Family. That word conjures up myriad images and emotions – especially during the holidays.
Eating with, buying for, visiting, avoiding. One thing that always draws our hearts and thoughts is family.
Songs invoke and reaffirm that feeling: “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” “Home for the Holidays,” “Over the River and Through the Woods.”
TV shows and movies reinforce that connection. No matter how tenuous or bitter the family ties are, there is that yearning to reconnect with someone.
I am fortunate to have a great family: my husband, our eight children, 11 grandchildren, assorted cousins and one living uncle, age 95.
One part of my family history has been blank until now.
My grandfather Leon Radzik was born in Poland of Jewish heritage but converted to Catholicism when he married my grandmother Catherine.
This prompted his family to sit shiva and consider him dead. From that time, his birth family was nonexistent to me, and he rarely spoke about them, except to occasionally mention a sister. He died in 1951, and so did his memories.
Fast forward to 2007. Some of my cousins were pursuing our genealogical history and found a possible connection with Sandy in Scottsdale. She had been searching for her relatives, too.
Sandy is an awesome researcher, traveling to Salt Lake City to review its genealogy archives, working with various Web and Jewish heritage sites.
Cousin Richard and his sister, Bonnie, have been compiling records of transport ships and census records, trying to piece together grandpa’s history.
They and Cousin Vince have been gathering whatever paper records could be found: birth, baptismal, marriage and death certificates, as well as Social Security applications and draft registration cards. Vince traveled to Poland twice for his research.
All their efforts were rewarded when DNA analysis verified that Sandy’s half great-aunt was my grandfather’s sister, Frejda Rozensztejn. My grandfather’s birth name was Berysz Rozensztejn.
Vince has compiled a wonderfully organized family tree book, which lists eight pages of ancestors and descendants.
As I read through the book, I was overjoyed to be connected to so many people, of all faiths, all over the world.
My greatest sadness, though, was discovering that Frejda died in Treblinka, an extermination camp, in June 1942. She must have been close to my grandfather since she was the only one he ever spoke about.
I wonder if he knew how and where she died. I would have liked to have known her, and probably would have if there had not been such prejudice about interfaith marriages.
I am overjoyed to have new family members to connect with, especially Sandy. As cousin Vince wrote in his book, “Without Sandra’s expertise and perseverance, the mystery of Leon’s family heritage would remain unsolved.”
I am happily Catholic but am now more aware of my Jewish heritage and feel closer to my grandfather.
Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or Ramadan, I’d like to ask you to reconsider your family ties.
Talk to someone you haven’t spoken to in a while. Reach out to the “black sheep” of the family. Reconnect with those who are far away.
This is my last column, and I’d like to thank my “family” at the Citizen, my fellow columnists, and all the readers who have contacted me. It’s been a great year!
Happy Rama Hana Kwans Mas!
Valerie Golembiewski is a Tucson wife, mother, grandmother and New York transplant. E:mail: firstname.lastname@example.org