“Water the Roots” is an appropriate metaphor. It compares us to trees that are nurtured by the environment, getting both water and food from the soil and spreading seed so that new trees can grow in the vicinity. The analogy is not perfect, but close enough. The main difference is that we are more mobile and are able to plant our trees and get nurtured in different places as well as spread seeds for trees in those new places.
My name is Mitchell Locks. I am Jewish, an American citizen born in Chicago, Illinois in 1922, a Ph.D. in Economics from the University of Chicago, a former professor at Oklahoma State University as well as a former statistician in the aerospace industry and retired for almost all of the past 25 years. I also worked in the computer industry in some of my early years.
My most immediate roots go back to the Ashkenazi Jewish community of Eastern Europe, my father from the vicinity of Kiev in the Ukraine and my mother from Belarus, both areas then a part of greater Russia sunder the control of the Czar. Both my mother and father arrived in America at the turn of the 20th century in the great migration of Jews from eastern Europe that occurred at that time. My mother and father met in a night school for new immigrants, married, and had three children, the last of which was me.
I know relatively little about my father’s family because he was the only one in his close-in family to come here, most likely to escape service in the Russian army. My paternal grandmother died in birthing my father, her first and only child. His father remarried, so that my father was brought up by a caring stepmother and became the older brother of his 6 stepsisters. We had some limited contact with his stepmother and stepsisters after World War II, who at that time were all living in Moscow, through letters, several international telephone calls and some relief packages, but that contact was not maintained.
By contrast my mother’s family came in its entirety within a period of a year or so, my grandfather and grandmother, all 11 of their children, plus my grandfather’s 13 siblings and their families and my grandmother’s brother and his family, as well as my great grandmother whom we knew as der bubby Hirosha. The reason for the big hurry of so many related people making the trip at nearly the same time is that there had been a pogrom in their town. My great-uncle Morris Raginsky, a gentle giant, killed a pogromchick with his bare hands and escaped town; the rest of the family(ies) followed as soon as possible. All of them came to Chicago initially, so that I knew all of my uncles, aunts and first cousins on that side of the family, as well as many great uncles and great aunts, first cousins of my mother and even some second cousins, their children.
I had an older brother, Herman, and still have an older sister, Debbie. Herman died at the age of 58, but Debbie, thankfully, is still around at the age of 94, with her faculties intact (she has a computer and communicates on the internet) living alone but with enough help to take care of things she can no longer handle by herself. We kids had many great memories, particularly of our maternal family. Three times a year, Passover, Rosh Hashanah and Chanukah we would all gather at zadie and bubby’s house, together with our uncles, aunts and 14 first cousins for holiday celebrations. The Chanukah get-together was particularly noteable. Each grandchild received a silver dollar (99% pure silver in those days) from zadie and a kiss as well as a kiss for bubby, followed by either a quarter, dime or buffalo nickel, or sometimes a 5-cent package of chewing gum, from an uncle.
The holiday celebrations of the Ragins family continued after the death of our grandparents in the 1930’s, first with my mother and father hosting annual Chanukah parties where the delicacy was my mother’s Russian-style blinis lathered with all of the sour cream and melted butter your heart could handle and later, with the first cousins spreading out all over the United States, with annual get-togethers at that time of the year at a restaurant in Chicago. Remarkably, these Chanukah parties of the Ragins family with the first cousins and their respective families were held until about three years ago complete with Chanukah Gelt for the children and remembrances of zadie and bubby who started it all.
Speaking about “roots” there is a Ragins family tree that traces a significant portion of our ancestry back to the middle of the 18th century. This tree shows that there were marriages of first cousins to first cousins, or uncles with nieces, as is permitted under Jewish law, but is not always legal today under the laws of the states of the USA. When we (my wife Rochelle, our daughter Ronna and I) moved to the Southern California area in 1959 there were a number of second cousins here, who had formed a cousins club that in effect became our extended family pro tem. I expanded the family tree to include the common ancestors of all of the members of the cousins club living in this area so that we could all see how we were related to one another. Another version of the tree was a later expansion put together by a cousin, Hertsell Conway, in Chicago. The tree is now maintained electronically by a third cousin, Marcia Rapp, who lives in Kiryat Arbe in Israel.
The foregoing has all been about my historic roots. Now for a new set of roots. This can be traced to 1936 when my foresighted future in-laws did the greatest favor anyone ever did for me by bringing their 14-year old daughter, Rochelle, and her brother and sister to Chicago from Lithuania, in time to forestall the consequences of their all remaining in Europe. I knew Rochelle as a classmate in Hebrew High School and as a chavera in Habonim Labor Zionist youth. It took a little time to establish a serious relationship, but we were married in during World War II in 1943 when I was in the civilian reserve of the US Army taking specialized training in electronics. We had three months of marital bliss while I completed the training after which I was sent on active duty, which included a year and a half overseas, mostly in the Philippines.
I returned from the Army in January, 1946, initially to take graduate training in Economics at the University of Chicago, as well to welcome into the family near the end of that year our “baby boomer” and only child, Ronna. Rochelle and I were married a total of 61 years until she died in 2004. The years since my first teaching position at Duluth, Minnesota in 1949 can only be described as an “adventure.” We lived in four different states: Illinois, Minnesota, Oklahoma and California, in six different communities: Chicago; Duluth and St. Paul, Minnesota; Norman and Stillwater, Oklahoma; and Beverly Hills, California. These stays are not consecutive; they involved six different interstate transfers of our household goods, the last one back to California 25 years ago.
Now there are more sets of roots in our family due to trees that were planted in California by our daughter Ronna and her husband Rick Shpall who were married in 1973, They have three beautiful and talented daughters: Rebecca, Jessica and Elana; Rebecca and Jessica are both married, Rebecca to Ron Sandel and Jessica to Ezra Rosen, who is both a Ph.D. and a medical student. Rebecca is a practicing dermatologist and now also the mother of three boys: Jonah, 3 , Benji, 2, and Joshi, 2 months. Jessica is a practicing attorney and Elana is a medical student.
Having known and interacted with my great grandmother Hirosha who was born in 1840, I have lived long enough that our combined intersecting lifetimes covers parts of three centuries, the 19th , 20th . and 21st . If, by God’s will, any of my three great grandsons or their future siblings, if any, or future first cousins, if any and in due time, are fortunate enough to live as long as I have so far, that chain will reach another century, the 22nd .If you augment the tree at the other end with ancestors whose names are on the Ragins family tree, my “virtual” lifetime could potentially reach all the way back to the middle of the 18th century, making my “virtual” lifetime potentially 5 centuries. To “stretch” an example that has already been stretched a little too much, you could further augment the tree with 4+ millennia of Jewish history as recorded in the Hebrew Bible.
There are two more set of roots, Desiree, that I would like to say something about. The first of these is the common Jewish heritage that you and I and our respective families share, with about 14 million other people, that facilitated my friendship with you dad, even though we both come from different backgrounds. The second set of roots is the one planted by the founding fathers of this great and beautiful country that we both live in, due to the foresight of our parents and other ancestors. This being an election season, it is worth keeping in mind that it will remain as it has been so far with “government of the people, by the people and for the people” and “liberty and justice for all” only if its citizens vote intelligently in choosing their elected officials. This election appears to be the most critical one ever, even more so than the one in 1860 that preceded the war between the states. In my opinion the current administration is not doing the “right” thing to preserve the kind of country that you and I would want for our descendants.