PCS Blog

Story from our Staff: A Russian Jewish Family Heritage

Posted by Alice Hodge | 18 October 2013


Jeremy Garfinkel

Our own Patron Services representative Jeremy Garfinkel can trace both sides of his family back to Russian Jewish settlements just like the ones seen in Fiddler on the Roof.  We asked Jeremy to tell us about his heritage and his own family’s version of the Fiddler story:  

This past summer, while visiting my parents in Connecticut, I told my mother that I wanted to watch the film version of Fiddler on the Roof in anticipation of our production at Portland Center Stage.  In delight, she ran off to the living room cabinet and dug out her old VHS copy of the film and we sat down on the couch to revisit the little village of Anatevka, as we had done so many times before when I was younger.  Both sides of my family can trace their roots directly back to Russian Jewish settlements just like the ones seen in Fiddler, so in many ways the play serves as a video record of my ancestors’ experience in early 1900’s Russia - albeit without all the singing and dancing. 

While we obviously don’t have any video footage of my family from back then, we are lucky enough to have some fantastic pictures that now adorn the wall of my parents’ dining room.  It’s hard to resist just staring into the eyes of these people and imagining the lives that they led.  Luckily my maternal Grandfather has pretty extensive records of his family history, so we actually know quite a bit about these people!  I emailed my Grandfather and asked him if he could summarize the story behind this picture.  He was happy to oblige, and I would love to share those stories with you. 

“This picture was taken around 1911, just before all but the elderly couple left Russia (Ukraine) to come to America to reunite with their family already in the Lawrence, Haverhill area in Massachusetts. The elders are Shlomo Rimelman and his wife, Chia Tovah Alter Rimelman, my dad’s maternal grandparents. My grandmother and two other sisters were already married and settled with their husbands and children in Massachusetts. The Rimelmans ran an inn and told the pictured family to get out of Russia and go to America while they could do so.

I adored my aunt Ruth. She and her sister came to Haverhill and married. Ruth married a lovely man, Isaac Holtz. They both worked hard in factories and had one child, my father’s cousin Clara, who is alive and well in Canton Mass at age 93. The other sister married Yankel Madian. She and Yankel ran a dairy farm. She died young and I only knew his second wife. They had a daughter also named Clara, who is alive in California. The two Claras are the sole survivors of my grandmother’s nephews and nieces.

Moshke Rimelman settled in Boston with his wife Rose. Minnie also settled in Boston and married Harry Cohen. He owned a sheet metal fabricating business near the old Boston Garden. They had three daughters.

 Dora Rimelman was my father’s first cousin and also his sister-in-law as she married my Dad’s older brother (by 10 years) Morris Barenboim. My aunt Dora was a saint. She lived to be 101 and kept all her marbles and was the family matriarch when she died. ”

Did you get all that?  Yeah, I know, he made my head spin as well with all that information.  For me, the biggest take away from this is being able to put a name to these people.  I feel it gives them an identity, and therefore makes their history more tangible.

Fiddler on the Roof is about a lot of things, but one of the main themes of the show is family.  This production has given me a great reason to revisit the history of my family, and become more in touch with how we got to where we are today.  I hope that everyone else who comes to see the show will also have that opportunity to dig into their family tree, and rediscover those members who have been lost to time.

“I mean, they say you die twice. One time when you stop breathing and a second time, a bit later on, when somebody says your name for the last time.”

― Banksy


Do you have a unique family history or migration story? Share your story or a family photo with us on Facebook and you'll be entered to win two tickets to any upcoming production in our season and a $50 gift card to Oven & Shaker.

Share a photo or family story HERE, or use the hash tag #pcs_Fiddler.

A winner will be drawn at random on November 4.




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