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Wednesday’s Work-in-Progress: Diaspora, Part Deux

My paternal grandfather’s parents. Their history–and questions I’ve always had about that history–helped generate my story “Matrilineal Descent.”

This past weekend I traveled to Columbus, Ohio, for a family Bat Mitzvah.

Exactly five years ago, I also traveled to Columbus, also for a Bat Mitzvah (celebrating the elder sister of this weekend’s star). These are my cousin Nancy’s daughters; Nancy is a cousin through my paternal grandfather (her grandmother and my grandfather were siblings, children of the couple in the photograph to the left). So their ancestors, too, are part of the history behind my story collection, Quiet Americans, particularly in the case of the book’s second story, “Matrilineal Descent.”

The visit five years ago inspired my prose poem, “Diaspora,” which I hope you’ll revisit. I thought of “Diaspora” again this weekend, when Nancy mentioned that family members had traveled from 11 states (and from Brazil and Canada) to witness this milestone in the Midwest.

And I’m hoping that another piece of writing will emerge, someday, from something very special about this second Bat Mitzvah in Columbus.

Here’s the gist: Only recently did I learn something remarkable about the emigration from Germany of my great-aunt Bella (Nancy’s grandmother). By the time Bella left, both my grandfather and their younger brother had immigrated to the United States. Bella, though, was headed to Mandatory Palestine. She left Germany in 1938, and when she did, she was asked to bring with her a Torah scroll from their village congregation.

That Torah thus spent many years in Israel. Then, when Bella and her husband and daughter immigrated to the United States in 1956, the Torah came with them. When that branch of the family eventually settled in West Virginia, the Torah moved there, too. For decades, it was housed within the local synagogue. But that synagogue has closed, and so the Torah was brought to Columbus last week–where Nancy’s younger daughter read from it.

I don’t want to say too much more about this right now, in part because I am still sorting out a lot of emotions about seeing this Torah a few days ago, and in part because I do want to write something else on this subject once my thoughts sort themselves out. But the images and ideas are most powerful.

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3 Responses »

  1. Erika,

    I just read your above story and it almost brought tears to my eyes. And then I read your poems, and they *did* bring tears. How your story is my story is all of our stories.

    As I head to Dallas tomorrow to celebrate the bar mitzvah of my step-nephew, and how my Dad and I are sponsoring a brunch in honor of his step-grandmother, my Dad’s second wife, Phyllis, alev ha’shalom.

    And when I thanked his Mom last week for letting me sponsor the brunch in honor of this woman who was related by blood by neither of us, but by heart and deed to both of us, and we cried together, missing her, remembering her. And I said none of us are blood-related. And she reminded me that we are all family, and some of us happen to share blood ties in common.

    My mother, of blessed memory, always bemoaned the fact that our family was so small. And as I find kindred connections through the internet, I am reminded how we are all mishpochah. Thank you for the courage it takes to yank the words from your heart and position them on the page, for all of us to share with you.

  2. You look so much like your great grandmother!

  3. Thank you both for your comments!

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