Some books make me laugh, others make me cry. Some entertain, others inform. Occasionally, a book will even touch a nerve, connecting me with something deep and personal in my own life.
Rarely does a book make me regret words left unsaid and opportunities not taken. Judith Fein’s most recent book – The Spoon From Minkowitz: A Bittersweet Roots Journey to Ancestral Lands – did it all.
Fein calls this a work of “emotional genealogy,” a tale of feelings, not just facts as she visits Ukraine with her husband, Paul, to find Minkowitz, the village — the shtetl — where her beloved grandmother was born, raised and eventually fled to the US during the pogroms in the early 1900s. The spoon in the title was a gift from the grandmother to the author when Fein was very young and serves as a symbol and talisman of the special connection between the two, as well as a connection to Fein’s personal history and ancestral roots.
In the process, Fein discovers characters, history, and cultures that have shaped the complex story of the Jews in Eastern Europe over the centuries, a story intertwined with the stories of Gypsies, Gentiles, Russians, Germans and Poles in the past and into the present. It’s a fascinating story that includes not just tales of persecution and cruelty, but also warmth, kindness, bravery, sacrifice, tenacity, survival and rebirth.
The book was also of personal interest to me. My roots are similar, though the stories, history and names were lost when older generations in my family passed on, many before I was old enough to realize what I was losing. I never thought to ask the questions that Fein asked, of her grandmother and anyone else who knew anything about her roots and history. So, I have no spoon, no Minkowitz, no memories of a beloved grandmother. But I do have Fein’s book. I’ll never learn the facts of my own ancestral history, but I can feel the feelings through her story and share vicariously in the fruits of this impressive work of emotional genealogy.