Posts Tagged ‘NJFP’

By: Klaira

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to interview my younger brother Naum (or Numa as we call him) about his knowledge of our family history, and more specifically,  about our great grandmother Chaya. Since he has read my blog, I was expecting him to reiterate everything that I have been writing here, with his own personal spin. However,  what he said both surprised me and shed light of the nature of memory.

Numa struggles to recall what he has read and what he was told by his parents, grandparents, and myself . He recollects the facts due to their excessive repetition but can’t piece them together. Perhaps we are putting too much pressure on the importance of remembering one’s history, at such a young age. Maybe it is just too much weight for an eleven-year-old to carry on his shoulders.

Eventually –keep in mind that the original interview is close to 13 minutes–Numa admits that what  he doesn’t remember is really what he doesn’t know. This makes me wonder: what is the essence of Chaya’s story that will be passed on to the next generation?  Or will she be just a name in our family tree? 

At the end, I asked him what he thought was the moral of Chaya’s decision. Even though his answer was quite tentative, his ultimate message was very strong.  And it offered an alternative idea about Chaya’s story that I  had never thought of before.

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by Zoe Pollak

(Bolded words are revised.)

In the world of science, you would need a machine that moves faster than the speed of light to travel through time. But you involuntarily move through this dimension every day.

 You may regard the past as cemented, but it is always changing. Let’s say you have a lot of work to do. You might reminisce longingly about being in grade school, when you were free to take time for granted. But if you revisit that same moment on a different day, your naiveté might appear as a limitation.

 Your memory will always refine particular moments and blur others, and its multiple realities are as infinite as the parallel universes that exist in theoretical physics.

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by Zoe Pollak

In order to travel through time, you would have to harness the power of a star. But you involuntarily move through this dimension every day. You may regard the past as cemented, but it is always changing. If you have a lot of work to do, you might reminisce about being in grade school and think back to when you took time for granted. If you revisit the same moment on a different day, you might instead be drawn to the shortcomings of its simplicity. Your memory will always refine particular moments and blur others, and the combinations of alterations are as infinite as the parallel universes that exist in theoretical physics. The past’s fluidity is memory’s only constant.

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by Zoe Pollak

Dear Jeremy,

Thank you for your suggestions for last post’s questions. I looked up both books on Amazon, where I was allowed to read the first two pages or so of each. Reading them side by side, it was interesting to compare the author’s relationship with his subject: while Heschel starts off with the personal and (at least I’m assuming) then ventures on to the more collective, Yerushalmi starts by talking about memory in very broad terms- Jewish history and “Jewish past.” Both works helped me in looking at my own project, because I’m combining the personal and the ethereal (as Sam said) to present my “thesis” about memory and the past: I’m using home videos and my own writing, but I’m also using videos of natural processes, old music, and the writings of others (many of them happen to be Jewish) to offer different views of time and memory.

So my follow-up-question is: do you know of any other Jewish scholars, historians, or professors who have tackled large topics such as history, the past, memory, and time using a personal lens as either a starting point to ground his/her audience or to establish conceits and draw parallels?


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by Zoe Pollak

When the viewer first enters the Memory Paths (Zoe’s Time Machine) website, a typed introduction will appear for them to read. This introduction will establish the context for the interactive clock and its memory pods. Here’s a draft for my intro. Any feedback would be great.

Memory Paths

 Currently, physics does not allow for time travel to the past or future. In order to visit your ancestors or travel to the year 2020, scientists would have to harness the power of a star and you would have to travel faster than the speed of light. And even if time machines did exist, you would not be able to travel farther back in time than the point of their creation. But you travel back in time every day, and not solely by remembering an event that occurred a long time ago. This time travel is involuntary.

Perhaps when you think of your childhood, nostalgia distorts the positive aspects of your youth and dims the more difficult memories. If you have a lot of work to do on a given day, you might reminisce about being in grade school and think back to when you took time for granted. On a rewarding day, you may revisit that same time in the past, but will instead focus on the fact that your outlook was not mature enough to appreciate what has brought you satisfaction today.

While your past is often regarded as theoretically cemented, it changes every day – its fluidity is the only constant. Memory will always refine particular moments and blur others, but the combination of alterations is as infinite as the parallel universes that exist in theoretical physics. And because by the end of tomorrow evening you will have garnered several more new memories, your memory’s collection of refractions only increases.

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by Zoe Pollak

-Find image of clock for webpage interface

-Write intro for project (description of project that provides context for the viewer)

-Finish writing for all memory pods

-Finalize music list

-Finish recording quotations

-Find footage of time-lapsed flowers, stars

-Think of settings for new footage to shoot

-Export DVD material to computer so that I can edit it

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By Jason Zavaleta

I ask Jeremy:

My story is about my Grandfather, a gambling addict, married at 17, a father 18, he spent all his time hiding from his family, had a heart attack at 38, and finally went into recovery in the mid 70’s. At my Bar Mitzvah, he encourage me to be a “mensh”, and in his Gambler’s Anonymous speech in 1992, he said he himself was a mensh. So…


1.What is the meaning of the word “mensh”?

2.What did that concept mean to the people who believed in it, then and now?

3.How does it affect a situation where someone who has sinned comes out of a bad behavior and becomes someone who can face themselves?

4.Can mensh-ness be earned? Can it ONLY be earned?

5.From a society standpoint, does being a mensh define our life values?

6.If so, how does Jewish culture perceive and value a mensh? The Jewish version of Maslow’s pyramid, is that the best?


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While I have been unfortunately bogged down with a heck of a cold this past week, I have been thinking a bit about where to take my project.

My main question for viewers and Jeremy is:

What locations or streets do you or your family have clear ties to?

Because essentially, that is the basis for my project. San Francisco is an amazing city, but not only is it a wonderful place, but it is deeply embedded into both my culture and my family’s past, present and (hopefully) future. I think that every family and every person out there has those ties somewhere, even if they do not realize it themselves. Home is indeed where the heart is, but who says you can only have one home?

By: Samantha Abernathey

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by Zoe Pollak

In response to Thursday’s session, I came up with a couple of questions relating to my theme and Jewish culture/history:

-What different notions of time were held among Jewish physicists such as Einstein and Feynman?

-Are there any portions in the Torah that discuss memory and time in relation to one another?

Albert Einstein

Richard P. Feynman

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by Zoe Pollak

Here’s a new website I found: www.wordblast.blogspost.com. My aunt told me about it, as it is her blogspot (she shares it with a friend). She and her friend are both playwrights, and they decided that they would “tell part of a story and then say “and then…” and pass it on to the next person” with a play. “What would happen if two writers e-mailed each other maybe a line (instead of a word!) at at time? What if you had to write a line a day and only gave yourself five minutes to do it? Or maybe assume one character in a two person play, and write their response to the previous line of dialogue (or action, as the case may be)?”

So the two playwrights started writing a play, blog entry by blog entry. I am posting this website here because the website that I am working on is going to be interactive, and while “wordblast” isn’t interactive like my website will be, it is in the sense that two people are creating a piece of art together without a set path. Like my “time machine,” my aunt and her friend do not have a pre-determined destination or linear storyline.

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by Yenny Martin

For the final display of this project I’m making a 3-minute film. This is its narration so far:

As I grow, death seems to push its way into the light, cropping up more often: The death of elders who were the base and tone of the family changed my perception and environment. Change led to a loss of solidity: it’s hard to find a grip in a changing environment as I myself change—it seems, now, all roots are flushed away. I did not have a well-formed view of my grandparents—I was young, or I was not able to consciously form a strong tie. But maybe the simplest feelings are most genuine and maybe the unconscious connection that perhaps existed more than I can guess, was most natural. I am trying to again glimpse into their lives, to understand them. I want to know how I was made, to uncover the blur that expands boundlessly behind and in front of me.

My memories of my grandparents, Susi and Leonard, are peaceful, connected with the festive, the familiar—the openness of their home. They sat around talking, near the French doors of the living room or out on the rough glass tables. Susi would push her way behind her walker, which was padded with tennis balls on the leg bottoms. It’s funny how I mix her images —the image of her swimming freestyle in her pool, in a black cap and old-fashioned bathing suit, with the one of her in the dining room offering ice cream, much frailer and much slower. Somehow I view the two with no distinction of time. With Leonard I remember his red face and square gate. I wonder if my picture of him is also through the eyes of a very little girl, for looking at his later photos, he was hunched in the upper back and his face much more aged.

As a small person roaming a tall-ceilinged and spacious house, I seemed to be focused on its lower regions: I would observe the floor, tiled with wide clay hexagons. The dining table was eye-height and when I moved around the room past Susi’s portable heating tray and past the Mexican sculpture upon the counter, I remember, at the head of the table, seeing the back of Leonard’s head with fine and smooth white hair, so purely white. It would be neatly combed and parted against reddened ears and neck.

