For My Jewish Refugee Family, Brooklyn Was The Promised Land

by Barbara Fischkin

My refugee grandfather, Isaac Siegel, in his New York City  watchmaking shop, on St. John’s Place in Brooklyn, probably in the 1940s. The black and white sign on the wall behind his head is an advertisement for an accountant—my father, David Fischkin, who was his son-in-law. Family photo.

In 1919, after a brutal anti-Semitic pogrom in a small Eastern European shtetl, my grandfather knew that his wife and three young children would be better off as refugees. He prepared them to trek by foot and in horse-drawn carts from Ukraine to the English Channel and eventually to a Scottish port. Finally they sailed in steerage class to the United States. My grandfather was a simple watchmaker—and one of the visionaries of his time. Europe, he told his tearful wife, was not finished with murdering Jews, adding that things were likely to get much worse. And so, my grandmother became a hero, too. She said farewell to her mother and sister, knowing she would never see them again. In Scotland, she descended to the lower level of a ship with her children—my mother, the eldest, was seven years old. My grandmother traveled alone with her children. My grandfather was refused entry to the ship. He had lice in his hair. He arrived in the United States weeks, or possibly months, later.

My grandfather, Ayzie Zygal of Felshtin, Ukraine became Isaac Siegel of Brooklyn, New York, where he lived for the rest of his life. In his later years he spent summers in the Catskill Mountains, always asking to be let out of the family car a mile before reaching Hilltop House, a bungalow colony. My grandfather wanted to walk that last mile along the local creek. It reminded him of the River Felshtin. He never regretted coming to America.

My grandparents died, in Brooklyn in their early sixties. My grandfather had been poisoned by the radium he used on the paint brushes in his shop to make the hours glow. He licked them, with panache, to make them sharper. My grandmother had a heart condition, exacerbated by diabetes. They were both gone before I turned three.

They had lived much longer than they had expected they would in 1919.

I was told my grandfather left Europe to save his family’s life. And because my mother narrowly escaped death. I was told he did not believe there would be any more miracles. Read more »

Election Day?

by Akim Reinhardt

Here's 6 things to know if you're voting on Election Day | WYPRI like to vote in person on Election Day. I’m sentimental that way. My polling precinct is at the local elementary school. So last Tuesday, I woke up early, dressed and got out the door in a rush, and arrived to find not the expected pastiche of cardboard candidate signs and nagging pamphleteers, but rather a playground full of 2nd graders.

The first Tuesday in November? Apparently not, according to 2 U.S. Code § 7, which names Election Day as the first Tuesday “after the 1st Monday in November.” So much for making it simple.

So I waved at the children, but not in that creepy way, I think, and trundled off to work. Instead, I will vote tomorrow.

My aborted first attempt at voting in the 2022 U.S. election feels fitting. Nothing sums up this political moment quite so perfectly as trying to cast a ballot and failing. But mostly the whole episode reminded me of the four years I spent visiting prison. The rigid enforcement of arbitrary time. A yard full of people being held against their will and watched over by a small, shockingly underpaid staff.  And a strong sense that it’s do or die time. Read more »