Family of Celia Brin and Zelig Shapiro

Celia Brin Shapiro

Celia (born Lifre) Brin, the first wife of Zelig Shapiro. She was the mother of Arthur and Norman Shapiro. Arthur reported that she died when he was 10 years old (c. 1922).


THE BRIN FAMILY AT A WEDDING IN CHICAGO: Right side of photo, 1st row standing: Arthur Shapiro, son of Zelig Shapiro and Celia Brin, with his wife Shirley.  Behind them stand Arthur and Norman’s ‘s father, Zelig Shapiro, and Arthur’s brother Norman with his wife, Leona.

Zelig Shapiro (aka Selig Dimschitz) was born on July 10, 1884 [Social Security Index: June 10, 1881] Vitebsk, Imperial Russia (now in Belarus). Vitebsk is renowned as the hometown of the great artist, Marc Chagall; this city once had a substantial Jewish community (52% in 1897).


Modern-day Belarus showing the location of Vitebsk where Zelig Shapirio was born. At that time, this area of Eastern Europe was part of Imperial Russia and was located in the infamous Pale of Permanent Jewish Settlement.

Zelig died April 19, 1969 in Chicago. 1st wife: Lifre ‘Celia’ Brin, b. 1892 Duchy of Biržai (now in Lithuania), Imperial Russia, d. 1926 Chicago IL;  2nd wife: Mary. Zelig’s father was Shnair-zalman Schmaryahu Dimschitz the second oldest child (of 8.) of Joseph Dimschitz Ilupin Shapiro and Channah Rivke; Dror Vaikhansky believes that Zelig’s mother was Lana Shapiro nee Woichansky, who was Dror’s grandfather’s sister.


Modern-day Lithuania showing the location of Biržai where Lifre ‘Celia’ Brin was born. At that time, this area of Eastern Europe was part of Imperial Russia and was located in the infamous Pale of Permanent Jewish Settlement.

The surname Dimschitz: Damascus in Yiddish (Arabic: دِمَشق‎ Dimashq) capital city of  Syria.

After the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492, Sephardic Jews settled in many of the Islamic countries bordering the Mediterranean, including Syria, which then formed part of the Mameluke Sultanate of Egypt. For the most part they founded their own communities, but they often assumed positions of rabbinic and communal leadership in their new homes. A social distinction remained between the newly arrived Sephardim and the native communities, which took several decades to accept them. Aleppo Jews of Spanish descent have a special custom, not found elsewhere, of lighting an extra candle at Hanukkah: it is said that this custom was established in gratitude for their acceptance by the local community. In both Aleppo and Damascus, the two communities supported a common Chief Rabbinate. Chief Rabbis were usually but not always from Spanish-descended families: in Aleppo there were five in a row from the Laniado family.


Damascus, Syria in relation to Spain and Belarus

The Sephardic presence was greater in Damascus than in Aleppo, and Damascus also maintained closer ties to the Holy Land. In particular, the Damascus community was strongly influenced by the Safed Kabbalistic school of Isaac Luria, and contributed several notable personalities, including Hayim Vital and Israel Najara. This explains certain differences in customs between the two cities.

An anonymous Jewish traveler who arrived a few years after the Spanish immigration, found at Damascus 500 Jewish households; also a Karaite community whose members called themselves “Muallim-Tsadaqah”; and a more important Rabbanite community, composed of three groups and possessing three beautiful synagogues. One of these belonged to the Sephardim; another, to the Moriscos (Moorish Jews) or natives; and the third, to the Sicilians. In each synagogue there was a preacher, who read the works of Maimonides to the pious every day after the prayer. The preacher of the Sephardim was Ishaq Mas’ud, that of the natives Shem-Tob al-Furani, and that of the Sicilians Isaac Haber. There were also two small schools for young students of the Talmud, containing respectively thirty and forty pupils.

Sixty Jewish families were living in the village of Jobar, one mile from Damascus, who had a very beautiful synagogue. “I have never seen anything like it,” says one anonymous eyewitness “it is supported by thirteen columns. Tradition says that it dates from the time of the prophet Elisha, and that he here anointed King Hazael. Rabbi Eleazar ben Arach (a tannaite of the first century) repaired this synagogue.” In order to indicate, finally, that the city was even then under the Ottoman rule, the narrator adds that the people of Damascus had just received a governor (“na’ib”) from Constantinople.

