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Aleksonder Eisenstein: Overcoming Odds to Celebrate Life

As he stood from his vantage point in the front row, the elderly impresario struggled to see the stage through the tears that welled up in his eyes. It was hardly a crowning moment; he had a long and storied career that had seen success after success. However, to him each was special no matter how many had come before it. With the raucous applause around him, he was nearly able to forget the terrible road he had to walk to get to this moment. Now was his time to shine, and nothing else mattered.

When he was young though, no one would have expected that Aleksonder Eisenstein would have become a success at anything besides menial labour. Born into a family of paupers, Eisenstein was named for his grandfather. His family had held steadfast to the Eastern European Ashkenazic Jewish tradition of naming a newborn child after a recently deceased relative. This tradition allowed for the memory of the recently dead to live on in the child.

Born around 1851, Eisenstein grew up without a formal education. From childhood, he worked along with his parents and siblings on the family timbering operation. By coppicing trees to provide charcoal, the family was able to able to just barely support their meagre living. They also grew potatoes around whatever portions of soil they could find on their land, which were largely used for their own subsistence.


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While life was rough, the young Aleksonder learned a deep appreciation for his family and his own Jewish culture. The name Eisenstein might seem out of place in Imperial Russia to a modern observer, but he was taught that it could be traced back to a law in Central Europe that was put into effect in 1787. This decree stated that all people of Jewish ancestry be required to register with an 'acceptable' surname.

Therefore, the Eisenstein family's name actually came from a period in their history in which the family was living outside of their native Russia. However, the early nineteenth century saw them migrate back into Russia, and into the area north of the Neva River. While poor, this allowed them to find a ready market for their charcoal business in the nearby city of St. Petersburg.

Copyright Aaron Gold 2010