Monday, December 8, 2014


I’m not an expert on genealogy trips, but the fact that I went twice to Moldova to search for my roots - once with my father and sister and the latter with my one-year daughter and wife, and both times with camera gear – makes me feel like if I share some of my experiences and give some basic tips your own trip may be smoother (I hope so!). Basically some do’s and don’ts that may help you in case you’re thinking about going to Eastern Europe to look for your ancestors. This is like a detective job, so you better be organized!

This is a 2-chapter post: before the trip and during/after the trip.

BEFORE THE TRIP – be as much prepared as possible. You invested a lot of time and energy on this and you don’t want to miss anything!

Tip #1: Research within your reach.
Do all the research you can before even buying plane tickets. This means talk to your family, get data, search online (, jewishgen, yad vashem, google, etc.), read books (it’s always useful to learn some history to understand the context of immigration and uncover hidden clues), investigate old pictures, go to museums (if available in your town) and talk to other people who have done what you want to do. Write all the information down and try to draft a plan of attack: places you need to go, people you need to talk, how long you may need to stay in the city/cities, etc. Make a list of important questions and family/town names to locals so when the time comes you don’t stutter or forget stuff.

Tip#2: Research out of your reach.
There are lots of information not located online or reachable from where you are. That is why you are traveling. But before you catch a plane, it is worth it to contact some professionals and people in the country where you will be visiting. That can include a professional researcher that can look into doCuments in the local archives, community centers that can give you some practical information, a guide/translator that will work with you before and during your trip. Do this in advance, in some places people take a lot of time to answer e-mails.

Tip #3: Plan your trip.
Collect all the information you found. Now add some more variables into your travel. These include:
-          When to go: take into account the weather and try to avoid holidays (I was once stuck in Germany because I missed the plane to Moldova on Easter and everything else was already booked, besides the fact that airports in Europe were kind of a mess).  Be generous on the itinerary as well; try not to have many layovers, especially if you’re taking film equipment or your kids with you.
-          Things to learn: don't be a stranger, it won’t hurt learning a few sentences on the local language (take a phrase book) and more than that, the culture of the country you are traveling to. By doing this, you make the locals your allies – and you will need them! Besides that, at this point you have a natural curiosity for the place where your ancestors came from, and will want to be as close as possible to its characteristics. And be aware you will be in a different time zone (and sometimes a complete different reality!).
-          Hotel: get as much information as possible before you make your choice. Take into account localization, price, comfort, etc. I booked a 3 star hotel in Moldova, not even considering it wouldn’t have an elevator. When we got there, the 3 star hotel was more like a 2 star – and no elevators. I was worried because my father had just undergone heart surgery and would have to go up and down stairs; we were on the 3rd floor. But all went well.

Tip #4: Build a realistic schedule of your trip. Leave room/time for the unforeseen events that will most likely happen.

Tip #5: What to take.
Think about all the things you will need. Some items:
-          Power adaptors
-          Usage of cell phone (will yours work there? Will it be expensive? Is it worth buying an international cell phone or a local SIM card?)
-          Medications (try not to rely on medication you’re not used to): the ones you normally take, plus painkillers, some Tylenol, cold and cough medicine, band aid, Imodium, etc.
-          Travel insurance, including health insurance
-          Copies of passport and other key documents
-          How to use money? Take some cash with you, see if ATMs are common, see if most places accept credit card, etc. Warn your bank you will be using your cards overseas.
-          Take some presents to the people you have previously made contact and showed interest in working with you. These will be greatly appreciated. In some cultures, they will be waiting for these. But more than that, it’s just a nice thing to do. These little gifts can be as simple as chocolates, hand crèmes or peculiar things from your hometown.
-          Take some snacks; think about your dietary necessities. In Moldova it was hard to find diet coke, for example. I also took some energy drinks in case we got stuck in the middle of nowhere for hours without coffee.
-          Make sure you will have internet access, at least in the hotel.
-          Photo camera/video camera/microphones (if you are recording interviews or making a film)
-          Make large prints of historical family photos to show to locals – you never know if somebody will recognize your relatives, and if someone will, they will probably be old enough not to see very well.
-          Take your own toiletries, plus sunscreen and chapstick.
-          If you will be in an old cemetery, take a cloth to clean the gravestone as it will probably be very dirty.
-          A leatherman ( can be extremely useful.
-          Earplugs.
-          Think about the worst things it could happen in your trip and prepare to avoid them. This will surely make things run smoother.

