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The Day My Mother Cried

and Other Stories

William D. Kaufman

Publication Year: 2010

The lasting charm of Kaufman’s stories lies in a delightful mix of personal incidents and observations set against an anchoring backdrop of cultural tradition. His new collection is filled with tales from his parents’ homeland in the Ukraine, his own childhood reminiscences, and his adult travels. We watch the young author forced alongside "every Jewish boy on the block" to emulate Yehudi Menuhin on a ten-dollar violin with a moldy bow until the boy is spared by an innate lack of talent and his father’s judgment of his concert: "Enough is enough is more than enough." Kaufman is carefully attuned to the awkwardness of adulthood as well as to that of early adolescence. In "Interlude in Bangkok," his narrator scours the city for a synagogue while pursued by a prostitute. Later he and a friend encounter Greta Garbo in a museum café and are too frightened to approach her. "I am not she," intones the mysterious movie star, and in his own way, Kaufman says that of himself in these stories through an autobiograp

Published by: Syracuse University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. vii-viii

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Foreword Baruch Feldstern

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pp. ix-x

In the 1980s, I was directing a small program in Jerusalem for recent college graduates who wanted to bolster their knowledge of classical Jewish texts. Students lived together in a dormitory in order to free them from time-consuming daily tasks such as shopping and preparing food. Classes were all-consuming...

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ForewordPeter Pitzele

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pp. xi

Let me give you a paragraph from Bill Kaufman’s story “Grandfather and the Poretz .” May I ask you to put aside for a moment your question about what a poretz is and your concern that you don’t know Bill’s grandfather. I just want you to listen..

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Who I Am

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pp. 1-8

I was born on November 6, 1914, and according to my father it was one of the luckiest days of his life. Actually, his good luck had nothing to do with my birth. It had everything to do with cabbages. My father was a huckster of fruits and vegetables who plied his trade from a horse and wagon. The...

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pp. 9-13

One of the great disappointments of my father’s life was that I never became another Yehudi Menuhin. Here was this nice Jewish boy from somewhere out there on the West Coast who was stupefying audiences all over the world with his fi ddle, and in the process...

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Kaplansky’s Troubles

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pp. 14-21

It happened at least a hundred years ago in my father’s village in the Ukraine, and people, Jews and even gentiles, were still talking about it when my father left the shtetl in 1910 to seek his fortune and a missing brother-in-law in America. The event...

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Grandfather and the Poretz

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pp. 22-28

My father always thought of himself as something of a fruit connoisseur. He often told me he was born with a God-given gift of fruit prophecy. Nothing less. He could, he claimed, glance at a truckful of green bananas and foretell which bunch would ripen sweet and cream-colored and which would end up dry and mott led and fit for...

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pp. 29-33

My friend Seymour Blumenthal was his grandmother’s kadishel, which means that when she died, Seymour would say “kaddish” for her. Kaddish is the memorial prayer that Jewish men, and even boys, are obliged to recite daily for a deceased relative. If kaddish...

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The Flower of the South

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pp. 34-40

I once shook hands with a man who had shaken the hand, the left one, of Abraham Lincoln. I was a boy of eleven or twelve at the time and the Lincoln handshaker was a Civil War veteran who came to our school the day before Decoration Day, dressed in the blue uniform...

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The Passing of Bubbeleh

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pp. 41-47

Bubbeleh was the family pet. She happened to be a guinea pig, which is not the most fashionable beast in the kingdom of pets, but to my wife she had it all. Bubbeleh was about twelve inches long and weighed in at maybe thirty ounces; her furry body was a tawny brown with white flecks on the head and face and she was always...

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The Missing Ear

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pp. 48-53

A couple of years ago I wrote a story about my friend Roger; I won’t mention his family name because he’s been dead and buried these past twenty years and more. In my opinion he would prefer the anonymity of the grave, and one does not trifle with Rog even though...

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Sabbath with the Golem of Prague

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pp. 54-62

The October sun was dropping slowly over the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem. Spectators and worshippers, separated from each other by a solid fence of stone that ran the length of the Kotel, as the ancient Western Wall is called, were eagerly awaiting...

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You’re One Lucky Guy

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pp. 63-67

Yoshke Stein was scared of God. He knew God sees everything. In daylight, when it’s dark, even under the bed covers, God sees everything that happens. Yoshke’s mother told him all about God when he was a litt le kid. Five. Maybe four. She said God is everywhere....

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Miller the Shammes

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pp. 68-74

Miller the Shammes didn’t like kids very much even though he had ten or twelve of his own. We were never exactly certain how many, nor do I think Miller the Shammes ever kept count. Every year, usually in the month of February, his wife Surke added another...

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The French Jew

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pp. 75-80

It was great being back in Meah She’arim after an absence of fifteen years. Meah She’arim is the super-religious enclave in Jerusalem not too far from East Jerusalem, the population center of the Palestinian Arabs. I think what att racted me to this odd place was because it conjured...

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Conversation at a Wake

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pp. 81-86

The great “Bullet” Benny Nolan was the first corpse I ever saw. I was in the eighth grade at the time and a delivery boy in my father’s grocery store. The Bullet, as he was called, first at Notre Dame and later on when he was the explosive running back for the Chicago...

