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The Five Names of Beatrice Kaye…(Part One)

December 4, 2018
1942 - Grandma Sarah, Mom, Aunt Mal a

Grandma Sarah, Mom, Aunt Mal

Today marks the 100th Anniversary of the birth of the woman who during the course of her life had five names: Beatrice Magaziner, Beatrice Magazine, Beatrice Prensky, Beatrice Prince, Beatrice Kaye. We, the family in Denver, including my wife Nancy, our daughters Molly and Abbie, their partners K and Logan, along with brother-in-law David Fey, are celebrating this family landmark by having a blowout dinner at a chic Denver restaurant, where we will eat and drink and celebrate the life of my mother, a classic “Yiddisha Mama.” 

1.

One hundred years ago on this day, December 4, 1918, in Boston, Massachusetts, Sarah Magaziner, wife of Julius Magaziner, gave birth to her last daughter whom she named Beatrice. It was Sarah Magaziner’s fourteenth birth, seven of whom survived into adulthood. The seven surviving siblings were in order of birth (to the best of my memory), Louis, Molly (who changed her name to Malvina), Joseph, William (called Willie), Hyman (called Hymie), Ira and last but not least, Beatrice.

Ninety years and eight months later, on July 23, 2009, that same Beatrice, now surnamed Kaye, died in a nursing home in Great Neck New York. She is buried in Montefiore Cemetery, Long Island, New York next to her lifetime companion through it all, her older sister by ten years, Malvina Stone, known us our whole lives as “Aunt Mal.” When she died, after almost criminally poor treatment at Long Island Jewish Hospital in Long Island, Aunt Mal had blessed the planet with her irascible presence for a few months shy of a hundred years. In death the seven surviving siblings are reunited in the same family plot there. Uncles Joe, Lou (first name actually Robert), Hymie, Willie, Ira, Mal and “Beattie”. Finally together again.

Every one of my uncles pn my Mom’s side died of heart conditions, heart attacks, most in their forties.

One day they were alive and then suddenly gone, creating holes in their families that continued long into the future. Uncle Willie lived a little longer, until 1986. He died during unsuccessful heart surgery. But the Magaziner girls lived longer, Mom until 90 plus, Aunt Mal, as mentioned above, just a hair short of 100. With the exception of Willie and Aunt Mal, the others all had children, my cousins, most of whom are still this side of the great divide, minus Hymie’s son, my cousin Joel, who developed some kind of heart condition early on and died very young, in his thirties if I remember correctly, leaving a wife and three children.

This was the world that my mother grew up in, in a one room apartment behind a dry goods store on Ave. K, just a few steps to the east of Nostrand Ave, to this day, still an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood. I have visited this storefront twice, once with sister Laurie, just after Mom died and then a few years ago with my niece, Julie Perez. We were able to identify the dry good store, and in a magical moment when Laurie knocked on the door, were granted a brief entrance into the place (now a computer software company), seeing the tiny store itself, the stairwell under which Mom liked to curl up and read books and behind the storefront, that one long rectangular room – of about 100 feet in length, where Sarah Magaziner lived with her seven surviving children.

A wedding invitation to when William Magazine married Thelma Levine from Chicago announced that the pair got married in the synagogue just across Nostrand Ave on Ave. K. , the Congregation Ahavath Israel. As this 2009 photo shows, it is still there. I assume that this is where the entire family went to pray and that they were members there.

2.

It struck me this morning that over the course of her life, Mom had five surnames. Magaziner, Magazine, Prensky, Prince and Kaye, each representing a different stage of her life. She died Beatrice Kaye. That name she took on in 1966, when she married Nathan “Nat” Kaye. He died in a car accident in Florida on the way to Disneyland in 1986, when Nancy, the girls and I were already living in Finland. Mom survived. Her marriage to Nat Kaye was an “up and down” affair, but they stayed together till his end and she kept the Kaye name till she died.

But she started out as Beatrice Magaziner, her father’s name.

He hailed from Grodno now in Western Belarus. As the story handed down in the family goes, Julius had the misfortune of getting drafted into the Russian army. It turned out that his unit was billeted at the home of a local rabbi in Bialystok, Poland, a stone’s throw west of Grodno; Rabbi Wishejsky (there are different spelling of this in English) had a daughter, Sarah. It was one of those “love at first” things. Julius asked for Sarah’s hand, Rabbi Wishejsky agreed, why only Heaven knows. Not wanting to spend the required twenty years in the Russian army, Magaziner went AWOL, thus establishing the honorable tradition of draft-dodging and pacifism in the family, AWOL all the way to New York, where he arrived in late November of 1904.

So Mom, who was closest in age to her brother Ira, was born a Magaziner.

But now the family was in America…and for years all over America. Boston, Buffalo, Detroit, Cleveland – wherever Grandpa Julius could find work. He did construction, worked in steel mills cleaning out tailings, did design cement work (the fancy stuff one sees above apartment building doors). Sometime – I am not exactly sure when, the family relocated to Ave. K and Nostrand Ave. in Brooklyn. There in 1924 when Mom was six years old her father died of a poisoned drink of prohibition era alcohol. He wasn’t an alcoholic – just took a shot on those cold mornings to warm up. It attacked his system and suffered considerable pain for three or four days before dying. He left a wife, single mother with seven dirt poor Jewish kids.

