Who is This?
...and the story continues
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A lifelong love of horses was probably the only positive thing to come out of the five years Morris spent in the Russian cavalry, right after the turn of the century. It was even rumored that he may have been taken prisoner during the disastrous Russo-Japanese War of 1904.
Morris returned home to find that anti-Semitism continued unabated and pogroms still erupted with dreadful consequences. At the time of his discharge from the army, Jews still were forced to live within the Pale of Settlement. It was nearly impossible for a Jew to earn a living in the fiercely competitive labor market that was already nearly saturated with unemployed Russian peasants.
With his military obligation completed, Morris hoped to marry his cousin Rachel, the daughter of his Grandmother Hennie Leshok's younger brother, Fallik Yaffa. But Rachel's parents objected, insisting that he marry her older sister instead. Morris was adamant, but Rachel's parents would not relent. Finally he gave up and married Chana Faier, the daughter of another Vasilkov family.
Although the precise date of their marriage is unknown, it is presumed to have been sometime in 1906 or 1907. Their first child, Jeanette, was born in Vasilkov in 1908, the year that Austria occupied Bosnia and Herzegovina and Henry Ford introduced the Model T to America. A son, Freeman, was born in 1909, and Chana gave birth to Ruth in about 1911.
When Morris left Russia in search of an opportunity to live in peace and earn a decent living, he promised to send for Chana and the children as soon as possible. With hard work and his brothers' help, he saved enough for third-class steamship tickets, enabling his family to sail for America in March 1914, just a few months before the outbreak of World War I.
Many years later Jeanette recalled the way Chana's five brothers had bade them farewell after Chana and the children boarded the train in Vasilkov. The uncles turned up at several successive stations to say goodbye. Some brought chocolates; one even appeared bearing a precious orange. Of their trans-Atlantic voyage, Jeanette recalled that some musicians in the ship's orchestra felt so sorry for her and the other children traveling in steerage, they slipped them cake and other treats whenever they could.
When Morris's brothers Max, Ben, Manny and Sam had made their way north from Galveston, they went first to Gary, Indiana, and then to Chicago's West Side, where many other immigrants from eastern Europe already lived (unlike the German Jews, who gravitated to an area south of the downtown area). It is likely that the Lezak brothers were encouraged to move to Chicago by landsmen, others from Vasilkov, with whom they were in contact.
Their desire to settle near Yiddish-speaking immigrants from the same region in "the old country" was understandable. Most newly arrived Jewish immigrants joined landsmanshaften or vereinen, benevolent societies for newcomers who shared a common background. Members of these groups usually belonged to the same Orthodox shul, engaged in similar vocations, provided informal matchmaking services, lived near one another and were buried in the same cemetery. Today, for the most part, the only remaining vestige of landsmanshaften is the existence of their tightly clustered, tilting headstones at Waldheim and other Chicago-area Jewish cemeteries.
When Morris knew his family's arrival was imminent, he rented a very small apartment on the West Side. After Chana and Morris were reunited, their family began to grow; she had three more children in quick succession. Leonard, delivered at Michael Reese Hospital in 1915, was the first of Jacob Lezak's grandchildren to be born in America. Mollye was born in 1916. A sixth child, Albert, was born in 1917 but died when he was fourteen months old.
Morris was a handsome, intelligent and gentle man with a soft-spoken nature much like Beila's. Despite having had little in the way of formal education, he spoke Russian and Yiddish fluently, and knew prayerbook Hebrew from a childhood spent in cheder. He learned English after coming to America.
He opened a kosher meat market in their mostly Orthodox neighborhood and was the proud owner of his own horse and wagon. But although honest and diligent, he seemed to lack the business acumen required for success as an entrepreneur. With growing responsibilities as a family man, he was always reluctant to risk trying a different business.
A good husband and father, Morris wanted to give his children everything, including piano and violin lessons, even when he could scarcely afford them. He was serious, passive, and devoted to Chana in his own quiet way. To others in the family, he and Chana seemed polar opposites. She could be aggressive, high-strung and a non-stop talker. On many occasions, her dominant personality and often-irrational arguments with everyone from her in-laws to tradesmen and shopkeepers made her the center of unwelcome attention, which made Morris very uncomfortable. She also had a decidedly independent streak. Despite the fact that Morris was opposed to women wearing makeup, Chana was determined to see what it was like. Even though he was opposed to her cutting her hair, she cut it anyway, one inch per week.
Like Beila, Chana retained many of the customs a good Jewish wife practiced in Vasilkov, and always kept a kosher home. There was no denying her excellence as a cook, and she took special pleasure in preparing the extra spicy dishes that Morris loved. Food preparation for Jewish holidays became a festive activity, with daughters Jeanette, Ruth and Mollye joining in to help out in Chana's kitchen.
In later years Chana delighted in baking the mouth-watering ruggalah, kichel and other treats that her grandchildren adored. Even after becoming a grandfather himself, her grandson Alan Lezak fondly recalled Chana's invitation to "eat, tatteleh," as she served her delicious poppy seed cookies, accompanied by a glass of milk. Mollye's youngest son, Barry Levy, remembers Chana as a feisty little woman with stockings rolled in garters just below the knee, preparing a nosh of schmaltz on toast for him -- long before anyone worried about cholesterol.
Jeanette was six years old when she reached America in 1914. One of her most vivid memories, she once told her family, was learning of the death of her great-grandmother Hennie on the very day that she, Chana, Freeman and Ruth left Vasilkov. Jeanette never forgot Chana's stern warning that she was not to blurt out the sad news to Morris the minute she saw him when they arrived in Chicago.
Thursday was always a busy day in Morris's store. As had been their tradition in Russia, this was the day Jewish housewives shopped for Shabbos dinner. By the age of eight, Jeanette was regularly left in charge of the younger children every Thursday, so that Chana could help Morris at the store.
In about 1920, Morris and Chana moved the family to the Gary/Hammond area for about two years. Jeanette attended school there and played the violin in the school orchestra. She also became a champion on the handball court. But when they returned to Chicago, she was so ashamed of their new neighborhood she refused to send her address to any of her friends in Gary.
For many years, all the Lezaks got together at least once a month, "just because." Summertime provided welcome opportunities to congregate outdoors, typically at places like Rainbow Beach or Jackson Park. Then as now, Grant Park was the place to go for concerts and fireworks on the Fourth of July. Everyone brought food and blankets. The young cousins played together while the adults relaxed and "schmoozed."
The entire family celebrated Jewish holidays together at Jacob and Beila's home, gathering for festive Pesach seders and memorable Chanuka parties, at which Jacob presented gelt to each of the children. When advancing age made it too difficult for "Big Bubbe" and "Big Zayde" to entertain anymore, Morris and Chana, the senior members of the second generation, took over.
In spite of the fact that Morris's seders were notoriously long, years later they still were remembered fondly by children and grandchildren, nieces and nephews. At the time, though, the seders were an ordeal to be endured until, finally, Morris would give in to his daughters' urgings to "hurry up, already, we have to eat!"
As their number grew, the family began renting space in a large hall in order to accommodate everyone. In time these large gatherings occurred less and less frequently, as children married and each new family asserted its independence or decided to celebrate with their in-laws.
For many years, the extended family functioned successfully as its own support system. If one of the Lezaks had a problem, they all put their heads together to try to resolve it. Eventually, though, they drifted apart, both literally and figuratively, as younger members moved, became assimilated and were increasingly influenced by the myriad changes occurring in post-World War II America.
Like so many others who had come from eastern Europe, Jacob and Beila's children reflected the culture they and their parents had brought with them, as well as the values they saw all around them in America. Some actively sought to assimilate and free themselves of their parents' and grandparents' traditions. As time went by, many of them moved from the West Side to newer developments in less crowded areas of the city, the suburbs and, in some cases, the very edges of the continent.
