Hearing my call (Update)
I think I have found my
Great Grand Mother, Behora. [Update: In fact, this was a mistake. I was hoping she was because she had the same name … Since I wrote this post I learned that the woman in this photograph could not have been my Great Grand Mother … ]
Some of you might remember that in May this year I traveled to Rodos to connect with parts of my father’s past. It was, in fact, an eye opening trip for me down the cobbled streets of discovering my ancient heritage. While it was mind and heart blasting, at the same time I still was not sure how or if I was connected to any of the photographs, or names on grave stones.
Yesterday, I was contacted by a relative who is researching the families of Rhodes. Out of the blue, seven months after my trip, this e-mail reached me:
Thank you for posting your June 10, 2006 "letter to my Israel family" http://tamarika.typepad.com/mined_nuggets/2006/06/a_letter_to_my_.html I was pleased to reach your touching account, and also to see all the wonderful Rhodeslis photos on your blog.
In your letter you write of the Israel rabbinical dynasty of Rhodes, dating back to 1715. As you probably know, the first member of the Israel family to preside as Chief Rabbi on Rhodes was Moshe Israel (1670-1740), who held the position from about 1713-14 to 1727-28. I am, like you, also descended from Rabbi Moshe Israel, though from a different branch of our family. Rabbi Moshe Israel and his wife Hannah Habib (Ben-Habib) had a daughter who wed Rabbi Mordehai Crespin. I am descended from the Crespin branch of our Israel family, while you are descended from Moshe Israel’s son Eliyahu Israel (1710-1784), who was, as you probably know, Chief Rabbi of Alexandria. His son Moshe Israel (1747-1781) was the next Israel family member to become Chief Rabbi of Rhodes.
I have worked with Israel cousins (many more closely related to me though other Rhodeslis families, e.g., Alhadeff, Taranto, Capouya) and others to develop an extensive tree for our Israel family, including over 1500 people and stretching back to the mid-1500’s. About 2 years ago, I published an article on our Israel family in La Lettre Sepharade. It included a tree showing many of the rabbis of our family and the positions they held. If you would like, I would be pleased to provide a copy to you.
Your grandfather Rabbi Heskiya Moshe David (Moise) Israel is mentioned in Avraham Galante’s book on the Jews of Rhodes, in which Galante refers to him as the candidate who the Alhadeff family (probably my maternal great-grandmother’s Alhadeff family) backed for Grand-Rabbi of Rhodes in 1902. If you would like, I can send you an excerpt of the passage from Galante’s book.
Your grandfather was the son of Rabbi Raphael Yitzhak Israel (1811-1902/03), who was Chief Rabbi of Rhodes until emigrating to Jerusalem in 1882. Raphael was the son of David Israel, son of Moshe Israel (1747-1781). Raphael’s wife Behora was the daughter of Michael Yaacov Israel (1790-1856), another prominent Chief Rabbi of Rhodes, and his wife Sara Sol, whose family name is unknown to me. Michael Yaacov Israel is a grandson of Moshe Israel (1747-1781) … I would appreciate any corrections or additions you might be willing to provide. Also, please let me know if you would like me to prepare and send to you a tree for our entire Israel family, or for some branch or part of our family.
Needless to say it took me many times to decipher the e-mail for tears were blurring my vision. I scrambled through the photographs we had taken in that little museum room off to the side of the synagogue in the Old City of Rhodes Island. And then I realized that Behora in the photograph above is probably my Great Grandmother. I printed out the photograph immediately, and for the rest of the day found myself pouring over the picture searching out Behora’s face as if somehow, suddenly, I would be able, finally, to see the deep and ancient roots of my entire Sephardi heritage.
Just as I was becoming accustomed to an overwhelming feeling of belonging, another e-mail popped up into my mailbox:
We too read your posting "letter to my Israel family." Your account moved us to tears because we are related to you.
It is long and complicated to explain how but we live in the suburbs of Philadelphia and we can possibly meet. Our phone number is … You can e-mail us if you wish. We would love to hear from you …
I replied that I would be calling sometime on Sunday, to which my new relatives answered:
… Count on coming to our house where I can display the Israel Trees to make your family come alive …
My excitement is enormous. For some reason tears well up in my eyes from time to time. I have questions that might even receive answers! One thing is certain. I come from a rich heritage, a long line, the Israel, family, rabbinical dynasty of Rhodes.
Discovering Behora is like mining a nugget of pure spiritual gold. I want to wrap my arms around her and hold her to my breast, pour her into my Sephardi heart. My roots run deep into centuries of Spanish, Greek, Turkish, Italian history. Their juices are flowing, cascading in my veins, brain, genes and through my breath. [Update: talk about wishful thinking! See above! Still, it had literary and dramatic affect for awhile for me … ]
Hold still, beating heart. There is more to come. The story unfolds …