Mendels Accordion (American Jewish History)
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May is Jewish American Heritage Month, in which we honor the profound and positive influence that Jewish people have had on American history, art, and culture. As is the case with many authors, as a child Hyde was—and still is—a voracious reader and library patron. When considering the impact of Jewish-American heritage, prominent figures such as Albert Einstein, Louis Brandeis, and Jonas Salk may initially come to mind.
But Hyde prefers to focus her own books on the lesser-known stories that often fly under the radar. And these untold stories have had a meaningful effect on readers. We asked Hyde about her inspiration for writing a handful of her books, and how they highlight the varied and distinct aspects of the Jewish-American experience.
The book emphasizes the importance of tradition and Jewish continuity. As a child, our eldest son, Andrew, played the accordion. In the story, the accordion is a metaphor for our Jewish past. We are our present, but we would be nothing without our past. We can never forget the generations of people who came before us. Many of them can be found today in Coney Island. During the 18th century, a group of Portuguese Jews—having escaped the Inquisition—settled in New England and became an important part of the New Bedford whaling industry. Some served as merchants and shopkeepers, while others built and owned whaling ships.
Keep it, you know, this what I believe. My mother played the violin. I played the accordion. Mother, father played [? Out of my four brothers, two of use become professional chazanim. My son, mine two son in my choir used to be in South Africa. I was sure both of them would be cantors, so, one of them is a rabbi and one of them is a cantor. So, in the family was, we got cantors and rabbis and all this but education was very important for my parents.
Only one daughter unfortunately is divorced but she live in New York. She got a son Gavriel. He was with us for twelve and a half years and he studied Torah Academy. Your other children do have children and spouses? The first one is Pesach after my father. He married a girl what is the name Devorah.
They got a daughter and a son what are already our great grandkids. They made us grand-grand kids. So they are married. Then is another daughter Shoshana after my mother, but she was Rose interpret in the Hebrew, Shoshana. She was born before candles of Hanuka. They called her Miria Leah. Ode Leah — thank G-d -Malka. His name is Malkiel Avraham. He was born on Rosh Hashanah. Malkiel Avraham. Why is he called Malkiel Avram? Avraham is after my father-in-law. Every one of them got two names. This is one son. One is called Shana Malka and the other one called… nu, came out of my [?
How can I forgot it? So many names. Avi we call it in English. Avigail Maital. They did it all from the Tanach, you know. I call him Gavriel. This is my grandkids. And my great-grandkids, one is called Leah. And mine daughter-in-laws called Devorah also. Her name is Devorah Chana and one is called only Devorah. Sabrina Rose, Sabrina Shoshana, Rose. Again, Rose Shoshana. Sabrina Rose Shoshana. Rose is Shoshana.
And my daughter [? Ufros alienu sukat david, harachaman [? It happened to be Sukkos was [? We take mileage. We go to Israel. We fly also. We got now a flight. One of us can fly for free. One of them pay, you know? And one of them can take company, you know we taking, my wife is collecting the mileage. We go to New York. We go to Los Angeles. I take the car but we doing it in graduations, bat mitzvahs when I could not be before when I was in office, and all the brit milah.
Some of them I was. I play for them piano. I sing for them. I used to do it since I come, twice a week. Matter of fact I was this Friday I was there…. One rabbi he wants a fight. Want to hear some story? I visit in the Grant Hospital many years ago. As I visit in the hospital was in the ninth floor. I think the people there what got cancer. I will not say the name. I know you. I know your son. He told me the doctor was giving him to live another three months. We did a terrible thing. He was the black sheep of the family for no reason, you know, because he was born sick or something like this.
I want to make it happen. Do me a favor. Why you [? You spoke about community. I will not say kaddish for him. Biologically this is your father. You know to honor your father even he take away his own money, everything what he got, you are religious man or you believe in religious, you believe in our faith.
People have to forgive if G-d is forgiving us. We human we have to forgive. I know the whole story but what happened came Hanuka, he never even saw the grandkids, already thirteen, fifteen years old, the kids, used to go Torah Academy. I told some of the children used to be in my choir put it this way. So he came with a big present Hanuka and they kissed each other and they made it up and here and there and a while later he passed away and the son say kaddish all the.. Two lives, one in South Africa, one here.
Maybe g-d will forgive me because I save life. We were created in the image of g-d, correct? Nobody was there and I see this guy, on the place like this, forgive me to show you how he. I start to push him. Because I go to hospitals, because I know all about it, he was diabetic. It took from their place something sweet, you know and I put him, and I pushed it, you know, Coca-Cola was it and also chocolate.