In the thirties, Morris and Chana moved to 53rd and Drexel, in Hyde Park. Hard-working Morris rarely allowed himself to take a day off, but his love of horses occasionally led him to make an exception to his own rule. One such occasion was the memorable trip he took with his brother Manny to see the running of the Kentucky Derby in Louisville. Although Morris worried about who would watch the store, somehow it worked out and the trip was one of the highlights of his life.
Morris died at home of a cerebral hemhorrage at the age of sixty-six, just a year after he retired. At the funeral, a distraught Chana had to be physically restrained from throwing herself into his grave.
Freeman was an enigma to just about everyone in the family. No one ever claimed to know him very well. A confirmed bachelor, his sisters frequently arranged introductions to their unattached friends, but none succeeded in making "a match." Although it is rumored there was a serious romance early in his life, he is said to have broken it off and was never known to have had another serious relationship.
Always a private person, he was unable or unwilling to get too close to anyone. Not that he was unlikeable. Freeman had an engaging personality and a wry, even cynical or sarcastic, sense of humor. He usually had a twinkle in his eye, as if he had a secret, and could come up with a joke at a moment's notice.
A small man of five foot two or three, he seldom attended family events unless he was coaxed, although, once there, he seemed to relax and enjoy kibbitzing. Nieces and nephews recall Freeman as one of the nicest people in the family. But mostly they remembered him as lonely and sad, a man most comfortable in the shadows, who never wanted to be a burden, who never asked or expected special favors.
He often wrote letters to relatives or visited them in nursing homes when they became elderly, but he never did anything to draw attention to the visits. As an adult, he seemed to crave closeness with his cousins and their children. Yet even when he went to their homes, he rarely stayed for dinner. Once, after a family gathering, he wrote to thank a cousin for including him. His letter took her completely by surprise, since she would never have considered not inviting him.
Freeman had a head for numbers and might have had many career opportunities had he been able to continue his education beyond high school. But for him, as for others who came of age around the beginning of the Depression, this was not an option. Instead, he spent most of his life in the meat business.
Unfortunately, he never had much success as an entrepreneur. At one time he and his sister Mollye's husband, Bill Levy, were partners in a tavern on Garfield Boulevard. After selling the business for a respectable profit, Bill decided to go into plastics manufacturing and persuaded Freeman to join him. They put all their available cash into the venture, but they barely knew what they were doing and lost their entire investment.
In the last years of his life, Freeman worked at L&L Provisions. He had a well-known penchant for scribbling notes and clipping amusing cartoons. After his death in 1984, the pockets of the frock coat he wore daily were found stuffed with several cartoons lampooning married couples, as well as an article claiming that cancer could be caused by emotions. This, he had decided, explained the illness that claimed the life of his sister Ruth in 1951.
Freeman lived modestly, even frugally. He did have an eye for nice automobiles, though, and always knew not only what make and model was driven by each of his relatives, but how much their cars cost. His greatest weakness, however, was dining out. It was said that Freeman Lezak was probably acquainted with every restaurant worth knowing in the city of Chicago.
In a letter written to his father's sister Sylvia (who was Freeman's contemporary) in about 1980, he observed with typical Freemanesque cynicism that he had "enough money to last me the rest of my life...if I die next week." In truth, since he never lived anywhere more luxurious than a modest Hyde Park apartment-hotel, his expenses were limited and he was able to save a respectable sum every year. As a result, a gesture that became known only after his death took everyone in the family by surprise. After years of anonymous charitable contributions, Freeman left a generous bequest in his will to each of his great-nieces and great-nephews. His greatest legacy may have been the posthumous message that family ties are perhaps the most important human relationships of all.
Ruth Lezak was invariably described by those who knew her as good-natured, unselfish and beautiful. She was exceptionally close to her sisters Jeanette and Mollye, and after they married and had babies, she offered them an extra pair of hands whenever they needed her. Jeanette, especially, needed assistance because her first child, Marvin, was often sick. Ruth never refused to help, even when the requests came at the expense of her social life.
She was so devoted to Marvin that he grew up thinking of her as practically a surrogate mother. He recalls that Ruth bought him his first Superman comic book when he was a patient at Michael Reese Hospital's Sarah Morris Pavillion. She took him to see his first play when he was older, and once took him and his brother, Danny, on a memorable outing to the circus.
Ruth had a keen interest in current events, fine arts and the theatre, and shared Morris's love of horses. A special bond existed between Ruth and her cousin Ruby, the daughter of Uncle Max and Aunt Pearl, since Ruby shared Ruth's penchant for horseback riding.
As a "career girl," at the time a euphemism for being single, Ruth managed to save enough for several visits New York and other cities where she had friends. Ruth worked for a social service agency in Chicago as well as Reuben Grais & Sons, a manufacturer of leather goods, where she had a good job as well as an apparent romance with the owner's son.
Ruth always expressed admiration for Jeanette's husband, Nate. Often she said she wanted to marry someone just like him, which was understood to mean someone foreign born. Although there were many suitors, she did not marry until she was thirty-five years old, after becoming reacquauinted with Nathan Solodky, a handsome man she had first met years earlier.
He was a bachelor, eight or nine years her senior. After their marriage he proved to be very set in his ways, and theirs was a difficult relationship. Some speculated that perhaps it was too late in life for him to adjust to marriage and a family. However, they had two children, a son, Maurice, born in 1948, and a daughter, Sandra, born in 1951.
Ruth became ill soon after Sandy's birth and she was diagnosed as having a brain tumor. Later, family members theorized that she might have been aware of the illness before her second pregnancy but ignored the symptoms because she did not want Maurice to be an only child. She steadfastly refused to complain and continued her efforts to convince the family, and perhaps herself, that she was well and happy. In reality, however, she had increasing difficulty caring for herself, her home and two small children.
Maurice was three years old and Sandy just seven months old when Ruth died in 1951. Sadly, the family that had always rallied to help one another through difficult times was unable to produce anyone able to care for Maurice and Sandy. And, though he could not care for them himself, Nathan Solodky refused to permit his children's adoption by anyone else. Placed with Jewish Family Services, they were separated, both from one another and from the Lezak family, until they were young adults.
Leonard Lezak, Jacob's first American-born grandchild, and Gladys Persky met in 1939 at the Zionist organization where she worked, at 220 S. State Street in Chicago. He chose the occasion Jacob and Beila's sixtieth wedding anniversary party, in 1940, to introduce her to the family. Following a courtship that entailed frequent commuting between his home in Hyde Park and hers in Rogers Park, they were married at Chicago's Belmont Hotel on May 14, 1941. After a honeymoon in the Great Smokey Mountains, they settled into an apartment at The Wilmington, just four short blocks from where Morris and Chana lived.
Such close proximity meant that Chana could drop in often, and she did, especially after Gladys gave birth to Alan in 1942. It was not an easy relationship. Among the modern ideas that Chana was unprepared for was the sight of her son actually holding his child in his arms and giving him a bottle. "Who ever heard of a father doing such a thing?" she asked more than once.
When Leonard left for the service in 1943, Gladys went to live with her recently widowed father. The distance between Hyde Park and Rogers Park is not great by today's standards, but since she did not drive, they might as well have been many miles apart. The only time she saw any of the Lezaks during Leonard's two-year absence was when her father drove her to one of their markets for meat.
After being stationed first at Ft. Benjamin Harrison, in Indiana, and then in Berkville, Virginia, Leonard shipped out to Cheltenham, England. From there he went to Reims, France, where he served part of his tour of duty under the command of General (later President) Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Before World War II, Leonard had worked with his father's brother Nate in the Calumet Market at 35th and South Park. While Leonard was away in the service, Joe Lezak replaced him in the business, and eventually Joe bought Nate out. After the war, upon finding that there was no longer a place for him at Calumet, Leonard tried his hand at the liquor business with his friend Art Gottstein. Then, in about 1950, Nate and Leonard pooled their talents again to establish L&L Provisions (now L&L Packing Company), which began as a beef boning and packing plant. With Nate's successful pitch to South Side Bank for a ten thousand dollar loan and Leonard's knowledge of the boning business, which he had learned as an employee of Silverman & Wexler, they were in business. The partnership continued until Nate retired and moved to California in 1960.
