In the mid-20th century, my grandmother’s relatives in New York established the Pifko-Winawer family circle. At the time, family circles were common among Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. They met on a regular basis (usually monthly) and provided emotional and financial support to members.
My grandmother’s maiden name was Piwko. The US relatives spelled their last name with an “f” instead of a “w,” perhaps to retain the proper pronunciation (in Polish, the “w” was pronounced “f”). Some relatives who settled in Switzerland spell the name “Piwko” while others use “Pifko.” One in Israel spells it “Pivko.” The name Winawer came from the husbands of two Piwko sisters—Liba married Jacob Winawar and Sarah married Saul Winawer. Aunt Pat says Jacob and Saul were cousins. I’m still looking for historical records that show exactly how they were related.
At the heart of this family circle was Philip Pifko, the youngest of my grandmother’s brothers. He had a bakery in Brooklyn where all the relatives (that is, the male ones) worked when they first came over from Poland. Philip started the bakery with another brother, Abram whom everyone called Jan in Poland and John in the US. They both came over between 1905 and 1907, but they kept in touch with the family in the home country, and Philip returned periodically for a visit. This is what I’ve been told by family members. I have also found ship manifests showing he arrived to the US in 1907 and he was a passenger to Europe in 1931. Philip stands on the right in the photo on the banner of this blog. Almost certainly, the photo was taken shortly after World War I, and it was definitely taken in Poland–evidence of another trip to Poland.
My cousin Joan (granddaughter of Liba and Saul) was a child at the time, but she recalls two topics of conversation at family circle gatherings: First, issues related to the family burial plot in New Montefiore Cemetery; and second, conversations about how to get the family out of Poland (this would have been in the 1940s). She also remembers my grandmother, uncle George, and mother when they first arrived in the US. They went to the family circle meetings for a while, but then they stopped.
Philip died tragically in a car accident in 1947. He was returning with his wife and some other relatives from a wedding in Massachusetts. The roads were icy and the car slid off the road, killing Philip. The other passengers survived. Without Philip to hold everyone together, the family circle weakened. Meetings became less frequent. Disputes arose over the division of Philip’s inheritance. He had done well during his lifetime but never had any children of his own.
The split in the family was already clear here. Only Philip’s sister Sarah is mentioned in the obituary, not my grandmother Halina or the other living sisters Rachel (who lived in Israel) and Hanna (whom we called Nunia, and who went by the name Maria).
On Sunday, January 8, of this year the Pifko-Winawer circle reconvened at Melodie’s house in Brooklyn. Melodie is the great granddaughter of Liba and Jacob Winawer. Here we are, descendants of five of the Piwko siblings:
Descendants of Liba: Melodie (daughter of Herbert and granddaughter of Max), her wife Susanna, and children Chiara and Leo
Descendants of Abram/John: Bob (son of Abby, grandson of Ewa)
Descendants of Sarah: Hinda (daughter of Nathan) and her son Erik
Descendants of Rachel: Eldad (son of Abrash), his wife Marsha, their children Daniella, Yoni, and Shelly, and Yoni’s wife Charity
Descendants of Halina: Krysia (daughter of George) and her husband Steve; Chris (son of Maria), his husband Shih Han and children Bessie and Charlie; and me (Marysia)
Also: Miriam and her husband Shiah. Miriam’s great grandparents were the brother and sister of my great grandparents.
Because I wasn’t host, I had more time to talk with my cousins than I did at the last reunion. But so many came, I still couldn’t talk with everyone.
Hinda is named after our great grandmother. She remembers my mother and grandmother. She called Babcia a beautiful woman, and described Mama as elegant. She also remembered Mama’s scars. Hinda visited Babcia on a trip to Puerto Rico in the late 1960s. Babcia was in the hospital with a broken hip. Hinda expected her to be feeble, but found her as vibrant as ever.
Bob gave me tablecloths and napkins hand embroidered by his great grandmother Bertha (Abram/John’s wife). She made them for all her female descendants in the early 1960s. Bob found them when he cleaned out his mother’s apartment and wanted them to stay in the family. So he gave them to me.
Eldad and Marsha just moved from a house on Long Island to an apartment in Brooklyn, and they love it. They have an incredible view from their 8th floor picture window, and they’re just a short walk from the Brooklyn Bridge and the Botanical Garden.
Daniella lives in Australia, but spends her summers (our winters) in New York. She and her husband are both professors. They have been living in a friend’s apartment in Manhattan. We barely got a chance to chat at the reunion, but fortunately Daniella and I had a great time together in San Diego last month. We were both there for the Jewish Studies Association Meeting.
Yoni told me about his education start-up that developed a computer program that helps to personalize instruction to students’ learning styles and challenges. The program has been introduced in a number of public school systems around the country. His wife Charity shared her incredible story. She is an opera singer, but pulmonary hypertension led to such a deterioration of her lungs she had to have replacement surgery—twice. She is doing well now, and even singing again. She has written about it in a memoir, The Encore, due to be published in October.
Melodie, who is a medical doctor and a professor, is also about to publish a book. Hers is a historical novel, The Scribe of Siena, due out in May.
Shiah and Miriam are artists. He used to do woodwork but now does fused glass. She has done pottery.
It’s reassuring to know that we are doing okay. Despite the trauma and disruption of the past that brought us from Poland to the US, we’ve found our way. We’re doctors and teachers, ministers and counselors, entrepreneurs and artists. Counting spouses, at least two of us are MDs and four of us have PhDs. At least four of us have written books. And this is just counting the relatives that were at the reunion.