For more than 40 years, Susan Lowy Lubow of Morristown has been determined to locate every branch of her parents’ proud family trees.
To do so, she has traced back 4,000 people on both sides of her lineage, some of them prior to the first ones to arrive in Newark in 1848.
Among her forebears are illustrious names in local Jewish history, such as Isaac Schwarz, who served as rabbi of Temple B’nai Jeshurun and Oheb Shalom Congregation, and Herbert Abeles, who served as president of what was then the Jewish Community Council of Essex County from 1947 to 1949.
“It all started when my mother was helping my six-year-old niece make a family tree as a school project. I said, ‘I want to do that,’” she told NJ Jewish News in a Feb. 3 phone interview.
Lubow grew up in the Clinton Hill section of Newark surrounded by numerous family members. “Many of my grandparents’ friends were related — first cousins and first cousins once removed — before they came to the United States. Cousins married cousins,” she said.
In 1974, she began the daunting task of documenting the larger Schwarz family on her father’s side. She completed her first of two self-published books, The History of the Schwarz Family, in time for a reunion in 2012.
Lubow traced her paternal ancestors back to Isaac Schwarz’s arrival in 1848. “He was never an ordained rabbi, but he came from a family of famous rabbis,” she said. “He was very scholarly.”
Shortly after he arrived in the United States, Schwarz moved to Columbus, Ga., bringing along his own Torah scroll to start a congregation there.
“But it wasn’t a good fit,” Lubow said. “So two years later he moved to Newark, where he became a religious leader at Congregation B’nai Jeshurun.” Then, as part of a breakaway cohort, he helped to establish the more traditional Oheb Shalom Congregation.
Many years later, both would be reestablished in the suburbs, B’nai Jeshurun in Short Hills and Oheb Shalom in South Orange.
Lubow recently completed a second volume, The Abeles-Kussy Families. In late January she donated a copy to the Jewish Historical Society of New Jersey on the Aidekman campus in Whippany.
Although the JHS “normally does not focus on genealogy,” said its executive director, Linda Forgosh, she considers Lubow’s work invaluable in documenting “the individual people who have shaped the community and how it has changed over the years. They help us to document Jewish life in Greater MetroWest.”
Among Lubow’s more prominent relatives was Sarah Kussy. “She was a second cousin who was very active in Hadassah in Newark,” Lubow said. “She wrote a book about her parents, The Story of Bella and Gustav Kussy. It gave me my starting point.”
Lubow’s research has helped her to learn about the 30 or so family members who were slaughtered in the Shoa.
“They lived in Bohemia, a German-speaking section of what was then Czechoslovakia,” she said. “Most of them were deported to the Lodz ghetto in Poland, and three were part of the Kindertransport program that shipped them to survival in England.”
Various genealogy programs provided her with shortcuts to avoid tedious hours of book research and paperwork. “Because my family came from Germany and Bohemia, those countries kept great records, and my family did, too,” she said. “If your family came from Ukraine or Poland or Russia, the records are not on-line, and those countries didn’t care so much about their Jews — except to get rid of them.”
Lubow advises others interested in tracing their roots to “start with what you know — when your parents or grandparents or great-grandparents first came here.” The next step is to seek on-line sources such as the National Archives, the Mormon Church, and the database at Yad Vashem.
The Holocaust museum and research center in Jerusalem helped Lubow to find family members she had been unaware of.
“The Internet enables you to sit on your butt in your house and travel the world,” she said.
As she connected with relatives, Lubow organized reunions as far away as Prague and as near to home as Oheb Shalom in South Orange, where the Schwarz family gathered in 1991 and 2012.
“Why do I do this?” she asked. “Because I am a history teacher. I think it’s important. It is human memory and Jewish memory, and, damn it, we need to remember.”