Mechel and Ethel Grossman

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 After Leah, Moishe and Chaya Fraida, the fourth and last child of Noah and Miriam Grossman was Ethel “Elta” Pearl (Sep 1881-26 Sep 1948), who immigrated to the United States when she was a girl.  I cannot be certain when she actually arrived, but it was probably around 1892, when she was 11 years old, and definitely no later than 1899.  In all likelihood her first address was 609 North 2nd Street, as it was for her brother Moishe and most of her closest relatives.  This is confirmed by Stephanie Birnberg (7 Sep 1938-), her granddaughter, who claims that Ethel stayed with her sister Chaya Fraida when she arrived in Minneapolis.

As I pointed out in an earlier chapter, Ethel Grossman’s future husband Mechel Grossman (1873-17 June 1954) first appeared in the 1896 Minneapolis city directory as a peddler.  I was told that he had had a previous wife who died in a fire, either in Ukraine or Minneapolis.

Mechel and Ethel Grossman, wedding photo, 1898

One will immediately notice that Mechel and Ethel, who married in Minneapolis sometime shortly before July, 1898, are both named “Grossman”. The reason for this is very simple.  They were first cousins!  Ethel’s father Noah, who never left Ukraine, and Mechel’s father Jacob, who immigrated to the United States in 1892, were brothers.  Stephanie told me that Chaya Fraida had advised Ethel not to marry Mechel because of his difficult character, but she went ahead and married him anyway.

The consequences of Mechel and Ethel’s marriage must have been severe in a family of Orthodox Jews, for marriage between first cousins is expressly forbidden by Jewish law.  Moishe, reputedly the most religious person in the Grossman family, must have been rather upset.  I suspect that in the aftermath he distanced himself not only from the offending couple but from Chaya Fraida, who seems to have sided with her sister, and his uncle Jacob, who evidently did not oppose the union, at least not vehemently.

My theory is supported by the fact that none of Moishe’s living descendants were aware of the existence of Ethel before I informed them.  (It is even possible that Moishe’s own children did not know they had two Grossman aunts and an uncle in Minneapolis!)  In fact, the men and women of my grandparents’ generation were surprised when I told them of the existence of Moishe’s siblings and uncle.  Among those of Moishe’s descendants whom I interviewed, only Marion Shapiro knew of Chaya Fraida, but nothing of Ethel and Jacob Grossman!  She was even able to name all of Jacob Dov and Chaya Fraida’s children!  Marion told me that she thought there had been a “good relationship” between “Mima Chaya”, as she was affectionately called, and Moishe, even though the two siblings hardly ever saw each other.  She claimed that Mima Chaya had been over at the Stillman home quite a bit.  I presume that Chaya was especially close to her niece Grace and the other Stillmans, but I have found no evidence that she was in contact with her brother Moishe.  Norman Grossman (Lou’s son) knows that when he was a boy he was in Jacob Dov and Chaya’s house once or twice, but beyond that he cannot remember anything else about his grandaunt(s), or even whether he had any.

To summarize, after the wedding of Mechel and Ethel a schism formed in the family which never fully healed, even though there were some rare contacts between the two factions—Moishe on the one hand, and his two sisters and uncle on the other.  To be more precise, Moishe seems to have broken off his relationship with his siblings and uncle, while Grace, and possibly Lou, continued to associate with Chaya Fraida, at least for a while.  As a direct consequence of the rift, Moishe’s offspring, almost all of whom believe that Moishe arrived in America alone, have had no idea of how large the Grossman family actually is.  Many Minneapolis Grossmans have known other Grossmans their whole lives without understanding whether or how they are related, when in reality they are almost all related!  The fact that Mechel and Ethel were first cousins was a secret guarded within the family for many decades, but forgotten by or unknown to Moishe’s children and grandchildren.  On the contrary, many of Chaya Fraida’s and Ethel’s descendants, such as John Marcus, have always been aware that the two sisters had a brother named Moishe.

