Dana Arschin has grown up knowing that her paternal great-grandfather’s grave is part of movie history.
About two decades ago, Arschin’s aunt was watching a TV special with Barbra Streisand when suddenly, she saw a picture of her grandfather’s — Anchel Arschin’s — gravestone. Streisand was talking about how a visit to Mount Hebron Cemetery in Queens, New York helped her decide to direct “Yentl,” the movie based on the Isaac Bashevis-Singer tale of “Yentl the Yeshiva Boy,” that takes place in 1904 Poland.
Streisand had said that she wasn’t sure if she should direct the movie, but then visited the Jewish cemetery where her father, Emanuel, who died when Barbra was just a child, is buried.
“I never had a picture with my father,” Streisand shared in an interview. “When I came home, my brother sent me the picture of my arm around the tombstone. And I think it was [producer] Rusty Lemorande who said, ‘Oh my God. Look at the picture.’”
“Right next to her father’s grave was a gravestone with the name Anchel — almost the exact name of Yentl’s male alter ego, just off by a letter. Anshel is the name the titular character of the tale borrows from a dead uncle to pass off as a man and join a yeshiva. Streisand shared that discovering that name in the picture felt the picture was a sign she had to direct the movie. She went on to become the first woman director to win a Golden Globe for her work on the film.”
Dana Arschin, a journalist by trade, told Kveller over e-mail that Emanuel and Anchel, who died a year apart, in 1943 and 1944 respectively, “were both members of the same synagogue, and the synagogue had burial plots for its members. That’s why they were buried next to each other.”
Back in November, the mother of two from Port Washington, New York, shared a picture of the two gravestones, along with the story, on Instagram in an attempt to get Streisand’s attention. The photo, which was then shared by the Humans of Judaism account, did end up reaching Streisand, who commented, “Dear Dana… Thank you for bringing this to my attention. It is very meaningful to me..”
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“It was amazing to see her response and I’m appreciative that she responded,” Dana told Kveller. She also shared that someone from Streisand’s team reached out to her, and that she sent Babs an e-mail expressing her gratitude.
B.A. Van Sise, a photojournalist and semi-professional genealogist who Dana reached out to to learn more about her great-grandfather, told Kveller, “Anchel Arschin was born July 1, 1875 in what was then Poland but is now Volhynia, Ukraine,” adding he was, “the son of Yosef and Itka Arschin.”
Dana doesn’t know much else of the man, who died before her father was born. She knows he was a garment presser who briefly lost his job during the depression and worked as a fish peddler. Still, she says, “He was an immigrant who I’m sure would be amazed to see what his descendants have accomplished, thanks to his struggles and determination to find a better life here in the U.S.”
Dana, who spends her days keeping the memory of the Holocaust and survivors alive as a storyteller at the Holocaust Memorial & Tolerance Center of Nassau County, says she recently watched “Yentl” for the first time and “loved it.”
“I had a new sense of appreciation for it after Barbra’s response to me. It was special to keep hearing the name ‘Anchel’ throughout.”