Boruch Yida Ganz, a middle-aged Satmar Chasid from Williamsburg
Roughly 120 years after the petirah of my elter-zeide, Dayan Rav Mordechai Rothstein of Holmein, I unexpectedly met an old friend. We were at a sheva brachos at the V’Yoel Moshe Hall in Williamsburg.
“Shalom aleichem!” he exclaimed. “I have regards for you from one of your cousins.”
Mildly curious, I asked which one.
“Your cousin the eye doctor, Dr. Robert Rothstein from Queens.”
“Rothstein?” I replied. “That was my grandfather’s name—Rav Mordechai Rothstein. But as far as I know, there aren’t any Rothstein cousins. My zeide was survived by two daughters. He didn’t have any sons.”
The yungerman shrugged. “Well, I’m not familiar with your family tree. All I can tell you is that Dr. Rothstein is an excellent neuro-ophthalmologist, and I recently went to see him for a complicated problem. While he was treating me, he happened to mention that he has some Ganz cousins in Williamsburg and that all of you are descended from the same line of Rothstein grandfathers.”
Our entire extended family has always prided itself on our illustrious zeide, who passed away on Sukkos in 1899 and whose sefarim we cherish. He was the author of Beis Vaad Lachachamim, written in 1887; a commentary on Tehillim entitled Shaarei Parnasah Tovah, written in 1889; and Toras Chesed, which he wrote shortly before his passing. In Shaarei Parnasah Tovah, he mentions his two dedicated sons-in-law, Shmuel Dovid Ganz and Yehoshua Katz.
There is no mention of a son.
Today there are hundreds of Rothstein descendants, including the Ganz, Katz, Moskowitz and Tessler families of Williamsburg and Monroe. No Rothsteins.
Now, of course, I was curious. Who was this Dr. Rothstein who claimed to be a descendant of my elter-zeide?
I decided to track him down, and not long afterward I found myself on the phone with his secretary, who informed me politely that the doctor couldn’t come to the phone as he was very busy. I left a message; it took him a while to respond, but he eventually called back.
During our conversation, I learned something that astounded me. Dr. Robert Rothstein, a beloved physician, an ehrliche Yid and the father of three children, was a direct descendant of our mutual great-great-grandfather, Rav Mordechai Rothstein, through a son! Unbeknownst to any of his other descendants, our forebear had not only two daughters, but a son. He was never mentioned in any of our elter-zeide’s writings.
Why this glaring omission? Why wouldn’t he have mentioned him? We can only speculate. But based on the information we have since gathered, the younger Rothstein left his hometown of Holmein during his father’s lifetime and adopted a more modern lifestyle.
The village of Holmein, also known as Halmeu, is located in Transylvania, a beautiful historical region of Romania. Bound on the east and south by the scenic Carpathian Mountains, Transylvania’s land was fertile and its 165,000 Jews were wealthy and respected, living peacefully in places like Dej, Cluj (Klausenberg), Sighet, Oradea, Satu-Mare (Satmar) and Halmeu. From the late 1800s to the mid-1900s, Holmein, an ir va’eim b’Yisrael, was home to many renowned and distinguished rabbanim and leaders, one of whom was our illustrious forebear, Rav Mordechai Rothstein.
The region belonged to Hungary until 1920, when it was returned to Romania. Then, on August 30, 1940, after 20 years under Romanian control, Northern Transylvania was handed back to Hungary as a reward for siding with Nazi Germany.
It was then that the nightmare began. The Jews of Transylvania suffered horribly during the Holocaust. By 1944, most of them had been deported and gassed, Hy”d.