Many years ago, when I was a child living in Williamsburg and later in the Midwood section of Flatbush, we used to be occasionally visited by “Uncle” Alex. I put quotes on the word “uncle” because he was not my uncle. He was not a member of the family at all. He was a friend of my mother’s from the days when she had worked for the City Welfare Department and was a member of the Civil Guard in WWII. I called him “uncle” because he was a man to whom respect was due, and this was the method my parents taught me of showing this respect.
Uncle Alex came from Russia, from Kiev, and as a young man had been drafted to serve in the Czar’s cavalry. He walked with a ramrod straight back and was a powerful man, even into his eighties. He was a communist, and proud of it unto his last day. He had immigrated to America in 1913, several years before the awful realities of Communism set in. So, for him, Communism was always the idealistic movement of the workers, devoted to a world revolution leading to a classless society, equality of man and to land, bread and freedom. In his eyes, it was an “alabaster dream undimmed by human tears.”
He was married to a woman named Rose, a tough old woman with a long honker of a nose. Whenever we visited Uncle Alex in his home on the Grand Concourse in the Bronx, it was utterly clear who wore the pants there. It wasn’t Uncle Alex. Rose’s passion was an organization called the Pioneer Women, and she would talk about a cousin of hers who would occasionally fly into town on fundraising trips. As a child, I couldn’t figure out why an old Jewish woman would be interested in cowboys and covered wagons and the like, or why they needed someone to fly into Idlewild Airport to raise funds for them. Eventually I learnt that the Pioneer Women were involved in the pioneering efforts of Jews settling in the Land of Israel. By this time, Idlewild Airport had been renamed John Fitzgerald Kennedy International Airport.
Rose was inordinately proud of her cousin. She and Uncle Alex had very different views of the world, and it came out when he told us this tale of when his wife’s cousin came to visit them in New York in 1920 before leaving for Mandate Palestine, what the Land of Israel was called then. It was not clear what Rose’s views on the matter were. Rose’s cousin came to visit her before leaving on the ship for Mandate Palestine. The young girl was not rich and had to stay with relatives while waiting for the ship to accept her. And these were the relatives. Uncle Alex tried very hard to dissuade Rose’s cousin from leaving for the Land of Israel. He very frankly told her that she should work for the world revolution where she was in America and that going to Israel was a fool’s dream. Rose’s cousin, who had an even bigger honker of a nose than Rose did, and who was far more stubborn, was not dissuaded at all. She left for Israel where she lived for the rest of her life. Even 51 years after the event had occurred, Alex and Rose still argued over whether her cousin should have gone.
Rose, of course, lived with her husband in the Bronx in the same Grand Concourse apartment that they had lived in for years. When Alex finally died, Rose was left a widow. She, like many others who had lived in one of the nicer parts of the Bronx a good part of their lives, stubbornly refused to move to a different apartment. In the year or two that she continued to live alone on the Grand Concourse, she was robbed twice and raped once. There was nothing that her cousin Golda, known to the world as Golda Meir, Prime Minister of the State of Israel, could do for her cousin Rose. She had enough problems of her own – though she never feared to walk the streets of Jerusalem at night, and was never robbed or raped there – even before she was a big shot in political system.
Finally, Rose’s children bundled their mother up and took her to a nursing home in New Jersey, where after a couple of years, she passed away. Golda Meir died of cancer a few years later. She had a state funeral and was buried with all the honors due a head of government and founder of a nation. Her trip turned out not to have been quite the fool’s dream that my Uncle Alex called it in 1920.