Left: the closed locket. Right: photos of Max and Sarah Esther inside.
Left: the closed locket. Right: photos of Max and Sarah Esther inside.

In my bar mitzvah photos, my mom, Sarah, has one hand on my shoulder while the other clutches a locket around her neck. She received the locket on her wedding day from her grandma Anne. Behind its obsidian shell are photos of Anne’s father Max and her mother Sarah, for whom my mom is named. Anne was born in 1901 near St. Petersburg, Russia. 6 months later, her parents emigrated with their children and reached Ellis Island. Upon arrival, “disaster struck,” according to the memoir Anne wrote before she passed at the age of 104. Everyone was admitted except Sarah, whom authorities diagnosed with trachoma—an eye disease that barred her from entering. “There she was,” Anne wrote, “28 years old, turned away from the promised land with her two little girls, from whom she refused to be separated.” Refuse she did. Sarah took her daughters to Canada and parted with Max who would wait for her in New York, as they had decided together. Aided by strangers, Sarah and her daughters were smuggled across the border and reunited with Max on the Lower East Side. Their family experienced the trauma of separation, which sadly remains a common aspect of the American immigrant experience. In this sense, the locket is more than an heirloom; it’s a thread that has kept the fabric of our family together in spite of moments when it seemed certain to be torn apart. It binds one Sarah to another across generations, and it reminds me of the debt that I owe to the women whose sacrifices brought me here.

Place(s): Russia, Canada, New York
Year: 1901

– Andrew Wofford

Relationship:  Great-grandchild of im/migrant or more Great-grandchild of im/migrant or more