MYRA'S FAMILY

Guiding Questions:

  • What are examples of how Myra's family lived a less traditional Jewish life?

  • Even though he was not religious, how did Abram still demonstrate Jewish values toward the poor?

  • What does the photograph tell you about Myra's parents?

Myra or Bela Mira Melnik (Melnikas) was born on February 1, 1919 to Asna and Abram in Kovna, Lithuania. At the time, Lithuania had just declared its independence from the German Empire as the Kingdom of Lithuania. Lithuania had a long-standing vibrant Jewish community known for its strong workers' movement and religiosity. There were probably about 250,000 Jews in the small country, making up around 10% of the population.

 

Abram was short, probably about 5'5", bald, and wore a hat like Charlie Chaplin. Abram's official name on Lithuanian records is Abrom Melnikas and on other records as Abram Mordkhel Melnik. His  occupation was listed as tinsmith. He was a quiet man who was born in 1884 or 1886. Myra believed he had been born in Russia but records shows he was born outside Kovno in a town called Vandziogala. Abram's father, Berel or Ber, and his mother Beila Mere had left Russia because of the pogroms and ended up in Lithuania. 

 

He had a tin factory, connected to her home called “Lithuanian Tin Factory of Brothers Melnik,” which produced farm equipment, children's toys, and utensils like graters. The family owned a factory and the store and Abram was the supervisor and the designer. Every year he made a different Hanukkah menorah for the family. Abram's brother, Samuel (b. 1880), managed the store and his younger brother Isaac or Isak (b. 1888) perhaps worked there as well. Mira's two uncles had motorcycles. The toy store, it seems, was located at Pereco 5 in Kaunas. At that site, Abrom and his family lived in apartment 12 while Isak and Samuel shared apartment 7.

Asna (b. Asna Sefaite or Asna Shef), Mira's mother, was born in Vilijampole, a town on the outskirts of Kovno, on June 01, 1889 to Benjamin and Sora Eide Shef. She had five siblings: Shevakh, Chane, Rachel, Ester, and Mushe. She was heavy-set with brown hair. Asna's father had left Lithuania for the Bronx to live with a son.

 

A genealogical search shows that Abram and Asna married on July 20, 1912 in Kovno. He was 28 and she was 21 and they had their first child, Gode (Hadassah) a year later.

 

Abram's brother Samuel married in 1913 at age 32 to Gena Levin.

The family was wealthy and thus they never considered leaving Lithuania for the United States as many other poorer families did in the early 20th century. 

 

The family was not religious, and as Myra explained later in life, there were only three non-religious Jews in Kovno: her father and her two uncles. However, Abram always brought poor Jews home for the holidays to feed them and he invited rabbinical students from the Yeshiva into the home to lead the Passover seder. According to Myra, her mother once threatened Abram with divorce if he didn't start to go to synagogue. So he went a few times.

Abram's 1920 internal passport card, which confirms Myra's account that her father was a tinsmith.

Courtesy of Jewishgen.com

Marriage records for Abram and Asna's wedding as well as Abram's brother Samuel's wedding. The record confirmed Myra's father's middle name, place of birth, and her grandfather's name. By cross-checking the connection between Samuel and Abram as well as Abram's marriage to Asna, along with the dates, I was able to confirm the veracity of the information.

Courtesy of Jewishgen.com