Friday, January 4, 2019

Harry Lumish: May His Memory be a Blessing

Michael Lumish

יהי זכרו לברכה

Hebrew Orphan Asylum,
373 Ralph Avenue, Brooklyn, New York
A few weeks ago my father, Harry Lumish, passed of natural causes just short of his 99th birthday.

The odds of a man born in 1920 and living to the age of 99 are about 200 to 1.

He arrived in this world in Medzhybizh, Ukraine -- the home of Baal Shem Tov and the Chasid Movement -- during a period of violent pogroms. I assume that many of those folks in Crown Heights are actually relatives of mine, but I do not know.

My grandfather, Beryl, fled with his immediate family, including my grandmother, Sarah, from Medzhybizh, because they were not fond of sword and rifle-wielding Kossacks. They were running for their lives. They sought legal access into the United States but were not obliged by the United States government. They were able, however, to relocate briefly to Argentina.

Shortly before the paperwork came through and my family received permission to legally migrate into the United States, my grandfather died and his daughter, my aunt Betty, was born in Argentina. Not long thereafter Sarah passed through Ellis Island with Harry and Betty in her arms on their way to Brooklyn. Before my grandmother got on her feet, they stayed at the Hebrew Orphan Asylum in the Bedford–Stuyvesant neighborhood of that borough. Family legend has it that Sarah actually scrubbed floors at that institution in the early-mid 1920s.

The rest of my father's side of the family who stayed in Medzhybizh were slaughtered by the Germans during World War II under Operation Barbarossa, which was the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union. Medzhybizh was simply on the road in one of the German routes to Russia. When the Nazis arrived they separated the Jews from the non-Jews of that small town and put both populations to road building. When that task was done they had the Jews dig ditches. When the ditches were dug they had the Jews line-up within those ditches.

I feel reasonably certain that you know what happened after that. That was when my family lost the great majority of my father's side.

His story, though, like that of many millions of other Americans, is a sort-of classic American truth. He and Sarah and Betty came through Ellis Island with nothing. My dad ran around Brooklyn as a child during the Depression. He described himself as a "wild kid" which is hard for me to grasp because the guy who raised me was a middle-class accountant and philatelist.

{And, I have to say, I have a great deal of affection for that mint Israeli stamp collection that he poured through over decades.}

Shortly before 7 December 1941, which Franklyn Roosevelt referred to as "a date which will live in infamy," he enrolled in St. John's College in New York. His intention was to become an accountant. Unfortunately, the world powers got in the way of that small personal endeavor and they dragged him off to the Central Pacific; Kwajalein, the Marshall Islands, Enewetak. He became a skinny twenty-year-old corporal with a rifle slung over his shoulder, sleeping in foxholes as Japanese snipers shot at United States soldiers from trees.

He lasted the duration of the American participation in the war, but he came through OK... otherwise I would not even be here.

Upon returning home to New York City, he met my mother, Rita, from the Bronx, finished his degree, built a family and moved into the suburbs while listening to Glenn Miller. He did it with practically nothing. What he had was the GI Bill of Rights which paid for the rest of his education.

He had his family.

And he had Glenn Miller who filled his soul.

This is for you, dad.


  1. An interesting life story. I am sorry for your loss.

  2. Michael, I am sorry about your father's passing.

    "May G*D comfort you among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem."
    (traditional words said to Jewish mourners)

    Harvard Law Professor Alan M. Dershowitz said:

    “…Zecharia, like so many of his contemporaries,
    worked for a time in a sweatshop.

    The shop he worked in, making pocketbooks,
    was located in a building just east of
    Washington Square [in Manhattan],
    site of the ill-fated Triangle Shirtwaist Company.

    On the Saturday of the great fire in [March 25,] 1911
    that engulfed the building and killed 145 workers,
    Reb Zecharia was at home. It was the Jewish Sabbath.

    He learned two lessons from this:
    he vowed that his children would never become factory workers
    and he vowed that they would never work on the Sabbath.”

    Zecharia Derschowitz moved from Galicia to the USA in 1888 CE.
    He was the great-grandfather of Alan M. Dershowitz.