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The Yerid

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pp. 87-90

My father was a great storyteller—mostly about himself. His stories were derived largely from his growing-up years in an insignificant village in the Ukraine called Romanov that seemed to have been populated by a mixed bag of thieves, semi-thieves, buffoons,...

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The Misbegotten Wedding

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pp. 91-96

I didn’t like the rabbi when we first met. He was on the bride’s side and was flitting around the buff et tables glad-handing the wedding guests like he owned the place, which I found out later he really did. Actually it was his father’s shul, which, we were told, started out as a storefront that barely accommodated a minyan of ten men...

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Don’t Blame It on Greta Garbo

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pp. 97-102

It was on a cold and dour day in mid-March during that plodding and violent coal miners’ strike in the late 1920s that Mr. Moore, our next-door neighbor, hit it lucky. That morning at about 9:30, while he was having his second cup of coff ee, he received a telephone call from...

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A Coin in a Pinchpurse

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pp. 103-108

I have been with Musa Rahim for fourteen months now and I must admit that I have not always enjoyed the experience, in truth, for truth is the realm of God, according to our beloved rebbe. Musa Rahim is known among us as Moishe Rosenzweig and has been with me, not...

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pp. 109-113

I am often asked where I get all those odd happenings that turn into my stories. Where do my plots come from? I am likely to answer cryptically, “They come to me from everywhere and nowhere,” which is no answer at all. Yet it is an honest-to-God response and it is the...

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The Lady Who Loved God

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pp. 114-118

Whenever she spoke of God or to God, which she did often enough during the day and undoubtedly into the night, my friend Berdie referred to Him always as Hashem. Hashem is a Hebrew word that translates as “the Name.” Berdie did not invent the word. It’s been in use a long time, largely...

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pp. 119-124

I fi rst met my Aunt Bluma at her daughter’s wedding. I was three years old and was buried under a pile of heavy winter overcoats on a massive bed in Bluma’s bedroom. The wedding must have been on a Saturday night and guests like my mother and father and older sister were gathered in her parlor where the ceremony was due to take place....

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The Delivery Boy

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pp. 125-132

His name was Sean Mahoney and he was the delivery boy for about ten years in my father’s grocery store. Actually it became my brother Ben’s store, which he took over when my father retired. My brother not only inherited the store but he inherited Pop’s partner of...

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The Day My Mother Cried

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pp. 133-138

A lmost a lifetime ago when I was nine or ten and my sister Dorothy was two years older, we, jointly and not singly, made our mother cry. My mother never cried, not even when her best and oldest friend Channe Shtein who grew up with her in Verzhbalov, Lithuania,...

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Yom Kippur at Twelve

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pp. 139-143

I insisted on fasting on Yom Kippur when I was twelve even though I was not obliged to refrain from eat and drink until I was thirteen. My father thought it was a good idea and gave me a hasty okay. “So what if he becomes a man at twelve instead of thirteen. Will Moses...

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My Father’s Mother

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pp. 144-149

When I was fifteen or sixteen and a junior in high school, I learned a lot about old age from an honest-to-God expert on the subject. His name was Cicero, Marcus Tullius Cicero to be...

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At the Rebbe’s Tish

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pp. 150-155

I think I was the one and only nonbeliever in the maelstrom of frenzied dancing and whirling men, young and old, who were participating in a Friday night tish (dinner) with a Chasidic rebbe on an unforgett able Sabbath eve in Petach Tikvah, Israel. The rebbe, I cannot recall which town or village in Poland his...

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I Am Not She

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pp. 156-161

My friend Bernice and I traveled to the city just about every Saturday or Sunday. Mostly Saturdays. With us it was like a religious rite, one of those thou shalts which was not only easily doable but cheap. We would catch the LIRR around ten, get to Penn Station three-quarters...

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Remembering Uncle Shloime

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pp. 162-168

My uncle Shloime is gone almost forty years now and I don’t think of him very often, but every now and then, under the oddest of circumstances, his small bearded face and black-garbed figure will invade my memory and I will stop and think about the disheveled,...

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Interlude in Bangkok

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pp. 169-173

It was my last weekend in Bangkok so naturally I went to the synagogue. I had been doing the synagogue circuit whenever possible during my three-month travels through Southeast Asia and the search was often more exciting than the visit. In Rangoon, as an example,...

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Being Prepared

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pp. 174-178

I was a Boy Scout for just about two years and tried super hard to live up to our slogan: “Do a Good Turn Daily.” I tried hard. I really did. In my case it wasn’t that easy. Other Scouts could grab themselves a fast Good Turn just about any time they chose. They could volunteer...

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Going Home

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pp. 179-185

I got home from the war on November 24, 1945, which was a Saturday. I had celebrated Thanksgiving two days earlier in Fort Dix, New Jersey, where I was billeted with several thousand GIs of mixed ranks. I think, though I’m not exactly sure, that most of us disembarked...

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My Father’s Grocery Store

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pp. 186-192

Actually my father owned half of the store. The other half belonged to his partner who was his best friend—most of the time. On the negative days, he was his worst enemy. They were...


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pp. 193-195

E-ISBN-13: 9780815651253
E-ISBN-10: 0815651252
Print-ISBN-13: 9780815609551
Print-ISBN-10: 0815609558

Page Count: 176
Publication Year: 2010