After Leonard’s death, I remember lunches at that dining room table. We would stop by briefly and Susi would offer me chocolate ice cream or fruit. I don’t know why these times seem more often now than they probably were, but every time going there, I was anxious to leave—because of homework probably. I would stare at the foggy yellow bulbs on the dining room ceiling, which, in rows, mirrored the length of the table.

This table, now, is at the house we are moving into. It looks much smaller there. This house, very modern and very clean, is much different from Susi’s, or the house I grew up in, different from anything familiar. Spaces, family and traditions seem to haze in the background as we move from the past.

In a delicate world origins are easily forgotten, but I am trying to grasp what I had not collected in the first place, and to fill in the quick-in-passing, the gap within growth. Since my grandmother’s death we have found boxes and boxes of journals and letters, albums and stories— belongings with the mark that lasts for all time. It is so rich in there. Susi and Leonard established our family’s connection. Their own connection was deep: underneath open conflicts was a bond that harnessed them together into old age.

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My plan for this week was to post the titles and short introductions to my “podcasts” but as of my meeting with Jeremiah and Sam today, I need to revise one of them.  As such, here are the rough drafts of two of them.

For my first podcast (Introduction of Solomon)


(Religion and Disbelief)(The Overarching Need to Do Good)

For my last podcast


(A Seperation From What Was Known)

I hope to have a revised third title and the interview questions to my grandfathers follow up and my mothers tomorrow.

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by Zoe Pollak

After meeting with Sophie, Emma, and Julie last Thursday, my project changed once again. For the span of about five days, I was sure I was going to create a single-channel film, but after Thursday we have decided to go back to the interactive website idea. However, this new website will be very different from the previous idea; this new idea presents the viewer with a clock, and in each number, a “memory pod.” Each memory pod is composed of a visual and an audio piece. The viewer gets to choose what audio piece they want to hear while watching the video, which is the interactive part of the piece. So for example, the number 7 on the clock might be an old family video, and the viewer gets to choose whether they want to play a quote or a piece of music against the visual. Some of the audio pieces will repeat from number to number in the hope that the viewer will “accidentally” choose the same piece of music twice, but for different visuals. I want this repetition to allow the viewer to experience different emotions around the same audio clip, which draws off of the previous interactive webpage idea- my interest in the five sense’s influence over memory and how one particular sense can govern a person’s emotional attachment to a specific time in the past. Each time the viewer selects a new number, the webpage will refresh so that the clock’s numbers are jumbled. The clock’s numbers will only be in order at the beginning, because I want the interface to reflect my theme: the interpretation of the past is continually changing based on current experiences.

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My sister sent from London another of my grandmother Susi’s writings, from Susi’s personal journal. This was upon the same subject: her mother, blood-father Paul and presumed father Alfred. Susi says how she remembers coming across the second journal: it was some time after Alfred’s death and Leonard, returning from a visit in Los Angeles with Mitzi, brought it to her. Thinking it was her mother’s, she put it away. Mitzi’s journal excludes any mention of Paul, and Susi writes, “I don’t know how she could have left him out of it in this cruel way. Who was she lying to? Me, an unborn child?” Paul’s journal describes Mitzi with affection, and about one of the book’s parts Susi says, “Throughout the whole story runs a pathetic refrain concerning her life in Brno from which he was excluded.”

Impressions that last after death—that can be re-adopted in cycles and by future generations—can be so easily sculpted. Here, so much is left out; Mitzi’s journal covers nothing of her child’s father, and she presents her daughter with slanted information. What the combined journals leave is confusing—with the content Mitzi chose to bequeath. I suppose it would have played much differently if Susi had read Paul’s journal when Mitzi was still alive. But as it was, there was no dialogue beyond her written pages. Susi herself chose to leave her family with much to understand her with—insights into her thoughts that perhaps none of us had known. What she does not display remains with her, private.

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by Zoe Pollak

Last Thursday we spent almost an hour talking about my project, and I got fantastic feedback. This weekend I considered everyone’s suggestions, and have decided to change my project from an interactive website to more of a viewer-sit-back-and-watch type of layout. I’m now leaning toward a short film that will contain every element of the website, just in film-form. The content will be the same, still focused on time travel and memory, but rather than actually asking the viewer a series of questions in the hopes of generating their memories, I will present them with my memories and talk about my relationship with those memories, and the previously explicit questions will be implicit. If anyone has any suggestions for how to implement that interactive aspect into the project (which I’d like to keep in some form or another), that would be great, and I will post a more solidified update next week after my meeting with Emma, Sophie, and Julie (coach/mentor) on Wednesday. Thanks again for all the great feedback!

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By Jason Zavaleta

This past weekend, I interviewed my mother Denise. This was the first of five interviews about my Grandfather’s life; about being a gambling addict, going through recovery, and finally living the end of his life as a “mensh”.

My mother spoke about how she felt isolated from him when she was a child:

When it came to the end of the interview, and a few tears had been shed, I asked her is there’s anything else she’d like to say about her dad:

To Be Continued…

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by Zoe Pollak

The challenge- Explain what the Time Machine is succinctly.

So here’s my (feeble?) attempt at being concise:

In my interactive website (“Time Machine”) I will transport the participant to the past by conjuring up his/her memories from memories of my own. The “Time Machine” will ask the participant questions about his/her view of the past and whether he/she believes the past to be cemented or malleable. The “Time Machine” will divide memories into different aspects governed by different senses in order to suggest that current experiences shape our relationship to older memories. Through the “Time Machine,” I will use open-ended questions to argue that by just living in the present, we ultimately travel back in time and alter the past; what we experience in the present and anticipate about the future alters the way we perceive our past. Thus, the past is not static; each day we create a different version, continually re-shaped by an accumulation of everyday experiences.

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Yesterday, rummaging through yet another box of photographs and books, my dad came across Mitzi’s journal—the counterpart to a thin, red-bound book of Uncle Paul’s. Both were written in German, but a section of Uncle Paul’s had been long translated by Susi and filed away in her drawers. It was a story called “Spacek,” of a tiny twirling dwarf made of wood. It was written for Susi still resting in the womb, to a daughter who would not realize their blood connection until many years into adulthood. Uncle Paul’s Spacek spins in arches across town, fleeing from his ferocious wife. My father very much appreciates “Spacek” because it reminds him of his own inch-high dwarf drawings.

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by Zoe Pollak

“And as soon as I had recognized the taste of the piece of madeleine dipped in lime-blossom tea that my aunt used to give to me (though I did not yet know and had to put off to much later discovering why this memory made me so happy), immediately the old grey house on the street, where her bedroom was, came like a stage-set to attach itself to the little wing opening on to the garden that had been built for my parents behind it (that truncated section which was all I had seen before then); and with the house the town, from morning to night and in all weathers, the Square, where they sent me before lunch, the streets where I went to do errands, the paths we took if the weather was fine. And as in that game in which the Japanese amuse themselves by filling a porcelain bowl with water and steeping it in little pieces of paper until then indistinct, which, the moment they are immersed in it, stretch and shape themselves, colour and differentiate, become flowers, houses, human figures, firm and recognizable, so now all the flowers in our garden and in M. Swann’s park, and the water-lilies on the Vivonne, and the good people of the village and their little dwellings and the church and all of Combray and its surroundings, all of this which is assuming form and substance, emerged, town and gardens alike, from my cup of tea.” –Marcel Proust

I came across this famous quote a couple weeks ago, and started thinking about why certain objects evoke the past. In other words, what about the rain or a certain kind of tree or type of food evokes our nostalgia? I have thousands of memories, and could create endless lists of different things these memories contained: tons of locations, smells, people, colors, etc. But why is it that when we see specific things we become so much more reminiscent than when we see other things that have also had a part in our memories?

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Here are the questions that I used to interview my mom.

Could you tell me about the role religion played in your childhood?

What was your parents stance towards religion?

Can you remember your parents talking about Solomon Lowenstein?

What is your stance on religion now?

When raising a child, what attitude did you take towards religion?

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By Jason Zavaleta

This past weekend, I interviewed my mother Denise. This was the first of five interviews.

I found this interview to be quite inspiring. Although I had already known most of the information she told me about my Grandfather, I got to see and hear for the first time how she felt about my Grandfather’s life being a gambling addict, going through recovery, and finally living the end of his life as a “mensh”.

Our interview began and we talked about my Grandparents early relationship, I found out that for their wedding “cake” they each had an ice cream cone because that’s all they could afford besides a bus trip back to New York from Maryland where they eloped.

When I asked her about his gambling addiction and how it affected her life, and the structure of her family, she spoke about how separated they were when she was a child…

When it came to the end of the interview, and a few tears had been shed, I asked her is there’s anything else she’d like to say about her dad, and I was touched to hear her words…

So, I think this interview was a success. There’s still much to hear in my upcoming interviews in New York. I am eager to continue to discover who my Grandfather is, and how through a lifelong addiction, became a “mensh”

To Be Continued…

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I found the interview with my grandfather, and am posting the rough cut.

