For many of today's Jews, our ancestral history is shrouded in mystery.  Of course, European and Russian Jews, whose ancestors were likely to be Jewish Nazi Victims during the Holocaust (Shoah), spring immediately to mind.  At least, they do for me, since that's where my family hails from.

I knew my maternal grandparents were dedicated to aiding the US Army in liberating Europe during WWII. They sponsored several Holocaust survivors to emigrate to the United States, and remained lifelong friends with them.  This wartime experience was to colour their entire lives - my grandfather would never board a plane!

I remember my grandfather's basement CB radio setup.  As a child, I was fascinated when he would turn on that machine and suck me into his world, so much bigger than my own, even while secreted in a room the size of a small closet.  The walls were plastered top to bottom with CB coded postcards from around the world, cards from people my grandfather, whom I called Pepa, had spoken with through his radio.  I was fascinated when he put a call out on his radio and we got responses from people around the world! From that basement in Long Island, New York, I was transported to the Caribbean, to Europe, and even to Australia. 

Those, of course, were the days before the Internet shrunk our world.  Those were the days when international calls were shockingly expensive and in any event, how would I have come into contact with anyone overseas anyway?  Making friends with a child in another state seemed exotic enough.

Of my family history, though, I knew little, and (being a child) appreciated even less.  My grandmother (my Mema) was one of eleven children and I met some of her siblings.  From the long-lived Aunt Trudy to the inimitable Uncle Sam (how American can you get?), I knew some of my extended family, but beyond them I didn't know much - and honestly didn't think to ask.

As I grew older, I became curious and started asking questions.  Time was running out.  As I was growing up, my grandparents were growing older.  I didn't have time to learn much from my Mema.

One story I do remember her telling is about her mother - my great-grandmother, Rivka.  She emigrated to the US from Europe as a teenager, one of only two children in her family to do so.  It's no surprise they chose her as one of the most likely to be successful in a new country! She had spunk and attitude.  She had grit.  From Europe, her cousins wrote her not to forget them.

I'm overly proud of one story about Rivka.  They lived on a farm and of course in the spring, summer, and autumn months there was plenty of produce to sell.  But in the bitterly cold and snowy winters, the only produce they had to sell was the cheese left curing in the shed.  It wasn't exactly enough to live on with such a big family of children to feed!  These were the days of prohibition, so, with extra corn produced during the summer months, my great-grandmother began running moonshine.  It was certainly a lucrative business venture, but the cops were onto her.  They knew someone in the area was running a moonshine still and concluded that farm was the only possible source.  So one day the police came to raid the farm.  Rivka, ever the gracious hostess, invited them to inspect anything they like.  Claiming "womanly pains" she settled herself on a barrel in the barn to watch as the police opened and checked out every single barrel in the place.  They found nothing and went away disappointed.  With distinct biblical echoes, my great-grandmother left her perch - she had been sitting on the single barrel of mash!

Lucky Rivka made it to America - but the majority of her family remained behind and later perished in the Holocaust.  Some extended family survived and a cousin of mine referred me to this website, detailing the history of our family:

Getting to read stories like this connects me to my roots.  It gives me great empathy for the Survivors we work with here at COA and emphasises the importance of family.  I'm looking forward to learning more as time goes on!