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Voices of Bet Torah

01/18/2023 11:00:00 AM


Alan Bergman - Discovering a Brother in the Mountains

Alan Bergman firmly believes that tales from a family’s past can link present and future generations to forefathers and foremothers and help progeny find their place in family history. This story was shared with Alan by his late father, Walter.

My paternal grandparents, Max and Pauline, were immigrants from the Galicia region of Eastern       Europe. They arrived on these shores about 1913, met on the Lower East Side, and married in 1919. 

It was the summer of 1947, give or take a year, and Max and Pauline desperately needed a respite from their sweltering Bronx apartment. As the adage goes, one could fry an egg on the sidewalk!

Max planned a week-long road trip for the couple in their large Buick sedan, heading due north towards the cooler air of Quebec's Laurentian Mountains.

Crossing into Canada, they checked into their hotel. Max and Pauline took an idyllic journey the following day, the car paced with snacks and a picnic lunch. They motored through the Laurentian's hills and valleys, past green meadows and lush forests. The air was cool and the scenery breathtaking. It was heavenly, the perfect escape from their daily urban existence.

Suddenly, the automobile’s motor belched and sputtered, then again and again. Max maneuvered the Buick to the side of the road, got out, and opened the hood as a massive steam plume escaped from the engine. He let the car cool down, tried restarting it, and ... gornisht (nothing)! The car refused to start.

Hours passed without a single vehicle or person passing by. Max and Pauline's despair increased. Max was reluctant to seek help, leaving Pauline alone in G-d’s country. The surroundings could not have been more rural or remote. Sundown would not be far off.

Finally, they heard a vehicle approaching, and a taxi came into view. It pulled behind the disabled Buick. A middle-aged gentleman emerged from the driver's seat. He inquired in French, the native tongue of the province, what the problem was. His French was not Québécois French but had a markedly European accent. Max responded in English, a language obviously foreign to the taxi driver.

A volley of questions and statements went back and forth in French and English, with zero successful conversation between the two men. Frustration was evident on their faces.

Exasperated, Max turned to Pauline and said to her in Yiddish, their native tongue, "It's no use. He doesn't understand a single word I’ve said."

A wide grin spread across the cab driver's face upon overhearing this. He said in perfect Yiddish, 
Ir zayt mayne eydn” (“You are my fellow Jews”)! The cabbie exuberantly hugged Max and kissed him on both cheeks. An excited, almost breathless conversation between them followed.

Max and Pauline got into the cabbie's taxi for the long ride back to their hotel. As he maneuvered along the winding roads, the cab driver revealed his story, naturally in Yiddish. 

He had been interned at a Nazi death camp, barely surviving his ordeal. He recently emigrated to Quebec, where relatives sponsored him and procured him employment as a taxi driver. He was too new to Canada to have learned English yet. Several times during the ride, he praised G-d, 
proclaiming his great fortune at being alive.

It was a vacation my grandparents never forgot and family lore that has lived on for generations.

Sat, January 28 2023 6 Shevat 5783