LOOKING FOR SISSY NELA
Ó 2007 by Gary Miers
In late April of 2007 I received an email that was sent by a couple living in Arlington, Virginia. They told me that they had a first edition issue of Jack Kahane’s The Gay Intrigue in which Kahane had written and signed an inscription to his sister “Nela”. They were seeking information about the identity of “Nela” and also were wondering how this book with its small and tightly penned inscription ended up in the United States. They told me that they had purchased the book in the early 1980’s at a bookstore located in Charlottesville, Virginia. I could hardly contain my excitement. I had been searching for a Kahane signed book for years and had given up hope of ever finding one. And instead of me finding one, one found me. And not only was it signed by Kahane, it was inscribed to his sister. The inscription reads:
“To dear Sissy Nela with love from her brother
Jack Kahane 29 – 1 – 25”
Thus I began my quest to identify “Sissy Nela” and also to determine how the book found its way to Virginia. In trying to determine the names of Jack Kahane's sisters, my initial search yielded conflicting and incomplete information. The two sources that I considered to be the most credible were Kahane's son's autobiography, Maurice Girodias's The Frog Prince, and One Who Flies the “Jolly Roger” On A Sea of Censorship: Jack Kahane, a Jack Kahane biography written by Obelisk Press scholar James Armstrong. These two sources differed with their information. In The Frog Prince, Girodias states that his father was one of twelve children (nine sisters and two brothers). Of these siblings, Girodias only names three: the two brothers, Louis and Frederick, and one sister, Emily.1 Armstrong states that Kahane was one of eight children (five sisters and two brothers). Of these siblings, Armstrong only names three as well: the two brothers, Louis and Frederick, and one sister Amelia.2 Both Armstrong and Girodias agree that Kahane went to live with his sister after his mother died (Girodias states it was Emily, and Armstrong states that it was Amelia). Kahane confirms this in his autobiography, Memoirs of a Booklegger, where he states:
“My mother having died when I was eight (my father had preceded her by two years), I was brought up by a sister more than twenty years older than myself (I was the penultimate of a large family). I adored her. Unfortunately, from my point of view, she had two boys of her own, one a year younger than myself, the other a baby. It was on my elder nephew’s account that I was glad to leave school. I had a very average brain and as luck would have it, his was one of the best of his generation. A first-class mind, bad cess to him. So I left school when I was nearing seventeen, and he went to Oxford—Balliol, where he got the Craven, the Ireland, the Gaisford Greek verse, and most else—and out of my life for ever.” 3
Kahane does not mention this adored sister’s name, his nephews’ names, nor does he expound any further on his childhood in Memoirs. So with this information, I began looking for “Sissy Nela”.
Immediately I suspected that “Sissy Nela” was the “adored” sister with whom Kahane went to live after his mother died. I also suspected that Nela was Kahane’s term of endearment for this sister (Emily or Amelia). My next step then was to try to definitively determine the number and names of Kahane’s siblings. England Birth Records indicate that Jack Kahane was born Jonas Kahane in Broughton in the borough of Salford, Manchester, England to Selig and Susy Kahane on July 20, 1887. Selig and Susy Kahane were both born in Romania where they were also married. They immigrated to England in the early 1870’s and settled in Manchester in 1873.4 The 1881 England Census indicates that the Kahane family was living at 87 Bury New Road in the parish of Broughton in Salford, in the County of Lancashire. The Census further states that the Kahane household consisted of the following:
Name Relation to Head of Family Age
Selig Kahane Head 38
Susy Kahane Wife 33
Amelia Kahane Daughter 15
Salic Kahane Daughter 13
Louis Kahane Son 6
Fanny Kahane Daughter 4
Evalyne Kahane Daughter 1
England Birth Records from 1837 – 1963 further indicate the following births to Selig and Susy Kahane in England:
Name Gender Birth Year
Louis Kahane Male 1874
Rosa Kahane Female 1874
Fanny Kahane Female 1877
Evalyne Kahane Female 1880
Jeannie Kahane Female 1882
Jonas Kahane Male 1887
Frederick Kahane Male 1889
Kahane’s sisters, Amelia and Salic, were born in Romania prior to the Kahane’s immigration to England. The two records above indicate that Kahane had six sisters and two brothers. They also show that Amelia was over twenty years older than Kahane. This confirms Kahane’s statement in Memoirs about moving in with a sister who was at least twenty years older than he. It also shows that there is no sister named Emily. I believe that Emily and Amelia were the same person and that Girodias heard the name Amelia pronounced as Ahh-may-lee in French (Emily in English). Since Girodias was born in 1919 and as I found out later, his aunt Amelia had immigrated to the United States in 1907 and died in 1949, it is not unreasonable to think that Girodias did not know this aunt that had taken in his father.
Investigation of England Death Records from 1837 – 1963 indicate the following:
Name Gender Death Year
Rosa Kahane Female 1878
Selig Kahane Male 1893
Susy Kahane Female 1896
This record shows that Kahane’s sister Rosa died when she was four years old and nine years before Kahane was born. Thus Kahane would have had five sisters and two brothers during his lifetime. This record also shows that Kahane’s parents had both died by the time he was nine years old.
