These afghans were made by Sylvia Berman, my great great grandmother. She was born as Tsiveh Gordin in the 1880s in a shtetl in the small town of Rezekne, located in Czarist Russia in what is now Latvia. In 1911, Tsiveh immigrated to the United States at age 21 to marry Abraham Berman who was her childhood sweetheart. Her boat landed in Philadelphia, a smaller port than Ellis Island. They settled in Altoona, Pennsylvania, and Tsiveh Gordin began her new life as the American Sylvia Berman.
At the Berman family reunion in 1997, Sylvia’s 5 children and 18 grandchildren laid out their afghans edge to edge, a symbol of family togetherness. At first Sylvia crocheted the afghans for only her five children, but after her husband died, she surmounted her sadness by creating afghans for her grandchildren too. The process of making afghans reminded Sylvia of her family and how closely knit they were. She may have even been thinking about her family back home in Rezekne who perished in the Holocaust. The afghans were used sometimes as warmth in the bitter winter, and sometimes as mats to lie on during sunny times. No matter what, the love of family and the patterns of life were knit together by the textured, colorful yarn.
As I look at the afghans, I remember all the struggles that my family and the Jews have gone through. Even through dark and miserable times, however, we can find color and warmth through the stitches of Sylvia’s afghans.
– Alice Kandel-Zasloff