Monday, October 20, 2008

Back from New York

It's been quite a while since I've posted.  It's not that I haven't been busy with the family genealogy, I've just been delinquent....  That aside, I thought I'd start again with my recent spur of the moment trip to New York.  A couple of weeks ago I was speaking to my cousin Shelley on the phone.  We had a lot of catching up to do as we had not talked in a while.  I knew her mother, my aunt Belle, had had a stroke a number of months before and was concerned as I had not heard anything since that time.  I was relieved to hear that Belle was doing fine, now making adjustments to assisted living.  Shelley mentioned that they were getting together a small family group to celebrate her mother's 90th birthday in about 2 weeks.  It didn't click at the time but later that night I thought this would be a great time to visit New York.

I called back the next day which happened to catch Shelley and guests right in the middle of Rosh Hashanah dinner.  Aunt Belle was there and I got to speak to her.  She sounded great!  I decided, what the hell, I was going to New York for her birthday.  Shelley was kind enough to invite me to stay in her house in Monroe; Charlotte stepped up to do my farm chores for a week; I found a non-stop flight to JFK; reserved a car and headed out.

I stayed overnight in Portland with friends since my flight out was at 6:30am.  The flight was ontime and actually got into JFK early!  Wandered around JFK for a while trying to figure out how to get to the rental car lot (think getting on the right Air Train).  Once in the car, I headed out of JFK and into NYC rush hour traffic.  About 2 hours later I was in the Hudson Valley, full of beautiful fall colors and at the door of my cousins, Gene and Shelley Kunin Kohen.  A while later, Shelley's sister Suzie and her husband Joel arrived from Toronto.  Shelley had a fast breaking get together for friends that evening and there was great food and conversation.

After dinner Shelley showed me what she had found while cleaning out her mother's apartment in the Bronx following her move to assisted living.  There was a box of old Dershewitz family photos, ones I had never seen before, and a leather handbag containing some old family documents including Bella's original birth certificate, naturalization certificates and what appeared to be a Polish lease agreement for a business in Kamienica dated 1911.  Suzie helped me organize the photos into family groups for later scanning and posting.

The next day we went over to see Aunt Belle.  She looked just great!  We had time to talk and get reacquainted after all these years.  It was a beautiful day and we thought we would visit the cemetery where many of the Dershewitz family members were buried.  Temple Israel Memorial Park of Nyack was close by so we all piled into the car and headed over.  The cemetery was very small in a nice country setting with one side for Christians and one for Jews with a chain link fence in between.  My cousin Norman, who lives close by, found this place and persuaded the immediate family members to purchase plots.  We found and I photographed headstones of grandparents Solomon and Gertrude Singer Dershewitz, Jesse and Gertrude Dershewitz Milner, Joe and Estelle Dershewitz Sakoff, Jack and Ann Dershewitz, Joe and Helen Dershewitz Richman and Leon "Russ" Kunin, Belle's late husband.  We placed rocks on the headstones, Joe said prayers and we bid adieu.

Aunt Belle's 90th birthday party was on Sunday, October 12th.  Her actual birthday was on October 22nd but this was the best time to get all the family together.  Cousins Norman and Ellie were there and we had a lot of catching up to do.  Norman had been the executor of Helen Richman's estate in 2000.  Helen, the youngest of the Dershewitz children, was always the family organizer and social director.  She was also a long time friend of my mother and was probably responsible for getting my mother and father together.  Norman could not remember seeing any collection of family photos or papers so I thought anything she had must have been lost.  A couple of days later I got a call from Norman saying that he, with the help of his wife Bonnie, had found a box of stuff that was Helen's and that I was welcome to come by and take a look.

The following day I drove over to Norman's house in Pearl River.  I walk in to find a pile of "stuff" covering a coffee table about 6" deep.  Where to start?  At the top of course.  We went through the photos separating them into family groups.  There was a mixture of Helen and Joe's family photos as well as ones that Aunt Helen had inherited or received from other family.  Many were old, pre-1940s, and others fairly recent.  Also included were many old documents.  I found original passports and other travel documents as well as some old letters and photo postcards with yiddish inscriptions.  We took a break and Norman treated me to lunch at his local favorite restaurant.  He is well known there and gives the entire staff a real hard time (in jest of course).  This was a most enjoyable and productive day.

I'm so glad that I was able to take the time to make this impulsive trip to visit family in New York.  Family and friend were great, fall weather was beautiful and connection to lost family was re-established.  Let's make sure we don't wait another 40 years.

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