently there's a market place for old post cards that perhaps I should make a note to go through. The model below looks a bit like Grandma when young, but most likely not. But you get the idea. She'd walk around in stylish clothes and when people complimented her she'd show them where to buy...the high button boots or fancy new coat. Grandma was very proud she had worked modeling clothes in a beautiful, large department store.
Advertisements in the paper.
This is a postcard sold online of a Wannamaker Model.
Wannamaker in all it's glory.
Reminds me a bit of Saks in Manhattan.
I saw pictures of Grandma when in her teens.
She was playing piano for the Governor of Florida.
She was dressed in an old ruffled, white, long dress.
She had her hair done in long curls in the Southern Style.
She wore a cameo on a piece of velvet around her neck.
She told me the velvet was purple.
She looked like Brooke Shields in ways.
Dark eyebrows, big eyes, very pretty in her way.
Obviously Wannamaker's thought so as they hired her as a model.
Suddenly enter Ben who was from Russia and spoke very little English.
They both spoke Yiddish but with vastly different accents.
Ben's mother sent him to America after his father died.
Another brother had come before him and changed the name to Rick.
So Behr "Beryl" Chitrik became Ben Rick in America.
Ben met Mary at a "shul get together" for the "young people" according to Grandma Mary. I'd push her for details and she never had many. She said when she would go to the Youth Group at the Temple everyone would make fun of her accent (Southern) and call her a "shikse" inferring she wasn't really Jewish. This upset her as she was raised in a kosher home where they made Shabbos and her mother covered her hair even in Key West in the 1880s. She told me she'd go and then come home crying because people were so mean to her. She was as Jewish as anyone, she could even speak Yiddish but her Southern Yiddish accent was a bit out of place among newcomers from "the Old Country" and then she met Ben....
Ben was obviously smitten with her and she with him. She told me he had the bluest eyes she ever saw besides her father Wolfe and he was a gentleman and they got married. I'm sure blue eyes have sold many a girl or guy on their partner when they were young but there was a big gap in backgrounds culturally. Ben was from Chernigov in the Ukraine that was listed as Russia on his papers. That was all I was ever told. Grandpa Ben was from Chernigov. Ben liked cucumber salads made with sour cream and I believe he drank tea with a sugar cube between his teeth. His mother Sarah Beila Rosen "Rick" came over from Russia with the family samovar and she taught Grandma how to cook Russian style kosher food. Again, Grandma was a bit annoyed as she knew how to cook kosher but Ben's mother taught her how to make pickled peppers for Ben and what she referred to as Russian food.
The red dot above is where Grandpa Ben came from in Chernigov.
His mother and probably his father came from Nezhin.
Chernigov is a whole different world than Tampa, Florida.
I have not yet found much information on Ben's paternal family.
There is a Chitrik family in Chabad I know but Ben was a Levi.
The other Chitrik family is not so it seems no relation...
The pictures show a place with a very cold winter.
Pogroms that forced Jews from place to place.
The picture below shows someone in 1909.
If you remember Mary's brother Morris was also Pinchas...
Ben came from a different world in 1914.
It always seemed vague and the story of his life was just bits and pieces pieces of a puzzle. My mother usually cried when I asked about him so I didn't ask much. Why did he go to Philly? Okay, his brother lived there. Why did his younger brother go before him? Why did his younger sister Esther come over much later? And then there was my mother's insistence that she thought his family was originally Chabad from the beginning days of her first becoming involved with Chabad. I thought that might be a bit of wishful thinking on her part. But when she studied with Chabad Lubavitch "how to make Passover" for the first time all of the Chabad customs from the Seder were the customs her father had compared to my father who followed his father's Hungarian traditions.
The truth is Mother was right in that what people use for various parts of the Passover Meal are very in line with where they came from and their backgrounds. I'm not talking about the food served as much as the foods used in the Seder as well as customs in the service. For example rather than waiting for Elijah the Prophet to come and drink the wine Chabad has a custom of going to the door to greet him. She said her father would tell her "all for Torah" when trying to make sure she didn't veer too far from the side of the Jewish world growing up. According to my Aunt he was Orthodox but he didn't believe in going to extremes and the middle road was the safer route. Really it didn't explain much. Just bits and pieces of a puzzle. A Grandfather I never really knew personally.
