Warsaw: Final Leiman Hunt

The Warsaw Jewish Cemetery on Okopowa Street contains over 250,000 graves that are marked. The cemetery, founded in 1806, is huge. It occupies over 80 acres in Warsaw. The day before our visit to the cemetery, Beth accesses the database maintained by the Foundation for Documentation of Jewish Cemeteries in Poland. Her search for the family surname “Leiman” returns ten pages. Nineteen of the names returned are perfect matches. The others are close phonetic matches, for example, Bleiman, Leibman, Lejman, Lehman, etc. She sends the list to her cousin, the Jewish historian Shnayer Leiman. He comments on two names on the list. We decide to limit our hunt in the cemetery to the graves of these two people.

Warsaw Jewish Cemetery on way to Chaya Sara Leiman’s grave.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018 (continued): This is the fourth and final installment describing our visit to the Okopowa Street Jewish Cemetery in Warsaw.

During our time in southern Poland, Beth and I made a special trip to visit the towns and cemeteries related to Beth’s mother’s family. The Leimans were Galitzianers, so why should we look for Leimans in Warsaw? In his email response to Beth concerning the list of Leimans in the Warsaw Jewish Cemetery, Rabbi Leiman tells her that “without doubt, some of the Leimans who lived and died in Warsaw, are relatives. I have no hard evidence, but the poverty in Galicia led many Jews to Warsaw.”

Ladies first: we decide to start our hunt with Chaya Sara. Her grave is not far from the mausoleum of the three famous Yiddish writers that we had just visited. Armed with a map of the cemetery on Beth’s phone, we turn off the main cemetery trail and start down a tree-lined path covered with fallen leaves wending its way through a tumbled crowd of gravestones. Soon, we come upon Chaya Sara’s grave.

Grave of Chaya Sara Leiman, Warsaw Jewish Cemetery.

Chaya Sara Leiman died October 26, 1907. We are visiting her grave very close to 111 years after her death, October 24, 2018. Her maiden name was Giser; she is a Leiman by marriage. Her husband’s name was Avraham Yaakov Leiman. She was the daughter of Shimon Halevi.

An item of interest for me is above the stone’s top slap, an engraving of a hand placing a coin in a tzedakah box, a traditional symbol on Jewish gravestones. Its purpose here is to tell a visitor that the deceased, Chaya Sara Leiman, was a charitable woman.

Tzedakah box receiving coin atop the ​grave of Chaya Sara Leiman, Warsaw Jewish Cemetery.

We head next to find the grave of Avraham Yaakov Leiman. It is quite a distance from Chaya Sara’s grave, in a section of the cemetery that had a very different feel to it. One can almost imagine that the graveyard has neighborhoods, some wealthier than others, or containing the graves of prominent members of the community, or of scholars. It takes us a while, but we find the grave near one of the cemetery’s walls. We are a little surprised that Chaya Sara has a grave rather large and well-cared for, while Avraham’s is small and tilted.

Grave of Avraham Yaakov Leiman, Warsaw Jewish Cemetery.

Well, as it turns out, the Avraham Yaakov grave we found is not that of Chaya Sara’s husband. We’re not really sure where Chaya Sara’s husband is buried. Chaya Sara died in 1907; Avraham Yaakov Leiman, at least this one, died in 1938. We shared the photograph with Akiva Leiman, Shnayer’s son, who tells us that the stone indicates that this Avraham Yaakov died unmarried, and at the time of his death his father, whose name was Tzvi, was still living. Perhaps he was a grandson of Chaya Sara named after his grandfather. We don’t know.

Beth and I are cold, a little wet, and a bit tired. On our way back to our room to drop off some things before going out for dinner, we make a stop at the Polin Museum to warm up, refresh ourselves, and get something to drink. Beth gets some bottled water, but I, well, I commit a beer sin. I spy in one of the glass containers in the museum’s cafeteria an elegantly shaped green bottle containing what, to me at least, is one of the best lagers in the world, and indeed the best Pilsner – a bottle of Pilsner Urquell. My sin? It’s Czech, not Polish. I couldn’t help myself; it tasted great! My only defense is that one of our nights in Kraków I was looking for one of the Polish beers I had decided to sample, Okocim. The problem was that there were many types of Okocim and I just wanted a regular one, whatever that meant. So I turned to a young Polish man standing beside me and asked him if he could give me some advice on buying a Polish beer. He looked me, grinned, and said, “Buy Czech.” I burst out laughing.

Well, we’ve come to end of our Leiman hunt. Next time, dinner at BeKeF, excellent food, and my lost gloves.

All photos © Beth Ben-Avraham, 2018.

Author: Gershon Ben-Avraham

Gershon Ben-Avraham is an American-Israeli writer. He lives in Beersheba, Israel, on the edge of the Negev Desert. He and his wife share their lives with a gentle blue-merle long-haired collie. Ben-Avraham earned an MA in Philosophy (Aesthetics) from Temple University. His short story, “Yoineh Bodek,” (Image) received “Special Mention” in the Pushcart Prize XLlV: Best of the Small Presses 2020 Edition. Kelsay Books published his chapbook “God’s Memory” in 2021. חב"ד‎

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