THE BOOK OF LIFE - Gluskin Family History: Strategies and Methods of Jewish Genealogy (Books in the Time of Coronavirus)
1:21AM Mar 27, 2020
[Music, Intro] This is The Book of Life, a show about Jewish kidlit, mostly. I'm Heidi Rabinowitz. Welcome to our special series, Books in the Time of Coronavirus. We'll hear from authors who had to cancel their spring 2020 promotional events due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Today we'll hear from author David Levy, about his scholarly work Strategies and Methods of Jewish Genealogy, which brings Jewish women's history center stage.
I want to thank Heidi for the chance to share a book that I recently published on Gluskin Levy family history, which in reality is a part of a 10 volume set dedicated to my daughter. If you want to read more about those 10 volumes and how to obtain them, please Google David B Levy University of Maryland College Park alumni spotlight. The volume that I want to focus on in the program today. And I thank Heidi for the opportunity to do so involves a recuperation of Jewish women's history. I work in an all women's orthodox college. And I'd become very interested in researching Jewish women's history, women in halakha, and many areas related to Jewish women and bringing them from sometimes the margins to center stage. And volume seven does exactly that. Attempts to the book brings the Rebetzins and the sisters and the daughters from the margins to center stage to give a matriarchal history of an elite rabbinic dynasty. I enjoy bringing to light these things that are often discriminated against in terms of what is given playtime, so to speak in Academic and popular publications due to various reasons of gender bias. For example, many of the women featured in volume seven, are all remarkable for their pioneering, not only in professional fields, their courage, resilience and extreme academic, and social and cultural achievements but also just as ordinary human beings as Virginia Woolf would say, in the quotidian and living a life of intellectual, moral and spiritual integrity, I'd like to feature three of Rav Menachem Gluskin's daughters, who achieved advanced doctoral degrees in the former Soviet Union. And two in what we call Hebrew philology, and Jewish history. There was much gender bias in their field and misogynistic discrimination against women in the workplace. Not only all over the world, but in Russia, particularly in Jewish Studies. And Dr. Gitel Gluskin is absolutely extraordinary. She published her doctorate on an unknown manuscript of Rabbi Yehudah Alharizi best known for the Takamoni that was in the geniza of the Saltykov library Firkovitch collection. She later went in her career to publish on a Hebrew mathematical work that dealt with the Hebrew calendar and Kiddish lavona and all very scientific complex issues related to that area. The second sister Dr. Leah Gluskina, was very accomplished in Second Temple Judaism and ancient history in general she read Latin and Greek, she published on Philo, Josephus in the formation in the Mishna. A third sister, Dr. Sonia Gluskin was recognized internationally as the world's authority on medieval Russian language, and linguistics. And she was an expert also in Russian literature of Pushkin and Dostsoivski Chekov, Tolstoy and many other literati who wrote in Russian. Esther Gluskin, the fourth daughter, was a member of HaShomer HaTzair a secular Zionist Organization. She suffered incredible Miserat nefesh for her Zionist activities which included sending funds, capital, out of Russia, which was a crime, to Eretz Yisrael for the yishuv and for other reasons of you know, keeping Hebrew, modern Hebrew alive and activist groups of meeting about Jewish culture, she was sent to Siberia. They say her hair turned white in a week. She underwent really great suffering due to her Zionist commitments as a member of HaShomer HaTzair and as you know, the Baal ha Tanya has also suffered richilut from the mitnagdim for in part sending funds to Eretz Yisrael. Another great woman featured is Rachel Rabinovich Gluskin who was the daughter of Rabbi Eliezer Rabinovich and the wife of Rav Menachem. But she was remarkable in her own right. She lived in abject poverty. The communists took away Rav Gluskin and Fraidl's bank account, their apartment. They had really nothing to live on. And yet as a Rebbetzin in the minyan, she was notorious for the most delicious kugel that she shared with the daveners of her husband's congregation. Fraidl was an extraordinary woman that much more could be said about later, who not only was a great Ezer Kinegdo, in very difficult circumstances, of persecution in Russia, Rav Gluskin was imprisoned twice. You can imagine what a wife could worry about her husband after being detained by the KGB and tortured. The communists withdrew, basically, the bank accounts, the