My maternal grandparents, Gustav and Ruth (Wolff) Samter, were both born in Germany but escaped from the war separately through Shanghai in 1940. They met while living in the ghetto in Shanghai and left for America in 1947. The boat was headed up the West Coast, and a rabbi in Hawaii tried to get them to stay, but they chose to keep going toward the final stops in San Francisco and Seattle. My grandmother’s father couldn’t get work in Seattle, so their family traveled to Philadelphia. When my grandmother was 18, my grandfather took a train across the country to ask permission to marry her.
What makes our family interesting, I think, is what they did in Shanghai over the seven years they lived there. The Jews who were living in the ghetto didn’t know when they would be able to leave, so the community figured out how to survive. My grandfather, a pious, learned Jew, would travel from synagogue to synagogue blowing the shofar during the High Holidays, finding those who needed to hear it. My grandmother was only six when they arrived in Shanghai but made a life with her sister and parents as well, helping them get food and making connections within the community.
The foundation they set for themselves in Shanghai continued in Seattle — both my grandfather and grandmother took leadership roles in the community, building a life out of real tragedy of experience. Every Shabbat afternoon, my grandparents’ home would fill with young Jewish boys hoping to learn to read the megillahs from my grandfather (and enjoy my grandmother’s delicious treats).
Our family acknowledges that our grandparents and great-grandparents had a difficult life fighting to be Jewish, and that we’re so lucky to live like we do. Ami knows he is lucky to be able to wear his kippah and to be able to safely show and express his Judaism. He recently began reading the megillahs on the holidays, and after a school project on family history this year, asked if I would buy him a shofar so he could follow in his Opa’s footsteps.