Next: during and after the trip

Thursday, September 25, 2014


Dear friends,

We have been screening Mamaliga Blues in a few places around the globe, organizing new screenings and looking forward to new opportunities to show it. The next screenings will be in Rio de Janeiro, Atlanta, New York and Miami. Please stay tuned at our facebook page for showing dates or just contact me. I hope that we'll have some DVDs to sell and online viewing possibilities in 2015.

If you are interested in helping us share the film and spread the word around, I have a press release that I will be more than happy to send you, just let me know.

And as a special treat, I would like to announce the return of our dear 90 year-old grandma Amalia! She has previsouly taught us how to cook a Bessarabian mamaliga, and now she's back to show us how to make varenikes. 

I hope you are all well!
Cassio Tolpolar

Friday, June 20, 2014


This post is not about genealogy, history, Judaism or Eastern Europe. Not exactly.

8 months ago I moved from the US to Brazil, and it so happened it coincided with the World Cup. I love soccer, or football, but never thought I'd have the chance to watch any World Cup game - ever. I did it on June 18th, Holland x Australia.

Many thoughts ran my mind during and after the game, as I saw Australians, Dutch, Brazilians, Argentineans, Uruguayans, French, Americans, Ecuadorians, Mexicans, Russians, all chanting in their own languages, cheering and making their own combined gestures. It was surreal to think that millions of people traveled so far, some even with their children, to watch a soccer game.

Australia lost, but at the end everybody was cheering together, holding each other, taking pictures.

That day it was obvious to me that the World Cup has very little to do with just a game or patriotism. I used to think it's kind of stupid to hoist a national flag only in a soccer match situation, like many Brazilians do. And it's not my intention here to dwell on the political and economical implications of hosting such an event. I could go on and on and criticize it, like many are doing, but my impressions of attending a World Cup game were not bad. I felt it's about the meeting of people from different corners of the world, it's about celebrating difference.

Radical groups or schools of thought, being religious or not, don't understand that. They don't understand that difference is what makes it all interesting, fun and vivid; it's what makes us human. Soon the World Cup will end, and meetings like this will happen only in 4 years from now. I hope that in between then we can still keep the magic feeling that difference is what makes us survive in this planet.

Friday, March 14, 2014


Uri Lam, a Bessaraber who lives in the Norhteast of Brazil sent me this beautiful poem he wrote years ago. I took the liberty to translate it to English (sorry for any mistakes!) and posted its original in Portuguese below. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did. It relates to our journey into memories and past.

