Immigrant family celebrates 100 years in Baltimore

Abram, his wife, Bessie, and his teenage brother Sam came first, traveling by train from their Russian village to a German port a thousand miles away in 1912. Then they boarded the ship that would bring them to their new home — Baltimore.

The brothers, tailors by trade, mailed packages back to their densely wooded village — coats with bills sewn into the linings, shoes with coins hammered into the soles — to help their siblings and parents pay for the voyage. After 14 years, all eight siblings and their parents — Chaim and Suhra — were reunited in Baltimore.

On Saturday, more than 160 descendants of the eight siblings gathered at a Pikesville hotel to celebrate the centennial of the arrival of the first members of the Hankin family. They traded stories over latkes and bagels and lox, reminisced about decades of family meetings and spun in circles to jubilant klezmer music.

"My father always cried from happiness, and that's what he would be doing right now if he were here," 84-year-old Julius Hankin said of Nathan, one of the eight original siblings.

The journey from the village of Zhlobin in what is now Belarus to Baltimore was perilous, especially for Jewish families such as the Hankins in the years around World War I. Morris, the sixth child, was 17 when he traveled across Russia and Asia to Japan to avoid conscription into the Russian Army. He sailed from Japan to San Francisco, then took a train to meet his older siblings in Baltimore.

Once in Baltimore, family members started several thriving businesses, including Hankin Brothers, which sold men's clothing on The Avenue in Hampden for 75 years. One brother started a shoe store next to his home on Gay Street in East Baltimore, and it was there that Hankins held monthly "Family Circle" meetings for decades.

While the adults ticked through family business — collecting funds for charity or to bring over other relatives — the children were thrilled to romp with a large group of cousins.

Old family movies showed scenes from some of those meetings: rows of diminutive elders in cat's-eye glasses, young women with bouffant hairdos, little girls in ruffled dresses spinning dreidels.

"There would be a meeting, music, entertainment," said Linda Halpert, whose mother, Rose Rosenfield, organized the meetings. "It seemed like a huge house to us. We'd run up and down the halls or sit on the stoop and watch the cars go by."

Rosenfield, 92, was the oldest member of the family to attend Sunday's gathering. She is also the youngest grandchild of Chaim and Suhra Hankin to have been born in Russia. Her parents were forced to wait in a German shelter for three years before they received a visa to travel to the United States.

Rosenfield held hands with her youngest sister, 85-year-old Micki Naiditch, and patted the shoulders of a parade of relatives who came to greet them. Her great-grandchildren raced one another beneath old family portraits, including one that depicted Rosenfield as a young girl sitting on her father's lap, a white puff of a bow resting on her dark curls.

Stan Hankin, who organized the reunion, said the family made extraordinary efforts to keep in touch over the years. On summer evenings before air conditioning, they met up along the shores of Druid Lake to catch a breeze. Most of the relatives moved from the city to Pikesville around the same time. They gathered for annual family picnics and Hanukkah celebrations and passed down a special cup to each couple who got married.

Still, as the years passed, and family members scattered across the country, it grew more difficult to stay in touch.

"Then Facebook came along," Stan Hankin said. Now nearly 100 members are part of a Hankin Family Circle group on the social networking website and share photos of weddings and new babies there.

Julius Hankin, Stan's older brother, credited his grandfather, Chaim, for inspiring the family's deep dedication to one another.

"He always told us to stick together," Hankin recalled.

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