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Friedman Family Circle to mark centennial

 
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Rabbi Paul Teicher displays the family tree of the Friedman Family Circle, which may be the oldest Jewish family circle in the United States.

Two centuries after the 1808 marriage of Pinchas Friedman and Chana Glicksman in Poland, their descendants are still celebrating the union.

They belong to the Friedman Family Circle, the oldest Jewish family circle to be incorporated in the United States, according to its members. On Sept. 13, the group will celebrate its 100th birthday in Teaneck, Los Angeles, Jerusalem, and Florida.

Rabbi Paul Teicher of Teaneck, a Friedman on his mother’s side, has taken on the task of updating the Friedman family tree. The latest tree, created after painstaking research, has 2,500 family members, 2,000 of whom are alive. A previous one, drawn up 38 years ago, listed 1,300, all descendants of Pinchas and Chana. The trees are distributed among the members of the family.

“I have facts on 2,500 people,” Teicher said, beaming. “We have family all over the world, Australia, Europe, North America, South America, Singapore, Germany, England, about 30 of the states in the U.S., [as well as in] Canada and South America. I send out e-mails and circulars. It’s time-consuming to update all the marriages, births. It’s a draining but fun activity.”

Pinchas and Chana Friedman lived in southern Poland and never came to America. Only their youngest child, who lived in Jersey City, and grandchildren emigrated. But they spread out and multiplied.

Teicher became active in the group because his mother, Tillie Teicher, was its first financial secretary in 1910. “She was always involved and dragging the family to meetings. When she passed away in 1970 I created a family tree the following year and dedicated it to her,” he recalled.

Teicher’s grandfather came to American in 1888 and his great-uncle Akiva started the organization in 1909 on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. The group was formed at first to bring relatives over from Europe. Every month they’d meet and collect nickels and dimes toward that end. It was incorporated in the early 1920s, aided poor Jews during the Depression, and bought cemetery plots in Queens. The Jewish cemetery is located off of the Jackie Robinson Highway.

“I was always involved because my mother dragged me to meetings,” Teicher said. “The cousin who ran things was getting older. He needed someone to do it, and how could I turn him down? When I started, I typed on a typewriter and then I got my first computer in 1983.”

His daughter-in-law, Debby Teicher, who is actively involved in the group, noted that with the older generation dying out, the upcoming reunion “might be the last hurrah for the Friedman Family Circle. We’re trying to interest the younger generation in getting involved, but the reasons the family circle formed don’t exist for them. Keeping in touch with your extended family is much easier now with cell phones, e-mail, and Facebook allowing you to stay connected with people far away.”

Teicher’s daughter, Miriam Schenker of Teaneck and herself the mother of four Friedman descendants, recalls attending annual Friedman meetings on the Lower East Side. “We’d go once a year for Chanukah and I’d meet all these relatives, fourth cousins. It was a way of keeping the family together.”

She has her father’s family tree on display in her house. “Anytime someone comes over to our house, it’s the first thing they look at,” she said. “How many people can say they have a detailed tree that goes back to 1790?”

Schenker recalls that when her father was working on the tree several years ago, “He kept asking me, ‘Do you know Bruce Abrams in Teaneck?’ and I insisted I didn’t. In 1990 they held a big party to dedicate the family tree. We walked into the synagogue where it was being held and my husband saw a guy, Bruce Abrams, whom he knew from shul. It turns out, we’re third cousins.”

When Schenker’s son Yonatan was a high school senior, he went to Brazil to visit a friend. Teicher looked on his list and found a relative in Brazil. He asked Schenker’s son to call him.

“Wherever we go in the world, we can find people on our tree.”

 
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A rabbi hasn’t walked into the bar ... yet

It’s not every day that a liquor license comes up for sale in Teaneck. (State licensing laws limit the number of licenses in a formula based on a town’s population.)

So when Jonathan Gellis heard that the owner of Vinny O’s in Teaneck was looking to sell the establishment, including the license, after 28 years behind the bar, he realized that only one of the more than 20 kosher restaurants in Teaneck could sell alcohol.

That seemed to be an opportunity.

Mr. Gellis is a stockbroker by day. He’s used to working in a regulated business — and the alcohol business in New Jersey is highly regulated.

Mr. Gellis grew up in Teaneck; his parents moved the family here from Brooklyn in 1975, back when the town had only one kosher restaurant. His four children attend Yeshivat Noam and the Frisch School, and he serves on the board of both institutions. He also is president of Congregation Keter Torah.

 

The converso’s dilemma

Local group goes to New Mexico to learn about crypto-Jews

Imagine that you were raised as a Catholic. Then one day — perhaps as a beloved parent or grandparent lay dying and leaned over to whisper something in your ear — you learned that your family once was Jewish. Your ancestors were converted forcibly some 500 years ago.

For those people all over the world who have had that experience, the next step is not entirely clear. Do they jump in with both feet and vigorously pursue their new Jewish identities, or do they simply go about their business, choosing to do nothing with this new information? These dilemmas, and more, were the subject of a recent Road Scholar program in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

The topic — “New Mexico’s Conversos and Crypto-Jews” — continues to fascinate both Jews and non-Jews, as evidenced by the religious identity of the attendees. Among those participating in this month’s session — there are 10 such programs held each year — were five residents from our area, including this author.

 

How to learn Hebrew

Confronting American Jews’ linguistic illiteracy, many programs offer help

Can you read a Hebrew newspaper or order a meal in an Israel restaurant? If you’re like the vast majority of American Jews, the answer is no.

“Half of Jews (52%), including 60% of Jews by religion and 24% of Jews of no religion, say they know the Hebrew alphabet,” according to last October’s “Portrait of Jewish Americans,” the famous study released by the Pew Research Center.

“But far fewer (13% of Jews overall, including 16% of Jews by religion and 4% of Jews of no religion) say they understand most or all of the words when they read Hebrew,” the report continues.

Alarmed by this finding, the World Zionist Organization, the Israeli Education Ministry, and several partner organizations recently launched the Hebrew Language Council of North America to help more Jews become conversant in the language of their literature, lore, and land — as well as the language of their peers in Israel.

 

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Did heated rhetoric play role in shooting of Giffords?

WASHINGTON – The 8th District in southern Arizona represented by U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords comprises liberal Tucson and its rural hinterlands, which means moderation is a must. But it also means that spirits and tensions run high.

Giffords’ office in Tucson was ransacked in March following her vote for health care reform — a vote the Democrat told reporters that she would cast even if it meant her career. She refused to be cowed, but she also took aim at the hyped rhetoric. She cast the back-and-forth as part of the democratic process.

 
 
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