Miriam Weiss contemplates a chicken she
will prepare for her husband, the
shokhet, in Budapest, Hungary.
along with Brian Blue, a non-Jewish pho-
tographer, set out to learn more about his
roots. They traveled, funded only by
"Strom and Blue," armed only with a pen,
camera, tape recorder and violin and with
no set itinerary or agenda except "to take
chances. If someone said don't go there, we
They traveled by train between cities and
by foot within cities, starting with two
cities in the Soviet Union, Kishinev and
Odessa, and making their way across
Eastern Europe from Poland to Czechosla-
vakia to Hungary to Yugoslavia to
Romania to Bulgaria.
While they did bring a few names and
addresses with them, mostly they went
from town to town seeing who they came
across. They would always start by going
to the main synagogue when it was time
for services. "That was our automatic in.
We were able to find out who was who, ask
questions, find out where to go. Because
I knew how to daven and because I spoke
Yiddish, the doors opened for me."
The synagogue was the place to start,
said Strom, because except for Yugoslavia,
the synagogue is still the center of Jewish
life for the Jews of Eastern Europe. "Older
Jews, those 40 and above, all know how to
daven. Even those who don't go to daven,
still come to meet people, for functions, the
kosher kitchen. And for younger people,
the synagogue serves as a meeting place.
Eastern Europe is still very influenced by
the old Orthodox ways, by the religious,
Strom understood those ways, which is
why the Jews he met "understood why a
young American Jew was so interested in
them. They called me Yitzchak. I'd say my
name is Yale and they'd say what does Yale
mean? You're Yitzchak."
It helped, too, that Strom spoke their
languages. Both of them.
"Yiddish is the language of the mind,
klezmer is the language of the heart. I
know songs they know. I would go to a shul
and first we'd talk. And when they didn't
want to talk anymore, I'd ask, 'Want to
hear some music?' and they'd say fantastic.
They would listen and start singing and
A boy at Shabbat services in Beit Aaron
synagogue in Budapest.