27 Oct Shtetl Cousins Meet Iron-Curtain Cousins
Genealogists Are Kin
Another speaking event passed with flying colors (even if I say so myself). This time it was the Jewish Genealogical Society of Illinois (JGSI) that invited me to speak at its monthly meeting on October 22.
A company of genealogists is an instant family. Faces, names, stories – everything is heimish. Stories flow and each is a saga, novel-ready, movie-worthy, familiar. When one builds a legacy, no detail is insignificant. Years ago, one researcher complained bitterly that her late mother had lost sleep over choices for senators and presidents but dismissed questions about family. “So,” she said, “I’ve spent years just to learn my great-grandparents names.”
Blending a Family
In the audience were those, or children of those, who took part in the Save Soviet Jews movement that fought for and gained freedom for us, their kin that had stayed behind in what would become the Soviet Union. The many decades of Soviet isolation and brainwashing shaped a different mindset – the shtetl cousins are only now beginning to realize that that mindset would have been theirs had their grandparents not chosen the Ellis Island route when they did.
Sharing experiences of everyday Soviet life and of the struggle to emigrate and projecting images that illustrated these experiences helped. Like one woman said, “I heard that there were lines for food but I didn’t understand how it really was.”
The thoughtful comments and eager conversations made this event as gratifying as a family reunion. One complaint — not enough time.
The next JGSI meeting is on November 19. Details here. Do come.