The Known History of Naphtali Schiff
BIOGRAPHY OF THE SCHIFF FAMILY CIRCLE
- Compiled by Mary Feldman
Schmiel Schiff our ancestor was born in Melitz, Galicia, Austria in 1806. He married Sura
Yahm in 1827. The following year Naphtali, for whom our family circle is named, was born. Faivel,
Miriam, Machiel and Haskel followed in due time.
In those days compulsory military service was enforced for a great number of years.
Schmiel's first two children had been born when he was ordered to serve for twenty years. He
resented the length of time allotted to him, so managed to escape to Hungary.
Later his wife and children joined him, and settled in a town called Zmigrod, which is in
Galicia, but near the borderline of Hungary.
Schmiel was Shochet, but for livelihood he opened an inn. He was a learned man who spoke
fluently in Hebrew, German and Polish. He was also interested in history and astronomy.
In 1848 young Emperor Francis Joseph, while on a tour of his empire came to Zmigrod, and
Schmiel, as the learned man of the community, was selected to greet and converse with the Emperor
and his party. The inn was his headquarters for four days.
When Naphtali was about eleven years old, his father Schmiel, decided to leave Galicia and
go to London, taking Naphtali, the eldest with him. He bough him a new pair of boots, and made him
promise not to tell his mother about the trip. So as not to hide the adventure from his mother, he
would talk to the boots every morning, telling them they would travel very far, hoping that his mother
would question him as to where the boots would travel. However, as she was not inquisitive and did
not question him, the adventure started.
The plan was to walk to Hamburg and there board a boat to London. They stopped at the
home of relatives in Budapest, and his father realized that Naphtali would not be able to walk that
distance. He therefore was left with the relatives, and Schmiel, together with a friend who joined him
in this travel, continued on to Hamburg.
While waiting for a boat, they became lonesome for their families, returned to Budapest,
picked up Naphtali, and returned home. So, in the young boy Naphtali, the seed of travel was then
implanted, for he was only one of his brothers to migrate to the United States.
Schmiel and Sura lived to ripe old age, and Naphtali became the owner of the inn.
Naphtali married Ruchel Brick, and they had four children: Itzak, Esther, David and Israel.
Ruchel died, and Naphtali married Rifka Krebs of Gorlitz, daughter of Israel and Ruchel Riegelhaut
Krebs. Israel, the youngest of the children left motherless was two years old. Rifka mothered the
youngsters, and also became the mother of Haskel, Max, Herschel, Sol, Sarah, Samuel, and Mary.
The children grew up. Itzak married Toba Ullman, and they had six sons: Samuel, Sol, Adolf,
Herman, Seymour, Morris. Itzak and Toba remained in Zmigrod, but their sons migrated one at a
time to the United States, after Naphtali and Rifka were established there.
Esther married Herman Kleinman and settled in Hungary where some of their children were
born. They later migrated to the United States. Their children are: Louis, Rose, Max, Mary, Jean,
Sarah, Samuel, Gertrude.
Not seeing a future for their children in Zmigrod, Naphtali and Rifka sent them to the United
States. David and his bride Sarah Gertner were the first to go. Israel followed next and lived
with David and Sarah, where he met Hannah Gertner, the sister of Sarah, whom he later
married. In the year of the blizzard, 1888, at the age of 16, Herschel arrived and made his
home with David and Sarah. The brothers worked at mens' tailoring.
Haskel arrived in 1889, lived with David for a short time, and then went as a helper to a
butcher, where he learned the business.
Finally, on November 3, 1891, Naphtali and Rifka packed their belongings, gathered
the remaining children: Max, Sol, Sarah, Samuel, and Mary, and started on their journey to
the United States. The children's ages ranged from Max who was fifteen years old to Mary
who was three.
They arrived in New York on November 24, 1891, and were met at the boat by their
Americanized children, who provided a home for them at 92 Willett Street. The older
children went to work at the tailoring business, and the younger ones were sent to school.
Samuel graduated from City College of New York in 1906.
As the brothers became of age and had the acquired years of residence, they were
happy to receive their citizenship papers. Sarah and Mary required their citizenship through
David and Sarah raised a large family consisting of Samuel, Rae, Harry, Jack, Anna,
William, Mildred, Eva, and Lillie.
Israel and Hannah, not to be outdone by David and Sarah, raised an equally large
family. Their names are Samuel, Rae, Lena, Gus, Shirley, Sol, Harvey and Murray.
