Howard Lovy | Longreads | November 2018 | 17 minutes (4,186 words)
On the banks of the Danube, there is a place where the great river takes two sharp 45-degree turns, making it difficult for ships to pass unseen. For centuries, this feature made the city, nestled within, a fortification against foreign attack. But from an enemy inside the city’s own boundaries, there was no natural protection. And for a 9-year-old boy, hiding as his neighbors ransacked his grandparents’ home, a wine barrel was the only shelter. There he hid, silent, while around him echoed the muffled, angry, anguished sounds of a pogrom.
The year was 1918 and the place on the Danube was the Hungarian city of Paks, where the local townspeople, having endured defeat in the Great War, were venting their rage on the usual cause of all their woes — their Jewish neighbors. The boy in the barrel was Jóska Lovy. Decades, lifetimes later in America, he will be known as Grandpa Joe and the beloved patriarch of an exponentially expanding family of Lovys — of doctors and engineers, of entrepreneurs and soldiers and writers — scattered across their adopted nation.
But, for now, that future was only as thick as the wood surrounding Jóska and his brother Andor, whose grandparents Jacob and Deborah Grun believed to be safe inside these barrels. They knew the casks would not be destroyed by the mob. The goyim would still need them for the coming grape harvest even if they succeeded in slitting the throat of every Jew in Paks.
Jóska cowered inside the wine barrel, surrounded by near total darkness, yet his senses were assaulted with contradictions. First, was the scent of old oak mixed with the sweet memory of Pesach. The residual smell of wine soaked into the oak barrel in which he hid helped him recall the laughter of family at Passover, the taste of holiday chocolates, the mild intoxication of his grape juice spiked with a touch of the sweet alcohol. Last year was the first seder in which he was allowed to pour a drop of wine into his cup, and he savored the knowledge that, if he drank enough of it, he would grow giddy with drunkenness, the way he heard his adults long after he was supposed to have been asleep.
Howard Lovy | Longreads | September 2017 | 17 minutes (4,225 words)
It was raining the morning of October 6, 1973 — the day before my 8th birthday, and the day of the Yom Kippur War — so they put a very long awning in front of Adas Yeshurun, the Orthodox synagogue in Augusta, Georgia. The canopy ran along the sidewalk so worshipers coming to Yom Kippur services could avoid getting their good shul clothes wet. I looked up at the awning and read, with some puzzlement, the one word on the front: “Elliot.”
Elliot? Very confusing. Elliot was also my baby brother’s name. I gazed up at the letters at the front of the rain canopy as water dripped off the sides. “Elliot.” Huh.
Decades later, when I remembered this day because of its significance in Jewish history, it would dawn on me that Elliot must have been the name of the company that made the awning, or perhaps the family that sponsored the awning (as everything in the synagogue had a sponsor), not the name of the object, itself. But, for years, whenever I would see a rain canopy, I’d call it an “Elliot.”
I contemplated every part of the “Elliot” for a long time as we shuffled behind older congregants on our way into services. I counted the number of poles holding it up, the canopy sections, and the number of people keeping dry beneath it. I did not mind the slow shuffle. I was hoping it would mask my odd gait. It was the latest of what my family would call “Howie’s habits.” This particular ritual involved the need to place both feet even with one another every six steps. It’s not that it felt right to perform the ritual. It’s that it simply felt wrong if I did not perform it, like a phantom limb that needed to be scratched. I’d count six steps, then stop in stride and make my feet even. If there was a person behind me, he might slam into me. If I walked too fast, I might topple when I had to halt. My father, a Vietnam veteran, had mistaken it for “standing at attention,” military style. Later, this particular habit would be embellished by my father into “Howie would stand at attention and salute.” But, I never saluted. A couple of years later, on a hike near the Grand Canyon, I’d be sent back to our motor home in tears because I’d slowed down my two older brothers and Dad with this “standing at attention and saluting” habit. My dad would later amend it to, “And then Howie would stop so suddenly, he’d fall from the momentum and roll down a hill.” Ridiculous. Every third or even sixth step, I’d bring my feet together. That’s it.