More on Russian immigrants

Jack and Ben Gorelick with their parents

Jack and Ben Gorelick with their parents

Here is the sequel to the previous post about my husband’s White Russian grandparents. We left Avram Gorelick walking on the road from the Ukraine to Hamburg, having deserted the Russian army on the eve of World War I. He was determined to get to New York in pursuit of his beloved, Lena Arenberg.

“His goal was to go 40 miles a day,” said Jack Gorelick, my father-in-law. “He said that in the army, they had a 40-pound pack and were forced to march 40 miles a day.” On the trip to Hamburg, Avram would occasionally hitch a ride on a wagon, but he didn’t try to get on a train. His greatest fear was that he would be sent back to the army, so he took as few chances as possible.

Avram arrived in Hamburg, which had a Jewish Bureau, since the port was a departure point for thousands of Jews. There he retrieved his own identity. His brother Kiveh was already in New York, working in a sweatshop. He had bought a ticket and mailed it to Avram. It was the spring of 1914. If war had broken out sooner, he would have been finished—the Jewish brigades were used for minesweeping.

The Jewish Currents article about Avram and Lena describes Avram’s life in New York, where he tracked down the Arenbergs. When Lena and her brother, Yankel, contracted tuberculosis, the family moved to Scranton, Pennsylvania, and Avram followed, walking from Hoboken to Scranton along the railroad tracks. After Yankel’s death at the age of 18, Avram–now known as Abe–married Lena. Somehow, Abe’s friend Beryl (see previous post) also made it to Scranton and married Perla, Lena’s sister.

Abe and Lena had two sons: Jack and his younger brother, Ben.

“My mother was a beauty,” Jack recalled, “and so skilled as a seamstress. I remember when I was a kid, after the revolution, we would send flour and clothing to the family in Russia—they were starving. We’d stick a five-dollar bill in the middle of a sack of flour so it couldn’t be found by customs. We’d send a men’s coat or jacket and sew money in the shoulder pad. My mother could sew in such a way—my grandmother would come out and feel it–so you wouldn’t be able to tell there was money in there. My mother could sew a seam so that you couldn’t see it. She’d sew little beads on dresses. After a while, she couldn’t thread a needle, so as a kid I would thread needles for her.”

I’m so lucky that Jack Gorelick has reached the age of 95 and still loves to talk about his ancestors.

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6 Responses to More on Russian immigrants

  1. Sheila says:

    Hi Violet, what wonderful stories from Jack Gorelick, so warm, so interesting, what recall and truly a really wonderful window into the life of reality in the early 1900s. It is a rare gift when our elders share these stories with us so that we can understand what the world may have been like and what struggles they went through and gratefully survived. Thank you for sharing your truly gifted art of story telling. You are a wonderful writer. Also, thank you and blessings to Mr. Gorelick for being open and kind enough to share his private world with the rest of us. We are the ones that didn’t live with our elder’s struggles and we try to understand what the human condition may have been like at that time in history and hopefully we can grow and learn from their knowledge. peaceloveandgratitude, Sheila

  2. Barbie Glovinsky Gorelick Callanan says:

    I too had a father in law named Jack Gorelick who was the son of an Avraham Gorelick born in Minsk and came to America as an infant in the early 1900s. His mother’s name was Maeta. I think he was one of nine children.

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