From interviews with family members as told to Pat Kramer
This book is dedicated to those who came before us,
those who inspired us,
and those who will never be forgotten.
This is the story of my maternal grandmother, Anna Morochnick Kramer, her family, and the values they taught me that stay with me to this day.
This story is the combined result of months of research on Ancestry.com, phone calls and extensive interviews with members of my family, some, who I met while on this journey. Together, we have sorted out conflicting facts and built a series of stories about each character (yes, they were “characters!”) to resurrect our family tree. This is a multi –layered story that includes everyone’s perceptions, opinions, thoughts and maybe facts about what life was like way back then – over 100 years ago – when the “original” Morochnicks set foot on Ellis Island. Some started their transcontinental voyage from Russia by foot, horse and buggy or train to the docks in England where they boarded a steamer to America. Others came via China, Israel, Canada and other parts. Together, they built this family and its descendants.
From what I have been able to establish, life back then was incredibly difficult and money was scarce. Yet, the family stayed closer than we do today (even with all our devices to help us do so) based on a mutual love, respect and a genuine interdependency that existed between family members living in close quarters in a strange country that was often hostile to Jews.
My story is just that – my story. It is a compilation of many remembrances of people to whom I am very grateful for their time, willingness to share information, and the desire to have our family’s history set down on paper so future generations can know from whence we came.
Pat Kramer, June 2018
My Dad’s mother was Anna Morochnick Kramer and her family were a huge part of my early memories of growing up in a large, extended Jewish family. My “Nana” had several brothers and sisters whose names, my brother Bob and I, used to like to memorize: There was Abie, then Louie, followed by my grandmother Annie, Isaac, Murray, Sophie, and Jenny. Everybody was lovingly referred to with an ‘ie’ at the end of their name. (This tradition continued with myself, “Patty,” and my brother “Bobby,” while my sisters Nancy and Julie naturally had the ‘right’ ending – so it didn’t need to be changed).
Friday nights were always spent bringing in the Sabbath with a large dinner at my
grandmother’s house at 88 Longfellow Road in Worcester, Massachusetts. My grandmother, like many women of her generation, was a fantastic cook of Eastern European culinary delights. Dinners were several courses long and lasted for hours. They always began with matzo ball soup followed by a green salad, chopped liver and crackers, a tray of pickles and other condiments and Challah. The main course was usually roasted chicken or brisket with potatoes, carrots, onions — and my favorite – mach bones! For dessert, there was always jello with little marshmallows, canned fruit or baked apples.
How I enjoyed those Friday night dinners when I was a kid! The men would discuss politics, business and the news, while “we” kids would stuff ourselves to the gills then search for the chocolates that my grandparents hid in their polished wooden armoire.
My other beautiful memories were of walking Reggie, their black toy poodle who I loved so much, and of cutting fresh flowers from my Nana’s vibrant and aromatic gardens. My Grandmother was a very skilled gardener and her gardens were always full of beautiful flowering plants including three, tall lilac trees that rose to the second story of their home outside of my Aunt Ronnie’s bedroom windows. The lilacs were lavender, white and purple and their aroma was intoxicating to me as a child.
For Sabbath dinner, my grandfather, Harry Kramer, was always seated at the head of the table with my dad, Lester, and my Uncle Arnie seated on either side of him. My Aunt Ronnie was living in New York (and later, Los Angeles) at that time so we only got to enjoy her presence on special occasions. But I remember that she would call, long distance, all the way from wherever she was and everyone in the family would take turns speaking to her. Back then, it was very expensive to speak to someone long distance so the calls were often abbreviated to “Hello Patty. How are you? Do you like school? Okay let me speak to your Dad now.”
My “Papa,” Harry Kramer, was only in my life until I was eleven but my memories of him are large and well established. He had a great sense of humor and spoke with a Russian accent. He was kind to me, loving and protective & I loved him like I loved no one else.
When the entire Morochnick clan was present, my grandmother’s home really came to life. It was noisy, the men were smoking cigars or pipes, the women were sharing stories in the kitchen, and Aunt Ida was usually playing the piano and singing. Those memories of family gatherings are most precious to me.
My grandmother, Anna, was very family-oriented. Everyone who knew her always mentioned how she would keep in touch by phone and by mail with everyone, never forgetting birthdays or anniversaries. She really valued the family bonds and instilled those same values in all of us.
At any family gathering there were always a lot of people in the house. As kids, we weren’t all that interested in talking to the adults, so we would sneak away on an exploratory trip to the attic, which was only accessible from my Uncle Arnie’s bedroom. It was dusty with creaky floorboards but contained real ‘gems’ from my Dad’s service in WW2, including a metal tipped spear from New Guinea, as well as my Uncle Arnie’s service uniform from the Korean War. It was definitely a great place to hide out and let our imagination run wild!
The other great playroom was my grandparents’ cellar which contained a large family
room with a full bar, an antique telephone that hung on the wall and high, red barstools. Often, we kids would play ‘bartender’ and pretend to be mixing drinks for each other and my older brother and sister would take nips from some of the sweet liqueurs.
Besides the main room (or rumpus room, as my grandmother called it), was the room that contained the furnace, which was dark and scary. I only went in there when we were playing ‘Hide and Seek’ and then only for a short period of time as I believed my brother’s tales that it contained ghosts or demons and that they were going to ‘get me’ if I went in there alone.