apartment, so that later on in life Rav Gluskin lived with his three daughters in the Choral synagogue of St. Petersburg known as Petrograd. They barely had enough fuel for the oven, the stove that kept them warm. It was very difficult conditions and all of these women, the sisters, the daughters, the wives and the mothers with great courage, resilience and just incredible strength, kept Judaism alive, kept the folkways alive, and are very remarkable. The Czars and communists did not make living, being a Jew very easy in the former Soviet Union. The next woman I'd like to feature is Miriam Helfgott Gluskin Sax , my grandmother's on the maternal side. She was born in Lovov, went to Gomel, Yekatrinislav and then Minsk, and then, briefly to England and then Baltimore, where the family was allowed to come with an affidavit from Dr. Nathan Helfgott, who was in Baltimore. My grandmother was trained as a dentist in Russia. America would not honor her dental degree. So she went back to school to become a nurse, really only knowing English, and she learned English very quickly and excelled. And one of her claims to fame is that she became the oldest living nurse of the graduating class of Sinai Hospital in Baltimore. She lived to a ripe old age of 105. And she remembers also object poverty. She told me she walked five miles in Russia to stand in line for a few potatoes during a famine of economic scarcity. And she remembers her uncle Rav Gluskin davoning and shuckling back and forth and on Pesach with a kittel and then on Sukkot, etc. And she had a phenomenal memory and transferred all this knowledge of the old country to me, which is really something I'm very lucky to have experienced in the blessing of my grandmother Miriam, who was a remarkable person, my great grandmother Kayla Leiba Gluskin would make radishes in honey. She was the oldest sister Rav Menachem. And she was a very educated woman. She came from an elite rabbinic dynasty. Her father was Rabbi Aaron Ori Gluskin of Paritch after Rabbi Hillel Paritch, her grandfather was Rabbi Yeshuah Gluskin of Lvov. I guess it'd be her great great grandfather was Rabbi Moshe Zev Gluskin confidant of the Netziv. But Kayla Leiba is remarkable. The theory behind the turning the radishes, something bitter into something sweet with the honey. She had a whole really life velten shayn of how one approaches tribulations and challenges to make the bitter become sweet. And that was the reason why she made this candy and radishes something bitter but with honey so it became sweet. Speaking about folk ways of cooking, another would be my father's Grandmother Leah Eisenberg who is the daughter of Esther Eisenberg from Hungary. She had a cookbook that was over 300 years old. And she described in there or her ancestors did as well, how to make gefilte fish by you know, putting the fish in the bathtub, so to speak, and really, from scratch matzah balls, tzimmes, "don't make a tzimmes over that;" kreplach and all sorts of Jewish delicacies. That cookbook was donated to the Jewish Museum of Baltimore. And it is actually a very rare item. A note about my grandmother Miriam again to return. She was a Yiddish speaker and she met her husband Dr. Daniel Sachs while working in the maternity ward of Sinai Hospital as a nurse. At that time, interestingly, doctors were not allowed to date nurses, so they eloped to Philadelphia where two prominent Habad rabbis signed their ketuba. However, unfortunately, tragedy struck. Later, Miriam, my grandmother was driving a car on the New Jersey Turnpike and a truck driver hit them from behind. My mother's father, Dr. Benjamin Sachs was killed immediately. And my grandmother Miriam had a hip replacement, knee replacement, shoulder replacement, teeth replacement, terrible arthritis and other complications from that accident. And she never complained. She always saw the glass half full. And she was a tehillim sager, she recited techinis in Yiddish. Her devout Hasidic faith kept her positive, courageous, and with hope, and allowed her to endure, she lived to 105 years old despite being the bionic woman. My mother is probably the cause for longevity as well. My mother Ruth Levy took extraordinary care of my grandmother Miriam, she fulfilled the commandment "kavod et avikhaha ve et emekhah" better than anybody I've ever witnessed. Not only bringing kosher dainties from afar for my grandmother, Miriam, who like lox and bagels and other things from seven mile lane. But she also would go to extraordinary acts of sacrifice to make sure my grandmother was comfortable and had all that she needed in North Oaks retirement community where Rabbi Oberstein was her rabbi and officiated at my grandmother Miriam's lavaya. My mother Ruth would go so far as Rabbi Tarfon did to get on her knees at nighttime and put the slippers on my grandmother's feet or her socks to keep her