This past Friday, I had the opportunity to fulfill a long standing ambition. I stood in front of the grave of my great great Grandmother, Rasha Gershuney (Rose Goldman), in the Worcester Hebrew Cemetery in Massachusetts.
As I have written here previously, my mother had repeatedly told me that she believed that her great grandmother was buried somewhere in Massachusetts. This always intrigued me because, while I have had the opportunity to visit the graves all four of my maternal great grandparents, I couldn’t imagine that a member of an even older generation was buried in America. It seemed to me that it would be so unusual for a Jewish person of my age (64) to have had a great great grandparent that lived in this country.
While my mother never wanted to pursue this story, I was able to do so after her death. Through internet genealogical research, I connected with third cousins who knew the general location of Rasha’s grave. During two visits to the cemetery, I was unsuccessful in finding the grave. Then, with the help of another cousin and a rabbi in the Worcester area, I was able to get more precise information and during a trip last weekend to Massachusetts, I took a detour to Worcester and finally was successful in finding the grave.
As I stood there, my mind went in many different directions. First, I thought of my mother who was so fiercely proud of her family. I firmly believe that she knows I stood at the grave and felt a great sense of satisfaction that I had honored her ancestor.
Secondly, I thought a lot about the Goldman family. My grandfather had 10 siblings and we knew many of them growing up. I knew many of my mother’s first cousins and some of my second cousins. But, I know that I didn’t appreciate, as much as I should have, the blessings of a large extended family. As a kid, I looked at them as the “old folks” and by the time I had reached a place in life where I would appreciate these connections, I had moved from Boston and the opportunities to get together with them were greatly limited.
I have to say that the Goldmans were a great family. My grandmother, who had married into the family once said about some members of the family: “they would go to hell for a good time”. That was certainly my recollection. I remember the Goldmans of that generation as being hard working “salt of the earth” as we would say but always happy, somewhat loud and boisterous but always smiling even when gently insulting or poking fun at each other. They were a great group and I only wish I had appreciated them more deeply. Meeting several of my second cousins over the internet and in person has been deeply meaningful to me, as if somehow I could recapture some of the times I missed or took too lightly.
But, there was a third thought that came to mind as I stood looking at the grave.
My mind went back to the last time I visited a cemetery in search of a relative’s grave. That took place several years ago in the small city of Preili, Latvia. I couldn’t stand at the grave of my great uncle Shael and his children and grandchildren for they were buried in a mass grave after the slaughter of the Jews in the town in 1941. I stood in the cemetery where the massacre took place and stared at the monument which had recently been constructed in memory of those who were murdered and, after, crying for them, said a simple prayer of thanks to God that my grandfather, Shael’s brother, had chosen to come to America decades before.
So, as I stood and looked at Rasha’s grave, I realized how significant it was that Rasha’s son Morris, my great grandfather, and other members of the family were able to come to America and that the family was further able to bring Rasha over very late in her life. If nothing else, that guaranteed that her grave would be visited by future generations.
But, more than that, I realized once again, how blessed I am (and I usually don’t use that word but here it is entire appropriate) to have ancestors who, under whatever circumstances, made the decision to come here to this great land of freedom.
Yes, we are facing some serious issues of anti-Semitism here in the United States. But, I believe with all of my heart that we will overcome this threat and that this country will continue to be what it has been for so many generations- a place for families to grow together, to celebrate our Jewish traditions and heritage and make our mark for generations to come.
May the memory of Rasha Gershuney- and Shael Dobrushin- be for a blessing.
May we remember them, and all of the others, and may we teach our children and our grandchildren to embrace family whenever they can.