Grandpa Joe’s parents had just arrived in Brooklyn from a shtetl in Ukraine when he was born. His father found work in Manhattan’s garment district while his mother struggled to keep a steady Jewish home and raise him without money or resources. During the Depression, the first month’s rent was free in most tenements. Throughout his childhood, his family packed up what little they owned and relocated to a different apartment every month.
One of the few things they kept was a coffee percolator, given to Grandpa Joe to play with—this was the only toy he ever owned. From this contraption, he made ships, wheel barrels, hats and animals in faraway lands. His imagination turned this percolator into a daily adventure, and since before he knew how to speak, my grandpa was the best at working with what he had.
He was drafted to the army and went on to graduate college and become a lawyer and philanthropist in New York City, the only home he ever knew. Whatever he had, he utilized and shared with those who had less. My grandpa never spoke about his life before school, but with his whole heart he believed in effort—the tremendous effort it took his parents to get to America and raise him, the effort that led him to college, and the effort he put into improving the lives of others was at the core of his being. Because of his life, I have opportunities. When things feel impossible, I remember that 90 years ago in this very city, my grandpa was making magic with a coffee percolator.