Locating Lost Tribes

On the “Roots in Keidan” Facebook group, Bruce Patt asks if there is any documentation about a Keidaner organization in Chicago. The answer is … yes!

In the 1930s, the Keidaner Association of New York published a monthly bulletin, filled with meeting notices, fundraising appeals, messages of congratulations or condolence, and much more. In the “much more” category were memoirs, anecdotes and correspondence, from back in the “alter heym” as well as various parts of the Keidaner diaspora. It is our great fortune that all of this material has been preserved, in copies of “The Keidaner” bulletin that were acquired by several archives (including the Center for Jewish History and the New York Public Library.)

Collecting and translating this material has been a decades-long project for me, which is why I can reply to Bruce’s question with the following. The two articles below were published in The Keidaners issues of February and May, 1939, respectively, and offer a glimpse of the kind of “ingathering of the tribes” that was going on in that tumultuous pre-war period.

The ‘Lost Tribe’ found in Chicago

Feb. 1, 1939

Along with the connections which “The Keidaner” bulletin builds among our members through news of family events sent in by our readers, your editor also makes it his business to try and keep in touch with fellow Keidaners outside of New York.

We have made various efforts to collect news of our landsmen in other cities; we especially tried to make contact with the Keidaner societies in Chicago and South Africa, where there are significant numbers of our fellow townsmen.

Seek and ye shall find, it is said: with the help of Brother William Einhorn we received from Brother Ike Kaplan the address of a landsman in Chicago, a certain Morris Cohn. We immediately wrote him inquiring about our fellow Keidaners in Chicago, dispatching also several issues of our bulletin.

In reply we received a letter from Mr. Cohn, in which he informs us that he himself is not a Keidaner native, however he is the son-in-law of Boruch Meir the carpenter from Keidan. He is also an ex-president of the “Keidaner Aid Association” in Chicago. He presented our letter, as well as the Bulletins, before a meeting of his association and, as he writes: “Our association is interested in your bulletin “The Keidaner. I read aloud several items from the memoirs in “The Keidaner” and everyone greatly enjoyed recalling the old days in the town where they were born and raised.”

He writes further, that the association would like to subscribe to a few copies of the Bulletin, and if their members have news of happy events to share they will let us know so that we may publish them in our “Mazel Tov” section.

Through our additional correspondence we have gathered the following news about the Chicago association:

The membership consists of 60 landsmen in good standing; the dues are three dollars a year. The members enjoy no benefits, but the function of the association is to support and help needy landsmen in Chicago, as well as the orphans and poor in Keidan twice yearly. They also contribute assessments to support several voluntary institutions in Chicago.

Not having a means of support, they are undertaking to hold a benefit, which brings in a few dollars. Naturally, some members of this society are available to help in the enterprise.

They have also purchased a plot for a cemetery, and this was a major effort for such a small group. However, they hope this will bring in more members and increase the size of the association.

Meanwhile they have taken out two subscriptions to the Bulletin.

The officials of the association are as follows: Abraham Richter – president; Morris Fine – vice-president; Daniel Bernstein – treasurer; Harry Gordon – recording secretary; H. Keinber – financial secretary. Trustees are: Samuel Crost, Katie Bernstein and Mrs. Gerber.

Harry Bernstein is ex-president, and Morris Stone and Morris Toyb are ex-vice-presidents. One of the subscribers to the Bulletin is Morris Richter. They have no ladies auxilliary.

After we received the news from Mr. Cohn, we turned to Mr. Abraham Richter, the president of the Keidaner Mutual Aid Association, with our request to let us know more details about the families of our Chicago landsmen and their origins in Keidan. We have not as yet received a reply. As soon as we have more news from Chicago, we will publish it in the Bulletin. We also will include with pleasure in our “Mazel Tov” department any news about happy events in the families of our Chicago landslayt.

And so have we found a “lost tribe” in Chicago.


From the ‘Found Tribe’ in Chicago

May 1, 1939

We have received from A.Y. Richter more interesting news about the “Keidaner Aid Association” in Chicago, which we want to share with our readers.

