19 April 2009

Missouri: Going home - to Greece

And what did you do on your summer vacation in 1974?

Rena Benrubi Abrams' high school graduation gift was a trip to Greece and a fortuitous sidetrip to Israel. She likes to tell her parents' story as it gives her the courage to go after what she wants.

Abrams' story is told in the St. Louis (Missouri) Jewish Light.

Rena Benrubi Abrams grew up wanting to be "That Girl," the stylish, ambitious character played by perky Marlo Thomas on the 1966-to-'71 TV sitcom. Nonetheless, Benrubi's parents decided that for her high-school graduation in Indianapolis, there could be no more fitting gift than a summer in Greece, their homeland.

Begrudgingly, 18-year-old Rena packed her bell-bottom jeans, peasant tops, wedge sandals and Jackie O sunglasses. In 1974, her first-ever airplane ride delivered her to her first-ever experience with a dirt outhouse, no telephone, no air conditioning, no TV and no American music.

In the Greek town of Naousa, she met her maternal grandmother, who slaughtered a chicken from the backyard and prepared it for dinner. In nearby Veria, where her father, Ruben Benrubi, had lived, old men reminisced about life before the Nazis and the startling horrors of war.

"These were stories and facts never mentioned to us as we grew up in suburban Indianapolis. But then again, we didn't know to ask," says Abrams. On Holocaust Remembrance Day April 19, she will pay tribute to her mother's Greek Orthodox family. They sheltered seven Jews during World War II.
She also visited her father's old home and, at his request, asked the current owner for permission to search the floor for money her father had buried before going to America.

Amazingly, Abrams says, she found a small leather pouch with several gold Turkish coins inside, buried in the dirt floor of a tiny closet. Though the coins were no longer legal tender, a Jewish jeweler, after biting the coins to ensure they were real, offered her $200.
With the money she bought an El Al ticket to Israel to see her father's few relatives, who had survived and resettled. One of the cousins she saw was a former teenager who had hidden in her maternal grandparents' attic for five years.

Read the complete story at the link above.

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