One Family, Two Paths

In 1906, a Jewish woman from a small village in Czarist White Russia traveled to the big city of Bialystok.
She suffered from glaucoma and came to consult with a renowned eye specialist, Dr. Leon Pines.
While there, a terrible pogrom broke out. Cossacks on white horses rode through the streets slashing Jews with their swords wherever they could find them. When there were too few Jews to kill on the streets they began to break into homes.

The woman took her five year old son, wrapped him tightly in blankets, urged him not to make a sound no matter what, and closed him in the wardrobe closet. Cossacks broke into the room and finding nothing of value they beat the woman leaving her left arm paralyzed for the rest of her life. They did not discover the little boy who had been hidden by his mother and they left the room with ugly Russian curses to the frightened Jewish mother.

The mayor of Bialystok in 1906 was a Polish Catholic who was known for cordial relations with the Jews of his city, He pleaded with the Cossacks not to harm them and he offered protection to many. When the Cossacks departed, the streets of Bialystok were masses of rubble. Torn prayer-books were scattered everywhere, many covered in blood. Hundreds of Jewish corpses lay on the streets. The sight of devastation and the beating caused to his mother remained with that five year old boy until he died years later at the age of seventy-nine.

Back in the shtetl, the husband and his brother conferred together and concluded that it would be best for them to leave Russia. There was one serious problem. According to Czarist Russian law, a number of Jews from each village had to be conscripted for twenty years of military service. Often they were taken from their parents at the age of ten and were shipped hundreds of miles from their homes. Most children never saw their parents again. And most, who were forcibly converted, forgot that once they had been Jews.

It was necessary to deceive the Russian officers by giving false names. One brother retained his family name and the second went to the local Jewish cemetery and chose the family name of a deceased Jew.

Two years passed without incident. There were no further pogroms and Jewish life retained its vitality.
But the two brothers continued their plans to leave. The one who retained his family name left first in 1909 and traveled overland to a Baltic seaport from where he, his wife and five children sailed to Palestine, arriving at the port of Jaffa.

A quota had been set by the Ottoman Turkish regime on the number of Jews who could be admitted into Palestine, a small portion of the vast Ottoman empire.
And so, all the members of the family had to be smuggled in sacks of potatoes which were unloaded by Jaffa Arabs and dumped on the shore.

Much of that story ends here. I do not recall how they got out of the potato sacks, found their way into Jaffa and secured a place to live. A few years later they moved into the new all-Jewish city of Tel-Aviv where they lived until deportation in 1916 by the Turks to Egypt, returning only in 1918 after General Allenby and his British troops entered victoriously into Palestine and drove out the Turks.

With the Turks gone, Palestine became subject to the British Mandatory government which ruled until 1948 when the Jewish forces drove them out of Palestine and proclaimed the new State of Israel. The youngsters in the family grew, were successful in business, married and led happy lives.

Back in the shtetl of Czarist Russia, the mother who had been paralyzed in the 1906 Bialystok pogrom, packed the belongings of her two oldest daughters and arranged for them to travel to Hamburg, Germany, to set sail for Liverpool, England, and from there to make their way to America where relatives had settled some years earlier.

In 1911, she, her husband and the four younger children, all with assumed family names, traveled the same route and arrived in America one week before Pesach 1911. The youngest child, a girl two years old, remained at home with her mother. The two older daughters who had arrived earlier had learned some English and found work as seamstresses in a factory and were able to support their newly-arrived family.

The young children were placed in an elementary school and when the school day ended the two boys stood on street corners peddling newspapers, shoe laces and fly paper. They were happy as a family together in the new world but the husband longed for his brother in Palestine. They would never meet again.

The four daughters were eventually married. The elder son became a lawyer and the younger son, a doctor. They raised up Jewish children in traditional Jewish homes. One of the brothers was more religiously observant than the other and he provided his sons with a superior Jewish education. The older of his two sons was fluent Hebrew speaking and first arrived in Israel in 1951.

In 1958, in Israel, the son was listening to a radio broadcast in Rishon Lezion and learned that families could be located after the war by providing a search for lost relatives. Remembering the original family name, he contacted the broadcasting service the next day.

One day later a man from Tel-Aviv arrived with his son at the home in Rishon. With them they carried old photos of the two brothers and the families from Russia more than fifty years ago. It had been fifty years since the families had heard from one another or even knew of the existence of each other, one in Israel and the other in America.

From America, one of the older daughters flew to Israel to be re-united with her Israeli cousins. The next year, one of the Israeli cousins flew to America to be re-united with her father’s family.

Many hugs, embraces, kisses, tears of greatest joy. One family on two paths had been re-united. Only a very small part of both families remains alive today. Once again, both family names were changed into Hebrew Israeli names. But the embraces, the hugs and the kisses still remain when we both meet.

About the Author
Esor Ben-Sorek is a retired professor of Hebrew, Biblical literature & history of Israel. Conversant in 8 languages: Hebrew, Yiddish, English, French, German, Spanish, Polish & Dutch. Very proud of being an Israeli citizen. A follower of Trumpeldor & Jabotinsky & Begin.
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