When Islip High School senior Mollie Sebor was offered the chance to research the town's little-known Jewish history, the history buff got to work quickly. Now, her painstaking efforts identifying key figures such as veterans and a feminist writer will serve as the foundation for future research, the town's historian said.
Sebor, 18, who is working with the town historian's office to uncover and spotlight Jewish Islip residents, said her Jewish heritage made her connection to the research even deeper. She pursued the project to earn the Gold Award, the highest honor in Girl Scouting.
Over seven months, the teen scoured Islip cemeteries in search of Star of David markers, scribbling down the names she came across. She then turned to newspaper archives, records and websites dedicated to Jewish genealogy to aid her hunt.
Town historian George Munkenbeck said he hopes Sebor's research will continue and include early Jewish families. Locating Jewish settlers in the town is challenging because of limited records, Sebor said. Her work focuses on nine Jewish residents such as veterans, business owners, an author and a doctor, who she said "did amazing things."
"In school, you learn dates and times and who did what, but when you research it on your own, you really get to see that there were dates and times, but they were [real] people," Sebor said, adding that the subjects of her research now feel "like old friends."
Sebor, of Islip, who will graduate this month, said she is taking time off to focus on her health as she battles Lyme disease. Munkenbeck praised Sebor's emerging skills as a historian.
"She has dug up some stuff that is not easy to find, and kept at it," Munkenbeck said. The historian's office plans to publish Sebor's research in a pamphlet this summer.
Among the town's Jewish residents Sebor uncovered is Edna Gertrude Beasley, a Jewish feminist writer from Texas who disappeared soon after publishing her memoir, "My First Thirty Years" in 1925. The book detailed sexual violence and her support of birth control — taboo topics at the time. Beasley wrote the book in Europe and was institutionalized at the now-closed Central Islip Psychiatric Center after sailing to New York. She died from pancreatic cancer in 1955, Sebor said, and is buried in the asylum cemetery in a Jewish plot.
"She was too ahead of her time," Sebor said. "She was really a talented writer."
Another resident Sebor discovered is Ellsworth Epstein, who served in the Navy in both active duty and clerical roles. Epstein served in World War I on the USS Triton steamship. Later, he took over his family's department store. He died in 1965, Sebor said. She located Epstein's draft cards and his entry in the Islip Veteran's Journal.
Sebor also identified Sal Bernstein, whose contributions during World War II are on display at Islip's Town Hall. Bernstein was a gunner on a B-17 plane and was killed in action when his plane was shot down over the Pacific Ocean in 1942, Sebor said. He was 19 years old and was a graduate of Sayville High School.
"My hope is that [my research] will bring awareness to these people who have passed, as well as give the town and the Jewish community … something they can look back on," Sebor said.
Islip's Jewish history
The research compiled by Mollie Sebor, 18, of Islip Town, spotlights the town's Jewish residents such as feminist writer Edna Gertrude Beasley, who was institutionalized in Islip; World War I veteran Ellsworth Epstein, who owned a prominent shop in Islip; and World War II veteran Sal Bernstein, who was killed in action.