Sunday, 22 January 2012

Let Me Tell You a Story - Part 1: In the beginning

I love the Sound of Music...always have.  It has everything all rolled into one: love story, music, intrigue, WWII references, triumph over evil...

"Edelweiss"...this picture has it all:  children, music, and the love triangle!

So many of Maria's lines resonate with me, and reflect my outlook on life.  One that keeps running through my head these days is "When G-d closes a door, he opens a window somewhere". 

The Sound of Music: Maria, about to find a window opening

Let me tell you a story...

There was a woman, "the daughter", whose mother developed early onset AD (Alzheimer's Disease).  No-one seemed willing to acknowledge the possibility that this was happening, including her doctor.  Consequently, it went untreated far too long.  Some days the daughter felt like she was drowning in the void left by her mother's illness.  On one of these days she fell upon a memory book she had bought her mother, a book her mother could not complete because of the AD.  Saddened by the fact that she would never have a written record of her mother's life story, she sat down and started to write.  She wrote to her mother, she wrote about her mother, and ultimately, she wrote for her mother. 

The daughter decided, on a whim, to post it as a note on Facebook.  People responded - it had touched a nerve.  She decided to take it a step further and create a blog.  But what to name it?  A Treasure for My Daughter was one of her mother's favourite cookbooks. 

And so, the daughter started to play with the words, and finally came up with My Mother's Treasure.  

The blog posts caught on slowly, very slowly.  And so the daughter kept writing.  And her recollections transported her to a world where her mother was still young, well, vibrant and "the hostess with the mostest".

She knew how beautiful her mother and matriarchs were, but she wanted other's to see her lovely family too.  And the mother's cousin shared photos of relatives who had long since passed away.  Below one of these photos was the name of a man who the daughter had heard of in passing - Isaac Chaliff.  And then it donned on her - this man was her great-great grandfather.

The picture that started it all

The daughter had never thought back much beyond her mother's grandparents.  Bubbie Gertie was a beloved grandmother whose hamentashen recipe was pulled from the family recipe archives every spring, and everyone marvelled at how delicious these cookies were. 

Now, the daughter was staring at a picture of a young couple - a pretty woman and a handsome man - her great-grandparents.  Her curiosity was piqued.  Who were they, and what were they like?  Who was this man, Isaac, Gertie's father, who stood stoically and stared at the camera? 

Gertie & Sam

Her curiosity got the better of her, and she registered for Jewish Gen - a genealogy site.  Imagine her surprise when, just 24 hours later, she was contacted by a potentially long-lost relative.   As luck would have it, it was her long-lost cousin, Phyllis G. the great-granddaughter of Pinchas - brother to Isaac.  Hours later, the official family historian, Phyllis T. was in contact.  And so it was, in the beginning...

Isaac and Pinchas, along with siblings David and Devora had been born to Joshua and Eta Chaliff in Russia in the 1850's and 1860's.   The 3 "boys" emigrated to North America in the 1880s, fleeing anti-Semitic persecution and pogroms.  They went their separate ways - Isaac building a life in western Canada, Pinchas and David to America.  Devora - known as Doba - remained in Volodymir-Volynsk, with her parents, husband and children.  They suffered unspeakable suffering during World War 1, and Eta - the Chaliff matriarch - died of starvation. 

Pinchas, Isaac and Isaac's wife, Clara (late 1800s)

Devora and her children survived, eventually dispersing - some to America and some to Argentina.

Even though Devora, David, Pinchas and Isaac appear to have maintained some contact with each other, Isaac's Canadian branch of the family lost contact with the rest of the family for some 71 years.

Fast forward to 2011.  Pinchas' great-granddaughters, Phyllis G and Phyllis T, by now quite skilled genealogists, had managed to track 800 members of the Chaliff family, but kept hitting a wall when it came to the Canadian kin.  They kept at it, determined to break through the impasse.  Then, one day, they received a notice from Jewish Gen that Isaac's kin had surfaced. 

Imagine - 71 years and 3 generations of silence - and then the family that had been lost to each other was finally reunited. 

And while the void will always be there - only her mother can fill it - little spaces have been filled by the lovely ladies, the new Chaliff matriarchs, who persevered and realized their dream of reuniting a fractured family.  We'll never know if the discovery would have been made had the daughter not been seeking to fill the void, but she likes to think of it as one of the windows G-d opened.