Rozalia Belsky was born in 1896 in Balta near Odessa, Russia (then), the Ukraine (now). In 1922, at 26, she and her 3 year old daughter Anitchka, boarded a steamship from Odessa heading for America to escape religious persecution and pursue a chance at freedom and prosperity.
The ship stopped in Constantinople (Istanbul) and the boat’s company promptly went out of business – that was in July 1922.
Rozalia’s husband, Jacov, was already in America – he had worked for 3 years in order to save enough money for his wife and daughter to join him. With his family now marooned in Turkey, Jacov had to raise new steamship fare as fast as possible. Though life was dangerous back in Russia especially for Jews, at least Rozalia was with her family. Now she was alone with a 3 year old who was a prime target for kidnappers putting children into slavery. While Jacov saved money, Rozalia protected Anitchka by never leaving her side and in one harrowing incident literally ran from a market place while being chased by slavers. They persevered and boarded the SS Madonna in October of 1922.
The SS Madonna sailed from Constantinople to Marseille and then took Rozalia and Anitchka Belsky, along with hundreds of other hopeful immigrants to Ellis Island, New York.
They left Ellis Island as Rose and Anna Bell ready to reunite with (now) Jack and start their life in America.
Rozalia was my great-grandmother. She is the legendary matriarch of our family. I have never met anyone who did not speak of her magnetism, sense of humor, work ethic and matzoball soup. I was born on the day of the second anniversary of her death.
Anne was my grandmother. I did have the pleasure and honor to grow up with her and her sharp wit, sense of humor, similarly well-developed work ethic and ability to earn incredible love and loyalty from everyone who knew her.
For both of these women, the sea was their link to a better life. Anne and my grandfather Arthur lived in Philadelphia and by the ocean in New Jersey and when they traveled, they did so mostly by sea.
My grandparents took me on a cruise from New York City to Bermuda when I was in high school. Though I was a sailor, that was the first time I was offshore enough not to see any land (thought it was the coolest). It was on that trip I went SCUBA diving for the first time – I do not have the words to describe that experience. Notably, it was the second time my grandmother had entered New York harbor from the sea. The first time as a terrified 3 year old Russian and this time as a happy, fulfilled wife, mother, grandmother and American.
For me, protecting and cleaning the ocean is an ode to my past and hope for the future – to protect all of the creatures the ocean keeps and nourishes from the smallest bit of plankton up to the whales and us people and to keep the pathway to a better life, whether people are going east, west, north or south, clean and clear.
Rachael Z. Miller
Founder, The Rozalia project