April 26, 2011, History major Ella Nilsen publishes in Inquiry Journal
No Longer a Secret: Uncovering My Family’s Russian Jewish Heritage
—Ella Nilsen (Edited by Katherine Bragg)
The closest I’ve gotten to a glimpse of my grandmother Betty’s life are boxes of old family photos. The pictures are small, sepia-toned prints, crinkled with age. In one, my grandmother looks about five years old. She sits upright in a tiny child’s chair, reading a book. Her hair falls to her shoulder and is tied up by a white bow. I can recognize my father in her facial features, and the intense expression with which she stares at the book. At this young age, Betty’s mother was dead, and her father had left her and her brother to the care of the New York State foster system. She was separated from family and community. The implications of this abandonment would be far greater than she knew then. Her Jewish past, lost with her parents, would become a burden for Betty and eventually become a secret she would protect fiercely later in life.