Over a decade ago, my family decided to move to Connecticut from a town southwest of
Boston, when my husband, Gary, accepted a new job in Guilford. The problem was that we didn’t know anything about Connecticut towns. We decided on Fairfield, as we’d heard it had a thriving Jewish community and was in close proximity to New York City, the hub of the publishing industry.
My family settled in and we planted our roots in Fairfield and within the Jewish community. We joined Congregation Beth El, where I was a member of the Education Committee and served on the Board. My kids went to the Hebrew school. At the synagogue, Gary and I were fortunate to have developed many wonderful friendships but our friendship with Mitch and Cheryl Podob led to an unbelievable family connection.
My family was invited to our first major celebration in Fairfield—the Bat Mitzvah of Mitch’s eldest daughter, Emily. Imagine our surprise when the family of my father’s late first cousin, Herbie, was in attendance at the event: Sally (Herbie’s wife) and their children, Marshall, Eric and Scott and their families. It took a moment for me to be 100% certain it was them; after all, I hadn’t seen them in a long time and, at first, I couldn’t figure out what they were all doing there.
We talked and pieced everything together. Herbie was Mitch’s uncle. Herbie's father, Shulim, was my grandfather, Sam’s brother. Mitch’s first cousins—Marshall, Eric, and Scott—were my second cousins.
I learned from Marshall that Herbie—along with his father and the majority of the Alter family—grew up on a farm in a town that was once known as Polonia in Czechoslovakia. Marshall also told me that his grandfather was the matzo-baker in town.
My grandfather had arrived in America in the late 1920s. The story goes that he was in the Hungarian army at the time—but had enough of it and went AWOL. He escaped on a boat and came to the Lower East Side with his first cousin, Esther Weiss, to live with cousins. He married one of the cousins, who happened to be my grandmother, Lillian Spear.
World War Two began and the remainder of my grandfather’s family in Polonia—which included 10 brothers and sisters—were rounded up on Erev Pesach and transported to Auschwitz concentration camp. The only family members to survive Auschwitz were Herbie, my great-uncle Mendel, and an aunt who stayed in Hungary after the war.
Somehow, Uncle Mendel managed to immigrate to the United States, where he lived with my grandparents’ family, while Herbie went to England. My grandmother’s brother, Mannie Spear, went to Europe to find him. Herbie was brought to the United States, where he met and married Sally Podob and they started their family.
My parents were very friendly with all of their cousins and spent a lot time with them. They were, and still are, a pretty tight group. My father told me that when Mitch’s father (Sally’s brother) passed away, my parents went to their home to pay a shiva call. Mitch and I are sure we were in attendance at the same family events over the years, but we didn’t officially meet until my family moved to Fairfield in 2007.
It was mind-blowing to see Sally and her family in Fairfield at Emily Podob’s Bat Mitzvah. Since then, I have had a greater connection with all of my cousins.
To this day, it continues to amaze me that we were close friends with the Podobs before we had any clue whatsoever that they were family. Not only had we shared many events with the Podobs and gone out socially with them, Mitch was President of our synagogue and his wife, Cheryl, was on the Education Committee with me at the time.
It has been a blessing to Gary and me and our kids, Ilana and Justin, to learn about the remarkable connection between our family and the Podobs. It has deepened our roots in the community and has provided evidence to us that a higher power is behind every extraordinary coincidence.
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