11/27/2008 01:15 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011


I think of my grandmother around Thanksgiving. She was born Uman, Ukraine in 1900 or so, back when it was Russia. As she cooked for us, she would talk about her life and her journey to the warmer climes of Buffalo, New York.

She told a story about a ring that her father passed down to her, that was given to him by a Jewish mystic. He told her father to always keep that ring sewn into the hem of his garment, and whenever he was troubled, to rub the ring and say, "This too will pass." Her father passed the ring on to her, but it was lost somewhere in her journey from Russia to Turkey, and later to America.

She was always cooking as she talked. Crumbing matzo in her hands and pouring salt and boiling water over them, she told about holding her younger sister in her arms while they hid under the porch of their house, watching her uncles dig deep holes in the ground, before the Russian soldiers shot them. Then she would add the eggs to the matzo mixture, and scramble them slowly, being sure to remove them from the heat before they dried out.

She sent me a stuffed chicken during my first year at college. This was well before FedEx - -and I am not even sure if they would do a chicken -- and it arrived wrapped in layers of tin foil and newspaper. Being college-age boys, there was little we would not eat. After several days in the US Postal Service, the chicken was fine. A celery-bread stuffing, with sage and rosemary. And like everything else, lots of salt.

Years later, my wife and I traveled to Rumania with a group of high school students over Passover. Most of the Jews had left over the years, but in a hill town we were invited to a community Seder. It was a poor community, and I don't recall that anyone spoke English. But like Thanksgiving dinner in any American home, the smells and sounds of the Passover meal were deeply familiar and nourishing. The men leading the Passover service. The warm smiles of the women. The grumpy grandfathers slurping their soup.

A little Romanian girl sat with us as we told the Passover story -- and each of our own family stories -- knowing that we might have been part of this community, if our grandparents had not had the courage to make the long journey to America.

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