Everyone in the United States today is an immigrant or descended from immigrants, with the exception of Native Americans whose ancestors were here before Columbus. Between 1880 and 1920, people from Eastern and Southern Europe poured into the United States by the millions. They were Russians and Poles, Czechs and Romanians, Italians, Greeks and Ukrainians. All of our ancestors came from someplace else. Riva’s Journey explores the reasons why one large group of people, Jews who’d been born in the Russian Pale of Settlement, decided to leave their homes and immigrate to the United States, and how they adjusted to becoming Americans. Riva’s Journey tells the story of one woman, and one family, who made the trip.
There’s a curse, erroneously attributed to the Chinese, that goes, “May you live in interesting times. Riva’s Journey is the fictionalized memoir of a woman whose life spanned the start of the Industrial Revolution in Tsarist Russia to the post-war prosperity of the United States—my grandmother. She lived in very interesting times.
It was a time of vast social and political changes in the area defined as the Pale of Settlement, established by Catherine the Great of Russia about 1791, after Russia took over large parts of what had been Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, and more, and incorporated those areas into the Russian Empire. Jews were forbidden to establish new settlements outside the Pale, nor could they live in most major cities such as Moscow. The May Laws of 1881 further severely limited Jewish rights to own land, to access education, and to engage in business. The majority of Jews relocated to various large towns and cities, pursued livelihoods in trades and small businesses, or found jobs in the newly established factories that sprouted up as industrialization of Russia progressed.
And many immigrated to America….