Probably no other nation in the world looks for its roots like Jews do. Scattered by fate throughout the world, deprived of their homeland, relatives during the Great Patriotic war, today they are trying to get their memory back. The memory of the place where their ancestors were born and lived, the memory of the events that divided the fate of thousands of Jews into «before» and «after».
At the end of the XIX century there lived more than 3,000 Jews in Novogrudok. In the Jewish community the Harkavy family was well-known. According to the «Statements of house owners of Polish origin and the Jews in the town of Novogrudok «, dated 1866, Jews were the owners of 452 houses, Catholic – 99. Wealthy Jews lived mainly in the market square. The richest houses that belonged to Jews were the house of the merchant Haim Belman (8000 RUB.), Moshe Harkavy (6000 RUB.), two houses of the merchant Meyer Picker (6350 and 3,750 RUB.).
In 1835-1850 the Rabbi of Novogrudok was Alexander Süsskind Harkavy, a merchant, a member of a wealthy family. In 1867 a merchant Gershon Harkavy was a sponsor of the Jewish 2-class public school of the 1st category.
This September I’ve met with one of the the Harkavies’ descendants. To visit the land of his ancestors has been Robert Harkavy’s dream for many years. He lives in California. He had little idea where Belarus and Novogrudok are. However, the desire to visit the homeland of ancestors was so strong that in his 74 years he and his wife decided to cross the ocean.
— I was born in New York, grew up in Florida, but I consider myself a Belarusian. My roots are here, in Belarus, – said Robert. – I’m not looking for anyone, I just want to walk along the streets of the town, learn its history and see interesting places. In our family, I often heard about my relative Alexander Harkavy, I know the story of his emigration to America and glorious scientific activity very well. I started looking for information about where he came from. My research showed that there are many Harkavy in different countries of the world.
Robert Harkavy began his research thirty years ago. He knew that when his ancestors emigrated, the relationship between people and the attitude towards Jews was not very good. At the end of the XIX century on the territory of Belarus, Ukraine, Russia the life of Jews was hard. Unfortunately, many of them had to leave their homeland and found shelter in America. Among them there was Robert’s great-grandfather Alexander Harkavy.
— When Alexander Garkavy came to America, he had to move from place to place for some time. He went to Canada and then to New York. Alexander communicated with other emigrants and wrote a book of practical advice that helped to settle in the new environment for them. I was told that in the 20s of the XX century Alexander Harkavy and his wife Bell came to us on weekends brought a cherry pie.
In 1921, Alexander Harkavy came to Novogrudok from the USA. He brought to the Jewish community 40 thousand dollars collected by emigrants from Novogrudok in America. Ten years later, in 1931, he came again. It was a real event for a small shtetl. Due to him, the Warsaw Studio «Zenit» made a documentary, which remains up to present day. Thanks to this film and old photographs taken during the visit to the town, today we can imagine and better understand the world of Novogrudok shtetl and its inhabitants. In 87 years, Robert was the first of Harkavy who emigrated to America and returned to the homeland of their ancestors.
– I thought I could see the shtetl, but there is no more shtetl – smiles Robert Harkavy. — It is evident that Novogrudok is a town with its own way of development. And this, in my opinion, is due to the fact that Belarus is an independent country. I see this as a positive development for the future. I visited the Castle hill, Adam Mickiewicz’ Museum. It was very interesting, I liked everything. For me, being a Jew, it was very important to visit the Museum of Jewish resistance. Once in Novogrudok there lived many Jews, and today, unfortunately, there are very few. However, I think many people just may don’t know that they are Jews. We need to develop, study our roots, our culture. Jews are a big part of Novogrudok’s history, and this is important. There are many famous names in Novogrudok. The name of Alexander Harkavy is well known, but the fate of Abraham Harkavy is little-known.
For many years Robert Harkavy has been searching for numerous descendants of Harkavy. He is keeping in touch with some of them. Among Harkavy living in America, there are many lawyers, for example, the Prosecutor in Los Angeles has also the name of Harkavy. Robert calls himself a businessman in retirement. He has worked in the construction business for more than 25 years and today is resting and enjoying life.
«I like to build connections between people,» Robert notes. -In our life it is very important to do something for the future. And if you can do something for descendants, based on the past, your mission is completed. I hope that my visit to Novogrudok will be the beginning of interesting contacts and cooperation. In California, where I live, a lot of people engaged in farming for tourist purposes. I learned that there are 24 farmsteads in Novogrudok and people do almost the same. And I had an idea: it can be interesting to meet and establish cooperation between these people.
— I liked Novogrudok, especially when the weather is so warm. I’m not sure about January, February, but now it’s very comfortable and pleasant. Although we are separated by tens of thousands of kilometers, I am sure that people are the same everywhere. And all the problematic issues that may arise are related to politics. And people will always find understanding – said Robert Harkavy.
By Helen Gantsevich
Translated by Helen Chal