This post is part of the JCPA’s “Celebrating New Americans” project as part of Jewish American Heritage Month. My maternal family was the eternal “Wandering Jews”. They left Romania with three children in tow, in the dead of night, when their Christian police chief friend, warned them of a coming pogrom. At the turn of the century, they landed in Buenos Aires, Argentina because of relatives there, and had seven more children, one of whom was my mother, Adela. By Glenda Urmacher.
My grandfather, an architect went from a Jacob, to a Santiago, because it was easier to pronounce in the Spanish of their adopted new country.. Folklore has it that zadie won the Irish sweepstake on the day my mother was born, and built the first steam heat home in Buenos Aires. Soon Peron came to power, the Argentine economy tanked, and of course, it was the fault of the Jews, so once more our family was on the move. The three Romania born children, now young adults, were once more packed up, and sent to New York (legally) via Ellis Island. Uncle Louis, Aunts Maria and Louisa toiled for five years, scrimped and saved, and sent passage, and vouched for the financial well-being of Bubbe and zadie, and seven young siblings to join them in the “goldena modena.”
They say timing is everything, and my family arrived in time to usher in the worst Depression America had known. Maria and Louisa toiled in a factory doing millinery work, and found jobs for their older sisters, while the younger children went to school. All the children became fluent in English and Spanish became a forbidden language never spoken again, and forgotten. In Bubbe’s house, none knew what a Depression was. They just knew they had to go to work, support the family, and received 50 cents a week that covered subway fare, and going to Roseland, to dance on the weekend. My mother told me stories of my Bubbe being so flush with cash from her children’s work, that she helped Jake, the butcher stay open when he sold on credit, and then never received payment, and the same for the baker, and green grocer.
Bubbe also met ships at the port of New York bringing Jews from decimated Europe, in her free time. Any young lady not gathered up by family was brought home, fed, bathed, and found herself sharing a bed with five sisters. Years later I met “cousin Elsie” from Pacific Palisades in uncle Bernie’s home in Cheviot Hills, and she told me how my Bubbe had saved her from destitution as she was gathered up, shoeless in the winter, at the port of New York, taken home, and became part of our family. Bubbe even found a husband for Elsie with whom she had two sons, but the marriage didn’t last. Elsie was always a part of our family, as was her two sons, a teacher at Beverly Hills High school, and a pharmacist, but her husband (related somehow ) became an outcast.
Bubbe didn’t suffer fools lightly. Bubbe was a dynamo, her children became successes, as did my cousins, and their children, my children, and grandsons. We were given no choice, but to thrive and be successful. Bubbe always instilled in us that we carried the names of those who never made it out of Europe, who had been slaughtered and perished, their sole crime was being born Jewish. How could we carry their names, do justice to those names, and be failure? That wasn’t possible for my Bubbe’s family.