Personal History

A Family Photograph

Note: An earlier version of this was password protected because I wanted to address my family directly. This version should make more sense to the general reader.

Years ago my father, Marty, gave me a copy of a photograph of the Acker/Samuel(Weissbuch) family, assembled in Manchester, UK around 1900. I don’t know if he knew more about the photo, but he never gave me any details. The family had migrated from Rumania not long before. The group is photographed in front of and hemmed in by, brick walls, in tiers, with a gaggle of kids sitting in the front row. I have been going through folders of family photos lately, (partly so the younger members of my family won’t have to do it some day). I came across a copy of the photograph.

Now, in this family was a boy who would become a well-known writer, a Zionist thinker, and something of a radio personality in the U.S. His name was Maurice Samuel (my father’s first cousin. He was a hero to Marty in his youth, and I remember hearing him talk with poet Mark Van Doren on national radio. This conversation, the subject of which was the Old Testament, went on weekly in the summer for twenty years! They were also on TV.)

Maurice Samuel and Mark Van Doren

In 1963 Maurice published a memoir entitled Little Did I Know, the first sentence of which reads

 “Among the people who rise out of my past to claim first mention in this book, my uncle Berel is the most persistent.”

 Berel Acker was my great-grandfather.

I have had Maurice’s book (my father’s copy) by my reading chair for months and I dip into it now and then. I started reading, on page 72, a few days ago, this: “My mother’s family came to Manchester in full force, part of it moving on, as I have told, to America. I have a group photograph taken in 1902, in the squalid backyard of 5 Norfolk Street, on the occasion of my aunt Chaya’s wedding, which was celebrated in our upstairs front room. Uncle Berel is in it, billycock set jauntily on his head, a cigarette dangling from his lips. I am there with my twin sister Dora, in the front row, seated on the ground, and into my face only a Wordsworth could have read trailing clouds of glory…”

Vicinity of 5 Norfolk St. Manchester

An amazing coincidence that I found the photo I read about in Maurice’s book just a few days later, giving me a lot more detail and a certain flavor.

Marty wrote on the back of the small copy I found that the little boy at the extreme left is his father, my grandfather Isaac.

In 1995 Marty and I visited the English relatives. In cousin Harry Rothman’s living room was a large version of the photo.

This photo was taken in 1955, in the New York area. My brother Dave and I are sitting on Isaac’s lap. Seated to our left is Berel. My mother and father and two grandmothers are standing behind. The woman at the left is unidentified, possibly one of my aunts.

Maurice’s depiction of Berel agrees with everything I was told by my father. Berel was the man of the world, the “cool grandfather.”  Marty’s other grandfather, who was named Katz, was so religious that he established his own synagogue and became its rabbi. Kids of Marty’s generation would say “when the Katz away, the mice will play.”

It’s gratifying to have little bits of family history come together like this.

Standard

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.