Knowing what I know now from studying genealogy and doing more research on his mother Sarah Beila it seems Mother knew best. Go figure... If you look up close at Chernigov on the map below you will see the nearness of the town Nizhyn to the Northeast. It seems Sarah Beila was born in Nizhin to Gavriel and Lieba Rosen. I know that because I have her death certificate now. Great Grandmother Sarah Beila did tell my mother something about a bad pogrom where a family member was killed and they then later in Chernigov. It seems the family kept moving from town to town to Kiev possibly before coming to America.
Understand when people said "Chernigov" it's like saying Miami.
People don't live in Miami but nearby but people say Miami.
From Jewish Gen above.
Note discussion on "Habad" which is Chabad.
Note below from Wikipedia.
And if you follow the trail of pogroms the timing on events is the proof in the pudding. Obviously for their safety they sent their sons to America after the pogrom in 1905. Mostly they sent their sons to Philadelphia where they had relatives who had moved before from Nezhin after the earlier Pogrom there in the 1880s. Nezhin is famous for having many spellings and it seems it's cucumbers. Again, Ben loved cucumbers. It was a town on the river where Cossaks were stationed and where cucumbers were harvested for the Czar. It seems being that close to the Cossack base didn't work in their favor as Jews. After the pogrom in 1880s many relocated to Chernigov. Obviously Ben's family relocated.
I found out that Karl's ticket was bought by his father Yona but Ben's ticket was bought by his mother Sarah Beila. It's logical to suppose that Ben's father was alive and perhaps not well and that Ben being the older brother stayed behind to help and then stayed to say Kaddish for his father in Chernigov. Sarah Beila was a widow when she bought the ticket a little over a year later for Behr whereas Karl who traveled earlier and had a father still alive.
I researched Ben on Ancestry as well as his mother, his sister and some cousins I knew lived in Manhattan. All had variations on the name Chitrik although the spelling in English varies greatly from the way it's spelled in Hebrew. Karl, Ben's brother, who came over earlier changed it to Rick. There are Naturalization papers where he says his name was Koppel (a variation on Jacob) and he wished to change it to Karl Rick though he went by both Carl and Karl. Some wonderful people from the a genealogical society in Philadelphia helped me find the missing link. It seems his Death Certificate was mistakenly listed as Carol Rick. In time I found out his mother was living in America whereas previously from things my mother and aunt said led me to believe she was just visiting. In the mind of a young child hearing stories you don't fully think to ask the right questions. I also found out that Karl had been in a hospital a long time in Philadelphia when Ben was nearby in Atlantic City and Ben stayed nearby until Karl died in 1935. My Grandfather Ben was the informant on Karl's death certificate. It turns out Sarah Beila, Ben's mother, lived in Philadelphia until her son passed away and then moved to live with her daughter and her husband Isadore Flansbaum in Manhattan. Sara Beila is listed as the Mother in Law on the census forms for 1940 as Sarah Bella Rick.
Again all I knew of Ben's mother was she brought a samovar with her to America and she taught my Aunt Ada (her granddaughter) that you cook for Shabbos first and then you clean the house so you go into Shabbos with a clean house. My Aunt would add that if you did it the other way around something could come up and you'd have a clean house but no food for Shabbos. I'm not sure if she was told that or that was her reasoning but it makes sense. She also taught her to buy onions where the skins were tight on the onion showing it was fresh. Every time my Aunt Ada spoke on her Bubby Sarah, her father Ben's mother, she reiterated how clean and beautiful she was in her memories.
The manifest from 1922 showing Sarah Beila and her daughter Esther going to Karl Rick in Philadelphia. Why 1922? Well, it was after World War 1 when it was safe to travel again. Other records show there were more children in Russia and perhaps she waited for them to get married. Hard to say but logically WW1 was over and she and her daughter came to America. Esther ended up marrying a widower with a daughter and I haven't found much other information on her. Ben's baby sister was my mother's favorite relative from that side of the family. She inspired her to go back to school and get her high school diploma and go on to college. She would visit her in Miami Beach often and my mother seemed very bonded to her. Esther is buried next to her mother in New Jersey. I visited the grave a year ago when in New York.
Esther's naturalization papers above.
