from the center for jewish history, written by Dr. Kenneth Libo Ph.D and Michael Skakun
Ruth Hendricks Schulson: Jewish American Continuity in the Making
Genealogy, the search for roots, is history at its most personal. On the occasion of the 350th anniversary of the first arrival of Jews in North America, the quest for origins has turned from private initiative to public endeavor as the American Jewish community collectively celebrates its centuries old heritage.
Few people can claim as varied, intricate and wide-ranging a family tree as Ruth Hendricks Schulson, a tenth-generation Jewish American. Among the family’s archival treasures is America’s oldest Jewish bible brought to New York c. 1700 by Louis Moses Gomez, a direct ancestor of both Ruth‘s mother Rosalie Gomez Nathan (1894-1986) and Ruth’s father Henry Solomon Hendricks (1892-1959). The American Sephardi Federation’s current exhibition “Pernambuco, Brazil: Gateway to New York” includes some of the family’s most prized heirlooms.
Ruth is a descendent of Louis Moses Gomez’s son Mordecai and his wife Rebecca De Lucena who traces her American ancestry to 1655, the year after the arrival of the first twenty-three settlers from Brazil. Four separate bloodlines going back three centuries and more connect Ruth to practically every 18th century Jew in America.
Ruth’s father was a World War I naval officer and a distinguished attorney who served as president of Shearith Israel (as did Louis Moses Gomez), the Jewish Family Service and the Jewish Welfare Board. He was also treasurer of the American Jewish Historical Society (AJHS) and chairman of the board of the Jewish Theological Seminary.
On her mother’s side Ruth descends from Revolutionary War veteran Simon Nathan and, closer to our own time, to her Uncle Edgar, one of Manhattan’s first Jewish borough presidents. On her father’s side, Ruth traces her ancestry back to pioneers in the copper industry vital to the growth of the American economy and the nation’s military might. Hendricks customers included Paul Revere who, it is said, crafted the chiming steeple bells in nineteenth century Boston and New York with Hendricks copper.
The copper enterprise’s founder Harmon Hendricks (1771-1838) was also a patriot. A graduate of Columbia College, president of Shearith Israel, and a generous philanthropist, Hendricks provided the U.S. with supplies from his copper rolling mill, which proved crucial to America’s naval victories in the War of 1812. A hundred years earlier Harmon’s great grandfather Louis Moses Gomez built a trading outpost in upstate New York which today is America’s oldest Jewish homestead.
Harmon Hendricks’s loyalty to America was matched only by his devotion to family and tradition. Many of his children became pillars of New York’s Jewish community, including Henry Hendricks, a founder of New York’s Jews’ Hospital, now Mount Sinai, the oldest Jewish-affiliated medical institution in the United States.
Ruth was married in 1950 to Hyman Schulson, an attorney, an eighth generation Jerusalemite and an Ashkenazi. Fluent in English, Hebrew, Yiddish and Arabic, Hy, a graduate of Brown University and Yale Law School, was an avid Zionist while Ruth worked tirelessly as president of Shearith Israel‘s sisterhood. Judaism does not stop with Ruth and Hy. Their traditions are being carried on by all of their seven grandchildren.
Ruth Hendricks Schulson’s family saga covers the arc of the American Jewish experience. It is the story of how a group of Jews stretching back to colonial days did well and good in America while preserving the Jewish way of life. At once a personal chronicle and a public tale, Ruth’s history demonstrates how and why the Jewish family continues to remain down to our own day the true country of the heart.