Monday, June 1, 2015


The random happy events in our lives are one of the things that makes us thrill with excitement and vibrate. These events are rare, and we often feel they're arbitrary, unless there's really a mightier power above us. Who knows?

In any case, I consider random personal connections part of these events that make our lives more special and divert from daily mundane things. I met my wife on a bus by accident, and couldn't even think one day I would date her, and moreover, get married. I ended up studying at the San Francisco Art Institute also by this kind of fate's "invisible" hand. It was basically one phone call that convinced me applying there. And I never spoke to that person again.

What I'm trying to get at is that the world is incredibly small and we, humans, can, at any given moment, establish a random personal connection. This connection could or not change our lives, but the impressive thing is that it really happenned.

As I posted before, I've been meeting many people with the same ancestry as mine during the several screenings of Mamaliga Blues. These screenings have proven to be a melting pot of Bessarabers: a Moldovan girl who had a Tolpolar neighbor, an Ukranian gentleman who saw his father in one of the many old photographs shown in the film, and, more recently, a lady from Edinitz who used to live in front of my great-uncle's house in Moldova.

Surely the internet and new technologies help to make the world smaller, but it's always been this way. A small world makes us feel more human - and gives us comfort.

Sunday, May 10, 2015


Audio and image recorders were only invented in the late 1800's, but it took many years since we could actually have these at home and use them to document ourselves, family and friends. When I look at pictures of my ancestors, some from centuries ago, I can try to imagine how they looked like in a daily basis, how they walked and moved. But it's impossible to know how they talked, how were their voices like, if they spoke Portuguese well (being Yiddish/Russian/Romenian their native languages) or had any accent.

It's a challenge to try to depict my grandparents and their parents' lives. And in this journey into the past, it's even more difficult to figure out sounds, more than images. It's easy to have a song or tune in mind, but when we talk about sounds, it's a different thing. Somebody can try to describe a kind of voice, but it's still hard. Sounds gives depth, meaning. And in getting to know our ancestors' voices we could have a more complete picture of their personalities and characteristics.There's so much we can learn from it. 

Documenting not only your relatives' images, but also audios, will help to keep a more reliable memory alive. 

Wednesday, April 1, 2015


Several topics in one post this time.

First one is that I was recently asked about recommendations on books in English about Moldova. There are actually not many as far as I could tell. I came up with three on the top of my head:

- Easter in Kishinev (about the 1903 pogrom)
- Jewish roots in Ukraine and Moldova: pages from the past (from Miriam Weiner)
- Playing the Moldovans at Tennis (I didn't read this one, but watched the film)

And talking about books, I donated one to the Jewish Cultural Institute in Porto Alegre, my hometown in Brazil. The book is from Ihil Shraibman which I acquired in my last trip to Moldova entitled "Creation and love: short stories." It is a rarity, and even more so in Latin American lands. Ihil passed away in 2005 and was the last Moldovan Yiddish writer. His books tell stories about the old shtetls, but were never translated into English, therefore remain only for Hebrew/Yiddish/Russian speaking audiences. What secrets these books may be holding from us...?

Ihil Shraibman and one of his books

I also made another donation recently: Mamaliga Blues is traveling to Israel on very particular hands. Rabbi Daniel Pressman is taking a bunch of kids to Poland to the renowned March of the Living event. Afterwards, they all go to Israel and, amongst many other things, visit the amazing Yad Vashem museum. And what better hands to take the film to its Visual Center than Pressman and his pupils? I feel honored that the film's DVD is in their hands in such a fine mission. The DVD will be in the Yad Vashem's Visual Center's archive for anyone to watch it. 
The Yad Vashem, in Jerusalem

These donations are a tiny bit of what I can do to help disseminate Bessarabia’s Jewish History and culture. It's a meaningful experience to me. As it were many things that happened in the past. I was remembering my 2 trips to Moldova, the Mamaliga Blues' screenings I presented and all the wonderful people I met, and it occurred to me that some of what I experienced didn't seem important or was mundane at the time. And it's only now, months or even years later, that some of these experiences revealed themselves with full of meaning and importance.

What I want to say is that be mindful of the people you meet. Something you live, a regular happening that nobody would care or a person that you barely talked to - later on these can come back and turn into something very important to you. And although only time could tell, you can still do your part and keep in your heart and mind the little happenings of daily life.

Sunday, February 1, 2015


Mamaliga Blues toured around a few cities in the US and the screenings were so inspiring that I decided to dedicate a post about them. It was not only because we shared an exhibition date with Nancy Spielberg (yes, HIS sister) or that I was interviewed on Miami local TV that made it all  so unique and special. It was the people in the audience I met between December and January that made the 9 years of producing the documentary worthwhile. The crowd was diverse: students, genealogists, Moldovans, Brazilians, Americans, Colombians, Canadians, Equatorians, film lovers, artists, Jewish and non-Jewish. 

Here are some interesting things learned during the screenings:

- first of all, an unknown fact to me: one of the audience members told me there is a town called Mamaliga in Ukraine, bordering Moldova. What are the odds...?
- I met a Colombian lady with ancestry in Moldova as well. After watching the film, she told me she was the first cousin of one of the people we interviewed and, moreover, said that her grandmother was the first girlfriend of Sioma Tolpolar, my cousin. 
- There was also a Peruvian gentleman who said, after chatting for a while, "you know, I think you are in my genealogical tree"
- In New York, after the film played, one Moldovan lady said her neighbors were Tolpolars and is supposed to get me their contact information
- In the same screening, another Moldovan made an assumption on the reason why my great-grandparents were not buried in their hometown or closer to it. She said that in the 30's, the situation for the Jews was especially difficult and it could be possible that the sinagogues were being disconnected, as well as the Rabbis moving to other more Jewish populated cities. So the burial services were being largely suspended.
- yes, some did cry, but I was surprised with the fact that a non Jewish lady came to me apologizing for what her Moldovan fellows had done to the Jews during World War II.
- And lastly, one man revealed that a boy shown in one of the many archival photos, was actually his father.

So we, Bessarabers, may be a few, but we are very much connected. And the screening room can be a communal space where people share stories and try to find closure. The sense of being around people like you, with the same roots or interests, made me feel a bit hopeful about the future. Knowing about your history and keeping memory alive gives you perspective but also bears responsibility of relaying it to the young/next generation. As long as there are people who understand this, we are not alone - at least for now.

Thursday, January 8, 2015


This is a continuation of my previous post on genealogy trip tips.

Part II: During and after the trip.

Tip#1: Write everything down: once you set foot in the foreign land you’re visiting, there will be a multiple array of stimuli entering your eyes and ears. With so many things happening at the same time, it’ll be very easy to forget it or confuse it with something else later on. Even if the information sounds obvious, write it down. If you can, maintain a travel diary with all the contacts you make during the trip.

Tip#2: Be flexible: Follow your schedule, but be flexible to unforeseen circumstances, and try to take advantage of them.

Tip #3: Document it: take many pictures and/or video.

Tip#4: Enjoy it: Try to have at least one day without any plans. This day can be used for a day’s work if something goes wrong and you need it - or better than that, it can be used for sightseeing and enjoying yourself. In Moldova, I had booked one entire day to visit the wineries.

Tip#1: Keep in touch: Don’t disappear. Make sure to write back to all your contacts and let them know how much you appreciated their company and their country. Keep them posted.

Tip#2: Share your experience: write a blog, tell your friends, post on Facebook. People will love to know what you've done and your discoveries, especially the genealogy buffs. Don’t let your trip go unnoticed!

And good luck!!!