Isaacs Intercontinental Reunion 2010:

It Started in Leeuwarden, Netherlands



The Isaacs Intercontinental Reunion 2010 was a return to our roots: the family of Myer Samuel Isaacs and Rebecca Samuels lived in Leeuwarden until they emigrated with their 10 children to London, England in 1814.


The family had lived at Kleine Kerkstraat 32, a house still standing. For many, the highlight of the weekend was to be welcomed into that home by the present owners – Maaike Van Gils and Peter De Boer – who were delighted to host us and plied us with coffee, juice and snacks. The rather large home that housed 10 children plus their parents was constructed in 1595 is in terrific shape notwithstanding 200 years and many wars after the family left.


There were 19 Isaacs family members in attendance from the United Kingdom, the United States, South Africa, plus one via skype from New Zealand and another one also via skype from Israel.


We learned from John David Isaacs (United States) how one of four Isaacs sons of Myer Samuel Isaacs and Rebecca Samuels became a rabbi who emigrated to New York City, a second rabbi traveled to Sydney, Australia, a third became a prominent rabbi in England and a fourth black sheep in the family became a lawyer.


We learned from Jen Southwood (South Africa) (with assistance from Clare Lee, who could not make the reunion) how a grandson of Lewis Isaacs and son of Annie Isaacs named Edmund Levi left England in the 1880’s at age of 27 to head for one of South Africa’s diamond centers, although the company went bankrupt by the time he arrived,


We learned from Mary Watson (New Zealand) via skype that Rebecca Isaacs, daughter of Jacob Isaaacs, traveled to New Zealand in 1862, probably through an arranged marriage – or perhaps more likely, according to Edward Isaacs, ‘mail order bride’ -- to Gabriel Lewis, and a few years later her brother Nathanial John followed. With a population of 241 Jews in Auckland then including men, women and children, Gabriel would have to have looked beyond the province for a wife of the same faith.


 That still leaves many Isaacs family mysteries, incuding what happened to the other six children who emigrated from Leeuwarden to London as well as where the family came from before landing in Holland.


The Vice Mayor of Leeuwarden welcomed us to his city and described the host city.


We were told about the history of Leeuwarden, a city of 92,000 inhabitants that became a city in 1700. The first Jews registered in Leeuwarden in the 1640’s were probably refugees from Spain and Portugal where Jews were forced to convert or leave. Leeuwarden then was a wealthy community with a large Jewish population and the home of royalty, the House of Orange. The likelihood is that the Jews who came to Leeuwarden first stopped in places like Germany, Prussia, Poland, Russia and Iran. There may be a registry of Jews who came to Leeuwarden in the town archives. Holland had a reputation for being more tolerant than other countries with freedom of religion.


Evelyn van Pinxteren-Nagler, a  Leeuwarden resident, told us that the Jewish population in Lewuwarden was wiped out during World War II, and today there are only 41 Jews in the orthodox community. The main synogogue is today a dance school (which we visited) and the Jewish school is today a regular school.


Peter de Haan, a resident of Leeuwarden who helped us immensely, described some of his research on Samuel Myer Isaacs who was born in one house before moving to Kleine Kerkstraat 32, which he bought for 2,305 guilders and sold at a loss when he left for England. He speculated that Samuel Myer Isaacs lived in Prussia before coming to Leeuwarden.


Evelyn Ritz Weyl, a relative of Colin Harbury, told a moving story of her suvival in a concentration camp in Holland run by the Germans called Kamp Westerbork where she lived with her parents from age 6 ½ to 10. There were 105,000 Jews placed in the camp during  the war beginning in 1942, and only about 3,000 survived, including Eva and her parents. The camp was liberated by Canadian forces in 1945.    


Other activities at the reunion included a boat ride on the canals of Leeuwarden, a walking tour and the sharing of family stories. Local reporters joined us for part of the visit and wrote stories about our reunion.


Proposals were discussed to install a Myer Samuel Isaacs plaque on the house left behind in 1814, an idea welcomed by the current inhabitants, at the cost of about 160 euros. There was also discussion of a poetry stone installed on a sidewalk of Leeuwarden (there are already 38 such stones) at the cost of about 4,500 euros.


