Strangers at the Gate:
A True Story of Jewish Immigrants
Passages from my Grandmother's autobiography/memoirs

Grandmother, Deborah nee BLOCK:  born in Sheffield, England in March 1875, died in Staten Island, NY in Feb. 1959.

Mark Rosenholz

In the year 1838 there lived in the town of Kalvaria, Suwalki gubernia, Russia-Poland a Rabbi named, Shlaumi Rienitz Hambourgh,
his wife Malki, and their three daughters.

[In subsequent research, Schlaumi is actually Solomon REINHERTZ.  Why he adopted the surname Hambourgh/Homburg in England is unknown.
 His middle name, as shown, was apparently a synonym of sorts of his real surname.

His Sheffield, England gravestone (Walkley Cemetery) inscription reads:

In loving memory of Rabbi Solomon Homburg. Born in Lebova Poland in 1807. Departed this life in Sheffield 1891.

Hebrew: Tombstone of the Sheffield Community and Head of the Kalvaria Yeshiva. Like Hillel a modest person. A plain and straightforward man. The learned Rabbi, Solomon son of Nathan Note (REINHERTZ). The  day of his departure was 17 Adar II, 651 by the small reckoning. [=26/27 March 1891] May his soul be bound up in the bond of life.”

Solomon's 1891 (civil) death certificate indicates he was 'aged 80' at his death.  The 1881 England/Wales census enumerated for Sheffield shows age 70.  While his death certificate and census indicate a 1811 (circa) birth year, Mark Rosenholz, Solomon's ggg-grandson, uses 1807.]

The Rabbi was a man six feet two inches, spare of build (gaunt from much fasting), curled side burns (paes), a long beard to his waist, and a skull cap. In his gabardine kapoti (coat), he made an pressive and scholarly appearance. He was well known for his sincere piety and great learning, and 
was beloved by his family and revered by his neighbors. His wife Malki was a practical peppery and imperative person and his three daughters were of diversified character (to be seen and not heard), and retiring nature as was the custom of the times, and of a Rabbi’s daughters.

The town of Kalvaria was the hub of a political center. It had a political prison, great barracks and with the synagogue (which had been painted by the yokes of eggs donated by all the farmers of the surrounding area), made it a conspicuous and notable town. The Rabbi was a poor man, which was usual in those times of which I speak, and his wife and daughters eked out a living by baking fancy cakes for the officers stationed in the barracks.

The daily life of the Rabbi was one of consecration. Synagogue in the morning at six o’clock, breakfast of porridge and goats milk, after prayers at 10:00 a.m. seated at the table with his few students, the commentaries and the Talmud were studied. At 4:00 p.m. evensong (sic, should likely be ‘evening song’) (Mincha), synagogue again, then a simple meal and back to studies again. At dusk, synagogue once more and again study till late at night. This routine was a daily occurrence, except for visits to the prison, to encourage the inmates, and visits to the sick.

The living devolved on the women of the house and they took this as a natural thing since the Rabbi was devoted to God and the community. This went on for years without seeming monotony. It was way of life for these people, but when one of the daughters, Miriam, arrived at 17 years of age, Malki began to harass her husband as to their daughter’s future. This passed over the Rabbi with only a cursory thought because he held the divine belief in events shaping themselves. But his wife was of a more material nature and she kept harping on the same subject, until he was eventually aroused to consider what would be the best way to bring about a marriage. As was the tradition in those days, he considered all the persons who had ancestral lineage, then as to the learning of their children and decided to visit a friend of his in Suwalki, a few miles away. Since journeys were made by coach, passage was engaged for a certain day, and the Rabbi embarked on his mission of finding 
husband for his two elder daughters.

The first family he visited was named Eiger. They had had a martyr in the family centuries ago. This was a great acquisition (a dead hero) and made them Aristocrats of the first vintage. They were illustrious and great scholars and were known internationally to the Hebrew world. They had a son 
who was known to be a great Talmudist. The son was introduced, he was examined as to his learning, no mention of bride but a handshake was given and a time appointed for a wedding. When this was finished the Rabbi consulted with Eiger as to his knowledge of where he could find another son-in-law. Eiger told him that there was a young man by name of Lavner who was an orphan, but of good stock and great attainments, of genius proportions. The only thing wrong he was inclined to be arrogant but this was considered by the Rabbi as a minor vice and he went on to meet the Rosh-a-shiva (Dean) at the Seminary and there arranged the same date for the young man Lavner to be married to his second daughter, Blume. When this was finished, good-byes were said and the Rabbi returned home to his wife and daughters.

Eiger walked into the house, he was a quiet scholarly young man. The boy Lavner was of a more boisterous temperament who, on noticing that the clock had stopped, climbed on the table to rewind it. This so offended Blume that she right away felt affronted and declined to have anything to do with him, but the mother who was of an imperative and dominant nature decided otherwise 
and that was law.

Miriam was at once attracted by the quiet demeanor of the boy, Lebel Eiger, and while she had no say in the matter, was acquiescent. They were married, there was no question of work for the men. Each daughter was entitled to live with her parents, the men to continue their studies. After about a year, Lavner decided to take his wife and go to America, so we will speed them on their journey for the time being.

The other couple continued to live with the parents. After two years, Miriam gave birth to a daughter, Schane-Raine. Eiger still continued to study but one day he approached the Rabbi and said, after hearing from Lavner, he would like to go to America also. Their being insufficient money, he ultimately decided to go to England, which would cost less.

He left his wife and daughter with her parents, since he did not have sufficient means to transport them all. At Grimsby, where he landed, they advised him to go to Sheffield in Yorkshire. They told him that the best way for him to make a living, since he had no trade and was only literary, was to 
take a box with brummegan jewelry and sell it on the installment plan to the colliers in the mines.

He managed to make a short of subsistence for about three months and was learning the language and wrote that he was looking forward to sending for his wife and child as soon as he had a home and money to send tickets.

............ etc. 

Lebel & Miriam EIGER are the author's grandparents.  Deborah BLOCH's mother's first name was anglicized to 'Jane' circa 1860 in Sheffield.

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