Ron Arons says that "for better and for worse," his parents raised him to be "a mensch" with a strong sense of moral values. So Arons, a board member of the San Francisco Jewish Genealogical Society, was surprised when he learned that his great-grandfather was "a real scoundrel."

A seasoned genealogist, Arons first tumbled to Great-Grandpa's sordid past upon discovery of several documents that detailed four separate birthplaces for his ancestor. One document was a Sing Sing prison record for Isaac Spier, alias Herbert Edward Spier. Isaac, convicted of bigamy, had been sentenced to serve four years at Sing Sing. Police suspected that he might have had as many as four wives.

It recalled for Arons a memory that, while visiting his grandparentsí apartment in Brooklyn as a child, his grandmother once told him to not say the word Sing Sing in front of his grandfather because it upset him.

Arons reports an unsurprising discovery as a result of his continued research among Sing Sing records: "Criminal behavior among Jews has been far more rampant than what our parents or the Jewish community are willing to admit." Would one expect otherwise? Irish, Italian, Hispanic, African and other ethnic and racial communities making up the great American mosaic hardly trumpet their bad apples either. All groups seem to have some.

As a genealogist, Arons has come across "numerous fellow descendants of Jewish inmates kind enough to share the stories of their ancestors" with him.

Ron remarks: "I find solace in the fact that Iím not alone."

In a 2004 Researching New York history conference presentation at SUNY Albany and through his other The Jews of Sing Sing lectures around the country, Arons has shared with others what others have shared with him,

Title image from promo card for Ron Arons' lecture at Temple Emanu-El


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NYCHS board member Judy Berdy, who is administrator at the Skirball Center for Adult Jewish Learning at Temple Emanu-El, suggested NYCHS website readers might be interested in the subject matter of Ron Arons' April 25 lecture sponsored by the Bernard Museum of Judaica & Stettenheim Library at Temple Emanu-El.

Judy also is president of the Roosevelt Island Historical Society.

This presentation is a follow-up on her suggestion.

Elizabeth F. Stabler, Temple Emanu-El librarian, provided the photo postcard announcing the lecture.

Ron Arons, who designed the postcard, took the photos of the guard tower and Cell Block A. He credits the "illustrations of the various tortures" and the electric chair photo to "the Ossining Community Center."

The format for this web presentation was designed by the NYCHS webmaster whose own research notes appear on the left below the image.