Tuesday, May 02, 2000

The Sherksner's

About a year ago, the Sacksners made contact with a long lost South African branch of their family. Here is the story of that family and the the discovery, written by a member of the family, Eli Goldstein of Johannesburg.

Families Virtually Reunited via the Internet
By Eli Goldstein
Johannesburg South Africa

It is almost 100 years ago - Chanukah 1901, in the midst of the Anglo-Boer War and the Witwatersrand Gold Rush. The place is Jeppestown Shul in Johannesburg, South Africa. The occasion is the Bris (circumcision) of Ephraim Leib (Louis) Jackelson, son of Avrohom Yitzchak Jackelson, who had come to South Africa with his wife Batsheva Jackelson (nee Levin) in 1895 from Shavel and Telz in Lithuania. Chaya Leah Jackelson, one of the daughters, married Kalmen Meier Goldstein (formerly Olshvang) of Varniai, Lithuania in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 1908. These were my paternal grandparents.

Avrohom, my Great Grandfather, was the son of Yaakov Sherksner, of Libau (Liepaja) in Latvia. Libau (or Liepaja) is in Latvia just past the border with Lithuania. Libau is probably less than 100 miles from Telz. To avoid the "khappers" of the Russian Czar's army, who would conscript all Jewish males except the eldest son, to a stint of 25 years plus in the Siberian wasteland, Avrohom Sherksner was "adopted" by a family called Yokhelzohn in Shavel (Sialuliai). He took on the name Yokhelzohn, which was later changed to Jackelson in South Africa. His eldest brother, Boruch Sherksner, retained the surname since eldest sons were permitted to remain at home to provide and care for ageing parents.

Martin Gilbert's book "Atlas of Jewish History" mentions that by 1891, 700,000 Jews living east of the Pale of Settlement were driven into the Pale. This number probably would have included Latvian Jews, and may have been why the Sherksners could have relocated to either Telsiai or Siauliai (Shavel/Shavli) in Lithuania. The birthplace of Boruch Sherksner's son, Moshe Chaim Sacksner, is given as Libau on a document found by Rocky (Esther) Silverman, one of his daughters. It is possible the Sherksner family lived there when Moshe Chaim was born and later moved to Shavli or Telz This fact still needs to be verified.

Both Boruch and Avrohom studied at the famed Yeshiva of Telshe in Telz (Telsiai) Lithuania and received Smiche there. Telsiai was the original home of the famous Telz/Telshe Yeshiva which is now based in Wycliffe, (near Cleveland) Ohio, USA and at Telz-Stone in Israel.

In South Africa, about 6,000 Jews - 10 percent of the total population - lived in Johannesburg nine years after the discovery of gold and the city's establishment in 1886. While some came from Britain and Germany, more than half were from Eastern Europe, particularly from Lithuania and Latvia. An influx of Jewish immigrants from Lithuania and Latvia arrived in the 1890s and early 1900s. Bad times soon brewed - caused by the Jameson Raid in 1896, the re-election of President Kruger in 1898, and the outbreak of the Anglo-Boer War in 1899.

Two political ideologies, namely British imperialism and Afrikaner nationalism, were to clash at the turn of the nineteenth century in South Africa. Britain sought the unification of the whole of South Africa under the British flag. The existence of the two Boer republics namely the South African Republic (Transvaal) and the Orange Free State therefore was a stumbling block. The two republics on the other hand wanted to preserve their independence and to build their republics into regional forces. They were therefore not prepared to become part of a united South Africa under British authority.

Early Jewish settlers in Johannesburg flocked to Fordsburg, Mayfair and Doornfontein. These suburbs had many Jewish characteristics and families were found living near to one another. These were the days of wood-and-iron dwellings and the discomforts of early pioneering days. For many, the streets were not paved with gold but with poverty and there was a serious housing shortage.

Boruch had come to visit his younger brother and family and to see what South Africa was like. He was apparently not too impressed with the dearth of Yiddishkeit here at the time. The Jewish population at the time numbered about 8000 people Avrohom was living in Prospect Township, he had a trading store in what amounted to a miners camp. Later, Avrohom got into commercial property broking.

