I had no idea it was a gift. It just seemed like my father taking me with him to the Jewish deli’s on Bergenline Ave. Here, it was white tabled clothed long tables, served by men wearing bow ties. If we were in the City, it was Ratner’s or Rappaports. Thou’s soups on lower 2nd Ave, and we’d also stop for an egg cream. I learned to eat borscht. Just a dab of sour cream. I watched him as he wiped the soup plate with rye bread.
I loved the soups, lentil and chicken/mushroom. Learned whitefish and salmon. Dark breads. Onion soup. Cabbage as main or side dish. Then there were the sandwiches. The pastrami on rye. The pickle came from the barrel on Hester St. Drank Dr. Brown’s. First time I ate at Katz’s was with him. Roast beef w gravy, with a side. On Rivington st, stuffed peppers and some eggplant.
Here he was, a Jew who left the tribe, to marry my mother. Well they actually sat shiva for him. You break the rules, you suffer the consequences. He was 23 and worked for Met Life. She was 19. By 20 she would have a daughter as the Great Depression had started (’32). Her parents who were Catholic/ Protestant who raised her without a church. She described herself as a “Freethinker.” She was really “never get over it” mad because She missed being a Flapper. She was too young and by the time she figured it out she was at home with a child. He was an Orthodox Jew tying to assimilate. They just don’t go together, but welcome to my house. Then the Navy drafts him and when he comes back, he’s got a 90% VA work/disability. She has got to go to work because she has 2 kids and there is no job. She takes over his job at Met Life. He forces her to quit and he gets a desk job at King Features as a clerk. Only he has to commute. Eventually killed him.
So he now has me at his side teaching me Jewish life through food. He couldn’t give me the religion, his bad, but I became part of my heritage, before I knew anything about it. His family now visited, and we went to their homes. I could now understand my Jewish relatives. I look back and see the gift as Bright as day.. It’s a big one. Thanks dad. I wish you would have made it and we could have talked about it.
That’s why I know I’m a Jew. Always wanting to talk.
He never really had to explain it to me why my mother couldn’t stand the family that did not acknowledge her, for ten years, when she only had my invisible sister, Because now they were. If I marry a Jewish woman, problem corrected. But no one wanted to talk about it. My mother couldn’t agree it was a religious belief. What religion teaches to abandon your children? She softened over the years but once he died, they didn’t see her again. But I still eat chopped liver sandwiches with onion. The lower east side isn’t Jewish any longer, but en Mexico yo tomi un sandwich, higado con cebollas. Comes with a pickle.