Therefore, it is possible that Zelig Shapiro’s family was of Sephardic origin: forced out of Spain in 1492, it is probable that its members moved to Damascus in the Ottoman Empire to escape conversion to Catholicism. For some yet to be discovered reason, the family then moved to the Kingdom of Poland-Lithuania, the eastern part which was absorbed by Imperial Russia in 1772 and not long thereafter designated The Pale of Permanent Jewish Settlement.

One good reason for moving to Poland-Lithuania is the fact that it was here that young boys and men came to study the intricacies of Talmudic Law. Before Feudalism ended in the mid 1800s, each level of society, excepting the serfs and slaves,  operated under its own set of laws. For example, the Catholic Church utilized Canon Law in ruling its many lands, so want-to-be lawyers in Canon Law flocked to Rome to study. In Poland-Lithuania, Vilnius was one of  the primary centers for the study of Talmudic Law.  If the Dimschitz Family was composed of lawyers, then Vilnius would have been the logical place for it to take up residence.  And, as it so happens, Vitebsk, the home of Zelig’s family,  is not very far from Vilnius (now located in present-day Latvia).

Vitebsk, itself,  became a stronghold of Orthodox Judaism, containing elements of Lithuanian Jewish scholarship, and even stronger Hasidic influences. At the end of the 18th century the founders of Lithuanian Hasidism, Menahem Mendel of Vitebsk and Shneur Zalman of Lyady (the 1st Lubavitscher Rebbe), were active in the city. Strong Chabad Hasidic influences were present. The rabbi of the city from 1803 to 1860 was Yizhak Isaac Behard, who was both kazyonny ravvin (government-appointed rabbi) and the choice of the admor (Hasidic rabbi).

Jekuthiel Zalman Landau succeeded him in the rabbinate serving also as head of the yeshivah of Vitebsk. After Landau moved to St. Petersburg the community did not select a new chief rabbi; this came about as a result of a dispute between the Hasidim and their opponents, the Mitnaggedim. During the last years of the 19th century 72% of the school-age children  (boys only) studied in the heder and talmud torah schools of Vitebsk.

It is most likely, that the only education Zelig Shapiro ever received was at an Hassidic heder in Vitebsk. His grandson, Wayne Shapiro.reports: “Zelig knew the Torah by memory, which I knew was amazing even though I was only 12 when I found that out.”

Indeed, Zelig was the perfect match for Celia Brin, the daughter of  the frumer (pius) Rev. Wolf Brin.


Marriage Certificate of Zelig Shapiro and Celia Brin: October 28, 1912 Chicago IL


Zelig Shapiro arrived in America on the Steamship Nekar on October 26, 1904.

Selig Dimschitz was 21 years old when he arrived at Ellis Island on October 26, 1904 after disembarking from the SS Neckar which had sailed from the Port of Bremen in the German Empire on October 15th. He was sponsored by his uncle in Chicago, David Schapiro, with whom he first went to live. At some point, he took his uncle’s surname, Schapiro, which he revised to Shapiro  by dropping the letter ‘c’, and began spelling his first name phonetically in English as Zelig. The official record of this complex name change has not yet been discovered. On the ship’s manifest Selig’s occupation is listed simply as: laborer.

Ellis Island Zelig Shapiro

Ellis Island2 Zelig Shapiro

Zelig Shapiro Naturalization

Zelig Shapiro’s Card Naturalization of 1917. Wolf Brin, his father-in-law was one of the two witnesses

Zelig Shapiro Draft Card WW II

Zelig Shapiro’s Draft Registration Card for WW II (1942)

When the US Census for Chicago was taken in 1910, Zelig Shapiro was boarding with the Block Family there.  At that time Zelig was the proprietor of a saloon. In Eastern Europe, Jews had a monopoly on the distilling of spirits and operation of taverns for hundreds of years. These taverns were, without exception, located on the vast estates of the Polish Aristocracy, lands which were actually operated by Jewish erenders (foremen). Perhaps this was Zelig’s family’s profession in Vitebsk. Wayne Shapiro reflected on this:

“We have a small collection of wine glasses and shot glasses from the tavern, with Hebrew writing, Gan Eden, i.e. Garden of Eden, and with the address and phone. We use them for our Sedars every year and talk about the tavern. Actually, Zelig sold sacramental wine during Prohibition.”


