Rosanne Skopp
Rosanne Skopp

The Last of the Litvaks

I stand corrected. This post should be the Last of the Litwaks. But, somewhere between Poland and Ellis Island Zayda was subjected to an Americanization of his name. Hence, he, and we, became Litwaks, therein depriving us of the last link to Lithuania, original homeland of the Litvaks. Note the all-American sound of that Litwak name! And so, in the early twentieth century, around 1910, the New Jersey branch of Mishpochat Litwak witnessed the Statue and became Yankees. Well, at least Zayda did. My father and grandmother and the remaining 4 children followed a bit later after Zayda had accumulated enough money to provide them with steerage accommodations.

Zayda and my grandmother, for whom I am named, produced one more, an all-American child, my uncle Benjamin, known always as Benny.

And so the Litwaks, formerly Litvaks, had 6 kids, three of them being the more desirous: boys! Zayda was assured that the family name, unauthentic as it was, would be carried on through the millennia. There would always be Litwaks. This was very important to him. I kid you not. And to anyone who quotes Shakespeare what’s in a name, I adjure you to think like my late Zayda. Do not think Romeo and Juliet. Think Polish shtetl. A rose by any other name would definitely not smell as sweet.

So this is what happened. Zayda had grandsons and granddaughters, of which I am one of the less desired latter. He fathered three daughters. None of them were feminists who wore the proud Litwak name. Between them, however, there were three grandsons with names of Zaentz and Moss. No Litwaks to be found. Maybe in the genes but not in the names.

But, luckily, there were 3 sons! Surely there would be a grandson from one of them. Surely another Litwak was waiting in the wings. And this is what happened.

Uncle Jack, the eldest son, married but remained childless. Sam, my father, the middle son, was a loving son but failed at his most urgent task, producing a son and heir. I have one sister. I have no brothers. Sam did not produce a Litwak. I am a Skopp for eternity. My sister is a Goren (another name change thanks to an Israeli version of the American name changing custom). Between us we have, thank God, sons and daughters. But I too have failed since my only son has daughters and no sons. Hence the Skopps are also destined to oblivion! There are no male Skopps in our family. My sister is doing better with the Goren name!

One last remaining hope for Zayda. Uncle Benny. He married but they remained childless for almost 10 years. Finally. Finally. Sof sof! My aunt, Bennie’s very beautiful wife Ceil, announced to the family that she was pregnant. The baby would be born in May. I was already 12 when I heard this news and I was very very happy since we all knew how badly they wanted a baby. But, no one was as rapturous as Zayda. This was his last chance.

Zayda was a very smart man but he had little knowledge of biology and genetics. As a matter of fact he had zero knowledge. But he did know a bit about money and its power. So, he offered a large bonus to uncle Benny if the pregnancy, already well on its way, resulted in a boy baby. This is true by the way! I couldn’t make this stuff up. Uncle
Benny, who was our family’s tycoon, wanted to make his father happy but, as they say, the cow was already out of the barn. Naturally, in those days with no ultrasound, one determined a baby’s sex by the way the mother was carrying. Was she big in front? A boy! My aunt Ceil was huge in front. Prepare for good tidings!

So in mid May, almost 65 years ago, Jody was born. A healthy and beautiful baby girl.

Of course Zayda loved her but his dream of carrying on the family name was buried. There were to be no more grandchildren.

Now, honestly I don’t know if this is all about carrying on the name. Boys were traditionally more desired than girls in those bygone days. Maybe it was economics. But I remember my father, already living in Israel, being told that our first daughter was pregnant with her first child, to be his first great-grandchild (he lived to see and enjoy many more). When I asked him whether he and my mother would come to America, to Massachusetts, when the baby arrived, he promptly answered, yes, if it’s a boy. And so he came for Eitan’s brit! But, I always believed my father. He would not have come if Eitan had been Eliana.

And so it was. And perhaps still is. As for me, mother of 3 girls and 1 boy, I gratefully loved and love whatever I got!

About the Author
Rosanne Skopp is a wife, mother of four, grandmother of fourteen, and great-grandmother of three. She is a graduate of Rutgers University and travels back and forth between homes in New Jersey and Israel. She is currently writing a family history.