Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Solomon The Milkman




In honor of Hanukkah, a combination of two tales from my life.

Solomon The Milkman is about my grandfather. He wasn't Jewish but he pretended to be in order to do a favor for some real Jewish people. Oddly enough, as I relate in the second story, he was married to a woman who was Jewish but he probably had no idea that she was. Even more odd, she probably had no idea that she was, either. It was only through DNA testing of their offspring - my uncle - that our Jewish roots were discovered. Still later, DNA testing on My Mom also found Jewish roots.

Anyway, here are both stories, told in the order in which I originally told them. Solomon was published in the Boston Herald. The other tale was submitted for publication to many places, but rejected by every last one of them. I couldn't possibly tell you why. I think it's wonderful (but, of course, it's about ME, so I would.)


Solomon The Milkman



Let me tell you about my ersatz Jewish roots.

My grandfather Sullivan was a milkman for H. P. Hood. He told this story, which took place during the long-ago days when he did his route on a horse-drawn wagon.

His route traveled through the Mattapan section of Boston, which at that time was heavily populated with Jewish families. Now, some of the people to whom he delivered milk thought he was Jewish. They thought his name was Solomon, not Sullivan.

I'm not positive how this assumption came about, but it's not a stretch to imagine what might have happened. Someone in the neighborhood probably asked what his name was and he (or, more likely, one of his customers with perhaps an Eastern European accent) said, "Sullivan", and whoever had asked the question, with the idea already in mind that he might be Jewish, heard it as "Solomon". That person told someone else, and so on. It was possible. My grandfather didn't have the map of Ireland on his face like I do. He could have passed. Since he delivered milk in a Jewish neighborhood, his customers might naturally have assumed that he was Jewish, too. I don't suppose he would have had any reason to disabuse them of this notion. He probably figured it wouldn't hurt business to let them keep on thinking it.

Anyway, one day while he was doing his route, some older Jewish men called for him to come down off of his wagon so that he could help them meet the required numbers for a minyan; that is, so that they could have enough for prayer service, which required at least 10 men.

They yelled to him, "Solomon! We need another for a minyan! You got time?"

My grandfather was sharp enough to know what they were talking about. He had been delivering milk in that neighborhood for many years, so he was familiar with words and phrases and customs that an Irishman might otherwise not be expected to know. The question was: What should he tell these men? Should he spill the beans and let them know that he wasn't really named Solomon, but Sullivan? That he wasn't Jewish, but Catholic, and that his ancestry was Irish and French?

Well, my grandfather figured it this way: Who did it hurt if he helped them out? As long as they thought he was Jewish, God wouldn't be mad at them for including an Irishman in their prayer service, and he also figured that God would probably look kindly on him for doing the old Jews a mitzvah. So, my grandfather parked his wagon and joined the minyan.

He faked his way through by following the lead of the others. Having attended Catholic mass for many years, he knew he could probably get by with indistinct mumbling as long as he did the right body motions, so he kept his voice low, bowed when they did, and so forth. Afterward, the old men thanked him. He then got back on his wagon and finished his route. Of course, from that day forward there was little doubt along Blue Hill Avenue that Tom Sullivan (that is, Solomon the Milkman) was Jewish - and a fairly devout Jew, at that.

So, if someone calls me "Solly", instead of "Sully", I won't complain. My grandfather wasn't really a Jew, but he played one on his milk route.

Barukh atah Adonai, Eloheinu, melekh ha'olam shehecheyanu v'kiyimanu v'higi'anu laz'man hazeh. (Amein)

Unexpected Roots

You might assume, from my name, that I have Irish blood in me. True. But let me tell you the rest of the story.

What you likely wouldn’t guess, either from my name or my looks, is that I am of 25% Spanish blood; what some would term Hispanic. My grandmother, on my mother’s side, was Spanish; somewhat dark-skinned, whereas I am pasty white. And I’ve had folks make disparaging remarks about people with Spanish roots in my presence because they were ignorant fools and they assumed I couldn’t possibly have that blood in me. Even if not meant as an insult to me personally, I took it as one. If I let it slide without punching you, it’s because I gave you the benefit of the doubt that, deep down, you weren’t just a reprehensible bigot with no redeeming value.

I have a nephew, Darian. He’s a sweet kid. I love him. His mother is white, his father is black. So, I have black people in my family, too. I don’t suppose I have to tell you I’ve heard lots of nasty jokes about black people told in my presence. I’ve usually let them slide, too, much to my discredit. I may not be as forgiving in future, so consider yourself warned.

Now let me tell you what my uncle, my father's brother, told me on the phone last night.

It seems he has done some genealogical research. During the course of that, he decided to get a reading of his DNA. By doing so, it can be determined what ethnic groups are in your bloodlines.
He told me what we already knew – lots of Irish. There were some other Northern European folks among our ancestors; nothing surprising there. Then he dropped a bombshell.

His results came back as 18.6% Ashkenazi Jew, with that blood from his mother’s lineage.
This means that I am, one generation further along, at least 9.3% Jewish.

Well, when he told me this, I had to laugh. This is because I grew up among family who were not averse to making jokes about Jews and who had no compunction about dragging out the most reprehensible generalizations concerning them. They didn’t hate Jews, per se; they weren’t mini-Hitlers who wanted them destroyed. Many of them actually had Jewish friends for whom they would have gladly gone to the wall. But they weren’t known for gracious use of the language when it came to them, either. When I was growing up, I heard many a derogatory term for Jewish people thrown around. Never, in my wildest dreams, did I imagine they were talking about themselves. Or about ME.

My father, God rest his soul, went to his grave believing he was purely Irish, Scot and French. Never once did it enter his mind that he could have been one of The Chosen People.

For my part, I now feel a whole lot better about being circumcised when I was a baby. I was kind of mad about it before yesterday, but now I realize it’s part of my cultural heritage.

The serious point here is that science is proving most of us are interrelated in ways we may never have imagined. And if you’re the type to indulge in racial slurs or ethnic jokes, you may not only be insulting the guy next to you without knowing it, the joke may also be on you.

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And, as I said earlier, I've since found out that Jewish blood also flows in My Mom. Therefore, getting it from both sides, I am the most Jewish living person in my entire family.

L'chaim!