My great Grandfather was named Jakub Blechmann, we call it Blackman. He grew up in the Ukraine. He left the area in the Ukraine to avoid being drafted into the army. I guess it was the Tsar’s army. He traveled by foot – and I assume he hitched rides too – across the Ukraine into Eastern Europe, across Western Europe, and to a port, where he took a boat to the US. There he made hats, he made shoes, until he saved enough money to bring my great grandmother and their son over.
They settled in Los Angeles. In his later years he became Orthodox Jewish, and lived near a temple. He would walk to temple. This was Fairfax, a Jewish area of LA. When I went over there it was always a little scary. There was a sternness to him, a gruffness to my great-grandmother -- Zadie and Bubbie. I really felt the old country in them.
We would visit them for the Seder, and he would lead the prayers. The family was a mix of people who were religious, and people who were anti-religious. The Seders would be a bit of a struggle – Jakub would be going through the Haggadah, and my grandpa would be making jokes all night about the service. Finally I heard my great grandfather was getting so upset about the jokes, that he turned off his hearing aid, so he could just go on, and truck on through.
When they were in their eighties, Zadie and Bubbie went to Israel, to die there. It felt auspicious to them, they wanted to be buried there. They lived there for a few years, but it ended up they weren’t dying. My family has a history of living a long time, so going there in their eighties was premature. They ended up missing the family, and came back to the US. My grandfather met them at the airport, and went to go pick up their suitcase – he tried to pick it up and couldn’t lift it. It was extremely heavy. Later he found out that they had filled their suitcase with dirt from Israel – probably from Jerusalem – and that was the dirt they wanted to be buried in when they died.