What really swayed Boruch's opinion of South Africa must have resulted from the so-called "hat story." At Ephraim Leib's Bris, his father Avrohom was wearing a "Cheesecutter" or "Boater" hat (made of straw). In Lithuania, the trend was for observant Jews to wear either "Homburg" or bowler hats. Boruch was very indignant at this Cheesecutter attire, as he felt Avrohom was "getting too Anglicised and too much influence from non-Jewish sources." They had an argument about this and the legend goes that Boruch said to Avrohom in Yiddish: "Du kukst ois vie an Engelse ferd un du host bald oysgeshmatterd" which, literally translated means "You look like an English 'horse' (ferd is Yiddish for horse but also a type of endearment term for a fool) and you have almost assimilated." The story goes that Boruch promptly left South Africa on the next boat and returned to Lithuania. The brothers seemingly lost contact with each other. Boruch subsequently emigrated from Lithuania to Montreal, Canada.

For many years my great-uncle, Ephraim Leib Jackelson and later I tried to make contact with Boruch Sherksner's family in Montreal but efforts to trace the family seemed futile. I wrote to the Rabbis of some Montreal communities and to editors of Jewish newspapers in Montreal with no results. While looking at the Jewish Genealogy site on the Internet one day in May 1999, I did a search on the surname Sherksner but spelled it as Saksner and came up with a number of matches. Jerrold Landau, who is related to the Epstein side of the family in the USA and Canada had apparently posted the family tree about a month previously on the Internet. A frenzied series of e-Mails going back and forth followed and eventually one of the Sacksner family in Montreal was asked to check Boruch Sherksner's tombstone inscription in Montreal. If it transpired that his father's name was listed as Yaakov then there would be no doubt. Due to the Internet and e-Mail, the whole process took less than 4 weeks, starting on 24 May 1999. We finally confirmed the connection on 18 June 1999 when Jeffrey Sacksner, a Great Grandson of Boruch, living in Montreal, went to the Baron de Hirsch cemetery to inspect the gravestone inscription and confirmed that Boruch's father's name was indeed Yaakov - as was Avrohom Yitzchak. So, after almost 100 years, the descendants of the two brothers were re-united, albeit virtually.

Since all of Avrohom Yitzchak's children were already deceased in 1999, it was difficult to ascertain whether Boruch and Avrohom were ever in touch with each other by letter after the hat incident. It is strange that despite the perception that they had not been in contact with each other for many years, and an age difference of eight years, the two brothers died in the same year, 1938/5698. Boruch Sherksner died on the 17th Adar 5698 in Montreal Quebec, Canada. Avrohom Yitzchak Jackelson, Boruch's younger brother, died on 21 September 1938 (25 Elul 5698) in Johannesburg South Africa.

Today the Sacksner family, descendants of Boruch Sherksner, are a large family in Montreal, Toronto, New York and other USA cities with some members in Israel. Many of them are highly committed orthodox Jews. What is also worthy of mention, however, is that Yiddishkeit in South Africa today, with one of the most committed communities in the world, is a lot different to what Boruch Sherksner saw in his trip to the dusty streets of Johannesburg nearly 100 years ago.

Avrohom's descendants mainly live in South Africa but many have moved to Australia, America and Canada. His Great-Great Grandson, Warren Goldstein, a practising Rabbi in Johannesburg, following in the tradition of his Great Great Grandfather, obtained Smiche from the Yeshiva Gedola of Johannesburg, whose Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Azriel Goldfein studied at the Telshe Yeshiva in Wycliffe, Ohio USA.

This is a story with a happy ending and how the course of history has come full circle. It shows how Divine intervention and modern telecommunications have re-built the most precious thing of Jewish life, home and family. Where letters between Lithuania and South Africa may have taken 2-3 months to arrive a century ago, the Internet and e-Mail has, in a flash, re-kindled family ties that were broken by a straw hat.

Recently, again through the Internet, the families have made contact with descendants of another Sherksner brother, Ascher, whose Serkin family live in Canada, the USA and England. Research continues.

Sunday, March 21, 1999

Eva Epstein Newspaper Story

Jerrold Landau found this article about Aunt Eva in the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin, March 8, 1999.

By Cynthia Nyman Engel

She was born on June 6, 1904 in Ogdensburg, New York, smack in the middle of the 10 Cornblat children, and grew up in Smiths Falls, "Where," she explains, "my father was in secondary materials."

Then, with a twinkle in her eye, 94-year-old Eva Epstein adds, "He was a junk dealer."

Coming from such a large family guaranteed, all through her life, that there were always plenty of people around. "So I never had the feeling I was going to be left alone," she says.

But today Eva Epstein is alone. And, being alone, the widow of the late Samuel Abbey Epstein and the sole surviving member f the original Cornblat clan readily acknowledges, "I cannot imagine living along. I am so grateful that I had Hillel Lodge to come to."