Uri Lam

I went straight to Gan Haparsí, the Persian garden. To me, Gan Hakessamim, the Magical Garden.
In the Gan there are five trees, two in one side, three in the other. They guard the way. 
Bereshit, the beggining is a tohu vavohu, a labirynth. 
Time and space altogether, nobody knows where the sky ends and the earth begins.
From this labyrinth comes a small creek. Dry creek, which soon gets wet and full of moss.
Some dams after, it keeps enclosed in leaves, which turn into woods. Only further away it is possible to dive in the waters and let yourself go in the stream.
Before one reaches this stage, one needs to find the labyrinth exit.  I feel the feet and face burn in the heat of the dry ground, then slip in the moss, cross the infinite barriers and go through the secrets of the woods.
(Some have come here and entered the Gan Hakessamim woods, but did not leave. They went crazy. Or killed themselves. Only one has survived).
And when I thought that I could finally rest and be taken by the waters, I find a staircase. I look up. There is no end. 
Step by step. To each step taken, there is another one to take above. 
There is no end.
Step by step. Tired, some mirages start to appear here and there.  Reminiscences of the path, the labyrinth, the dry creek. Going through the humid heat, between the trees in the woods.
The fear of foxes, lions, snakes and insects.  I veer from ghosts and witches - the ones I can see - in the way.
And when I look to my side, I see angels walking with me in the staircase, going up and down. Jacob's Ladder. 
Flying or walking or jumping around, the angels greet, smile, sing and hold hands. 
A mix of the famous Chocolate Factory, Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly. I feel incredibly alive. 
Finally I see a portal up above. A passage to Sucat Shalom, the peace hut. Or is it the portal to the Temple? When was it rebuilt?
I look again, astonished. But there is a wall around the portal. Closed. Concrete. The air is light, but my breathing is heavy. 
My back turned towards the walled portal which was supposed to be a peace hut or the entrance to Beit Hamikdash.
I look down and see the five trees. From here they look like five leaves: two in one side, three in the other. Some are pink, others green, one is grey. I can barely see the labyrinth behind. 
The woods cover my view of the river, but the dry ground ahead creates mirages which still distort the landscape of the beginning of the journey. 
It´s time to go down the steps, one by one. Each step down is swallowed by the Earth. 
I look around, the possibilities: return or go back and see what's behind the staircase, the portal, the hut, the Temple, the wall. I turn around. 
Across the way there is another staircase, but much smaller. The path is lighter. To each step the grass grows livelier. The fragrance is delicate and sweet. 
I pick up some leaves and put them close to my face. Rosemarin. I get to the other side of the wall, the Temple, the hut, the portal, the staircase. 
I look down and have another perspective of the Magical Garden. Then as I feel a familiar presence, I turn. 
“Grandpa Aizik! So you knew this path already?”
He smiles, kind of happy, kind of angry, frowning his forehead and eyes: “Of course, avade.”
I get a bit embarrassed. I remember our last meeting, when he said:
“Follow your profession, don't be chazen, Don't be a cantor. It doesn´t give parnusse. How can you make a living then?”
“Grandpa, I was always in this path, I chose it.
I don't know if it gives parnusse, but I know it's a lot of work! And simches also”.
He stares at me for a while and finally says:
“You were not the first one to follow this path. Remember? We came from Hotin.”

