Day 7+8: I Learned the Cyrillic Alphabet and I All I Got Was a Desperate Urge to Learn More About My Jewish Origins
Ayooooo!!!! Welcome back, my friends! Today, I'll be teaching you that you too can learn a new alphabet in a manner of days. Hint: It helps if you were/are a member of the *exclusive* University Greek community. That is, you're a srat star who somehow managed to pay attention during your regularly scheduled drunk wander home through the frat quads. And where do we go from there if not up, to the north, where Russia is located?
First, there is A, which would be our A. Then there is B, which is actually V. B is followed by C, which is actually S. H is really N, while P is really R, and here's the fun part... Δ is D! Φ is F! Λ is L! Congrats! Your dues didn't just go towards lifelong friendship, but also towards learning an extremely confusing script as well! (I kid, I kid...)
Now that you're comfortable with the alphabet, we'll get to why I came to Belarus in the first place, because it is literally everyone's first question.
I'm not sure when the majority of families came to the United States. Do most people's lineages stem from the 19th century Italian and Irish migrations? Or do they hail from Civil War era assholery, either as racists or because of the racists? Could America's current genetic makeup consist mostly of recent immigrants? Technically, we are all recent immigrants, if you look at time immemorial.
For Ashkenazic Jews, there are basically three factions. You saw trouble coming and left Europe before the war, you were left behind and escaped during the war, or your family survived and only immigrated after the war. My paternal grandmother's side came in 1903, so we fall into pool #1.
The daughter of Gussie and Zalman Wasserman, Taube (Tova) Fagel, married Sholom Rubacha (later Rubin, thanks to anti-semetic Irish/Canadian/U.S. officials). These great-great grandparents of mine gave birth to Sam Rubin, who came to America via Liverpool in 1903 before the rest of the fam arrived in 1910. Sam Rubin and the entire Wasserman/Rubacha clans both hailed from the southwestern Belorussian town Pinsk.
Young n' Belorussian.
The Taube Fagel Wasserman/Sholom Rubacha fam. The baby is shushing your cries of, "I really don't care about all this, Dani."
When Sam came to Chicago (CHI-CITY MY CITY), he met Anna Pomerantz and they shacked up and had four children, including my Grandma Gish (named after Gussie!). I'm sure Taube and Sholom were amped to find out Anna was Belorussian too, having been born and raised in Minsk!
Are you starting to get the picture?
My brother visited Belarus ten years ago. As far as I know, he and I are the only descendants of Gussie and Zalman to have made the pilgrimage back to the "Old Country." The family tree spans five pages of a word doc, so I can't be too sure, but I know previous generations were discouraged from visiting Pinsk due to its relative proximity to Chernobyl.
Unfortunately, I haven't been able to make any headway into finding my family's birth or marriage records from their days here. The National Archives asks for a hefty fee for research. A knowledge of the Russian alphabet only helps so much, and I can't get very far when I'm unable to pronounce pretty much everything I read.
I'm disappointed, but not too surprised. World War II leveled the entire city of Minsk, leaving it to Stalin to rebuild as he wished. The country went from a population of over 50% Jewish to less than 1%. While the Poles have made it a point to help Jews trace their Polish lineage, the Belorussians have turned the process into what my cousin called a "cash business."
Oh well! I met Lilia (high school BFF) at the Minsk train station before we departed for Poland today. Expect bittersweetness in the coming blogs. Though we're unbelievably excited to spend time together, the first few days of our union will be riddled with visits to concentration camps, Holocaust memorials and Jewish ghettos.
But first, here are some pics from Banff and Jasper that may keep you from swearing off this blog forever.
Ciao! LMAO ;)