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Tysmienica Family Tree
By Renee Sussman
A parallel branch of rabbis
Grows down our family tree,
Glassmakers, scholars, haberdashers
Mirrored by our balanced bough of
Salesmen, inventors, locksmiths.
The story begins in 19th century Tysmienica,
Mecca for the industrious Jew,
Repository of intellect,
Model of the Ukraine.
The story is axed apart by Russians, Germans, and hometown anti-Semites.
My great grand-uncle Aryeh, a prosperous merchant,
Credited some with too much integrity.
They paid him back with the end of a rope around his neck, the other to a horse’s tail,
Innocent animal killing innocent victim.
The guilty ran free.
Quick! Across the river, in a boat smaller than a table.
Piloted by river guides on both shores, silently passing
A living tightrope connecting pilot, passenger, and vessel…faith, fear, and freedom.
Our family’s limbs bent in the balance.
Aryeh’s daughter-in-law, Scheindel, her arms covering her children, Chaim and Nusha,
The bullets should hit her trunk first.
The fog of insanity, the tug of war. Limb from limb.
Germans and Russians on either side,
Not waiting for the boat to land,
Shooting hatred into quaking waves.
But you can’t kill a tree with a gun.
And you can’t drown a tree with water.
Somehow, this time, the rope spares the slaughter,
Our line still intact.
Scrambling up the opposite shore,
The escape route to Krakow abruptly detours to Siberia,
A latent blessing, shut up in a cattle car
And spilled out far away in a displaced and destitute state.
Far better than Krakow, the sense of home now a senseless hell.
And miraculously, the story continues.
We survive Siberia, Tashkent, Uzbekistan
We tell the story of the wilderness,
How education was valued above food
How we bled in the snow with nothing
Between us and the cold
How food was for only one gender
How we were lucky to live together
And not with strangers
Through the years, the family branching out,
Planting in America,
the pruning of serenity and prosperity,
Strengthening our roots.
from the August 2006 Edition of the Jewish Magazine
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