Like many 21st Century American Jewish families, the Privens did not know much about their family history or about the fate of their extended family from their father’s ancestral village of Pavoloch during the Holocaust period. Driven to uncover their family roots, siblings Lew and Cheryl Priven embarked on a genealogical search that began with a trip to the Ukraine, followed by discovering new information on Yad Vashem’s Central Database of Shoah Victims’ Names culminating with an emotional reunion of extended family in the US and Israel and a moving Bar Mitzvah ceremony twinning Jalen Schlosberg with one of his long lost cousins, who was murdered at the age of 13.
In August 2013 Jalen Schlosberg, Lew Priven’s grandson and the extended family, marked his Bar mitzvah with a guided tour of the Holocaust History museum that highlighted the family's personal holocaust story. The special visit pinnacled in the Yad Vashem synagogue where the family participated in an emotional commemoration and "twinning" ceremony in which Jalen undertook to honor and uphold the memory of his "twin", his third cousin, Haim Okman who was robbed of his opportunity to celebrate his own Jewish coming of age because he was murdered in the Holocaust.
During the ceremony, Lew recounted his father's stories from his native Ukrainian village, imagining it as the Jewish shtetl from "Fiddler on the Roof" and told of how he became interested in his family roots.
Overcome with emotion Lew described his 2011 journey with Cheryl to their ancestral town. His despair at discovering the mass grave and stark monument marking the horrific massacre of the1,500-member Jewish community Sept. 5, 1941 was evidenced by a silent pause as he fought back tears. In a poignant message to his grandson warning against indifference to others he recounted Martin Niemoller's poem and concluded with a valuable lesson saying, "As Jews we must not remain indifferent to the suffering of anyone, anywhere".
Jalen's great-aunt, Cheryl (Priven) Finklestein explained how she had studied the Holocaust for many years and how the discovery of living relatives through Pages of Testimony at Yad Vashem transformed her connection to a personal one that directly affected her family. She discovered Haim Okhman and 4 other murdered members of his family only recently thanks to Pages of Testimony commemorating them in the Names Database. The Pages of Testimony were submitted in 1999 by a person named Rudolf Priven who then lived in Salt Lake City, Utah, after emigrating from Russia in the early 1990's.
Now 75, Rudolf Priven is a retired physician who grew up in the Ural Mountains area after he and his mother, Fanya, were sent there by the Soviets from Kiev. The two groups of Privens compared notes when they subsequently met together with their spouses and confirmed that they are second cousins: Rudolf’s grandfather, Haskel Priven, was a brother of Morris Priven, the grandfather of Lew and Cheryl. Morris had left Pavoloch for the United States in 1922 and settled in Boston, where he worked as a carpenter. Julius Priven, a son of Morris and the father of Lew and Cheryl, spent his working life in kosher meat markets. Lew and Cheryl had diagrammed a detailed family tree based on conversations with their father. The tree proved invaluable in establishing the connection to Rudolf Priven’s side of the family.
The importance of this find was staggering for the entire family. Cheryl said, "We managed to find a living family member that we would never have known. I want to thank all of those at Yad Vashem who work on the Names Database project. It feels like a miracle rising from the ashes to me".