|Some 31 “second-generation cousins” – great-grandchildren of Solomon and Fanny Blechman – attended the Teaneck reunion.|
One hundred years ago, Solomon and Fannie Blechman (and her mother, Rachel Schiffman) immigrated to the United States from Russia with their 12 sons: Kamille, Boris, Morris, Alexander, Louis, Emanuel, Carl, Samuel, Isaac, Louis, Irving, and Benjamin.
(Technically, explained Teaneck resident Susan Ticker, one of the family’s many descendants, Morris had left for the United States several years before, at 16, but his picture was subsequently inserted by hand into a photo of the departing family group.)
Today, descendants of the Blechman clan number nearly 300 – including 32 grandchildren, 69 great-grandchildren, 75 great-great grandchildren, four great-great-great grandchildren, and assorted others.
“This includes ancillary people who expressed interest in keeping a connection,” said Ticker.
On Aug. 16, 125 members of the extended tribe gathered at Teaneck’s Cong. Beth Sholom to celebrate the family’s arrival on these shores. Ticker – the daughter of Frances Blechman, who, in turn, is the daughter of Alex Blechman, who arrived here on March 29, 1909 – said her mother and six of the younger cousins spent six months planning the event.
“They came from California, Washington, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Florida,” said Ticker, noting that the seeds for the gathering were sown last year when her sister, Ronnie Ticker, and their cousin, Steven Blechman, shared a birthday celebration and realized that the landmark anniversary was approaching.
“Steve became the keeper of the family list,” said Ticker, adding that her mother had maintained the list for years, sending out dues notices to family members so that they could maintain their annual Chanukah parties and spring gatherings “mostly to talk about cemeteries.” In 1936, she said, the family “bought a sizable number of plots in New Montefiore and set up a gorgeous archway and garden.”
The group also played pinochle, she said.
Ticker said that the Blechmans who first arrived here “smuggled their way out of the Soviet Union.” Apparently, one of the sons had been inducted into the army and Ticker’s great-grandfather “swore that none of his sons would serve in the czar’s army.” According to family legend, he maintained that if the czar couldn’t protect them from pogroms, they were not about to help him.
“The pogrom in 1903 was the one that broke the camel’s back,” said Ticker, leading to the family’s decision to leave. She noted that Solomon’s dry goods stores in Bessarabia were always looted during pogroms.
On arriving here, the family once again took up the dry goods business, “staying in the same area but working in different places.” The extended family got them jobs, “some in millinery, some in textiles. Some of them were quite successful,” she added, pointing out that her grandfather started his own dyeing house and employed several of his brothers.
“The bulk of the family lived in Brooklyn,” she said, “first in Williamsburg, then near Flatbush in a beautiful park-like setting.”
“We were called heretics when we moved out,” she said. “When my mother announced we were leaving in 1959, the family expected us to come back every Saturday and Sunday as always.”
Still, she said, the family remained close, continuing to hold large Chanukah parties every year. But as the number of family members grew and relatives moved away, the family-wide parties were discontinued and individual families started having their own parties. Last Sunday’s gathering, Ticker said, included a 45-minute film of stills and other footage of past Chanukah parties, put together by her cousin Steven Zwillinger.
Preparing for the 100th anniversary was a large project, she said.
“We set up a Facebook page and Steve [Blechman] took care of the database and RSVPs while Steve [Zwillinger] was the creative director.
“Some family members met at the six-hour party for the first time,” said Ticker, noting that one of the cousins created a “speed-cousining” event to bring together those in the same age cohort.
“Basically, we fixed people up by age group, tempered by generational level, and asked them to share something about themselves, helping their cousins to understand why they came and their connection to the family,” she said. “We needed nothing beyond that. It was an uncontrived kind of mingling.”
The group also played musical chairs and limbo – games played at past family reunions.
“We’re a partying family,” said Ticker, adding that her mother joined in musical chairs but passed on the limbo.
“Every generation was represented,” she said. “We gave out $2 bills to the winners.”
According to Ticker, some family members wanted to keep the party going, since they had come in all the way from California.
“New friendships developed,” she said, “and some younger members offered to chair future events.”
“Some people said it was one of the most enjoyable afternoons of their life,” said Ticker. “It was even suggested that another reunion take place in two years to mark the 75th anniversary of the founding of the cemetery.”
Ticker said she believes that her and her sister’s decision to keep their maiden names in some way reflects their strong connection and identification with the family founded by Solomon and Fannie Blechman. (Ticker is married to Cantor Henry Rosenblum, dean of the H. L. Miller Cantorial School and College of Jewish Music of The Jewish Theological Seminary.)
Openly appreciative of the “outgoing, loving, caring, and partying personalities” that make up the clan, she said she “treasures” her connection to it.
“They’re a group of people who have the same background and values I came from, and these are the values that have sustained me and that I want to pass along to my children. Family really matters,” she said. “I want to pass this on.”