Riva’s Journey

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Emma Lazarus, November 2, 1883

I can only imagine what my grandmother felt when she first saw Lady Liberty as her ship entered New York Harbor on a spring day in1920. I don’t know if she ever read Emma Lazarus’ words; she couldn’t read English yet, although she was fluent in Yiddish, Polish, and German. But whether or not she ever read these words, she felt them every time she was confronted with anything marvelous and new in her adopted, much-loved, country. “Ay, America!” she’d exclaim, with wonder and appreciation.

Immigrants have very seldom been given the welcome promised by the words inscribed on the Statue of Liberty.  Each new wave of people has been greeted by prejudice and suspicion, admitted grudgingly. And each new wave of immigrants has contributed mightily to this country. Every person in the United States today is an immigrant, unless they’re descended from Native Americans. Yet as each group of people arrives, many of those who came earlier forget that their ancestors or they themselves were once in need of a safe harbor—safe from wars, poverty, tyranny. Lots of us remember, though, as we must. Maybe someday we can make Ms. Lazarus’ words a fact for everyone who still looks to America as a beacon of light to the future.

As I work on revising and polishing, Riva’s Journey, my Grandma’s story of leaving Europe to make a new life for herself and her children in America, I gain fresh appreciation of her incredible courage and determination. America didn’t exactly welcome her, but they let her in.

A Woman of Valor

Rosy Glow

There’s a curse, erroneously attributed to an old Chinese proverb, that goes, “May you live in interesting times.” I find myself living now, in the last part of my life, in an interesting time, and wishing that things were a bit less interesting. Actually living history is nowhere near as much fun as reading about it. Times of political unrest and instability, pandemic, and economic collapse with their attendant tension and uncertainty is definitely not what I would have wished to experience in my old age. It occurs to me that my grandmother’s life was exactly the opposite of my own in that respect. Thankfully, her old age was peaceful and secure, but much of her life, well into late middle age, was conducted amid just such uncertainty. She lived in very interesting times.

I never quite realized how tumultuous my grandmother’s life was until I started writing her “memoir” a few months ago. Researching my book, Riva’s Journey, has been a fascinating journey of discovery for me. I always loved my grandmother but now I also admire the incredible courage and resilience that got her through her “interesting times” with all her love and humor and compassion intact. She would have said her life was unremarkable, no different from millions of other women who came from the same time and place. In a way, that’s true, but that’s also the point; that’s what makes her a hero in her own way. She just put one foot in front of the other, all the way through. Truly a Woman of Valor. Thanks, Grandma.