It was 2008, when I sat down with my grandfather, Rabbi Herbert Bomzer ZTZL, to ask him about his family and our family history. He began telling me about places and people that lived nearly a hundred years before I was born. One story that sticks out in my mind was about “the grandmother”, the royal grandmother who even had indoor plumbing. Her name was Malka Bomzer. He began to describe her, as he remembered her. He knew her well from when he sat in her living room and in her kitchen nearly 70 years earlier. “And she was as I remember her, as being a loving personality, but one that you respect very very much. One was called Bubba, and the other was called Bobby. She was the Bubba....She was the Grandmother, yah know, ‘grand’…real grand…”
Malcie Imber (pronounced Mal-Chi) was born into a wealthy family in the town of Janow, pronounced Yanov in Yiddish, (modern day Dolyna), located in central Galicia, Poland (a familiar Jewish area comparable to today's Long Island, NY). Janow was a small town with a Jewish population of about 300 families. "There were lots of forests around. There were big rivers and great waterfalls.... The city had very few very rich people. Had some affluent people, and a lot of poor people." As described by Yitzhak Kahana who, like his parents, were born and raised in Janow (1). The Imber family were part of that wealthy minority. It was said of the Imber family of Janow that they were so wealthy, that they even had indoor plumbing (2). During those times, in the late 1800's even the wealthiest families still did not have any electricity. It was only in the 1920's that the Erde and Gross families had the proper wiring installed, and only for basic household appliances. The entire town by and large was still living off kerosene lamps and wax candles.
The Imber family was also known for a famous second cousin, Naftali Herz Imber, a poet who rhymed the ancient Hebrew language into modern songs (2). Naftali is most noted for having composed the words to Hatikva, a song which now serves as the national anthem for the state of Israel.
When Malcie was six or seven, she was enrolled in the local public elementary school. The school was comprised of Jews and gentiles. She studied in Polish and became friendly with many of the town's young population (3). Her Jewish education came mostly from her home, and the synagogue, which she visited on rare occasions. There were some minor incidents of anti-semitism, but nothing that compared to the prewar years. For the most part, Jews and gentiles lived side by side in harmony.
When she reached marriageable age (18 years old), her father, Moshe Meir, wanted to find the best suitor money could buy. Malka was very mature though, too mature for the young lads of her village and they decided to seek a husband from the surrounding towns. It became known to Moshe Meir that there was a man from the nearby town of Suchostaw, a Chassid, but at the very least a scholar and a God fearing Jew. This man had been recently widowed and was seeking a spouse to take care of his 7 or so young children. Moshe Meir was not unfamiliar with chassidim, but he had not been overly exposed to them, since Janow was just a small town with little outside connection.
So the match was arranged between Chaim Wolf Bomze, a man of famous enough Chassidic lineage, and Malcie Imber (4). They were married in 1892 and would live together in Suchostaw for 15 years. Towards the end of the winter of 1907, Chaim Wolf caught Pneumonia. He spent nearly two months fighting it off. The local doctor in Suchostaw, did all he could, but with the medical supplies running low, Chaim Wolf passed away on March 9th, 1907 at the age of 64 (5).
After their wedding in 1892, Malcie moved in with her husband in the town of Suchostaw. She soon after became pregnant and gave birth to Jente (Yenta). The young girl, whom she named after her own mother, Yente (Czaban). Jente would grow up to be the first of Malcie’s children to travel to the US and begin laying plans for the rest of the family to come over.
Malcie’s second child with Chaim Wolf, born in 1896, was named Golde, who unfortunately passed away at the tender age of seven from spasms. In total Malcie had 6 children, 5 of whom emigrated with her to America. The oldest was Jente or Yetta. Next was Golde (who is buried in Suchostaw). Then came David, followed by Peretz (Paul), Meszullim Feivish (Philip), and finally Ciwie (Sylvia or Shirley).
At about this time, early 1900’s, the children from Chaim Wolf's first marriage had all but grown up and immigrated to London, England, and its surrounding towns. Widowed, and without much family left in town, Malcie was looking for a new beginning. After facing the devastation of WWI she set her focus on starting a life in a new locale. The USA.
By the time Malcie and her children traveled to the US in 1920, many members of the Imber family had been living in America for over three decades. Notably in Philadelphia, New York, and in other locations. Her daughter Yetta, and son-in-law, Louis Klein, arranged for visas, travel papers, and helped cover expenses for boat tickets for numerous cousins and relatives as well as for Malcie herself and her three children. Malcie’s manifest at Ellis Island says that she was in possession of less than $100 dollars when stepping off the boat (about $2000 in 2017 money), a fraction of her parents money 50 years earlier.
