A Family Story

My father’s family came to America, specifically to the Lower East Side of Manhattan, around 1896, from Novogrudok, Belarus. It’s a common story, I learned earlier this week that a classmate’s family came to the US from Minsk, Belarus, at almost the same time. My brother is our family historian, so he might correct me, but my understanding is that where they lived was part of Russia at the time, and Czar Nicholas had levied a draft on the Jewish community where the boys who were drafted were forced into twenty or so years in the army.
So one of my great-grandmother’s brothers was drafted, and the family dropped everything and fled to America. They were tavern-keepers in Novogrudok, and I’m not sure how the first generation supported themselves in New York, except that it involved teenage daughters working in garment factories (that would be sweatshops).
It worked out for the best in many ways, of the grown children and other relatives that stayed behind, one branch eventually made it to Palestine; the rest, in my grandmother’s words, were “butchered, all of them” in the holocaust.
I don’t know why it took me so long, but it hit me yesterday while sitting on a bus in Tel Aviv, the similarities between my family fleeing to America, and many of the Eritreans who flee to Israel, who are fleeing a repressive government and unlimited terms of conscription into the Eritrean army.
Except my family could flee to a place that would take them in.

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