Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Old Polish Passports, discovered under the bed.

The Yiddish wallet which contained the Polish passports we found under the bed. My Yiddish is almost entirely non-existent, but, sounding out the letters, I believe the last word on the left is "America"
My wife's great-grandparents: Moszek (Moshe) and Ruchla Abramowicz
Amusingly, under 'distinguishing characteristics,' it lists 'beard' for Moshe. How many Ashkenazi Jews born in 1862 would have sported beards?




Several years ago, when my wife's grandmother died, we discovered a tea tin under her bed. In it were the steamer tickets which brought her, her future husband, and her parents to Canada from Poland in 1930. There were also passports: her passport and her parents' passports.

Moszek and Ruchla Abramowicz, of Radomska, Poland, were both born in 1862 in Poland. Their (single) passport was stamped by Canadian Immigration on February 14, 1930 in Danzig. By February 17, 1930, they were in London, England. From there, the boat took them to Canada where they settled in Toronto. We have a fantastic audiotape made by my sister-in-law as a Bat Mitzvah project. In it, her bubie talks about her parents and her 'young, young, years.' In Poland, Moshe had sold fish from a horse-drawn cart. Sometimes, his daughter rode in the cart with him.

Their daughter and son-in-law (my wife's Bubie and Zaydie) opened a barbershop at College and Bathurst St. in Toronto where, in addition to haircuts, they had something of a little convenience store and made meals which they served in the back. The family lived above the store.

In the 80s, when my wife and I visited the store with her bubie, the same man who had bought the store from them still owned it. He was proud to show off the new furnace that he had installed. He also flirted with my wife's 80+ Bubie.

I look at the pictures of my wife's great-grandparents in the passport, the dates, the handwriting, the yellowed paper. It is hard to imagine how different their experience of life was. I recall when he first met my son, my grandfather was amazed that he had known his grandfather (who had been born in the 1860s) and now he had met his great-grandson. "That's six generations!" he exclaimed, delighted that he was a bridge over such a vast amount of human time.

When I was young, we had horse-drawn carts.
Now we have Photoshop

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Jews from Eastern Europe are called Ashkenazis (as opposed to the Jews from the Spanish and North African world, know as Sephardic Jews.) There are two types of Ashkenazis.My wife's family was Galitzianer,  that is, Jews from the south-eastern region of the Eastern-European Yiddish speaking world. It implies that a person speaks Yiddish with a certain dialect, and there are cultural differences as well. The "opposite" is a Litvak, a Jew from the north-eastern areas such as Lithuania. My family was Litvak.


The name originated as the Yiddish term referring to someone from Galicia, part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in modern-day Poland and Ukraine, as opposed to the Litvaks of Belarus, north-eastern Poland and Lithuania, Galitsyaners spoke a separate dialect of Yiddish. Eventually, the term referred to anyone who spoke a similar dialect, broadening the term to mean, basically, "anyone who isn't a Litvak".

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