A Wonderful Life
by Joshua M. Sklare
with Michael L. Cramer
Born and raised in Brooklyn in 1927, Lilyan “Lil” Nathan grew up in the neighborhood of East Flatbush, within a close-knit circle of uncles, aunts, and cousins. From a very early age, she learned by experience that life is defined by and receives its true meaning from family, friends and community.
As the Turitz family made its way through the best and worst of times on the Lower East Side, the other side of Lil’s family arrived from Poland. Her grandfather, Abraham Kosubowicz, arrived on June 10, 1899. Like Solomon Turitz, Abraham entered the country by way of the Barge Office at the tip of Manhattan. If Ellis Island had opened for business in 1892, how could this be? The original buildings of the original Ellis Island complex had been built of wood. On June 15, 1897, exactly two years before Abraham’s arrival, the newly-built complex burned to the ground in a massive fire. It wasn’t until December 17, 1900, that the facility reopened—its buildings now built entirely of iron, stone and brick. This is the Ellis Island that we know and love today.
It’s hard to imagine today but Lil’s grandfather Abraham had been separated from his wife and daughters for nearly four years. On April 15, 1903, Lil’s grandmother Sora arrived at the new Ellis Island facility with little Beile (later Blanche, Lil’s aunt) and even littler Chaia Broche (Lil’s mother, Ida) in tow. It is possible that Beile might have had some memories of her father because he left Europe when she was about four years old, but her sister, a five-month-old when their father left, did not know him at all. There were certainly letters exchanged between New York and Poland, perhaps photographs as well, but when the ship arrived at New York, the daughters were met by a “total stranger.” This was not an uncommon scene among immigrants of this period since the husband often went ahead to America and saved up enough money to buy passage for the rest of the family. Often times, this process took several years to complete.