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November 18, 1988 - Image 30

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1988-11-18

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worse. I used to take my wagon and go
down to the depot three blocks away and
pick up this package which always was
waiting for me with every other train. My
mother used to do everything but curse.
She used to say, "I don't know what we're
going to do." Finally, the meat came and
it was really bad. So she took this meat and
threw it into the garbage can, took off her
apron, walked across the street to
Grahek's, the butcher. The Grahek
brothers had two butcher shops and they
were marvelous people, and good friends
of ours. My mother went in. He said,
"What can I do for you, Mrs. Bourgin?"
She said, "I'll have some meat." He look-
ed, and his eyebrows went up. She took the
meat back, prepared it, and served it to us.
The heavens didn't fall in, nobody got sick,
and from then on we ate good meat. The
whole kosher thing collapsed.
I got a great deal of my Jewishness from
my mother's sense of being Jewish. It was
a question of having character. You were
a Jew because you were different. And, by
God, in Ely that was underlined. First of
all, my mother wouldn't permit me to bring
home any girl who wasn't Jewish. And the
only girl in town who was Jewish was
about five years younger than I. Because
we were pushed together constantly, we
despised each other. We were the wrong
ages, anyhow. So I could never bring any-
body home. That was a real problem for
me, because it meant I grew up really with
an exaggerated sense of what girls were.
Also, you were really made aware that you
were Jewish. Kids at school treated me a
little bit differently. They knew I was apart
from them.
When in high school, my best friend and
I were swimmers, and we went on canoe
trips and swam five-mile lakes. He came to
me one day and announced that we
couldn't see each other again because his
parents decided he was going into the
ministry and he couldn't associate with
Jews. That kind of thing shook you up
My brother, very early in the game after
he began to practice law, decided to run for
mayor on an anti-mining company ticket.
He felt the mines should do more for the
people. During that little campaign in that
small town, somebody strung up a banner
at the main intersection, saying WATCH
OUT FOR JEWS. It caused quite a stir in
the town.
My father ran the store until he educated
all of us, and then he moved away to
Virginia, which is this town of 12,000, 50
miles north, where my brother David then
practiced law. My brother the professor
wasn't doing all that well at that point. So
my father and my brother started another
clothing store that my brother ran in
My brother, a very bright and active
lawyer, was a considerable figure in
Virginia. My brother was a big contributor

to the synagogue. But in time, synagogue
activities became primarily social instead
of religious. The whole attempt was to keep
the kids there by having games and a lot
of other folderol. My brother lost his sym-
pathy and ended his contributions, but
before that happened, there was this con-
stant succession of funerals up to Duluth,
and the same thing happened there that
happened with meat from Cohen the
butcher. The funeral parlors in Duluth,
knowing that people from the range had no
other recourse, would schedule them at the
end of the day and sell them the worst
plots at the most money. Finally, we all
came home from one of those funerals
where we buried the person in the dark,

and we came back to Virginia and my
brother said, "This is enough. I'm going to
start a cemetery in Virginia." Virginia had
a very nice local cemetery. He went to the
city and he got a plot of land and had it
consecrated by a rabbi. Then he spread the
word among the townspeople. They had a
meeting at the synagogue, and everybody
decided they would be buried there. The
next person who died was buried there. But
the next person who died, the family sent
him to Duluth. After that, everybody went
to Duluth. There was this one Jewish body
in Virginia.
I told my wife that what I really want
is to be cremated and I want my ashes
spread by airplane over Burnside Lake,
near Ely, which is the most beautiful lake
in the world. I spent my youth there. I'll
probably wind up at the cemetery in Wash-
ington, D.C., in Georgetown at Rock Creek.
My father's buried in Los Angeles, and my
mother in Duluth, and my brother in
Virginia. Every time I go back there I
shake my head and walk from his grave
over to all those Jewish graves. 0

Howard Simons, author of Jewish Times,
spoke at Detroit's Jewish Book Fair this
week at the Maple-Drake Jewish
Community Center,

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