Gladys and Leonard bought a home at 9745 Ogelsby in Merrionette Manor not long after their daughter, Judi, was born in 1949, and lived there for the next twenty-two years. "The Manor," as the neighborhood was known, was a new community of duplexes populated by many young, Jewish families. It was one of the first subdivisions to be built on the South Side in response to the housing shortage that followed World War II. Gladys's sister Helen Fisher already lived there when they moved in, as did Mollye and her husband, Bill Levy and, as it turned out, their son Alan's future in-laws, Reuben and Gert Zoller.
Five years before Leonard's death in 1975, he and Gladys sold their home in "The Manor" and returned to Hyde Park, moving this time to a high-rise apartment with sweeping views of the city and Lake Michigan, across the street from the Museum of Science and Industry and just a stone's throw from their very first apartment.
Mollye Lezak was petite, less than five feet tall, with green eyes, tiny features, and a warm, engaging smile. Her steady, even temperament made her more like her father and brother Leonard than like her mother. As a high school student, she had been an avid tennis player, and, after her marriage to William (Bill) Levy, she discovered she also loved to cook.
She met Bill while working for her father's brother Nate at 35th and South Park, across the street from the gas station where Bill was employed. They were married in Nate and Jeanette's living room in 1939 and had three sons: Morton, born in 1942, Elliott, born in 1945, and Barry, born in 1949. Their first home was at 7736 Kingston; from there they moved to 9637 South Crandon in Merrionette Manor.
A man with a penchant for smoking expensive cigars, Bill also enjoyed playing pinochle with Nate and other Lezaks. His various business enterprises included a Garfield Boulevard tavern that he owned in partnership with Mollye's brother Freeman, and an unsuccessful venture into a plastics molding and injection business. Plastics was something new in the years immediately after the war and Bill had persuaded Freeman to take a chance on it with him. Perhaps they were ahead of their time. At any rate, after a decent start, they were unable to keep the business going and, in the end, lost their entire investment. Later, Bill owned and operated R & L Tobacco, a vending company.
Bill died at Michael Reese Hospital in 1951 of uremic poisoning believed caused by an accidental overdose of penicillin. Within ten weeks in 1951, the family sustained the loss of Morris and Chana's daughter Ruth, their son-in-law Bill, Levy, and Jacob, the patriarch.
Mollie was now a widow with three young children and very little in the way of resources. Fortunately, she was close to Leonard and Freeman, and both brothers helped her as much and as often as they could, whether by dropping by with meat and groceries or by generously taking care of her bills.
Chana was adamant about remaining in her apartment after Morris died, but an accidental kitchen fire "persuaded" her to move in with Mollye and her children. She doted on her grandchildren. Although she and Mollye almost always conversed with one another in Yiddish, the children quickly discovered that Chana was quite capable of speaking English any time she wished. She remained with Mollye until moving to a nursing home at 72nd and Exchange, in Chicago, where she lived until her death in 1970.
In 1956, Mollye took a job as a teller at South Shore National Bank at 71st Street and Jeffrey Boulevard. Since Barry, her youngest child, was only seven at the time, he usually walked home from Luella School to his cousin Judi's house, where his Aunt Gladys had lunch waiting for both of them.
When Mollye bought a car for about $1700, she made a point of telling Chana it had cost only $300. She knew Chana would never be able to comprehend how or why anyone would spend as much as $1700 for an automobile.
In the late sixties Mollye moved to the North Side, first to an apartment near Devon Avenue and Sheridan Road, and then to a condominium near the Old Orchard Shopping Center in Skokie. She succumbed to cancer in November 1972.
Details of Max's life in Russia and the circumstances surrounding his arrival in America were two things he never discussed with his children. He preferred looking to the future to dwelling on the past, he would explain. Max's family knew only that as a young man he had worked in Kiev and lived with with Jacob's sister Eidel. Her son, his cousin Gania, a bookkeeper about Max's age, was already married when Max went to Kiev. About Eidel's husband, nothing is known except that he had left the family many years earlier.
Early family photographs depict Max as a handsome young man with a high forehead, a steady gaze and, like most of his brothers, a distinct cleft in his chin. Twenty-four when he disembarked in Galveston, Texas with Ben in 1910, he old to enroll school in the United States, but he learned English on his own (although it was heavily accented). He became an avid reader of non-fiction, partial to biographies and books about politics.
He and Pearl Brashevitsky were probably introduced by someone in his friend Chaim Diamond's family or others in the Vasilkov verein. They were married in Chicago on January 19, 1919 and established their first home in Gary, where Max owned a small meat market on Fifth Avenue. The young couple lived above the store. Ben, still unmarried at the time, worked with Max and lived with them in the upstairs rooms. Eventually Max operated several markets, all of which were known as Lezak Brothers Groceries.
Their first child was a son, Robert Samuel, born in Gary in 1920. They had moved to Chicago by the time their daughter Ruby was born three years later. In 1925, they moved back to Gary, and Max prospered there until about 1933. Then, like countless other businesses, Max's enterprise fell victim to the Depression and the closing of Gary's steel mills, the city's principal industry. His stores failed when customers who had been trading on credit suddenly found themselves unemployed and unable to pay their debts.
Given the relative ease of opening a business at the time, Max decided to start over again in Chicago, where his brothers already were established. Moving back "home" also meant that Ruby and Bob could grow up closer to their aunts and uncles, cousins and grandparents. Most of the Lezaks lived in Hyde Park by then, so Max and Pearl settled there as well, not far from Jacob and Beila.
Max suffered from chronic migraine headaches, which occurred as often as three times a week, making it necessary for Pearl to help out in the store. The term "latch key child" had not yet been coined and young children simply were not left at home alone. So, on days when Pearl was working at the store and could not be at home after school, Ruby went to visit her grandparents. Bob, three years older, was already in high school.
The children learned early that they were expected to behave appropriately in their grandparents' presence. These expectations included showing proper respect when entering a room by acknowledging Jacob and Beila before greeting anyone else. If they were very good, they might be invited to sit at the dining room table and have a glass of tea with Jacob and Beila. Often Ruby watched, spellbound, as Jacob took a paring knife and deftly peeled an entire apple in one long, unbroken strip.
Communication between Ruby and her grandparents was difficult. Each understood the other's language but did not speak it well enough to converse easily. Nevertheless, where there is a will there is a way. So Jacob and Beila spoke to Ruby in Yiddish and she responded to them in English.
Ruby was not conscious of Depression-related hardships in her home or those of her cousins, although she knew each family experienced difficulties at one time or another. However, she was well aware of the willingness of each Lezak brother to take into his business any other who might be having financial problems, until he was on his feet again. The brothers also contributed whatever they could to help make life easier for Jacob and Beila and their sister, Sylvia, who by the mid-nineteen thirties was struggling as a single parent.
Pearl Lezak was revered as the family's "shining star," whom her sisters-in-law viewed as their one-woman support system in any situation. Born in Chicago in 1895, she had the distinction of being the only Lezak spouse in their generation who was American by birth. She was a kind, down-to-earth, no-nonsense person, who was known throughout her life for being exceedingly well organized.
Unfortunately, tragedy made her ability to handle a crisis evident all too soon after her marriage to Max. When the family received word in June 1919 of his brother Sam's death in France, which they learned had occurred just ten days after Pearl and Max were married the previous January, it was Pearl who took charge of the situation. Because her English was flawless, she handled all subsequent correspondence with the government.
