|From left are Dr. Jack and Sylvia Goldstein and their son, Dr. David Goldstein, and daughter, Stephanie Paster. They are active members of the David Kantrowitz Family Benevolent Association, one of the oldest continuously functioning Jewish family organizations in the United States.|
It was launched in 1909 primarily as a self help organization to assist relatives from Europe with housing, jobs and free loans. Now, the David Kantrowitz Family Benevolent Association, known affectionately by its growing worldwide membership as DKFBA, is among the oldest continuously functioning Jewish family organizations in the United States.
Sylvia Goldstein of Teaneck says she can trace her ancestors back at least six generations to the common ancestor of everyone in the family – her great-great grandmother, Mirke Becker, born in 1776 in a shetl in Russia.
As active DKFBA members, Goldstein and her husband Jack, who edit the organization’s newsletter and regularly host meetings at their home, say participation in the group has enriched their lives.
“The members are more than our relatives, they are our friends,” she said. “We look forward to getting together with them on a regular basis. We reconnect with family. It’s a nice thing to be close with your fourth or fifth cousins.”
More than 200 people are coming from Israel, Canada, South America, and all over the United States to celebrate the group’s anniversary on Oct. 18 at a Long Island synagogue. “We call it Yahresfest,” said Goldstein, using the Yiddish word for annual feast. “It’s a big event – like a bar mitzvah without the bar mitzvah boy.”
The DKFBA members meet at least eight times annually. They pay dues of $20 a year, which goes toward meetings, newsletters, charities, and Chanukah gifts to the college students who are associated with the organization. Several committees perform tasks such as event-organizing, running the family plot in Beth David cemetery in Elmont, Long Island, and helping to contribute to the group’s chosen charities such as DOROT, which helps homebound and homeless seniors, and to Magen David Adom in Israel.
“We have a lot of fun – we have a kosher Chinese dinner and speakers, musicians, and entertainers. Every meeting we have something different. It’s a wonderful organization because it’s alive. We’re not just a family tree,” said Goldstein, who works part time as office manager of her optometrist husband’s Union City office.
This year, the group – which is more than 500 members strong and continues to grow – is publishing an updated family history book, edited by Marc Tenzer, a member of the family. “We’re always finding out new information. We’re always finding out about more relatives. We have a cousin who is a historian and she finds papers and documents tracing back years ago. We’re spread out all over the country and around the world,” said Goldstein, adding that a large number of relatives live in New York and New Jersey.
About 40 relatives get together each month at a home in the tri-state area. “Several generations come. Sometimes we don’t even know exactly how we’re related but it doesn’t matter. We’re also friends.”
Goldstein said that she discovers long lost relatives wherever she goes. “Our son went to medical school with a cousin and neither of them realized they were related until afterwards,” she said. “Often, we come to a DKFBA event and see a friend sitting at a table who we never knew was related.
“Once two women met at one of our events and one said to the other, ‘How are you related?’ She said, ‘I’m a Luskin.’ The other replied, ‘How could you be a Luskin when I’m a Luskin and I don’t know you?'” It turned out they had the same grandmother and didn’t know it. Go figure. We have loads of stories like that.”
Goldstein said she was inspired to become active in the organization because her parents were very involved in it. Now her children, Stephanie and David, the group’s president, have continued their legacy of activism in the organization.
David Goldstein, a physician who grew up in Teaneck and lives in Scotch Plains, noted that a lot has changed since the organization was formed a century ago. Meetings are no longer conducted in Yiddish or at Manhattan hotels, and the majority of the group’s members live outside of Manhattan – all over New York, New Jersey, even in Florida and around the world, he said. “Now we meet in the more intimate setting of each other’s homes.”
He said he often wonders if the ancestors who founded the organization would “recognize our current gatherings” which include barbecues, Trivial Pursuit nights, and outings to minor league baseball games. Such events have come a long way from the card games and meetings held at Manhattan hotels, he said. “The early members could not have predicted a DKFBA orchestra or a Website,” he noted. But no doubt they would have recognized our “spirit, love, and warmth that abound at all our gatherings.”