As a resident of the lodge, Eva Epstein can relax and enjoy the company of fellow residents, secure in the knowledge that kind and caring staff are always there to respond to all her needs.

"I am very well cared for here at Hillel Lodge," says Mrs. Epstein. "The care here is excellent. The meals are good, and they are kosher. The rooms are comfortable. We have a synagogue here, and the people are friendly.

"It's not an exciting life but it's a very secure life," she says with obvious contentment. "I find it very fulfilling. I've had the same friends for years and," she says, smiling her charming smile, "we are all getting older at the same time."

Mrs. Epstein held a responsible job in an insurance firm until she was 75. She chuckles at the memory of obtaining her skills from the Kent Street school for secretaries which bore the lofty name of 'The School for Higher English and Applied Arts.'

Both she and her husband Sam, a travelling salesman, were active in Jewish communal life. Although the sprightly nonagenarian admits, as a young woman she had never anticipated giving a Jewish seniors' residence as her home address.

"I remember that our Emunah Chapter held meetings here and that I was involved with the Women's Auxiliary of Hillel Lodge," she says. "Other than that I don't remember giving Hillel Lodge much thought. But I am so grateful it is here for me. I have enjoyed every minute of my life here.

The modest Mrs. Epstein fails to allude to here years as a volunteer and board member. She ably served as the board's secretary in the late '70s and early '80s.

Eva Epstein is looking forward to taking up residence in the new Bess and Moe Greenberg Family Hillel Lodge in the Joseph and Inez Zelikovitz Long Term Care Centre on the Broadview Jewish Community Campus.

"Besides the Jewish atmosphere, we will have easier access to so many recreational and social opportunities," she says happily.

Indeed they will. Once the new seniors' facility is located on the Campus, residents easily will share in community simchas via an underground tunnel leading directly into the Joseph and Rose Ages Family Building. The Jewish communal family will be complete.

The Community Capital Campaign has launched the final thrust of its fund-raising efforts to raise $1.5 million that will see a state-of-the-art Jewish Home for the Aged rise on the Jewish Community Campus. For our deserving community elders, for the deserving elders we will become, please respond generously.

Wednesday, April 15, 1998

Update on Eve Epstein

Here is a picture of Rachel Meira Landau (Tzippy and Jerrold's daughter) sitting enjoying a smile with her great-great-aunt Eva Epstein. Since Uncle Sam zl passed away, Eva has been living in the Hillel Lodge old age home in Ottawa. She is surrounded by many people she has known for many years, and enjoys participating in all the activities there. Whenever Tzippy and Jerrold visit Ottawa, they bring her up to date with the goings on of the family. If anyone of the family visits Ottawa, be sure to stop in and say hello.

Sunday, February 08, 1998

Update on the Zelikovitz's

I recently received this email from Solomon Epstein's brother Samuel Cohen's great-grandson Joel Zelikovitz. That makes him our cousin.
Dear David,

I was recently shown the Epstein Family tree. I thought I could fill in some blanks. I am Joel Zelikovitz. My paternal great grandfather was Samuel Cohen. (We have great photo's of him & his family).

My father, William, passed away June 25th 1997. He was President of Maude Lake Gold Mines which recently was taken over by McWatters Gold Mines. My uncle Joe Zelikovitz just passed away last week. The Ottawa Citizen did a wonderful article on him last Sunday. He played for the Roughriders and still holds a record for most interceptions in a game.(7) However the CFL started in 1958 & his record was 1938 Oct 15th. So it is a Canadian Senior Football Record not a CFL record.

Joel Zelikovitz
He also sent some updates to the geneology page. I found a link to an earlier newspaper article about his uncle, who was called the "Flying Hebrew" by the sportswriters of his day. The article is in the next post.

The Flying Hebrew

'Flying Hebrew' a star once more thanks to nursing home
Sunday, November 17, 1996 - Ottawa Citizen

Display cases at the door of every patient's room at the Perley and Rideau Veterans' Health Centre are the best ideas designers had. Without them, a person wouldn't get to know people like The Flying Hebrew.

For two years, I've been a regular visitor to the Perley. My mother lives there. Call them chronic care patients, or long-term stay clients, or find another name, but for most of them it's the last home they'll have. Most have serious damage caused by age. Many can't communicate. Many are bedridden.

One man, a stroke victim, is confined to a wheelchair and unable to speak. We've often made eye contact and I have wondered whether he was aware of his surroundings. Sometimes, he seemed barely able to stay awake. At other times his bright blue eyes seemed to be seeing into me. Often, they seemed angry.

