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The Barrel Maker

This story is central to my own background. I asked my dad about this story recently. It’s one that always comes up at any Jewish family gathering. He told me that his dad (my grandpa) told him, and that my grandpa’s dad told him this story. In Minsk, Russia, our family was very orthodox Jewish. It was around the turn of the century when this story occurred. This story is a long running one too because my family has always been taught to have a firm handshake, also known as “Levine Hand Strength.” My great-great grandpa was coming from work in Russia one day and a Russian Cossack soldier, typically known to be anti-Semitic, stopped him. After stopping him, he yanked his beard very hard and called him a Jewish slur. Apparently, my great-great grandpa was a prideful man who admitted humility, so his way of showing this, he thanked the Cossack and put his hand out to shake. According to my dad’s grandpa, the barrel maker crushed the Cossack’s hand and blood came out of the finger tips. My dad likes sharing this story because it’s something that helps him reconnect to his heritage and I feel the same way whenever I hear this story at a family gathering. It’s also important to our Jewish background and to remember not let people be bigoted towards a specific group of people. We also reflect on this story of how lucky we are to have gotten out of Russia during this time because if we had stayed, we would’ve endured the Holocaust and other acts against Jews. My dad still doesn’t know if it’s a true story but it’s still a powerful one to tell.

Far Behind, I’m First

Informant first heard this proverb from his business partner back in the nineties. Since then, he has passed along this saying to his own children. It is important to him because it’s something he tries to live by and it brings back good memories of this period in his life. The proverb goes like this: “I’m so far behind I think I’m first.” It means that the subject matter is behind and he is being lapped, so there’s pressure to keep up and to get metaphorically faster. This parallels anything in our lives we feel we are not well suited towards, things we wish we could improve on. He uses this proverb with his children to make them feel more compelled to try harder in life and to work diligently to avoid feeling like they’re in last place.

Coyote Proverb

The informant told me of a proverb she learned from her father who was born and raised in Israel. The proverb is central and common to Israeli culture and is as follows: “It’s better to be the head of the coyotes than to be the tail of the lions.” The informant explained that in the Israeli culture, everyone wants to be a leader and that Israeli people typically want to be super independent. Her father tells her this proverb in times where she feels lost and when she is not motivated to keep going forward. She explained that she feels a sense of pride whenever her dad tells her this proverb, or whenever she thinks about it. I think this is a proverb that we should all follow, it says a lot with minimal language and is telling of true character.

Whiffle Ball

We used an over the line game principle; on the tennis court; we played when we were young, dad and I vs. brothers, to make it fair since I was the youngest. The premise is like baseball with the same rules. If the ball was hit over the fence on the left or right side, it’s an automatic three outs. It used to be that you could peg the runners with the whiffle ball after they left the base and they would get out, but since I would always get hurt by how hard my brothers threw the ball, we changed that rule. We would play this game from when we were children up until our teens, we would always play it during summer holiday events and usually every night in the summer. It was unique because it was our own rules. My dad enjoyed playing it because he loved being with his kids and it was a part of us growing up. It was a nice way to bring us all together and made us feel more familial.

Live Beneath Your Means

Informant learned this proverb in a time of monetary deficiency where he overextended himself in terms of keeping track of money in his previous business world. He heard someone say this and it has stuck with him for decades. The informant said it taught him to spend less and to be diligent about keeping track of money; as a result of this proverb, he now only spends money on his debit card. This is a proverb he will continue to speak about for the rest of his life and has passed it onto his own children.