I have interviewed Judith Fein before about increasing self-awareness through travel. Today I am again interviewing Judith, this time about her new book The Spoon from Minkowitz: A Bittersweet Roots Journey to Ancestral Lands. She was kind enough to give me a review copy of the book and I savored every page. Because it is both an engaging and honest memoir, and a gripping, hard-to-stop-reading adventure tale, I recommend the book to you. Now read on as I ask Judie some questions about The Spoon from Minkowitz.
Judie, for those readers who have not yet read your latest book, will you give an overview of your concept of ancestral travel, please?
There are many forms of ancestral travel. The first, and most obvious kind, is traveling to the land your ancestors came from. The more you know about their place of origin--the country, the town or village, any buildings that may remain from their life-- the more potent the trip will be. But even if you know no details, it is powerful to walk the land they walked, breathe in the air, go to the markets, taste the food, talk to people. I think it is the best antidote to the pervasive malaise of rootlessness and disconnectedness that afflicts us. This kind of ancestral travel has great intergenerational appeal. You can go with family elders who lived there, or you can take children to discover their family roots. Of course you can go on your own, too.
Another form of ancestral travel is what I call Emotional Genealogy. You find anyone in your family, starting with the oldest members, and ask them questions. You "travel" into the past of your family by finding out what the stories are. No story is too small or inconsequential. Each bit of information is a lead, a clue about where you came from, which is part of the identity of who you are.
And the most intimate form of ancestral travel is looking at (and finding out about) the behavioral patterns that have been passed down in your family. The positive traits, of course, and then the negative ones, like pain, anger, victimhood, silent suffering, lying--that have been handed down. When you look at the behavioral legacy, you have the option of transforming it rather than transmitting it.
A number of people who read this blog are involved with helping clients pass on wealth to the next generation or generations. A growing number of them also see values as a part of the gifts that can be part of a formal or informal inheritance. Do you think knowledge of one's ancestry and of one's place in the ancestry-life-legacy flow can affect how people see the concepts of inheritance, estates, maybe even ownership? Did your ancestral travel to Ukraine change your ideas of what you want to leave behind?
There are so many kinds of wealth. I think that if you or a client can pass on family stories, family history, transparency about what came before, connection, objects, writing, photos from an ancestor or ancestors, this is an immeasurable form of wealth. What if clients left money for the next generation specifically to take a roots trip? And maybe included tips on how to do it, where to go, what to look for, in addition to any heirlooms? This can be left in writing, or, even better, as a video. How about requesting that money be given in the ancestral town or city to restore a cemetery, expand a library, buy school supplies, purchase new seats in a religious sanctuary? If the town or village is not impecunious, what about a memorial plaque to the ancestors? Or a small building or room in a building in their name? It is very hard to get the attention of the next generation, because so many things pull at their focus and time. But if you show through inheritance that family knowledge is as important as family funds, it can be the beginning of a sea change in the way people see themselves in relation to those who came before them and those who will follow them. One day we will be the ancestors. Who will remember us? Maybe they can remember us for the values we impart as well as the wealth we have accumulated. Maybe they will thank us one day for connecting them to those who came before them. If we forget our forebears, then we, too, will be forgotten.
i have a longing to go back there and put some money into the hands of people i met. i wrote to ask