a Jewish Story

    February 2009            
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The Bullah

By Gerry Holzman © 2009

My Uncle Milton discovered the Bullah when he was four years old.

To be exact, it was on the day following his fourth birthday that he announced its existence to his astonished parents. At first, they were incredulous that such a momentous discovery could be made by a four-year old child, but the more details Uncle Milton provided about the Bullah, the more accepting they became of it. Ever since that revelation, no one who has been told of the Bullah has questioned its existence. Nevertheless, because a few questions have been raised over the years about its nature and many questions have been asked about its location, I feel a powerful obligation to family and friends –and to posterity--to tell the full story of the Bullah as I know it.

According to Great-Uncle Itchie, a dry goods merchant from West Virginia and the highly reliable custodian of my mother's family history, Milton's extraordinary discovery took place on New York's lower East Side in the year 1914.

As Uncle Itchie tells the story, it was on a unseasonably warm day in early April that the revelation occurred. He had come up from West Virginia on his annual buying trip and was staying at his brother's Hester Street apartment. The Lopinsky family had just finished supper. While they sat around the table sipping their tea, Sarah, Uncle Milton's mother said, "Miltalah, show Uncle Itchie the wool cap from the old country, the cap that Tante Bessie gave you for your birthday."

Uncle Milton ignored her and played with his silverware. Sarah was not a woman to be put off. "Miltalah," she persisted, "I'm talking to you. "Fhurstaist vus eir zug der?" (Do you understand what I'm saying to you?) "Milton Lopinsky, for Uncle Itchie, show the cap from the old country!"

Uncle Milton continued to play with the spoon and the fork. His father, Jake, irritably pushed the silverware aside. "Milton, the Tante Bessie cap, from the trunk, get the cap."

Uncle Itchie says he never forget how slowly Milton got up and walked to the big steamer trunk. "Like a condemned man walking to the gallows", Uncle Itchie said.

Reluctantly, little Milton lifted the heavy trunk lid and made a show of looking inside. After a minute of futile searching he looked up hoping for a reprieve. Their somber faces told him that there was to be none. Sarah and Jake wanted Itchie to see the old country cap. From past experience, Milton knew their scowls were the harbinger of much unpleasantness.

"Milton Lopinsky, so where is the cap from the old country?"

It was in that instant of impending doom that four-year old Uncle Milton received his mystical inspiration and the full magnificence of the Bullah was revealed to him. As Uncle Itchie remembered the moment, darkness and fear suddenly departed from Uncle Milton's face and were replaced by a radiant and celestial smile.

"It's in the bullah." And then, even stronger and with the confidence that belongs only to those who Truly Believe, little Uncle Milton boldly asserted, "The cap from the old country, it's in THE BULLAH!"

"And where is this place, this Bullah?" Jake demanded.

Uncle Milton waved his hand around in an imprecise but self-assured manner. "It's there, Papa, out there…The Bullah is out there…it's got lots of stuff…the old country cap…Mama's scissors…Hazel's book… all kinds of stuff…" It was as if he was looking into a room that no one else could see and trying to describe its contents to those who were blinded by reality.

"But Milton, where…where is…the Bullah?" Sarah was insistent but the hard edge was gone from her voice. She was now very, very curious. When she was a child in Russia, her mother used to tell her tales about worlds she could only vaguely imagine— phantoms made from mud, spirits that visited in dreams and demons that stole your body, Could it be, she wondered, that her Milton had been given an insight into this mystical world?

Little Milton Lopinsky, age four years and one day, empowered by that transitory insight which belongs to the very young, immediately sensed that he was on secure and fertile ground.

"I can't tell you Mama, but it's out there…that's where all the stuff is…out there…in The Bullah."

And that is how, according to my Great-Uncle Itchie from West Virginia, the existence of The Bullah was first revealed to the world by my Uncle Milton Lopinsky.

"So where is this place, this Bullah?" Only Uncle Milton knew the secret of The Bullah's location and that secret died with him some fifty years ago. But everyone in his mispochkah—and in his mispochkah's mispochkah knows that The Bullah itself will live on forever.

In fact, The Bullah does not simply live on, it thrives. And, how it thrives! It is no longer just a small room containing a few books, a scissors and a cap from the old country; it is now a colossal warehouse filled to overflowing with the misplaced "stuff" of our lives--odd socks, handkerchiefs, Bar Mitzvah fountain pens, photographs of old boyfriends, single earrings, receipts for charitable deductions, contact lenses, credit cards shopping lists, --everything that the uninitiated thought was lost forever.

So this, then, is the great gift that little four-year old Uncle Milton Lopinsky left to all the generations of his mispockhah. For us, the absolute conviction that nothing is ever lost or misplaced. For us, the exquisite serenity of knowing that every single thing is either here—or it is There.

For us—The Bullah.


* mispockhah=extended family

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from the Februrary 2009 Edition of the Jewish Magazine