In two seconds he was back to life. He was really, he got an attack of, you know what they call it? My mother-in-law was with me for five years, so I know what is diabetic. We took a grapefruit and Doctor [? Another black guy want to kill him. I separated them. Meanwhile I tell you the story. I learned people have to be nice to people. They have to be when sometime you have to be a man to help people and this is all about if we love each other properly, we can love G-d.
If we not love each other, we cannot love G-d. I used to belong to a club in South Africa. She was a beautiful woman. So, they took me to play when I came here for a visit, but in South Africa, I used to play twice a week and flashlight, used to play in the night also. The weather was very good there and I was quite good in this, and table tennis I started to play maybe twenty years ago because second to tennis you have to play you have to dedicate yourself to play regular. All these people spoke about it in Agudas Achim.
You like to have a game with me? But I am going to beat you, badly. He could not look at me anymore, you know, and this is a certain what I told him. He was a champion in Bexley. He must be already married but this was one case. Another case was, you must know the people, what is the name Saul, Saul, Saul, what is the name…Saul, nu? Of course, you want to be in the win side but you play more for your exercise. I play always with good players, South Africa too. I used to love to play soccer. I used to love to play, you know, you know, basketball, this in the army day, you know, but constantly I start tennis in I took lessons in South Africa and I start to play and people used to look forward to play with me.
Sunday afternoon, you do barbecue, you know they call it brunch, braai they call it in South Africa. This is interesting to know. When I came to South Africa to here I got a phone call and the phone was what you call it, busy, you know? They say robot. Here they say lights. In South Africa they say robo t. Robot is lights. I speak Yiddish, Hebrew and English.
In English, by the way, I taught myself. Nobody taught me. You know my children they speaking at home. They speak also two to three languages. Somebody is going to take what this recording is and transcribe it…. In the Haggadah different songs, you know, and to see how the little one are growing from very small age, how they can say the Mah Nishtana for example? Cause you looking forward as grandparents.
The grandparents looking to year to see it and this is the beauty about Pesach. He understood. My father was more quiet and not only this, she was so intelligent. Her four daughter-in-laws, never called her the mother-in-law. They called her mother. I give you a little example what she say to them when she get married.
I am giving you instruction and you do what you want to do but actually do the opposite. Listen to what I am saying but the message is not to attacking them. Listen to what you want to do. I will never forget. Come Thursday night she used to make Shabbos. From nothing she makes something.
Always the refrigerator was packed with food. Wherever I come my father was always to bring, schlepp somebody from shul — he [? She used to take the children around her and I around her. My sister was not born yet.
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My brother was a great cook because of my mother. I cook also very well. I make chicken soup like she made it, the olden way, meatballs. She used to make gefilte fish, used to do it with the old way you know with the special [? She used to make anything you want to match we spoke about it before, but how she used to make kishke. She used to [? To make a cholent she used to put packets of rice, packets of this, packets of this, was a mechaye, what the bones you know.
These days they eat everything and this way maybe the children give more attached to the mother cause she was close to us. She used to sing for us while my father used to work. Only Shabbat he got a free time, to teach us to hear about Torah at the table but I think, all in all I think my father and mother were great parents and great, great teachers to us, can be the first school and every child if you got good parents, this will give you to go through everything.
Actually, this is true because I learn everything, to read I learned from my father. To sing…. He worked in a factory. He never want to be a rabbi. I give you an example. Was Passover we spoke before. My mother once called to the chief rabbi of Rehovot. In the olden days used to bring the chicken to the rabbi, to [? Your husband know more what I know. Nobody believe he will not be a rabbi. He never want it. I cannot work politically. You see the book here down? He know it by heart. He used to study fifteen to eighteen hours a day, a day, but he learned English by himself.
He worked. He studied. My brothers, too. We study and he made, you not going away. We study every week the whole portion of the week with the only portion, everything, you study. You going outside, do what you want. Shabbos a time to study. He never let us go out. He never let us play with other children what come from difference parents. What do you think this can be a very bad influence on us. You will understand. This is what he told me. The children can do what they want, you know?
We never spoke bad thing against our parents, never, or to sit on the chair where my father sit. Say kaddish. We say kaddish. To elevate his soul and [? My mother, for example, we say it earlier. I used to sit in what she did for religious people, for non-religious people, Ashkenazic, Sephardic. Every Friday night, before Friday night, she used to make packets of chocolate, all kind of stuff, you know, filling it up, and put it by the door. She closed the door.
