Travel Letters

Montevideo and the Polatschek Family Tree

Montevideo

Uruguay

El 2 de Mayo de 2012

My Dear Family and Friends,

Forty years ago, in 1972, my father Otto decided to draw a Polatschek Family Tree.  He wrote to his sister Ida Kiewe in London and to his cousins around the world to gather information.

 Eventually, with pen and paper, Otto drew a chart.  He included the names and dates of his relatives, past and present.  In addition, he added as much information as possible about his many uncles, aunts and cousins who had “disappeared” during the Holocaust in Europe in the 1940’s. 

When the large chart was complete, Otto mailed copies to his relatives in Europe, Canada, California, South America, South Africa and Israel.

Over the years, my father and I discussed our Family Tree.   I was curious about where his (my) relatives had lived in Europe and where their descendants were now living.

Jewish Salta

Salta

Argentina

May 21, 2012

Dear Family and Friends,

The plaque on the wall reads “Estudio Contable, Ema Jaffi de Kohan, Contadora Publica National.

 After almost two weeks in the “deep freeze” of Patagonia, I wander about this lovely city with its spring-like weather (actually, right now it’s late fall). This city of about 500,000 is known as “Salta la Linda” – Salta the Beautiful.

I find the Cathedral, the Church of Saint Francis, and the Monastery.  Orange trees line the residential streets. I photograph the preserved colonial homes and offices with their ornaments and pastel walls.  I stroll through the Plaza of the Ninth of July where the kids are enjoying the mild temperatures. And by accident, I find that brass plaque affixed to the wall of a narrow street. 

I normally think of the surname Jaffe as a possible Jewish name.  But, Kohan? A possibility.

Mysterious Jewish Cemetery

Yeghegnadzor

Republic of Armenia

October 19, 2012

Dear Family and Friends, 

 My grandfather, Herman Poláček, had a dry and sometimes biting sense of humor.   Yet, he always delivered his remarks with a twinkle in his eye and a broad, devilish grin that spread from ear to ear across his round Slavic face.

When my Grandmother poured him a cup of coffee, black as night, he took a sip, smiled and said, “Warm ist es.”  (At least it’s warm.)   When she served a delicious Czech-style meal, he laughed and said, “Die bidienung ist sehr schlecht hier.”  (The service is not so good here.)

After he had purchased a burial plot he proudly and comically announced, “Es hat eine gute Sicht.”

Wedding of Miriam and Zev

Tzfat

Northern District

State of Israel

October 29, 2012

Larry Benowitz

Boston, Massachusetts.

USA

Dear Larry,

cc: Friends and Family

Thank you so much for inviting me to your daughter’s wedding.  I am sure that you and Brooke and all of your family are delighted that your daughter Miriam has chosen Zev Padway to be her husband.

I was happy to make a slight detour in my travels in the Caucasus and fly from Tbilisi, Georgia to Tel Aviv.  I rented a car for the beautiful drive north past Haifa and then east to Tzfat.  What could be more inspiring than the farmlands on the open plains and on the rolling hills of the Galilee?

Jews of Morocco

Ouezzane

Morocco

May 4, 2013 

The history of Jewish migration and settlement in Morocco goes back to Roman times after the Romans conquered Jerusalem in 70 AD. * 

In the Middle Ages, the Jewish population in Morocco exploded as the result of the their expulsion from Spain (1492) and Portugal (1497). 

By the middle of the 20th Century, 248,000 Jews were citizens of Morocco.  Beginning in 1948 when the State of Israel was born, almost all of Jewish population of Morocco departed.  Now, only a few thousand remain.  Moroccan Jews are one of the largest ethnic groups in Israel. 

During my three week trip to Morocco, I visited just three of the many Jewish sites.

Machala: The Petrified Forest Puyango

Machala

Ecuador

October 21, 2013

We New Yorkers are not timid.  We confront.  We question. 

 So, long, long, long ago when my Fifth Grade primary school class traveled from the Bronx to Manhattan to the Museum of Natural History and stood before the skeletal recreation of Tyrannosaurus Rex, it should come as no surprise to anyone when I challenged the tour guide, “Doesn’t this display contradict what we read in The Bible?”  (Imagine the chutzpah of that ten year old boy!)   The docent gave some inane response and we proceeded on to the diorama of Neanderthal Man.

For some reason, I recalled that museum incident during my stroll through El Bosque Petrificado Puyango (Petrified Forest) in the south of Ecuador.  Once again we are confronted with a remarkable natural process: How in the world is organic material transformed into inorganic material – tree trunks to solid rock!  And how does a fossil of an ancient sea creature end up a mile high in the mountains?

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