Max and Pearl were not as religious as the extremely pious and observant Jacob and Beila. Although they belonged to a synagogue when they lived in Gary, and saw to it that Bob became a bar mitzva, they rarely attended synagogue after moving back to Chicago in the nineteen thirties.
Nor did they observe the Jewish dietary laws. The primary reason for this may have had less to do with assimilation than with the requirements of Max's diet, which was dictated by his various medical conditions. The fact that they did not keep kosher became a problem only when Pearl's widowed mother came to live with them, since Grandmother Brashevitsky insisted on observing the rules of kashrut for herself, even in her daughter's non-kosher home.
Bob Lezak became the first of Jacob and Beila's grandchildren to attend college, graduating from the University of Chicago with a degree in geology. The nation was already at war when he enlisted in the Navy soon after his graduation. He entered the service as an ensign, rose to the rank of lieutenant, and saw considerable action during World War II on the aircraft carrier Shangri La.
Following his discharge, Bob went to Oklahoma where he worked on a dam building project and did a stint as a surveyor. After that he spent a few years in Arizona. When Max became seriously ill, Bob returned to Chicago to help his mother in the store. Later, with his cousin Norman Lezak, he operated a meat market in Hyde Park, and then worked at L&L Provisions for Nate and Leonard. When it became apparent that there was no future for him at L&L, Bob left the business and went to work at the Social Security Administration, where he spent the remainder of his career. Bob and his wife, Dorcas, were married in 1951 and had one child, a daughter, Jane. Bob died in 1985.
Max and Pearl's daughter Ruby met Edward Foreman on a blind date not long after his return from the service. Their whirlwind courtship lasted just a few months and for most of that time, Ed had to put up with considerable teasing about all the traveling he was doing between his home in the Austin neighborhood and Ruby's in Hyde Park. They were married in 1945 at the Sherry Hotel by Rabbi Benjamin Daskal of Congregation Rodfei Zedek. Before her marriage to Ed, Ruby attended junior college and worked in the personnel department at the University of Chicago. They have three children. Jack, born in 1949; Larry, born in 1951; and Janice, born in 1952.
Max was considered by many to be the quietest of the Lezak brothers, and Nate often described him as one of the smartest, as well. The chronic headaches that plagued Max for years may have contributed to his reputation for being so quiet, although later there were other illnesses that also took their toll. He died of cancer in 1952, at the age of sixty-five.
No one in the family ever was sure of the year of Ben's birth in Vasilkov, although Social Security records indicate that he was born in 1892. As a young boy, perhaps ten years of age, he worked for a local shopkeeper and lived with distant relatives who were quite fond of him. They were better off financially than Jacob and Beila and offered to take Ben into their home in order to ease Jacob's burden, since he had so many mouths to feed. People tended to describe Ben as "full of life" and "happy-go-lucky," a mandolin-strumming kid who always seemed to enjoy basking in the attention of the neighborhood girls. His family referred to him fondly as "Berryle with the meidlach (girls)."
In 1910 Ben and Max entered the U.S. through the Port of Galveston. After Manny and Sam joined them there, all four brothers went north when decent jobs failed to materialize in Texas. Sam later died in the service of his adopted country; none of the others ever spoke with their children about their earliest days in America.
Before marrying and settling down in Chicago with Cheike, Ben worked with Max in Gary. Cheike also had come from the area around Kiev and had arrived in America with a son, Joseph, born in about 1911, whom Ben adopted and treated as his own son.
Ben and Cheike made their first home at 1441 S. St. Louis, where Meyer was born in 1914. Their son Albert was born in Gary two years later, and Cheike gave birth to Norman and Dorothy, the first of two sets of twins, in about 1917. (It is interesting to remember that Ben also was a twin; the girl died at birth.) Then came Vera, who was born at Uncle Morris and Aunt Chana's home in 1919. Another set of twins, Mildred and Seymour, arrived in 1924.
Their children described Ben and Cheike as "the best in the world." A hard-working family man who smiled easily, Ben mastered English in order to succeed in business, although his spelling always tended to be phonetic. Cheike, however, never learned to read or write in English, despite her family's efforts to teach her.
Doing laundry for such a large family was an overwhelming chore in the days before modern appliances. Ben saw to it that Cheike had someone to help with the washing, even when money was tight and their household furnishings were sparse. He had a good heart and could not bring himself to turn anyone away who came to him in need of help, regardless of his own circumstances. During the Depression, his primary focus was on keeping everyone together and paying the bills. Seldom, if ever, did the children realize how tough things were.
Ben had an aptitude for figures, but the lack of a formal education limited his vocational options and he, like his brothers, was drawn back to the meat business. One of his first jobs after arriving in Chicago was in the stockyards, where it was his task to cut carcasses in half with a cleaver.
Some years later, Ben operated a meat market at 31st and Indiana with his son Albert. The store became known as much for the popular poker den in the back, dubbed "The Blue Room," as for what they sold in the front. Always something of a raconteur who loved a good card game, Ben also was a gambler who had a weakness for the track. Albert shared his father's fondness for both of these activities.
Although Cheike was said to have been one of the most beautiful girls in her village, for most of her adult life she was extremely overweight and in very poor health. She professed little interest in going out socially and was always at home when the children returned from school. Her reluctance to socialize may have been due to self-consciousness about her weight although, during the lean years, family finances also may have been a factor.
An excellent baker, she was especially famous for her challah and cookies, and took pleasure in giving them away to family and friends. Ben regularly brought home fifty-pound sacks of flour because she baked in such huge quantities. Shabbos in Ben and Cheike's home began as it always had in Jacob and Beila's, with the lighting of candles, followed by the traditional chicken soup and her wonderful braided challah.
Meals were never elaborate, but food was always plentiful. It was not unusual for Cheike to share what she could from her table, and her generosity was evidenced by frequent instances of welcoming the stranger and feeding the hungry. On more than one occasion during the Depression, Cheike was feeding a hungry stranger in the kitchen as the family ate their evening meal in the dining room.
Following World War I, much of Chicago's eastern European Jewish population had relocated from the area around Maxwell Street to the greater Lawndale neighborhood. And where there were Jews, there were Jewish institutions, many of which were built along Independence and Douglas (the "Lake Shore Drive of the West Side") boulevards. These included imposing synagogues like Anshe Knesses Israel, founded by Russian immigrants in 1875, the Hebrew Theological College, and a home for the Jewish blind. Others constructed in Lawndale during the twenties were Mount Sinai (originally called Maimonides) Hospital, the Douglas Park Day Nursery, the Marks Nathan Jewish Orphan Home, and the Orthodox Jewish Home for the Aged.
Most of Cheike's shopping was done in the small, Jewish-owned stores on Twelfth Street. Only the wealthy could afford to patronize the stores downtown, although occasionally one might venture as far as Goldblatts at Madison and Crawford. Every few weeks Cheike would buy a pair of shoes for one of the children, then pass the shoes on to the next in line as they were outgrown. Buying new shoes for everyone at one time would have been out of the question.
Like countless others in the neighborhood, Ben's children found a haven at the Jewish People's Institute, in its new, million-dollar building at St. Louis Avenue and Douglas Boulevard. The forerunner of today's Jewish Community Centers, JPI offered myriad activities, ranging from plays performed in English and Yiddish to sports, social activities, lectures and concerts by its own orchestra. All were opportunities that were otherwise out of reach for poor families. Vera became an excellent swimmer at JPI's large indoor pool. Leo Rosten's English class for adult immigrants later inspired his book, The Education of H*Y*M*A*N K*A*P*L*A*N.
The three-story JPI building, which opened in 1926, housed a popular restaurant called the Blintzes Inn and was home to more than fifty clubs with a collective membership of over two thousand. But JPI is perhaps best remembered for its Sunday evening dances, held in a rooftop garden during the summer months. Countless young West Siders met their mates at those popular events.