As time went on the family prospered. Haskel became the proud owner of a butcher
shop at 84 Sheriff Street. The family then moved to Sheriff Street. Haskel married Molly
Hofflich and started raising his family. They are Freida, Irwin, Shirley, William, Samuel, and
David and Israel became contractors of mens' coats. Hershel and Sol were also
contractors of mens' coats.
Hershel married Mary Rothman. Their offspring are Charles, Mortimer, Henrietta,
Mollie, Samuel, Saul, Milton and Sylvia.
Max, the orator of the family, was the owner of a shoe store located on Avenue A.
The store was not successful and he later took a course in designing mens' clothing and did
Max married Minnie Bressman, and he followed his brothers in raising a large family:
Tillie, Julia, Samuel, Joseph, Barney, and the twins Lobel and Sidney.
Naphtali and Rifka were happy to be reunited with their children in a new home
founded in a new country. During the winter, on many Saturday nights, Rifka would make a
party for the family. The married couples came and the children were brought along if the
family happened to be maidless at the time.
The very young ones would sleep while the merriment went on. Sarah and Hannah
would always help Mother Rifka serve the refreshments. These gatherings were always
looked forward to by the young and the old.
Rifka's brothers and sisters did not come to the United States. Their names are:
Haskel, Feige (who is the mother of Sam Steuer), Edith, Minna (who lived in Germany), and
Herman (who lived in Lemberg, Austria). Edith and her sister died young, and Herman took
care of their children. Rifka corresponded with them and sent help to them when needed.
Mary continued this correspondence with them until World War II, then she no longer heard
from them. These families were probably among the six million Jews who lost their lives
through the cruelty of Hitler. Sam Steuer married Anne Schrank and became the parents of
Pauline and Rose.
Naphtali did not work, but he taught some of his grandchildren to read the Hebrew
Prayer Book and the Bible. He attended Services at the Synagogue daily. He hated
hypocrisy and taught his family to be loyal to their principles. Although Naphtali and Rifka
observed the Orthodox traditions and customs, they were not fanatic in their ideas. Naphtali's
hobbies were walking and astronomy, and he loved to compete with the weatherman in
predictions of the weather.
Rifka was gentle, kind and fair-minded. Her home was run in a hospitable manner,
and everybody was welcome. She was beloved by her sons and daughters, their wives and
husbands, in fact, by everyone who came in contact with her. Her grandchildren adored her
for the haven of refuge which her presence afforded them. Whenever they were threatened
with a spanking, they would rush to her. She never failed them, for she always interceded on
As the brothers accumulated some money, it was invested in real estate. Depressions
came, they lost the money, but they always tried for a comeback. Haskel's butcher shop and
home became the focal point for all. Here they met for all kinds of discussions and advice.
Sarah married Abraham Entlich, and now the families became even smaller. Their
children are David, Samuel, Ruth, and Teddy.
David bought real estate in Brooklyn and was the first to move there. A few years
later, Haskel and Hershel bought some apartment houses in Brooklyn that had just been built.
It was not easy to get tenants for them at that time, so the families moved to Brooklyn to
Haskel and his family moved there and he opened his butcher shop in one of the
stores. Naphtali, Rifka and the three unmarried children came to Brooklyn. Esther and her
family--Rose Lerner (her daughter) and her husband David, their children--also moved.
Hershel and his family all became Brooklynites. Milton and Sylvia were born there.
It was a happy family, each partaking in everybody's joy and sharing in their sorrow.
Holidays were grand occasions, especially the Seder nights when Itzak's children, those who
were in the United States at the time, came to their Grandpa Naphtali's home to celebrate.
Naphtali began ailing, and on the first Seder night, April 1st, 1912 he tried to sit at his
accustomed seat, but was unable to conduct the Service. He was put to bed, and with heavy
hearts the family continued the Seder. The next few days were anxious ones for the family.
They came daily and stayed till past midnight, and on April 8, 1912 at 6 A.M. he died. At his
bedside were Rifka and their children Sol, Sam and Mary.
He was buried on the 9th of April. As it was the last day of Pesach, the Rabbi asked
the family not to ride to the cemetery, so the family walked to and from the Mt. Zion
Cemetery. The standard bearer of our Family Circle was laid to rest at the age of 85 years.
Two years later in 1914 Mary married Samuel Feldman. Sam lived in Jersey City
and naturally Mary made her home there. Their children are Norman, Matthew, and Melvin.
