Reconnecting with my heritage

This post is part of the JCPA’s “Celebrating New Americans” project as part of Jewish American Heritage Month. By Leah Cooper. My work strives to reconnect with my heritage and family. In the melting pot that is America, most people lose sight of these connections to their original culture. I found myself falling into this trend, and chose to rediscover my familial history through projections of old family photographs.

My parents moved to Rhode Island from Cleveland Ohio before I was born. The distance made it hard to be close to my family on either my mom or dad’s side. I only saw them when we went to Ohio for family visits, usually Thanksgiving or in the summer.

Both my Grandfathers passed away years before I born, so I know only a little about them. My dad’s father Ted was one of eight children. He was the oldest and born in Hamilton, Ontario Canada and grew up in Cleveland. As way the story goes, Ted’s father, Harry, who was born in Poland, was a longshoreman and later used that experience to form his own moving van company. His wife Martha came from the town where Shalom Aleichem lived. The tale goes that his family was their neighbor in a small shtetl in the Ukraine. (It was never substantiated, but it’s a good tale to tell).

The person in the Air Force uniform is my grandfather Ted, my dad’s father.

Hannah, my dad’s mom, grew up in Cleveland. Her father Louis Markoff was born in Kiev in 1892 and migrated to America circa 1910. He founded a seltzer business in Cleveland His wife Minnie, who my father is named after, was from Poland. She was born in 1898. Her family left Poland for Austria to escape pogroms. They then came to the US via Rochester, NY.

While both sides of my dad’s family were first generation American, my mom’s family immigrated to the US a couple of generations earlier. My mom’s dad Morton was born in the Bronx, NY. Ellen, my grandmother, was born in Wilkes-Barre, PA. My Great Grandparents on my mom’s side, Louis and Hilda Hertz grew up in the Scranton, Wilkes-Barre area. Hilda had a dance studio and taught dancing for decades. Louis was a school teacher. When my grandmother Ellen, was 16-17 years old she did the weather on a local television station. Morton served in the Navy. His claim to fame was that he installed the first television set in the White House. He had a successful career in the scrap metal business in Pennsylvania.

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