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Bertha Quint, a young twenty-year-old, climbed up the worn stairs leading to the immigration office at Ellis Island. It was her turn in the long line of immigrants. They all had to wait in small caged-in areas, separated into different nationalities. She would be questioned for record file, checked for illness, and many other things in the long process of becoming a resident of America. She had come to America at the request of a man named Baruch Rosefsky, a twenty-two-year-old who wanted to marry her. He had met her in Balta Mantz in Russia and they fell in love. But he left for America in 1898. Now he was asking her to join him.
Bertha entered the room with uncertainty of what lay inside it. The dim lights flickered. She stepped onto the ragged gray carpet.
"Come in and have a seat over here," said a lost voice from behind the desk.
She nervously made her way to a wooden chair she suspected the voice was referring to.
Suddenly, the vast leather chair spun around and faced Bertha. A stubby, pot-bellied man sat leaning forward, nearly on top of his desk because he was too short to reach over to speak to Bertha.
"I'm gonna make this as short as possible 'cause we got a whole bunch a you to take care of today." His voice was muffled by his large cigar. His voice was surprisingly low considering he was such a tiny man.
"I'm Mr. Burns and I'm going to ask you some questions. Then I'll send you downstairs to be checked for diseases," he stated, looking at Bertha with beady eyes.
He began by asking her name.
"Bertha Quint," she replied.
There was a long pause. The silence was broken when Mr. Burns asked, "You came over with the group of ...uh... Russian..." He paused and then cleared his throat,"... Jews , correct?"
"Yes," Bertha answered quietly.
The Jews were thoroughly oppressed in Russia and it was hard to leave Russia. This had been an extremely rare chance and Bertha had taken a risk.
"From now on you're Bertha Schwartz," he declared straight forwardly.
Bertha said nothing. She had no choice but to take the name. Although she had been deprived of the pride of her connection with her ancestors, it didn't stop her. She accepted the name, without showing her unwillingness.
Bertha knew that Schwartz was a common Jewish name and by giving her the name, everyone would know she was a Jew. She hoped that the rest of America wasn't so oppressive.
Mr. Burns continued with questions and when they were through, she went downstairs and finished all the other tests. She was tired, but wearily managed to trudge up the plank and step onto the boat to New York City.
When the boat arrived in the harbor, Bertha met her brothers, who had been waiting for her. They had come to America before she had. They had all left their parents in Russia, who had wanted to stay in their homeland.
With a loud screech the train halted and the passengers stepped out onto the station in Binghampton, New York.
Bertha and her brothers walked until they reached Butternut Street. It was the address that Baruch had given Bertha in his last letter. When they reached a tiny apartment, they made their farewells for then (they would see each other soon again).
Bertha made her way up the rubbly stone path.The doorbell was answered by Baruch who stepped out with a big smile spread over his handsome, young face. He was tall, about five eight. His warm eyes glowed with happiness as he looked at Bertha. Her wispy, brown hair blew in the wind and gentle, brown eyes looked up at him lovingly. He bent over and gave her a big kiss. She hugged him tightly, placing her soft cheek against his chest.
"You look beautiful," Baruch said to Bertha. "Come, I'll show you around." Bertha followed him through the door into the apartment.
After Bertha got settled in, she told Baruch about her trip and the immigration office. They talked about serious things and laughed over their fond memories and recent events.
Suddenly Baruch asked,"When will you marry me?"
"As soon as possible," Bertha answered without hesitation. They had loved each other dearly for quite some time and now they were going to stay that way as long as they were together.
"Towels, socks, buttons, soap, a blanket, anything you need! Come buy at a low cost!" Baruch called out through the streets.
Baruch had always been a peddler. He walked with a backpack selling towels, shirts, soap, washclothes. Anything you could possibly need, he had to sell. Prices weren't high and many people bought only the bare necessities, which was what Baruch had to sell.
While Baruch was out selling goods, Bertha stayed home. In those days, woman didn't have jobs. They usually stayed home, did housework and took care of the children.
After one particular day of selling, Baruch excitedly came home to Bertha.
"I have saved up enough money to buy a horse and a wagon to drive for selling. Now I can sell a larger variety of items to more places. This way we can have more money!" announced Baruch proudly. He never thought of himself and Bertha as poor. He had always been proud of Bertha and himself and how much money they had. This made him especially proud.
When business was going exceptionally well and he had saved enough money, he and Bertha bought a house on South Street, Number 48.