It was a wonderful weekend where we learned much about each other and about our roots.


P.S. Many of us arrived in Leeuwarden just in time for a World Cup football match between Netherlands and Brazil, won by Netherlands 2 – 1 in an upset and occasioning great joy in the local bars and on the streets..




Leni Isaacs Boorstin of US

Elizabeth (Liz) Cotton ( Foord) & Nick Cotton of UK

Anthony & Judy Gilbert of UK

Carol Isaacs & Jerrold Berman of US

Edward Isaacs of UK

John David Isaacs & Amy Isaacs of US

Naomi Isaacs of UK

Stanley Isaacs & Karen Kalinsky of US

Timothy & Elaine Lever of UK

Jen Southwood (Helen Jennifer) of South Africa

Jill & Richard Young of UK

Jonathan Young of UK


Via skype for a portion

Kathryn Berman of Israel

Mary Watson of New Zealand


Partial participation:

Peter de Haan of Leeuwarden

Evelyn van Pinxteren-Nagler of Leeuwarden

Eva Ritz Weyl of Amsterdam



Two articles in Leeuwarden newspapers about the reunion [with a few corrections in brackets]


From the Leeuwarder Courant of July 5, 2010


Back to the place where it all started



Samuel Isaacs born in 1804 in Leeuwarden was an important Jewish leader in the United States. Saturday, twenty of [Myer Samuel Isaacs and Rebecca Samuels] his descendants explored the centre of his birth place.


By Ger Bosklopper


Photo caption: The reunion participants enjoy refreshments in the building where Samuel Isaacs lived during seven years. To the left, the family historian John Isaacs. (Photo: LC/Siep van Lingen)


Leeuwarden‘Oh, my God, oh, my dear’. Here and there you hear the cries, making clear that the Americans are facing an important moment. It is around the noon hour on Saturday. They point to the threshold of the front door and they are about to enter the home at the Kleine Kerkstraat (32, Small Church street), 32 in Leeuwarden. At the beginning of the nineteenth century ‘their’ Samuel Isaacs lived there before he moved with his parents to London and he later emigrated to the United States.


In the United States Isaacs grew into a prominent Jewish leader who inaugurated dozens of synagogues, rubbed elbows with presidents, founded hospitals and schools.


The Leeuwarden citizen Peter de Haan collected information about this old fellow townsman and brought attention to his importance in the book ‘Gevierde Friezen in Amerika’ / ‘Celebrated Frisians in America’, which was published last year for the celebration of New York’s 400th anniversary. The relationship which De Haan has built with John Isaacs, the family historian, also led to the family reunion of twenty of Samuel Isaacs’ [[Myer Samuel Isaacs and Rebecca Samuels]] descendants in Leeuwarden this weekend.


Five years ago was the first reunion in the English Cambridge. The family is internationally oriented.  Descendants travelled to the Frisian capital from Great Britain, South Africa and the United States.


Peter De Boer, who in 2010 is the resident of the home where the small Samuel Isaacs lived two centuries ago, welcomes the visitors in Hebrew. It is just a single sentence but the visitors appreciate it audibly. “Just looked it up yesterday on the internet”, the host tones it down.


The visitors ‘inspects’ the dwelling carefully. “The house is large and light”, opines Leni Isaac[s]. “Completely different than I would have expected. You think: such an old house will be small and dark”. The visit to the home is the conclusion of the stroll whereby De Haan acts as host.


At the start of the morning, at the Historisch Centrum Leeuwarden (HCL) / Historic Center Leeuwarden (HCL), Klaas Zandberg and De Haan have informed the visitors about the history of the Frisian capital and the history of the Jewish residents in particular. After this the stroll takes them through the streets where Samuel Isaacs spent his youth.


The many photo cameras click regularly. The street name sign Bollemanssteeg (Round man’s alley) where their forefather’s crib stood is a highlight.


At the monument of the Jacobijnerkerkhof (Cemetery of the Jacobins), which memorializes Jewish victims from World War II, the visitors stand still for a long while.


