In May of 2015, I visited New York City with my girlfriend, Lisa. Our purpose was to see the city before Mayor Wilhelm “CP Time” de Blasio turned it over to racists, sidewalk urinaters, drug-dealers, thugs and cop haters.
We barely made it in time.
Amongst the many things we did when we were there was to visit Ellis Island, via a sail-by pic-op of the Statue of Liberty.
I traced my grandfather, Michael Weinbaum, in the Ellis Island Research Lab. He came over from Akkerman, Russia, a suburb of Odessa Russia. Michael sailed to the US in 1909; four years after Jews were first murdered in Akkerman. Some Jews escaped to Odessa. Most were killed in Pogroms and the Holocaust of WW2.
All of the 800 Jews remaining in my grandfather’s town were shot to death on the banks of the Leman River.
He settled in Chicago, where an enclave of other relatives had recently arrived.
My grandfather died by his own hand in, allegedly because of the stock market crash of 1929. He left a wifemy Grandmother Roseand two young sons. The eldest was David, who I was named for after he was murdered by the Nazis just before the end of WW2, and my father, Melvin.
They did identify as G0d’s chosen people. Besides, the Jew-haters wouldn’t let up on showing their malice for them.
At least that was passed down to me.
I didn’t grow up knowing or obeying G0d’s laws as passed down to Moses from Mount Sinai 3,250 years earlier, in front of the whole Jewish population, just escaped from the slavery in Egypt.
How did my religion get lost? How did my family end up in Russiawith a German name? Did they practice Judaism in the old country(s)?
Now entering my seasoned years, I may be finding some answers.
The most important inheritance you can leave your children is the example you set in life
Recently, I brought up the subject with my friend, Israeli Rabbi Moshe Rothchild. He told me about a student of his who asked his grandfather what he should be when he grew up. The old man thought for a moment and answered: “You should be an underwater archaeologist.”
I asked the Rabbi what that meant. Moshe told me the story of thousands of immigrant Jews who, upon glimpsing the Statue of Liberty on their approach to Ellis Island, threw their Jewish identity into the harbor. Thousands of Yarmulkes, tzitzis, tallises and teifillin were flung into the ocean in an attempt to erase their painful past. Even side-locks were chopped off.
This was the New World. Things were going to be better! In America they wouldn’t be bound by the laws of the past.
This struck me like one of young Mike Tyson’s left hooksright between the eyes. While stunning, this was the beginning of understanding my interrupted Jewish roots.
At least ten of my relatives lived in a one-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment on the west side of Chicago. As their finances improved after WW2, they moved out. Seeking the American Dream seemed to be working; keeping solid with their Judaismnot so much.
Many of the Jews who symbolically threw their Jewish artifacts into the Atlantic converted to Christianity upon arrival.
Some hid their Judaism either from shame or fear of the anti-Semites. Others stayed Jews but didn’t obey the laws because it was impossible to keep jobs due to the Sabbath. And some stayed obedient, loyaland poor. They were employed Monday and fired Saturday when they couldn’t, by Jewish law, show up to work.
My father taught me that it was special to be a Jew and that I should be proud. I sensed that it was a good and right thing for me to identify as a Jew. I fought many a street-fight defending my religion through my youth, as I do now on the radio and in print.
But my recent findings cement my motivation for the battle.
It’s the survival of the Jewsmy people.