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The Vic files, part 4: the Touro stamp

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In one of the files Vic Struber sent me, there was an envelope within an envelope. The outer envelope had Vic’s handwritten note that Taube (Held) Strober had posed for the picture. The inner envelope had a picture, a stamp, and a postmark—the kind of thing philatelists collect.

VRS Doc 8

The only picture is the one on the envelope, showing a woman covering her eyes while lighting the shabbat candles. This is clearly the one Vic’s note indicates Taube posed for.

I wish I could tell you how all of this came to pass, but I can’t even come close to confirming it. What I can tell you is that the Touro Synagogue, in Newport, RI, is the oldest existing synagogue in the United States. It was built in 1763, more than a decade before the country declared its independence from England. The stamp was issued, as the postmark indicates, in 1982, after decades of wrangling. The government commission that approves stamps first felt that a stamp commemorating a synagogue violated the First Amendment’s prohibition against an established government religion. The stamp’s proponents suggested that other religious buildings of historical significance in other parts of the country be similarly celebrated. Then the commissioners said the Touro Synagogue wasn’t really of architectural significance. It was easy enough for the proponents to provide documents that it, indeed, was signifcant.

But the fight over the stamp doesn’t tell us anything about the envelope, and how Taube (Held) Strober got to be on it. In fact, doing some checking, it seems she was not on the official issue of what stamp collectors call the “cover.” George Washington was on it. In fact, on various websites which show many more of the envelope covers, none even come close to looking like the one of the woman lighting the candles.

What’s included in Vic’s file isn’t a copy of the commemorative. It’s the real thing. It would have been much more difficult to alter a picture on the actual envelope than it would be on a copy.

0136This is a photo of Chaim Groinem and Taube (Held) Strober, probably taken sometime around 1910 in Brooklyn. Taube lived from about 1857 until 1940. She bore her husband, who was a roofing contractor in Brooklyn, ten children.

Groinem, as he was known in the family, was one of five children of Yoinatan Folic Strober.

20140821_YOINATAN_FOLIC_STROBER_descendants_VERTHow a woman who lived in Brooklyn got on the cover of a commemorative stamp issued more than forty years after her death for a synagogue in Newport, RI doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense.

Maybe it’s not really her on the cover. Maybe it’s another woman who resembles her, an ancestor of a prominent family who were actually members of that shul. Perhaps one of Taube’s descendants became a driving force at the Touro Synagogue. Maybe there’s some other explanation that hasn’t yet presented itself.

Those are the maddening mysteries of genealogy.

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