I’ve sat next to this girl for most of the semester, however our conversation has been limited to commonalities between the pair of us rather than old family stories. I knew she was Jewish and from the Valley. She seemed eccentric, and dressed in that way only those privy to Los Angeles beach culture – striped shirts, ripped jeans, lots of pins on backpacks and patches on shirts – can pull off. I had no idea her family came from Russia, or that they were known for their hand strength.
The following was transcribed from a recording taken in class and shared among three or four other classmates. The background buzzed with chatter from other students, but still the edge of the story shone through.
“He was an orthodox Jewish barrel-builder in Russia at the turn of the century. He started this thing in our family, ‘Levine Hand Strength’ – the firm handshake. He was coming off work one day and a Cossack soldier – these guys are usually pretty anti-Semetic – came up to him and pulled on his beard and called him a ‘Jew bastard’. Anyways, in Russian, my great grandpa said to the Cossack, ‘that was very good of you to let me shake your hand’. According to grandpa Harry, he crushed the Cossack’s hand so hard that blood came out of his finger-tips. That’s the family story that we tell at every Jewish holiday.”
Almost as timeless as time itself, stories of Jews overcoming their oppressors never fail to entertain. Fitting in with movies like “Inglorious Basterds”or “Life is Beautiful”, this story further illustrates the pride Jews feel in keeping a positive spirit while facing constant prejudice and oppression. Additionally, it celebrates the familial trait of strength, both physical and mental, by being retold multiple times throughout the year.