Memory & Presence in Teaching
Chapter 2: “Firm on My Feet”: My Mother’s Story
“Firm on My Feet”: My Mother’s Story
The story begins with an ending, a leave-taking. It is 1905, in a small farming village, Kolonia Manshurova, not far from Odessa in Ukraine, then part of the Soviet Union. I picture the scene as dark and grainy, in black and white; the characters move slowly, as if reluctant to take the next step which will forever alter the family story. Sholem Ruvinshtein hugs his younger brother Efraim, who is about to leave for America. The decision was made quickly, as Efraim has been called to serve in the Soviet army, a terrible fate from which one must do anything to escape. Sholem is some years older and has given his papers to his brother so the authorities will be convinced the man leaving is past the age for military service. It is very early morning as goodbyes are said.
According to Litvak (2006), the practices of forced conscription for a twenty-five year period were instituted by Czar Nicholas I in 1827, and called for conscription at the age of anywhere from 12 to 25; children, called “cantonists” would be sent to special training battalions, alongside children of soldiers, and would remain there until the age of 18 when they would transfer to the regular army to serve out whatever remained of their 25-year term. While adult Jewish soldiers were permitted to practice their religion publicly, child recruits were under strenuous pressure to convert. In...
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