By 1891, Amelia had married and moved in with Arthur Lobel, an immigrant from Romania. The England Census of 1891 reflects the changes to the Kahane household: the death of Rosa; the absences of Amelia and Salic; and the births of “Jack” (as he was called by then) and Frederick or “Fred”.
Name Relation to Head of Family Age
Selig Kahane Head 48
Susy Kahane Wife 43
Louis Kahane Son 16
Fanny Kahane Daughter 14
Evalyne Kahane Daughter 11
Jeannie Kahane Daughter 9
Jack Kahane Son 3
Fred Kahane Son 2
The 1901 England Census brings all of the information together. It shows that Jonas (Jack) and his sister Jeannie were living with their sister Amelia and her family. It also names Kahane’s nephews (whom he mentions without naming in Memoirs), Alex and Edgar.
Name Relation to Head of Family Age
Arthur Lobel Head 48
Amelia Lobel Wife 43
Edgar Lobel Son 12
Alex Lobel Son 3
Jeannie Kahane Sis in Law 19
Jonas Kahane Bro in Law 13
And as Kahane comments in his Memoirs, Edgar Lobel went on to become a renowned Greek Scholar.
Although I could not find any documented instance of Amelia being referred to as Nela, I am convinced that Nela is indeed Amelia. I am also convinced that Nela is a family nickname or term of endearment for Amelia.
It was not too difficult to see how the book found its way to the United States. Ellis Island Records show that Arthur Lobel entered the US in October 1906.
Amelia and their son Alex entered the US in June 1907.
The 1920 US Census shows Arthur and Amelia Lobel were residing at West 82nd Street in New York.
The 1930 US Census also shows Arthur and Amelia Lobel were residing at West 82nd Street in New York.
Other Ellis Island Records from 1928 show that Amelia Lobel returned to the US from a trip to France in February of 1928. This record also indicates that Amelia had been living in the US permanently since 1907.
And lastly, Ellis Island Records from 1929 show that Arthur and Amelia Lobel returned from a trip to visit their son Edgar in Oxford, England in May, 1929. This record also recognizes that they had been living in the US as permanent residents since 1907 and that they were becoming US citizens.
And so it is clear that Amelia began living in the United States in 1907. Since Kahane's inscription is dated January 29, 1925, I must assume that it was in Amelia's possession in the United States. How exactly the book got to Amelia, I do not know. Perhaps Kahane posted it to the US, or perhaps it was given to her during one of her trips to France, or perhaps Kahane gave it to her during one of his visits to the US.
Amelia’s husband, Arthur Lobel died on January 3, 1941 in New York. The New York Times announced Arthur Lobel's funeral service on January 6, 1941.
Amelia Kahane Lobel died at the Dresden Nursing Home in Manhattan on May 27, 1949 at the age of 83. Her death certificate indicates that she was a citizen of the United States at the time of her death and that she had spent the last 42 years of her life in the US. Her funeral services were announced in The New York Times on May 30, 1949
And so how the book ultimately ended up in a bookstore in Charlottesville, Virginia is still a mystery. However Alex Lobel, Amelia’s and Arthur's youngest son, Jack Kahane's nephew, stayed in the US and also became a US citizen (he would be 110 years old, if still alive). Perhaps his children and grandchildren know the complete story of their grandmother/great grandmother and how she became lovingly known as Nela to her brother. And perhaps they know how this book found its way to Virginia. So if you are out there members of the Lobel clan, please let me know, I would love to hear from you!
Jonas Kahane visit to US in 1913 – Ellis Island records indicate that Jonas “Jack” Kahane visited the US in 1913 when he was 26 years old.
Kahane’s inscription is written in a small, tight script. In his autobiography, The Frog Prince, Kahane’s son, Maurice Girodias stated the following about his father’s handwriting.
“My father now spends his days writing with a severe look. He had a study fixed up for himself where no one is allowed to disturb him; he has shelves loaded with books, all kinds of pipes, a large armchair pulled up to the fireplace, even in summer, and he fills large notebooks with his tiny, tidy handwriting.” 5
1Maurice Girodias, The Frog Prince: An Autobiography, Crown Publishers, Inc., New York, 1980, p. 9.
2James Armstrong and Gary Miers, Of Obelisks and Daffodils, One Who Flies the “Jolly Roger” On a Sea of Censorship:
Jack kahane (1887 – 1939), Handsack Press, Portland, 2003, p. 5.
3Jack Kahane, Memoirs of a Booklegger, Michael Joseph, London, 1939, p. 10.
4James Armstrong and Gary Miers, Of Obelisks and Daffodils, One Who Flies the “Jolly Roger” On a Sea of Censorship:
Jack Kahane (1887 – 1939), Handsack Press, Portland, 2003, p. 3.
5Maurice Girodias, The Frog Prince: An Autobiography, Crown Publishers, Inc., New York, 1980, p. 38.
All of the original census, birth, death, and Ellis Island documents are from www.ancestry.com
My gratitude to JT and MB for first introducing me to “Sissy Nela”.