My father was born in 1902 or 1903 in Maliner, a town near Kiev, Russia. Starting in 1917, he made his way to Canada and acquired a wife and two sons, working variously as a fur trapper, song and dance man, Hebrew school teacher, and grocery store produce manager. They moved to the Bronx. His wife died. He met my mom, many years younger, at a dance in Brooklyn. No doubt she was attracted to his Cary Grant mustache, dangerous eyes, and knots of muscle on his arms, the result of years of lifting boxes of vegetables. She had beautiful, slim ankles and a smile that would warm the room you were in and the one next door, as well. They married and went to Queens, and his son returned from Korea to sleep in the room that would become mine, years later. He eventually left for California to join the counterculture, and I was born.
My father was religious and of the old world, but with asterisks for living in America. Queens in the 70s hadn't yet shipped its Jewish population off to Florida, so I attended a tepidly Orthodox Hebrew school three afternoons a week with all my friends. We kept kosher, but with only one set of dishes, and didn't observe the Sabbath; my father said he got special dispensation from the rabbi to work on Saturdays. Nor was Shabbat a big topic in Hebrew school, where we spent much time memorizing the proper blessing to say over Snickers bars and making crowns for the Purim play out of faded construction paper. We also read the book of Genesis, in Hebrew without translation, once a year every year from third through sixth grades. I knew there were four other books, but assumed they were either not very important or only for adults.