Rebecca Cohen and Blanche Meisel

My great-grandmother, Rebecca Cohen, came to the U.S. in 1899, with her 6-month old daughter, Blanche, in her arms. She was fleeing the Cossack-led pogroms in the Russian Pale of Settlement, the only place the autocracy let Jews have permanent residency. We don’t know exactly where her shtetl was–somewhere in what’s now Belarus, near Minsk.

My great-grandmother started a farm in the Catskills, which she ran as a tuberculosis sanitorium, and eventually moved to our small town in Ohio, where she lived with my grandparents in a small apartment a block from my house until she died when I was 14. She wasn’t literate in English (she spoke Yiddish, Russian and a smattering of broken English) and my sister and I could never convince her to let us teach her how to read. But she didn’t need writing to cook and bake, and my sister and I “helped” her make her marvellous kuchens every Saturday morning (mostly by eating the raw dough when she wasn’t looking). Ma didn’t like to talk about the old country, no matter how much we coaxed her. She loved America and always wanted to talk about our lives and the future instead. We were very lucky to have her with us for so long.

Shared by Michael Stern of Palo Alto, CA

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