My Family History
Jacob Nagourney, my paternal grandfather, was born in Pisky Sokolovo – Russian Poland – on April 7, 1862. He was a physician, trained in tropical medicine. He studied with Freud and Jung in Vienna. The Zionists picked him to go to Jerusalem as the Zionist doctor. By then he had been married to Fanny Tilim ( in January 1878) with 6 children. When he met the beautiful Minna (born August 3, 1880), in Constantinople, Turkey, he abandoned his first family. He divorced his first wife because, according to him, she was unstable. Minna reluctantly married him in 1900 because her parents made her marry a doctor and not the poor fellow she loved. They had eight children, six surviving to adulthood.
Jacob migrated to the United States, sailing July 1887 from Hambourg on the Imman Line. He resided 9 years in the US, from 1887 - 1896 in New York City. He was naturalized as a US citizen before the Supreme Court of the State of New York at the First Judicial District on June 1, 1896. He left the US on August 20, 1896 on the First Bismarc to Hambourg August 28, 1896. In 1896 he lived in Wroclaw, Dolnoslaski, Poland. He resided in Jerusalem September 1898 and moved to Syria Arab Republic by 1889. His passport No. 193 was issued by Ligation at Constantinople on 22 November 1899, listing his occupation as Physician.
Next in Jerusalem, the Zionists set up the brilliant Dr. Jacob Nagourney in a small house, with a white donkey, to treat the Jews but he also treated Arabs. The Zionists told him that Arabs were unclean pests ( Zionists were deep into Eugenics) so Jacob left, took his family to stay with his brother in Istanbul, Turkey, and came to New York City. There he set up his practice in the Lower East Side; all the children and Minna had come to America by 1912. At the docking of their ship, he brought the family bananas, which they had no idea how to eat. He brought the family to a house in Williamsburg, Brooklyn at 283 Hewes Street.
My father, Rove, born February 7, 1902 in Palestine, had memories of playing in the streets of Jerusalem with both Jewish and Arab children. However, he mostly grew up in New York City. In high school and college at New York University, he was a track athlete, winning medals and setting records in city competitions in hurdling and high jump events. After college he wanted to go to medical school, but his father Jacob, ever the old-school tyrant, said no, David will go to medical school and you, Rove, will go to law school. David did become a successful physician, but Rove never practiced law after completing the training.
Rove and Anne Hecht married in 1934; both became high school teachers, a secure job during the Depression. He taught health/hygiene at Thomas Edison High School in Jamaica, Queens. He also served as track coach, and when one of his runners won the national mile race at Madison Square Garden, a Queens paper covered him in a full-page writeup.
After he retired he and Anne, my mother, travelled the world, including the street in Jerusalem where he remembered playing as a child.
My mother, Anne Hecht (born November 12, 1907), was one of seven children born to Benjamin Hecht (b. October 15, 1880) and Deborah Schmalzman (b. January 18, 1881), both from Warsaw, Poland.
Ben went to London because his father had remarried and the 2nd wife did mean things like hide the bread. Ben went to London by himself, sharing a room with a stranger. He was arrested on suspicion of stealing until it was revealed that his roommate had been the thief and was stashing the loot under Ben's bed. When this was learned he was released.
Deborah followed him to London and they were married there on January 31, 1898. Belle, Ray, and Ethel (Etty) were born in London. The family came to the US (Manhattan) after this in 1903, and Anne, Sidney, Lillian and Alan were born there.
Ben came from a family of 6. His brother in Newark, NJ was the oldest. Ben was the 2nd oldest. Anne never met Ben's siblings although Ray may have.
When he first came to the United States from England, Ben went to his older brother's house, Max (Mottle), in New Jersey. Max had a bakery which was the hangout where the local cops and detectives played cards and gambled. When Deborah came over she didn't want Ben to stay there because she didn't want a husband who was a gambler. Because of this decision (Anne thinks) they remained poor forever.
They lived in a brownstone on 103rd street between Lexington and Park. Deborah had a shop on the first floor where she manufactured blouses and other women's clothes. (A Maternity Hospital now occupies the site.)
Ben's occupation was a hat presser. Deborah was a saleswoman, usually working in dress stores. Anne talks of Deborah selling a woman a dress by identifying it as a "wonderful French Schmatta." Ben and Deborah tried their own store, a hat store on lower Avenue A. The hats were all $1.49 Sales tax was a brand new concept then. A woman would want to buy a hat, and Ben would say $1.49 plus 3c tax. The woman didn't understand, and refused to pay the 3c. Grandpa would tell her "Lady, get out." They were not successful at business.
They also lived in Coney Island, down the block from the big carousel (33rd street near the bay). They moved there from the Bronx. Anne remembers riding on the Cyclone roller coaster at least once a week.
From Coney Island the family moved back to the Bronx in 1923 on Honeywell Avenue. (Anne was entering her 3rd year of high school.) From Honeywell Ave they moved to the west side of the Bronx.
Anne often recalled the fun chaos of her early years with her siblings before they moved on and married. After college she became a high school language teacher in the New York City system. She mainly taught French, but was also familiar with Spanish, Latin, and Italian. She was known as a hard but fair teacher. She tried to interest my sister and me in speaking French at home, but that didn’t appeal, a decision I came to regret. After she and my father retired, she took up photography, winning many citations for the slides she exhibited at a local camera club. On their travels she took thousands of slides in countries on all continents.
I was born October 10, 1940. After public school and high school, I attended City College of New York, graduating with honors in English. I went to graduate school at the University of Chicago, again studying English, supported by scholarship awards throughout my stay. I received a Fulbright grant and spent a year living in London, researching 18th century law in the British Museum. After London I was hired to teach English at the University of California at Santa Barbara. Because I hadn’t completed my dissertation, the position ended. After a year spent reading and travelling in California, and completing my Ph.D., I was hired in the English Department at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. While there I wrote a number of articles on literary, theoretical, and popular culture topics. My popular culture lecture course attracted over 200 students, but when my tenure review came up, these accomplishments were not taken seriously. For additional details about what I did thereafter, see “Work History” section.
In 1982 I married Reena Liberman; our son Tal was born June 16, 1986, and Micah was born May 13, 1990. At the time we lived in Detroit, in a 1885 house we spent 20 years restoring and gaining historic designation. (See details in the Houses section.) In 1992 we moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan, this time in a 1912 house that also needed restoration. During the last 10 years of my working career I taught technical communication skills in the University of Michigan Engineering College. After I retired in 2014 I established an annual prize to reward the most innovative approaches to engaging engineers in the program.
Reena developed her career as a psychoanalyst in private practice, with a special training in gender and sexual health. In 2017 Tal received his Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from the University of Michigan and since then has worked as a forensic engineer at ESI in Seattle, Washington. Micah is pursuing graduate degrees in Chinese medicine at OCOM, the Oregon College of Oriental Medicine in Portland, Oregon.