A Family Tree Grows at BJ

By Richard Fields | Issue Date: November 2010

Family tree. Photo: Denise WaxmanWhile our son Gabe undertook a major journey of discovery preparing for his bar mitzvah, I made an important and surprising discovery of my own. I related the following story about our shared journey at our son’s bar mitzvah celebration at BJ on June 12, 2010.

I grew up among a very small group of relatives, my grandmother (on my mother’s side), my father, my mother, and my sister. My father was estranged from his family for reasons I never understood. My mother was an only child, whose father died before I was born and whose mother was somewhat of a recluse. So, I never knew any of my other relatives or ancestors. All of these people died before our son, Gabe, was born.

The only other knowledge I have of my ancestors comes from a yellowed family tree from an anniversary party in 1915, almost a century ago, one of whose branches ends with my grandmother being born.

I also grew up without much of a connection to Judaism, both by upbringing and by choice. I never saw my grandmother attend synagogue. My parents were members of a very Reform temple where I was confirmed (not bar mitzvah’d), and I haven’t set foot in that building in almost 40 years since.

I had never even heard of B’nai Jeshurun until I met Marj. We joined when we got married in 1994. Attending synagogue was, and still is, a command performance for me. Yet both Marj and I recall that when my grandmother heard that Marj attended services at BJ, she mentioned that some of our ancestors had been active members in the BJ community during its heyday around the turn of the century.

Stained-glass window. Photo: Denise WaxmanWhen we were selecting the location of Gabe’s bar mitzvah, the one thing I was sure about was that I wanted to have it in the minha service so we could be in the beautiful sanctuary and home of the BJ community since 1918. I now realize that something else may have moved me …

Earlier this year, while standing in the sanctuary, Marj noticed the names Bertha Bauman, Hyman Bauman, and David Bauman on one of the stained-glass windows and remarked that the names sounded familiar. When we got home and looked at the old family tree, we discovered it was The Bauman Family Tree, and that those four people were my great, great, great aunts and uncles. Later, during Gabe’s final run-through with Ari, we noticed another window with the names Louis and Ricka Bauman, and found, again on the family tree, that they were my great, great, great grandparents, Gabe and our daughter Rebecca’s great, great, great, great grandparents. Further research uncovered Louis Bauman’s obituary, from which I learned that he was the president of BJ when he died in 1922. His funeral was held in the same 88th Street sanctuary where our son was called to the Torah on June 12th!

So, although Gabe did not grow up knowing any of my ancestors, we discovered that many of them were actually present, in a way, for his bar mitzvah and that he has a connection to Judaism and BJ way beyond my own.

I made another discovery during the many-year process of becoming a bar mitzvah that Gabe fully committed himself to and embraced. From Gabe, whose growth during this period has amazed me, I have learned the value of these traditions and the importance of this connection to our community and history.

Richard Fields is the husband of Margie (Marj) Vandow and the father of Gabe and Rebecca Fields. Richard and Marj have been members of BJ since 1994.