Ben's record of travel to America in 1913.
Other records showed he lived with Karl for a few years.
In 1920 he married Mary.
Other notes below on Nezhin.
The more you learn the more you understand in the world of Genealogy and Jewish History. It also helps that I know much about Chabad History and that fills in the pieces. What I wonder is where the family came from before Nezhin?
Oddly this week is all about the Mittler Rebbe in Chabad History. His Yarzeit was the 9th of Kislev. Mittler means Middle and he is often referred to as Dov Ber the Middle Rebbe. The Cliff Notes are that he was ill and he went to visit his father's grave which was far from where he lived. On the way back he fell ill and stopped in Nezhin and passed away. He is buried there and an Ohel much like the one for Menachem Mendel Schneerson in Queens was erected where people would go and say prayers by his grave. It was then and it still is considered to be a holy site.
The pictures above are ironically from a friend's blog.
She was a Shaliach in the Crimea.
Leah regularly took people to the Ohel in Nezhin to pray.
Along with the Ohel a Yeshiva was formed in Nezhin and there Yeshiva students from various Chabad towns who went to Nezhin to learn there in his merit. Families came to teach, tend the Ohel (grave) and just basically live there. Some years down the road another son of the Mittler Rebbe named Yisroel Noach Schneerson held court there in Nezhin. It was the families of those people living in Nezhin who sent their children to Philadelphia after the pogroms. Philadelphia already had many synogogues in the early 1900s, however those coming from Chernigov and Nezhin prayed what is called Nusach Ari not Nusach Ashkenaz as most European Jews do and therefore they started a Shul named originally the Naziner Shul in Philadelphia. It seems an early founder lost his wife and he needed to say Kaddish and people came together to start a Shul.
As I found records online for Ben's family it became clear they had two things in common. Almost all had Ben's blue eyes that were listed usually as "gray" on US government forms and secondly they had Chabad Chassidic names when they came from Russia. For example, Naomi Atrick who came over from Chernigov, had gray eyes and her original name was Nechama a name common in Chabad families. There is a Chaya there was a Moussya and numerous Ber and Dov Ber family member's names. Many assimilated, some did not get married and most are lost after name changes , marriages and travels around the country. Benjamin stayed Orthodox, attending an Orthodox Synagogue in Miami known as Beth El and my Grandmother bought kosher meat and kindled Shabbos candles. Ben's brother Karl did not it seems stay orthodox. His cousin Eli was a photographer who lived with his sister Naomi in their old age, both never married. Eli was a famous photographer I was told often taking pictures of Ziegfield Follies dancers. My mother says she saw the photos as well as a picture of Eli's father who was a twin to Ben's father Yonah. That was how my mother knew what her grandfather Yonah looked like as he was was identical to their father. On two rare trips to New York my mother went and visited them, however sadly I don't remember much of my one trip to their apartment as I was barely five. He took pictures under a secular American name and I'm not sure what that name was so it's another mystery. Another of Ben's cousins lived in the Bronx or possibly Yonkers. Their daughter Mary Attrick bears a strong resemblance to my mother.
And while trying to trace my Grandmother's family roots before they came to America most roads trace back to the same area in Russia where Ben's family came from and that is not surprising as they most likely met at the Naziner Shul in Philadelphia or rather at a social put on by people from that Shul. Grandma's Yiddish accent may have been Southern, however the Yiddish was from White Russia vs another style of Yiddish. My mother's notes for her Mary's mother show she was from Malarussia or White Russia. There was a connection to Vilna on possibly her husband Wolfe's side but the research keeps taking me back to the same towns in the Ukraine, the same towns in Mogilev and Zhitomar and other towns where Chabad had made big inroads in the Jewish community. Wolfe's eyes were blue just like Ben's and it's logical to believe Ben was considered a good match as some relatives knew the family. Grandma became very modern later in life however she was very clear they met at a Saturday Night social after the Jewish Sabbath was over from the Shul where they both attended.
Again in genealogy the way a person prays as well as the way they eat says much about where they came from in Europe. Even the way they drank their tea was similar in some areas and not others.
