Understanding our ancestral connections, our family’s genealogical roots and their stories constitutes the foundation of our very being. We can truly appreciate where we’re going when we know – and appreciate – where we’ve been. Honoring our heritage is honoring our past, and honoring our past is honoring our future. I believe in the phrase “it’s in the genes” and that we should think about our heritage, listen to stories about it, tell stories about it and write about it. This is what I did in this story from my book, “Pathfinding,” told to me by my late father.
“In Czarist Russia, most Jews were orthodox, and Jewish boys attended their own schools, called yeshivas. There was a military draft for all boys of military age. When Jewish boys were drafted into the Czar’s army, they were treated as inferiors. They could not obtain Kosher foods. So it wasn’t surprising that many of the Jewish boys facing military service left Russia before they could be drafted. Where did they go? They went to America.
“Your grandfather, as a youth, traveled all over Siberia. He was an entrepreneur and a salesman, so it wasn’t surprising that when he faced the draft he decided to leave Russia and go to America. He sewed $500 into the lining of his coat. That is all that he owned. He kissed his mother goodbye, said goodbye to his friends and left for America.
“At that time there was an underground that operated throughout Europe, and it was able to spirit Jewish boys from town to town westward until they got to the German border. Once they got to Germany, they could board a ship that was bound for America.
“Your grandfather got all the way across Poland, and at the last Jewish outpost of the underground there was a family who had an eligible daughter. Her father took a fancy to your grandfather and demanded that he marry his daughter. But your grandfather didn’t want to marry his daughter. They threatened him that if he didn’t marry her, they would turn him in to the authorities. So during that night, he sneaked out and escaped.
“He made his own way across Germany, got on a ship from Germany and came to New York. Later when he settled in America, he brought some of his family over, including your great-grandmother. Your great-grandfather died in Russia. Your grandfather left New York and came to Boston with the help of people he knew from the old country. There he started his own business and proceeded to raise his own family.”
I would have never known this piece of my heritage if I had not asked my father for this glimpse into my history (nor would I have been here to write this story). It helped me to understand the strength of my origins and the courage that was handed down to me.
I believe that by sharing our family stories we honor our own heritage and legacy. We establish the links for passing family torches from generation to generation and realize that what we do in our own lives has far-reaching and long-lasting effects.
A quote by Niels Bohr sums it up: “Life can only be understood backward, but it must be lived forward.”
PATRICIA RASKIN, M.ED. is an award winning producer and host of “The Patricia Raskin Show” on Saturday at 4 p.m. on WPRO, AM 630/99.7 FM. She is a recipient of the 2015 RI Small Business Administration Award. She is a board member of Temple Emanu-El.