May 10, 2008: The Journey Begins

Boarding Moldavian airlines for Chisinau, the capital of Moldova, at Budapest airport, where I’ve arrived from Brussels. This convoluted itinerary has been arranged because I will be giving a lecture about my “roots-trip” in Antwerp, on my return from Eastern Europe. It’s possible, of course, to fly to Chisinau from New York, changing planes, depending on the airline, at Munich, Istanbul, or Moscow. But let me confess that when I began researching the trip, I entered “Kishinev” as my destination on the Internet, unaware that the name of the city had changed. And I concluded that there was no way to ever get there!  Such was my ignorance and outdated sense of geography, as well as twentieth-century and post-Soviet history.

Since my original Internet search, a comprehensive report on Jewish heritage sites in Moldova was published in 2010 by the United States Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad. Also in 2010, the YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe created an excellent multimedia article about the history of the city and the pogrom of 1903.

Looking at the small propeller plane, I felt a twinge of anxiety, but I reminded myself that I had traveled on even smaller planes in the States, so why freak out now, just because in my mind, I was flying backwards into the past. To my astonishment, on this short hop, a heated meal was served, something that  would no longer happen on a US airline, and I found myself thrilled to be eating what appeared to be the Romanian version of polenta, which my father called “mamaliga,” and that I grew up with. So maybe going “back there” would feel closer to home than I had imagined.

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