The beauty of finding a handsome man in America with beautiful blue eyes in a city far from where both were raised so differently is really just irony as one or two generations back their families may have been from the same town, same region and possibly even distantly related. It's hard to say but when I looking up families on Ancestry DNA in search of Ben's family I keep finding relatives related in ways to my Grandmother Mary. Only time will tell.
So that's the story of how my Southern Belle Grandma Mary met and married an immigrant from Russia who barely spoke English and had to see the beauty of Florida for himself before agreeing to move down to Miami. A man trained in carpentry and the beauty of inlaid wood went on to a measure of success in the Construction business building art deco cottages, apartments and mansions on Palm Island.
Pretty amazing when you think on Ben's life.
Many of the homes he built on the water have probably been torn down.
New White Spec houses like my son studying architecture loves.
Out with the old, in with the new.
My mother remembers sitting at a house site waiting for buyers.
It was at the end of Palm island but not far from the Latin Quarter.
Not far from where Meir Lanksy had a home.
From Chernigov to Miami.
So it seems my mother was right about the Seidenberg connection. It also seems she was right about the Chabad connection. She was wrong on one thing. When my Grandmother told her she lived in Strawberry Mansion she thought it was ... a mansion. Perhaps my mother thought it was a pink mansion? Strawberry Mansion was indeed a neighborhood that is now a Historic District. It's link to Jewish Immigrants goes back and you can read about it here below. It was a very nice neighborhood where Mary's sister Jenny lived. But Grandma preferred Florida...
Sometimes I can feel my mother annoyed at me and saying "Come on Bracha, find out where my Grandparents were born. I left you all those notes from my research. Now you can look on your computer you love so much and find out that information for me!!" It's really not so easy with Jewish Genealogy. But recently I realized that rather than believing most of the family was lost in the Holocaust or a Pogrom I realized if Sarah Beila moved deeper into Russia during WW1 it's likely the Chitrik's I find online from Russia are probably related very distantly. During the early days of the Soviet Regime religion was not favored and Jews were put in jail for doing simple traditions. A refusal to put your children into the government school brought about imprisonment. And there more than here in America there was much assimilation. Maybe there's a distant communist who was from the family or a poet or an artist or someone wandering around a Chabad Camp in Chernigov as I write this? Who knows?
It seems no matter how far Jews wander they often but not always end up back home eventually. Life is strange, there is a both a beauty and a mystery in Jewish Genealogy. A frustration at the difficulties and at the same time a wonder in how branches became reconnected again after a few generations of roaming far from home.
The Day Camp now operating opening in Chernigov looks much like the Day Camps my kids went to in Florida. Go figure. Who knows...
Thanks for reading this long post. I wrote it more for myself than anyone else. I wrote it to get better in touch with my Grandfather Ben who I never met in person. I did often feel his presence in the old apartment I grew up in that he had built. Rather than a gray, scary ghost like presence he now seems a warm man who traveled far, loved his family and worked hard to make their life in Florida beautiful. And, I'm guessing he gave my Grandmother a ring as a present in this picture as it was not her style to show off her jewelry, but she is obviously showing off her ring very proudly.
Maybe it was the watch she was showing off :)
I loved her. She was awesome.
We lived with her until I was 7.
Grandpa Ben obviously loved her too!
Thanks for reading.
Grandpa Ben's granddaughter.
Ps For Grandma who was a pianist to work at the Wannamaker store was big.
They had the organ, it was world famous.
And those staircases she walked up and down to show off her boots ;)
Ps An article on the search for my Great Grandmother.
Somewhere in there is a well edited article.
I'm convinced the key to finding that info on my mother's Grandparents..
....will end in Philadelphia.
As both sides of her family tree both moved there when escaping Russia.
Maternal side and Paternal side.
All road seem to go through Philly.
Sorry for any typos.
A bit under the weather today but promised to focus on Ben.
As it is his Yarzeit today.
http://jmof.fiu.edu/education/fjhm/fjhmspeech.pdf page 8 and 9 references Tobacco in Quincy, FL.
https://www.photoblog.com/chossid/2011/08/06/5771-kvarim-trip-nezhin-grave-of-the-mittler-rebbe/ My friend Leah's blog about a trip to the Ohel (grave) of the Mittler Rebbe of Chabad in Nizhyn where my Great Grandmother Sarah Beila was born.
Maybe one day Starbucks will bring back the Samovar?