Pato Interview:

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Obituary Excerpt:

Above is an except from the obituary given at my great-great-grandfather’s funeral.  I am having trouble tracking down the interview with my grandfather, so that will be up tomorrow, but in the meantime give this a listen.

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by Zoe Pollak

Memory Paths

 Key: numbers correspond to ten lists

L1P1 = the first positive number in the first list (in “Ten Lists Part I”)

L2N4 = the fourth negative number in the second list (in “Ten Lists Part II”)

 On a reflective day: L2P1 leads to L1P3 leads to L1N8 leads to wistful day

 On a wistful day: L1P1 leads to L1N1 leads to L1N2 leads to lonely day

 On a lonely day: L2N6 leads to L1P7 leads to L1P9 leads to happy day

 On a happy day: L2P2 leads to L1P4 leads to L2P10 leads to reflective day

Three Websites:




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by Yenny Martin

At his grandfather's funeral: Leonard is center, staring at the camera. Aga is beside him crying and Kuka stands at the coffin's head with hands crossed. (Click to view a larger image.)

My father says my grandpa Leonard very rarely talked of his childhood in Harbin. He spoke once of his mother’s “home remedies” and once of a conflict with a Guomindang officer:

Aga, her brother Peter, and Leonard.

Aga, his mother, would brew a glass of raw ground liver each morning for Leonard to drink; she considered it an aid for anemia. For him, this was a torturous exercise.

Leonard’s daily route to school forced him to cross a narrow railroad bridge, its walkway wide enough for two people abreast. On his way one day (probably after ingesting the liver potion), he was approached by a crossing Guomindang officer. Considering Leonard too slow to move from his path, the officer began to beat him with his walking stick. The rail ties were set far apart—the bridge was crossed gingerly. As he was being beaten, whipped full-strength in every direction, Leonard could only concentrate on the water far below—finally clinging a rail tie to keep from collapsing through.

Leonard, left in the foreground, with his grandfather directly behind.

Twenty years ago, this story allowed my father and sister to find Leonard’s home: In the Russian part of Harbin, after passing many bridges, they came across an old iron railroad bridge. Following it, they were greeted by a little neighborhood; crowded with cottages and sweetly layered with snow. For my father it was quite a contrast to the gloomy torment of Leonard’s portrayed childhood.

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After a lengthy discussion with Jeremiah on how to upload files I have recorded to the blog, WordPress will still not accept them, even after converted to .mp3.  Other than that, my project is progressing nicely; I’ve recorded the interviews necessary, and hope to have them up as soon as I find a way to get them on the internet.

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by Zoe Pollak

Ten Negative Memories of Childhood (to supplement the past week’s list, not in chronological order)

1. Feeling out of control of my parents’ lives when they dropped me off at my kindergarten class. Every day I went through a ritual with the parent who dropped me off, making them promise not to get punched, shot, killed, abducted, or lost while they were not in my sight.

2. When my cousin Marissa got Baldy, the rarest Beanie Baby. She made sure to call me from her house in New York to tell me she got him, and I felt terrible. (About a month later, I got a package with Baldy in it from her dad.)

3. When I was eight and my other cousin teased me by holding my A’s baseball cap out the window while we were driving on the freeway to Seaworld. He didn’t mean to let go, but he did. We all got out to look for it for about an hour and didn’t find anything, and the rest of the way to Seaworld my cousins and I cried- I cried because I wanted my cap, my cousin Jared cried because he felt guilty, and my cousin Marissa because our trip would be delayed to look for my “stupid hat.”

4. Getting to Seaworld after losing my cap. I had just started feeling better at the sight of the dolphins when a woman passed Marissa and me with a huge stuffed animal. Marissa told her the stuffed seal was really cute, and the woman gave it to her. That was the final straw. I felt terrible, and made my dad and uncle play in a water gun game (the sole two dads playing against a bunch of middle school boys) to win me a stuffed animal like Marissa’s.

5. The second-grade drive to Pt. Reyes. I had one enemy in that class, a girl named Christie. My dad volunteered to drive a student in addition to myself, and I told him I was worried Mrs. Rynerson would assign us Christie just to make me upset (she was a diabolical teacher). My dad reassured me that there was only a one in thirty chance of that occurring. Of course the next day when we looked at the driving sheets, my teacher had assigned Christie to our car. The whole drive to Pt. Reyes was tense and silent. (About two years later, Christie and I became best friends for the remainder of elementary school.)

6. My dad getting remarried when I was around eleven. I was not used to sharing him with anyone else (I am an only child), and the new dynamic with his wife really threw me for a loop, to say the least.

7. Middle School. All three years were terrible. I was at my “awkward age,” had horrible teachers who were almost all either racist or excruciatingly boring, and had a whole group of bullies who picked on me everyday in PE.

8. When my mother flew to Spain for a work conference for almost two weeks when I was in fourth grade. Her trip was the longest time I had been away from her, and I felt very worried about her safety (I figured that if I wasn’t around to protect her, something bad might happen). For about two days I couldn’t bring myself to eat anything.

9. When I got salmonella at Disneyland. I got it from raw beansprouts, and felt miserable. We had to stay in the hospital overnight and I still remember the pain in my stomach. I was around four years old.

10. Feeling patronized by my parents when we visited family. Often I was told I was interrupting the adults, and felt left out of conversations.

Ten Reasons Why I am Glad to be my Age

1. I have more control over my day. I can get to places on my own, make plans with my friends without the help of my parents, and make decisions on how I want to spend my time.

2. My friends. Now that I am in high school, I have the best group of friends I have ever had.

3. My cellphone. I get to call people whenever I want, and when I was little I had no interest in talking on the phone. I thought it was boring and an activity for adults. Now I love talking to people on the phone, and because I have a cellphone I get to call people in other states who I don’t get to see very often.

4. My job. I’ve gained a lot of independence and self-confidence from working. (I have worked at a bakery in Oakland for almost 2.5 years.)

5. Knowing my way around Berkeley. When I was little, I always depended upon my parents to drive me to school and to friends’ houses. Now I get to decide where I want to go and when, and enjoy walking to school and around Berkeley.

6. English. It has become my favorite class, and I look forward to reading novels and discussing them. I love writing expository, argumentative, and creative essays.

7. Responsibility over my own social etiquette. I don’t have my mom or dad scolding me for interrupting and condescending to me like when I was little.

8. Classical music. I listen almost every day, and now that I am older, I appreciate it. When I was younger I regarded classical music as something to fall asleep to, but now that my ears have become attuned to different musicians’ styles and composers’ idiosyncrasies, I don’t listen to it as background music.

9. Being able to watch R-rated movies. I know this sounds juvenile, but most of my favorite movies are rated R and when I was younger I felt left out when my older relatives got to see movies that “I was too young to understand” or were deemed inappropriate for a child.

10. College. While I will miss my parents, I am looking forward to living on my own with people my own age. I can’t wait to take classes I will be interested in and get to know a new city or state.

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by Yenny Martin

Verbally recounting her stories, it seemed as though Aga—Leonard’s mother and my great-grandmother—was once again in the midst of dramatic wartime scenes and the emotions 70 years ago were still as keen in her mind.

Aga’s husband, Kuka (Victor), was an aide to Admiral Kolchak, head of the White forces in Siberia during the Russian Civil War. Kuka was stationed in Omsk where he regularly dropped by Aga’s house, on the grounds of visiting her brother. Of course, like many other young men, it was not Aga’s brother he wished to see. Aga was dismissive at first,

uninterested in hair “too curly!” However, Aga’s mother was fond of Kuka and allowed him to rent a room in their house. Over time Aga “became used to him” and they were married. At 16 she was pregnant, harboring Leonard in her womb.

Aga and Kuka

Soon, as the Whites retreated from the approaching Reds, it was time for Aga’s family to flee. When their train approached Irkutsk she was told that Kolchak’s train was stranded in its station—Kuka aboard.

The scene was chaos: the Czechs, held as prisoners of war during WWI, held the city; they were stuck in Russia. Their single objective (a difficult one as opposing forces lay as barriers in the west) was to make their way eastward to Vladivostok. They were willing to side with Red or White if it presented advantage. Here, in Irkutsk, they were a third army.

Kolchak’s train was in the control of the Czechs—who were about to turn it over to the Reds . . . who would kill Kolchak and his officers. On hearing this, Aga left her family in search of a way to help her husband. I imagine that was an extremely difficult split: no family would want their 16 year-old daughter wandering a war-scene (on a futile task) . . . just as no family would be strong enough to restrain the stubbornness and passion and desperation in a girl like Aga.

Kuka is at left (in black hat), saluting. Kolchak is at center, facing camera.

