Saturday, August 25, 2012

CHISINAU-PORTO ALEGRE (and vice-versa)

My grandparents lived in Chisinau, Moldova. I was born and lived in Porto Alegre, Brazil.
I have recently traveled to both cities in 2012 and strangely noticed they share some similarities:

1) Dwindling Jewish community
Brazil never had a big Jewish community, but in Porto Alegre's state, Rio Grande do Sul, it has diminished from 12 to 7 thousand. Nobody is sure of why, but some point out that many young people are leaving. The same goes for Chisinau, that once had a huge, vibrant community, destroyed during the Holocaust and just now trying to get restructured. But it's still small.

2) Struggling economy
Brazil is one of the new leading countries in world economy, part of the "BRIC" (Brazil, Russia, India, China). But it has many political and social problems, and its vast resources are not yet being shared with most of the population. Chisinau is Moldova's capital, the poorest country in Europe. People are overwhelmed and tired by political corruption.

3) Urbanism
Both cities have sidewalks with cobblestones, twisted alleys, local and small grocery stores, old abandoned buildings, and a small (almost) international airport. The geography and architecture is a bit similar.

4) A predominant leftist ideology
Leftist politics have been popular in Porto Alegre for a long time, as well as Chisinau, which has a ruling communist party.

5) Atmosphere
No, not the quality of air. It's rather something you feel and see. People walking in the streets, cars, stores, buildings, humidity, heat, cold. I don't know if I'm dreaming of all these connections, but to me they seem true.


Wednesday, August 1, 2012


A few contacts I made in the past months didn't help me much to put some pieces together in this genealogical puzzle that can never be totally solved - only improved. But gave me more information to investigate.

The first was Francisco Wexler, descendant of Jewish Bessarabians who settled in Brazil, like my grandparents. In a conversation with my father, he said that in the village of Oliscani, in order to keep warm in the harsh winter, the houses were built with double walls. People would light the fireplace and the heat would be stored in the space in between walls - hence warming it up.

Jackie Talpalar in Israel shares an extremely similar last name, but we haven't found a connection yet. However, he said when he saw the picture of my great-grandparents grave in the Mamaliga Blues website, it was the only time he's read "Tolpolar" written correctly in Hebrew. And that is actually "Talpalar". Am I a Talpalar now...?

I don't know, but when I spoke to Semion Hinkis, also in Israel, he convincingly explained that Talpalars and Tolpolars are not directly related, coming from different villages in Bessarabia. A long time ago, Jews didn't have a surname. When the time came that the Tzar obliged them to have one, it was just a coincidence that two different families chose similar - and very uncommon -  last names. The same way all "Stein", "Kaufman", etc. may not be related. And in addition, he said "Talpa" in Romanian is not related to the shoe sole as we thought, but to a bat. Yes, the animal bat.

So it's possible that my family liked the flying rodents?

More food for thought.