Yetta had arrived in New York in 1911. She traveled by herself at the age of 17 aboard the SS President Grant with $10 in her pocket. She moved in with her uncle, Shimon Frenkel until she married Louis Klein (who she was taller than by three inches. He was 5”4, and she was 5”7) and moved in with him at 268 stanton Street on the Lower East Side. Their home would be listed on many family members Ellis Island papers as their destination. Earning a meager living as a Spring Maker, Louis, who arrived as Leib Hausvath was able to assist many a family member in purchasing and obtaining travel tickets to come to the USA. Yetta looked upon the streets of New York with the same piercing blue eyes as those of her mother, with hope and with ambition. Hoping that the future, and the work and hardship, would lead towards a better life for her and her descendants.
By now, Malcie, a woman of 48 years old, 5”6 with grey hair, her piercing blue eyes still showing her youth and vigor started to build a new life for her family. She became a business woman and helped support her family. She had traveled thousands of miles away from the land of her parents and ancestors for the sake of a better life. Little did she know that her short trip across the pond would save herself and her family from the horrors of WWII and Nazi Germany.
As she reached middle age, she moved to 1368 44th Street in Borough park a two hour walk from her son Philip, living in East New York, Brooklyn. On Shabbos afternoons in the 1930’s, Herbert Bomzer, Philip's eldest son, would walk the two hour journey from East New York to visit his grandmother in Borough park. Although nearly a full head taller than her, he still described her as “a tall woman, she spoke with such authority”. It was not only his perception he recounts, but that of the whole family who felt this way. “Malka Imber was a regal personality. She was a queen of her family. Her children literally bowed down to her.”
In the year 1938. She contracted chronic nephritis. As the months passed on, a heart condition developed as well. She was cared for by her daughter Yetta, as she had been cared for many years ago when immigrating to New York. At that time she was coming to a new world. Now she was about to enter a new world as well. Her heart finally gave out and she passed away on the first day of Rosh Hashona, 1940.
Malcia passed away at the age of 68 in her little house in Borough park. Her grandson loyally attended the funeral as it proceeded to Mt Hebron. It was there that my grandfather took me, 70 years later and told me, “this was my grandmother, sunny boy. She was the “grand” grandmother”.
(2) Interview with Rabbi Herbert W Bomzer in Woodmere, NY, 2008.
(3) Ellis Island Manifest record for Malcie Imber and three children. New York, 1920.
(4) Interview with Mr. Sternklar in Cedarhurst, NY, 2013.
(5) Index for Certificate of Death, 1907. Suchostaw, Galicia, Poland
The earliest known member of the Bomzer family is a lesser known, yet brilliant kabbalist and Chassidic master. Even during his lifetime, he went by the title “The Maggid of Mikulince”, Preacher from Mikulince (Today called Mykulyntsi). Rabbi Aryeh Yehuda Leibusch Bomze, was born in 1740 in the small town of Sataniv, a Sztetl where the Jews were nearly half of the 3,000 total inhabitants.
While serving as an early center for the Haskalah movement, Satanov also became known for its important Chassidic leaders of their time. Leibusch Bomze's family, who were well connected with the upper echelons of Polish Jewish society, were the honored hosts during the chance arrival of Rabbi Yisroel, known by his acronym, “Besht”. Rabbi Yisroel Baal Shem Tov, founder of the Chassidic movement, which arose in the early 1700’s, travelled across Eastern Europe, garnering support and followers for his new movement focusing on the ability of any Jew to connect with God, not just the scholarly elite. When he journeyed through the town of Sataniv, the Bomzes merited to host him at their house for those long winter weekends. Thus it was, that young Leibush was brought up and inspired in the ways of Chassidus from a young age.
In 1757, at the age of 17, Leibusch was sent to the world-renowned Yeshiva in the town of Nikolsburg to study under the famed Rabbi Schmelke of Nikolsburg. Expanding on the ideas of Chassidism with an appreciation for an emotional connection with God, Reb Shmelke also taught a rigorous study schedule which would lead towards a mastery of all the classical and not-so-classical texts.
Leibusch had the opportunity to learn with some of the most brilliant minds of his generation. During the five or six years he spent in Nikolsburg, he became close friends with the illuy (genius) of Yaroslav, later to be known as the Rebbe of Berdichev. Rabbi Levi Yitzchok kept in touch with Rabbi Leibusch after graduating from Nikolsberg and in all likelihood married off a grandchild with that of Rabbi Leibusch. (This is likely the branch of the family that changed the name from Bomze to Bomzer)
Eventually, Rabbi Leibusch moved to the town of Mikulince where he fostered a large family and produced many progeny. He married off his children to other well-known families such as the renowned Schor family, and the Rabbinic Porrille’s.
Rabbi Leib passed away in the year 1825 at the advanced age of 85. It was said of Rabbi Leibusch of Mikulince that he was fluent in all of Talmud, the halachic codes of Maimonides with its glosses. The Tur, and the Shulchan Aruch, were committed to memory. He was well-versed in the mystical realm, as well. To his good fortune, he was able to sit and learn in prosperity, while his work was done by others.
