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  • A Short Lesson in Jewish-American History

    Many years ago, I was born Jewish in the Bronx in the city of New York. Now I know that people have ideas, misconceptions, conceptions, etc. about New York Jews and seeing that I am one of them I thought I would attempt to change that stereotype and tell you a bit about us and me. I wanted to rake up my raucous past, stir the kettle a little bit, and see what words and images and emotions would boil up. This story is not for delicate ears or for the hard of hearing. True it is about my family and just about everyone thinks his or her family is a bit, ummm, different; well I have to tell you mine is well beyond just a little bit different.
    You see, my family is full of love and craziness. Their favorite pastime is talking and especially talking loudly. Living with my family was like living with a stack of Marshall Amplifiers in your living room – a high decibel institution. Scream is a normal tone of voice.
    When I first went to school after 5 years of what I thought was normal family conversation, I thought all my friends were weak-voiced. No one shouted except when they were looking for trouble. Well, it seemed like I was always looking for trouble.

    This is the story of my family from a wee bit before my birth to now. It encapsulates the adventures and misadventures, loves and losses all recounted in hopefully enjoyable form. And so the story begins…

    I would love to tell you the history of my peoples but they don't seem to have any. They seem to have miraculously set up shop in the Bronx of our new homeland having escaped prosecution of pogroms and pre-Nazi purges.
    The various entities of my respective families derived from the empires of Russia & Romania and the only histories they kept were in their memories. They left no tracks and were very clever covering their footsteps so no one could follow them. They came to the United States where streets were said to be paved with gold and for my Uncle Louie that was true and he forged that gold into jewelry and teeth. He literally built a business of gold catering to jewelers and dentists.

    The other side sweated themselves out of the gutter, my father lifting himself up by the bootstraps of his working man shoes, taking a stranglehold on life and with my mother removed us from the ghetto to a safer plantation of green apartment buildings growing to the skies. Yanking and struggling the American dream machine and stretching their arms wide to encompass suburban earth carrying bag and baggage in a station wagon of love to the new found land of Long Island. A manifest destiny for first generation non-immigranted souls moving love & quiet ambition to safely harbor their station wagons wanting their children to stride where they had not gone before.

    We watched as growing fields turned into playgrounds and schoolyards where children grew
    instead of crops. We lived in boxes without heritage hoping to feel the values of ancestors that we never knew & harness our desires to ancient dreams. They tried valiantly to anchor me with family but I never knew how to breathe inside air, traveling my own reckless path like my grandfather before me searching for my America.

    I carry the ship's manifest that brought my grandfather to these lands and his name carefully inscribed in the hand of the Captain of that Noah's ark, an eastern European Mayflower that landed at Ellis Island overseen by the Statue of Liberty. Like the Native Americans, my grandfather's peoples were herded into reservations called ghettos historically corralling minds drunk on tears and chained to events. Ghettos are contagious. Indigenous peoples never seem to keep their own lands.
    Taking my shining manifesto to the streets, I sought freedom in fast food outlets and chain stores. I wandered through states and cities, neighborhoods and apartment flats searching for loveless promises a heart beating in my soul. I carried my burdens in a mental backpack. My only prized possessions were of dreams I had yet to dream and passions I had yet to feel.
    Much to a mother's dismay, I turned out to be a poet and not a doctor. She sang thoughts of care and love, while I wandered supermarket aisles of wonder, and got stuck in the frozen dreams section.

    My children grew up raising me to the sky without Einstein's theories holding them down, because a thought is quicker than the eye and light simply does not travel as fast understanding.

    And today, I dream awake jousting with windbags instead of windmills as I set my sights on eternity, dignity and freedom for all. I am no caped hero, just a guy going about his business with fortitude and knowledge and a little bit of poetry in his soul.

    © 2012 lgjaffe
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