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Search for Sorrel-Gittel, Zhukovskaya Street
From; http://www.shtetlinks.jewishgen.org/rokiskis/Sorre%20Gitel.htm
by Jules Feldman, Kibbutz Yizreel, Israel

In April, 1999, I visited Sara Darom and took notes on the history of
her branch of the family which she read from her father's notes. Her
father, Arye-Leib Hurwitz, who died in 1975, aged ninety-nine, was the
cousin of my great grandfather, Zalman Hurwitz , and both were born
and raised in the little shtetl Rakeshik (now Rokiskis), a town in the
north of Lithuania, where most of the Jews were adherents of Chabad.

In 1890, when Arye-Leib was fourteen, there being no bread in his
home, he left Rakeshik and went to Dvinsk (now Daugavpils), Latvia,
because "my father's sister had a daughter there", namely Yocheved,
the wife of Nachum Rabinowitz, a prosperous merchant, and with their
help he hoped to find some employment there .

From this sentence, I learned that the two brothers Mordechai Dov
Hurwitz , the father of Zalman Hurwitz and Shmuel Yehuda Hurwitz , the
father of Arye-Leib Hurwitz, had a sister who was the mother of
Yocheved. .

I continued to take notes as Sara read and told the story – after a
number of years in Dvinsk, Arye-Leib moved to St Petersburg where he
became a prosperous merchant. The story of how Arye-Leib and his
family left Russia in 1925 and came to Tel Aviv is itself an
interesting story, but I will not tell it here. Sara was then able to
tell me about the "new" branch of relatives, the Rabinowitz family,
and added that Yocheved had a daughter, Raissa, who immigrated to Tel
Aviv in the 1930's with the help of Arye-Leib.

After the conversation with Sara, I phoned Tova, whose late husband,
Nachum, was the son of Raissa and the grandson of Yocheved. Tova gave
me details on the Rabinowitz family. In 1914, Anna, the oldest
daughter of Yocheved, was married by shidduch to Hirsh Rung in
Helsinki, Finland, and soon after that the whole Rabinowitz family
moved to Helsinki.

A month later in Netanya, I met Raya, the daughter of Anna, who came
from Helsinki to visit in Israel. I asked Raya the maiden name of her
grandmother Yocheved and whether she had any siblings. Raya was unable
to tell me Yocheved's maiden name, but did tell that her grandmother
corresponded with a brother or sister in South Africa by the name of

I now looked for a Ribak family with a South African connection. I
phoned Issy Rieback who lives in Herzliya. Issy remembered my father
Hillie Feldman from their childhood days in Johannesburg, but we did
not find a family connection. So I turned to the internet to the
JewishGen Family Finder (JGFF) http://www.jewishgen.org/jgff and wrote
to all those looking for Ribak from Lithuania and Latvia. As happens
in most enquiries, none of those who responded could suggest a family

Then, in January, 2001, Beverley from Johannesburg registered in the
JGFF as looking for Ribak from Rokiskis (Rakeshik), Lithuania. I sent
an e-mail to Beverley and wrote that I am looking for the relatives of
Yocheved and Nachum. Beverley responded that her father Isaac Riback,
then ninety years old (he subsequently passed away June 13, 2003),
remembered his aunt Yochde and her husband Nachum and that Yocheved,
whose maiden name was indeed Ribak, had three brothers who lived in
Standerton, South Africa. Here I am surprised – in South Africa, there
were three first cousins of Zalman Hurwitz and they had grown up in
his shtetl, Rakeshik and his daughter Malka, my grandmother, who was
the focus of all the family in South Africa, never knew of them.

In addition, Yocheved had a brother Mendel, a revolutionary who was
exiled to Siberia after the failed revolution of 1905 and a brother
Chaim, Isaac's father, who remained in Rakeshik and died there in 1918
and, added Isaac, "in Dvinsk, I had not one aunt but two" –
Sorrel-Gittel, the younger daughter of the Ribak family was also
living in Dvinsk and her husband's name was Hirsh Gref; they had seven
daughters and from Dvinsk they moved to Russia.

Isaac told of his six brothers: one migrated with him to South Africa,
two were murdered by the Germans in the mass murder of the Jews of
Rakeshik and three fought in the Red Army in WWII and after the War
settled in Vilna and raised families there. After 1972, the children
of the three brothers moved to Israel. I phoned the five nephews of
Isaac in Israel and two weeks later the five with their families came
to visit us here at Kibbutz Yizreel.

