Family Ties … from New York to Odessa

Violetta, a New Yorker who is JDC’s Ralph I. Goldman Fellow working with the Jewish community in Odessa, recently had the opportunity to blog about her heartening reunion with her great-aunt, an Odessa resident. This family visit presents another reminder about the importance of JDC’s Jewish renewal work in the former Soviet Union and how one Jewish family, oceans apart, view their identity and traditions. Young Jews are increasingly interested in global service and Violetta, through JDC’s prestigious Ralph I. Goldman Fellowship, has become one of many who are heeding the call to serve those in need through JDC programs.

“It is hard to be in Odessa, realizing that for over 70 years this city as most of the FSU suppressed any kind of active Jewish life or memory ... Why than am I sitting having tea with my great-Aunt who never left this city and being questioned on my “Jewishness”. I couldn’t help wondering at loud why they had decided to send my cousins to Jewish Schools v. Public Schools in Odessa. It is the same question I pose to my grandmother back in New York when she attends synagogue for Shabbat Services. How do you know you are Jewish if your entire life you weren’t allowed to know or practice? In the over fifty years my grandmother lived in Odessa, she never once stepped foot into a synagogue. My grandmother’s only Jewish memory was when she was a child going to her grandmother’s house on Friday nights, seeing her close the curtains, light candles, say something in a language she did not understand, and eating apple pie—she didn’t know what was Jewish about that tradition but she knew it was other-thus Jewish. Yet on arriving in New York in the late 70’s her first destination was a synagogue...Why? How did she know? Her answer always astounds me...Even if it was never said out loud she always knew she was a Jew (even if in Odessa, it was just being other). As she says ‘only in America could I actualize it but I always knew, it was always in my heart—I was a Jew.’”



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