This is a photo of my family in a shtetl in Russia. My great great grandfather Morris is the man in the center with the bowtie. They are posing in front of the huts they live in, but are wearing extremely fancy clothing. My grandmother believes they are in special attire for an event, possibly a wedding, Bar Mitzvah, or simply Shabbat (a weekly Jewish celebration). In the late 1910s, Morris's father and brother were killed in one of the many pogroms carried out against the Jewish communities in Russia. As a result, the rest of the family tried to leave Russia on a boat from Odessa to America. They paid for the tickets, but the captain scammed them. They were stranded in Odessa. With little money and the growing threat of violence against the Jews, Morris, his siblings, wife, and daughter (my great-grandmother) began the long trek from Odessa to Palestine. They lived in tents and my great-grandmother often recalled hearing cannons in the night. Ultimately, they made it to America and quickly adopted many American customs. I called my grandmother last week and learned that while she could understand Yiddish (a language many Eastern European Jews spoke), she was never taught to speak it. Despite the fact that my grandmother grew up speaking English and participating in American culture, she vividly remembers stories from her parents and grandparents about life in the shtetl.
– Livia Kunins-Berkowitz