Litvak Immigrants to U.S. #lithuania


Charlene D Lipkus <cdlipkus@...>
 

Hello Fellow Litvaks,

I recently joined this mailing list and it is the first forum
specifically for Litvaks which I have found thus far.
It has only been for the past few years that I have been studying
Lithuanian history, in particular the part dealing with Jewish culture in
that area of Eastern Europe.
Last year, I subscribed to a mailing list for Lithuanian genealogy
and was able to discuss the role of Jewish ancestors with the list
members... Many of us had similar stories to share; a great number of us
had suspicions that our Lithuanian immigrant ancestors were Jewish and
that, for some reason, they either hid or lost their Jewishness upon
immigrating to the United States.
Now, I am aware that this is both a confusing and sensitive topic,
however I am greatly interested in finding out more about such phenomena
because of my own family story:
My grandfather (who died before I was born) immigrated to the U.S.
from Lithuania in the early 1900's (obviously before WWII) and his
original surname was Lipkiewicz-- later changed to "Lipkus." He spoke
seven languages fluently-- as many >from Eastern Europe did-- one of which
being Hebrew or Yiddish. My grandfather met, fell in love with, and
married my French Canadian, Catholic grandmother and their children
(including my father) were then all raised at Catholics. (As per the
tradition of children taking the mother's religion?) Neither of my
grandparents spoke English as a first language, they were both first
generation immigrants to the U.S., and the details as to what went on
during the melding of their two cultures through marriage is obviously
unknown to me. (I am a 23-year-old graduate student who is researching
this topic with little help >from my family.)
What peaked my interest as to whether or not my grandfather was in
fact a "Litvak" is this poignant, sensitive, confusing, and
thought-provoking family story:
Apparently, while my grandfather was on his death bed, dying
from--I believe-- Parkinson's disease-- he started mumbling something to
himself in Hebrew. The doctor then entered the waiting room and told my
mother, "Mrs. Lipkus, I think you better call your Rabbi; your
father-in-law is dying." My mother then said, "Rabbi? But... he's
Catholic?!"
Being raised Catholic myself, I do not know many details about
Judaism. I only recently learned about Kaddish and other Jewish prayers
for the dead of dying. I've pondered endlessly as to what could have gone
on during the course of Lithuanian history, during the course of my
grandather's own life and in his process of immigration, and also what
went on during my grandparent's marriage that could have possibly led my
grandfather to possibly cover or lose contact with his religion.
If anyone has input of information for me, please respond. I have
been researching the topic of Lithuanian Jews for some time now and still
can't piece everthing together. I'd appreciate any feedback.

Thank you very much,

Charlene D. Lipkus <cdlipkus@acsu.buffalo.edu>
Buffalo, NY
USA