By 1899, Mechel (also known as “Michael” or “Max”) and Ethel “Elta” moved into their own place at 903 Washington Avenue North.  In the spring of that year they had their first child, Marie “Mary” (23 Apr 1899-Aug 1976).  According to the Federal Census, in June of 1900 the couple was living at 414 6th Avenue North, only a couple doors down from Jacob Dov and Chaya Fraida (no. 420) and two blocks east of Moishe (618 North 6th Street).  In that year Mechel, who still listed himself as a “peddler”, was probably helping out his brother-in-law Jacob Dov at the bath house.  After 1900 Mechel and Ethel disappeared from the Minneapolis city directories until the 1940’s, evidently because they moved to St. Louis, Missouri.  They made the move sometime between the birth of their son Norman in 1908 and their daughter Devera in 1915.  Devera was the first of their children born in St. Louis.  The couple appears in a 1923 photograph with their youngest child Beatrice. 

Mechel and Ethel Pearl Grossman with daughter Beatrice, photo 1923

It is possible that the couple left town because of the social consequences of their decision to marry.  In St. Louis they seem to have avoided the Biermans and other relatives, even if Marion Shapiro—probably erroneously—thought that they may have been in touch with Sam and Hattie.  Arthur Bierman (6 Sep 1918-), the latters’ son and one of the senior members of our family, has lived in St. Louis his entire life and has neither met nor heard of his grandaunt Ethel.  The same is true of Arthur’s older sister Francis Yedidia (6 Oct 1908-).  Reciprocally, Ethel’s daughter Lenore Abrams (11 Dec 1918-) told me that she never knew Sam and Hattie, although she grew up in St. Louis.  She also said that her parents attended Sharei Zedek Synagogue.  As I explained above, Sam and Hattie frequented B’nai Amoonah Synagogue.

Vernon Rockler (14 Nov 1920-), one of Jacob Grossman’s grandsons, told me that Mechel had a junkyard in St. Louis.  Lenore, Mechel and Ethel’s daughter, said that her father wrecked cars and worked with metals, but he does not seem to have had anything to do with Bierman & Sons.  At one point he also sold automobiles (a very popular Grossman career choice!).  By some accounts Mechel was a strange man, and does not believe that he was able to support his family well.  When Mechel and Ethel moved back to Minneapolis after World War II Chaya was surprised to see that her sister looked as if the marriage had taken a great toll on her.  

Mechel Grossman, circa 1945

Vernon told me that Mechel and Ethel returned to Minneapolis in the late 1940’s, but it could not have been later than September 26, 1948, when Ethel passed away. Their final address seems to have been 1123 Knox Avenue North.  Steven Silverberg (1 July 1945-), their grandson, informed me that Ethel died of liver cirrhosis, although she supposedly never took a drink.  Mechel lived on until June 17, 1954, when he passed away after a long struggle with Alzheimer’s disease.  The couple is buried together in the Jewish cemetery in Minneapolis on 70th and Penn Avenue South. 

Mechel and Ethel Grossman tomb

Stephanie remembers Mechel as a very difficult, stern, bad-tempered man who was harsh with his children.  Beverlee Fine (6 Feb 1925-), Mechel’s nephew, said he was headstrong and short-tempered.  Lenore recalls that he was an Orthodox Jew who kept the Sabbath and insisted on maintaining a kosher home.  He was a disciplinarian, “or at least he thought he was, because he had six daughters!”   In spite of his stern side, Mechel also had a sense of humor and would often joke with his friends and family.  He was at home much of the time and went to shul frequently.  Bobby Silverberg (23 Jan 1921-), Mechel and Ethel’s youngest daughter, remembers that in order to raise his wife’s ire, Mechel would often chide her with the words, “Are you a Litvak or a Galician?"  Only one of Mechel’s seven children was present at his funeral.

According to Stephanie, Ethel was quiet, very thin, 5’5” to 5’6” tall, with an olive complexion and a gentle, kind temperament.  Marion Shapiro, Moishe’s granddaughter, described her as pretty and smart. “I can see her [in my mind] but can’t tell you much about her.  She was short and had [a dark] complexion”.  Lenore remembers her mother as shy, quiet and reserved.  Yiddish was spoken at home.  In fact, she was a veritable Yiddish mama who would often admonish her children with the phrase, “Matuinish—You’re not supposed to do this!”  Bobby was in Minneapolis in 1948, the year leading up to her mother’s death, and thus knew her as recently as that year.  She told me that Ethel was adamant about her children doing their homework, and knew Shakespeare quite well.  According to Bobby, in the Old Country Ethel had read letters to illiterate people and wrote back for them.  She was much educated by her own children and in turn urged them to become teachers.  Bobby in fact became one.  Significantly, she claims that Lou Grossman, Moishe’s son, was Ethel’s favorite nephew.  Thus there may have been more links between Moishe’s and Ethel’s families than I have claimed.  John Marcus, Chaya Fraida’s grandson, met Ethel on a couple of occasions a year or two before she died.  Sammi Grossman (10 Oct 1946-), another of Ethel’s grandchildren, told me that Ethel and her sister Chaya Fraida were very close and that the latter was protective of her younger sister.

