No one knows who these men are or why their photograph has been handed down in our family. If I had to guess, I would say that this photo is probably from Belarus, childhood home to my grandfather Isaac, a.k.a. Eppie (may his memory be a blessing). It is a tiny photo, only three and a half inches by two and a quarter inches. It was in a box of miscellaneous family photographs at my parents' house; I found it in a small envelope labeled "treasures old and new" in my mother's handwriting.
Who were these men? Religious Jews, it seems clear; they are bearded and wearing yarmulkes. Then again, they don't have peyos, the sidecurls which are seen on many Hasidic or Orthodox Jews, and their beards are trimmed neatly. (Though apparently peyos were banned in the Russian Empire in 1845.) It appears that they're wearing long black coats and black kippot, though that may or may not have been a signifier of anything in that place and time, whatever that place and time were.
I looked through The Family History of Alice Fried Epstein and Isaac Epstein, M.D., a volume which contains the transcript of oral history interviews conducted with my maternal grandparents. I remembered that the book contained a variety of black and white photographs, many of which were taken in Europe and date to the early years of the last century when my grandparents were young. But I didn't find either of these men in any of those pictures from early 20th-century Belarus or Prague.
Every time I look at this photograph I'm drawn to the man on the left, with the white beard, who has looked up from their chess game to regard the unknown photographer. I am charmed by his subtle smile. Presumably he knew whoever was taking this picture. Maybe he was winning the chess game. Maybe it was just a beautiful day in the park and he was happy to be alive. Could he have imagined this print traveling across the ocean and surviving more than a century to wind up in my hands?
I'm taking advantage of the #throwbackthursday / #tbt meme -- which usually involves posting old photos on Thursdays -- as an opportunity to write short snippets of remembrance, sparked by whatever old photo I find to post.