Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Lily America (+ a recipe)

A few years ago, Margaret Randall solicited family stories about food with accompanying recipes for a book as a gift to an editor about to retire. As far as I know, the book never materialized, but this story did, so I offer it up here.

“Lefi Paretsky, 14,” reads the manifest of the Campania that sailed into New York harbor on July 9, 1904. “Last place of residence: Slonim.” “Ethnicity: Hebrew.” “Occupation: Servant.”

Long before I knew her as my grandmother, Lefi became Lily and no servant she. Ever. Also no longer Paretsky, nor Ratzkin, nor Rosenthal, not any of the names she adopted as she moved through her new life. But Lillian LaVine, wife of Samuel LaVine, a name also changed en route from Vilna to Golders Green to Ellis Island.

Not Ellis Island for Lily, though. For her, it was Boston harbor, and the ship she was supposed to be on was somewhere on the bottom of the sea. The rest of the family was busy mourning in New York when the telegram arrived, announcing, We’re here! Tanya, the oldest son, a businessman in Brooklyn, was dispatched to fetch them: Lefi; her younger sister Rochel (soon to be Rose); and their parents, Pesche and Jankel.

Jankel was 56 years old, too old, the authorities said, a burden on the state.

"He’s my father. "l’ll take care of him! " " replied Tanya, pulling himself up to his full five feet and change.

"You?" scoffed Mr. Authority, "You’re a cripple. What can you do? "

It was true. Tanya’s arm had been maimed in an accident at his window sash factory, but he wasn’t a greenhorn and he wasn’t intimidated. With his withered arm, he took the table where Mr. Authority sat and hoisted it above his head. "My father," he insisted. "I Will Take Care of Him."

Or so the story goes.