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The Jewish gene and reunited sisters

The story of a woman who found her relatives all over the world thanks to a DNA test

There was once a woman in the USA by the name of, shall we say, Mary Smith. Mary had a husband, children and even grandchildren, but she did not have anyone else, because her parents, who died a long time ago, once took her as a baby from an orphanage in Gomel. So Mary had no blood relatives at all – apart from the ones that she gave birth to, that is. And Mary had an idea – she sometimes thought that she was a Jew. Why did she, snub-nose, blue-eyed and blond, think this? She just thought it, and that’s all.

Eventually her beloved children grew a little weary of her harping on this topic, and they said to her: “Dear Mommy! Look what we bought you! It’s a certificate from “23andme” – with a device attached to it. You spit here, and we send this to the address on the certificate, and they will immediately determine your ethnic background. Although you’ll have to say goodbye to your Jewish illusions, Sulamith, but at least your soul will finally be at rest”.

So Mary spat, and waited, and a little while later an email with the results arrived.

To the thorough amazement of her relatives, Masha turned out to be 97% Ashkenazi Jew – her prophetic heart did not deceive her. Furthermore, on the company’s site she got an offer to read a list of her relatives.

And so the orphan without a family or tribe Mary Smith discovered that had three cousins, several cousins once-removed and dozens of second cousins. And there could not be any mistake – the lines were identical, 100% kinship.

Mary grabbed the telephone books, and by evening she was talking on skype to her cousins. Some of them lived in the USA, some in Canada, some in Israel, and one of them had even made it to Australia.

And of course, all of them finally asked the question: who are we actually, and where did we come from?

Everyone had certain problems answering this, but after making a common mosaic from children’s memories and family legends, they realized that once a family by the name of Shuster had lived in distant Russia in the 1930s – Semyon, Shifra, and their two or three sons.

All of the newly-acquired relatives turned out to be descendents of the youngest son, but no one knew his name. It was also unknown how Mary ended up in an orphanage and what happened in Gomel.

And then they decided to send a messenger to Russia, someone younger, to find out something about their common roots…

…Yes, that’s how they found us. Or rather, not us, but Uncle Borya first. The messenger managed to call ALL the Shusters in Russia, until he found one who said that the names Syoma and Shifra sounded familiar. He had often visited them in Gomel as a child. And yes, he had photographs from that time. And letters. Around two suitcases’ full. Now his niece, Tatka, would print them all and send them, and Uncle Borya himself would immediately sit down to write the history of the Shuster family – Tatka would help.

We also found out about Mary. Uncle Borya didn’t know, but my mother, a girl with big inquisitive ears, once overheard Granny Shifa secretly crying to someone that her middle son Georgy, a handsome womanizer, had had a child with his schoolteacher, but did not want to acknowledge the girl, and the teacher sent her to an orphanage, where Granny was not allowed to see her, because she was not recognized as a relative. And then the child was adopted, her name was changed and the new parents took her away, who knows where, and it was wartime…

But thanks to miraculous modern biology technology, we finally met and were reunited, and for half a year now my mailbox (after my kind mother and Uncle Borya gave out my address to all our new relatives as a way to keep in touch) is full of messages such as “Dear family! This is Georgetta from Ottawa, the wife of Mary’s oldest grandson! I’ve attached 17 videos of my younger son Bobby learning to play the maracas! Please write to tell me how you liked it!”

Glory – ahem! – to the science of genetics…

Tata Oleinik

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