I barely knew my great-grandfather’s name when I spoke to my grandmother about his violin. After speaking to my grandmother, I learned that Jacob Silverblatt was born in 1888 in Grodno, White Russia, which is in modern day Belarus. In 1903, Jacob immigrated to Pittsburgh alone, taking very little, aside from his chestnut hued violin. When my Grandmother was 13, she too started to play the violin, serving as the first violinist in her school’s orchestra.
Three of my four grandparents are second and third generation Americans, and my fourth grandparent, who immigrated from Germany in 1938, rarely speaks of his experiences; he only refers to his experiences in America, such as his time at Columbia University and rabbinic positions in New York. As a result, I rarely hear about my family’s time in Europe and know very little about their background. Additionally, since the musical gene proved not to be genetic, the violin became functionally obsolete, as none of grandmother’s 13 kids or 48 grandchildren continued playing the violin. In fact, I did not know it existed until just last week. Although the violin itself is not so significant to me, the message it sent-- the degree to which I am disconnected from my roots and history-- will be significant to me for the rest of my life. While familial artifacts generally foster a feeling of closeness, the violin highlights my distance from my family's heritage and the work I must do to fill in the gaps.
– Kira Dennis