She did operation on her, on her back. She become paralyzed. So, my mother took every day. She was not well, she took there, she washed her, she came there. She came every day and she cooked for her. She did all kind of thing, not to get a penny. She never get paid for this and is not the only one.
I tell you another story. A woman come to pay shiva for us. She used to cry. She say…I lost my father and I lost my mother. My mother was eighteen months after it, but she come to pay shiva us. So, my mother, my older brother ask it. You want to say she have you before? I will explain. She was an orphan girl. She lost her both parents, poor, and my mother, she came to my mother. My mother was like the social director from the city.
The city know it already. Go to her, not to get paid. I will do it but, you have to agree with me. You do what I tell you to do. Got mercy? You give clothes. Then she was going to the chief rabbi from Rehovot. We always used to be associate with rabbonim. You know that the children from the rabbonim used my friend. So, she came to the chief rabbi and she told him there is a girl what we need to put her in place. She need to get married, no father, no mother. She give her a job to work for in a kindergarten to help, you know, in order to make a couple of dollar, couple.
Give me a letter. They will not reject her. What she did with the letter? You got clothes. You can put food on the table. Now, you have to get married, have a family. Who can help? She come to the mayor, few phone calls, she came to a guy what got a factory from furnitures and he sell in a shop. He sell his own products, tables, chairs. She show him the letter. I need a place to stay. She tell the story to us. We never know it, you know? After it, so everything was done. We need a catering. She already made the shidduch. We need to have the place, what we doing about bokhrim to sing and to dance, to make happy the chazan.?
She going to a shiva and she spoke to some guys what got passes here and there. They brought fifty bokhrim to the wedding and they came to it and they made a wedding and the [? A true story. And they talking about it in the family and she break the news, you know when? When we sit shiva. She used to bring somebody, a woman, a [?
This, my neighbor told us, a woman neighbor, you know. She did so many things. My father never objected.
He brought all these people, you know, on Shabbos you know, but with my mother was saw more thing how she gemilut chasadim — act of kindness. When I was in the army, like I say again, I learned to know about Jewish song.
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I taught also there what I learned at home. Example, we had thirteen soldiers in one tent when we did our maneuvers and the soldiers used to smoke cigarettes. I am not smoking on Shabbos and two of us used to walk outside. Yom zeh avec Shabbos. Took our time, six months took and I am not joking, six months. They walked out and smoke cigarettes outside to respect us, you know. Go your way. A few bokhrim what, you know, cause I came from my yeshiva, straight away. I was in a kibbutz for three months. A lot of them you have to know, they never get [? They will never learn what I learned but nevertheless, I used always to tell them.
You know our sages tell us that no righteous man in this world who do good and not bad. You have to be more the goods for the bad, you know, so, we used to speak about it in Shabbat, you know, between us, used to be once a week, used to be you called it Yom Hafarket, the Day of the Captain, tells the nights used to dance, men and woman soldiers, you know?
We used to talk with them, we used to get coffee and tea, you know the sandwich with jam, you know, is what they give you in the army these days, but all-in-all, I can tell you the army taught me a lot of thing about human being. They brought people from difference countries, the greatest education what you learn, you learn in the army. You have to do it. But we learn to be more for each other. Used to get packets, for example, from home, from the family. We share it with everybody. In two minutes was going, was gone. This what the Jewish people need to have.
But the thing is this. The army is teaching people to become more human, particularly the Israeli army. If this happen what happen in Israel in Russia or in America, they will rip up [? They will not allow it, you know? But the world is still against us. This is not to understand it.
But I tell this only tell to us a message. We have to be together. Yachad, you know? Hitler [ shemo? If somebody was a drop of blood in them, he killed them. What is the message here? You can not run away from Judaism. You cannot run away from Judaism, so why not to be united? Why not to love each other? Our prayers, our prayers in the morning teach us a great thing. G-d want us to be first with each other good.
If you are good with everyone you also represent G-d because we are a part of G-d.enter
Mendel's Accordion (Paperback)
People are selfish. Want here only by himself, here and there. I remember I used to have a rabbi, always used to talk about the twenty-two rabbis. It cannot be only give. If give and take you sharing your life in everything what you got, not to say this is mine, this is yours, is here and there.
You know my mother in blessed memory, I think I told you this before. When my father die, she die eighteen months later. You know what she say at the grave? This is life, you know. So, what else can I help you? This concludes the interview. How many generations can you trace? I give you a little story. Maybe you will like to hear it.
I was a chazzan for a couple of years. He was a shochet , you know. What year were you married?