AN IMMIGRANT’S STORY: After Ellis Island

My family, like so many Jews fleeing persecution and harm, arrived in the U.S. scarred and having survived trauma. This was the early 1900s.

I can imagine their enormous relief and gratitude to arrive in the United States and be allowed to stay.  Of course my grandparents would likely have been killed in the Shoah if they had not made it to the U.S. Possibly too, they would not have made it alive through the Eastern Europe pograms before that.

By the time my mother was born, her parents had been in the U.S. for a few years. They were extremely poor, yet they were still very grateful to be here. America was a safe haven for them. This early to mid 1900’s America had its challenges (the depression, prejudice, discrimination). However, like human beings, no nation is perfect and America was a beacon of safety, freedom and hope for mine and so many families.

My mother’s father worked for a jeweler earning very meager wages. My mom would tell me how they ate potatoes for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and how her mother would cut a hole in the top and bottom of the potato sacks, sew a few seams, and those would be her dresses. I could tell she was ashamed of these stories.

I don’t know many of their struggles both practical and emotional. I do know the great fear my mom carried. Fear of becoming a victim of violence. When I look back on her life, I can only imagine how absolutely terrifying and bone chilling, not to mention devastatingly sad, it must have been to learn that six million Jewish people, plus countless people of other faiths, had been systematically murdered.  Not seventy plus years ago. But to their “now”. Add to that, learning of the goal to wipe every single Jewish woman, man and child off the face of the earth…I cannot imagine. 

This is what my mother and father, and yours woke to. How does anyone make sense of that, continue to believe in G-d, have hope and feel safe in the world? 

On the psyches of these millions of American Jews and their immigrated parents, what affect did learning of this Holocaust have? It’s mind boggling now, over seventy years later. How mind numbing it must have been on the ground. Keep in mind, there was no Israel to which to go. Israel as a country did not yet exist.

Today we have myriads of therapies, PTSD resources, mental health workshops, life coaching, etc.

Then…what did they have? 

Very little.

So this generation soldiered on. They went to school and work the next day. They did what they had to do to function and not lose their minds.

As an adult, my mother, while vibrant and funny (really really funny), was very afraid. She would warn me against strangers stopping me on the streets, tell me to run screaming into the street if a stranger approached, she’d read me stories from the newspaper of bad things happening to people, tell me that everyone hates the Jews, and most pointedly, she would tell me that G-d hated the Jews. I am so unsure if I will reveal this part. If you are reading it, then I did. 

She’d refer to the Holocaust, and a G-d that allowed it to happen. This thought must have reverberated through millions of Jewish people’s minds. Then and now.

When I think back to her warnings and in many ways, her hopeless outlook, I can empathize with how she might have reached this point.

AND YET, she married, she had children, she continued life, and though she seemed to lose faith in G-d, she chose life. She continued to hold a strong Jewish identity. As hopeless as she might of felt about G-d, she continued the life cycle. Now here we are. 

Had my grandparents stayed in Russia, my mom might never have been. Had my mom chosen not to bring children into the world, I would not be here.

As for me now, a mom of two awesome young men, the rubber meets the road. I cannot imagine this world without my two sons. I am biased, but I know they bring something irreplaceably spectacular to this world (as we all do). And they would not be here if…

Thank you Mom.

Lastly, thank you Allies for risking and giving up your lives, for saving us. Thank you soldiers at Normandy, who rushed into enemy fire knowing many would lose their lives, and did. Thank you to all the soldiers and Veterans fighting for freedom and goodness. We would be lost without you. Most especially thank you to G-d.

How can say I thank you and trust G-d? I discuss that throughout my writing. It’s taken a lot of work to get here. Now I am here with everything I have.  ©

Love, Vivi

p.s. Do you know your family’s story? I’d love to hear!  Please feel free to add your thoughts in the comments below. It would be wonderful to get to know you a bit. 💖

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24 thoughts on “AN IMMIGRANT’S STORY: After Ellis Island

  1. Karen says:

    I love this. And admire you for taking the time to document not only what happened, but the heart and soul and feelings behind it all. That’s what forms us, from generation to generation. Beautifully written my friend. And I knew you back when. Please keep it going ❤️

  2. Malkie says:

    I enjoyed reading your post and look forward to reading more! You describe the beauty in pain so eloquently. A concept so complex is written so simply making it so understandable and relatable. Thank you for sharing!

  3. Carrie McIe says:

    Maybe this is even more special because we were kids together and I vividly remember sitting in your kitchen and talking to your mom and dad, I loved that! My memory was that your mom was funny and caring and your dad had a twinkle in his eye when he’d walk by and say hello. If only we could go back for a day here and there. I’m so glad you posted the blog, I’m going to love following it. Thank you for sharing it.

    • Vivi says:

      Carrie, Thank you for bringing those times back to life! Being in touch with dear friends from the past gives me a lift, and I feel a bit of that young fun and lightheartedness! So glad to have you along on this.:)

  4. Shelli says:

    This is beautiful and including the question about G-d is deeply human and real. Glad you did. We all wrestle with this question within the circumstances of our lives. I ask, in such desperate times can we do anything but cling to our only Hope…? Even with the questions, the doubts, the disappointments.

    • Vivi says:

      Shelli, Thank you for your words. Yes, the question seems to be our universal challenge. When others have shared and named the same doubts in their lives, it has helped me.

  5. Shelley Gutstein says:

    Your blog is masterfully written and flows easily from one part to the next. What you wrote resonated with many of the stories my own father told me about the time when he, at about age 6, and his family arrived in New York from Ottynia (now Ukraine). I look forward to reading your next installment.

    • Vivi says:

      Shelly, I am so appreciative of your encouragement and to know of your personal connection. Thank you for sharing a bit of your own story. 🙂

  6. Laura Romstedt says:

    Thank you for sharing your past and present, your history, memories, and your thoughts about your “today.”

  7. Linda says:

    How many of us came from backgrounds like this? My children grew up without feeling persecuted but I’m not sure that is true in the world we live in today.

    • Vivi says:

      Yes, persecution does not discriminate. So many can relate to this, regardless of our differences. Thank you so much Linda for your comment.

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