This is a picture of my great grandparents, their children and grandchildren taken in D’vinsk, now Daugavpils, Latvia around the year 1900. My grandfather Julius is in the back row on the right. He stands next to his sister Annie and his brother Louis. These three siblings came to America. The others remained. Before I tell any more of this story, I must remember and say a prayer of thanks: had they not come to this country, there would be no one to tell the tale.
My grandfather was a carpenter who became a building contractor. He was a hard working and extremely intelligent man. He was thoroughly steeped in the Jewish tradition but clearly was a “rebel” in the finest sense of the word. He rejected religious tradition, held onto his identity as a Jew, studied Yiddish, was active in the Arbiter Ring, the “Workmen’s Circle” and when we would ask my father what his father would have said if he knew that two of his grandsons were Rabbis, my father would say; “He would have argued with you like crazy and would have loved it”. My grandfather Julius died when my father was a teenager. He never knew his grandchildren.
The stories we hear of Julius are, quite frankly, not the most positive. Julius had a temper, did not have a very loving relationship to say the least with my grandmother and somewhere along the line was directly or indirectly responsible for a rift in the family. We never knew his sister Annie’s family. We only knew her name.
A few years ago, I heard from an old friend from college. We hadn’t been in contact in years and I was surprised to suddenly hear her name. She called with an interesting story. She was looking through her husband’s old family photos when she came upon one which had a name on the back. It was a picture of a young woman and written on the back: Annie Dobrusin. She asked her husband and he said that he understood that that was his grandmother’s maiden name. She knew that Annie was from Boston and so she called to ask if she was related to me. I told her what I knew to be her married name and she confirmed. This Annie, her husband’s grandmother, was in fact my grandfather Julius’ sister. Her husband and I were second cousins.
That began a long and wonderful story of a group of 1st and 2nd cousins meeting over email, telling family stories, trying to unravel family legend. And, on an unforgettable Jerusalem evening in June, 2007, I walked into the Little Italy Restaurant on Keren Hayesod Street in Jerusalem with my son Avi to meet one of my 2nd cousins in person for the first time. She recognized us the minute we walked in the room: “I would know a Dobrusin anywhere” and we sat and talked and laughed and theorized about the rift that had kept us all apart.
Two years later, I was back in Israel and this time my visit coincided with the visit of two other 2nd cousins including the one whose picture started it all. We have a beautiful picture of the four of us which hangs in my office.
In Jerusalem, two generations later, the descendants of Julius and Annie sat and smiled and hugged, something the grandparents could never have imagined. It’s a wonderful story but it is only the beginning.