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By: Klaira

On October 13, 2009 my grandfather Shevakh (also known as the husband of Chaya’s daughter) turned 80. In order to celebrate this important milestone and prove that he can beat senility, I decided to purchase him a personal computer. The talk of  getting my grandparents  a computer has been going on for years but every single time I would bring it up, they would say that the new form of technology would be too complicated and difficult to master.  I, on the other hand, was convinced otherwise.

Raya and Shevakh in their 20s

I knew how talented they were and I was sure that they could master anything, with the proper ingredients that is. After two weeks of researching, without their consent, I purchased an All-in-one personal computer, three learning books, videos-all in Russian, and an internet connection. Now they had no excuse but to tackle their fears. If only they knew what I had up my sleeve…

For days, I have been pondering on ways to break it to my grandparents of my surprise. I have decided to approach it from an authoritative standpoint: I told them that their their computer would be arriving in two days and there is nothing they could do about it. My grandpa was thrilled! Even though it has been greeted with resentment initially,  my grandparents invited this now common piece of technology into their household, with open arms.

Remember, it is one thing having a computer and completely another know how to use it properly. What seems completely natural and easy for us(everyday addicts) is foreign for them as I had to explain the essential double clicking of a mouse on a folder.

Dedushka vs. the Technology

This has been such a rewarding experience. I visit them once every week (I wish I could do it more often); my grandpa fascinates me with how far he has gotten. So far it has been 2 months and he is advancing at an alarming speed. He can comfortably navigate around the computer, go online, watch movies, play games, check email, and most importantly- video chat with his friends and relatives in Israel.

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By Jason Zavaleta

Two weeks ago, I was introduced to a new element to my story I had not considered. I always knew my Grandfather was a gambler and he was in Gambler’s Anonymous (GA) for years, but that is all I knew. When I was home recently for Thanksgiving, ironically right around the time a year after my Grandfather’s death, my mother asked me if I had ever heard his GA speech. No, I hadn’t, I didn’t even know it existed.

My mom popped the tape in the car radio and his thundering voice echoed in my ear drums. For the next sixteen minutes, I laughed, cried, and remembered him. In his speech, he talked about how he married my Grandmother, how he wasn’t ready to be a father, and how gambling took over and destroyed his “treasures.” He finished with how he’d changed and how he finally become “a part of the map of life.”

I was in a silent shock when the tape ended. I didn’t even know what to think. All these years I knew him, flew out to see him, and him to me, I never knew just how much turmoil and tragedy he went through. I felt left in the dark, like he should have told me about this. It was from this speech that the words from my Bar Mitzvah blessing came. I always wondered why he chose those words and I am hearing them on a tape, after his death, the reason.

All I wanted to do was call him on the phone and have a lengthy conversation on everything he said, but I couldn’t.

Aunt Nicole and my Grandfather a few years ago

At one point in his speech, he said that when my Aunt Nicole was 28 years old, she went to a GA meeting with my Grandfather and there she sat with tears “welding in her eyes”, “Father I never recall you saying ‘I love you’.” I couldn’t believe that was true. How on earth does a parent never tell their child that they love them? For 28 years…

My parents tell me they love me almost everyday. Being reminded that I am loved is something I take for granted but it’s like a battery that I’m unaware of, it keeps me going. Hearing that they love me keeps me sane. It prevents me from losing control because it’s easy to feel out of control when there’s no love to balance out the difficulties of life.

My Grandfather’s difficulties with gambling caused the almost sure destruction of his family. Somehow he realized that needed to change and he made those changes.

Now, I will use his speech to guide me to help uncover more about who he was, bringing me that much closer to feeling connected to my Grandfather.

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Nothing major has happened in this past couple of weeks, so I have nothing interesting to post on the blog this week.  I’m currently solidifying what equipment I’ll be using to record the interviews, and scheduling said interviews with my family members.  Unfortunately, my great-uncle passed last friday, so I’ll be unable to include him in my project.

My current plan is to record a speech given at Solomon Lowenstein’s funeral once I get my equipment.  If anyone has any suggestions for blogs between then and now, please let me know.

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by Zoe Pollak

I just wanted to add  something before you read this post: Because for this assignment I’m thinking of a bunch of negative things, I can see why I might come across as harboring a bunch of negative feelings. So just a reminder, this is supposed to be glass-half-empty (nostalgic), but the next post will be more positive. 

Ten of my Most Vivid Memories of Childhood (not in order)

 1. Looking for crabs in the sand with my cousins in Laguna Beach during the summertime.

2. Watching the same Charlie Brown and Disney movies with my dad over and over.

3. Walking with my mom to the Safeway on Shattuck when we lived in our apartment near the JCC. I remember balancing on the raised parking lot barrier area and looking down at the fallen ginko leaves and noticing that they were the same yellow color as the paint in the parking lot.

4. Getting put on a time-out in fourth grade with four of my good friends. We were all seated in separate areas so that we couldn’t face each other. Although each of us sat by ourselves, I felt united with them. We were all victimized by the same oppressor, Mrs. R (the principal).

5. Drawing giant chalk Pokemon characters with my mom’s help on the cement outside of our El Cerrito house.

6. Waking up one night and staring at a floating semi-transparent mass that was hovering near the doorway, getting smaller and larger. I was terrified and woke my mom up, who was sleeping beside me (my dad slept in another room because they were in the process of splitting up). I was convinced I had seen a ghost.

7. My dad carrying me to his room on the nights I stayed with him (my mom slept in the main part of our Berkeley house, while my dad slept in the basement). I remember eating “Basement Crackers” (Wheat Thins) while listening to the Beatles on my dad’s walkman before falling asleep.

8. Going with my mom to her work. I sat in her undergraduate English classes and drew pictures, excited at being surrounded by a bunch of people who weren’t old enough to be boring grown-ups. I remember glancing at my mom’s students when they weren’t looking, and when they finally looked over and met my gaze, I quickly moved my eyes to someone else.

9. Going to Beatnik’s Bagels with my dad when we lived in Boulder, Colorado. I remember looking at the parrot on the Odwalla fridge while my dad ordered. Beatnik’s had hourglasses at the counter. They did not have sand, but had a more lava-lamp-like goop. I remember turning these hour glasses over and over again, watching the lava-lamp-like liquid seep to the bottom.

10. When my mom picked me up from my friend’s house and told me she had a surprise for me. I looked inside the car and saw a clear plastic bag with a red betta fish. I held it in my hands the entire ride home, thrilled to have a new pet to look at.

Ten Reasons Why I Wish I Could be Little Again (not in order)

 1. Homework. I get home from school, and work until the wee hours of the morning. Often I am the last one to go to sleep at both houses, which feels lonely.

2. The Internet. I procrastinate at least an hour every day on Facebook and various websites like YouTube. But being online isn’t satisfying or relaxing for me; I feel cut off from the rest of the world and feel guilty for wasting hours I won’t be able to get back.

3. The dynamic of my relationship with my parents. I feel more distanced from my parents and less able to communicate with them now that I am getting ready to leave for college.

4. College applications. Those two words speak for themselves.

5. I don’t like thinking that my family is getting older. It depresses me that my parents are approaching fifty and that my youngest cousin will be seven. I remember when my cousins were babies, and now some of them are getting ready to go to middle school. Their increasing loss of innocence is noticeable every time I visit them, and it becomes harder and harder to live vicariously through their childhood.

6. Having to live in two separate houses – I never get to be with both parents at once.

7. I am more cynical now that I am seventeen. When I was little my way of thinking was less critical and more blissful in its oblivion and ignorance.

8. My relationship with time: I rarely live in the moment. I am constantly in anticipation of something in the future, perpetually counting down to some goal (right now most of my goals concern college admissions). I either mull over the past or obsess about the future.

9. My relatives living in other states. When I was younger, most of my aunts and uncles lived near or with me, and I miss being able to see them on a regular basis.

10. Not being able to take anything for granted anymore.

 (In the future I will add two more “Ten” lists: One with specifically negative memories of childhood, and one about why I’m glad that I’m older).

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I am beginning to evolve into more interview based filming for my project and subsequent blogs, and have therefore decided to post potential interview questions to this blog in hopes of any form of response, critique or praise. Please comment/add more!


-Can you tell me where you lived when you were in San Francisco?
-How long did you live in each place/how long have you/did you live in San Francisco in total?
-Do you have any favorite things about where you lived?
-What is some of your fondest memories of San Francisco?
-What are some other San Francisco streets that you have memories about, good or bad?
-What do you most distinctly remember?
-What do you miss the most?
-Do you have any photographs from your time in San Francisco?


A photo my father took of the Bridge at night

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By: Klaira

Chaya and Yosef remained in Novograd Volinskiy, known at that time as Zvyagel. They lived a noble life: built their own house (which was later destroyed in WWII), had three children, and loved to help the less fortunate..they were not that far off from that themselves.

