I don’t have adequate words to describe the magic that is happening. The service trip tour of Jewish Ukraine (a powerful week and whole other story in itself for another time) ended yesterday. Then my mother and brother flew into Odessa to join me in visiting their old stomping grounds. My cousin flew in later in the evening. Today we all walked to the apartment where my family had lived. Where my brother was born and raised until my family left for the states. Where my parents got married. Where my father was raised. Where my grandfather and grandmother lived after Odessa was liberated from the Nazis.
We walked up to the front of the building and my mom pointed to the windows of their old second floor apartment above us. A man went up to the locked gate that was the entrance way to their courtyard and began to open it. I asked if we could go in. He let us through.
In the courtyard, my mom continued to point to windows and tell the stories of what was what and who lived where. A man came out of the locked door that was the entrance to their building. He was about to head out of the courtyard to the street, but he thought he heard us call to him and so he came over. We clarified that we hadn’t called him, and explained that we were there taking a stroll down memory lane. He gladly engaged with my mom’s curiosities about what was the same and what had changed in the building. Who was still there and where the rest had gone. Then his own curiosity was peaked: in which apartment had my parents lived? My mom answered. He smiled… “Now I’m the one who lives in that apartment” he replied!
Already that was enough. Dayenu! What synchronicity! We laughed in joy about our meeting. He told us about the repairs and remodeling he had done. He was then ready to be on his way. We thanked him for sharing his stories. I asked if I could get a photo of him and he obliged. We were about to be on our way too. As he’s leaving, he pauses and asks: “Are you in a hurry? Would you like to come up and see the apartment?”
I couldn’t believe it. The place I had heard stories about growing up. The place I had seen in photos, but never thought I would see in real life. Here I was, here we were, being invited up. My heart was pounding and chills were coursing through my body the whole way up the stairs.
Then we were in. I was standing in the home of the grandfather and grandmother I never got to meet. I was within the walls that held them. I was in the parlor where my grandfather played his violin. I was in the bedroom where my grandparents slept. I was in the other bedroom where my parents lived with my mother’s mother and my brother. I stood in what was the communal kitchen they all shared with their neighbors, now a bathroom with a jacuzzi tub.
The man who is the current tenant, Nikolay, popped open a bottle of champagne, poured each of us a glass, and invited us to sit down at the kitchen table. As we chatted, stories I hadn’t heard before were evoked out of this place full of so many memories. It was then revealed that Nikolay is friends with the husband of my mom’s close friend from high school. Nikolay called the couple up instantly to share the serendipity that we were in the midst of. He remarked how unlikely our meeting was. How if we had come into that courtyard five minutes earlier or later, we wouldn’t have been sitting in this place together right now.
Nikolay is a renowned musician of Odessa. A professional jazz pianist. My grandfather, Boris, was a violinist who played in one of the amateur orchestras in Odessa. He had a great love for music. My mother exclaimed to Nikolay that Boris is happy his home was handed off to such a wonderful musician and that live music is still filling the rooms and halls of this place.
We got one more photo with Nikolay, in the parlor room, before we left. Here it is. From left to right: Me, Nikolay, Mom, and Brother. Cousin Phil took the photo. Dad had to stay back in Cincinnati, but we had him on the phone with us through the experience after texting: “You’ll never guess where we are right now.”