Grandma Sarah tried to join her husband in 1906. But, this according to Aunt Mal, she had some kind of minor eye infection; she was rejected at Ellis Island as eugenically unfit and sent back to Europe. There she spent two years, working, and collecting the $ to return to the United States. That journey she was able to make sometime before 1908. However she took a different route, with the ship leaving her off in Montreal, Canada. From there she took a train down to Manhattan.

Grandmother Sarah Wishejsky in the late 1890s prior to her marriage to Julius Magaziner. Note: the young woman pictured here is the same as the old one to the left of Mom at the beginning of the article

 

Entering the country this way at that time, there was no customs inspection. A woman who spoke seven languages fluently (Russian, Polish, Yiddish, Swedish, German, some Lithuanian and then English) she was said to have the voice of an opera star. She was what would today be considered “an illegal immigrant.”Grandma Sarah died in 1947 just before I turned three. But as she lived with my parents, Aunt Mal and Uncle Sam at our home at 325 Ocean Ave, just above the Parkside Ave. subway station, I am pretty sure that I remember her. Mom tells me that she had to remind Grandma that I was my Mom’s child, not hers.

In the 1930s the seven Magaziner children and Grandma Sarah decided that living in America that they should Americanize their name. Magazine in Russian means store owner, shop keeper, rather than the americanized version of it. I found that odd because at least as it was told to me, the Magaziners lived for several centuries somewhere between Grodno and Prienai (in Lithuania) where I was told that they had a long tradition as fishermen along the Neiman River; they also produced a string of rabbis.

Whatever, like so many immigrant families, the Magaziners were anxious to “fit in” and this during a period of heightened Anti-semitism that took many forms in the 1920s and 1930s. They decided collectively, to change the name. Mom related that the discussion in the family went on for several years and there were a number of suggested alternatives to the Magaziner family name. Turns out that the kids were even more attached to the family name than Grandma Sarah. And so after many discussions of several years duration, together, the family came a momentous decision, to simply drop the “r” at the end of Magaziner, to replace it with the surname “Magazine.”

Thus, sometime in the mid 1930s, Beatrice Magaziner became Beatrice Magazine.

2009 - 07 - Bea Kaye's Funeral 14

The Magazine-Prince-Stone family plot at Montefiore Cemetery on Long Island

Then in 1942 at around the time that he was commissioned in the US Army as a first lieutenant – he would work during those war years as a personal assistant of one Robert McNamara,(1) the future U.S Secretary of Defense during the Vietnam War and then World Bank president – Herbert Prensky (not yet “Prince”) would take the hand of Beatrice Magazine in marriage.

But the rest of the story will have to wait for another day.

________________________

  1. During the war, early on, it turned out that, glory be, that the U.S. military was being robbed blind – mostly with those doing the theft in cahoots with base commanding officers who got a cut. The military set up a statistical control unit that was headed up by McNamara. He in turn recruited a large number of officers – more than a hundred – to become statistical control inspectors. Of the hundred recruited, some ten were selected. One of them was Herb Prensky, my father.
8 Comments leave one →
  1. William Conklin permalink
    December 4, 2018 2:16 pm

    This story could be the basis for an historical novel. Lots of stuff to put into a narrative.

  2. Sarabelle permalink
    December 4, 2018 2:49 pm

    The story Aunt Mal and Mom told (over and over) of Grandma Sarah’s delay of 2 years differs from your version. I’d like to know the truth. Mom and Mal said she was robbed in Germany of all her money and passport while traveling with 4 children – one who died on the boat coming over. She was given job of cleaning and cooking in an inn in exchange for room and board for her and her children. It took her 2 years earn back the fare.
    Then there’s also how she found grandpa with only a paper with the words: “Jullius Magazner, Brooklyn NY” scribbled on it.

  3. Tom Moore permalink
    December 4, 2018 3:27 pm

    I had a friend who lived on 9th St here in Boulder named Beatrice Kaye. Seems she came from a rural family from Franktown or Elizabeth.

    >

    • December 4, 2018 3:37 pm

      Hi Tom… Could be a relation to Nat Kaye although not one I ever heard of. PS…read all your messages and OCCASIONALLY – like today – actually do something about it…

  4. John F Kane permalink
    December 4, 2018 3:46 pm

    thanks, wish I had such detailed family knowledge. Keep it coming

  5. Joan Wexelbaum permalink
    December 4, 2018 6:07 pm

    Robby. Thank you! Great info and much that I did not know. I thought about your mom a lot today. I wasn’t sure how old she would have been, so thank you for answering that! Bea was so special and so so special to me. She was the mother I never had and helped me navigate my 19 year old self into a rather difficult family. She presented family as I hoped mine could be with large gatherings full of laughter, warmth and really good food. Bea is a woman who deserves to be missed and remembered. You are doing a terrific job of keeping her essence alive. xo

  6. December 5, 2018 1:56 am

    My God, what a rich & rewarding life history! A Family treasure !May it be passed to the next generations and on …………………….and on…

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