My Grandmother’s Suitcase

At the age of 54, Jim Van Buskirk, who had been raised "devoutly Unitarian" met with his mother after a long estrangement. Facing her own mortality, she said she had something to tell him: "You are Jewish."

Jim’s mother went on to give him a suitcase filled with photographs, letters, and documents. Intrigued, Jim began to look for answers to his family’s history — and his own identity — by researching his genealogy, talking to previously unknown relatives, and examining the contents of his grandmother’s suitcase.

The uncovered family saga, ultimately stretching over 120 years and three continents, was more complicated than he’d ever imagined, leading him to explore aspects of world history he’d never understood. This presentation is adapted from a manuscript of a memoir-in-progress.