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Rotzviniki

Rotzviniki

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We drove down a rocky, muddy, road that seemed more early-nineteenth century than 1991. I had come a long way from Brooklyn and now I was here. Here being my “roots,” my ancestral village, my grandfather’s shtetl.

Kola, the faithful Ukrainian driver, had driven some ten hours or more from the heart of the Ukraine to sepia-toned Belarus. As I looked upon the pastoral scene spread out before me, several red and blond chickens eyed us nervously from the courtyard of the rotting wooden hovel in front of us.

“I’m just going to stroll around the town for a bit,” I announced to no one in particular. After having taken a gander at the serene village, which was comprised of several ramshackle buildings and a small, rippling pond in which several sardines swam about contentedly, I returned to our vehicle.

“Kola! Padyom! Let's go!” I exclaimed to my hardy companion, hoping that he would be able to reach deep down into his automobile-oriented soul and wrench out a bit more of that incredible stamina to make the long drive to Moscow possible.

“Rotzviniki,[family]” he countered with a twinkle in his eyes. “When one visits his ancestral home, especially from so far away, one should look up one’s family.”

I stared long and hard at Kola. I had noticed a small marker at the edge of the village, commemorating the victims of Nazi atrocities. How does one explain to an outsider about the rivers of blood that were spilled in this bucolic place?

“Let’s go,” I said with a defeated shrug of the shoulders, “there are no more relatives of mine in Miyory.”

“Nonsense!” my exuberant companion exclaimed. “I will find rotzviniki!” With unusual gusto he took to knocking door-to-door in the village, posing the tried-and-true Chabad-Lubavitcher query to each respondent—“Excuse me, sir, are you Jewish?”

With a resigned air, I sat down in the car awaiting his return.

“Chaim, come! I have found a Jew!”

Now he had my attention. I proceeded with a building sense of anticipation to a decrepit hut at the edge of the village.

The one-room shack contained the sparsest of furniture. A threadbare rug was the only decorative object in the soot-blackened home. A large black cast-iron pot filled with several sardines was bubbling merrily on the hearth.

I was introduced to a wild-eyed, ancient woman with unkempt hair. “I and my eight year-old grandson, Sasha, are the last Jews of Miyory," she muttered in a slightly garbled Yiddish.

We spent the next hour or two singing, saying l’chaim, and basically stripping our car bare of any foodstuffs or Jewish paraphernalia.

A palpable sorrow was felt at the conclusion of our brief sojourn in Miyory. But we had many kilometers to travel and too little time.

“Thank you, Chaim,” Kola’s robust voice called out from the front of the automobile, interrupting my self-indulgent reverie in the scenery floating past my window.

“Why are you thanking me?” I demanded from the fellow who had been driving virtually non-stop for ten hours for the ruble equivalent of roughly two dollars.

“Thank you for not revealing that I am not Jewish.”

I was stunned. It hadn’t crossed my mind to introduce my driver one way or another. I couldn’t fathom why he was thanking me.

“You know what I am going to do one day?” he continued in the age-old banter of cab drivers who don’t really care if you are listening or not.

“My dream is to go live in New York City. Yes sir! New York is the place to be. Bright lights, fast-paced action—no place on earth is quite like it.

“I am going to become a taxi driver.”

“Wonderful,” I countered, hoping that my one-word contribution to the dialogue would be sufficient.

“I am going to be the best darned taxi driver that New York City has ever seen.

“Do you know what I am going to do with all the money I make driving my super-cab?”

“No—please tell me,” I replied, knowing full well that I was going to be subjected to the answer whether I wanted it or not.

“I will be going to the bar for a drink,” he announced with a contented sigh. “I will order whatever the rich men drink. And then,” he said with the air of one who was unburdening a deep secret, “I will order a round of drinks for everyone in the entire bar!”

I was beginning to sense with trepidation that this was going to be a very long trip.

“There are all sorts of people in New York.” The philosopher in Kola was beginning to show. “There are many Ukrainians in the city. When I meet a fellow Ukrainian I most definitely will treat him to a drink. We will talk about sports, music, politics and the like.”

Where was this rambling conversation headed?

“When he leaves, I won’t care,” he continued his monologue. “He is not my relative and I don’t really know him at all.

“Jews are different.

“When we entered the house in the village I sensed a bond between you and those two people, a familial bond that is so powerful that I stand in awe of it.

“Rotzviniki!

“Jews are all family. And you have allowed me to feel that.”

There are times when silence is the only appropriate response. The road to Moscow was silent.

Chaim Drizin lives in Brooklyn, New York, and gives classes on Torah and Chassidism in the New York metropolitan area
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Anonymous New Haven, CT via westvillechabad.com April 29, 2011

a student I am hoping Sasha can go to a good school. Reply

ekaresky san diego, ca April 28, 2011

Sometimes you read a something that reminds you of emotions you have felt but didn't verbalize or thought of describing. This story did describe that universal feeling that gives Jews the desire to love and protect other Jews no matter where and who they are. We need to recognize and sustain that feeling and tradition. A beautifully written story. Reply

יהושע - Josué Selva Managua, Nicaragua April 28, 2011

Missing the family Yes, a wonderful family which I enjoy virtually at least every Shabbat and Shabbat Shabbaton no matter if I still am a ger tzedek, yet. Reply

israel sadovnik Lima, Peru April 27, 2011

reply Wonderfuel, just fine Reply

Anonymous January 4, 2007

Beautiful story! Sometimes I forget what others, like Kola, are in awe of... that something that we have, that connection that reaches across cultures and countries, "rotzviniki" Reply

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