Throughout the Omer, we will be featuring stories of refugees and immigrants from within the BJ community. Religiously and spiritually, the counting of the Omer carries us from Redemption to Revelation. We tell our own stories and remember that there are those in this world still unredeemed, still awaiting even the possibility of Revelation.
By Peninnah Schram
My mother, Dora Manchester (née Markman), came from Vitebsk Gubernia in White Russia. In 1923, her father, already in America, sent for his wife and daughter. Together, my mother and my grandmother began the journey to America. However, when they arrived in Cherbourg, France, to take a ship to New York, the quota for immigrants had already been established. Jewish immigrants had to wait for openings to continue their journeys. It was 1926 by the time the Markman family was reunited in America, where they lived in a railroad apartment in Harlem. My mother got a job in a tie factory and went to night school to learn English. Read more »
By Ruth Jarmul
Every Friday night, we light our Shabbat candles on a small silver tray that says in German, “From a grateful patient, 1937.” My mother and her family were able to flee Nazi Germany on the eve of Kristallnacht because my grandfather’s brother, who lived in Chicago, was permitted to sponsor them. The tray is from a non-Jewish patient of my grandfather, who was a beloved family doctor. As I grew up, my mother rarely talked about what had happened to her in Nazi Germany before she left at age twelve. I think she wanted to move past that experience. As a proud and grateful American, she was secure in her belief that America would never allow such a thing to happen here. But occasionally, as I grew older, she shared stories of how the Nazis came to power. Read more »
By Gail Ressler
My mother, Bella Najman, was born in 1928 in Nowe Miasto, Poland, to an observant Jewish family consisting of her grandmother, parents, sister, and four brothers. With the invasion of Poland in 1939, the relative freedom they enjoyed came to an end.
Nowe Miasto was enclosed as a ghetto in 1941. Bella and her family moved into her grandmother’s home, crowded with people from neighboring towns. The ghetto was liquidated in 1942 and the Jews were transported by train to Auschwitz. Most of the family perished upon arrival or soon thereafter. My mother’s older sister, Selma, looked after my mother in every way she was able. Mom and Selma were sent to Czechoslovakia as the Russians approached. They worked long hours in a factory, making airplane parts. One day, the boss announced that the war was over and they were free to go! Incredulous, they tried to understand the implications. Mom and Selma traveled back to Nowe Miasto, but it was too dangerous to stay. They traveled to a DP camp in Germany, where Selma met and married Morris Schwarzman. Read more »
By Susan Thal
“HELLO REFUGEES!” This was my father’s emphatic greeting upon entering many social gatherings, gatherings that were almost exclusively composed of other German-Jewish refugees, most of whom had been able to leave Germany in the 1930s. As a child in Washington Heights, it seemed that we were all refugee families. The neighborhood was bursting with robust, upwardly mobile young families who gathered in the playground or at the beach in the summer. Read more »
By Rabbi Sarit Horwitz
My zayde, Leon Cooper z”l, used to tell a story from an algebra class that he took when in high school. The teacher gave him a problem that offered a particular distance from home to first base and another from second to third. The question asked, “Assuming these measurements are accurate, what is the distance from home to second base?” My zayde responded quickly to the teacher and answered the question perfectly. Then he turned to her and asked, “What is a base?”
Truth is, my zayde didn’t really know what “home” was then either. Read more »