On a wall in our apartment hangs a very large and long document encased in a glass frame. It measures 0.610 meters (2 feet) in width and 1.22 meters (4 feet) in length, occupying a central prominent space on the wall.
It is my family tree from 1727 to the present, painted in red and gold and inscribed in Hebrew with hundreds of names of my grandfathers many generations removed, their towns and villages in Galicia, names of their wives and all their children.
It was painted and written in Hebrew by a sofer (scribe) on the same animal skin parchment as is used for writing a Torah scroll, in the once Austrian city of Lemberg which became the Polish city of Lwow and is now the Ukrainian city of Lviv.
The names changed. The Jews remained. Until they were no more.
The date and place are signed “Lwow 1927” and its purpose was to commemorate 200 years of my grandfathers, every one of them, who were rabbis in various Polish towns and villages since 1727. In 1927 they gathered together in Lwow to celebrate 200 years of our family dynasty.
The elders of the Weissman family were disciples of the Rabbi of Belz and as Belzer chassidim they were scattered throughout dozens of communities in Galicia: Nemirov, Tarnopol, Lemberg, Javodov, Zavodiv, Krakow, Przemysl, Tarnow, Radom, Wiszna, Komarno, and Hrushiev… to name only a few of the towns in which my grandfathers served as community rabbis.
Most of those towns are now located in the Ukraine. Only Krakow, Radom and Przemysl remain Polish cities.
It is an important document and a very rare one. There are not many Jewish families who can list the names of their ancestors and ancestral towns over a period of two hundred years.
And now, 289 years later, I glance at the magnificently illustrated family tree and I am with great pride amazed. I am the 9th generation. My son is the 10th generation. And my grandson is the 11th generation.
What makes that so special and meaningful to me is that all of us have kept Jewish religious traditions without assimilating into the melting pot.
None of us are Belzer chassidim or chassidim of any sect. We are very Modern Orthodox and liberal, more comfortable with the kippot srugot (knitted kippahs) type of Jews. And we are very pleased with the good works of Chabad.
Those family members of my generation did not escape the Holocaust in Poland. More than one hundred of those rabbis, their wives, children and grandchildren did not survive the flames of the death camps in Poland between 1942-1944.
Lacking dates of deaths, it is impossible to observe a yahrzeit for each of them. They are remembered every year on the date of Yom HaShoa (Holocaust memorial day) when a special yellow candle is lit and placed on a table directly facing the large family tree on the wall.
Sometimes I think of myself as Elisha ben Abuyah, a Talmudic heretic who was called Acher (the other one) whose colleagues refrained from even mentioning his name.
His “crime” for his excommunication was his questioning of God’s mercy. For a religious Jew it is an offense to question God. But I sometimes do. I look at the world around me and I ask “where is God”?
I question Him but I have never defied Him. I question out of a deep love for Him and I await His answers which have never come. Or if He indeed has answered, my ears were deaf to His reply.
Eleven generations of religious and devoted Jews is no small thing for a family.
The last name on the scroll is that of my late mother. My unwritten name and those of my son, my two daughters and my three grandchildren, all unborn when the family tree was painted in 1927, will have to be remembered in some other way.
Assuredly, we will not be forgotten.