This post is part of ROOTS – a series that originates on BlogHer’s NaBloPoMo.
Roots: they are the stories that ground you, the food that returns you, the music that comforts you, and the people who know you. Everyone has roots that influence them, even if they don’t consciously know them or can’t access them.
Monday, June 3, 2013 – Prompt:
How many generations can you go back in your family? What do you know about your oldest ancestors?
On my mother’s side, my grandfather was a Sephardic Jew and his name can be found in Chronicles (Chr I, 23-11) which kind of makes me pretty vain about it (being able to say that you trace my Yiddishkeit back to the Tanach, who would not feel a little proud about that anyway?). My maternal grandmother was coming from a prominent Lorraine family (ashkenaz) and they were already settled in Paris, France when citizenship was granted to the Jews right after the French Revolution(9/28/1791), so you can trace her family in the civil official registars back in 1792.
Random facts about my judaism
These are facts that I seem to have known always.
They are part of my family’s folklore, and being aware of the “mixed” origin (part sefardic, part ashkenaz) came later in my knowledge, when I became really interested in what my Jewish heritage was. Because it was not something that I remember being important when I grew up.
Obviously, generations before WWII did not mix up as much as they did after.
It feels like many generations lived in the same place for a very long time.
For instance in Paris.
And often in the very same area of the city, too.
Then, some of my ancestors, who were from Russia at the time of the czar, were probably forced to leave, as antisemitism was fierce and often deadly, but what transpired from the family folklore was never stories of pogroms, but rather the fact that this particular ancestor was a peddler, a very typical activity for an askenaz Jew of that time. I wonder what language he spoke when he made it to Eastern France, and if this is where he founded a family, or had left one behind.
I know more about my great-grand-father from my maternal side, who had been a Colonel in the French army at the time of the Dreyfus Affair (1894-1906). For those not familiar with French history, there had been a war between France and Prussia (at the time) prior to that period, and my family (that part of the family) was already established as Parisians, where the war had created a famine. The family folklore says that they had to eat rats for protein. I do not know if it was true or a myth. What I remember is my grandmother boasting about it for her father like if it was heroic. Seems pretty intense rather. But I am sure it was also a way not to speak about politics, which had been such a painful and sensitive topic. It definitely shaped a lot of our political sensitivities and outrage.
On the paternal side, I know of the ancestors who had to opt for the French citizenship: there was a time when residents of Alsace and Lorraine where caught up in territories claimed back and forth between Germany and France. They chose the French citizenship, because the Jews could have it. And they seemed to feel happier in France: there even was a saying “As happy as God in France”, because Napoleon was favorable to the Israelites, and obviously they were supporting him back.
Folkloric stories seem to stop at the beginning of the XIXth century for me.
My imagination goes back much further though, and I sometimes have very vivid visions of the village my ancestors would have lived in back in the XIth or XIIth centuries! These memories were created by my readings, of course, and a propension to invent or believe that it comes from memories passed in the genes, who knows after all?