At the age of ten or eleven, Vera was offered a job that required her to take a girl with a severe vision impairment to and from school on the streetcar. For this she was paid the sum of twenty-five cents per trip, four times a day. She dutifully turned over all her earnings to her mother.
Eventually Ben moved the family south, to 54th and Maryland, to be closer to the rest of the Lezaks. The older children pitched in to help pay the rent. Even though they didn't have much in the way of furnishings, there often were strawberries in the middle of winter and, always, a maid to help with the washing. No one ever doubted that this was a loving home.
Living near Jacob and Beila meant the children could visit their grandparents whenever they wished. Few of Ben's children spoke Yiddish, but they tried, even though they all knew that Jacob understood their English quite well. Always a tease, he delighted in chiding them about their inadequacy in Yiddish. Rolling his twinkling eyes toward the ceiling, he would poke a grandchild and exclaim, "Oy, is this a Yiddl?"
Ben and Cheike's devotion to their family paid dividends as the children remained close and concerned about one another, even well into adulthood. After they married and had children of their own, Sunday get-togethers were frequent events and the cousins were especially close.
Albert was the first of Ben and Cheike's children to leave home. He was nineteen and his bride, Annie Alper, just seventeen when they married in 1935. They had met in 1934 after Annie's father, a junk dealer in Providence, Rhode Island, moved his family to Chicago, where his sister lived. Albert's cousin Mollye hosted a bridal shower for Annie before the wedding.
Ben and Cheike's first grandchild, Barbara Patricia (so named because she was was delivered minutes before St. Patrick's Day) was born to Albert and Annie in 1937. Another daughter, Linda Joy, was born in 1941. Wartime was not easy for Annie with Albert away in the army, and she found it very difficult to cope with being alone and having total responsibility for their two little girls. But life returned to normal after Albert was discharged from the service, and they soon relocated to South Shore.
Known as "Sweet Pea" to friends and family, Albert was a well-liked, happy man with a sunny disposition, who woke up singing every morning. After many years in business with his father, he opened a meat market of his own at 35th and Michigan.
When the children were six and two, Annie decided to take driving lessons at the urging of her good friend and neighbor, Belle Lasin. The place she chose for her instruction was the Greer School, which happened to specialize in teaching truck drivers the rules of the road. After just six lessons, Annie took Albert completely by surprise by getting her license.
Annie, who was the youngest of six children, had had an Orthodox upbringing. It was very important to her that Barbara and Linda have a Jewish education. She saw to it that they attended the Sholom Alecheim School, a coeducational institution emphasizing Yiddish culture, which occupied an old house at 5558 Drexel Boulevard.
Albert developed coronary problems and suffered a serious heart attack when he was in his early forties. After that, it became necessary for Annie to go to work. Always a very stylish, attractive woman, she was employed for the next twenty-five years by the fashionable Joseph Shoes, where she built a significant and loyal following. Another heart attack took Albert's life in 1971, when he was 55.
Ben's eldest son, Meyer, had been overweight from the time he was a youngster. He suffered from a chronic heart condition that may have been caused by a childhood bout with rheumatic fever. His medical history probably was the reason he was the only one of Ben's sons who did not serve in the armed forces during World War II. Meyer's stocky build belied his ill health and gave him the appearance of being very strong.
Meyer married Mary Blitstein in 1941. For several years he, too, operated a meat market in the "belt," the area north of Hyde Park between State Street and Cottage Grove, where there were many small, independent markets in every block. Occasionally took he took his son Harvey to the store with him. The child looked forward to those days with great anticipation, knowing he would be allowed to stand behind the counter with his father, his feet planted firmly in the sawdust that covered the floor. There he waited impatiently for the delicious pieces of cheese Meyer always sliced for him as a special treat.
Meyer and Mary lived in an English-basement apartment in Mollye and Bill Levy's building at 77th and Kingston until Meyer bought a two-flat in Chatham, at 7927 S. Racine. Ben and Cheike occupied the second floor unit. Later, after Meyer's sister Millie was divorced, she lived there with her four daughters.
M eyer enjoyed hosting frequent poker games, with his father and most of his uncles in attendance, while Mary served coffee and homemade desserts. Often Harvey watched from his perch on Meyer's knee. He recalls that he first tasted coffee at one of those games.
In 1945, Ben and his brothers Manny, Nate and Max, pooled their resources to purchase the Wayside Inn in Fish Lake, Indiana, not far from LaPorte. Once a pleasant resort, the property included rental units, a spacious house and a large barn. But the place had been used during World War II to house workers from a nearby ammunition plant, and it was in serious disrepair by the time it was purchased by the Lezaks. Although they dreamed of creating an attraction that would draw vacationers from the Chicago area, a steady stream of guests never materialized and the calibre of the clientele that did show up was best described as undesirable. Finally, they gave up on the notion of a resort. Ben, reportedly the principal stock holder, held on to the property.
Ben's daughter Vera married Irwin (Irv) Fox in 1946. A year later, her younger brother, Seymour, joined Irv in purchasing Joe Lezak's market at 400 East 43rd Street. (Joe had bought the place from Manny in the early forties.) After Irv and Seymour ended their partnership, Irv opened his own market at 35th and Halsted. He subsequently worked at L&L Provisions, ran a retail clothing shop in Harvey, and became a partner in a wholesale meat processing business.
In the early fifties, a few years after Ben took over the Fish Lake property from his brothers, he suggested that his son Meyer and son-in-law Irv move to Indiana to run the Trading Post, a general merchandise and grocery store located in the big red barn at the Inn. Meyer had, by then, given up his own business because of his failing health, and a move to the country sounded like a good idea. So it was that Meyer and Mary and their children, Harvey, Arlene and Barry, moved to Indiana with Vera, Irv and their daughters, Marsha and Gloria.
Meyer's condition deteriorated rapidly, though, and the arrangement was short-lived. At ten or eleven, Harvey was old enough to realize something was wrong, even though it was difficult to grasp the seriousness of the situation because Meyer exhibited no visible signs of illness. Arlene and Barry, several years younger, were still too young to understand and no one thought it necessary to explain anything to them.
Finally, unable to remain in Fish Lake, Meyer returned to Chicago to stay with Albert and Annie. Arlene was sent to stay with Mary's sister for a while and Barry was cared for temporarily by other relatives. Mary stayed in Fish Lake so that Harvey could complete fifth grade. He hated the country school, and he and Mary returned in time for him to start sixth grade in Chicago. Meyer died in May 1955 at the age of 41, just a few weeks after Harvey became a bar mitzva.
Mary's parents had divorced when she was a very young child living on the West Side, and her mother died at the age of 39. Mary had no contact with her father from the time of the divorce until he called one day when she was living in Fish Lake, asking to see her and the children. It was the only time they met their maternal grandfather.
As a widow of 32, Mary thought it might be a good idea to leave Chicago with the children. She took them to Sarasota, Florida, where her sister Bessie lived, but was back in Chicago within just a few weeks. Instead of a new life in Florida, she bought a small house in Jeffrey Manor, at 9736 Van Vlissengen, so she and the children could be near others in the family. That move came just as Harvey was set to begin his freshman year at Bowen High School. He lived at his father's cousin Mollye's home, in the same neighborhood, until Mary closed on the new house.
Cheike had died of a heart attack by then and, to the astonishment of everyone in the family (and the disdain of many), Mary married Ben, her father-in-law, a few months after Meyer's death. Some preferred not to discuss the marriage, but others were sympathetic and viewed this as Ben's way of caring for Mary and the children as well as overcoming his own loneliness. When Mary became ill, her brother Theodore (Ted) pitched in and became a stabilizing influence for her children. She died of pernicious anemia at the age of 42 in 1965, survived by Ben and her children Harvey, Barry and Arlene, all of whom still lived together in the house in the Manor.
