Back To Journal

What Does a Litvak Look Like?

By Judith Langer-Surnamer Caplan, July 1999

How many of you have ever wondered what a LITVAK looks like?

Well, on Friday, July 24, 1998, as I was walking through Washington Cemetery, in Brooklyn, NY, near post 134 in Section 1, I spied a tri-lingual memorial gravestone of fairly recent vintage, complete with an engraved, photographic likeness that might lay this burning question to rest.

At the top of the matzeva, the Hebrew section reads:

Pay’"Nun (Poh Nikbar ~ Here is Buried)

Leib Bais"Resh (Ben Reb) Sh’lomo (Leib ben Reb Shlomo)

The two lines of English in the middle reads, simply,

Leonid Litvak

5-30-1924 ~ 8-27-1995

The final Russian section, as transliterated by Leonard Lapatnick, is inscribed:

Zdyes pokutsya

Dobri duzhi chelovek

Muzh, otyets, dyedushka

Navsyegda v nashikh syerdzakh

Since the art of translation varies, I am sharing two slightly different English versions of this Russian epitaph that were sent to me, the first by Leonard Lapatnick, and the second by Rita Hirschhorn:

Here rests
a good, spiritual fellow
husband, father, grandfather
always in our hearts

Here is buried
a kind soul ....
He is a father, grandfather
He will be forever in our hearts

But the picture speaks for itself....

about the author
Judith Langer-Surnamer Caplan

Judith Shulamith Langer-Surnamer Caplan This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it is the Editor of the LitvakSIG Online Journal. Judi, who has a BA in English from Brooklyn College, an MS in Mass Communications from Syracuse University, and has studied at Seminary College of JTS, taught English in the NYC high school system. Judi is also a poet and short story writer, and her articles on genealogy have appeared in AVOTAYNU and THE JEWISH STAR. 

Judi continues to research her extended mishpacha, especially her many Litvak connections: KAPLANS in Keidaniai or Kvedarna; COLUMBIS/KLOMPUS in Vieksniai or Sveksna, Lithuania; BOCHURS in Skaistkalne, Latvia, & Birzai, Lithuania; LEPARS in Zeimelis, Lithuania; and SURNAMERS and ZURINAMERS in Siauliai & Zagare, Lithuania, and Liepaja, Mitau, & Riga, Latvia, as well as Suriname, the Netherlands, Israel, South Africa, and England. The Surnamer family has been traced back to the mid 1600’s, to Esther Isaac HaCohen and Zadok Simon HaLevi Van Coerland. 

Judi has talked about "How to Read a Hebrew Tombstone Anywhere in the World" and "Creating and Publishing a Family Newsletter" at several IAJGS Jewish Genealogy Summer Conferences, including the 24th IAJGS Conference, July 2004, in Jerusalem. Judi is also the founder of UpRoots! Genealogy Research Services and does professional genealogical research in the metropolitan New York City area, including Long Island.