At the same time, I received a copy of the 1897 Census for Rakeshik,
translated into English, and there living in Korenskaya Street appears
the Ribak family - Berko, head of the household, son of Nachman, age
56, a carriage driver and Shifra-Leah, wife, daughter of Yossel, age
56. This included all their children, except Yocheved, who, as we
already know, by 1890, was already living in Dvinsk.

I had now traced most of the Ribak family, but whatever happened to
Sorrel-Gittel and her seven daughters? To the Ribaks, in Israel, the
story is familiar, "Our grandfather Chaim had seven sons, his sister
had seven daughters", but they were unable to add any further details.

I phoned Raya in Helsinki to tell her that I had found her mother's
first cousin still alive in Johannesburg and to ask her what she knew
about Sorrel-Gittel, the younger sister of her grandmother Yocheved.
Raya confirmed that there had been occasional contact between Yocheved
and Sorrel-Gittel and added a significant detail - Sorrel-Gittel lived
in St Petersburg. Those were the dark days of Stalin, however, a rare
event occurred in about 1935 – a son-in-law of Sorrel-Gittel arrived
in Helsinki as a member of a commercial delegation and visited the
family and he spoke about his wife's family, the Grefs.

Given this new tidbit, I phoned Sara Darom in Tel Aviv again and asked
her, "Do you remember relatives in St Petersburg?" "There were many",
she told me. "We had a big home and there were always relatives
staying with us or visiting us. There is no point in mentioning names.
I was seven when we left and my father Arye-Leib drew a line. From the
day we arrived in Israel, he rarely mentioned what had been in the
Golah." I persist and ask, "What about the family Gref?" Her
immediate response was, "those with seven daughters? When we left St
Petersburg, we could not sell the house and we handed it over to the
Gref family! The Grefs arrived with their daughters to receive the
house from us. I was angry – Mr. Gref sat in my father's chair. We
spent half a day with them and then left on our way to Israel".

In Russia there is a possibility of finding a family at the same
address even after 50 or 80 years. I write down the address,
Zhukovskaya, No. 24, and look for someone to go to the address to try
and find them. I tell my cousin Carmella, who lives in Paris and is
also of this clan. Her daughter's piano teacher is a young woman from
St Petersburg who visits her family every summer. In the summer, this
teacher went to the address on Zhukovskaya, No. 24, but could not find
a clue.

I wonder what else I can do to find them and all of a sudden I receive
an e-mail message from Igor Genkin of Boston. He tells me that he did
a web search and found the Family Tree of the Jewish People located at
http://www.jewishgen.org/gedcom. There he located the names of Hirsh
Gref and his wife Sorrel-Gittel. He is their grandson and the son of
Bertha, one of their six daughters. I phoned immediately. In the
conversation, I tell Igor, "I even know where your grandparents lived
– at Zhukovskaya…" and Igor completes the sentence "No. 24". Through
the telephone, I could feel the emotional charge.

Igor, who arrived in Boston six years before, tells me that, "We knew
there are relatives in the West, but we knew no names and we did not
know how to begin to look for them." A week later, Igor and his
family met Ilona, his relative and mine. Ilona had moved a few years
previously from Johannesburg to Boston. It was an emotional event for
both the families, neither of whom had kinfolk in the Boston or
anywhere nearby, until that moment. Both Ilona and Igor sent me their
warm impressions of the meeting and of each other.

Igor then sent me a chart with details of the six daughters and their
families – in addition to those in Moscow and St Petersburg, there are
a few representatives in Israel, including Ilya Kazdan the grandson of
Anna Gref, daughter of Hirsh and Sorrel-Gittel. He came to Israel in
1999 and lives in the small community of Beit Charon.

At that point, the family history gets interesting as I suddenly
realized that, by coincidence, Sara Darom's sister, Dina Achinoam, has
a daughter and grandchildren also living in Beit Choron. In fact, it
turned out that Dina's granddaughter is Tali Wiener, who is in charge
of immigrant absorption in the community and that Tali had been
instrumental in helping Ilya Kazdan settle in Beit Choron as a new

Who could imagine that when Dina Achinoam left Zhukovskaya, No. 24, in
St Petersburg and bid farewell to her relative Anna Gref, that
seventy-five years later her granddaughter Tali would meet and assist
Ilya the grandson of Anna Gref. Strange indeed that they would live in
the same small Israeli community never knowing of their family
connection to each other until my research uncovered it.

And now, my research continues as I still have to trace the family of
Mendel Ribak, the brother of Sorrel-Gitel, who was banished to Siberia
in 1905.

NOTE: Written in Hebrew, March 2001. Translated into English, November
2003. The Hebrew version was written in Hebrew for the Hebrew forum
"Shoreshim Mishpachtim."