Ben's daughter Dorothy was a very kind woman who was heavyset like her mother and was also a victim of heart disease. Possibly because of her health, she lived with her parents and did not marry until she was in her late thirties or early forties. Her husband, Sol (Buddy) Goldwasser, was a slight man who smoked heavily and drove a truck for a living. Often it was a struggle for him to pay Dorothy's medical bills. They had no children, but Dorothy had a close relationship with her niece Arlene, who was a frequent visitor during Dorothy's many hospitalizations at Michael Reese. Dorothy and Sol were people of very modest means and she was not an acquisitive person, so there was nothing of heirloom-quality in their home. Nevertheless, a pitcher and a glass fruit bowl given to Arlene by Sol after Dorothy's death in 1965 are still among her most treasured possessions.
In stark contrast to Dorothy, her twin, Norman was tall and lanky. He was a kind, good looking, quiet man with a dry sense of humor who delighted in telling a joke and then being the first to laugh at it. He was usually one of the "regulars" at his brother Meyer's poker games.
While on active duty in the Pacific during World War II, Norman wrote many letters to his young cousin, Harold Goldberg, the son of his father's sister, Sylvia, and even sent the boy a captured Japanese sword.
Beila, the matriarch, died in 1944, the year before Norman returned from the service. After Norman and Sarah, who was from Watertown, New York, married in 1945, they quickly discovered that finding a place to live in Chicago was not going to be easy. The post-war housing shortage they encountered, which was echoed all over the country, was created by an influx of returning soldiers. It was compounded by the fact that no new construction had been undertaken during the war.
The problem was resolved when Sylvia insisted on giving the apartment at 55th and Ingleside, which she and her son Harold had occupied with Jacob and Beila, to the newlyweds. Whether motivated by altruism or gratitude for Norman's wartime attentiveness to Harold, Sylvia announced that the apartment suited Norman and Sarah's needs perfectly, and she, Jacob and Harold would move to something smaller.
Norman bought the Wayside Inn after Meyer died, but was unable to make a go of it. Later, he and Seymour became partners in a meat market. Norman, Sarah, and their sons, Marshall and Ronnie, moved to the North Side in the mid-1960s. In time, Norman developed coronary problems similar to those that had plagued his mother and siblings. He died following a heart seizure that occurred while he was visiting a market in Hyde Park owned by his friend Harold Diamond.
Seymour and his twin, Mildred, known to all as Millie, were the youngest of Ben and Cheike's children. During the war, Seymour served as a paratrooper in the European Theatre of Operations. A friendly, gregarious "man on the go," he bought his own market, near 79th and Jeffrey, after various business ventures with his brother-in-law Irv Fox, his brother Norman, and various other family members in the years following his return to civilian life. Later he enjoyed a successful sales career at several auto dealerships in Chicago and surrounding suburbs.
He and his wife Shirley, married in 1971, now divide their time between homes in Skokie and Scottsdale, Arizona. He is the father of two sons, Jeffery and Lorrie, born during his previous marriage to Penny Lezak.
As they were growing up, all of Ben's children were expected to help Cheike in some way. Millie found her niche in the kitchen, learning to cook as a very young girl. Latkes, one of the family's favorite Chanuka dishes, were one of her specialties. On one memorable occasion, her father's friend Oscar dropped by as Millie was preparing this traditional treat. To her amazement, even though he said he had already eaten dinner at home, Oscar stayed long enough to drink twelve glasses of tea and consume countless latkes.
Millie still considered herself a bride when her husband, Shelly Berg, shipped out for two years in the military shortly after they were married. Alone in their Hyde Park apartment, it seemed to Millie as though she cried the entire time Shelly was gone. After his return, they had four daughters, Bonnie, Alice, Ellen and Debbie, between 1947 and 1953. She and Shelly were divorced in 1956.
By then, Cheike and Meyer both were deceased. Ben, who was now married to Mary, tried to help Millie however he could. But despite her father's assistance, Millie was forced to take two jobs, one in retail sales at Bramson's, where she worked for many years, and a second, as an executive secretary, to make ends meet. In 1979, after the girls were grown, she married Al Weinberg, with whom she was quite happy. Sadly, he developed Alzheimer's Disease within a few years and Millie cared for him until his death in 1985.
Although Cheike's children always thought of Joe, her firstborn, as their brother, he may not have perceived himself that way. He was a loner for much of his life and in some photographs, even stands noticeably apart from the other members of the family. Joe (also called Yuppl) did not marry, and died in about 1975.
His announcement, as a young boy, that he had become a vegetarian cause Beila to worry excessively about Manny's health and led to endless teasing by his siblings. After pulling Manny aside for many serious talks about his eating habits, the family's landlord eventually persuaded him that he should at least give meat a try--an irony, considering all the years he spent earning his living in the "family" business.
At the age of fourteen, in 1911, Manny decided the time had come to join Max and Ben in Galveston. Coincidentally, this was the same year that his future bride, Celia Weiner, came to America aboard the Lusitania. Like Manny, Celia's roots also were in Vasilkov, where her father was a blacksmith. As far as we know, their families were not acquainted. However, Celia and Manny's sister, Sylvia, were the same age, so it is possible their paths had crossed before they left Russia.
In about 1917, Manny enlisted in th U.S. army. Unlike his brother Sam, who was sent overseas and became a casualty of World War I, Manny remained in the States. After his discharge, he spent some time in Gary with Max and Pearl before settling down in Chicago.
Manny and Celia were introduced by mutual friends from Vasilkov. Stories of their courtship include the romantic image of Celia, a beautiful young woman by all accounts, rowing a boat (available to rent for twenty-five cents) in a park lagoon while singing to her beau. They were married in Chicago in 1923.
Celia learned English quickly after coming to the United States at the age of eleven. An Excellent seamstress, she once had ambitions in fashion design. But like most women of her generation, she believed it was impossible to successfully combine marriage and a career. Instead, she continued to sew at home, doing occasional dressmaking for family and friends, but never accepting money for her work. Adjectives used to describe Celia are all flattering, ranging from sweet, soft spoken and honest, to "incapable of guile."
By 1924 when Sidney when Sidney was born, Manny was already the proprietor of a meat market at 43rd and Vicennes Avenue. He would later explain his propensity for the meat business by claiming, with a wink, that his father, Jacob, had been "a rancher" in the old country. Although Celia never worked at the store, she helped Manny out on occasion by working on the books at home.
Rozelle, born in 1926, was known all her life as Sister because Sidney had trouble pronouncing her name when she was a baby. A second daughter, Iris, was born in 1932. As children, Roselle and Sid were so protective of their baby sister that she often thought of them as second parents.
Both Manny and Celia were natural-born leaders who were exceptionally hospitable and took great pleasure in entertaining. A gregarious mixer, Manny always loved a good party. Often he functioned as the emcee at the Lezak family's annual Chanuka party, where he and his brothers carried on Jacob's tradition of distributing Chanukah gelt to all the children.
He also had a reputation as a prankster, but once the tables were turned and the joke was on him. The occasion was a family Halloween party that he hosted. Celia loaned Manny's straw hat to their daughter Roselle and Nate's son Danny for their entertaining rendition of "Bicycle Built for Two." It wasn't until after Manny jokingly broke the boater over Danny's head that someone informed him the hat he'd just destroyed was his own.
Nevertheless, despite being the life of many parties, Manny could be a very difficult man. He had a mercurial temperament and tened to deminate everyone around him, including Celia, who almost always catered to him. Almost Always. When Manny envested in the Wayside Inn with his Brothers in 1945, he harbored fantasies of escaping the city and moving there. Celia, However, would have none of it. He never forced the issue, and the episode may stand as one of the few times that she actually stood up to him and held the upper hand.
