The day my Great Gramma chased a thug out with a meat cleaver

celia portrait

I was named for my Gramma Tsiryl – a Galitziana warrior from Lutoviska Poland, with hair that hung down to her ass. (“Why should I cover it? It’s my one vanity, and God understands,” she told her husband, my Great Grampa Chaim, a rabbi so devout that the only time he allowed himself to be photographed was when he held my mother, his first grandchild, for the very first time.)

She ran a Kosher butcher shop near West Rogers Park in Chicago, her hair by now steely grey, knotted at the top of her head — the same color as her eyes.

And so it happened one day that one of the neighborhood thugs came into her shop to “offer her protection.” For a price, of course. And really, he was offering her “protection” from him and all his punk friends, with their knives and clubs and stones, the same band of little shits who would break into other buildings and steal money from hardworking families like my Great Grandparents.

And you know what my badass Great Gramma did? She picked up her bloody  meat cleaver, waved it over her head and chased him the HELL out.

“I knew your father in the Old Country!” she shouted. “He was such a little pisher, just like you, but we’re Landsman,  we’re like family! Now GET OUT OF HERE!”

And yes, they were Landsmen. They shared a shtetl and a syngagogue, and a dairy cow and a cemetery.  This made them like family. And this meant there was a level of understanding in that shared history, and in those ties that bind. But it also meant that she could chase him out of her shop with a bloody meat cleaver.

And all of us who love Israel enough to fight for it should remember this: We ARE landsmen.  

We share the same roads, and bomb shelters. We get our sufganiyot at Roladin on Hanukkah. We pay the same price for cottage cheese. Our kids may serve in the same combat units. And when one of us dies, we show up at the cemetery from all our roads and all our shtetls or mellahs or villages or cities,  even as we murmur “may we only meet at happy occasions.”

And for precisely these reasons, there are times when we have to stand up to some of our own. When one of us says something racist and bigoted and incendiary against any group of people, when one of us torches a mosque or a church or uproots an olive tree. Or burns a young boy to death.

We must condemn these actions because — for better or for worse — we ARE  family, and our fate is in each other’s hands.

About the Author
Sarah Tuttle-Singer, Times of Israel's New Media editor, lives in Israel with her two kids in a village next to rolling fields. Sarah likes taking pictures, climbing roofs, and talking to strangers. She is the author of the book Jerusalem Drawn and Quartered. Sarah is a work in progress.