Heritage Denied

March 7th, 2019 § 0 comments

Vodka was a significant part of HG’s Belorussian heritage. HG’s late, beloved father, Hershele Zvi Freimann, grew up in the small town of Smulovich. HG’s late, beloved mother, Chyka Kopkind, grew up in the “shtetl” of Plestyanitz. Smulovich was more urban. Tragically, the Jews in these places were murdered by the Nazis. (HG had a very aged cousin who survived and was the subject of a documentary some dozen years ago filmed by HG’s cousins from Paris and Madrid). The Freimann family was modestly prosperous. They owned a flour mill and a vodka distillery. Plus a tiny glove factory. This was destroyed in a pogrom after the Russia-Japan War. Local Russian officials claimed Jews were to blame for Russia’s humiliating defeat. The angered, mostly drunken, peasants spared the mill and the distillery. After all, flour and vodka were essential to life. Gloves were a luxury item. On horseback, HG’s father (nicknamed “Grisha”) delivered vodka to the local taverns. He used a two-horse wagon to transport wheat, flour, and potatoes. After “Grisha” and his brother, Fykel, migrated to the United States their brothers who remained in Belorussia asked “Grisha” and Fykel (in 1910) to relinquish their ownership in the mill and distillery. They were glad to comply. All members (spare one) of the Belorussian family (and the properties) were destroyed by the Nazis. Curiously, “Grisha” and his family never drank vodka either in Belorussia or the United States. They associated the spirit with drunken (and periodically murderous) peasants. The Freimann drink was brandy–cherry (vishniak) or plum (slivovitz). Potent stuff that was drunk at dinner with cups of black tea from the samovar. Wine was unheard of (except at the Passover seder). HG has had a long love affair with vodka. It’s HG’s drink with caviar, smoked fish, boiled potato with schmaltz herring and sour cream. “Grisha” always had his potato and salty herring with beer and a shot of rye whiskey. HG drinks beer only as a chaser. For some years, HG drank vodka on the rocks as a pre-dinner cocktail. Unfortunately, there was a tendency to overindulge. This led to some harsh words from BSK, the person who had to pick up HG when HG fell to the floor. The result: No vodka for HG for the last two and 1/2 months. Doesn’t miss it. Rosé wine. White wine with a dash of Aperol. Icy Negroni (tiny bit of bourbon, sweet vermouth, Campari, orange bitters). These have replaced vodka. BSK smiles.


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