To find a family member, a son of survivors, unknown for decades after the Holocaust, would have been enough. That members of the succeeding generations of that family have become prominent leaders would have been enough.
But for this singular “family reunion” to take place in the country where the family has its roots and that is the site of so much of their suffering during the Shoa, is almost too much.
Jack Rabner of Caldwell is a member of the annual Neshama senior trip to Poland and Israel from his school, Golda Och Academy in West Orange.
It was in Poland that he met Zvi Rav-Ner, Israel’s ambassador to Poland. “We worked out our relationship over the dinner table in Warsaw,” said Jack by phone from Israel after a three-day trek in the desert. “My great-great-grandfather and his grandfather were first cousins,” he said. “It’s great to meet new family.”
All four of Rabner’s grandparents originally came from Poland. The relative he shares with Rav-Ner is George Rabner, his paternal grandfather, who lost his sister, uncle, and aunt in the Holocaust.
Rav-Ner’s parents remained in Poland after the war, and he himself was born there in 1950 and lived in Poland until he was seven.
Jack said he hadn’t realized “the whole family wasn’t wiped out” or that any Jews stayed in Poland after the war.
Rav-Ner is not the only dignitary in the family. Jack’s father, George Rabner’s son, is Stuart, who is chief justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court.
It was he who discovered the possible family tie with Rav-Ner from another long-lost Rabner cousin in Brazil and had an initial conversation with the ambassador more than a year before Jack’s trip. At that time, they could not quite make the connection.
Later, through an Israeli branch of the family, Stuart Rabner received the details on the family connection.
When Jack’s sister Carly was preparing to go on the Neshama trip last year, she contacted Rav-Ner, hoping to meet, but the school group’s schedule did not mesh with the ambassador’s.
So Jack reached out as he was preparing for his trip, and school officials helped arrange the meeting in Warsaw, where Rav-Ner also addressed the full group about Israeli-Polish relations.
During the meeting, Jack called his father and put the two cousins on the phone together. “I had goose bumps,” said Rabner. His and the ambassador’s forebears “probably knew each other in Poland,” he said. “Now we are linked again in the same part of the world. It’s really incredible.”
The GOA students left for Poland Feb. 27 and have been in Israel since March 5; they return to New Jersey May 25.
The Rabner family, which also includes Jack’s mother, Deborah, and his sisters, Erica and Carly, are members of Congregation Agudath Israel of West Essex in Caldwell, where Stuart Rabner is a past president.