Renee Steinig:

Hello, all. Here's my saga...

Although born in western Galicia, my mother, Rose Fallik-Reifer Stern (unfortunately, no known relation to Mimi!), spent her formative years in Czernowitz and vicinity. In the early 1920s, after the deaths of both her parents, she was brought to Neuzuczka to live with her father's sister, Rivke Reifer Lehr, and family. My mother later went to school and then to work in Czernowitz. The box full of photographs that she brought with her to America reflect the city's vibrant and sophisticated Jewish life  and the happy times she had as a "young single" in Czernowitz. Who knows?

Maybe some of you on this list are related to some of the friends in  her pictures.

My mother left Czernowitz for America in spring 1938. In New York she met my father, a refugee from Germany. Her Czernowitz-bred fluency in German enabled their courtship and they married in 1941. I was born in  New YorkCity in 1947 and have lived in the New York area ever since.

The Lehrs -- the uncle and aunt who were like parents to my mother --perished in Transnistria; Isaac died in Chechelnik in Oct. 1941, Rivka in Bershad in Oct. 1942. Ironically, Isaac (born in Bojan) and  Rivka had emigrated from Europe c.1900. They met and married in New York City and had their first child, Samuel (Monu), there in 1908.  After a disagreement with relatives in New York, they returned to Bukowina in 1910. World War I and then tightened immigration laws prevented them from coming back to the U.S.

Life appears to have been difficult for them: Isaac, conscripted into the Austrian army in World War I, was a prisoner of war, and two of the three children born to the Lehrs in Neuzuczka between 1911 and 1923 died young. In 1930, Sam, an American citizen by birth, came back to the U.S. to avoid military service in Romania. His younger sister, Klara Lehr Kreisler, made aliyah after the war and lived in Tel Aviv until her death in 2003. Every Saturday morning she met her friends from Czernowitz for coffee.

My mother's sister Eda and brother Pinchas (Pinu), who had also come to Czernowitz after their parents' deaths, remained there during after World War II. Pinu married Sidy Thal, the actress in the Yiddish theatre, and was himself director or the like of the philharmoni orchestra. Pinu and Sidy both died in Czernowitz in the 1980s and are buried in the  Czernowitz cemetery. Eda and her husband, Markus Scherzer, made aliyah in about 1990 and died in Ramat Gan.

My mother always corresponded with her sister in Czernowitz, but she was afraid to write to her brother for many years after an incident in the early 1950's: he was jailed briefly when censors picked up a reference  in one of their letters to the possibility (or impossibility?) of his coming to America. My mother eventually made one trip back to Czernowitz.  In1978, at the age of 70, she traveled there to see her brother and sister for the first time in 40 years. At that time Czernowitz was off the Intourist route, and she had to wait months for special permission for an extended stay there. My children were young so I was reluctant to join her on the trip. I've always been sorry and look forward to finally having an opportunity to visit Czernowitz with people who once lived there.

An interesting episode in her last years was a reminder of the culture my mother was part of. After a massive stroke in 1993 damaged her brain, she was still very verbal, and she repeatedly told us a Yiddish story about a conversation between a brush and a shoe (spat), ending "Oz du kenst on mir nit glantsn, meg ikh, bruder, oyf dir tantsn!" ("Since you can't shine without me, brother, I can dance on you!") We had never heard these words before her illness and had no idea of their source. We eventually discovered it: "Di Barsht un der Kamash" (The Brush and the Spat), a parable by Czernowitz writer Eliezer Steinbarg.

Some facts about me and my husband (both going on the trip):

Steve is an actuary and officer of the N.Y. Life Insurance Company, where he has worked for 40 years. I am a homemaker, active volunteer in our community (library board, synagogue board, etc.), and a professional genealogist -- the latter involvement an outgrowth of a 30-year obsession with researching my own family's roots. Steve and I met as students at Columbia and Barnard Colleges, respectively, and have been married 39 years. We are the proud parents of Karen and Deborah and the even prouder grandparents of Benjamin (7), Samuel (almost 4), and Talia (2)

Languages: I can read, write, and understand some German; to a lesser degree, read and understand French and Yiddish; and read prayer book (and gravestone) Hebrew. Unfortunately, the only language in which I can comfortably converse is English. Steve reads and understands some Spanish; a little German and Yiddish, and also, synagogue/cemetery Hebrew.


Renee Stern Steinig