What does U.S.A. mean to you?

Liberty Bell in Independence Park, Jerusalem, Israel (photo: 2008)
Liberty Bell in Independence Park, Jerusalem, Israel (photo: 2008)

I’ve been waiting a year to use that photo. Yes, that is the liberty bell, a copy of the one in Philadelphia. I believe the bell and parts of the park were donated by Americans and Canadians, the bell in particular by Americans in 1976. One year ago today we were in that park; on July 4th itself we were on a plane, flying back to New Jersey.

So, what does the United States of America mean to you? I am especially interested to hear if you do not live here.

As I have talked a bit about my mother’s parents (see, for example, Greetings from Mariampole), now I am going to mention my father’s parents. In brief, when my grandmother was a little girl in a shtetl (I always think of a shtetl house as one that had dirt for floors instead of wood or linoleum or marble or whatever – she lived somewhere in the Austro-Hungarian Empire) she had to hide under a bed to protect herself from a pogrom. Soon after that, she and her family came to the United States of America, to New York City. On my grandfather’s side, his family came from Poland (from Głogów or Glogov). He and his siblings were fortunate to come in the early part of the twentieth century; he had cousins, however, that were caught in Europe in World War II. Supposedly, they hid from the Nazis and survived by hiding in the sewers. I feel so fortunate to have escaped these experiences (a pogrom and hiding in a sewer). And to have a beautiful family and home, and to be able to express myself without fear. Well, maybe a little, the general “opening up in public” kind of fear, not the Stalinist lock you up in jail sort. My maternal grandmother once spent the night in jail in the Soviet Union, but that is a topic for another time. I don’t even know that much to tell about it.

Little Leora, Zaydie, Bubby and my brother, somewhere in New York
Little Leora, Zaydie, Bubby and my brother, somewhere in New York

Perhaps this is taken in Far Rockaway? They did live there for a while when I was little. Any New Yorkers know?

Your turn.

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28 thoughts on “What does U.S.A. mean to you?

  • Thank you, Leora for sharing these stories! The more you talk about them the better. An uncle of mine couldn’t talk about the concentrationcamps. His first wife died in the gaschambers and his two little sons, three and five were also killed. At his funeral relatives of his, who survived the concentration camps, came to show their respect. My uncle married my father’s sister. It was his second marriage. My uncle was a harsh and bitter man. No wonder, and yet so many others who had gone through the same experiences could manage and cope with their grief. It depends on your character.

    • Thank you so much for sharing your uncle’s story. One can’t imagine how one can live after such tragedy.

      I had a teacher who had lived through the concentration camps. He never told his students about them. However, his granddaughter lives here, and I believe he did talk to her about them. Unlike your uncle, my teacher was a man of giving, giving, giving. I think teaching the next generation was his way.

  • Does your paternal grandmother come from Poland too? Or does the word “pogrom” imply Russia?
    Amazing how your daughter looks like little Leora.
    Thanks for sharing more of your family story with us.

  • What a lovely picture of you and your Zaydie and Bubby!

    Here in Israel, kids do an “avodat shorashim” (literally, “roots project”) in 6th grade. They spend the entire year doing research, and then they can either make a PowerPoint presentation or gather all the information into an album. Each of my older kids learned so much about our family this way.

    Shabbat Shalom!

  • Lived 4 years in the Soviet Union – it is amazing how many people in America don’t realize the freedom they have. My husband didn’t speak word of English 9 years ago when we came here – now he has Masters degree in Engineering – if you work hard – you are free to make it here – doesn’t matter who you are and where are you from – the USA has been and amazing journey for my family!

    • Ellie, thanks so much for sharing your own family’s story.

      How did you live 4 years in Soviet Union? You are from Bulgaria originally, correct? Was it for education?

      • At the time Bulgaria was a communist country – small one – we had contracts with the Soviet Union for supply of wood. My parents used to work in Northern Russia – in the taiga in a Bulgarian company – so I ended up finishing high school there. By the time I graduated the communism collapsed in Eastern Europe and my family came back to Bulgaria. It was an interesting experience.

  • There is little likeliness that that photo was taken in Far Rockaway, since at that time it was more like “the country” (and didn’t have any apartement buildings and thin streets like those displayed here).

    • ,שלמה

      That’s excellent detective work. Leora, if you know anyone doing geneology, they might be able to help. My husband does geneology on his family, and photos give alot of details we sometimes miss.

      • I just added Glogov, the town my paternal grandfather came from, to the post. Maybe someone searching for information on that town will find this post.

        The Wikipedia article makes it look like a grand place to live, but my guess is the Jews didn’t live in those palaces.

  • Leora…I am enjoying reading the comments here. What does it mean? I hope I realize how lucky I am to live here and how much that is taken for granted that so many people don’t have. I hope that some people from other countries will someday have the opportunity to get to know America for what it really is and not what some people say it is….

  • I was going to say it looks more Brooklyn then FR. (the fire escapes are very Brooklyn-y).

    Great post, thanks for sharing!

    • Maybe they were moving from Brooklyn (Crown Heights? They used to live there) to Far Rockaway? And my father was helping them move? He didn’t say much when I asked him last night. He just said he didn’t remember.

  • Leora,

    You asked for opinions of those not in America. I have very mixed feelings. I am grateful for having been raised in America – love being with other Americans, but also realize as challenging as it sometimes is, Israel is my real home. We came from Hungary after the war. My father chose America as he wanted the relief from more struggles and war, and the real possibility of more death. He often said that perhaps he’d made a mistake. My five children are the tikkun for that mistake.

  • Thank you for sharing this post Leora. A very poignant one. Both photos were lovely, especially the old family photo. Very interesting to read all the comments here too.

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