Book Review Thursday – The Family: Three Journeys into the Heart of the Twentieth Century

TheFamilyThe story begins in far western Russia in the mid-1800’s and chronicles the amazing history of one Jewish scribe’s family, a family whose roots stretch back to Moses’ brother Aaron:

Shimon Dov HaKohen was one of God’s secretaries, a scribe who laid down the law stroke by black stroke on the scraped, sanded hides of animals.  The son of a scribe, the father and grandfather of scribes, Shimon Dov was a member of the Jewish priestly caste that traces its ancestry (through the male line) back to Moses’ brother Aaron, the first high priest of the Israelites.  The biblical Ezra also stood in this line.

Author David Laskin tells a sweeping story of his family’s history that spanned Russian revolutions, two World Wars and the birth of the state of Israel in 1948.  All of Shimon Dov’s children, grandchildren and great grandchildren played a part in these world-changing events of the early to mid-twentieth century.

Shimon Dov was, of course, a devout Jew who raised his children with expectations they would follow in his footsteps but the world began changing in the early twentieth century and the children and grandchildren of Shimon Dov had other ideas of how to make their way in the world.  The majority of the family tree would immigrate to America and have successful businesses.

One of Shimon Dov’s granddaughters, Itel (Ida) Rosenthal, was a dressmaker who came to America and opened a business catering to the high society ladies of New York City and New Jersey.  She became the co-founder of the Maidenform Brassiere Company and worked hard to achieve success and wealth.  Her company was even able to contribute to World War II efforts by fashioning a “bird bra” for homing pigeons who accompanied paratroopers jumping into enemy territory (you’ll have to read the book to find out the details!).

All of the children and grandchildren of Shimon Dov assumed “Americanized” names when they arrived in the United States.  Oldest son Avram Akiva became “Abraham Cohen” and his children became Harry, Hyman, Sam and Ida (Itel).  Itel soon married Wolf (William) Rosenthal, the love of her life from Russia, and settled in New Jersey.  The family worked hard to make a life for themselves in their new country and eventually the brothers joined with father Abraham and founded A. Cohen & Sons.

One granddaughter of Shimon Dov was fiercely Zionist and at the age of twenty-two she immigrated to Palestine and eventually married her first cousin, Chaim.  They had a family and were witnesses to the founding of Israel in 1948.  The other part of the family remained in Russia, which over the years switched back to Poland, depending on German and Russian conquests.  Even though they tried to immigrate either to America or Palestine to escape the horrors of the Holocaust, immigration rules were restricted making that impossible.  The family that had stayed behind in Russia all perished in various horrific ways in the “Final Solution.”

I found the story fascinating and was able to find some of the historical records referred to throughout the book so that made the story even more vivid to me.  If you’re interested in genealogical study and family histories, this book is a must read.

Rating:  ★★★★★

Have a GREAT day . . . someday it will be HISTORY!

© Sharon Hall (Digging History), 2014.


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