Michael: I am the grandson of Bernhardt Hepps, a Hungarian immigrant who came to Homestead, PA around 1889.
He came to this country as Bernát Hübsch and poured a lot of energy into building a Jewish community in his new home. He founded a synagogue and Jewish cemetery and for most of his adult life rotated through all the leadership positions there.
Although Bernahrdt passed away when I was 9, he had an enormous impact on my life.
My strongest memory of him is as a Talmudic scholar, locked away in his private library absorbed in ancient wisdom.
His intense study so impressed me as a child that I came to believe he had discovered the Secret of the Meaning of Life, and throughout my own education I tried to uncover whatever it was Bernhardt had learned (though I chose a road he couldn't have imagined, focusing on physics).
You might have thought I would have studied religion, as he did, but I hated Hebrew School growing up! I would show up for the fig newtons and chocolate milk, and then I would cut class to play on the hill behind the synagogue.
As a result, despite having had a very religious grandfather, I managed to learn almost nothing about Judaism.
Only after I retired did I become interested in the things that had interested Bernhardt. I enrolled in a two year Jewish adult education program where I studied the Talmud, as he did.
It turns out that years of being a lawyer made me quite good at understanding and discussing Jewish law!
A month after my first visit back to Homestead in decades, with Bernhardt already on my mind, I attended the graduation ceremony for the program at Central Synagogue in New York City, a famous historic synagogue. Hundreds of students from all over the northeast gathered to graduate together.
Before the ceremony, we were instructed how to ascend the stairs of the synagogue and file into the main sanctuary where we'd receive our diplomas. My friend joked to me not to trip on the stairs, so I was extra careful to watch where I was going.
The stairs were lined with pictures of all the synagogue's rabbis throughout its history. As I ascended I caught sight of one that looked just like Bernhardt!
I took a closer look at the picture, and it was labeled "Rabbi Dr. Adolph Huebsch, 1865-1885." Huebsch! I had heard once that this rabbi was Bernhardt's uncle, and here he was at my Hebrew school graduation!
I was so shook up that I lost my footing and almost fell.
I could hardly keep from crying the whole ceremony, and all I could think was I couldn't wait to tell my daughter, the family genealogist, about this amazing coincidence.
When I found her, I asked her, “Do you want to join this synagogue?” She said no, not really, and I told her, “I have something to show you that will change your mind.” I was crying by this point.
Both she and my wife were as stunned as I by what I showed them.
Tammy: When my father showed me the picture of Rabbi Huebsch, I was as moved as he was by the extraordinary coincidence. All throughout the graduation ceremony I had recalled Bernhardt’s small synagogue and thought how cool it must be for the families who can tie their histories to a synagogue as prestigious and opulent as this one. And then, what do you know…?
Unfortunately, I knew that the tree that linked Adolph Huebsch to our Hübsches was highly suspect. A second cousin of ours did claim that Adolph was brothers with Bernhardt's father, Abraham, but provided no proof for the assertion. It was up to me to prove to the connection.
It was pretty easy to determine that Adolph and Abraham are unlikely to be brothers -- they have the same name! Adolph's Hebrew name was Abraham, and Ashkenazi Jewish naming traditions make it extremely unlikely to have two brothers with the same name.
Additionally, Adolph was born in Torontál county in what was then the south of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (now Romania). Although I don't know where Abraham was born, all the towns associated with my Hübsches are further north in Borsod county, clustered in & around Miskolc.
A lot of what I know about Adolph Huebsch comes from a biography written about him after his death by Isaac Mayer Wise, the founder of Reform Judaism in the U.S. It turns out that Adolph was a leading figure in the movement, too.
Unfortunately because the biography was not only written in German, but also in black-letter script, I've only been able to get a rough translation. But it revealed something amazing.
Adolph Huebsch's line traces back to 15th c. Bohemia through a 16th c. rabbi in Constantinople, Shmuel Yafeh* Ashkenazi!
For an Ashkenazi Jewish family to get this far back is amazingly rare!
* Yafeh, which is Hebrew, and Hübsch, which is German, both mean good-looking. In between the family name was also Jaffe (Yafeh Germanicized) and Schön (another German word for good looking). We started joking that our family has been good-looking throughout the ages. (I know, I know... it may not be our Hübsches...)
At this point I've hit a brick wall in going further back. From Adolph's marriage record and published biography I know his parents are Joachim and Juli, and Joachim's father is Samuel (plus Geni gives Joachim's siblings), but I can't find any records for my great-great-grandfather Abraham. However, Bernhardt's older brothers are named Adolph (from, well, Aron) and Samuel, which hints at a connection... maybe...?
How badly I wish there were a connection!!!
A couple years ago I found a living male descendant of Adoph Huebsch, but I was unable to convince him to take a Y-DNA test with my father.
So, though it's been three years since my father's graduation, our only connection to Rabbi Adolph Huebsch and this more illustrious line of Hübsches remains an emotional one. Solving this mystery is a constant nag in the back of my mind...
Hopefully one day!