"Anthem" by Leonard Cohen

"The birds they sang at the break of day
Start again, I heard them say
Don't dwell on what has passed away
or what has yet to be...

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in"

Monday, October 20, 2008

Ellis Island:My Tribe (1997)

Ellis Island (1997)
Originally uploaded by musicmuse_ca
My daughter took this shot of me when I visited Ellis Island in 1997. I took her there so I could show her the place where my father and my grandparents came when they immigrated to the USA from Vitepsk Russia in the early part of the 20th century.

My grandfather came over first. He smuggled himself out of Russia to avoid imprisonment and being drafted. He was a follower of Trotsky, a Jew and a wanted man for his political activities. Pogroms were on the rise, but he had to leave his pregnant wife behind. It was either that or imprisonment. He fled on his own to establish himself in NYC.

At the Ellis Island site, I was able to find the record of his passage here:

The ship he took from Germany was the Grosser Kurfurst. He arrived at Ellis Island on 6/27/1912. He was 22 years old. His occupation was listed as "sailor", his race was "Hebrew". He settled in a tenement on the Lower East Side of Manhattan and eventually got a job in the garment industry.

I never knew he was a sailor! Apparently, this is how he must have worked off his passage, by becoming part of the crew. He sent for his wife, Chane and son, Abram (my dad) a year later. They made the move with his sister Liebe (22 years old), another sister Jenia (24 years old), and my great-grandfather Isak who was 57 years old at the time.

They came across from Germany on the Kaiserin Auguste Victoria, arriving at Ellis Island on July 26, 1913. Dad was 10 months old and my grandmother was 22 years old.

It is hard to imagine all that they must have gone through to make this journey, but I am very glad they did. This country has been built on the backs of immigrants and slaves and indentured servants. Whenever I get to feeling sorry for myself, I remember the sacrifices and struggles that they went through to keep things in perspective.

I guess my grandpa was a "socialist" and my dad an original "red-diaper" baby. Grandpa was also a kind man, not at all religious but he lived by many of the Jewish traditions he was raised in.

I don't know about others, but I am proud of the many "tribes" that are part of my heritage. Isn't that what the strength of diversity is all about?

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