feet warm. That's attributed to Rabbi Tarfon in the Gemara. My mother really, really kept my grandmother Miriam in great health. And that is the reason for longevity. A note about my mother . She went to Bryn Mawr College at the age of 13 or 14. She was very precocious. She was very bright. A lot can be said about the standards of Bryn Mawr College at the time to get a BA she had to translate a Platonic dialogue a page of it, a page of Kant's Kritique des Reinen Vernunft, and La Fontaine's les fables . But the main thing after she graduated from Bryn Mawr in Pennsylvania, she had a career teaching English literature to an all Jewish school, girls, and obviously, you know, was probably just working on their grammar and their creative writing skills. And here my mother, you know, knew Comparative Literature and could read many languages of texts in the original. But see, she was always positive about teaching there. She loved it. She was concerned about her students, or students visited her later and told her how much of an impact they may she made on them as a teacher, and as again her honoring and revering her parents was a mitzvah that was absolutely eclipsed anybody I've ever seen. In her devotion to her mother, Miriam. I mean putting on the slippers and socks. Like Rabbi Tarfon did is an important analogy. My mother Ruth served my grandmother Miriam as the biblical Ruth served Naomi. My mother Shabbos table was a place of lively intellectual discussion with fascinating people coming through like Dr. Yoel Wachtell, who has two PhDs, one in agriculture from Hebrew University in Jerusalem, one in Jewish philosophy, as well. Dr. Shmuel Litov, whose grandfather was the tehillim sager of Safed, and my friend, Ariel Noy, who is now a Melamed in the Israeli school system. Dr. Litov for instance, wrote his dissertation on Shmuel Yosef Agnon at Dropsy. He was a real intellectual had a tremendous Hebrew library. And and then of course, there are other people at the Shabbos table. Leo Bretholz, remarkable, comes to mind. He was a Shoah survivor who wrote a work called Leap into Darkness, Sprung in der Dunkel, I think is the title, and he was a member of the French Underground and resistance against the Nazis. And then my sister Elizabeth went to Johns Hopkins. So my mother invited a lot of students who were from different countries, at our Shabbos table from Hopkins, such as one young lady from Turkey. And I remember we went visited Istanbul and this Jewish family reciprocated. And I've never had such delicious Jewish food on the Bosphorus in my life. My mother also hosted the Peabody musical students. My father is a very accomplished, he should be well (le meah ve-ezreim) pianist, went to Peabody music conservatory from the age of 5 to 18, and later accomplished a degree in musicology and piano. So we had a lot of Peabody students coming over and my mother on Sundays would host these musicales and it took a lot of planning. She bought expensive kosher cheeses and all sorts of deli kosher delicacies, and the people from Peabody, professors and students, would give a five minute spiel about the piece they were going to play. And then they'd play classical music in the small house we lived in on Woodcrest Avenue. And it was a very vibrant intellectual environment. We had some extremely accomplished musicians from the Baltimore Symphony, the head cellist, we had from the Washington Symphony, and countless music students from Peabody coming through the house on Sundays. And my mother would host that, of course by what's the Jewish mothers have a lot of good kosher food around for those musicales. I'd like to mention if you're interested in that aspect of the music side of growing up, see my book Music and Medicine. Actually, it was written by my father, I wrote the introduction, and more can be found there. My maternal grandmother was Miriam, as you know, lived to 105, but my paternal grandmother, Ruth Bear Levy, also lived to 98, very remarkable ripe old age and she took up painting late in her life, and she was a student of Herman Merrill. But then she surpassed him even. And she had exhibitions all over the world. And in Maryland, her painting can still be found today at the University of Maryland College Park. She had an exhibit at the Baltimore Museum of Art and other places. She was written up many times as a folk artist and an impressionist, she started off more in the impressionist vein. And then she moved to folk art. She was called the grandma Moses of Baltimore. In one article, some of her paintings depict the family scenes and growing up, my sister's bat mitzvahs, my bar mitzvah, still life of Shabbos candles, the grandchildren's skipping rope, me fishing, I love to fish. She had a lot of diverse subjects in her in her painting, and watercolors and so forth. She loved the Western Maryland and West Virginia