Uri Lam

Fui direto ao Gan Haparsí, o Jardim Persa. Para mim, Gan Hakessamim, o Jardim Mágico.
No Gan há cinco árvores, duas de um lado, três do outro. Elas guardam o caminho.
Bereshit, o ínicio é um tohu vavohu, um labirinto.
Tempo e espaço misturados, ninguém sabe onde terminam os céus e onde começa a terra.
Deste labirinto sai um pequeno riacho. Leito seco, que logo adiante fica úmido e segue cada vez mais coberto de musgo.
Algumas barragens depois, segue fechado em folhas, que se transformam em bosques. Só mais à frente é possível mergulhar nas águas e se deixar levar pela corrente.
Antes de chegar a este estágio é preciso encontrar a saída do labirinto. Sentir os pés e as faces queimarem no calor do chão seco, depois escorregar no musgo, ultrapassar as infinitas barreiras e arriscar-se pelos segredos do bosque.
(Alguns chegaram até aqui e entraram no bosque de Gan Hakessamim, mas não saíram. Enlouqueceram. Ou se mataram. Só um sobreviveu).
E quando pensava que finalmente poderia descansar e ser levado pelas águas, chego aos pés de uma escadaria. Olho para cima. Parece não ter fim.
Passo a passo, passo a passo. A cada degrau aqui embaixo, parece que outro degrau é construído lá no alto.
Parece não ter fim.
Passo a passo, passo a passo. Degrau a degrau. Com o cansaço, algumas miragens começam a aparecer aqui e ali. Recordações do caminho, o labirinto, o leito seco do rio, Passando pelo calor úmido entre as árvores no bosque,
O medo das raposas, dos leões, das cobras e dos insetos. Desvio dos fantasmas e das bruxas – os que posso ver – no caminho.
E eis que ao olhar para o lado, há anjos comigo na trilha pela escada, subindo e descendo. Escada de Jacob.
Voando ou caminhando ou saltando ao redor, os anjos se cumprimentam, sorriem, cantam, estendem as mãos uns aos outros.
Um misto entre Lumpa-Lumpas, da Fabulosa Fábrica de Chocolates, com Fred Astaire e Gene Kelly. A sensação é de estar incrivelmente vivo.
Finalmente vislumbro o alto: um portal. Passagem para Sucat Shalom, a tenda de paz. Ou será o portal para o Templo? Quando, meu Deus, foi reconstruído?
Olho de novo, maravilhado. Mas ah, o portal está murado. Fechado. Concretado. O ar é leve, mas agora minha respiração pesa.
De costas para o portal murado do que era para ser uma tenda de paz ou a entrada para o Beit Hamikdash.
Olho para baixo e vejo as cinco árvores. Daqui se parecem com cinco folhas: duas de um lado, três do outro. Algumas rosadas, outras verdes, uma acinzentada. Mal se enxerga o labirinto ao fundo.
O bosque cobre a visão do rio, mas o chão seco lá na frente gera miragens que ainda distorcem a paisagem do início da jornada.
É hora de descer os degraus, um a um. Quanto mais desço um degrau aqui encima, a terra engole um degrau lá embaixo.
Olho ao redor, as possibilidades: retornar, ou dar a volta e ver o que há por trás dos degraus, do portal, da tenda, do Templo, do muro. Dou a volta.
Do outro lado há outra escada, mas muito menor. O caminho é mais leve. A cada passo, a relva ao redor cresce cada vez mais viva. O aroma é delicado e doce.
Recolho algumas folhas e flores e as aproximo do rosto. Rosemarin. Chego ao outro lado do muro, do Templo, da tenda, do portal, dos degraus.
Olho para baixo e tenho outra perspectiva do Jardim Mágico. Então me viro de lado, ao sentir uma presença familiar. Me emociono.
“Vovô Aizik! Então você já conhecia este caminho?”
Ele sorri, meio feliz, meio irritado, franzindo a testa e os olhos: “Faiz Favorr, avade, claro que sim.”
Fico um pouco constrangido. Lembro-me do dia em que, em nosso último encontro, ele me disse:
“Siga a sua profissão, não seja chazen, não seja cantor religioso. Não dá parnusse. Como viver disso?”
“Vô, eu sempre estive neste caminho, eu escolhi 
este caminho.
Não sei se dá parnusse, mas sei que dá trabalho! E simches também”.
Ele me olha, me olha, olha outra vez, e finalmente diz:
“Você não foi o primeiro a trilhar este caminho. Lembra-se? Viemos de Hotin.”
Beis Harav.
Inspirado em atividade realizada no curso de Livui Ruchani (Acompanhamento Espiritual), Prof. Rachel Ettun, HUC, Tochnit Israeli. 12 nov. 2008 / 14 de Chesvan 5769 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014


I was born in Bom Fim, the Jewish neighborhood in Porto Alegre, where my grandparents, their families and friends settled, where all synagogues, Jewish clubs and restaurants were and still are. I remember my first memories of Judaism: walking back home from a festivity in the shul at night with my dad, with an Israeli flag, a candied apple and a bag full of sweets. I didn't understand it, but loved it. What kid wouldn't love some sweets?

I remember very little as we moved to a different neighborhood when I was 3.

35 years later I'm living in Bom Fim again. It is different, but I still see familiar faces of old people who once pinched my cheeks as a little boy. I'm too shy to come close and say "I know you, but I don't know your name and you probably won't remember me". But these old familiar faces make me feel at home.