Contents

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p. ix

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Remembrance

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pp. 1-2

Bread. As a child, before I noticed much else, I smelled bread; but, had I known where to look, I would have experienced more. In 1926, my Russian immigrant grandparents, Max and Lena Wolk, established a bakery at 350 East Ninth Street in New York City. ...

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Awakening

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pp. 3-7

On a sweltering August afternoon, the clatter of jackhammers blasted through the open dinette window. I sat in the hallway next to the only phone in my parents' Brooklyn tenement. Their apartment had no air conditioning--never did, never would--and my backside stuck to the vinyl seat cover of the telephone chair. ...

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Waiting for Cohn

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pp. 8-16

The city that never sleeps slept. At 3:20 a.m., on December 26, 1947, snow flurries provided a preview of coming attractions, but no one noticed. I certainly didn't. My mom hadn't met my dad yet, and I wasn't born until 1958. ...

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Lindbergh Made It

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pp. 17-25

I don't remember what I dreamed about the night after Mr. Geary's phone call. Perhaps it was the sound of pneumatic drills tearing up concrete. My nerves were so jumbled I felt as if I could shake all over, like a dog just in from the rain. What I do recall is not sleeping well. ...

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The Store

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pp. 26-34

On Saturday, at seven in the morning, the black rotary phone in our rent-controlled Brooklyn apartment shrieked. My parents' bedroom door opened, and Mom schlepped to our telephone, located in the hallway between the bedroom, dinette, and bathroom. ...

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The Store Revisited

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pp. 35-40

I closed my uncles' dinette window and carefully returned the July statements to my briefcase, as if the pieces of paper were themselves worth millions. I wanted to go home and share the amazing news with Nurit, but it was almost three o'clock, and I hadn't eaten lunch. ...

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A Night on the Town

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pp. 41-50

Before Mom got to the back room, I smelled caraway seeds. She lifted the front of the slicing machine with one hand and placed the seeded rye inside with the other. I covered my ears with my hands and continued to read the baseball standings in the Post. ...

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Close to the Edge

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pp. 51-60

Nurit didn't believe me until I showed her the July statements. I don't recall if we laughed or cried, most likely much of both. But there was no time either to rejoice or to feel bitter. Later that night, I called Dad at the hospital. No answer. I called again. ...

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The Food-Stamp Seders

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pp. 61-66

For one week each year, beginning on the first night of Passover, the Store closed. No self-respecting Jew could sell bread that week. The Store closed, but we never stopped working. On the afternoon of the first night of Passover, Mom telephoned the Store to ask Uncle Harry, "When will you be up in the apartment?" ...

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Money Talks

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pp. 67-77

I practiced triage when Dad was in the hospital, dealing with the most critical patient first, and then tending to the walking wounded. My hospital struggles took priority over caring for Uncle Harry. ...

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The Millionaire

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pp. 78-82

Uncle Harry, Uncle Joe, Mom, Dad, and I sat around the Formica table in my uncles' apartment. It was Rosh Hashanah. In my mind's eye, I can still see the dirty dinner dishes piled up in the sink waiting for Mom to wash them. A low flame blackened my grandmother's soup pot. ...

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Sleeping on It

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pp. 83-87

I visited my parents in their apartment early one fall evening a few months after Uncle Harry had been admitted to the Sephardic Home. They had just returned from their daily visit to the nursing home, where they ate lunch with Uncle Harry and spent the afternoon with him. They told me the food was excellent. ...

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Keeping Florida Green

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pp. 88-98

It was rush hour at the Store. A girl sporting an NYU sweatshirt whispered to her gawking parents while a regular customer named George maneuvered around them. On Friday afternoon, Shabbat raced in with customers clamoring for challah. Uncle Joe called out, "Next." ...

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Generations

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pp. 99-102

The day Uncle Harry died, I stood on a levee on the western bank of the Mississippi River consoling my four-year-old son, Ari. We had no idea Uncle Harry was dead; Ari had just slipped and skinned his knee. We had taken a brief rest stop at a historic plantation on our way to the airport for our return flight to New York. ...

