The Uncommon App: One Book, Four Generations

Graphic by Isabella Xie

By Sasha Shapiro

Newton South Class of 2017

Prompt: Wislawa Szymborska said, “You can find the entire cosmos lurking in its least remarkable objects.” Help us see something ordinary in an extraordinary light.

For many years, I’ve noticed a strange book on the shelves of my father’s study. It had leather binding with fading golden letters scrawled on its side. Recently, I decided to finally pick it up and open it.

As I eagerly unclasped the binding, I was greeted by the smell of mildew, revealing yellowing pages covered in Hebrew script. “It belonged to my grandfather,” volunteered my father, who noticed me flipping through the fragile pages. “It’s a Siddur, a traditional prayer book that he rescued from his burning temple during the pogroms.”

I pictured my ancestor, young and fearless, grabbing the sacred book from the shelf and rushing towards the exit of the old, blazing synagogue. Cossacks with their sabers on the ready would have been following him on the narrow streets as he zigzagged through the village, hugging the book to his chest.

My great-grandfather survived and moved to Gomel, where he opened a bakery, which was also eventually burned down by the Red Army. However, the Siddur stayed safe in his tiny house on the outskirts of town. The book witnessed everything from the Russian Revolution to the persecution of Jews during World War II . It was handed down through several generations until it finally arrived with my father and grandparents in the United States and was placed on the shelves of my father’s study. Now it is my turn to turn the pages in awe and imagine the stories this Siddur could tell.