(This article was originally published by The Times of Israel on Feb. 27, 2015)
I recently heard the song “Anatevka” from the film “Fiddler on the Roof” on the radio. As soon as I heard the song, my mind became flooded with the history of the Jewish people –– and the fact that anti-semitism is alive and thriving throughout the world. I once again started wondering if it was time for my family and I to relocate to another country, in order to stay alive as my ancestors did a little over a hundred years ago.
Though the lives of American Jews living in the US has been much easier then it had been for my ancestors; who were forced to reside within “The Pail of Settlement” during the time of czarist Russia (between the years of 1835-1917). As we all know, history has a tendency of repeating itself.
The fear for many Jews, is that our safe haven within the borders of the United States could be taken away from us within moments notice. That once again we could be rounded up and slaughtered.
My mind has been flooded with conversations my family would have while I was growing up regarding the decision my paternal great-grandparents made to leave Motele, Russia in the early 1900s. I was told the last straw was when my great-uncle was turned away from entering medical school because he was a Jew.
Sholom Polin, who was my great-grandfather, was a university trained medical doctor. He had a thriving practice, a beautiful home and was highly respected in his community. When my great-uncle Abe, was refused admission to medical school because of our faith, my great-grandparents had the insight to know much more was coming. They made the decision to sell their home along with all the family’s possessions, so that they could move to Chicago –– in hopes of keeping their children safe.
Over the years I heard countless stories from people sharing their personal stories of how my great-grandfather saved their lives. Not only because he was a doctor, it was because he encouraged others to leave Motele with my family –– in hopes of saving their lives too. In his gut Sholom knew much more was coming and wanted to save the lives of his friends, neighbors and other community members. Sadly, Sholom’s fears that more hate against Jews was correct. The destruction of the town he loved, became reality in 1941.
I remember several years ago while working on my families genealogy, finding the story of my grandfather’s hometown in the book “The Destruction of Motele”, which was originally published in Yiddish back in 1956. The horrors of what occurred really hit home, when I saw my great-grandfather’s name mentioned in the book (Shalom the doctor).
My maternal grandfather’s family was not as fortunate in their journey to America as my paternal grandfather’s. I remember reading a letter sent by a great-aunt who shared the story how the family had to hide in the stalls of a non-Jewish neighbors pig farm just outside of Kishinev for months, prior to finding safe passage to the United States. My maternal grandfather was around five years old, when he and his family went into hiding. I can’t even begin to imagine the horrors they experienced and saw during the pogrom in Kishinev back in 1903.
Though my family has been living in the United States for over a hundred years, and the fact that neither one of my grandmothers ever experienced the horrors that went on in Europe (since they both were born in Chicago); the fear of what could happen in a moment’s notice has been embedded in my families DNA, including mine.
With the increase of anti-semitism not only overseas, yet in the United States too, I find repeatedly asking myself, what would Sholom Polin do?