I read “To be buried in Grimsby” again. On the cover page was a short citation which I had previously noted, but glossed over in my hurry to read the content.
With fresh eyes came new insight. In small print, I saw the name, Michael Saltman. The nit-picker in me also noted the misspelling of Lincolnshire.
I put Michael’s name into Google. Four matches came up: two in the legal profession, one in the financial services sector, and a university professor.
For no particular reason, I eliminated the first three and concentrated on the academic.
The first hit for a person fitting this description was an honorary fellow in the Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences. This was tantalisingly close to home! The only available detail, however, was an email address and I had a feeling that he may have moved on from there.
I drifted towards Facebook. A professor emeritus in anthropology at Haifa University, complete with head shot showing a man in his late 60’s or early 70’s, was on Facebook. His educational background included the City of London School, a prestigious boys’ school whose origins date back to the 1500’s.
A pattern had started to emerge here. Avrom had grown up in England and had migrated to Israel. Perhaps Michael had followed him…
I sent Michael a private message, sat back and waited for a reply. None came. Facebook had connected me with many persons from my past, but this was not going to be one of those occasions.
In the interim, I had found a Haifa University email address. The response to my inquiry was swift and confirmatory, with a wry comment implying that I had done well not to wait on a reply through Facebook. He had been in Melbourne, but was now back in Israel. More importantly, he was Avrom’s brother.
But he bore sad tidings: Avrom had passed away some years ago. I had found him, albeit it too late.
It was not all bad news, however. Michael had taken over as family historian and had in his possession all of Avrom’s papers. Unfortunately the photo of my father taken in London in 1936 had not survived, but there were a few other items from which I could draw much consolation.
The first of these was a photo of the gravestone in Grimsby of my great great-grandfather, Zelig (also known as Azriel).
I do not read Hebrew and have relied upon a literal translation of the Hebrew text cited in the family history:
“Unto his old age he acquired righteousness for the benefit of his soul. Here is buried the aged, God-fearing Rabbi Azriel son of Rabbi Judah Arie, good and kind in his deeds, who departed to his world at the age of eighty on Sunday, the ninth day of Nisan in the year (5)660” (source: To be buried in Grimsby)
This reveals my oldest known ancestor, a great great great-grandfather who may have been alive at the close of the eighteenth century.
Apparently, there is no evidence to support the claim of a rabbinical title, either for the father or the son; at best, the reference indicated some level of Jewish learning.
The other items included an article in a Russian Hebrew newspaper, Ha-Melitz, describing Kruky in 1894, a contemporary view of this town framed by Michael after his visit there in 2011, and his moving tribute to his late brother. There were also copies of my great grandfather’s death certificate, as well as letters my mother had written to Avrom in 1996.
The two descriptions of Kruky more than a hundred years apart were sufficiently bleak to make me never want to visit this place.
The remaining items I have revisited several times.