The final room in the basement was the laundry room, which was the ending point for a chute that started on the second floor of the house, directing dirty laundry down to the basement where it landed in a cart by the washing machine. This made for a great play-tool for my brother, sister and I. Often, one of us would run upstairs and stick our head in the chute and the others would wait down below to see if we could see them. We also would toss items down the chute on whomever was waiting below, not suspecting that the balled up toilet paper was coming their way until it hit them square in the face!
My Cousin Steve Morochnick Curley recalled: “The house at 88 Longfellow Road with curling steps that led to the attic was filled with Arnold and Lester’s comic book collections. They had tons of funny books and we could sit and read for a long time!”
He adds, “Your grandmother was a great cook and Sunday in Worcester was a great treat for all the Mishpocha from Boston because we knew we would get great food and desserts. And Uncle Harry was the best joke teller (sometimes even a little racy with spicy Russian words).”
My grandmother’s father, Boroch (Barney) Morochnick, was born in the Ukrainian village of Shepatovka, as were five of his seven kids. Barney or “Zeide,” as he was known (1877 – July 1956), died a year before I was born. His wife, “Bubbe” or Sarah Ainbinder Morochnick, gave him seven kids, then died at the age of 66 (1878 – 1944).
Zeide Morochnick came to the U.S by himself at age 27 on June 11, 1904. It took five years for him to send for his wife and five kids to come to America in 1909. This included my grandmother, Anna Morochnick, who was eight when she arrived at Ellis Island with her mother and four brothers: Abe, Louie, Isaac and Morris. After settling into their first home, an apartment in the old West End of Boston by the Esplanade, they moved into their longtime home at 99 Winthrop Street in Roxbury (now an African-American neighborhood).
Although I never got to meet my great – grandfather, I often heard tales about Zeide
Morochnick. We knew that he had two brothers in the U.S., Max (Mottel) and Shia, but he may also have had two sisters, and a brother who was deaf-mute, who stayed behind in Russia. Barney’s father (my great, great grandfather) was known as Yankul David (Yankul is Yiddish for Jacob.) His mother’s name was Tabila (Thelma). We believe that Thelma and David never left Russia.
MY GREAT GRANDMOTHER, “BUBBE MOROCHNICK”
Sarah Ainbinder Morochnick was born in Beresdiv, Russia. Sarah had two brothers – both named Samuel. One later became known as “Fehter” (Yiddish for uncle) Sucha, a Kosher butcher and cantor in Boston; the other brother was known as Sam Aines. (Sarah may have also had two sisters who stayed in Russia).
Sam Aines was fondly remembered by the Morochnicks as a wonderful man. He married a woman named “Goldie” and they had three sons: (Isador) Joseph Aines, Maurice Aines and (Adolph) Andrew Aines. Andrew, who married Bea and lived in North Springfield, Virginia, was said to have worked for the State Department in some high-ranking position. Joseph was married to Virginia (“Ginnie”) and they lived in Sharon, Massachusetts. Maurice also lived in Sharon but no one seems to remember much about him or his family.
Samuel “Fehter Sucha” Ainbinder married Zelda (Celia) Kauffman and settled in Peabody, Massachusetts where they had five kids: Sarah, Abraham, Louis, Sol, and Hyman. During my search on ancestry.com, I met my third cousin, Ellen Zirin, who was Abraham “Bender”’s grandchild (he shortened the family name).
Ellen provided me with a wealth of information about her family who we never knew. She and I have since become friends and actually got to meet in person in 2015 on one of my trips back to Massachusetts.
Her grandfather, Abe Bender, married Frances Abrams and they had three kids – Louise, Ralph and Ann Gail. Louise and her husband, Philip Epstein, were Ellen’s parents.
Back to my Great, Grandmother Sarah, by all accounts, was not a healthy woman. My 3rd cousin, Sylvia Lohman, recalls that she suffered from asthma and as such, everyone was instructed not to smoke around her. My 2nd cousin, Jerry Curley, who grew up in the same house with Bubbe and Zeide, had this memory:
“My grandmother was always leaning against one of those big, black pot-bellied stoves. She would make me fried latkes in the morning and we’d sit and talk, but she was a very sick woman. She had a bad heart, diabetes, and high blood pressure. Bubbe was a very quiet, gentle woman and though full -bodied, she was weak and frail so she spent quite a bit of time in bed. When she was up, for family occasions, I always remember her wearing a housecoat.”
SARAH’S BROTHER FEHTER (ISSACHER) SUCHA
Fehter Sucha, the Kosher butcher, was mentioned every now and then by my father, Lester Kramer, and my uncle, Arnie Kramer. They talked about him being a very traditional Eastern European Jew who was kind of scary and shouted in Yiddish when he spoke.
Ellen had similar memories of her great grandfather: “He died in 1963 when I was 15, so I have memories of him. He had this big, long white beard and he used to wear a black silk kippah (skull cap). He was scary. I believe he spoke English but not willingly; mostly he spoke Yiddish. When I saw him he was either in his butcher shop or praying. I remember going to their home in Peabody for different Jewish holidays. They lived in very small quarters; their dining table was basically in his bedroom and he was reclining (as you are supposed to do on Passover). I don’t believe I ever had a conversation with him but I remember that I disliked it when he kissed me and to this day, I detest beards because of his.”
As for her grandfather, Abraham Bender, Ellen says, “He was bald and he owned a liquor store that my father worked at on Main Street in Peabody. I went in there often and when he came to visit me, he always brought Beechnut gum. He had a beautiful voice but what I remember most about him is that he refused to speak Russian because he left the country under fear of probably being conscripted and he didn’t want to recall Russia. He was here in America and he was American; that was it.”