With Yom Kippur coming up next month, I find myself discussing with colleagues and friends how everyone plans to break the fast. In a virtuous attempt to avoid the annual Baltimore Marathon, our Education & Program Coordinator planned a traditional Eastern North Carolina barbeque on Yom Kippur. Quite a few staff members agreed that this would be an exciting, albeit unusual, way to break the fast and not sacrilegious as long as someone brought kosher bagels. Another friend (from Long Island) added that her family traditionally breaks the fast with New York style pizza. It turns out that there are plenty of options in terms of how, where, and with whom you can break the fast. What I found most interesting was that the dialogue surrounding Yom Kippur presented an opportunity to discuss Jewish traditions.
As I pondered my own family traditions, I thought of a wedding gift my husband and I received this past May, a set of brass candlesticks brought to America by my great-great grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. Velvel (William) Ruderman, when they immigrated to Middletown, Connecticut in the 1880s. In her note card, Elaine Ruderman, the wife of a distant relative, urged me to carry on the Ruderman traditions, which seemed an odd request because I had no idea what these traditions were. I grew up in a household where we identified as culturally Jewish, but were essentially non-practicing. Now that I was married and starting my own family, it was up to me to define my own traditions.
After receiving a modern set of Shabbat candlesticks as an engagement present, my husband and I started lighting candles on Friday nights. For us, Shabbat means unwinding after a long week and sharing a home cooked meal together. While we use the candlesticks that were brought to America by my great-great grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. Velvel Ruderman, we are also forming new traditions, such as breaking bread with a Triscuit rather than the traditional Challah because neither of us likes to eat a lot of bread. In this way, our Shabbat is a blend of the traditional and the modern.
In exploring my roots, I wanted to know more about where the maternal side of my family came from. Specifically, I wanted to locate Radoshkovichi on a map and determine whether it was part of Poland or Russia. To that end, I enlisted the help of JMM Research Historian & Family History Coordinator, Deb Weiner. Dr. Weiner explained that because Eastern European towns often have multiple spellings, it could be hard to find the right town. Fortunately, I knew the town was just outside of Minsk, the capital of Belarus. Using the Encyclopaedia Judaica in our library, we found that Radoshkovichi is a town in Belarus, which was located within Poland until the partitions of Poland at the end of the 18th century, and then again between the two world wars. To make the matter more complicated, using Jewish Gen, I found that from the 1790s to 1915, Radoshkovichi was part of the Russian Empire, and for part of that time, from 1842 to the First World War, it was governed from the Vilna Gubernia, part of Lithuania. In conclusion, when my great-great grandparents emigrated in the 1880s, Radoshkovichi was neither Russia nor Poland as we know it today.
What started with a discussion about how I was going to break the fast after Yom Kippur, turned into the start of a research project about the history of my family and their roots in Radoshkovichi, Belarus. After many hours researching this subject, I began to understand what was driving me to connect an object (brass candlesticks) to a name (Ruderman) to a place (Radoshkovichi). In order to continue the traditions I was never really taught growing up in a non-practicing Jewish household, I needed something solid to latch onto. And, Mr. and Mrs. Velvel Ruderman from Radoshkovichi, Belarus might just be enough.