There was another component of Manny's personality, which he felt no one really understood or appreciated. That was Manny-the-philosopher, the poet and intellectual who was motivated to read extensively and even enrolled in a Great Books course in his "golden" years. He once confided to his daughter, Iris, whom he considered a kindred spirit, that it saddned him to have no one with whom he could talk about his esoteric interests. Some family members thought the origin of the depression that Manny later exhibited might have stemmed from these issues.
Manny and Celia, possibly the assimilated of the Lezaks, became Americanized more quickly than anyone else in the family. In one respect, however, they may have gone too far. Like other immigrants who were eager to shed any traits that smacked of the "old country," they eschewed Yiddish except when it served their needs, which is to say, when they did not want their children to understand them. As a consequence, the children grew to feel they were deprived of an important link with their parents' history as well as a means of communicating easily with their grandparents.
Further evidence of the extent of their assimilation into American society included Manny's penchant for golf and their involvement with the Masonic Order of the Eastern Star.
The general impression was that Manny and Celia were always "comfortable." They took regular vacations when others in the family could not afford to, and moved periodically to better, if not luxurious, apartment buildings in Hyde Park. Socio-economically, the South Side was a cut above the West Side. Their goal was always to move closer to Hyde Park Boulevard, where most of the neighbors were apt to be affluent German Jews.
Even after she and Manny had moved "up" to Hyde Park, Celia remained a dutiful daughter. She made regular trips on the streetcar to visit her parents, who still lived on the West Side, where her father ran a newsstand. Sid's childhood sense, inculcated early through many long, uncomfortable streetcar rides with his mother, was that his maternal grandparents' neighborhood was unpleasant, though he could never pinpoint the reason why. He knew only that the people living there seemed different from those he saw daily in Hyde Park.
Even though Manny and Celia belonged to Congregation Rodfei Zedek, a Conservative synagogue, for many years, they tended to view synagogue membership as a matter of social convention only. While there always were new clothes for everyone at Rosh HaShana and presents for the children for Chanuka, there was little if any ritual observance in their home, and no mention of any, specifically Jewish values.
Manny's life and the lives of his brothers were governed by the fact that small, independent markets like their were open every day, from early in the morning until nine of ten at night, and until at least one in the afternoon on weekends. It was a routine that did little to enhance family life. Nevertheless, Manny was a caring employer and an astute businessmann, whose employees, most of whom black, tended to stay with him for a long time. Some of his minority workers even became fluent in Yiddish.
In a community that harbored a great deal of racism, Manny was not a racist. On one occasion, during the war, he invited a black employee, a Marine recruit, to come to his home before the young man left to report for active duty. In the 1940s, this definitely was not teh norm. Manny's was one of the first meat markets in the city to be unionized, and he sponsored a baseball team long before this practice became commonplace.
Sid began working in Manny's store at the age of nine or ten. By thirteen, he was a part-time butcher, and made no secret of the fact that he hated the work. This resentment was exceeded only by the contempt he felt for his friends' nickname for him, "Sid, the Chicken Killer." When Iris was old enough, she worked in teh store's currency exchange on Saturdays. She always felt sorry for her brother because she realized that his obligation to their father limited the time he could spend with his friends.
Sid was his parents' "golden boy," a child who could do no wrong, although he thought they had an exaggerated notion of his intelligence. Nevertheless, he skipped three grades after Celia got the idea he should be accelerated, and graduated from Hyde Park High School at sixteen.
There was no question about whether he would go to college, yet as soon as he matriculated at Northwestern University, he knew he had made a mistake. He was too young, too immature. At sixteen, fraternity life held no appeal. Realizing that he was unprepared for campus life, he left school to give himself an opportunity to grow up. After jobs in the advertising departments of Mandel Brothers Department Store and the Hyde Park Herald, he enrolled at the University of Chicago in the summer of 1942.
The United States had been at war for more than six months. Aware that before long he would be called into the service anyway, Sid convinced Manny and Celia to sign a release giving him permission to become an aviation cadet. Within a year he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant and became a flight navigator. In April 1944, Sid was sent to a base in England from which he flew thirty missions, most of them with a group assigned to bomb Germany. His cousin Leonard Lezak was stationed in Cheltenham, England at the time and the two even managed to get together for a visit. Sid was back in Chicago before his twentieth birthday, and resumed his education as the proud owner of a Distinguished Flying Cross and an air medal with three clusters.
In the early forties, with Sid away in the service and food rationing a major source of frustration, Manny decided he'd had enough of the meat business. Among other things, he resented having to deal with the wartime black market in order to obtain enough meat to satisfy his customers. Believing he was financially secure enough to pursue other interests, he sold the store to his brother Joe. In reality, he was less secure than he thought.
Sid was the first Lezak of his generation to leave Chicago for good. He had fallen in love with Muriel Deutsch, "the girl next door" (actually, her grandparents owned the building Manny and Celia had lived in since Sid was eleven), and so he stayed on at the University of Chicago for law school. Following his graduation in 1949, they married and then drove west to Portland, Oregon, where Sid had decided to settle. Both were eager to escape what they viewed as the confinement of middle class ghetto life in the Midwest, and were anxious to lead lives independent of their families.
In Portland, Sid did labor and trial work and then became a partner in a law firm. In 1961, he was appointed by President John F. Kennedy to be the United States Attorney for Oregon, a post he held with distinction for twenty-one years. He served under six presidents, the second longest tenure for a U.S. attorney in the nation's history. Sid resigned from this post in 1982. Since then he has served as a mediator in environmental, public policy, securities and various other types of cases.
Muriel earned both a master's degree in human development and a doctorate in neuropsychology. Renowned in her field, she is the widely respected author of "The Neuropsychological Assessment," and travels extensively to lecture and lead professional workshops. They have three children, Ann, David, and Miriam. In addition to hiking and backpacking, these adventurous Lezaks have even climbed together in the shadow of Mount Everest.
As children, Roselle and Iris shared a room. Only Sid had a room of his own wherever the family lived. Once, in a burst of creativity, the girls confided to a gullible friend that one of their dolls was a really a reproduction of a dead sister. Sometimes Roselle teased Iris, the shy and quiet one, for wearing her hand-me-downs and not being "cute" like her friends' sisters. When Roselle got a job, one of the first things she did was buy some new clothes for Iris.
Manny's response to Roselle's announcement that she wanted to attend college was simple: "Girls don't go." Well, she did go, but it wasn't easy. First she had to join the Women's Army Corps (WACs), although in order to enlist, she used the name and birthdate of her older cousin Ruby, since she was underage. From then on, she was officially R. Roselle Lezak. Her service in the WACs later entitled her to educational benefits under the G.I. Bill of Rights, which was how she finally managed to go to college and become an occupational therapist.
Roselle and Morris (Moe) Shallat were both considered "older" when they were introduced by mutual friends. Whereas Moe married to settle down, Roselle, still somewhat of a rebel, married "to live." In the 1950s, they bought a home in Highland Park, a North Shore suburb of Chicago, where they lived with their children, Leza and Todd. They moved to Yakima, Washington in 1959, after Moe's unsuccessful attempt to buy a controlling interest in the publishing house where he was a vice president. To his great disappointment, his new insurance sales job in Yakima, which required considerable travel, didn't work out as anticipated. A year later they migrated to California.
Moe was no stranger to economic hardship. His father had lost his dry goods business in Pittsburgh during the Depression and Moe experienced stints as a hobo and a migrant worker in those difficult days. In California, though, he soon found a position with a Bay Area printing house, and was employed there until 1983.
Roselle loved motherhood, doing things for her kids and throwing parties. She inherited Celia's flair for fashion and was at her best when she had an outlet for her creative energy. For a while she ran a successful dress design business in San Mateo, where they lived, and worked for the upscale West Coast retailer Joseph Magnin. In the early 1970s, she went back to college and obtained the credentials necessary to become a social studies teacher.