pristine virgin forests, where she painted Dan's rock and the mountains and meadows and she was into nature painting as well. She was also very literate. She knew German fluently. She read Goethe in the original, Rilke and Heinriche Heine, etc. She liked poetry quite a bit she had a large collection of poetry books. I want to mention a little bit more about Gitel Gluskina, one of Rav Gluskin's daughters. You'll find in the book, anecdotes that you don't find an academic works even though there are academic aspects to our book, Gitel, who I interviewed in Givatayim twice. would tell me things you don't hear in academic publications like Dr. Sol Lieberman, who was a brother in law of Rav Menachem Mendel Gluskin was considered by the women very good looking, she said. You see Dr. Lieberman, who was a nephew of the Chazon Ish, his first wife was Rochelle Rabinovich, and Rav Menachem married Fraidl Rabinovich. And so there are other anecdotes that are... I'll close with one that is sort of in the twilight zone. I was interviewing Gitel in Givatayim. I asked what were the last moments you remember of your father? The bet din of Minsk and Petrograd and she said, Well, he went to a Hasidic wedding. We went together. We came back late and my father knew that he had a yahrzeit for his wife, Fraidl Rabinovich Gluskin. So he lit a lichtelach, a memorial candle. And then he got into bed and he got cold and he passed on. And I said, what was the yahrzeit? She said, 13th of Kislev, which was exactly the yahrzeit of her mother five years before. I said, What's the coincidence? She says, Well, you know, megilas Esther, "what if the king had not been sleepless that night, What if Mordichai didn't overhear the plot to destroy the Jews?" The coincidence is that their neshamat were so bound up together in friendship and love and devotion and really higher purpose of transmitting Judaism to the next generations into their congregation as religious leaders, a rebetzin and a rabbi and Rav Gluskin made extraordinary efforts in that realm. I'm not going to expand on that because this is about bringing the women's history from the margins to the center stage. But Rav Gluskin baked matzah in secret, he did brit milah in secret, he taught Torah in secret. He did extraordinary things. He was arrested by the KGB twice for his keeping Judaism alive, and the sparks alive. But for this vignette for Heidi's program, we have to acknowledge that the great rabbinic dynasty and the accomplishments of these rabbis writing wonderful sefarim and learning and guiding their congregants, none of this would have been possible without the rebetzins, without their daughters, without their mothers and the book volume seven is a tribute to Jewish women's history. And particularly is a matriarchal history. Acknowledging the extraordinary women going back 15 generations. I was lucky to interview some people had great memories about going back three or four generations, but there are a lot of books in archives and libraries I also was able to find. The book draws on archival sources in many languages Hebrew, Yiddish, Russian, even Hungarian, other languages, German and French, which I do know. We hope you enjoy the book. We wish everybody well during this time of the coronavirus. And please read lots of good books and I hope you enjoy this volume seven of this 10 volume set that's available at the University of Maryland website. David B. Levy, University of Maryland College Park alumni spotlight, you can click on the links there and see the other 10 books that have appeared. Volume seven is the jewel in the crown and represents 30 years of work since I met Rabbi David Katz in Baltimore, whose father Rabbi Moshe Katz z"l was also received semicha from Rabbi Eliezer Rabinovich as my mother's uncle Rav Gluskin did and from there in high school, my research and filing cabinets expanded and expanded and B"H volume seven is is now available. The matriarchal history brought center stage is definitely essential and key and a very important aspect of the positive contribution this book makes. Thank you.
[Music, Outro] If you write or illustrate Jewish books, and your new book's spring 2020 promotional events have been canceled due to the pandemic, I invite you to take part in The Book of Life's special series Books in the Time of Coronavirus. Visit tinyurl.com/booksCOVID for instructions or get in touch with me at 561-206-2473 or BookofLifepodcast@gmail.com. Listeners: You know the drill: check out BookofLifepodcast.com for links to every way to reach me, every way to support the show, every way to get more information, and to hear every Book of Life episode since 2005, since you've probably got extra time on your hands right now. Thanks as always to theFreilachmakers Klezmer String Band for our background music. Please stay healthy. And everybody please wash your hands.