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Saturday, October 26, 2013


I'm looking through my photos, and trying to figure out what to do with them; how I might organize them, and how I might create and find meaning in them.

One set of pictures I'm interested in are the pictures related to my Jewish heritage which was mainly transmitted via my grandparents on my mom's side, and the traditions we celebrated at my dad's house, such as Christmas.  Here is a photo of two photos- the lower one of myself and my older brother during Christmas time at my Dad's house, the upper one of the celebration of my older brother's Bar Mitzvah, with my Grandfather placing the tallis around his shoulders.
In neither case did the tradition itself seem particularly important.  Although we had other Jewish friends, and went to Hebrew school, I don't think any of my brothers ever identified all that strongly with the religion of Judaism.  We were cultural Jews.  The traditions were important to my Mom's parents, and we loved our grandparents.  Being a Jew was mainly associated with our visits to Los Angeles to see our Grandparents on Passover and Hanukkah, and our Bar Mitzvahs in which our Grandparents came to Santa Cruz to visit us.  There were many family members related to my Grandparents, and also my aunt and uncle and cousins on my Mom's side.

For holidays at my Dad's house, we were with our step-brother and sister, and sometimes my step-mother's family as well.  We didn't often see many of my dad's family members such as his brother or cousins.  But Christmas was a fun time with a tree, presents, and good food.

As I start to think about what kinds of traditions I want to develop and continue in my life, I look back to my experience and try to draw together the elements that I appreciated regarding family, culture and religion.  I suppose this will be a long path, and indeed, I've been on it for awhile.  But I continue to walk along it, and putting these pictures together and forming a kind of larger picture that feels healthy and whole is part of this process.

In addition to a tradition being something fun and somewhat consistent from year to year, I think traditions ought to have some kind of meaning.  They should be thought of in a larger context than just the present.  In considering carrying on Jewish traditions, I can draw from my history on my mom's and my dad's side.  Regarding my Dad's side, this is a description of the history and background of my great-great grandfather David Bernstein, written by Hillel Bernstein, my great-grandfather's brother.
My father David was an Eshkenazi, a descendant of the mass of Jews emigrating eastward from Germany, in the 13th century after persecutions there.  These settled in places like Austria, Bohemia, Hungary, Poland, Rumania (that is, what later became Rumania), Russia.  The majority went to Poland and Russia.  Eshkenazi, as I remember, was the Hebrew word for Germany.  The other great migration was from Spain two centuries later, and these were the Sephardic Jews, most of whom headed south towards the Mediterranean countries, the Levant, etc., and the first Jewish settlers in New York, in 1654, were Sephardic Jews who came from one of their great stopping places after Spain -- Holland.  In the 17th Century my father's forebearers were in East Prussia, in the capital city of Koenigsbert.  That was, of course, before the Prussians took it over in the Partitions of Poland, and it previously had a Polish name which I don't remember.  Anyway, his people had moved from there and my father was born in a town which was on the German-Russian border, both sides of which had originally been Polish, but had been annexed, one side by Germany or Prussia, the other side by Russia.
Within this complex history together with the stories of immigration from my Mom's family, also Jews from Eastern Europe, I can seek some commonality.  We weave a thread ourselves, certainly.  It is not always obviously sitting there to be found.  But one must at least have the material and the context before a solid thread can indeed be woven.

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