As a child, Iris considered her parents the most interesting people in the entire family. But by the time she was thirteen she began to distance herself from those who had been the center of her universe. She even went so far as to take a book with her to family gatherings, to avoid socializing with any of her relatives. At Sid's suggestion, she enrolled at Reed College in Portland after high school. By the time she left for college, she was well on her way toward a life that no longer involved the family or their concerns.
Not until much later, when her Aunt Jeanette, whom she had not seen for years, came to visit and perceived an undercurrent of unhappiness despite Iris's pretensions to the contrary, did Iris realize how well her family really knew her. The experience served as an important revelation to her of the "blood is thicker than water" maxim. It became an affirmation to Iris of the almost mystical connections that exist within a family.
By 1960, Iris's marriage to urban sociologist Herbert Gans had ended. Iris, a talented artist, moved to New York City, where she married Jackson Mac Low, a renowned avant garde poet, composer and mathematician. Although he had attended the University of Chicago in the 1940s while she was growing up in the same Hyde Park neighborhood, their paths did not cross until a decade later in New York. They had two children, Mordecai-Mark and Clarinda, and separated in 1970.
Manny and Celia moved from Chicago to Southern California, where they lived in the West Hollywood area. Manny dabbled in various business enterprises, read books and played chess whenever he could find a willing opponent. Celia "rediscovered" her fluency in Russian, after decades of speaking English almost exclusively, and put it to good use showing vacancies in their apartment building to newly arrived Soviet immigrants.
Two weeks before his death from cancer in 1967, Manny wrote to his sister, Sylvia, "I can assure you that the doctors, many doctors, are trying to do the best they can... and I am going along with their scientific know-how by doing the best I can. Only I am adding a prayer to it, and a hope that somebody upstairs guides them to do the right things...Of course, I have Celia to hold my hand and do things. Need I remind you that nothing is too hard for her. She performs her duties in pleasant ways and I appreciate them..."
Two years after his death, Celia kept a promise Manny had made years earlier to their granddaughters Leza and Ann, the children of Roselle and Sidney. To celebrate the girls' sixteenth birthdays, she took them toHawaii for a week, where they toured the islands, visited a volcano, attended a luau, flew over lush terrain, and still had time to enjoy sunshine and beautiful beaches. The cousins, who normally saw one another for just a brief visit, once a year, became close friends during that magical week, which they described as the trip of a lifetime.
Celia eventually moved to Portland. She lived with Sid and Muriel until going to the Robison Jewish Home a few months before she died in 1982.
When Sam said farewell in Vasilkov in 1912, setting off to join his brothers and seek his fortune in America, he was fourteen. Those he left behind included his parents, Morris and his family, and the three youngest siblings, Sylvia, Nate and Joe. Neither those three nor Beila ever saw Sam again. He was one of about twenty thousand Jews who served in the armed forces during World War I, and sadly, he was one of those killed in action.
A report of his death on January 29, 1919 was sent to Max's home in Gary. Sam had identified Max as his next-of-kin "emergency" contact, presumably because of Jacob's inability to speak English. In addition to the details surrounding Sam's death, the report received by the family sketched his division's movements in France and Belgium so that, with the aid of a good map, they could trace his company's movements and gain a better grasp of what had happened.
After he died, there was speculation that Sam might have lied about his age in order to enlist. But this seems unlikely, considering the fact that he joined Company Fat Camp Lewis in mid-September 1917, he was already nineteen years of age.
Sam was one of twenty-two men of the 361st infantry of the 91st Division whose deaths were recounted by Colin V. Dyment for the American Red Cross in the information sent to the family on June 6, 1919. He wrote:
"When the 91st Division went into action at daybreak on September 26, 1918, from a line about two and a half miles long between the ruined villages of Vauquois and Avocourt, in the department of Meuse, eastern France, at the southern edge of the Argonne, Company E was in the right wing of the division.
"As the great artillery preparation of the preceding night had torn up the German defensive system and paralyzed resistance to a great extent for some distance back, the division made about five miles on the first day, and Company E, which started from a line a little southwest of Avocourt, traveled through the wide Bois de Cheppy (Cheppy Woods) and across the plateau beyond, so far as the Very-Epinonville canyon, without having any men killed. It slept that night in an old German trench system across the canyon from the destroyed village of Epinonville, which is five miles north by northwest of Avocourt and twenty miles northeast of Verdun.
"On the second day, September 27, the 91st Division attacked the towns of Eclisfontaine and Epinonville. Company F was at the left of Epinonville and its sector of advance took it about half way between the two towns. It mounted the slope of the Very-Epinonville canyon in the morning of the 27th and began to advance over the plateau extending westerly from the canyon...
"Company F retired late in the afternoon of September 27 and spent the night again in the neighborhood of Very canyon. The following day it was lying in support and had no men killed. On the third night, however, it marched up through th darkness and rain, together with companies E, G and H, to relieve the third battalion, which had been badly shot up between four and five o'clock on the afternoon of the 28th. It was thus in a front line position on the morning of September 29, the day on which the great charge was ordered on Gesnes...
"After the retirement on the of the 29th from Gesnes, the whole 181st brigade, including Company F of the 361st, remained dug in for four days on the southerly slope of what is known in the 91st Division as Miller Hill or Hundred Hour Hill, and in the woods just behind. While the Germans did not approach close enough to use machine guns or rifles effectively, they constantly pounded the American position with shells, and between September 30 and October 3 Company F had three men killed or mortally injured..."
Sam was wounded in the right calf by machine gun fire on October 9, during a period in which five men from his company were killed. At the time, his injury did not appear to be life threatening.
"Company F ...was relieved on the night of October 11 and marched forty miles to the rear, to the neighborhood of Revigny, where about October 18 it entrained for Belgium... From October 20 to October 30 the 91st drilled and rested and equipped itself for the drive on Audenarde, which was to begin at 5:30 p.m. October 31. This drive continued from daybreak, October 31, to November 4, by which time the Germans had been driven from the 91st front across the Escaut River and largely out of Audenarde... Four men from Company F were killed during this operation...
"After the armistice, the division remained inn Belgium until January 1, then moved to the LeMans embarkation area, 125 miles southwest of Paris, where Company F was billeted in the town of Belleme, department of Orne. There, on January 29, Sergeant Samuel Lezak died in the 362nd field hospital at 8:00 a.m. from bronchial pneumonia, which had affected both lungs. The writer saw him fifteen minutes before death and talked with the physician in charge, but the sergeant made no intelligible statements while in the hospital, as he was delirious most of the time."
The report received by the family, written by Lt. Wallace MacKay of Company F, gave the following account of Sgt. Samuel Lezak:
"The sergeant was a splendid character, being clean and soldierly to the last degree. He went through the Gesnes charge standing up. I reproved him for it two or three times, but he persisted. In front of 255 on October 9 he was wounded by a machine gun bullet in the calf of the right leg. On this occasion, Sgt. Lezak, Corporal Mohr and a third soldier went out in front of 255 to get a wounded man in response to a request for volunteers. All three were wounded by machine gun fire and had to get back as best they could without their man. Sgt. Lezak then refused to go to the rear because he wanted to stay with the company, but Lt. MacKay told him he must go because of his wounds.
"He rejoined the company at Belleme after January 1, 1919, and was then all right except for a boil on his forehead. His leg, however, soon began to give him trouble with 'proud flesh.' Then he caught cold and [on] January 27 was sent to the field hospital.
"Both Sgt. Lezak and Corporal Mohr were recommended on the line for the Distinguished Service Cross, but the papers of recommendation were lost in transmission. He was a great student of military tactics and the way he could make his men stop around was wonderful. He attended an officers' training school at Gondrecourt just before the Argonne drive began and I suppose that his record there was nearly perfect."
Sam's body was returned to the family in the United States and he was laid to rest in Chicago. He was the only one of the eight Lezak siblings who never married.
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