"This house will give us more space and it will be better since our first baby is on the way," Bertha and Baruch agreed as Baruch paid the owner and Bertha looked down at her puffed-out belly.
It was a two-family house and they rented the first floor. It was more spacious and comfortable.
Bertha's brothers helped Baruch pack the wagon with all of their belongings. Bertha wanted to help but knew she couldn't because the baby was due soon. Items were passed down to the wagon where Baruch loaded them on. With everyone helping out, it took less time.
When they were finished packing, Baruch helped Bertha onto the wagon and then hopped on after her. They rode happily to their new home.
"Congratulations! It's a girl!" Dr. Goldstein told Bertha.
With her last bit of energy, Bertha managed to smile, "Thank you. May I hold her?"
"Of course," Dr. Goldstein gently handed the baby to Bertha.
Bertha looked at the baby lovingly. Baruch walked over and patted the baby's head.
"Let's call her Marian," said Bertha.
"Yes, that's a beautiful name," ag-reed Baruch.
"Come, let's let Mrs. Rosefsky rest," Dr. Goldstein said. Baruch and Bertha's brothers quietly left the room.
Bertha held Marian, and Baruch sat in the temple on Friday night. It was the night of the Sabbath, the night of rest.
The Sabbath was very important to Jews. Jewish families went to the temple on Fridays and holidays to pray and worship God.
The rabbi led the congregation in the prayer over the candlelight. The chant was strong and could be heard from every part of the temple. He lead them through other prayers and blessings. He chanted the weekly verse from the Torah, the sacred Jewish scroll.
When it was over, Bertha held Marian and walked beside Baruch to their wagon. They climbed in and rode home.
Their second child died shortly after it was born.
"I think the baby was killed by an evil eye," Bertha said to Baruch.
In the Jewish religion, an evil eye was the "eye" of a person who was thought to bring bad luck. If this person were to look at someone, that person would die. So Bertha and Baruch suspected that someone with an evil eye had looked at the baby.
Harry, their third child, was born.
"This is Harry," Bertha told Marian.
"Hi, Harry," Marian greeted him. She was three and learning to speak English. Her first language was Yiddish which was spoken in the homes of many immigrant Jews.
Harry giggled. He began to look around, taking in his surroundings.
Minnie cooed happily in the crib next to Harry's. She had been born a few months before.
"Here you go," Marian held the bottle of warm milk in Minnie's mouth.
Marian would come in and pretend she was Harry's and Minnie's mother. She'd feed them and play with them and help Bertha take care of them.
She led Harry walking. "Keep going. Hang onto my hand," Marian encouraged.
"How's my newborn son, Alec, doing today?" Baruch asked sweetly as he came in from work.
"He's just fine!" answered Bertha proudly. She walked over with Alec in her arms and kissed Baruch. He patted Alec on the head and walked to hang up his coat.
"Dinner is ready," Bertha stated as she carried Alec to the table.
Marian tried hard to feed Minnie and Harry at the same time. Baruch came to help her feed them.
Baruch became ill with pneumonia. His death soon followed. His newborn, sixth-month-old baby, Israel, never knew him.
We need money, Bertha thought desperately. She thought for some time. She sat at Baruch's old wooden desk as she rested her cheek on her hand.
I can ask one of my brothers to sell the house and wagon.
She sighed regretfully.
The money won't go too far but it will help........I know! I'll open the front room into a small shop! Each day I'll bake foods. And I'm sure my brother, Sam, will give me eggs from his chickens to sell. She thought excitedly as the plan developed in her mind.
Her life was hard but somehow she made it through. Prices were extremely low. People only bought what they needed. Food was a necessity but people didn't always buy baked goods. They bought things they could eat part of and then put away for later. Her children helped when they returned from school. While they were at school sometimes her brothers or friends from the temple helped Bertha run the store.
Although their lives growing up were difficult, all her children got a good education. Alec and Israel went to college on scholarships and worked their way through since they didn't have enough to pay for it. They worked incredibly hard. Israel went on to medical school and Alec went to law school. Both of their jobs were good and paid enough money to support their family.
Not all of them went to college but they all had jobs that got them by in life. They would all visit Bertha and care for her when she was in need. They all loved each other like every Jewish family did. n
Bertha Quint and family are patterned after my maternal great grandmother, who was called Bubbi by her grandchildren and great grandchildren.