It so happens that we have two family yartzeits (annivesaries of passing) on two back-to-back Tevet dates, and since our children don’t know much about these ancestors (their great-great-grandparents) thought it would be meaningful to share something about them, and while they are from two different sides of the family, something they share in common:
BUBBE SHAINA ROCHEL BUNIN – TEVET 20
Tevet 20 is famous for being the Rambam’s yartzeit, the anniversary of the passing of Maimonides, the great Jewish scholar, physician, philosopher and organizer and codifier of Jewish law. The same Hebrew date also happens to be the yartzeit of my (Mendel Rubin’s) great-grandmother, Shaina Rochel (for whom my mother is named) Bunin. She died in Siberia, during the flight from the Nazis and WWII from primitive heating system that killed her and some of my grandmother’s (Bubbe Risha Piekarsky) siblings of carbon monoxide poisoning. My grandmother and her sister (and others?) were saved by the quick thinking and fast-acting efforts of Yehudah Beker (related to the Brikmans), who happened to pass by and heard moaning and crying sounds from where they where sheltered and dragged them outside into the freezing but fresh air. That’s the story of how Bubbe Shaina Rochel tragically died, but here’s a tidbit how she lived. She came from Klimevitch, a town of rich Chabad Chassidic warmth, from a long-line of Chassidic women dating back to the times of the Alter Rebbe. Her husband, R’ Avraham Abba Bunim didn’t appear to be a Chassid himself, but she did raise her children with the warmth of those Klimevitch traditions, the strong family stock (especially strong women on that side, “Risheshines” they called them, going back to the first Bubbe Risha – who remarried R’ Mordechai, the brother of the Alter Rebbe) coming through. My grandmother, Bubbe Risha, grew up knowing good and well what Klimevitch meant and what it stood for and she cherished that. She got that from her mother, Bubbe Shaina Rochel.
ZEIDE SHMUEL “SAM” BACKMAN – TEVET 21
And just one day later, the 21st of Tevet, is the yartzeit of my (Mendel Rubin’s) great-grandfather, from the other side of the family, Shmuel “Sam” Backman, father of Bubbe Yocheved Miriam Rubin. Originally from Turev in Belarus/Lithuania, he and many fellow Turev-ities emigrated to the United States in the early 20th century, settling mostly in New York City. Most of the folks from Turev dropped their Jewish observance on the boat trip over to America, but not Sam Backman. He opened a venetian-blinds (the wooden-slat kind) and umbrella (and maybe other items) sales and service shop in Brownsville (at 368 Livonia Ave) that was closed on Shabbos. This was unheard of! It was impossible to get by in retail business in those days if you were closed on Shabbos, the busiest retail shopping day of the week. But Sam Backman did just that, and somehow he kept his shop going. During the pre-war years it was one of very few retail establishments (open to the general public) that was closed on Shabbos. When he sent his boys to study in Yeshiva Chaim Berlin (one of the only Yeshivot in NY at the time) his Turev friends asked, “Do you want your sons to be Rabbis? Why are you sending them to Yeshiva?” Sam replied, “No. I’m not sending them to Yeshiva to be Rabbis, just to be good knowledgeable Jews.”
So these two ancestors of our family lived worlds apart and faced different types of challenges. But both were strong Jews, steadfast and earnest, who valued and stuck to their traditions. They knew where they came from and wanted that to be a part of where they and their families were headed.