While Rabbi Leib left behind manuscripts, all of them were ultimately lost. A few Torah insights from him remain, brought down by grandchildren and students in various seforim. The Zichron Yehuda cites “from my master, my mentor and teacher, the great, the grand illuminator, our sage the Rabbi, Rabbi Aryeh Leibush may his light shine, orator here, the holy congregation of Mikulince."
The year was 1920. Poland had just been ravaged by the first world War and was plunged into poverty. Although Poland was given its own autonomy for the first time in a century and a half the local communities were left unprotected and rape and pillage was not uncommon.
Amongst this mayhem Meszulim Feyvush Bomze, the 18 year old eldest son of his widowed mother, Malcie, was faced with an impossible decision. Continue to live in his desolate hometown and attempt to rebuild, helping his family survive day by day, or abandon his community, his friends and his Rebbe, venturing to America in the hope for a better life. A life with more stability, safety and success for him and his family.
So the young Bomze gets up the courage to approach the Rebbe upon whose lap he had grown up. The Kopychinitser Rebbe had been a friend of the family since his father's time and possibly his father before him. He approaches the Rebbe and asks, “Rebbe what should we do? You know the difficulty there is in staying here in Poland. And yet you also recognize the difficulty of remaining faithful in America. How can we go, but how can we stay?”
The Rebbe turns to him, and with audible distress in his voice says, “my son. Go to America. But I want you to take with you something.” He lifts the siddur he had been holding and tears out a page. “Bring with you Yedid Nefesh. Bring it with you always”. And the young man did. He traveled to the USA with his mother, two brothers and a sister that same year.
Upon arrival, Meszulem Feyvush, now Philip, reconnected with landsman from his home town of Sukhostav who were gainfully employed in the window washing business. The Fink brothers helped get him on his feet to earn a reasonable income and support his family. At least till the end of the decade.
On the weekend of October 29th 1929, a combination of events led to a state of overwhelming investor anxiety. Stockholders flooded the market leading to an 89% drop in the Dow Jones. The aftermath of this stock market crash is now ominously referred to as the great depression. During this time period many Jews were forced, due to the dire circumstances, to work seven days a week, including Shabbos, in order to provide basic sustenance for their family.
Philip felt trapped. On the one hand, he desperately wanted to provide for his newly married bride and two young children, Sylvia and Herbert, and could not let them starve and roam the streets as beggars. On the other hand, this was precisely the reason he had feared for coming to America and being forced to break from the traditions of his parents and ancestors.
Few who have experienced what Philip went through during this time have recorded their inner struggle and what it meant for them. Herbert, who was no less than eight years old at the time, would later recall that his father diligently continued washing windows. But each week, come Sunday morn he would need to seek new customers, seeing as employers were not satisfied with his absence on Shabbos and his unwillingness to break from his day of rest. Many a time Philip took Herbert with him on his window washing rounds, and eventually, after Herbert's Bar Mitzvah, he began filling in for his father when his father took sick days.
Although Philip did not keep a journal and may not have been a proficient writer, it was not necessary for him to record what had inspired him during those trying times. As Rabbi Herbert Bomzer pointed out, it was the message from his Rebbe, the Kopychinitser, that carried him. It was the Yedid Nefesh he sang each Erev Shabbos when sitting at home, knowingly putting his family at risk and Putting all hope in none but his merciful father in heaven that inspired him to hold steadfast to his belief.
When I was told this in 2010 by Zaide, who to our great misfortune is with us in spirit alone, he recalled the story with a double meaning. On the one hand, the Rebbe supposedly did rip out the page of Yedid Nefesh from his siddur. But in Zaide’s famous style he understood it differently. The invocation of Yedid Nefesh, when looked at through the first letter of each stanza spells out yud, key, vav, key. Therefore, this is what the Rebbe was telling the young Philip those many years ago. To take with him, not the beautiful words of Yedid Nefesh, but to take the awareness of God with him wherever he may go. For faith in God would provide the wellspring of support for whatever he would do. It would help him and his family survive religiously in the trials of America. And that's what he did. He raised his family with this message through his integrity in business and all his endeavors he managed to raise a beautiful, faithful family with the love of Torah and a love for Shabbos!
With deep sadness we report the passing of Rabbi Chaim Ze'ev Bomzer OBM, a leading figure in the American Jewish community, who was widely recognized for his expertise and erudition in Halakha (Jewish Law).
Binny is the newest and youngest member of the IAJGS Board of Directors. His passion for discovering his family history has taken him on a journey. Over the past three years, he founded and lead the first JGS on a college campus, the Family Discovery Society. Having traced his family back hundreds of years with tools like JewishGen & MyHeritage, he has instructed dozens of University students to do the same.