“Gut morgen, Yacov.”
Her brown eyes twinkled at the little blond boy as he rubbed his eyes sleepily. Snuggled into her lap he peeked around her shawl to see the boat full of people and cows. Always cows.
“How much longer, Mama?”, he asked. “Ach du, I cannot say. But soon we will be there. Soon.”
Yacov looked anxiously around until he could see his father, Michael and his brother Emmanuel crouched on the floor playing a game. His older sisters were still sleeping in at Mama’s feet.
“Such a long trip,” sighed Mama. They’d been on the road for weeks. She remembered the gray morning when they packed all they could into a cart and left their small home near Odessa. They left a town that had kept them for 4 generations. they left family behind. They left to escape the Bolsheviks; they left to find a new life for their six children. They left to find America.
Yacov became Jacob and somewhere along the line Yiddish became “niedrig Deutscher” or low German. My siblings and I grew up as proud Germans from Russia. Any mention to the contrary was mocked and ridiculed. But what do you do with the pictures of Great Grandma and her headscarf? With “ach du” and “kneplah” and the other Yiddish phrases that were part of my family story?
When particularly frustrated, Grandma Glaser would always say, “Mensch und kind!” Apparently men and children were her constant frustration. Well, I would give her that. She had 9 children and a gruff, pipe smoking husband who never did speak English clearly. She called him Jake.
Aunt Colleen insisted we were Jewish. “Our heritage should not be forgotten” was her constant reminder.
And now here I am, October 2006. 89 years after Great-Grandpa brought his family through war torn eastern Europe and onto a cattle boat. They crossed the Atlantic Ocean. 82 years after they found a homestead in North Dakota, 72 years after my father was born in Hardin, Montana.
What do I do with this heritage?
I have a story of my family both familiar and tender. But now seen through much different eyes. Is it that my great-grandparents were secular? Or were they just very afraid? We can’t comprehend the fear of extermination, extreme prejudice. We can’t understand the hope of a new beginning where you can transform from an outsider to a bona fide American with a signature.
Generations ago, in the late 1700’s, the family migrated to Ukraine from Germany. Better farmland was sought as crops failed from a miserable winter.
Three generations ago my grandfather traveled through Ellis Island.
Today I am part of a messianic congregation. I am slowly learning smidgens of Hebrew and long to return to Israel. My children wear kippot and we keep the Sabbath.
Would Great-great Grandpa be proud?
Yesterday I celebrated Yom Kippur, the Yizkor and thought of Jacov and Alvina, Michael and Emmanuel.
Isaiah 49:15 says, “”Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!”
It is humbling and awesome to think that Adonai has remembered me. Has placed me here, at this point in time to see Yeshua as Messiah. I long to return to Israel, the land that my fathers left so long ago. So, I pray. Yehi Ratzon, may it be Your will.