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Magic and Coincidence

by Jean Harris

According to Jung, the world has an underlying order, a ‘collective unconscious’ like a shared memory in which all beings are bonded by deep patterns that connect us to each other and to the Cosmos.

In such a universe, synchronicities are literally ‘coincidences’ — simultaneously occurring events in which their meaning or significance is immediately apparent to the person experiencing them.

And so coincidence was the dominant theme of our lives. At first barely perceptible, it grew unmistakable as the years passed and the notebooks in which I had been recording our activities, accumulated in number.

How else to explain the multiple odd occurrences which wove themselves through our rich lives? If you succeed in living long enough, you get a glimpse of the pattern. I have experienced at regular and recurring intervals, a complexity of patterns.

This much I realize: there is design in our adventure. All of us are subject to some cosmic law, bound one to one, each to each, unmistakably, irrefutably linked together in spite of ourselves. All events, all lives are connected.

Everything happens as it must. 



“The first thing to remember,” Poppa used to say, “is that you would not be here if it wasn’t for Shepsl and the circle of gray hair.”

Which was how he always began this story:

Poppa, when l5 years of age, left his comfortable home in Poland, to travel with his father to Palestine, where they hoped to establish a homestead. My grandfather, a Zionist, and follower of Theodore Herzl, realized that Jews in Europe would always be subject to the whims of their rulers, and needed a safe haven of their own.

Palestine, then part of the Ottoman Empire, was the place to reclaim their Biblical heritage.

My grandfather bought a small house and land from an Arab family in Petah Tiqvah, the first Jewish settlement in the Holy Land. My Poppa, l6 years old, worked hard helping his father build a bakery, plant orange groves, and drain swamps, but it wasn’t enough to hold him. He craved adventure, so one day he left a note for his parents, rode a donkey to the port of Jaffa where he boarded a Greek ship headed, eventually, for Galveston, Texas.

On board he made friends with a family from Argentina, Jews, travelling to the States, hoping to settle in Seattle where they had relatives.

Right away Poppa noticed a strange thing. The father of the family, and the two sons, each had a circle of gray hair, the size of a quarter, in the middle of their heads. “It runs in our family,” they told him. “All the men have it.”

When they learned that Poppa was a baker, they told him to look up their Uncle Shepsl who had a bakery in Brownsville, Texas. Not far from Galveston. “He’ll give you a job,” they promised.

The ship finally docked in Galveston, and Poppa made his way to Brownsville where he found the bakery, and introduced himself to Shepsl. Right away he noticed something strange. Shepsl also had a circle of gray hair in the middle of his head.

Shepsl was kind to my father. Gave him a job in the bakery and let him sleep in the back of the shop until he found a room in a boarding house nearby.

Poppa began at once to learn English and to read . In particular, he loved the adventure stories of Jack London and the muck-raking of Upton Sinclair.

One day a young man who worked in the bakery with Poppa, suggested they join the Army. “They’ll feed us, and they’ll give us uniforms and we’ll get to travel. So what’s wrong with that?”

The year was l9l6. Pancho Villa was raiding the Texas border towns and General Pershing was putting together an Expeditionary Force to go into Mexico and capture the notorious bandit. Now my Poppa had never even heard of Pancho Villa but he figured this would give him a chance to see Mexico and meet a dark-eyed senorita, so he joined up.

Sent to Camp Cody, New Mexico, they assigned him to the Cavalry, the only Jew in the regiment, and subject to a lot of teasing.

It wasn’t long before he began to regret his impulsive action. First , he thought of deserting, but talked himself out of it. When they learned he was a baker, they assigned him to the company kitchen, and his life changed. He was baking kichel and mandelbrot and rugelach for those lanky cowboys, and teaching them how to pronounce the strange sounding names of those delicious baked treats. The soldiers began to respect their new baker and cook and gave up their teasing , and my father began to enjoy Army life.

His Captain, Dr. Murphy, took a liking to this young immigrant lad, and kept an eye on him.

Within a year, the United States was engaged in the war in Europe and General Pershing disbanded his Expeditionary Force and was sent to run things “over there.”