The visit to the former synagogue in the Slotmakersstraat (Locksmith’s street), where presently the Saco Velt dance school is established, provides food for conversation. Dancing in a synagogue? “Weird”, establishes Judy [Gilbert?] Isaac. “The visitors to this synagogue, mainly orthodox Jews did not love dancing at all”.


Stan Isaac[s], John’s brother, the organizer of the family reunion, says lightly: “In religious circles you have such discussions continually. I think that you cannot dance often enough. Always and everywhere”.


The many historic buildings make an impression. John Isaac[s], at the conclusion of the stroll: “Buildings which are at least three hundred years old and look this good and are still in use today. We do not have this at all in America”. The participants of the reunion know this already for sure: Leeuwarden was a good place to reunite. “We were welcomed everywhere, there were friendly people everywhere”.



Friesch Dagblad


The descendants of the nineteenth century Leeuwarden rabbi Samuel Isaacs have a reunion



So here walked the father of the father of my father”



Leeuwarden This weekend, members of the Isaacs family from America, England and Africa came to Leeuwarden. In search of the birth home of a famous ancestor, but also in search of each other.


By Wouter Smilde


“Welcome to the home where your ancestor lived”. Peter de Boer opens the door to his home at the Kleine Kerkstraat 32 (32, Small Church street) in Leeuwarden with a broad arm gesture.


Some of the eighteen visitors cannot suppress a muted cry. So this is the home where their ancestor, rabbi Samuel Isaacs (1804), closed the door behind him to eventually depart to America, almost two hundred years ago.


Now, his descendants return, from England, Scotland, Israel, South Africa, the US. Everywhere to where the Diaspora took the members of the Jewish family. “And that is to every continent, except Antarctica”, says Amy Isaacs from Washington, and not without pride. “And now we’re here”. With a thick American accent: “Amaaaaazing!”


The tour to return to the roots of the Isaacs’ is Peter de Haan’s idea, high official with the province of Fryslân (Friesland) and John Isaacs’, a lobbyist from the U.S. The two met each other during the celebration of New York’s 400th anniversary. De Haan had paid attention to Samuel Isaacs in a book about celebrated Frisians in the U.S.; he had become a man of fame in the New York of the nineteenth century.


[Great great grandson] Grand-grand-grand nephew John came to thank him for that. The conversation turned to the family relationship and the reunion which the Isaacs’ started organizing since a short time ago. And how nice it was. Before he knew it, De Haan said: “Then, the next time you come to Leeuwarden...?”


Amy Isaacs was there, in New York, when that little ball started rolling. She found the attention the Frisians paid to her forefather “Lovely”. But honestly, it was not the famous rabbi for whom she had flown half-way around the world to Leeuwarden. “It is about my cousins. Family, the relationship. That is what matters”.


And that goes for everyone. There you have half a circle of Isaacs’ in the back yard of the historic home. While the hostess, Maaike van Gils explains about the old gable and the newly built kitchen added to the house, the Isaacs’ from Cambridge, Edinburgh and California make comments about their family characteristics.


“All of us have something to do with mathematics”, explains one of them. Cousin Stanley for instance, did not like it that this reunion did not take place two years earlier. Then he would have been able to go to the Escher exposition. He says that he thinks that the mathematical and misleading play with lines is wonderful. “But after this, I am flying to Japan to go to a fair for puzzles with those numbers combinations, so that eases the pain”.


From Leeuwarden dispersed over all continents – except Antarctica


They are also into computers and science. And they have a teasing sense of humor, says the Isaacs from Scotland. More similarities? Timothy Le[v]er, an Isaacs from England: “It is very strange to see familiar physiognomies in the faces of people I have never met before!


With sparkling eyes: “And I do not mean that everyone wears glasses and that they have a gray beard. That is just a matter of age!”


Does he think about that Leeuwarden rabbi who went into the world? “No. But I hope that I may be able to imagine more about that tomorrow. It is strange: you really only know your father and grandfather. And after that? You only know those ancestors from images. You still hope to learn more about them”. He stomps on the wooden floor. “And this is a good start. He walked here. That is nicely tangible!