They most certainly were different! Yankel’s great grandparents were living in America by 1885. If they were typical of their contemporaries who aspired above and beyond anything else to become Americans, they would have been well on their way down the perilous path to assimilation, by the time Yankel was born. The anthem that infused the immigrants of this era’s, oppressive lives with effulgent promise was the popular song, “I’m A Yankee Doodle Dandy.” This seemingly innocuous refrain was the quintessential expression of their ambitions and masked the desperation that fueled their ascent to becoming rich, famous and American. Yankel’s family was different. Their unwillingness to pay too high a price for their success deepened the pathos of their strivings and added a humorous if not dangerous edge to their meandering.
Attaining success was not without its down side. Yankel’s great Uncle owned a grocery store on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. His business was successful enough to attract the attention of numerous customers as well as criminals who kidnapped his son and demanded a ransom for his return. This generation had to contend not only with criminal elements. It seemed like the elements of nature too joined in the conspiracy to frustrate their success.
Yankel’s grandfather endured a cumbrous trek across across the East River walking from Brooklyn to Manhattan in order to go to work. This occurred during the Blizzard of 1886 when the river was frozen over. When he finally arrived, the entire first floor of the building where he worked was covered with snow and he had to go back home