In 1913, Mary Kleinman, daughter of Esther, was married to Morris Lewis. Gilda
Rachlin, a Newark girl, was recommended to her as an excellent dressmaker who came to
your home to sew your dresses. Gilda came and made beautiful dresses; she was well-liked
by all and became a friend of the family. When Mary Schiff was to be married a few months
later, Gilda was asked again to come over and sew.
Those were jolly days with Gilda, Chicago Sam (Itzak's son who lived with Grandma
Rifka), and Freida, who loved to come upstairs and join the fun hoping soon to be old enough
so that she too could have a beau. Sol fell in love with Gilda and they were married in June,
1914. The size of the families stated decreasing further. They had two daughters, Eleanor
and Rita (who was known affectionately as Peachy).
In 1915, Israel was the first of the brothers to depart from this world. He was only
forty-eight and his widow Hannah's continued with the raising of their children. She did a fine
job and was beloved by all. Their daughter Rae married a nephew of Hannah's, Samuel
Kalb. They have three sons: Irving, Sanford, and Morty. Lena married David Privman, and
their family consisted of three sons also: Ezra, Irwin, and Ira.
Frieda Schiff was the first grandchild to marry. She married Mayer Jaffe and their
sons are Herbert and Norman.
The years of Word War I were somber ones. Many of the grandchildren who were
of age participated in it and fortunately they returned alive, and again the family continued to
Tillie, daughter of Max and Minnie, married Herman, her cousin, who is the son of Itzak and
Toba. Their children are Rosalyn and Beverly.
After the war Rifka and her son Sam, moved to Jersey City and made their home
with Mary and Sam. Sam Feldman adored his mother-in-law but unfortunately they did not
have her with them too long. Norman and a few other grandchildren, owe their knowledge of
speaking Yiddish to Grandma, and they have lovely memories of her. Matty regrets that he
was too young to remember her very well.
Melvin was born March 23, 1921 on her birthday and she asked for the privilege of
selecting his name and also of being his God-Mother. Here requests were so few that Sam
was delighted to grant it to her, although his parents had just arrived from Europe about six
weeks before. The name she selected was Machiel, brother of Naphtali, who as an old man
died tragically in the war. She was fond of him. On the occasion of the Bris, March 30, there
was a party and the family came. She welcome everyone and was happy to see them. Little
did the family know that it was to be the last time they would see her alive.
On April 1st at about 2 AM Mary heard her moaning. She awakened Jean
Kleinman, who was the nurse, and aroused her husband and brother who immediately sought
the doctor but it was too late. She died at 5 AM Friday and the burial was the same day: and
so our co-standard bearer of our Family Circle was laid to rest at the age of seventy-three.
She was mourned by everyone who knew her.
Sam was the sole unmarried brother of the family and he soon selected Sarah Deitel,
a friend of Mary's as a bride. By coincidence, their names were the same as our ancestors:
Schmiel (Sam) and Sura (Sarah). They had a son and he has been named Naphtali
The parents arrived to have their children educated. The children chose as their
careers medicine, dentistry, law, business, singing, accountancy, secretarial work, engineering,
and one, Hershel's daughter Henrietta, became an underwriter for an insurance company.
Time passes on and more of the grandchildren are creating families of their own. Dr.
Irwin, Haskel's son, married Ann Cohen and they have a son Robert. Dr. Morty, Hershel's
son, married Rose Steuer, a cousin, daughter of Samuel and Anne Steuer. They have two
son: Edward and Noel. Dr. Charles, Hershel's son, married Edith Tassburg and their children
are Rhoda and Carol.
Shirley, Haskel's daughter, married Samuel (Shum) Kornfeld and they are the parents
of Paula, and Allan. Samuel (Chippie), Israel's son, married Francis Meisel and they have
one daughter, Helene.
The families were increasing and expanding rapidly. The question was how can we
keep in close contact so the coming generations will not be strangers to each other. The
answer was to form a Family Circle and those that wanted to, joined.
Thus the Naphtali and Rifka Schiff Family Circle was created.
The members consisted of the following families:
Hannah Schiff and her children
Haskel and Molly Schiff and their children
Hershel and Mary Schiff and their children
Max and Minnie Schiff and their children
Sol and Gilda Schiff and their children
Sarah and Abraham Entlich and their children
Mary E. and Samuel Feldman and their children
Samuel and Anne Steuer and their children