On the Tatar trail

Helping to bring little-known stories to the forefront

I watched as Alyssa Ratkewitch, ever so carefully, pulled out an old Quran from the shelf. She handed it to her uncle, Jack Sedorowitz, who cracked it open, exposing the aging, fragile pages covered in handwritten Arabic script. “This is one of the handwritten Qurans we have,” Ratkewitch told me. It was 2016, and I was visiting the small mosque in Brooklyn where Ratkewitch serves as a board member and caretaker. The book is older than most anyone can remember, and is one of the many treasures brought to this modest Brooklyn mosque by Ratkewitch’s relatives at the beginning of the last century. Many of those treasures are now kept in a small cabinet — “Our Moslem Library.”

After an interview with Grand Mufti of Belarus Abu-Bekir Shabanowitz

Since 2016, I have been documenting stories about Lipka Tatars — Europe’s oldest Muslim ethnic group — in the United States and Europe. As a journalist, this work has taken me to Brooklyn, Poland, Lithuania, and Belarus. I have published articles in outlets including The New York Times, The Guardian, and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Because this is an insular and private community, this work required years of relationship building and trust.

The project culminated in me documenting a 2018 trip, where 16 American Lipka Tatars traveled to their ancestral lands for the first time. This reunion was the first of its kind since before WWII, after which the Iron Curtain separated American Lipka Tatars from their European kin. I currently volunteer as a member of the Brooklyn Moslem Mosque’s Historic Preservation Committee.

-Story idea development, pitching projects to editors
-Identifying and interviewing sources, relationship building
-Long-term follow up and catalyzing new iterations of the project
-Producing original photography and audio assets
-Writing and revision, incorporating feedback from editors
-Filing work on strict deadlines

2018 appearance on Public Radio International’s The World

The New York Times: Poland’s Tatars Feel Uncertain as Anti-Muslim Sentiment Grows
The Guardian: America’s oldest Muslim families on the Trump presidency: ‘This can’t deter us’
Public Radio International: They gave her the keys to the mosque — and now she wants to open its doors to the neighborhood
RFE/RL: Amid Tatar Renaissance in Europe, An American Mosque Turns to its Roots
Public Radio International: How 16 Americans found family, faith, and their immigrant roots — generations after their parents left their homelands

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