By Arthur F. Menton. Edited and updated by Dr. Gil Dekel.
I have taken on the massive task of being the family historian. My mother’s father was Isaac (Max) Sahr who came to the USA from Ciechanowiec, Poland in 1891. He died in 1949 when I was 16. I was his favourite grandchild, but I realized that aside from the families of his six daughters, I knew nothing of his history.
I knew he had an older brother in Schenectady, New York, so I investigated and found many close relatives there. I learned that my grandfather was one of ten children of Sender Ser and Chaya Podkowa of Nur (Danir). Four came to America and the others, unfortunately, stayed in Poland. Many were martyred with their children in the Holocaust. However, several survived and are in Israel. I was shocked to learn that my mother’s uncles, aunts, and cousins perished without us ever knowing of their existence. I decided to memorialize them. That is the driving passion behind this work.
I soon found many inter-related families in the nearby shtetls and learned of migrations to other areas.
The name that became Sahr in New York was really Ser, which means cheese in Polish. It is also spelled Sir, Cear, Sier, Sear, Seer, Cyr, and Syr. The name was adopted when Napoleon forced every Jew to have a surname. That was in the early 1800s.
Other names adopted
There were also Kiejsmachers (cheesemakers) in the family. The names adopted by other family members are: Kur (Kuhr), Kuropatwa, Lew (Lewin, Levine), Danowitz, Mankuta, Mankita, Parczewski, Tama, Kristol, Pasternak, Kopyto, Podkowa, Kwiatek, Pakciarz, Lapin, Budovitch (Budowla), Smolarczyk, Don Yahya (Don Yechia, Don Jachia, Ibn Yahya), Donchin (Dongin), Blattman, Sukiennik, Kafka, Burshteyn, Bochko, Shereshevsky, Yarmos (Jarmusz), Migdal, Glovnia, Grapa, and Charlap (Charlop, Charlip, Charlup, Charloff, Harlaff, Charlaff, Jarlip, Charlak, Tscharlop.)
Because of differences in pronunciation, spellings are often changed when transposing from one language to another. This is especially so in going from Hebrew and Yiddish to Polish, Russian or English. That is why the family name Charlap (Hebrew : ח chet – ר raysh – ל lamed – פ pay) has so many variations in English. The final “pay” (פ סופית: ף) in the name should best be an English “p”. But in Hebrew the “p” and “f’ sounds are very closely related. Hence Charlap becomes Charlaff or Charloff. Now “f” is often confused with a “v” sound, so the name could become Charlov. In Polish, there is no “v”, that sound is written “w”, hence Charlow.
The first Ser was the son of Abraham Charlap. Abraham was born circa 1740.
At the time, Charlap was not a surname but an honorary title; an acronym consisting of four Hebrew letters, standing for “Chief Sage of the Exile in Poland” (an earlier variation replaces Poland with Portugal: “Chief Sage of the Exile in Portugal.”)
The Charlaps are a very distinguished rabbinic dynasty whose yichus (family connection) is well established. They stem from the Ibn Yahya (Don Yahya) rabbis of Spain and Portugal and before that go back to the Exilarchs in Babylonia and Persia. Their claim of descent from King David has been supported by many scholars.
Family presence in towns
We (the family) lived in the northeastern part of Poland, and adjoining Lithuanian and Byelorussian regions. Major family presence was in the following towns: Ciechanowiec, Nur, Czyzewo, Zareby Koscielnie (Zaromb), Brok, Ostrow Mazowieckie, Wysokie Mazowieckie, Tykocin (Tiktin), Goniadz, Brainsk, Shterdyn, Semiaticzi, Lomza, Suwalk, Mariampole, Nowogrod, Kosow Lacki, Kalwaria, Taurage, Kretinga and others. Another major city was Grodno, especially for Lapins and Shereshevskys. In time, some of the family migrated eastward to the axis between Brisk and Minsk. They lived in Pruzhany, Kobryn, Slonim, Nesvizh, Novogrudok, Baranowicze, Lachowicze.
The research into the family
This research has led to a family tree approaching 25,000 names dating back to Abraham Charlap. I have the history beyond that to King David, for the most part in a patrilineal line.
There is also a connection to the famous Abravanel אברבנאל and Shaltiel families.
We have formed a Family Association, which included members of all the above-mentioned families. Our first convention was held in the Catskills in September 1989. Some 289 relatives came from all over the world. It was a wonderfully warm experience, and all had a great time. Since then we had reunions in Kansas City, Israel, New York, another in the Catskills, Florida, and in Kitchener, Ontario. Our association published a family newsletter, B’rayshit בראשית. We also sponsored the translation of Yiskor books from our European towns.
I have written a history of our family which is really a microcosm of the history of the Jewish people told through the personal experiences of our relatives. It is in narrative form, and not a dry genealogy. A second volume continues the family history and contains all known genealogical data including family charts.
I would love to hear from any family member or landsman, and I look forward to meeting you all in person. If you have any information about our life in Poland, Russia, Lithuania, Israel, or elsewhere, please contact and share. [There is also an active group on Facebook – GD.]
This history must be preserved for future generations. I thank you for whatever you can supply.
© Arthur F. Menton and Dr. Gil Dekel.
27 April 2021. Last updated 20 June 2021.
Originally written in 2002 (in an email) and in 2007 (in newsletter B’reshit Vol. 18, No. 2.) Updated and revised in 2021 by Gil Dekel, with Arthur’s permission.