Twenty-five years ago there existed in Chicago a Keidaner Association, which was one of the largest outside of New York. Mr. Richter was not then in Chicago, but he heard, as he recounted, “the Keidaner Association, when it wanted to hold a ball, had to rent the largest hall in Chicago.” And one lovely evening, when the association was holding a certain function, a quarrel broke out which led to such harsh words being exchanged among the Keidaners who were leading it, that the association fell apart.

Then the World War broke out. All the Jews were expelled from Keidan; they were packed into freight cars and sent away toward Mariupol, in Ekaterinoslav province. A third of the Keidaners died in Mariupol from typhus and cholera.

“And as a cousin of mine – Beylka Etel the bagel baker – who was also there, related (she is now in Chicago with her husband), there are in the Mariupol cemetery a lot of Keidaners, as many as in the Keidan cemetery.”

The Keidaners in Chicago were in shock with worry and concern about how to help their unfortunate relatives and friends. They did what they could; after some time the surviving Keidaners returned to their homes, among them the mother and two children of Mr. Richter.

Meanwhile, prosperity had come to America, and our Keidaners in Chicago began to busy themselves with making money. Each endeavored to send support to his relatives in Keidan. The rich ones made trips back to visit the old home town, which became a subject of much boasting; this one said he spent a thousand dollars on his trip, another said his cost him five thousand, etc., etc.

One evening Mr. Richter’s brother Morris came to him and recounted that Leyb Velvke the liquor dealer (Louis Feinstein) had telephoned him that he wanted to see them both, because he had just returned from a visit to Keidan and had brought greetings from their mother. They went and spent an evening, where they learned from Leybe Velvkes’ description that the conditions in Keidan are frightful. Everyone who has connections in America or Africa is living off the support of their relations, but half the population has become terribly impoverished.

After a four-hour conversation they decided to call a meeting of certain landslayt, with workers from the old Keidaner association. More than eight landsmen came to Mr. Richter’s home and there it was decided to found the “Keidaner Aid Association.” After some successful projects the association became so large that it was necessary to rent a large hall for the meetings. With all members working diligently and faithfully, it became successful. This was 12 years ago.

Meanwhile the Depression approached. The association had distributed, as assistance to the impoverished landsmen in Keidan and Chicago, every cent in its treasury. Realizing that one cannot function with an empty till, they decided to undertake fundraising projects and were successful.

Now their fortunes have so much improved that they pay out death benefits. Have their own cemetery half paid for. A beautiful fence with a bronze plaque by the gate, where the names of the members are inscribed. In the treasury they have $900. Mr and Mrs. Louis Feinstein and Harry Bernstein the Second are the largest contributors.

In order that our readers here should better be able to orient themselves regarding the family origins of our Chicago cousins, Mr. Richter gives us the following information:

Mr. Richter is Aba Yoneke Sore’s, son of Shmuel the street-man’s daughter. Morris Fine, vice-pres. of the association – is a son of Ettel the bagel-baker, Shmuel’s other daughter. The financial secretary is Zamke Zuse’s, from Smilga Street. Treasurer was for the last 10 years Yankel Mesel’s, from the cemetery. David Borenstein and Harry Borenstein, two brothers of Yankel Mesel, were with their brother Aba Bornstein officials of the association. Shmuel Leibe Aba Monish’s, from Skongale, was the first trustee. His brother Gershke is also a member of the association. Second trustee is Dvoyreka, deaf Bertsik’s daughter; third trustee – Soreka, Sheya the shoemaker’s daughter.

As you can see, the association does very noble work for the poorer element in Keidan and the needy landsmen in Chicago. The membership consists of the salt of the earth: honest, goodhearted, hard workers. But where are the wealthy Keidaners of Chicago – the Shliapoberskys, the Rabinowitzes and others? What are they doing for their fellow Keidaners?


About Andrew

Retired journalist, Keidan descendent.
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One Response to Locating Lost Tribes

  1. Judith E Walens-Webber says:

    My father’s mother and grandparents are Keidaners and are buried in the Keidaner Verein. Still trying to trace that branch of the family. Thanks for acknowledging the Chicago branch!

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