,About seven years ago Rick started exploring his family's genealogy. He contacted a geneologiest in Ireland to help pursue the search. Within 24 hours he connected us with a 4th cousin of Rick's, Maggie Berry (left in the photo). It just so happened that we were traveling to England the following week and we were able to meet her. It was family at first sight. Not only that, but Maggie connected us with another fourth cousin who just so happened to live in Oakland, Shirley Hoye (third from the left). Living in San Francisco at the time we were able to meet as well. I remember being a little nervous before we met as I had no idea how this new relative would relate to her Jewish cousin-in-law. When we walked into her home she introduced us to her partner, Elliot Aronson (2nd from left).. I was so excited.. another Jew in the family!
We were so thrilled that Rick's sister and brother-in-law, Marilyn and Bruce were able to join us (2nd and 3rd from the right). We all met up in Roscommon town where many of the distant relatives live. It turns out that each community has an historian. Above right, is Albert who helped us tremendously in connecting us with the family history.
When you combine following the steps of your forefathers with meeting up with the Irish people, magic happens. As we experienced in Lismore, we only had to ask questions. We were amazed how everyone knew everyone and how no one was in a hurry and not one could think of anything more delightful than to drop whatever it was that they were in the middle of, to help us out. One overheard another and said- oh- you are looking for people from this area? Well, you need to speak with Sean Healy, he would know, he's your man. And this young man here, well he'll be happy to drive you to his house.. No, no, tis no bother. So off we went in search of Sean who might be able to point out the land where Rick's Great Grandmother's people might have lived. But this is Ireland.. it isn't a matter of knocking on the door and asking a question, it's a matter of first being welcomed into homes and hearts.
Sean and his wife Anna insisted that we must be needing a spot of tea before we go looking at the land. Overwhelmed does not even begin to describe how we felt. There were seven of us crowding into their modest kitchen. They have been married for 43 years and work their farm together and could not have been happier to share afternoon tea. Sean noted that Anna had a feeling they'd be having company as she had just made a cake the day before and wasn't it lovely we could all share it together.
Off we went. In our few days in Roscommon we were able to see the Church where Rick's great grandparents had married, houses where his family had lived and churches where they had prayed. Walking in their footsteps made us feel so connected to the past and to our new cousins at the same time.
The story doesn't end there. It turns out that Elliot and I share genetic markers which means that we are also related! He thinks our link may go back a few hundred years so we are on the path to see if we can figure out how our families intersected. And if that isn't weird enough Maggie's first husband's last name in the old country was Selkowitz, and she has worked on his family tree.. so I am going to reach out to see if he'd be willing to have his DNA tested.. what are the odds?
My father always said that the there are only 36 people in the world and the rest is done with mirrors. I didn't realize that the 36 people were also related!
Tracy Salkowitz is a Consultant,activist and the former CEO of the Jewish Community Foundation of Southern Arizona.