I took the opportunity to stroll around downtown Criuleni, happy to get my shoes caked in the same mud that my own tayere Zeyde walked in a century before. Like I said, November isn't the best season to visit Moldova - the grey skies and muddy streets lend a stereotypical shtetl ugliness to these places that at other times must be lovely - although somewhat less than exciting - places to visit.But let it be understood that in any small town there will be a cafe, and lo and behold, nearly every cafe serves a fine hot placinta. No, it has nothing to do with the Hungarian crepe known as a palacsinta, it is rather, what we know in New York as a knish. Mashed potato rolled in strudel pastry, just the thing you need on a cold Moldovan afternoon. And they were always served hot.
There was not a heck of a lot to keep us in Criuleni and it was getting late, so our driver headed down the road, deciding at the last moment to take a shortcut back to Kishinev. This turned into an amazing bit of luck. Two villages south of Criuleni I noticed a road sign, and at the same time both Fumie and I shouted for the driver to stop. I know it doesn't look terribly exciting, but my family has been asking me for years about the name Onitskansky - where could it come from, what does it mean? Bingo... here it is. (Anybody know the joke about the Fakowi tribe?)The name Onitskansky is one of the more obscure names in the Ashkenazic family tree - none of my family ever knew where it came from, and apart from immediate family, we never met anybody else who bore the name. Some of my Grandfather's family had left Moldova and moved to Russia or the Ukraine, one branch had emigrated to Argentina, some had stayed in Kishinev, but every time I ever met Jews from Moldova I would ask about the names Onitskansky or Tsarivcan, and nobody ever responded that they knew anyone from those families. I had always suspected that it reffered to a toponym, and the only near match was the record that Oniţcani had been the scene of one of the earliest pogroms connected to a case of blood libel, which is mentioned in a Wikipedia article: In 1726, in the Bessarabian borough of Oniţcani, four Jews were accused of having kidnapped a five-year old child, of killing him on Easter and of collecting his blood in a barrel. They were tried at Iaşi under the supervision of Moldavian Prince Mihai Racoviţă, and eventually acquitted following diplomatic protests. Oniţcani, however, doesn't show up much on maps and the only printed reference I had seen abbout it specualted that it was located across the river in Transnistria. I did, however, find a pretty complete account of the blood libel accusations in an article I dredged up on the academic library archive Jstor.org (which is password protected, so either learn to hack it like I do or email me and I will send you a copy of it in PDF format. The article is "The Jews of Moldavia at the Beginning of the Eighteenth Century" by E. Schwarzfeld, in the The Jewish Quarterly Review, Vol. 16, No. 1 (Oct., 1903.) On one page, there is a small - and significantly misleading - footnote about Oniţcani:
"A little town which has now disappeared..." Well, if any place can be said to have dropped of the map, then Oniţcani can take the cake. It would seem that my Grandfather's ancestors knew how to take a clue and moved north a few villages away to Criuleni. In the end, the blood libel case was dismissed through the intervention of the Ottoman Turkish authorities - who ruled Moldavia through a delicate system of appointing Christian princes such as the famous musician Grigori Cantemir, alongside a set of Greek administrators from the Fanar district of Istanbul who helped make the term Phanariot a byword for Romanian political corruption to this day.