Robinson family descendants gather to share facts, lore and memories.
For a perfect family reunion, just add rain.
A wet early June weekend spent at Tamarack Camps’ Butzel Retreat Center in Ortonville provided the perfect backdrop for 50 descendants of “Kalman the Red” Rabinowitz (Robinson), ranging in age from 4 to 82, to stay inside, look at old family photos and celebrate a century and four generations of living in America.
Ed Gold of Bloomfield Hills, one of four surviving children of the seven original Robinson siblings (Isadore, Esther, Rose, Hilda, Max, Mollie and Samuel), coordinated the weekend after reaching out to family for nearly two years. In the first generation of Americans, Gold had 20 first cousins who mainly settled in Detroit and Philadelphia.
Gold met his goal of making sure there was at least one descendent of each of the seven siblings attending the reunion.
Part of Gold’s happiest childhood memories were spending holidays and family simchahs with 20 first cousins. He is hopeful that with new and rekindled relationships with kin, the next generation of cousins can establish a similar bond.
“I had great memories as a kid spending summers with extended family in Philadelphia,” Gold said. “We’d stay in rooming houses in Atlantic City and walk along the boardwalk, and sometimes we’d take trips to New York City. No one stayed in hotels; there would always be a place to stay with family.”
To learn how they were all connected, the 50 relatives in attendance started the weekend by filling out a nametag with an extra line: “My Robinson is …”
“It was important to me to see how this generation loved learning about their family roots.”
— Ed Gold
But the family name was not always so generic. Like many who entered the United States through Ellis Island, they changed their names. In Europe, the family name was Rabinowitz. But to finance their passage to America, they needed a sponsor. That sponsor was a clothing manufacturer by the last name of Robinson. Therefore, the family dropped the Rabinowitz of the Old Country and began their life in America as the Robinsons.
Gold said cousins old and young were fascinated with the stories — a blend of facts and tall tales — of how their ancestors departed from the Ukrainian shtetl of Dinovitz as teens and made the precarious journey to America. Some traveled to their closest port of departure by foot. There was also a family rumor that one stole a horse as a means of transport. Each time one of the siblings departed, it was said they were given three loaves of baked bread.
“One of the three loaves had money or gold baked into it for safekeeping,” said Gold’s relative Terri Ellen from Salem, Ore., who grew up in Detroit with brother Don Rosenberg of Farmington Hills. “The reasoning was, if they were robbed along the route, they could beg the robbers to leave them with one loaf of bread (hopefully the one with the money in it). Thankfully, they were never robbed along the way.”
Gold said, “My mother (Hilda) recalled how her family members sewed gold or diamonds into the lining of their coats, even gold teeth for the journey to America. Gold is a universal commodity that can always be used to buy things, including buying your way out of a problem. This is something my family always believed in, especially if problems come for the Jewish people, we were always taught to have a few gold coins on hand.”
Over the years, Gold compiled a family tree that takes up several industrial-sized sheets of paper through a genealogy company called Family ChartMasters based in Utah.
Cousin Howard Cash of Ann Arbor served as the recording secretary of the family. He collected addresses and phone numbers that will be assembled into a family directory, and scanned documents and family photos to later be uploaded to the family Facebook page, which boasts 75 members and counting.
Gold said he marveled at how interested the newest generation sat absorbing the stories.
“On the way back home to Chicago, my daughter said she quizzed my 11-year-old grandchildren as to how everyone was related to each other,” Gold said. “It was important to me to see how this generation loved learning about their family roots.”
With newfound enthusiasm for learning about their lineage and connections, the Robinsons hope to have their next reunion in five years.