Chaya never questioned her decision to remain in Novograd even though she had lost contact with her brothers.

Zvyagel (currently known as Novograd Volinskiy)

The next three generations, including myself, were born in Novograd as well. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to meet my beloved great grandparents, as Chaya died (to the day) a year before I was born and Yosef passed away 15 years before that.  Chaya’s only son, Naum, immigrated to San Francisco in 1992, at the age of  65, through the efforts of his wife’s relatives. He immediately started to search for his lost uncles and relatives. After many long years of posting ads in various newspapers all over the country, Ruvelle, a daughter of one of the brothers, stumbled upon an ad and contacted him.

I heard that this reunion was featured in newspapers and on TV, but, unfortunately, I  wasn’t able to find any of these reports.

On Jewish holidays, my grandmother and Ruvalle call each other and only speak in Yiddish, as my grandmother doesn’t understand English and Ruvalle is not familiar with Russian. It is absolutely remarkable that a dying language is able to bind the two cousins, once separated for 90 years by thousands of miles and an Atlantic Ocean. What was once known as foreign land became the country of endless possibilities.

The Miraculous Reunion

If only Chaya was here to see all of this…

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Get ready for flip cam games with the NJFP at the Contemporary Jewish Museum on the Dec 17th, 2009, 6 – 8:30pm.

Click here for the facebook invitation.

In the meantime, please watch the clip below.

Enjoy the video? Test your Yiddish with this facebook quiz. Click here to log in to facebook and see how much you know!

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by Yenny Martin

My father just discovered a series of stories written by Susi, my grandmother. The first, the shortest, was written in the point of view of my grandfather Leonard. Her depiction of him is sweet, one of tenderness. In it he is guilty of flaws as everyone is, and through that he is unguarded and accessible. She includes her own complaints towards Leonard, but when a complaint comes from another direction she stands by him loyally. It is wonderful to come across her stories—a window through which one is able to understand, little though the window is. This story displays the strength of their love—expressed without obvious sentiments but with an unquestionable interdependence. They were a pair, co-existing.

Here is a bit of the story:

“We had heard the key turn in the lock while we lay cozily in bed, having fed the baby his early bottle and put him back to sleep. I padded barefoot to the living room to find my father-in-law staring hot-eyed at three empty bottles on the floor in the corner and various unwashed glasses left from last night’s party and then, even more pointedly, at my stubbled chin and rumpled pajamas. He beckoned to his wife and they both left without a word.

The words apparently were saved for Monday morning. True, I have but a second hand and rather piecemeal account from my wife, but I can reconstruct the scene with deadly accuracy.”

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I visited my elementary school with my dad today. Surprisingly, I hadn’t set foot at Marin School in years. Normally, I see my old school through the glaze of the car window, but don’t really look at it. Today, though, I decided to see what it would feel like to physically revisit my childhood.

            We get out of the car and walk up the wheelchair ramp to the front of the school. It’s a Sunday, so we’re the only people here, save for a little boy on a tricycle with his mother and grandmother. I’m nervous, maybe because I’m anticipating an old teacher to walk out of her classroom, recognize me, and think of me as pathetic for coming back to this place.

            We approach the front office’s awning. The ground is the same; dark cement, not quite smooth. Chalk Art Day was yesterday, so colorful rectangles filled with sharks and pumpkins line the classroom walls. I stop and look down at a Raggedy Ann doll, its strokes too contained to have been drawn by a child. I put my face up to the office window and remember standing here twelve years ago. In first grade, the office was a place to go when you had a fever or a stomach-ache. I remember the comfort of spending an hour with the nice older ladies who talked slower than normal people and enunciated every word in lilting voices, like the telephone operator.

We walk toward my old kindergarten room. It looks the same, except now it’s a second and third grade classroom taught by my fourth grade teacher. The chairs are the same tiny size, the whiteboards most likely the same ones my teacher used to teach us spelling on. I wonder how many times they’ve been erased since we wrote our names on them.

When we look toward the courtyard, I remember having lunch with my best friend, Alia. We sat where I stand today, and with the same eyes I am using now, I once watched the third graders in the adjacent classroom with curiosity, amazed at how old they were. “I can’t wait ‘til we can buy lunch like the big kids,” I once told Alia.

            “Yeah,” she would answer longingly, gazing at the plates of spaghetti while lethargically eating the yogurt her mother packed her every day.

            My dad and I walk toward the cafeteria and look through the windows at the lunch tables. I remember that in fourth grade, I took advantage of my pre-paid lunch ticket. I often waited in line for seconds, immensely satisfied as the withered lunch lady scooped clumps of rice onto our trays. I used to take globs of rice and squeeze them in my hands so that each grain lost its individuality and oil rolled down my palms.

            I take my glance away from the cafeteria and look at my dad. Aside from his shorter haircut, he doesn’t look much different than he looked twelve years ago. I, on the other hand, have changed from the five year old I once was, both physically and psychologically; a few years added to the life of a younger person comprises a much greater percentage to the ratio of years already lived.

            I continue looking through the tinted window outside of the cafeteria. I’m sure my dad understands that I’m thinking about something, so he doesn’t say anything and instead walks a few paces over to the library. I remain still, and move my hand up and down, like a fan. I watch as my hand blurs into a trail of fingers. Then I imagine myself at different ages. I see a five-year-old clutching a Beanie Baby, and a first grader ripping an earthworm apart on the playground. An eight-year-old sits in the lunchroom under a large dome, craning her eyes upward to see projected constellations turning slowly and mutating against the tarp’s wrinkles. A fifth grader walks past me, more confident and resolute than the girl trailing behind her, the latter worried about her parents’ tardiness in picking her up and other things out of her control.

            Then I imagine myself as separated into layers, each comprised of a different age and stage of life, like a Russian doll. On the outside I am seventeen, but if I look down I see a pair of tiny sneakers inside of my Converse low-tops. The ground I stand on now has been stood upon by these sneakers, worn by a girl who smiles in a class photograph kept inside a box somewhere. I can see her in my dad’s home videos. I use the pronoun “her” because when I watch these videos and see a toddler-version of me giggle or whine or sing, I am not sure if this person is dead or if I should view her as alive in myself now, part of what makes up my perspective.

            As the children fade from the courtyard, I tell my dad I am ready to go home. When we drive away, Marin seems less immediate and less concrete, more quaint and picturesque with distance. Right before we turn, I see a child running up the stairs. I imagine her as Alia, and see myself running after her. And as my dad and I turn onto Solano toward home, I try and imagine the children before me who have climbed those steps. I wonder how many of them were the adults who hurried to work and stopped for a second to watch us play. Even as a child, I knew these grown-ups did not see us as we saw ourselves, but I felt too detached from their lives, lives governed by a clock that ticked faster than our own, to wonder what they saw. Now I know they weren’t looking at us just because they thought we were cute or charming. They looked for more selfish reasons, not seeing us as particular people but more symbolically. To them, we were shades of a different time, and depending on the person, possibly tinged with nostalgia or resentment or contentment. And today, I cannot reclaim myself from an old videotape any more than these adults claimed our silhouettes as holograms of themselves, projections of their own memories.

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1. What role did religion play in your childhood?

2.  What attitude did your parents have towards religion?

3.  What was your stance on religion when raising children?  Did you tend to lean either way?

4.  What is your stance on religion nowadays?

5.[Pato(My grandfather)] Do you have any memories of Solomon Lowenstein?

6.(All besides Pato) What do you know about Solomon Lowenstein?

7. Did your parents ever talk to you about Solomon Lowenstein?

(Note that these are rough drafts, the first things that I have written.  Jeremiah gave me some tips, but if anyone could help me in phrasing questions to provide useable material feel free to contact me)

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by Yenny Martin

My grandfather Leonard and grandmother Susi were extremely young when they married—Susi 20 and Leonard 23. I believed that provided a sort of justification for his affairs: in order to ground themselves in a relationship a young person may feel the necessity to branch out, making up for missed experiences. However, my father feels this excuse of “age” justifies him too much. He feels there are some who naturally crave comfort in women—that there is no reason for it. I wasn’t satisfied with this answer: this aspect of Leonard’s personality seemed too random amidst what I know of our family. Leonard—to me the “head” of our family, who embodied it in so many ways—was now simply too shrouded in mystery to understand. The mystery is spawned in my mind; I’m unable to penetrate snippets of information fed to me. In my mind he is stuck in the middle… the only person standing apart from our easy-natured family and a voice I have no access to. I really appreciate the letter of his, to Susi: the letter I for some reason had not connected to this tumultuous period in their marriage, when she had bolted the country, furious with him and his affairs. I am thoroughly confused with the stories of his affairs—their randomness obscures the side of him that does come across in our family: the compassionate generosity and jovial strength.

