Ethel Rubenstein Varonok
From kid sister to matriarch

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Ethel Rubenstein Varonok was not the only daughter of Usher and Rochel Uberstein.  However, she was the only one to emigrate from Russia. The Ubersteins had at least five sons, of whom three went to America -- Israel, Hyman, and Louis.  

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Harry and Ethel are back row, center (below).

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Varonok family photo, 1897

As the only girl, "her brothers babied her,"  said Irving Sollender, her oldest grandson. "Then, as time passed, she became the dominating personality and a binding agent in the family." 

Harry came first

Harry Varonok came to the United States ahead of his wife and their three children. Then, in 1908, Ethel arrived with Rose, Minnie and Sam. Minnie had turned 6, and she started school here, according to her daughter, Bette Rosenthal Solowitz, who provided the superb photo reproduced below.  Ethel sewed the girls' dresses.

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    The Varonok Children

Rose, b. 1899

Minnie, b. 1902

Sam, b. 1904

Arthur, b. 1909


Going to Ethel's

The family would see each other fairly often back in the days when they lived nearby. During the Depression and the years just following, people didn't have the money to do other things, and so they visited.  "A normal Sunday sit-down meal was no less than 12 people, and the same thing would be going on in Morris Rubenstein's house," said Irving. 

Although Morris was her nephew, since his father had not come to America, Morris was the de facto head of his line, a prominence due not only to his seniority but also to his extraordinary charisma.  Then, there was the fact that from 1924, he was confined to a wheelchair.

'Not many pilgrimages'

When it came to Ethel and her family stepping out, Irving didn't remember his family "making any pilgrimages, except to Newark and to Morris after he lost his legs." Newark is where Ethel's niece, Esther Chasman, lived.  A glance at our family tree clarifies the visiting relationship between the only American aunt and the children of the aunt's sister and her husband, who did not immigrate to America. 

The wealthy cousins sent their car (with driver)

It is interesting to note that Esther Chasman and Morris Rubenstein, whose parents both stayed behind in Russia, celebrated Passover with each other year after year, a fact that came to light in April, 1998, while researching this story.  "The Chasmans would send their car and driver for us," said my father, Larry Rogers, the third of Morris' four sons. 

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Esther Chasman, Ethel's niece, would bring her children from Newark, NJ, to visit Ethel.
Her husband, Leonid, built a successful pharmaceutical business that began with his making milk of magnesia.

The  Chasmans would celebrate the second night's Seder at Morris Rubenstein's home.  Morris' wife, Esther, was not much of a cook, so his youngest sister, Dora, would come beforehand  to help with the cooking, said Dora's daughter, Shirley. Much drama took place between the Chasman and Karben families, which is one of the adventures about the family's Russian years recounted in "Carl's  Story."

Who came to dinner? 

When weekend visiting was at its height, who would be sitting around the table at Ethel's?  Ethel's brother, Louis, the youngest of her three brothers in America, would come from the Bronx with his wife, Sarah.  "Sarah never entertained, so they always went to Ethel's house," Irving said.

Israel and Hyman got into real estate 

Ethel's oldest brother in the U.S., Israel, passed away around 1923, the year before Irving was born, and he is named for him. 

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Ethel's grandson, Irving, was named for her oldest brother, Israel (d. 1923).

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Irving told me that Israel Rubenstein owned a building on Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn, and that he encouraged his younger brother, Hyman, to get into real estate. 

Moving time 

By the time Ethel's older daughter, Rose, married Max Sollender, which was also in 1923, Harry and Ethel had moved from Yorkville in Manhattan to 514 Howard Avenue in Brooklyn, which, along with 516 Howard Avenue, were buildings owned by Hyman.  During the years when they lived on the third floor and Hyman lived on the second floor (with his second wife, Ruth), they would visit back and forth. 

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Ethel's second oldest brother, Hyman, and his second wife, Ruchel,


Hyman was the Varonoks' landlord for some time, and persuaded his sister to send her children, Rose and Sam, to work for him in his shoestore.   He never paid them, according to Irving.  After Hyman died, Ruchel disappeared and was never heard from again.

Rampant visiting among NYC siblings

Still another of Ethel's brothers, Hirschel, together with his wife, Rivka, remained in Russia, while five of their children came to the United States.   Each would visit Ethel, and the Varonok home was a hub of social activity. Morris, Hirschel's oldest son, visited Ethel until he lost his legs through illness in the early 1920's; Esther Minnie would come down from North Adams, Massachusetts, with her two youngest children; Henry visited until he moved to California; Jack would come; and so would Dora.  

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The Chasmans of Newark 

Then there were Esther and Sonia of Newark, NJ, the daughters of a sister of Ethel's (who stayed in Russia and whose name we don't yet know; all we do know -- thanks to a labeled photo in Sam Varonok's family album -- is that her husband was Samuel Kirshner).

Esther Kirshner Chasman and her sister, Sonia Kirshner, would travel from Newark to Brooklyn to visit Ethel, and so would Esther's daughter, also named Ethel. Sonia had been a dentist in Russia but never succeeded in mastering English well enough to continue her profession here.  Sonia became friendly with Minnie, Ethel Varonok's second oldest child.  Minnie's daughter, Bette, recalls, that on one visit from Newark, Sonia brought her a paddle tennis set.  

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Minnie's engagement party, 1930

As a rule, young children would accompany their parents on family visits, and after the children were grown, their parents would continue the visiting pattern.  In some cases, the children's generation remained close with their counterparts and continued the visiting relationships. 

Rayla, who married Ethel's youngest son, Arthur Varon, remembered going to many a Seder at the Varonoks' in their later years.  That was after they had moved from the house Ethel's family shared from about 1929 to 1935 with Rose and Max on 260 East 91st Street in Brooklyn. The new apartment on Park Place is where Rayla's husband, Arthur, took the photos that kick off the second half of this story. 

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