His wife spends most of her day, every day, with him.

I learned his name from the plate on his door. I was able to check the display case. There was a framed photo and a newspaper clipping. I met handsome young Joe Zelikovitz, Ottawa Rough Riders No. 25, star "flying wing" (halfback) of the 1930s. The clipping was from Ottawa Jewish Bulletin and Review, 1986. Hang on: There must be a mistake. It says he intercepted seven passes in one game. It seems improbable.

There's more. The brief history paints him as one of Ottawa's greatest athletes in many sports, and he earned the nickname The Flying Hebrew courtesy of the sportswriters of his day. He is a member of the Ottawa Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.

A check into the Canadian Football League record book gives the record for most interceptions in one game to Rod Hill of Winnipeg, Hamilton at Winnipeg, Sept. 11, 1961. Five only. Greg Fulton at the CFL Hall of Fame in Hamilton said records only go back to when the CFL was formed in 1958. Zelikovitz played in a league known as The Big Four: Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto and Hamilton. Seven interceptions in one game seemed unlikely to him too.

The game was Oct. 15, 1936, a Saturday. The following Monday the Citizen's coverage was massive, and written by sports editor Tommy Shields. Reading through it I was surprised at the number of names of players I had know later in their lives. Andy Tommy. Tiny Herman. Leo Seguin would go on to become Ottawa police chief and sign my first press card in 1962. Carl (Soggy) Norton would go on to head a squad of Ottawa detectives and spend much time telling me to go away because I bugged him.

Zelikovitz was the hero of the day. But no mention of seven interceptions.

Joe's wife, Inez, was spoonfeeding him at their regular table against the window. I told her there must have been a mistake about the seven interceptions. She was adamant.

Back to the microfilm. Bingo. There it is in a sidebar by reporter Jack Koffman. Zel, the Hebrew Flying Wing, intercepted seven passes. He was prominent from start to finish.

Sports heroes of his day were routinely offered jobs with the police department or fire department. Without television sports heroes to overshadow them, they were applauded when they walked into rooms. They were paid little and did it for the love of the game.

Joe turned down an offer to be a cop, and became the third generation to run the family business on Bank Street, Zelikovitz's Leather Goods. He and Inez had no children.

I was waiting for Inez to take the photo out of the display case, and apologizing for doubting her, when eye contact with No. 25 was made again. He was in his wheelchair, held in by a tray locked across the chair's arms. It was probably imagination, but I thought I saw laughter.

Now I could see not the man who is, but the man who was. There was some sense of guilt for not seeing him sooner, and for not paying more attention to those display cases.

He's 82 now. The stroke hit in 1990. Among his peers today, he is still a top physical specimen in that he requires no medication.

The rooms are occupied by men and women who often can't walk or talk. Many drool and babble. But they are also there in their fighter planes, war nurses' uniforms, wedding clothes and family reunions. Strong hearts have robbed them of dignity by letting other parts wear out first.

Joe Zelikovitz, through his display case, gave me something of a smarten-up slap. A newspaper clipping and a photo give him back his dignity. He is no longer a damaged old man, but a story. He's a reminder that if we keep our eyes and minds open, we can still learn from, or at least be reminded by, people like him. The reminder is to look beyond the obvious.

Sadly, many occupied rooms have empty display cases.

Tuesday, February 03, 1998

Sharon & Mike's Wedding

At the ceremony itself

The guests at the wedding

The dancing and happiness

And the new extended family

Sharon's New Extended Family
Top from left: Mike's son Amitai, Limor (Eitan's wife), Mike's son Chovav
Sharon's kids: Tzippy, Eitan and Talya, and Mike's son Matanya
Lower row: Mike and Sharon

Wednesday, May 28, 1997

Eli and Gila

Eli Rachlin, son of Bernie and Sara Rachlin, married Gila nee Goldstein of Teaneck NJ in Long Island. Eli is doing a postgraduate dental program in New York, and Gila is a speech pathologist.

Here's how Eli describes the shidduch: "We met at a friend's house where we were both invited for a YomTov meal. For years, my mother had been saving my late bubby's ring (Fanny Epstein, AH) for me to present to my future wife. This makes the fact that Gila and I met on Shmini Atzeret (Fanny Epstein's yartzeit) all the more bashert and remarkable!"

Friday, April 11, 1997

Tamar & Eli Seeman

Here are some pictures from Tamar Emerson and Eli Seeman's wedding, which took place in Toronto on 18 March.

The couple at their Purim Sheva Brachot