    SOURCE: Chutzpah by Alan M. Dershowitz
    (chapter 1, page 26) published in year 1991
    by Little Brown & Co ISBN: 9780316181372 * ISBN: 0316181374

  3. Condolences, Mike. He sounds like a great Dad!

    1. He was a stand up kind of guy. A mensch, was my dad.

  4. Harvard Law Professor Alan M. Dershowitz said:

    “It is true that the American legal system
    derives much of its content from the Old Testament
    [also known as the Jewish Bible or Tanach]…

    When we were growing up, my friends and I would
    take great pride in discovering the Jewish sources
    of American laws, such as: the privilege against
    self-incrimination, the requirement of two witnesses
    for certain types of crime, and the very idea that
    punishment must be proportionate to the crime committed.”

    SOURCE: Chutzpah by Alan M. Dershowitz
    (chapter 10, page 318) published in year 1991
    by Little Brown & Co ISBN: 9780316181372 ISBN: 0316181374


    Harvard Law Professor Alan M. Dershowitz
    grew up Orthodox but later became secular.

    He said this about Orthodox Judaism,
    many years after he quit it:

    “I cannot leave my progeny any legacy
    comparable to the Orthodox commitment to,
    and intimate knowledge of, Jewish tradition
    and practice that my predecessors left me.

    Though I have not abandoned my Jewishness –
    far from it – I have also not carried on
    the tradition of daily religious observance and
    total immersion in the sources of the tradition.

    Sometimes I regret not having done so.”

    SOURCE: Chutzpah by Alan M. Dershowitz
    (introduction chapter, page 12) published in 1991
    by Little Brown & Co ISBN: 9780316181372 ISBN: 0316181374

  5. May the Omnipresent comfort you among the rest of the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem

    Hamakom yenakhem etekhem betokh shaar avelay tziyon viyrushalayim.

    המקום ינחם אתכם בתוך שאר אבלי ציון וירושלים

    Keep writing and researching. I keep on finding out bits I never knew about my own dad, that generation sacrificed so much. And keep on posting!

  6. Condolences on the death of your father. Ninety-nine is a good age and worthy of a righteous soul. He who mourns the death of the righteous cannot be denied his place in the world to come. However, family histories are funny. Ask Elizabeth Warren. I have a family history told to me by my father that turned out to be disproven by immigration records. Which brings me to Argentina. Argentina was a final destination for Ukrainian emigrants. Argentina has a larger percentage of its population with Ukrainian heritage than does the United States. If someone wanted to come to the US, he would not go to Argentina, he would go to Mexico, Cuba or, most likely, Canada. Canadians speak English and are much closer to the United States. Of course it is easy to find out what really happened, the immigration records are readily available. Coming from Argentina, the most likely entry point would be Key West, Florida and those records are online. It looks to me likely that your grandfather left the Ukraine to go to Argentina, didn't like it there or had relatives who urged him to come to America so he left and entered with an Argentinian passport. Of course, that is speculation and is easily provable or disprovable.

    1. My grandfather, Beryl, from the Ukraine, died in Argentina. My Aunt Betty, my father's sister, was born there.

  7. I think you're proving my point. By 1920, there were 150,000 Jews in Argentina. Argentina was a final destination point for many Jews from Europe. What it looks like happened was that your grandfather knew some people in Argentina who encouraged him to immigrate there. When he died, your grandmother left to be with people she was close to. Most likely, she had relatives in the United States who encouraged her to be with them. She then came here on an Argentinian passport. I would guess that you still have shirttail relatives in Argentina. This is not a criticism, only that we should not be setting more difficult rules for those who want to come here now. The wait time for someone who wants to come from Mexico is TWENTY YEARS! And the Monroe Doctrine is an expression of the United States sphere of influence over Latin America. We can't say, "This is our sphere of influence" and thn say we aren't responsible for the state of affairs there. And it's not just the Monroe Doctrine, it's United Fruit and Iran-Contra.

    1. I think you showing up and presuming to tell a PhD in History about his"real" family history and then lecturing to him, in your usual obscurantist way, about American history to propagandize for your pet cause, open borders, while he is grieving is beyond chutzpah. Are you capable of putting the revolution on hold for a nanosecond out of respect? Apparently not.
      If being inappropriate were an Olympic sport you'd win the gold medal.