11 October 2009

New Jersey: Oldest family circle to meet

Do you remember family circle meetings?

Our FINK family in New York had an active one that my grandparents and parents would attend, but I only remember some life cycle events, such as bar mitzvahs and some weddings.

The family was also active in the Suchostawer Benevolent Association (Suchostaw, Galicia, now Ukraine) and some film has come down to us of their events, with my grandparents and then-teenage mother figuring prominently in the footage.

The New Jersey Jewish Standard reports on an October 18 reunion of a very special family circle group. More than 200 people from Israel, Canada, South America and all over the US will celebrate the anniversary of the United State's longest continuously functioning family circle.

In 1909, the David Kantrowitz Family Benevolent Association (DKFBA) was formed; the common ancestor of today's 500 members was Mirke Becker, born 1776 in a Russian shtetl.

Benevolent associations originally functioned as self-help groups to assist relatives with housing, jobs and loans. Such groups were formed by families as well as by immigrants from a specific town in the old country.

According to Sylvia Goldstein of Teaneck:

“The members are more than our relatives, they are our friends,” she said. “We look forward to getting together with them on a regular basis. We reconnect with family. It’s a nice thing to be close with your fourth or fifth cousins.”
Goldstein says that they have a lot of fun, a kosher Chinese dinner, speakers, musicians and entertainers. Every meeting is different and the group is alive. "We're not just a family tree."

Each month, about 40 of them meet in the tri-state area. Many don't know their exact genealogical relationship, but it is enough to know they are family.

Goldstein is active in the group because her parents were. Now her children are doing the same.

Some things have changed: Meetings are in English, not Yiddish. They meet at members' homes, not at Manhattan hotels, and most live outside of Manhattan, spanning the tri-state area, Florida, Israel and the world. Instead of card games, they go to barbecues and baseball games, have an orchestra and a website.

Although there have been changes in the way they interact, Goldstein's son, David, says the ancestors would have recognized the "spirit, love, and warmth that abound at all our gatherings."

Read the complete article at the link above.


  1. My mother's family had a cousin club in the 50's, called the BSZ Club, which met monthly in Manhattan. It was named after the surname initials of the founding siblings...the two Beckenstein brothers and the sisters who had married a Schaeffer and a Zuckerman, It was very helpful in working out the family genealogy, until I figured out they had omitted the sister who emigrated to Argentina, and married "who-knows-who"? Still looking for her!

  2. Schelly,

    I would like to learn more about the history and significance of "Family Circles". I am researching the cultural traditions and habits of various religious and ethnic groups ( 1845-1920). Do you know of a resource that will offer some insights on "Family Circles"?