What America Means to Me

Posted by Christine K. New York
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My piece is simply about how my relatives of the past struggled in their home land and moved to America despite all the difficulties and dangers they faced. They saw America as a land of opportunity and freedom and I wrote this piece to honor them and spread their story.

Brina. That’s what my mother and father chose to name me at my briss, Brina Yakobah. From an outside perspective, the name sounds a bit silly, perhaps ancient, at the very least outdated. However, anyone that knows anything about the crucial Hebrew naming ceremony, it’s that the name must consist of the names of passed Hebrew loved ones. I believe it was about 16 years after this ceremony that I realized the significance, and the beauty in my name. Shakespeare pondered what was in a name, and for him I have my answer, in it lies my entire family history and beside that, the unparalleled bravery of a single woman who changed the fate of all who would come after her.

In the late 19th century, a series of mass killings and raping of the Jewish people in Imperial Russia, the pograms, began taking place, primarily in Kiev, Warsaw and Odessa. If the Jews refused to conform to the Russian Orthodox religion they were raped or slaughtered. It was after hearing stirrings of these occurrences, that my great - great - grandmother, Brina, knew to save her family, she would have to leave Russia. Leaving everything behind, including the body of her own son lost to Tay Sachs, she escaped to America below deck on a ship with few belongings, her husband and her infant daughter. When she arrived in America, she spoke barely a word of English and made it her mission to learn the language and get work to be able to make a life for her family. With her thick Yiddish accent and strong sense of determination, she managed to build a life for her loved ones and settled down in a small neighborhood in Brooklyn. Now, despite how corny this may sound, every time I am faced with a situation that may seem scary or strange, I remind myself that I have her blood coursing through my veins and her name as my title, and being named for a woman like her really makes you feel capable of doing anything.

It was my Nana who really established my American Creed. She was one of thousands upon thousands who contributed to the idea of the American story; she came from persecution and arrived in a free world with nothing, not even knowing the language, and she ultimately saved her entire family and bloodline. She helped in building this country of immigrants and ultimately made it a better place just by being in it. It’s now, almost a century later that her family remembers her and sings of her bravery, it’s every Shabbas that we light a candle in her name and it’s every day we are grateful for her unwavering courage and love for her family, that brought us here when our story could have so easily stopped all those years ago. As the next Brina, I feel it necessary to honor her memory as well as demonstrate her bravery everyday, in the hopes that she sees me and is proud of the American family she created. 

Published on Apr 27, 2018
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Writing Our Future: American Creed is part of the National Writing Project’s family of youth publishing projects, all gathered under the Writing Our Future initiative.

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