Wednesday, November 12, 2014

My roots.

When my grand-father, my father's father fell out of the dank steerage compartment that spilled him, just 100 years ago, onto these hallowed shores, he had neither a penny nor a friend in the world. He escaped the Pale of Settlement--a wide swath of land in Russia considered so poor that only Jews lived there--and he escaped the mandatory 25-years of conscription in the Czar's army, where surely he would be beaten, bullied and otherwise brutalized until he either died, or wished he had.

Morris Tannenbaum, like me a blue-eyed Russian Jew with a German last name, a volatile mixture, spoke no English save for one phrase he picked up somewhere, maybe from a book, maybe from the gutter in Hamburg while he waited passage on a ship West. "I'll have the lamp chops and pineapple." That was Morris' sole foray into the English tongue.

He made it somehow, emaciated and coughing, past the tough Irish inspectors at Ellis Island and onto the teeming ferry that would unload him onto Manhattan's gold-paved streets. From there, he followed the horde's to the Lower East Side, to start his new life in this Promised Land.

He saw, somewhere on Rivington Street a sign in Hebrew, "Man Wanted," it said, "No Experience Necessary" and he removed his cap and responded.

"You speak English," he gruff prospective employer barked at him.

"I'll have the lamp chops and pineapple," Morris replied, proudly.

"Wiseguy, eh. Ok, you're hired. But no monkey business."

It was there, Morris Tannenbaum started his journey in America. He had gotten a job as an "iron tester." It was he who would touch the surface of irons with his index to assure that they were hot enough to press clothing smooth. Testing hotness 200, 300, 400 times a day, till his index finger cried out with all the indignities suffered by Jews since the beginning of their troubled time on Earth.

A humble beginning, surely.

Leading, perhaps inexorably, to a life of lamb chops and pineapple.

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