Ukraine & Me

green field under white and blue clouds during daytime
Photo by Kostiantyn Stupak on

Around 1917, a woman named Anna (Nechama Hudel) Tzipros lived in a shtetl near Odessa, Ukraine. She was married, with a young son, and another baby on the way. She and her husband felt they had to leave - things in that part of the world were getting worse and worse for Jews. The family headed for a European port to embark for America. Fleeing a pogrom, they were shot at. Her son got a slight wound in his butt; a scar he bore the rest of his life. Her husband... did not make it out alive. But she did with her two children, and found her way to Canada. She eventually met another nice man there, and remarried, and had three more kids. Including my mother. They moved to Baltimore, where she lived out her life. And where I was born, and I called her Bubbie.

Also around 1917, a different shtetl near Kyiv was entrusting a gigantic responsibility to a teenage girl named Sarah Markman. They had pooled their resources and their overseas contacts and were sending almost a dozen children in Sarah's charge, to be taken and delivered into the care of friends and relatives all over the US. At least nobody was shooting at them - but young Ms. Markman knew these families were separated forever. All that was left to them was to know their kids were safe. She delivered every child where they were supposed to go, then she herself settled in Chicago where she met a man, got married*, and had two boys. Including my father. They moved to Baltimore, where she lived out her life. And where I was born, and where I also called her Bubbie.

I know that the situation in 2022 in Ukraine is not at all like that in 1917. And I genuinely am rooting for, and supporting as best I can, Ukraine against Russian fascism. But try as I might, "Ukraine" still pings in my mind as the country that spit out my Bubbies. On the other hand, Ukraine in this century has a Jewish president, which would clearly have been laughably impossible in those days. Maybe it means countries really can change, it just happens on a scale of centuries and not months. So maybe the US won't be racist in another 100 years or so.

Anything's possible.