Adding to my confusion was my father’s reaction to it—which seems to have consisted of nothing. He was not surprised and felt it wasn’t his business. I have a very close relationship to my parents so if placed in that situation, I would have felt that it was very much my business. I suppose the size of my father’s family distanced the four brothers from their parents and increased their independence,  like it or not.

My dad believes Leonard was creative in a large-scale way, with no limits. He says, “creative people are a certain way, they’re sort of wild, they’re not good at details.” Leonard constructed The Cannery with an artistic temperament, tearing things down if he didn’t like it. “No business person in his right mind would do a thing like that,” says my dad, referring to the initial construction of The Cannery, which posed major

financial problems upon being set in motion. And although Susi painted and wrote and engaged in artistic activities, my dad says she painted in a careful sort of way, needing a lot of feedback. When Susi read a book she read for the details, where “Leonard would dismiss it as blah blah blah and he might be right”. However, my dad felt Susi was extremely creative with people: in her encouragement and nurturing, which may perhaps be more profound.

Leonard was all over the place, messy, as a creative person. His affairs may have reflected that in a negative way. My dad used to say that sensitive and creative people are inherently a bit self-destructive. This may have been a weakness of Leonard’s: his insecurity or necessity for comfort induced a harmful stealth.

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by Yenny Martin

Leonard, his mother Aga, Susi and Andy and Steve (my dad and uncle)—the day Leonard's parents arrived in America.

Although my father had told me of my grandpa’s affairs, it never set in. As my dad talked of Leonard’s womanizing ways, I wondered about the extent; and I believed it safe to trust my grandfather in basic loyalty to his wife. But recently my dad very casually brought up the somewhat familiar story of my grandmother Susi’s reaction to Leonard’s affair—she had climbed onto the roof of his mistress’s car and in front of her peed on it. That had obviously dominated the larger story, since now I was quite startled and disappointed to hear of his infidelities. The woman with the car had been his secretary. And now as I write this and ask my father to recount the story, I am informed his affairs were not limited to her. I’m not sure what to make of this information.

When Susi and Leonard were alive together and I was small, I don’t remember intimacy or strain. I suppose at that point they had lived for so long together that their problems were, to a degree, washed out in the background.

Taking Leonard’s rascally ways into consideration, I have never come to the realization that he is related to me. During

the opening of The Cannery, Leonard enjoyed press and celebrity, a diplomatic hambone and entertainer. He was a character and very rarely timid, even in his own creation of shocking situations: yelling at waiters, pushing aside (in a tipsy state) old folk waiting for a cab, opening champagne so the cork nearly skimmed an ear in its flight across the room. That part of him must have come across in my father, and me too, in some way. In my father I see traces of Leonard—at times a mischief-maker with a fiery temper—though his general personality follows that of Susi’s: floating and modest. But it seems my grandfather also gave him his idealism and hyper-sensitivity. Leonard’s uncle, Peter, was almost pathologically shy and self-conscious—Russian traits, so my dad says. My father says I have “barbarian” on both sides of my family: from Leonard and from my mother’s Mongol father.

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By: Klaira

One of the biggest and most important lessons that I have learned growing up is that our lives do not depend our own decisions but rather on the ones that others make for us. Think about it, we don’t have the opportunity to choose our parents, (as unhappy as we can be with them at times) what schools to attend, what to think and believe.

I, for one, wouldn’t be here today but for one of the most important decisions that my great grandmother made while she was in her late teens.

Chaya in her early 20s

During the early 1900s -before the Internet was created, before television and telephones became commodities, before the Wright brothers flew around the globe –-Jews were experiencing pogroms and were deprived of their basic human rights. Rumors were that America was the ultimate dream country, an escape, where one could prosper and have the opportunity for a brighter future. What more could you ask for?

For nineteen  year old Chaya life was no different, growing up in a small town of Novograd Volinskiy, just three hours away from Ukraine’s capital, Kiev. Rather what is today known as Ukraine, Ukraine’s capital and Novograd Volinskiy.

The journey to the Land of Opportunity would be difficult and took several months by train and ship.Older children were often the first to immigrate to the new land send for their parents and other siblings after they got settled. Chaya and her brothers were no exception. Since their parents died, before Chaya was able to turn nineteen, her two brothers remained her only relatives but they lived thousands of miles away.

The next time they would see each other would be on the new soil of the glorious United States. But who knew how long that would take… if at all….. They finally were able to gather enough money to send for Chaya: the three of them would all be together once again.

On the day of her departure, Chaya was saying farewell to her friends and neighbors, and a beloved suitor, Yosef. When it comes Yosef’s turn to say goodbye, he tells Chaya that if she leaves, he will throw himself under the rails of the very train that she will be on.

One of the biggest and hardest decisions that Chaya had to make was to jump from that train as it started moving, leaving all of her belongings. That was also the time that Chaya realized that she would probably never see her brothers again.

Over the years, the three communicated through letters but that became very difficult as the First and Second World Wars came and went, when the Soviet government censored any contact with the outside world.

Zvyagel (currently known as Novograd Volinskiy)

In order to stay alive, Chaya had to stop communicating with the land of opportunity, knowing that her chance would never come again.

In case you are wondering, Yosef did become Chaya’s loving husband, and later my great grandfather.

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by Zoe Pollak

From a young age, I have always wanted to time-travel. When I read books, I not only imagine myself in the place of the characters, but picture my life in the pages’ long-passed histories, a Zoe plucked out of today and teleported to 1760s Europe, 1850s South, or 1940s nuclear America. When I watch black and white movies, I long to travel to the forties, a time when Cary Grant flashed his dazzling smiles and candy cost a penny and everything seemed so much more simple.

I’m fairly sure I can place my scientific interest in time travel to my junior year of high school when I started getting several hours of homework every night. I’d sit at the computer screen and procrastinate from my essays by reading science articles theorizing the possibilities of time travel. I mulled over the grandfather paradox for more than an hour one night, imagining what would happen to me if I went back fifty or sixty years in time and prevented my grandparents from meeting. If I succeeded, would I slowly fade from every photograph with me in it, like Marty in “Back to the Future”? If I’d been actually able to kill my grandfather, would I die the moment he did? Questions like these entertained my imagination for the better part of last year as ways to escape the ever-present awkward age of high school. As I traversed the pages of Steven Hawking’s ideas concerning parallel universes and listened to YouTube clips of Michio Kaku talk about pretzel-shaped worm-holes, I wanted more than anything for the possibility to go back to my childhood and appreciate what I had taken for granted.

But eventually I had to acknowledge a paradox equally mind-boggling as the scientific conundrums attached to time travel: if I could somehow find a way to go back in time to the streets and houses of my childhood, not only to observe the events of my life fold out again before me , but to actually take the place of the five-year-old who is now nonexistent (but remains fragmented, encapsulated in my memory), I’d be too precocious for childhood’s innocence. I’d be an extremely stressed-out child, petrified with worries about the future and unable to function.

zoe, lhs whaleWhile climbing the back of the Lawrence Hall of Science whale or creating patterns in the woodchips of the Berkeley Jewish Community Center, I wouldn’t be able to live in the moment. Even if time travel were possible, my brain has developed too many circuits that frenetically wind around each other in order to go back to the childhood I so fondly remember.

And then there’s the issue of nostalgia. My mind has blocked out most of the excruciating, annoying, and agonizing events of being a kid. When I look back and try really hard to remember more than the just the positive aspects of kindergarten, I start to envision a little Zoe, terribly frustrated at not being able to express herself when she didn’t have enough words to sound astute or credible. As a kindergartener, I was perplexed at my mother’s sarcasm and puzzled by my father’s quietness. Cursive baffled me, as did fast typists. I wanted so much to be able to sit in the front seat, but had to sit in the back because of the air-bag hazard. Little dissatisfactions like these were, I’m sure, foremost and pressing in my five-year-old consciousness.

Nonetheless, when I get home from school with six or seven hours of homework due the following day, I still wish I could shrink and flatten myself out so that I could enter the photographs of my elementary school days, where my vivacious friends and I exist frozen, mid-smile, mid-laugh, mid-sentence, embalmed in two dimensions.

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“Where is your butt? What happened to it?” my babushka exclaimed when I came home for the first time in months. “Did you leave it in New York?”

“You look like you came out of a death camp,” my mom seconded.


The lovely mama-babushka duo.

I had just arrived back to San Francisco after settling into adult life on the East Coast.  For the record: I lost maybe 5 pounds over a few months as a result of stress while job hunting. (I know this because my mother forced me to get on the scales as soon as we arrived from the airport.) And even I know that’s not worth making a Holocaust joke.

We left the former Soviet Union when I was five and as part of the Russian diet, I grew up eating dishes hidden with globs of butter and sour cream.  But as I acquired American tastes – and somewhat leaner cravings – I began to request my olivier salad with low-fat mayonnaise and my borscht sans cream.

