Thursday, April 2, 2015

Genealogy Story – Were my Levy ancestors Jewish?

My grandmother’s maiden name was Vera Levy.  But was her family Jewish?  Here is what I know:

The surname of Levy is predominately Jewish.  And certainly the names in her family tree are also ones associates with the Jewish faith.  In addition, the types of business they were in are ones that are often associated with the Jewish.

Her great-great-grandfather was Nathan Levy.  He was a watchmaker and was apprenticed to Mordecai Marks.  His wife’s name was Rachel Imanuel and her father was Eli Imanuel.

Her great-grandfather was Louis/Lewis Levy.  He was a cigar maker.  His brother Elias was a pawnbroker.  His other brother’s name was Samuel.  His wife’s name was Caroline Lee and her father Joseph Lee was a hatter.

Her grandfather was Alexander Levy.  He was in stationary.  His wife was Phoebe Isaacs and her father Samuel Isaacs was a merchant.

Her father was Maurice Levy.  He was a printer.  His brothers were Samuel and Benjamin.  His wife was Caroline Northrop and she was not from a Jewish family.

The Levy family was from England.  Louis/Lewis came to the US with his family in 1851 when Alexander was a young boy of 11.  His wife, Phoebe, was also from England and had come to the US in around the same time period.  There are records indicating that Lewis and Caroline were married in a synagogue in London.  A name given to him was Lewis (Eliezer Lipman b Chaim) (Lazer Lipman b Haim Halevi) Levy.  He and other members of his family are buried in Washington Cemetery in Brooklyn, a predominately Jewish cemetery.

Alexander, his wife, and his children are all buried in Jewish cemeteries in Brooklyn or Fairfield County, CT.  Maurice is the only exception, as his wife had him buried with her Northrop relatives in New Milford when he died at the age of 40 in Brooklyn.

Based on the fact that so many of the names above are associated with being Jewish, that the professions are as well, and that their marriages and burials were in Jewish synagogues and cemeteries, it seems safe to conclude that the family were practicing Jews.

My grandmother, Vera [Levy] [Russell] Rogers, like her non-Jewish mother, wanted to break with her Jewish roots and definitely declared herself to be non-Jewish.  She was always quick to note that the name was pronounced “Levvy” with a short “e” and not like Levi with a long “e”.  Some of that pronunciation can be seen in the 1910 census where the census taker even recorded the name as Levvy as that is what he heard them say.  But while she so quickly discarded her Jewish roots, it is likely that her ancestors were.

In fact, my grandmother, as well as my father and his sister, were Christian Scientists.  I have long puzzled over why/when this came to be.  Since my grandfather was not of any particular religion, and neither were my grandmother’s sister and her husband, I believe that she became attached to this religion sometime during the period 1924-1930 when her husband had left her and she was raising the children on her own.  It was most likely near the beginning of this period as that is when she would have had the greatest influence on her children.  This was a time of great growth in the Christian Science religion (their peak membership of nearly 270,000 is believed to have been in 1936), and a religion that was founded by a woman would have a certain appeal to a single mom trying to raise her children. 

Whatever the timing and reason, she kept this association until the end of her life, as did both her children and their spouses.  While neither I nor any of my siblings are now following this religion, my cousin and her children still are.  The CS religion has drastically fallen in the past 40 years.  According to published figures, the number of churches has fallen from over 1800 in 1971 to fewer than 900 in 2013.  Also, the number of CS “Practitioners” has fallen from nearly 5000 in 1971 to only 333 in 2009.  Since the CS church does not publish membership statistics, it can only be estimated that the total membership, which was over a quarter of a million in 1936 and over 200,000 as late as 1983, is now less than 50,000.

No comments:

Post a Comment