On an unknown day in the 1870s, Sheindel Bossie Mandiberg, a young Jewish girl in her 20s, having recently attended the funeral of her sister who died young leaving a husband and three little boys, ended her mourning. She married her brother-in-law, becoming her nephews' stepmother and caregiver. Those boys - Kayfman, Beryl and Pasey - had been living with their father, Yakov, in or around the nearby shtetls (the restricted Jewish sections of towns) of Makarov and Yekaterinaslav - about 30 miles from Kiev. Their father held a prominent position as the Clerk of Courts, an honor for a Jew at that time, but needed someone to take care of his children. Sheindel Bossie Mandiberg, now Radov, helped raise those children and bore him five more: Menya, Joseph, Ida, Cherna and Morris.
Life in the shtetl, never easy, was made more difficult by the events occurring everywhere in the Ukraine. The eldest son, Kayfman, left shtetl life in the most traumatic way to his family, entering the priesthood, and became the one not spoken of. Beryl, having sired four daughters by his wife, Hennyeh, died of appendicitis early in the new century. His widow and daughters found their way out of Russia in 1911, traveling to New York and eventually Boston. Before that, Joseph took his wife, Cirka, to join her relatives in Erie. He returned to Russia in 1911 to rescue more family, including his sister Ida (or, in the lyrical tone intended by her parents, Khana Khaia Radovskaia). Independently, Sheindel's brother brought more of his family to join Mandibergs already in New York and the deli business. WWI made it impossible for the family to continue their exodus, with the further horror and delay of the Russian Revolution. However, worse for the family were the Kiev Pogroms of 1919 (the pogroms were loosely organized savage mob attacks by Cossacks, soldiers or ad hoc gangs, sometimes government or church directed, sometimes spontaneous, on Eastern Europe Jewish communities) which took the life of one of Menya's daughters, saw the rape of another, Lena, and witnessed the stabbing and torture of Pasey.
For centuries, Jews were restricted to certain parts of Russia (within, not beyond, The Pale), and rarely allowed in the larger cities, at least not legally. After the emancipation of the serfs in 1861 (The Peasant Reform of 1861) and the further relaxation of settlement rules by Tsar Alexander II, many came to Kiev. They had lived there off and on, between expulsions since at least 991, probably earlier. They had officially been allowed to trade in street fairs from 1797, composing more than half the fair participants. After the emancipation of the serfs, further urban migration was allowed, with about 1 in 8 in Kiev being Jews by the time of the 1881 Pogroms. All of this exacerbated tensions, with further pogroms in and around Kiev in 1905 and 1919, and the blood libel trial of 1911. As settlement in Kiev became more permanent, synagogues began to appear in the 1890s. (See, 19th Century Kiev Synagogues, A75-76). Nevertheless, most of the family likely lived in one of the small communities, or shtetls, which had traditionally accepted Jews.
As a result of the two Russian Revolutions, 1905 and 1917, and the reforms of Pyotr Stolypin in between, these restrictions gradually changed, and life became somewhat easier. Morris, and likely many in the family, moved to the once closed city, Fastov, the railroad capital of southern Russia, after the Revolution.
In 1922, through ingenuity and energy, while working for the Russian railroads in Fastov, Morris escaped with the remaining family from Fastov to Bucharest. There, with the help of the bootlegging monies made by Joseph, a successful entrepreneur in Erie, the remaining family traveled to the French port of Cherbourg and then aboard the R.M.S. Olympic [see, Cherbourg & the R.M.S. Olympic, A77-80], sister ship to the Titanic, across the Atlantic to the United States.
Most of the stories, a number of the names, and much of what happened has been lost. In the following pages, a few of those stories and some of those names, are recounted. For those who are related to this group - the Radovs, Kernesses, Halperins, Blaus, Basses, Carls, Carols, Thompsons, Levins, Smiths, Sakols, Landaus, Falkensteins, Mays, Trabolds, Cohens, Goldmans, Radins, Rogers', Dryers, Bergidas, Hermans, Kreiss', Mandibergs, Davaris', Notarius', Murrays, Kings, Rabelskys, Theils, Harris' and many others - these are the stories of those who got us out of Russia and made a life here. My real appreciation, on a personal note, for how lucky we were - not only to escape pogroms, wars, and the Shoah - but the earlier life in general - came when I returned to Russia through the State Department to live there in 1995 and again in 2002, and witnessed a country that everywhere was morose, bleak, spiritless, fragmented, impoverished and unmitigatingly tragic (and had miserable food).
This project was inspired by questions of children and grandchildren who have little memory of any of this. Perhaps more surprisingly, many of us who grew up with and knew the Russian immigrants, and ought to have known better, also know very little. The best storyteller left, without question, is Bertha Blau (Ida's daughter) and none of this recollection could have occurred without her. The others who spoke, my cousins, also gave their memories, sometimes imperfect, and other times surprising themselves by what they remembered. I have taken liberties as an editor, correcting some factual miscues, limiting the repetition, and editing out most negative things said about people (although perhaps not everything). There is, then, something of a whitewashed veneer in the process. I justify this in that, while many involved had a few weaknesses - some braggadocio, some roughness, some tight-fistedness, and the occasional wandering eye - the strengths and humor are what I was looking for and found. All of the rest - the imperfect marriages, onerous in-laws, financial disputes, and a few brushes with the law - can be left to someone else's pen.
The Radovs, then, arrived here speaking Yiddish, learning English, davening in Hebrew, and forgetting Russian. Almost to a person, they were tradesmen, peddlers or bakers, often hawking whatever wares were at hand, whether fruits and vegetables, furniture, baked goods, clothing or scrap. They entered into partnerships and businesses on handshakes with each other, and with others who were related, almost related, or at least spoke Yiddish. Over time, the bootlegging and gambling businesses which had sustained the family during Prohibition turned to more reputable businesses, and eventually through their children, to the trades of the college educated. That said, family gatherings had the air of Yiddish and broken Yiddish, card playing and elaborate Eastern European food - from kneydlelch, kreplach and borscht soups, to endless kugels, farfels, and challahs accompanying the cholesterol-accumulating and cardiac-choking array of salamis, briskets, chopped liver, cooked meats and smoked fish, followed by mandelbrot, schneken, and cakes, not to mention various arrays of blintzes, latkas, lox and gefilte fish. These, along with the ubiquitous smoking and constantly replenished glasses of tea, sweet wine and scotch, contributed to early cardiac arrest for so many Radovs. For reluctant young eaters, even in the 1950s, that food was accompanied by the insistent and constant injunction: "Eat everything on your plate, because people are starving in Europe." Europe clearly meant Russia, but the cause and effect between our gluttony and others' starvation remains murky.
Once here, Russia was almost never mentioned. Pogroms were forgotten and family life in America, abandoning the riff of the Russian language and shtetl fears, became the norm. Almost to a person, everyone born here, or young when they came, somehow, despite the Depression, made it through college, and went off to start various new businesses and practice professions, from Brooklyn and Boston to Erie, Detroit and Chicago, to Los Angeles, San Diego and Portland.
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