The most controversial chapter of our manuscript was chapter 11—A Mississippi Dacha. Leslie, Patricia (our editor) and
I debated back and forth about keeping it, revising it, or jettisoning it. Patricia was the advocate for including the
chapter in the book. She reasoned that our American readers would identify with us and we needed a counterpoint in
the US to Vera and Alla’s Leningrad stories. It was easy for Leslie to become part of the book because she was part of
Vera’s life. It was a reach for me since I was not part of the story and I am more loathe to disclose my feelings.
Patricia, you were right. When I think about comments I’ve heard from readers, almost everyone mentions this
chapter. It’s a revelation to many Jews and non-Jews alike that there was a thriving Jewish community in Tupelo.
(Ever the teacher, I feel compelled to let readers know they can access more information.
For others, it’s the exotic Mississippi life or the idea of a Russian-born baubie in the deep south baking hallah on Friday
mornings while her neighbors are frying bacon and making grits that makes this chapter memorable.
Or, perhaps it’s the surprise turn that life took sending our grandparents to northern Mississippi and a life away from
Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), which has just recently passed, still flows through my thoughts. It's not just about
"who shall live and who shall die," but also about how we live and the legacy we leave when we die. We may think we
have ultimate control over our lives—where we live, who we marry, what work we do. But, Rosh haShana and Yom
Kippur remind us that not all is in our hands. Even though we may not be shrugging our shoulders and allowing
ourselves to be carried by the current, we simply don’t have total control over our futures. A tough reality for an
American Jew to accept. Vera and Alisa felt this lack of control on a daily basis in the Soviet Union and railed against
it. But, we Americans sometimes go to the opposite extreme and feel if we plan it, it will come.
Living in Mississippi was not on my grandparents’ wish list of 50 places to visit before they died, but while they were
there, they made a home. They connected with others and they learned about their neighbors. They plunged into
the communal life and invited their grandchildren to visit. We toured the state of Mississippi and the neighboring
areas. At the time my grandparents moved to Tupelo, I saw nothing unusual at all in their decision. As I reminisce with
my sister and my cousins about this time, I am especially struck by my grandmother's "can-do" and "will-do" attitude.
I’m not sure there is a moral to this blog unless it’s “listen to your editor.” For me, the message is that each experience
incubates and develops. I have found that past experiences are like a mutable jack-in-the-box. I never know when those
memories will pop up and surprise me and what face they will show. Happy New Year and may you enjoy and learn
from your reflections as well as your new experiences this year.