Epilogue: Finding the Jews of Obodivka

November 26, 2017

Tomorrow will mark seven weeks since I visited Obodivka, a place where I connected with my Jewish roots but in which I found no Jews.

 

As Dmitriy and I were leaving Obodivka on that memorable Sunday, after we visited my great grandparents' old neighborhood, after we saw the mass grave to the Obodivka pogrom of 1919 and that old Jewish cemetery in the woods, after we had gathered some dirt from the ground on which my Zayde Charlie walked his milk delivery route, and after I had procured my treasured milk jug, I remembered one final task I wanted to complete, picking up two nice stones and throwing them into my backpack, to be used some time later for a plan I had in mind.

 

That plan, that final epilogue, the closure of my Obodivka journey came today, as my father, Joel (named after his great grandfather Yussel, who I had said kaddish for at the Obodivka mass grave); his wife, Jill; my brother, Larry; his wife, Rebecca; and I drove to Mount Lebanon Cemetery just outside of Philadelphia to meet cousins Ron and Marsha Kushnier, who I had not seen since I was a small child but had assisted me with essential information before my journey; my cousin Randy Gurak; and Randy's father, my great uncle (and godfather) Howard Gurak - the son of, and only living child of my Bubby Naomi and Zayde Charlie.

 

Today we joined together in front of Naomi and Charlie's graves.  As I was surrounded with family, I discovered that so are Naomi and Charlie, as we looked around to see graves of Guraks and Kushniers and Spectors, all part of this family that found its roots in that tiny village in Ukraine.

 

And it was there that I reached into my bag, pulled out the two stones , and handed them to my beloved Uncle Howard, asking him to place those stones on top of the graves of his parents, reconnecting them after a century with the home they had left.  With tears in his eyes, he did so, leaning over to kiss his parents' graves.

 

As we began to walk away from Naomi and Charlie's burial place and towards the place in which our cars were parked, in front of the large section of graves that includes our family's plots among many others, I discovered the stone monument that marked that large area.  The monument reads "Obodivka Indpendent Ferein, Organized March 31, 1935."

 

Indeed, it wasn't just Naomi and Charlie who moved to Philadelphia from Obodivka.  Not just my Uncle Frank, who had invited Charlie to join him in the fur business; and not just Charlie's mother, Adya Gurak, who had come to America after her husband, Yussel, and son, Chaim, were killed in the pogrom.

 

While I connected with my Jewish ancestry in Obodivka, I discovered much of the Obodivka Jewish community - villagers so well connected that they created their own benefit society in America - at rest together, peacefully, just outside Philadephia, in the new world they called home.

 

After we left the cemetery, we went to lunch and shared stories.  Randy told me that he learned there had been an engagement party in Obodivka before Naomi left where the guests of honor were Naomi and a photograph of Charlie; and that Naomi had asked her parents what would happen if she went to America and discovered she didn't like Charlie, to which they responded "Don't worry, there are plenty of other men in America."

 

Apparently she liked him, for which I'm deeply grateful.

 

I traveled over 4,000 miles to discover the village of my great grandparents' youth.  Today, with my family next to me, as I ended the final chapter of my journey, I found their community, resting together, 15 miles from the hospital in which I was born.

 

I have a cassette recording that was made of my Bubby Naomi and Zayde Charlie when they first came to see me at that hospital - just one more fruit in a family with roots firmly planted in Obodivka and branches that reached the city of brotherly love.   

 

Until my next journey, "zay gezunt."

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