My family’s illegal immigrants

My great grandfather and his family came into the U.S. without papers. This is my father’s father’s father, “Tatta Bouche” * Siegel. Tatta Bouche, Nosan Natte Siegel after whom I am named, was born in Romania, as was my great grandmother, Bubbe Kreintse. I remember her since I was about ten years old when she passed away. Tatta Bouche passed away before I was born.

They left Romania for Paris with their first born Yonah Leib (“Jean,” then “John”) around 1900. Romania and France were on good terms because France was a European advocate for Romanian nationalism against the Ottoman Empire.** On a personal level, the Romanian language is a Romance language like French.

After about ten years they left Paris for Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where my great grandmother had an immigrant sister and a brother-in-law. I can’t say whether my great grandparents arrived in Paris with papers or not, but I’m almost certain about the family tradition that they came to the U.S. without papers.

The family first appears in the 1920 United States Federal Census as living in Chicago. Even so, my Zeide (Grandfather) John does not appear to be living in the family home or anywhere else that I’ve found. Family tradition was that John was working at the Ford Motor Company in Michigan.

So how did my great grandparents enter the U.S.? I surmise that they entered through Canada. Perhaps it was relatively easy to enter Canada from France, at least the Francophone part of France.

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* Tatta – for grandfather, literally father in Yiddish.

* Zeide – grandfather in Yiddish.

* Bubbe – grandmother in Yiddish.

* la bouche – ‘mouth’ because of his luxuriant mustache. The family lost the French pronunciation /boosh/, it becoming /boozh/.

** See the subject of the “Eastern Question” – how the powers of Western Europe were supporting Greece, Serbia, Romania, and other countries in their independence from the Ottoman Turks.

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The Arizona desert and attitude

“Everything in this desert has an attitude.”

My nephew, J.

Plants have thorns. Thorns have irritants. Snakes bite. Coyotes fight and howl (at night). *

* The rhyming was accidental / unintentional.

What is a Jew?

A Jew is a member of G-d’s Covenant from Mount Sinai.

We don’t have a single culture. Jews around the world often live more like their neighbors than like Jews elsewhere.

We have a religion, but that’s not the entirety of being Jewish. Some Jews are not religious — or say that they’re not.

Some of our rituals are not from the Covenant. We’ve developed some customs and adapted some.

We are a traditional peoplehood but of several tribes and clans. However, this peoplehood is formed by the Covenant.

No Covenant, no Jews. No Jews no Covenant.

Hot Tea WITH Sugar

Zeide muses . . .

We sit along a well-used, white, oil-cloth covered table. The Ein Ya’akov books are open for today’s lines.

“From the rising sun until it sets . . .” — tea with sugar. WITH — the only English word here. I’m the only speaker of English sitting on the bench, but no matter. My great-grandfather hunches over my shoulder, whispering.

His whisper swirls through the mouth of the zogger — the one who says what’s written, and I hear.

“Someone who reads the Megillah backwards didn’t go out.” Go out? Where? Why read it backwards anyway? Spoiler alert!

The table sprouts glasses of sweet tea, too hot to drink. The sun is setting, but slowly. I dovvened  this morning, and then we sat down to drink hot tea with sugar quickly.

“I heard that you’re from Chicago. The Rebbe was in Chicago.” Perhaps my Zeide Segal saw him. (Now I’m Zeide Segal.) “Do you remember whose yohrtzeit is tomorrow?”

The Chicago connection fails me. The tea connection doesn’t. The Rebbe was escorted from a wintery train platform to a hotel where they surely served him — a glass of hot tea with sugar. A glozz tay.

“Every year I go up to the Mount of Olives to pay my respects. But this year . . . it’s dangerous. Reb Boruch Mordecai of Bobruisk is my ancestor.” The Great Luminary. The Spicy, Biting Sharp. Wise but Humble. He was summoned to the Yeshivah of Above, 14 Elul 5617.

But it’s not dangerous here in Jerusalem of Above. Tomorrow afternoon I’ll go pay respects.

“Absolutely not. It’s dangerous. I take no responsibility.”

This was worn into the pavement of Mazkeret Moshe Street near Congregation Yismach Moshe. I wore my hiking boots then, and then again when a Yerushalmi bochur accompanied me to the Mount of Olives Cemetery. “Aim for the resting place of the holy Ohr HaChaim, but swerve south about ten meters before you reach his tziyun.” Believe me, I toiled and I found.

Congregation Knesseth Israel is hosting me for this evening’s hot tea and Ein Ya’akov lines. “From the rising sun until it sets . . .” — tea with sugar.

  • Ein Ya’akov
  • “From the rising sun until it sets . . .” – Psalms 113:
  • the only English word here – Tea has probably entered the English language from Ancient Chinese after several hand-offs over time. Sugar has probably entered the English language from Sanskrit after a number of hand-offs over time.
  • “Someone who reads the Megillah backwards” – Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Megillah, 17a.
  • didn’t go out – I’m having fun with the Hebrew term that means “didn’t fulfill the mitzvah.”
  • The Rebbe was in Chicago – His Holiness, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Scheersohn, the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, visited Chicago in 1942.