This never fazed either mama or babushka, because God Forbid their prized eldest daughter/grandchild succumb to the trend of obesity in our new land. How then would she ever be able to nab her perfect Jewish husband? (This has been a preoccupation, and dream, of theirs for me since we immigrated here in ’92. And probably before I was born).

Don’t get me wrong: I still love Russian food. Everything from peirogi to grechnivaya kasha makes me miss a country I don’t remember living in. I spent only five years in Ukraine, but its smells still manage to inspire nostalgia.

My babushka tried teaching me how to cook the traditional Ukranian dish galuptzi for “Yelena’s Story.” (Also, I think, with the goal of landing said husband in mind). Though I haven’t attempted the feat again on my own,  I’ve been cooking since graduating in May (nothing special, but enough to acquaint myself with the stove to live off of pasta and rice during my subsequent unemployment).

Maybe I looked so gaunt because I gave up restaurants to cook on the cheap with little oil and whole wheats only. But try explaining healthy eating to your Jewish grandmother and end up with a spoon of sour cream down your throat.

See my sad attempts at living up to our culinary heritage below. (Yes, for some inexplicable reason, I am wearing fake nails for the entirety of the cooking lesson).

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by Yenny Martin

Although my cousin and I were slightly afraid and timid in his presence, the feeling I had of my grandfather Leonard was of love and of respect. Stories of him are filled mostly with ferocious daring, so I had begun to picture him only with those traits. I was surprised when my dad told me recently he was an “extremely sensitive and introverted person,” describing him as emotional. My grandmother, he said, viewed him as alike Dimitri in The Brother’s Karamozov—the emotional, temperamental, blunt brother. According to Susi, Leonard viewed himself as Aloysha, the gentle and sensitive one, which Susi laughed at. A new image of him developed in my mind as I sifted through photos of Leonard with his sons. They are full of tenderness and ease. This is the first glimpse I’ve had of fatherly affection in Leonard, as my father’s


stories translate a harsh, heavily-demanding father. My dad said as Leonard developed gout and became pressured by work, he had “no patience with adolescents struggling within their physical changes and drawn into this different world.” My father was awkward as a teenager, he said, with a long skinny neck, and Leonard was very hard on him. In these pictures Leonard very much resembles my father: their long legs and the way, as my dad ages, their shoulders slant downward and their upper-backs arch.


Leonard and my dad

Very recently we came across a letter of Leonard’s addressed to my grandmother abroad, during an extremely turbulent time in their marriage. It was in 1968 as Leonard’s project “The Cannery” had opened—and brought upon them financial difficulties—and as their sons were headed off to college. I was moved by this very sweet and genuine letter, which began by addressing their situation and how much he missed her, then branched off about their daily affairs and how things were running on his end. The letter was interspersed with short paragraphs of his love for her, interrupting talk of The Cannery and the whereabouts of “the boys”: these short bursts saying their love was more important than what may obscure it . . . and always addressing her as “darling.” He said he was not trying to play games or impose himself or bother her in her self-imposed exile. This other side to him comes as a surprise but, also, is not unexpected. Leonard and Susi’s children of course inherited their traits, and all are rascally in their own way, but very sensitive and gentle. I’ll talk more about that later.


Leonard and Steve, my uncle


Leonard and Andy, my dad

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by Yenny Martin

To understand my family I cannot leave my grandfather out, who through influence of behavior and blood moved the family’s course from the tracings laid out by Susi. He was a fiery and rascally character who in the womb had been pummeled around in his mother’s war-time escape from Russia. With deeply Russian features and tall, strong frame, I remember him as a power of our family, the leader. I realize now that perhaps our family’s feeling of interconnectedness was lost in the absence of this man’s conspicuous strength. His death, I very little understood—in hearing “cancer” I assumed cancer was common enough to be shaken off, and “death” was too detached to trigger emotion. Only when we visited him as he lay in his room on a rented cot, did I understand its force.



Leonard on the right

Before I entered, my cousin asked the nurse within if I would be scared. She said it half-jokingly, without weight, and I had a similar attitude of distance. My cousin was temporarily living in my grandparent’s house, so she had many opportunities to visit him and was used to the climate and situation. When I walked in and saw Leonard sleeping, I was overwhelmed with a horrible sadness. He was so removed from the sturdy, upbeat, red-faced man I was used to—so polar from that image, that he was unrecognizable. He was so thin, so pale and so weak; breathing heavily with delicate eyelids of lead. He was suddenly many years older, floating in lightened weight but press-pushed reliantly into the pillow. I gazed for only a few moments at this pitiful sight, wishing to become closer to him in some way. But in the burden of unexpected and ungraspable sadness, I felt a subtle need to escape. My cousin quickly suggested to go play in the yard and headed toward the door. I followed.

I think now, part of the shock was in his resemblance to his four sons. Seeing his sunken, skinny face and neck diminished to strings of skin stretched by a backward-tilted head, was seeing our family’s source withering.


If I could change one thing, I would have stayed until Leonard woke up. During the scattering of his ashes under a great redwood by their house (where my grandma’s ashes were later strewn too) I again felt removed from the weight of the situation. I saw my mother and other family members crying, and my cousin and I began to giggle in discomfort. But when it came my turn to sprinkle the ash, I felt its softness and tenderly carried it up to the tree-base, the last touch of my grandfather.

The memories of Leonard are a mix… images of angry yelling, images of apprehension, images of softness. In my grandmother’s journals was an entry of when I was little—it spoke of me staring at Leonard very keenly at their dining room table and proceeding to walk up and sit on his lap. I also have a distinct image of him choking at dinner: at his birthday celebration at a Chinese restaurant, he suddenly began to cough violently, his face turning red. We all stopped to watch him struggle and I again felt a wave of remorse as my grandfather, in contrast to his usual energetic resiliency, and amidst all his family, was vulnerable.

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by Zoe Pollak

I chose a new photograph to write about this weekend, and it just so happens that it revolves around another Boulder birthday with Hannah. After my mother and I had finished our pieces and began to read the other’s writing, I commented on her broader approach, noting her more general response in comparison to the directness of my story’s recount. My mother then reminded me that I have a clearer memory of this instance in time than she, partly because I chose the photograph (she chose last week’s photo), and partly because my own childhood is the subject. I found it interesting to note that my mother had forgotten that it was actually Hannah’s birthday and assumed it was my own, a deduction most viewers would make without more context.

Again, we waited to read the other’s post until we both had finished.

zoe, njfp photos hannah

Savoring the moment


As I looked through the photo albums for a picture to reflect on this past weekend, I came across another photo of Hannah and me that I remember clearly being taken. My mother is most likely the photographer here (most mothers place their children in the center of the photo), while Hannah sits at the very border, not at all content with being in the background. She glares at me while I concentrate on blowing out the single candle atop yet another cupcake of my pre-school days. It obviously isn’t my first birthday here, nor is it my birthday at all. In fact, we were celebrating Hannah’s fourth birthday, and this time I was jealous because she had four candles on her cupcake while mine had none. I asked her mother if I could also have a candle, to which Hannah protested, so we ended up compromising. Neither one of us, however, felt satisfied. I was still slightly miffed (though I didn’t voice my disappointment) at having only one candle, which seemed immensely trivial in comparison to the symmetry of Hannah’s four dancing flames. My best friend was annoyed in principle that I even got one candle at all. This photograph perfectly captures our stubbornness; I had waited to blow out my candle until after Hannah made her birthday wish so that I could claim the limelight a little longer. I remember being well aware of Hannah’s disapproval, but my awareness of her dissatisfaction didn’t get in the way of my wish-making.

My mother:

Looking at this photo of Zoë—her hair pulled away from her face and  gathered in a fountain of curls at the top of her head, her chubby child’s fingers braced on either side of her on the table—it looks as if blowing out a birthday candle were as demanding an activity as pole-vaulting. I guess it is, for a three-year-old, each year a sea of time that must be crossed before the next birthday celebration can begin and a new group of presents arrives. In one of our home movies, a Zoë barely two sits on a couch and sings “Happy Burday” to herself repeatedly while she plays with some kind of wooden puzzle or toy, oblivious of the camera’s eye upon her.
I cannot help smiling as I recall her high sweet voice absently sing this paean to herself, the notes rising and falling tonelessly in imitation of the cadences of the song.

     Hannah is in this photo, as she is in most of the pictures taken of Zoë during our two years in Boulder. But here my daughter’s friend is pictured off to one side while Zoë herself sits front and center, no doubt enjoying the sweet and much waited for victory of the birthday celebrant, who is permitted on this day as no other in the year to enjoy her celebrity status. Zoë looks down at the cupcake, while Hannah looks either at her, or it—I can’t tell which. I am certain, however, of the feeling on her face—the very picture of envy, the same face grownups try hard to hide but which occasionally stares out from newspaper images when a sidelined politician gets caught unawares. Hannah’s jealousy was, I’m sure, momentary, and nothing like the poisoned attitudes of adults slow to shake off their own ill will. Still it’s interesting to look at her fingers, which may be simulating the action of blowing out the candle herself. Or perhaps she is playing with them to keep herself from snatching the coveted icon on the table.

