A new exhibit at the Slifka Center will use a variety of media to tell a story of love and remembrance.
Last night saw the opening of “No One Remembers Alone: Memory, Migration and the Making of an American Family,” an exhibition of postcards and photographs that traces the journey of Abram Spiwak and Sophie Schochetman, who fell in love during the Russian revolution and made their way to America to start a family. The exhibition’s curator, former Yale Assistant English and humanities professor Patricia Klindienst, said the emotional bond between members of the Spiwak family is the exhibition’s central theme.
“This is all about love. This whole project is about love,” Klindienst said. “The entire family loves and respects Abram and Sophie because they are the founders of the family.”
One part of the exhibit displays a sample of 24 postcards placed in chronological order, which detail Spiwak and Schochetman’s correspondence with each other and with their family members from 1907 to 1909 as they tried to find their footing in America as recent immigrants from czarist Russia. The foyer of the exhibition space contains two banners with black and white photographs hanging from the ceiling. One of the banners is a portrait of Schochetman in a black dress, her shoulders thrust back as she poses with a book.
Klindienst describes the exhibit as a “mosaic of memory,” adding that since the couple never discussed their personal histories with their family members, the compilation of postcards and photographs from their early lives fills in many of the historical gaps. Kliendiest added that the exhibit is her attempt at recreating the story they never told.
The second level of the exhibition concentrates on Abram’s family and features letters between members of his family, particularly his six sisters, whom he eventually helped bring over from Russia. Klindienst explained that Spiwak and Schochetman helped more than two dozen members of their families escape persecution in Eastern Europe.
Klindienst said she spent six years working on compiling the works featured in the exhibition. Margaret Kangley, a friend of Klindienst who helped design the exhibit, added that Klindienst originally planned to write a book on the exhibit’s subject matter but ultimately decided to present the themes visually.
The entire process began when Alice Linder, one of the couple’s granddaughters, told Klindienst the story of her grandparents and their escape from Russia. Klindienst recalled how Linder brought down a suitcase from the attic, which contained 250 photographs and postcards. During the following six years, Klindienst worked with two hundred volunteers from 16 countries to translate the postcards. She also communicated with 36 members of Spiwak and Schochetman’s extended family to piece together their story.
Those who attended the exhibit’s opening described the exhibition as both enjoyable and thought-provoking.
“It tells you about a part about a part of American and world history that most people don’t know anything about,” said English and women’s, gender and sexuality studies professor Margaret Homans. “It’s full of the most extraordinary emotions and feelings when you read the postcards sent by people who were perhaps never going to see one another again.”
Ruth Becker, the youngest child of the couple, said the exhibit provided her with a valuable opportunity to re-familiarize herself with her family’s history.
Richard Weingarten ’72, a former assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine, said the exhibition provided him with insight on his own family’s history, adding that a number of his family members also fled Russia because of pogroms.
The exhibition will close on Feb. 1, 2015.