I’m still in Odessa, the city my family immigrated to the U.S. from, but will be moving on soon. I rode out the winter here as the other parts of Ukraine and Eastern-Europe where my great-grandparents were born and moved to Odessa from were in a deeper freeze than I anticipated and was geared for. Plus Odessa is a great place to learn/practice Russian (one of my big goals) as it is still mostly Russian speaking, while my further destinations are mostly Ukrainian speaking. I’ve been here long enough now that I know my way around much of the city without a map, can have a basic to intermediate level conversation in Russian, and have many friends and even community who I’ll dearly miss when I depart. I hadn’t imagined, before I began this journey, that I’d get to know the city my parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents are from this intimately. It’s been quite the experience.
Here’s a roundup of the major happenings on my journey thus far, (mostly) in order from the beginning to now:
I volunteered with a trail building project around Lake Baikal, the sacred land my tiny percentage of Yakut ancestry is indigenous to.
I traveled to the Altai Mountains, the mountains my uncle use to spend his summers backpacking through while he was on summer break as a professor at Barnaul University. My experience in Altai was powerful. Read about me getting to know the land and people here. Learn about the nature park I volunteered at, which protects the sacred valley. Listen to the sounds of the Altai here.
After traveling through “European Russia” (as the Siberians call Moscow and St. Petersburg), I arrived in Odessa, the home city of my parents (and older brother), grandparents, and great-grandparents. Magic ensued and I actually got to see the inside of the apartment my grandparents (who I never got to meet) lived in. I paid my respects at the graves of my grandparents and great-grandparents, which I had never been to before as oceans separated us. I rang in Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in the city my parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents were forbidden to observe their cultural traditions. I began digging through files at the Odessa State Archives and found the name of the great-grandmother we knew nothing about!
I greeted the grief that is part of my family’s and my people’s history, and decided to take a pause from Odessa to participate in a program at Auschwitz. I processed my experience at Auschwitz and my shock at the unfolding of the election back in the U.S.
I left Poland after spending a month there, returned to Ukraine, and spent a few weeks in Lviv. I connected with the remnants of the Jewish community there, witnessed, and provided a hand in their struggle against the continuing legacy of cultural genocide (of course the history goes beyond just the cultural form of genocide) there.
I returned to Odessa and continued my genealogical research at the archives. I learned where my great-grandparents Srul and Rivka lived and visited the courtyard of their old building!
I helped my father’s cousin find her long lost relatives, and I found my mother’s long lost relatives in Novosibirsk!
I led a few Jewish Renewal style Kabbalat Shabbat rituals for Odessans who had never experienced this movement of Judaism before, and some who had never participated in a Shabbat service before.
From here I’ll be heading to the villages my great-grandparents were from, a few of which I found only recently through my research at the Odessa State Archives. Subscribe and stay tuned for further updates as the journey continues.