What They Left

Most of the houses in Bratslav still standing have been abandoned; the Jews have moved to Israel or elsewhere. According to the U.S. Federal Census of 1920, my great-grandmother, Sarah Kipnes, gave birth to nine children here, of which three survived. A waterman came around daily. My great-grandfather, Chaim Hirsch Kipnis, according to information on the the ship’s manifest (1899), had been a carpenter. As we walked among the houses and peered inside, I wondered whether he had built houses like these. Hard as I tried, I could not connect the few photographs I had found of him, hatted, bearded, and dressed entirely in black, to that of a younger man wielding a hammer. On the Lower East Side, again, according to the Census, he peddled stationery. Belatedly, I discover my roots.

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