Mechel and Ethel had seven children, four born in Minneapolis and three in St. Louis.  As I stated above, their first child was Marie or “Mary” (23 Apr 1899-Aug 1976).  She later married a man by the name of Frank Schuman (4 Oct 1900-June 1972) and had two daughters, Lois (5 June 1931-) and Donna (Nov 1935-).  Lois married Buddy Rosen and had two children, Melissa (2 Feb 1955-) and Michael (10 Sep 1956-; married Yvonne and had Alexandra, 13 Dec 1993-).  Donna married Roger Asch and had three children.  Marie is buried in Dallas, Texas, where she spent her final years.

Mechel and Ethel’s second child, Jessie (8 May 1901-13 Aug 1989-), married Jordan, an actor, and had a son named William “Billie” Jordan.  Jessie divorced and then married Walter Edelstein (22 Feb 1903-6 Feb 1992), eventually moving with him to Ventura, California.  Jessie’s son William changed his last name from Jordan to Edelstein, since his stepfather practically raised him, and later married a woman named Adelaide and had three children.  Their second child, Michelle, married Robin Yount, who was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1999 with a career batting average of .285, 3,142 career hits, and 251 career home runs.  Yount has been a professional stock car racer for the last 15 years.

Robin Yount, Milwaukee Brewers 


Yount preparing for a Gran Prix

The third of Mechel and Ethel’s children is Emilie (8 Sep 1908-), who married Ed Jackoway (14 Oct 1904-Sep 1974) and had two children, Leeland (about 1931-) and Judy (1934-).  Leeland married Mary Ellen Reinhardt and had two children.  Judy married a navy man named Marvin Duke and also had two children.  Emilie lived in Chicago for awhile before settling down in Richmond, Virginia.

The next of Mechel and Ethel’s children was their only son, Norman G. Grossman (8 May 1908-9 June 1984). Norman was the only one of their seven children to remain in Minneapolis and raise his family there.  He added the initial “G” to his name in order to distinguish himself from the other two Norman Grossmans living in the same city.  He married a friend of the Marcus’ named Rose Kleinbaum and had two children, Stephanie (7 Sep 1938-) and Sammi (10 Oct 1946-), both born in Minneapolis.  Stephanie married Jake Birnberg and had three daughters, Marcia Emma (17 Jan 1966-), Carla (July 1969-) and Dana (6 Feb 1972-).  Apparently, when Norman took ill Rose had a bad falling-out with all her sisters-in-law but one.  From that time on the family drifted apart.  Norman is buried in the Jewish cemetery on 70th and Penn.

Devera (15 Dec 1915-), Mechel and Ethel’s fifth child, was a buyer for a St. Louis department store.  She was married for a time to Robert Rosim, with whom she had two children, but they split up around 1949.  Devera lives in Rhode Island.

Lenore (11 Dec 1918-), the sixth child of Mechel and Ethel, told me that when she was growing up in St. Louis she lived with her folks on Cabanne Avenue.  After graduating from George Washington University she married Dr. Ray Abrams and had three children, Dr. Paul Gordon (10 Jan 1948-), Dr. Allen (25 Feb 1950-), and Richie (Oct 1953 or 1954-).  Lenore, who lives with her husband in Hamden, Connecticut, refused to speak to me on the telephone.

Mechel and Ethel’s seventh and final child is Beatrice, also called “Bobby” or “Roberta” (23 Jan 1921-), who at her mother’s urging became a schoolteacher.  She married Irvin Silverberg and had a son named Jay Steven (1 July 1945-), who now works in Los Angeles.  Jay married and had two children, Daniel (1977-) and Melanie (1980-).  Bobby lives with her husband in Hamden, Connecticut, the same town as her sister Lenore. 

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