05 February 2012

Avraham: son of Mordechai, grandson of Yitzchak Leib

Since most Jewish people have at least two names (their Hebrew name, which includes their father’s name, i.e. son of/daughter of _______ , and their common/legal name) their tombstones can be a fount of good genealogical information.  In Ashkenazi (European) Judaism, the common custom (it is not a religious rule) is to name after someone who is deceased.  Thus, using tombstone information, one may tell not only the name, Hebrew name and father’s name, but also, if one has some information about prior generations, the fact that whomever they were named after had passed on before their namesake was born.  But my great grandfather’s tombstone went a step further.

I am not proficient in Hebrew, so I posted a photograph of my great grandfather's tombstone on ViewMate, JewishGen's amazingly helpful application that allows people to post documents and photographs and others to view and respond to those posts. Both David Rosen and Dena Yellin, individually, were kind enough to respond to my post with translations and interpretations [1]. In addition, Rachel Wilson and Israel Pikholz both noticed an error and corrected the Hebrew date of death.

Our dear father
Here lies
Peace loving, charitable, benevolent
Avraham Aba son of Mordechai, of blessed memory,
grandson of Yitzchak Leib, of blessed memory,
the great rabbi, called by the name magid.
Died the 11th day in the month of Tevet 5688 [4 January 1928].
May his soul be bound up in the bond of (everlasting) life.

The gravestone of my great grandfather Abraham Garber is unusual in that it provides not only his father's name (Mordechai), but also his grandfather's name (Yitzchak Leib).  And while I have little information about Mordechai - except that Mordechai must have passed on before Abraham's second son, Max (aka Mordechai), was born in 1889 - Abraham's tombstone provides a tantalizing clue about Yitzchak Leib that may explain why he was included on the tombstone: he was a highly respected person.

A magid (pronounced mahGEED) in Eastern Europe in the 19th Century was an itinerant Jewish preacher, a skilled, respected story-teller and persuasive speaker of well-known impeccable moral behavior and judgement. Magids were distinct from "darshans," scholars employed as rabbis in communities. Some of the maggids became quite prominent. In about the middle of the 19th Century, there was an increase in the number of these preachers who were involved in championing Hasidism [2].

Dena pointed out that the wording is subtle: the gravestone does not say that Yitzchak was a magid. It says he was called Magid. She goes on the suggest that perhaps he was ". . . a magid who was called not by his last name (if he even had one) but as Yitzchak Leib Magid, after his occupation . . ."

There are many tantalizing unknowns:
  • How was Abraham descended from Yitzchak: on his mother's or father's side? I would think it is more likely on the father's side as these things tended to be passed down patrilineally, but I do not know.  
  • Many Jewish people in Eastern Europe did not have surnames until well into the 19th Century. I have never heard that I have any relative with the last name of Magid.  But, this is something I will have to consider.
  • What was the religious bent of the family while in Europe? There were a number of interesting movements in the Volhynia province of Ukraine during the Russian Empire period. With which one were they affiliated?
1. David Rosen and Dena Yellin, Responses to ViewMate Post # 21509, JewishGen.org, ViewMate (http://www.jewishgen.org/viewmate: accessed 29 January 2012).

2. Jewish Encyclopedia. "Maggid," article, JewishEncyclopedia.com  (http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/10259-maggid : accessed 5 February 2012).

Hundert, Gershon David, editor. The YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe, vol. 2, (New Haven, Connecticutt and London, United Kingdom: Yale University Press, 2008), 1450-1453.
Post Script (10 February 2012): I have received two emails correcting the translation &/or offering additional insight.  Israel Pikholz pointed out that the word "neched" [the first word on the fifth full line] means grandson, but could also mean descendant.  Magid could very well be meant as a family name.


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