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Sunday, March 30, 2008

Sean From the Shtetl

Schelly at Tracing the Tribe writes today about the old "They changed our name at Ellis Island" myth. The linked article tells the apocryphal story of a Jewish immigrant who ending up with the name "Sean Fergusson."

“It’s like this,” the second Jew said. “My name was Moshke Rabinowitz. The first time I arrived at Ellis Island, I failed the eye test, so the doctors sent me back to Europe. There my eyes were treated and cured, and I decided to try again. But what would happen, I thought, if I turned up a second time as the same Moshke Rabinowitz? They’d already know me and send me back again. And so I decided to call myself Yankl Katzenstein. Still, what if someone recognized me? And so there I was, standing in line at Ellis Island and getting more and more nervous all the time, and when it’s finally my turn I’m so flustered that I can’t remember my new name. The immigration official asks me what it is, and I can’t think of it; it’s simply escaped me. ‘Oy, kh’hob shoyn fargesn!’ I say. ‘Sean Fergusson?’ the official repeats, and writes it down on the form.”

In Yiddish, of course, kh’hob shoyn fargesn means “I’ve forgotten.” [Link]

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