     For a group of middle-class parents, the toddler birthday party has become as much a political event as the office Christmas party, complete with paid entertainment and predictable bad behavior. The ones we held back then in Boulder featured barnyard animals rather than circus acts– games of “Pin the Tail on the Donkey” and “Duck Duck Goose” and not professional jugglers or off-duty clowns. Still, even the old-fashioned kind of celebration had its difficult moments.

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Klaira-Profile Pic.

By: Klaira

Just under a year ago, before the craze of online quizzes, constant status updates, and fortune telling applications, the loyal members of Facebook shared 25 interesting facts about themselves. This seems like one of the most sincere ways for people to socialize and get to know each other, instead of a generic quiz written for pure entertainment. It look me nearly a month to come up with my facts.

Here is a little peek into my “vita”.


I have always had a passion for telecommunications

1. When I was little, I would always get sick. My mom would “bribe” me with candy not to attend school.

2. I can easily drink a gallon of water every single day.

3. I am very good in remembering dates and random facts. Tell me your birthday, (unless I already know) and I will remember it for the rest of my life.

4. I actually stood in line for 4 hours on July 11th, 2008, the first release day of the 3G iPhone, just to see what kind of people have nothing else better to do. I do have to admit it was an entertaining wait and i got my iPhone :)

5. I don’t like rice. Well, only in Sushi. I can only imagine what is going through your head right now…

6. I have American relatives who have been living in the states for the past 60 years and don’t speak a word of Russian. It has been a pure miracle that we have found each other.

7. I can crack almost every major bone in my body

8. I have edited/shot, and acted in a documentary film about my immigration which has been shown all over the world. I give presentations about it to this day.

9. “Spicy” should me be my middle name. I am always up for something spicy with great flavor

10. I own more books than articles of clothing. Still can’t determine if it is a good or bad thing

11. I learned English by watching the Rugrats. How many of you remember that cartoon?

12. I can’t shop for more than 2 hours. I get extremely tired, dizzy and not to mention whinny (one of my few rare moments). Trust me; you don’t want to be next to me once the 1:59 mark has been hit.

13. My mom used to be a famous column writer and poetess for several popular papers back in Ukraine

14. I find that I am allergic to new things every day. These allergies come in all varieties, shapes, and sizes. Consider yourself warned: you can be next.

15. I completed two majors and a minor in college in 4 years. All because I was interested in almost everything so it was extremely hard to narrow it down. However, my senior thesis still remains as my biggest accomplishment.

16. My second bed is a movie theater. I have fallen asleep during 75.6% of the movies. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy them.

17. I started my own business selling special pens in 3rd grade. It got very popular and was very successful. Unfortunately, the dean of the school forced me to close it. Deep inside, I still think she wanted one of those special pens for free.

18. By the time I was out of middle school, I have finished writing two screen plays and a couple of chapters of a novel which is still in process of being finished and published.

19. I can get high (in my own definition) from the smell of early morning, the ocean, and the rain. In general, I adore nature traveling and exploring but don’t to take advantage of it that often.

20. Because of the insane amount of copying we had to do in 2nd grade, in order to develop our penmanship, I taught myself to write with both hands. This talent exists till this very day.

21. Maybe it is the inner child in me but I love board, card, and other games made for a group of people. Nothing is better than being with your friends laughing, exploring, and having fun-all together.

22. At 7, I made a bargain with God. Needless to say, the results were “interesting.”

23. I love coming up with new inventions to make life funer and easier. However, it turns out most of my creations already exist, even though I have never seen one. The day and I still young…

24. I don’t get offended that easily. Try me and you’ll see…

25. Growing up, I used to have a cat who had the same name as my next door neighbor. You can only imagine all drama that followed that, chances are you are right. Needless to say, my poor kitty committed suicide.

26. At 5, I finally started rolling my “Rs” by pronouncing a Russian swear word. Trust me, I had a blast practicing my new skill on the street while holding my grandparents’ hand. Great memories :)






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by Yenny Martin


My dad feels that Steve, his older brother, was affected more dramatically by the war—via its direct effects on Susi, their mother. Steve was born on the war’s cusp, in 1944, the eldest of four brothers. My dad says Steve reacted to the Holocaust’s underpinnings in a different way than the other three, as reactions are always unpredictable.

When they were little, Steve and my dad were extremely close. Being the first two in the world, they had time to themselves, retreating every year, for example, to their uncle’s farm. In these pictures they are extremely sweet together, natural as brothers are—two of the same taking care of each other.

Now, Steve’s and my father’s personalities—though they overlap some—are almost opposites. My dad says Steve reminds him of his ex-wife, who was conscious of her prominence and basked in it. Another way of describing their boyhood differences: Steve was


a fan of Pat Boone, my father of Elvis. Pat Boone was accepted and white-shoed, where Elvis stuck out untamed against that upright look.

My dad feels that general internal complexities profoundly and fundamentally effect Holocaust survivors, and through them, their offspring. He says Steve was proud to drive to work as a doctor, to be part of the workforce; that perhaps this was partially a desire to be accepted where internally, with the burden survivors and their children bear, he stood apart.

My dad feels that through these extreme and hidden pressures, Steve and he became separate and distant, that for a time Steve reacted by “acting out” (rather than turning inward).

This formality of detachment became a factor not too long ago. In fact they understand each other extremely well, my dad says, and I imagine they share more than at first it seems. Steve cares very much for my dad and is not afraid to express it, whereas my


father is more aloof and less willing to cross that bridge after recent family difficulties. Exactly what the misunderstanding between them was seems lost, an impenetrable glass barrier. My dad has never expressed his feelings for Steve apart from how he felt when he was younger, and in his company he is reserved.

When they were young, Steve apparently wasn’t a good fighter. There was a rumor one day that someone Steve’s age had been beaten up. All day my dad worried, thinking it might be Steve. Upon arriving home and seeing his brother unharmed on the couch, he felt immensely relieved.




Andy, my dad

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by Zoe Pollak

I sometimes wonder if I’d be interested in writing if my mother weren’t a writer. Ever since I was little she encouraged me to read and write, whether for a school assignment or for pleasure. I don’t actually remember her praising my writing or any specific prompts she suggested because our exchanges were so frequent that they were taken for granted, like white noise. I do, however, remember some books she gave me when I was older. In elementary school and middle school, Coffee Will Make you Black and Bee Season were two books that made a huge impression on me. Both centered on adolescent girls, these books taught me to see differently through different kinds of language.

Throughout middle school, I went to my mother with questions about what I read. But I never received a definitive answer; I was answered with more questions. When I was younger I felt annoyed with these circumlocutions and wanted simple responses. Now I realize she was teaching me to be open and to respond to the world around me with questions of my own.

In seventh grade, for an assignment, we were told to bring in a favorite excerpt from a book we had read. I brought in the following passage from Bee Season. This passage describes a hand-made kaleidescope:

A spiral of shoes of decreasing heel heights cycles from brown to orange as it winds its way to a center of earrings whose shapes and colors form a pattern of stripes and circles in sparkling metal and rhinestone. The shoes are framed by pens and pencils stacked at careful angles to form a free-standing fence of contrasting colors and shapes, the curve of a pen’s tip set off by the blunt end of an unused pencil. An arrangement of pink erasers becomes the flesh of a creature governed by the laws of geometry.

            “The transition from shoe to wineglass is barely perceptible, the shoes as they stretch toward the glasses actually assuming shapes that reflect or contain a wineglass within them. The perimeter is composed of glasses lying lengthwise on the floor, but with the aid of marbles, beads, and shot glasses, the line arches upward in a graceful curve to join a column of stacked wineglasses, brandy snifters, and champagne flutes reaching higher than Saul’s head. Occasional colors in the stems of the vessels form symmetrical patterns independent of their tower, balanced compositions of line and curve that catch and clarify the room’s light. When Saul gazes at the tower, he sees water reflecting the sun, he sees a night of stars, he sees the patient, timeless ice of the poles. He wants to stand at the center of the tower, the glass his second skin, its light beamed directly into his body (223-4).”

            I read it aloud, and when I stopped the classroom was completely silent. The teacher asked me why I chose this piece. I didn’t really have an answer. I like the imagery is what I think I said to him. But now, I can see this passage was a precursor into my later and now current explorations with words. The strong prepositions and verbs connect the sentences as easily as the objects blend into each other , and I unconsciously liked the way the syntax mirrored its subject.

            Today, I still appreciate this rhetorical device. And I have my mother to thank for introducing me to texts like these and asking me questions, for challenging any undeveloped assertion or inconclusive generalization I make out of laziness or fear of being challenged.

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