I even had both sets.
My friends, most of whom were children of Holocaust survivors, had no relatives to speak of—certainly not grandparents.
My mother’s parents had traveled to the United States from White Russia in the early 1900s and were thus spared the horrors that were unleashed across Europe a few decades later. My father’s parents immigrated to the US in the 1920s from Galicia. My grandparents were the lucky ones.
But while I was fortunate to know my grandparents and develop strong bonds with them, once I got older and they were no longer around, I realized I knew little, if next to nothing, about my great-grandparents. Why had I never thought to ask my grandparents about their parents, and their parents before them? I thought to myself. Why didn’t it dawn on me to find out who I am and where I come from?
Bayla Sheva Brenner’s deeply moving article in this issue, “Jewish Genealogy: The Journey to Oneself,” reminded me of my own quest into my familial past, which I began not too long ago and which remains one of the most amazing journeys I have been privileged to take.
The Torah charges us to remember our past—“zechor yemos olam binu shenos dor vador, remember the days of old, understand the years of generation after generation”—and it’s clear to me only now why this is so. Digging into one’s past connects one to his roots, reinforces one’s Jewish identity and gives one a strong spiritual anchor.
In her sensitive and well-researched article, Bayla Sheva, quoting Eviatar Zerubavel, professor of sociology at Rutgers University, writes, “Individuals who are busy reconstructing their family’s past are not merely keeping track of their ancestral history; they’re refining their identity.”
I discovered the truth of Professor Zerubavel’s statement when I first launched into genealogical research. How did I begin this arduous but most rewarding journey? Eight years ago, on the day of the bris of one of my grandsons, I received a surprising e-mail. It was from a professor at the University of Idaho College of Law named Myron Schreck. Dashing out to the bris, I had little time to contemplate the contents of the e-mail. It was only later in the day, when I re-read the message, that I realized how truly fascinated I was by his simple question: are we related? Turns out, Myron is the grandson of my grandfather’s brother. Subsequently, he sent me lists of dozens of aunts and uncles, opening up a whole new world for me—the world of my past. In the years since, I have engaged in extensive research about my new and ever-expanding family, bonded with Myron as true cousins should and met new relatives I never knew existed though we live in the same city, not far from one another.
Most recently, I experienced the greatest thrill yet of my pilgrimage to my past. My son Mordechai discovered an actual photograph of the two individuals responsible for connecting the array of relatives I have managed to uncover: my great-grandparents.
I gaze with a sense of awe and disbelief at the regal images of Mordechai Tzvi Schreck, my great-grandfather, and standing beside him, my great-grandmother, Raizel Leah Schreck. Bits of information have become available to me about their lives—when they were born, when they died, how and where they lived. I’m immersed in an ocean of self-discovery, with each day bringing new and inspiring revelations.
Who were my great-grandparents? I now have the beginning of an answer. But this question is one that will continue to echo in my head until the day comes when I can, with confidence and certainty, say to my own grandchildren: “Come, sit, let me tell you about your great-great-great-grandparents.”
In addition to the article on genealogy, this issue is packed with relevant, timely articles including a revealing piece by Rabbi Yamin Levy about the often-contentious relationship between a rabbi and the shul board; a review essay on Rabbi Moshe Meiselman’s new book, Torah, Chazal and Science and a special section on Torah and technology. Finally, our cover story delves into a phenomenon that, while growing in popularity, has not been covered much in the Jewish media: the rise of the neo-Chassidus movement and how it’s starting to change the face of the Modern Orthodox community.
I hope you enjoy the wonderful array of articles, and, as always, feel free to e-mail us with your comments and suggestions.
Best wishes for a happy Chanukah!
Gerald M. Schreck is the chairman of the OU Communications Commission.