By the time that the US Census for Chicago was taken in 1930, Zelig  had become  an insurance agent. In addition, his wife Celia Brin had died, and he had married Mary, who was also born in Imperial Russia. His sister Agusta was living with the family.

Zelig Shapiro US Census 1930

Children of Zelig Shapiro [aka Baruch / Selig Dimschitz]  and Celia Brin

Dr. Arthur L. Shapiro (dermatologist), b. September 16, 1913 in Chicago, d. January 4, 2010 in Chicago;  m. Shirley Steinberg b. March 25, 1916 Lowell MA; d. August 17, 1991 Chicago IL; children:

Cele Shapiro b. July 16, 1940 Milwaukee WI;  m. Robert Passin; children: Julie Ann and Deborah

Joanne Shapiro b. September 11, 1947 Chicago IL; m. Rick Muzursky; children: Michael Neil and Kenneth Mark

Donald Shapiro b. April 29, 1950 Chicago IL;  m. Robbin Albert; children: Lauren Deena and Brittany Lynn

Arthur & Shirley

Arthur & Shirley Shapiro

Additional Family_0003

In this Brin Family Photo, Arthur’s wife Shirley is seen in the front row, 2nd from the right. Seated to her left is her daughter Cele. Cele’s husband Bob Passin stands behind her. Others in the photo are front row L-R: Jewel and Bill Neuman, Hannah Brin Schulman; back row L-R: J Brin Schulman and his wife Barbara, Don Schulman and his wife Ella.

Shirley Shapiro and Children.jpg

Shirley Shapiro, wife of Arthur, with her daughter, Joanne, and  Joanne’s husband, Rick Muzursky

Norman D. Shapiro, b. March 4, 1919 Chicago IL;  m. Leona Gutnick, b. October 23, 1920; children:

Judy Shapiro b. April 15, 1947 Chicago IL;  m.  Howard Gilbert; children:

Carrie Gilbert

Scott Gilbert m. Amy

Wayne Stuart Shapiro, b. September 27, 1949;

1st wife: Rici; children:

Jody Shapiro

Nikki Shapiro

2nd wife: Susan; son:

Max Truman Shapiro

BRIN Additional21

Norman Shapiro as a kid in Chicago

Arthur's son, Norman and his wife, Leona

Zelig Shapiro’s son, Norman and his wife, Leona


Norman and Leona Shapiro

GARAGE Judy Shapiro Oct. 1948

Norman and Leona’s daughter, Judy Shapiro Oct. 1948

BRIN Additional45

Wayne Shapiro with his proud parents, Leona and Norman

Zelig, mother Leona, sister Judy, Wayne Shapiro

Zelig Shapiro, with Norman’s wife Leona and her children Judy and Wayne

Wayne Shapiro_NLehrer_20110610

Wayne Shapiro with his 2nd cousin Nancy Bonar Lehrer and her husband, Chick Lehrer. Wayne and Nancy’s grandmothers, Celia and Leila Brin were sisters.


Jodi (daughter of Wayne Shapiro), Norman and Leona Shapiro , Max and Nikki (Wayne Shapiro’s children)


Back Row: Ben Rieff, Susan Shapiro, Wayne Shapiro, Donald Shapiro (Arthur’s son), Helene Reiff, Louis Rieff, Dori Rieff; Front Row: Arthur Shapiro, Max Shapiro, Joanne Shapiro Mazursky (Arthur’s daughter), Rick Mazursky, Robin Shapiro (Don’s wife)

2006 family cruise

Back Row: Wayne Shapiro, Scott Gilbert, Susan Shapiro, Amy Gilbert (Scott’s wife), Howard Gilbert; Front Row: Leona Shapiro, Jodi Shapiro, Max Shapiro, Norman Shapiro, Nikki Shapiro, Judy Shapiro Gilbert

A celebrated relative of Zelig Dimschitz-Shapiro:

Veniamin Emmanuilovich Dimschitz (1910–1993)

The son of a white-collar worker, Veniamin Dimschitz was born in Feodosiia. In 1931, he began working as a construction foreman at the Kuznetsk Metallurgical Plant, and later participated in building the Azov and Krivoi Rog metallurgical plants. In 1941, he was appointed director of the Magnitostroi Trust, which constructed blast furnaces at metallurgical sites. From 1946 to 1950 he headed the Zaporozhstroi Trust, which rehabilitated large-scale industry in Zaporozh’e. In 1945 and again in 1950, he was awarded a Stalin Prize.

