In 1911 in Siedlice, Poland the family of David and Devorah Rybak dressed up and gathered in a photographer’s studio for a family portrait. Little could they imagine how that picture would be used in the years to come to bring together distant branches of the family from all over the world.
My wife, Devorah nee Ribak was named after the matriarch in the photo. She is the granddaughter of Yacov the 9 year old boy standing between his parents in the center of the photo. As a teenager, Yacov traveled to Denmark to visit his older brother Aaron (standing last on right) who had moved there previously. There, Yacov met Rosa Cohen from Babrusk, Belarus and they fell in love and made aliyah in 1920. Their first born son, and my wife’s father Haim, was born in Jerusalem in 1922. Soon after Yoseph, Mordechai, and David were born.
This photo travelled with Yacov wherever he went.
Enter the digital age and the world of social media and the picture grew to take on a life of its own. My wife went on Facebook one day and did a search for Ribaks (the ‘y’ was changed to ‘i’ in Israel). She clicked on the first name of the alphabetically sorted results that were returned – an Avi Ribak. She messaged him asking about a possible relationship. She emailed him the photo. Avi replied, “I have the same photo. My grandfather Yacov is the little boy in the front left.” Confusion reined. Two little boys named Yacov in the same family?
Further discussion explained how this happened. Avi’s grandfather is the son of Avraham Israel (standing 4th from left), the oldest son of David and Devorah, and his wife Gitel (standing 3rd from left). So the two Yacov’s although close in age were actually an uncle and nephew. To avoid confusion the uncle was called Yankel and the nephew Yacov. Avi in fact is named after his great grandfather Avraham Israel who tragically was murdered in Treblinka along with his parents and several other family members in the photo.
Avi told us the story of his branch. His grandfather Yacov went East into Russia when the Germans invaded. He survived the war in Russia and made way to a DP camp in France, made aliyah in 1949 and settled in Ramla. The Ribaks of Jerusalem helped the new olim acclimate themselves to life in Israel. Avi said that growing up he was aware that there was family in Jerusalem and that in later years his grandfather moved to Jerusalem and was close with Devorah’s grandmother. Devorah’s grandfather Yankel, had passed away by this time.
Years pass, the elders pass away and the younger generations lose touch and spread out geographically. That is until the digital age arrived and made the world smaller. Genealogy becomes the rage and great strides are made by researchers and family members Yacov Slizak and Dubie Oppenheim in putting together the loose threads in the Ribak family tree. Facebook pages were started for Jews from the Siedlice area of Poland and the Ribak Family. The picture was posted there.
From all this outreach, communication was made with the branch still in Denmark, a branch that went to Brazil and a branch in various parts of the United States. All these branches had as a prized possession -the 1911 portrait.
Devorah and I were happy to host in our home in New York recently Avi and his lovely wife Revital. The family throughout the world is now in touch. Research is continuing to find other family members.
In 2011 in Israel a 100 year reunion of the family portrait was held. The styles may be different now, and you no longer need to go to a studio for a photograph but the power of the family portrait remains. The Shoah took a huge toll on the family but as is evident in the photo below they have grown beautifully. One can imagine Ribak descendants many years from now reconnecting and saying, “That is my grandfather in the lower right. Which one is yours?”