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Saturday, April 10, 2021

Across the Ocean

    Hungary, Moldova, Ukraine, Lithuania,  These modern day countries during the 1800's up until 1917 were part of the Pale of Settlement. There were Jewish communities in each of them, still surviving from the original Exodus, not so much from Egypt to the Sinai Peninsula as from Judah and Israel to Babylon. A common thread held these communities together that slid back into time through the Talmud to the Mishnah to the Torah. 

    And there was another thread would connect the Jewish communities in these four cities. This thread would wind its way around the leaves, branches and trunk that would become my own family tree, leading to my being born in Santa Cruz, California, America in 1976.

    The Nasch family lived in the Hungarian city of Nagyvárad, which later became the Romanian city of Oradea following the treaty of Trianon in 1920. Akos Nasch was born in a smaller town of Poklostelek (later known as Poclusa de Barcau), 40 km northwest of Oradea. The Bernsteins came from Lithuania, my great grandfather Herman from Vladislavov, then on the border of Russia and Germany. At the turn of the century, the Finegoods and Silberts lived in Bessarabian Shtetls in Ananyev, Kherson, and Odessa. They would soon be driven out by the anti-Semitism fueled blood libel leading to the Khishinev massacre.

    Nasch, Bernstein, Finegood, Silbert, these surnames for my grandparents form the trunk and primary branches of my family tree, leading eventually to my parents Patricia and Peter who would grow up in Los Angeles, California, America.

    The Silberts and Finegoods leave the hatred of Bessarabia in the early 1900's and resettle in only somewhat more hospitable lands of central Canada, arriving in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, where my grandma Mary would be born in the city of Winnipeg.

    Akos grew up and became a medical student, the first in his town to leave, having earned a scholarship at the university of Tours in the Loire region of western France. There he met Dorothy Bernstein at a Purim party a cold February afternoon. A spark was lit that day as they wrote each other letters, from initial furtive visits to growing love. The letter continued as Dorothy and Violet left Tours to Grenoble, and eventually traveled through Europe and then back to America with their famous father, the journalist and patriarch, Herman Bernstein.

    Meanwhile, the Finegoods and Silberts have started a store they manage during the cold Canadian winters. Mary Finegood meets Joe Silbert. She admires his piano playing and soon they are married. The families together encompassed close to 30 siblings. The Jewish thread now having crossed the Atlantic and spinning out new threads pushing forward into time through their three children, John, Andy and Patty.

    In New York, 1929, Herman's connections to Herbert Hoover have earned him the position of the US ambassador to Albania and the family sets sail back across the Atlantic to take up the post in Tirana, meanwhile leading Dorothy and Akos back together again having continued their courtship by letter in secret. Dorothy had come to call Akos by the name Nicky, and these letters, primarily in French became known later by Dorothy, as the Dorothy-Nicky  correspondence, a joke echoing the Willy-Nicky correspondence, uncovered and published by Herman a decade earlier, encompassing secret letters between the Czar of Russia and the Kaiser of Germany. Whereas the Willy-Nicky correspondence led to war, the Dorothy-Nicky correspondence led to marriage.


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