Poppa was discharged, and followed Captain Murphy to Sioux City, Iowa, the Doctor’s home town, where they both re- enlisted in the regular Army. They put Poppa into the Artillery but Captain Murphy happened to meet him coming down the steps of the Court House where he signed up, and had my father transferred to his own Ambulance Company. “A good thing too,” Poppa used to say, “because the artillery were the first ones shipped overseas and gassed.”

Poppa , now a Sergeant, was assigned to the Quartermaster Corps and made Chief Cook and Baker for his Company.

After basic training, the company was sent to Fort Dix, New Jersey, to await sailing orders for France. The Jewish Holy Days were approaching, and Poppa was given a three day pass.

He thought he’d go to Philadelphia.

One night, sitting in the Jewish Welfare Board writing letters home and feeling very lonely, he saw the door open and a young Corporal enter. When the Corporal saw my father writing at one of the tables, he joined him. The Corporal removed his cap and placed it on the table. My father looked up and gasped. That’s right! The Corporal had a circle of gray hair in the middle of his head.

When my father got over his astonishment he asked: “Do you know someone named Shepsl in Brownsville, Texas?”

“Of course!” the Corporal answered. “He’s my uncle!”

Then my father told how he met the family from Argentina on the ship, (also relatives of the Corporal) and how they sent him to Shepsl.

When the Corporal learned my father had a three day pass and was considering going to Philadelphia, he urged him to head for New York instead.

“I’m going there myself, “ he said, “although I can’t leave until a day later. But I’ll give you my girlfriend’s address in the Bronx and she’ll fix you up with someone and we can double date and show you around.”

On Friday, my father took a train to New York. He got off at Grand Central Station and saw the subway. He got on the Lexington Avenue express and was told he would have to change trains at 72 nd street.

At 72 nd street, he got on the train marked Bronx. It was rush hour and the subways were packed. So many people … where did they come from and where were they all going? Standing in the middle of the train holding on to a pole, he managed to reach into his pocket for the address.

"Pardon me,” he asked the man standing next to him. “Is this the train for Caldwell Avenue?”

“Not exactly,” the man answered. “You have to change trains at l25th street and then take a local for two stations.”

The train rumbled on.

He felt someone tug at his sleeve.

“Excuse me, Sergeant, did you ask for directions to Caldwell Avenue?”

“I did.”

“Well, excuse me for butting in, (she tried to whisper), “that man gave you wrong directions. Change trains where I get off. Just follow me.”

She was small, young, full-figured, large black eyes, intelligent looking , a plumed hat, silk gloves, kid boots, he had never seen anyone quite like her before, except in the movies. She looked like Theda Bara. Fashionable, sophisticated; yet she seemed familiar, like one of his sisters. He couldn’t take his eyes off her.

When the train approached the station, she deftly manipulated her way through the crowd and off the train. He followed closely. They stood on the platform together while the commuters rushed past.

“I get out here,” she said. “This is my stop. But you take the train on this other platform and it will take you to Caldwell Avenue.”

“How can I thank you, Miss….”  

“Rabinovitz,” she replied brightly. 

And so it began. She gave him her address and the following day he showed up at her door with a five pound heart -shaped box of chocolates, his uniform pressed, his cap in hand, and even though she had a date with her steady beau Julius, to see a basketball game, she broke it.

She showed Sgt. Rosenthal her town. They went to Broadway and she pointed out the theatres and the restaurants , the burlesque houses and the night clubs. The Great White Way.

It was as if they had always known one another and had come together after a long separation. He soon learned she was from a town in Lithuania only fifty miles from his own home in Poland, and he had to travel all the way from Poland to Palestine to Texas to New York to find her.

He was dazzled. When it was time for my father to return to Camp, they promised to write. He was sent to France and they wrote to each other every day.

A year later, after the Armistice was signed and he was returned to the States, they were married in Toledo, Ohio. It was only their third meeting but it was a marriage that was to endure for 60 years.

They moved to Sioux City, Iowa, to be near Captain Murphy, now their family Doctor, who delivered me.

And I’m telling you, Poppa used to say, “It’s all because of Shepsl and the gray hair.”

Page Two of Magic and Coincidence, Family Tales>>


©2006 Jean Harris for SeniorWomenWeb
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