Children’s story gets passed from generation to generation

by | Jun 23, 2022 | Other News

The Tsigala Story told to Abbot Granoff, MD, by his paternal grandfather Morris Granoff (Pa) ignited a curiosity about his family’s history. In addition to spending time in Ukraine, the Granoff family story is a tale of travel, perseverance, and creativity. Here is what he learned:

Zalman and Esther were Granoff’s great-grandparents. Morris Granoff said that Zeda, his great-grandfather, told the Tsigala Story to him. They lived in a small, rural town in Ukraine named Tzimyornifka, north of Kyiv. He asked his Zeda where the story came from and Zeda told Morris that his grandfather told it to him when he was a boy. Granoff was told Zeda lived to be 119!

Granoff asked Morris where they had come from when he was five years old. Morris said he asked Zeda the same question when he was about the same age. Zeda told him he asked his grandfather that same question at about the same age and his grandfather told him the family originally came from Spain and during the Inquisition, moved to Turkey. Later, the family moved to Poland and had to take a family name.

In 1808, Napoleon required all Jews to take family names. The family took the name Agradnov, which meant they were from the town of Grad, Poland.

“When we moved to Kyiv, we Russianized it, adding a ‘ski’ at the end to Agradnovski. Jews took the name of the city, town, or area they were from, the profession they were in, or the Jewish sect they were in, ie: Goldsmith, Stein, or Levine,” says Granoff.

In 1903 when Morris was 17, the oldest of nine children, the Czar’s men came to the shtetl, a small Jewish farming village. They took all of the able-bodied boys and men who could fight for the Czar and put them in the army. The Great Russian War of 1903–4 was being fought at the time. Morris was taken to a training camp and given a rifle. He knew that if he deserted and was found, he would be shot. He was not going to fight for the Czar since his village had been on more than one occasion attacked by the Cossacks who raped and pillaged with the Czar’s approval. He threw down his rifle, ran back home and told his family that he had to leave Russia. They gave him what little money they had. They gave him as much food as they could and he took off on his own, heading toward the German port of Bremen.

Morris was an extremely resourceful man. He had to walk the entire way, find food to eat, and places to sleep. When he came to Warsaw, he was walking down one of the main streets in the city and two men came running toward him with a satchel. They threw the satchel at him and kept running past him. He looked inside the satchel. It was filled with money. They had just robbed a bank. The police were chasing the men and now he was in possession of the satchel! He threw down the satchel and began running in the opposite direction. He knew that if any of the money was found on him, he would be put into jail at best or murdered at worst.

When Morris came to the Port of Bremen, he had no money to book passage to America. He had been a baker’s apprentice, so he got a job on a ship bound for America as a baker. He stayed in the bottom of the ship not seeing the light of day for three weeks, baking bread during passage.

The ship finally arrived in New York. Upon disembarking at Ellis Island, Morris got into one of the lines. The American immigration clerk asked him what his name was. He told him Morris Agranofsky. The man told him his new American name was Morris Granoff.

With his new name, Morris initially went to St. Louis where he thought he had family. He met a girl from a neighboring shtetl whom he knew named Freida. They married and he went to work at a bakery. He was the only Jew at that bakery where the other workers were German. Freida, also known as Bubby, didn’t like them because they drank and played poker all the time and were not very kind to Morris.

They moved to Philadelphia and Morris again tried baking. While they lived there, a young Zionist woman who was making her American rounds named Golda Meir stayed with them.

Philadelphia didn’t work out, so they moved to New Haven, Connecticut, where Morris opened a small paper and notions store named Star Paper. This became fairly successful. During the heady days of the ’20s, Morris bought real estate on margin and kept increasing his properties to the point that he became a wealthy man. When Morris had any extra money, he sent for his eight siblings and parents to join him in America. Only one sibling refused to leave Russia because she had married a non-Jewish Russian man.

During the 1929 stock market crash and the following Great Depression, people couldn’t pay their rents. Morris couldn’t pay his mortgages and he lost all his real estate holdings. Star Paper continued to flourish, however, and the family would vacation in Miami Beach during the winter. In 1945, after his children moved to Miami Beach because they didn’t like the cold New Haven winters, Morris sold Star Paper. He and Frieda also moved down to Miami Beach where he retired and lived out his years.

“My family and I lived with Pa and Bubby until I was five years old,” says Granoff. “The highlight of going to bed was Pa telling us the Tsigala Story making sounds like tsigala (a goat). My children and grandchildren loved the Tsigala Story as much as I loved telling it to them.”