Letters from the past

An undated photo of Hersh and Hannah and the family’s only photo of Hersh. (Courtesy the author)

By Samantha Shokin

My mother’s family immigrated to Brooklyn from Kyiv in the late 1970s, about a decade before I was born. Growing up, I had identified, like everyone else in our immigrant community, as a Russian Jew. That narrative started to shift, first slowly, following Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014 — then quickly around 2016, when a group of friends first opened my eyes to Ukrainian language and culture. Until then, everything Ukrainian had been foreign to me. Everything about my own Ukrainian Jewish heritage — from the Yiddish dialect that my grandparents had spoken, down to the nuances of my grandmother’s cooking — had been obscured by the monolith that was Russian-speaking Soviet culture.

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