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Learning to Fly Low

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pp. 103-112

Memories of fall always bring me back to my uncles' apartment for the two days of Rosh Hashanah. The Store closed for the High Holidays, and Uncle Joe left for shul early in the morning; going to shul was his version of a vacation. By the time I woke up, Uncle Harry and my parents were in the dinette finishing breakfast. ...

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Counselor Zachter

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pp. 113-117

The building in downtown Brooklyn was formal, the drapes red velvet, the New York State flag prominent, the soon-to-be lawyers already jaded, and the ceremonial calling of several hundred names endless. On the morning of January 18, 1995, before a black-robed judge from the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court...

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Charity

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pp. 118-121

A week after Rosh Hashanah services at the First Roumanian-American Congregation, my parents and I returned to Manhattan for Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, a day of fasting and selfreflection. On erev Yom Kippur, we ate a lot of chicken for dinner because we couldn't eat until sunset the next day. ...

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The Excavation

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pp. 122-127

Within a month of my debut as a lawyer, Nurit, her sister, Cherie, Cherie's husband, Charlie, and I descended on the fifteenth floor of my uncles' apartment building to begin the excavation. Even by New York City standards, it was quite a tangle. ...

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A Tale of Urban Renewal

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pp. 128-131

In my freshman year of college, Jacob, my grandfather on my father's side, died. After the funeral service, my dad, my mom, and my first cousin on my father's side of the family, Louis Sweedler, waited in the funeral home's parking lot for the hearse to leave so we could follow it in our car to the cemetery. ...

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Artifacts

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pp. 132-137

"We're back," Cherie proclaimed to the mice, as I once again swung open the door to apartment 15G. A snowy week had passed since my volunteers and I first experienced the multisensory pleasures of my uncles' old apartment. ...

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Curtain Call

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pp. 138-142

On a bright summer day in 1984, I met a beautiful young woman in the Amsterdam airport while two armored half-tracks circled the plane I was about to get on. I can't really say I met her in the airport. I only saw her for the first time in the airport. ...

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Fruitcake

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pp. 143-152

On our third Saturday clearing my uncles' apartment, Cherie, Nurit, Ellen, Charlie, and I gathered to unveil the steamer trunk, curious what we would find. We had scheduled a doubleheader that weekend and planned to return the next day to finish our work. ...

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Singing in the Rain

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pp. 153-155

My toes squished about in my soaking wet wing tips as I sank into the backseat of a New York City cab on my lunch hour. A late February rain pounded the cab. The midtown traffic was ferocious. I was going nowhere. ...

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Ancestors

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pp. 156-161

I sank into the upholstered chair with broken springs in the corner of my uncles' living room. Charlie sprinted over; I hadn't seen him that excited since we found the fruitcake boxes. "Did you see these?" he asked. Like a poker player laying down a royal flush, Charlie revealed a collection of card-sized, black-and-white photos of scantily clad women from the 1920s. ...

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The Call

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pp. 162-166

In June 1994, I celebrated graduating from Brooklyn Law School by upholding family tradition. I didn't attend my graduation either. I wouldn't have attended even if subpoenaed. I worked that day as an independent contractor for a Manhattan law firm with a niche practice in estates and trusts. ...

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The Lamp

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pp. 167-169

Old friends said, "It couldn't have happened to a nicer guy." My brother-in-law said, "Since it wasn't me, it might as well be you." Charlie expressed what everyone who knows my story feels. But I was my uncles' nephew: although my windfall allowed me the opportunity to take few new clients, I kept working as a CPA and tax attorney. ...

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Coda

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pp. 170-173

I opened the faded front door of the First Roumanian-American Congregation one rainy evening in the fall of 2002. The synagogue was now closed most of the time, and I arranged my visit to coincide with evening services. ...

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Acknowledgments

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p. 175

I am especially grateful to my wife, Nurit, for her love, patience, and support. Thanks to Elizabeth Frank, Hettie Jones, Anne Neumann, Esther Schor, and Kathryn Watterson for all their sage advice. ...

Author's Note

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p. 177