Seventy-five years ago, a relative of mine had a movie camera… and liked to use it.
These are moving pictures of my great-grandfather, Zanvil Samuel Feuerstein, taken in July 1937 as he finished his morning prayers while visiting his Hoffman grandchildren in Liberty, Sullivan County, NY. It is roughly one minute in the life of a man who lived until his late 60s. I don’t know much about Zanvil. The genealogy notes tell us he was born sometime around 1870 in a place called Berezhany, which was then part of the Austro-Hungarian empire and is today in the western part of Ukraine. He died in New York in October 1937, about three months after this film was taken. My mother told me Zanvil had been a butcher, and it’s clear from the film, as he removes his tallit (prayer shawl) and t’fillin (phylacteries) that he was a devout man. Still, as little as I know about this ancestor, a mere minute of movie film goes miles toward making his memory a reality to me.
The 16mm black-and-white was shot by Benjamin “Ben” Hacken, the husband of Zanvil’s daughter Yetta, and preserved by Ben’s daughter, Eleanore Kopp, who sent it to my mother. Ben was a home-movie enthusiast (obviously). I had the film digitized, made some slight edits, and uploaded it to YouTube so I could share it with family members. It is the first of four clips of Ben’s film that I plan on posting here. I’m hoping the rest will come in the next several days.
This little bit of film is the kind of thing hidden away in so many attics and storage closets, remnants of a world long past. It is the kind of thing that each family ought to retrieve, digitize, and post, so all descendants and relatives can share in these amazing slices of their shared past.