In 1950, Dimschitz was appointed deputy minister of construction for heavy industry. During the Stalinist antisemitic campaign of 1948–1953, he was subjected to intense criticism for patronizing Jews at the Zaporozhstroi Trust and, in his work at the ministry, for “violating Bolshevik principles by hiring persons not deserving of being trusted politically.” Nonetheless, he retained both posts. From 1954 to 1957, Dimschitz served as deputy minister of construction for the metallurgical and chemical industries. Subsequently, from 1957 to 1959 he was chief construction engineer of the Bhilai Metallurgical Works in India. In 1959, he became head of the department of capital construction at Gosplan (the State Planning Committee) and in 1961 was appointed first deputy chairman there. From 1962 on, Dimschitz was chairman of Gosplan and simultaneously deputy chairman of the USSR Council of Ministers, a position he held until 1985.

From the 1960s until the beginning of the 1980s, Dimschitz was the only Jew to hold a high position in the government of the Soviet Union. He was also a member of the Soviet Communist Party Central Committee (1961–1986) and a deputy to the USSR Supreme Soviet (from 1962). From the beginning of the 1970s, he participated actively in the anti-Zionist campaign. He was a main figure in the press conference held by Soviet citizens of Jewish nationality on 4 March 1970, during which he defended Soviet policies and virulently attacked the State of Israel. In February 1971, he sent a letter to the Central Committee apparatus proposing measures “to defeat enemy propaganda, to attack their ideology and racist practices, and to unmask the Zionists as agents of imperialism and as enemies of the peace and the interests of the workers.” In 1985, Dimschitz retired from public service.

Dimschitz wrote many works on planning and construction, as well as a memoir, Boevoi stan. Zapiski stroitelia (Armor Mill: Notes of a Builder; 1985). In 1980, he was granted the Hero of Socialist Labor award.


  1. The photo is of Shirley’s daughter, Joanne and her husband, Rick Mazursky

  2. Sarah and her sister who fled from Vitebsk Belarus to Canada or the USA before the world war 2
    Shalom to you,

    I am trying to trace my relatives, 2 sisters from Vitebsk, who fled to Canada in 1937 (possibly until 1940). Sarah and her sister (that I don’t know her name, possibly Anna/Channa) left their parents home in Vitebsk. Their maiden name may have been Shapiro or Voikhansky/ Vaikhansky?

    In Vitebsk they lived in the house of my great grandfather Haim Ber Voikhansky : 2 Slobodskay Lane/ number -11. This was before the WAR.

    All of the family were tanners and had tanneries in Vitebsk and in Riga, Latvia. They lived in the same house as Semion ( who was born in 1881) the son of Haim with his wife Bella Abramovna and their 2

    children Yeruchim and Shifra, sister – a widow Lana Shapiro (nee Voikhansky) and 2 twin sisters Rosa and Basia Voikhansky, who were born in 1892. Perhaps Haim Ber had other childen?

    I think that the 2 sisters (Sarah and her sister) were the daughters of the widow Lana Shapiro and they were born around 1912 and 1911?

    The sisters were forced by their uncle Semion Vaikhansky to join the Communist party and therefore they escaped to Canada or the USA via Poland. They got married in Canada and had children.
    Any information will be relevant for me.

    That all the information I know.

    Thank you very much for your help,

    Dror Vaikhansky, Israel

  3. I think that One of our mutual relatives was a professor Dimshiz from Leningrad who was born in Gorodok by Vitebsk (an eye disease known doctor who treated the wounded at the front during the World War II )
    Since some Dimshitz changed their surname to Shapiro, I tend to think that he was the son of my grandfather’s sister the widow Lana Shapiro nee Woichansky….

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