IN 1911 MY FATHER left a small village in the Ukraine to seek a new life in America. At 16 he had never been on a train, seen an electric light bulb, or tasted chocolate. His first trip by rail took him across the face of Europe from Odessa to Rotterdam. He marveled at the sights along the way, and if the wooden seats were uncomfortable he scarcely noticed. But in his innocence, nothing had prepared him for the agony of the three-week voyage by ship across the Atlantic. Luxury accommodations and good food were not to be had for a mere $28 -- the cost of his one way passage.
On Ellis Island everything was strange. White bread was not cake, tea was not drunk out of a glass, and oranges were not toys. The place teemed with humanity -- families, children, single men and women. Everyone spoke a different language and looked tired and bewildered. My father was frantic with worry that there would be some kind of glitch and he would be sent back to Europe. Perhaps he wouldn't pass the physical, perhaps his papers were not in order. The immigration officials terrified him, as did anyone who spoke English and chanced to catch his eye. Those were vivid moments in his young life that he never forgot.