Three decades ago, when I started dating my husband, Paul, he introduced me to his parents at a Chinese restaurant. In the course of disconnected and halting conversation, his father asked me what I was interested in, and I told him about my lifelong obsession with the tiny shtetl my grandmother came from in Russia.

Then, the thud of silence. We all nibbled our rice and eggrolls. I fished around in the pool of possible conversation, and found a question.

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