Dec. 28, 2022

Surprising Immigrants: The Untold Family History

Surprising Immigrants:  The Untold Family History

A 45-year-old tape recording leads to revelations about Michael's family, including a kidnapped rabbi, a Johnstown drowning, and Joe Biden's junior high baseball team

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Episode 12 Notes

Surprising Immigrants:  The Untold Family History

It blows my mind that one tape recording from 1977 could lead to so many revelations about our family history. If any of you have similar artifacts with an interesting tale of your family history, we'd be so happy if you'd share it with us.

In our case, the revelations keep coming:  After this episode was released, I contacted a distant cousin, who told me that our guess about the meaning of "rag dealer" was totally wrong. It had nothing to do with used clothing.  Our great-grandfather and three of my grandmother Clara's brothers literally sold... rags. They created a Baltimore firm called the Maryland Wiping Cloth Company, purveyors of cotton cleaning rags.  The business closed down a while ago.  Which is really a shame because I use way too many paper towels.  But such is life.

Meanwhile, the other details of our family history still hold. For instance, here's the synagogue in Joniskis Lithuania where my other set of great-grandparents were married around 1864. We know that my great-great-grandparents were innkeepers.  The video quickly flashes by the inn across the street from the synagogue, which is very likely where they lived.

And this video shows the rabbi's house in Pumpenai Lithuania, where our great-grandfather Moses Mendel was the rabbi -- before he was kidnapped and taken to Lygumai,.

Click here to see the synagogue in Lygumai attended by our grandfather Aaron Levitt (whose photograph appears at the top of this page) during the first 8 years of his life, before the family moved to Tennessee.

Aaron's career took off when he started working for Castleberg's Jewelry Store in Baltimore in the early 1900s.  After he was sent to Wilmington Delaware to open a branch of Castleberg's, Aaron's friend and mentor Mr. Castleberg was in a terrible accident.  So Aaron took out this notice in the newspaper.

In the 1920s, Aaron was a master of marketing for the Levitt Jewelry Company in Wilmington, Delaware.  Here are some of the ads he created.  The first one tells the history of his career.  

This photo shows the grand re-opening of his store in 1927 with his 11-year-old son Harold in knickers to the left of the showcase.

Though Levitts may be prone to exaggeration, it seems accurate to say that Melvin Levitt was a very promising and talented violinist before he joined his father at the jewelry store.  Here's an article about his audition with Jascha Heifetz's teacher Leopold Auer in New York...

One gap in the family history is the story about what happened when Cindy and I went to Baltimore to try to find evidence of Clara and Aaron's life there.  What we found is truly truly eerie.  Almost unbelievable.  But it happened, I promise you.  I really don't believe in ghosts and I'm not superstitious.  But here's that crazy tale, recorded at New York City's storytelling show, Tale.

And last of all... in case you need one of the many useful and funny expressions that my grandmother Clara Levitt repeated constantly, here's a guide to her best phrases.

More info:
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Will anything get tossed? Could happen. THANK YOU for listening!


I Couldn't Throw It Out, Podcast Episode 12

Surprising Immigrants: The Untold Family History

MICHAEL SMALL: Hello and welcome to I Couldn't Throw It Out, the podcast where I tell the stories behind the treasures I've saved.  And then we TRY to throw them out.  In this episode:  A tape recording I saved for 45 years helped me track down many surprises in our family history, including this crazy story about my great-grandfather in Lithuania:  


Secretly at night, they kidnapped him and they took him to Ligam, and there he stayed for 14 years.


It's a tale of how one immigrant family became American and spread across the continent. And it's coming up right now…

  I couldn't throw it out
 I have to scream and shout
 Before I turn to dust
 I've got to throw it out
 Before I turn to dust
 I've got to throw it out  

MICHAEL SMALL: Hello Sally Libby. 

SALLY LIBBY: Hello Michael Small.

MICHAEL: I have a question or you.  Do you ever feel that we haven't had enough of my relatives on this podcast?

SALLY:  I was just thinking that!

MICHAEL:  Yeah, I read your mind.  Today, we've got some help with that.  We have one-two-three-four people joining us today.  And they are all my first cousins once removed.  It would roll off the tongue much easier if you were my second cousins.  But I looked it up – and that's not what they are.  We just have to live with this.   So...  Cousins Once Removed!  I want you to meet Sally Libby, the co-host of this podcast, I Couldn't Throw It Out.

SALLY:  Hello gang!

SUNNY LEVITT:  Whoa Sally!

BARRY BAUM: Hi there.



MICHAEL:  So, we are gathered here today – Once Removers -- because all of us, except Sally, are members of the Levitt family.  Doesn't matter that we have different last names.  We're all Levitt.  Here's the connection:  My mother Doris was the sister of your grandfathers, Harold and Melvin.   So it's one sister, two older brothers.  All named Levitt.  Just to get clear which of us comes from each of those Levitts, I'd like to ask each of you to tell me just a little bit about yourself – and the key point – the name of the Levitt grandfather that you're related to.  Let's start with Sunny.,

SUNNY:   So I’m Sunny Levitt.  I live in the Washington DC area.  I've been here for over 30 years.  And I am 56 years old. Very proud to say that.  I have been for the past 14 years an executive leadership coach and career coach.  And I am the granddaughter of Melvin Levitt and Sylvia Altman.

MICHAEL:  I think that that's a natural segue into… Matt.

MATT:  It is.  Because we share Melvin and Sylvia as our grandparents.  So Sunny is actually my first cousin.  To fill you guys in on the rest, my name is Matt Lawson.  I am turning 50 this year.  No follow-up questions please.  I started out my career as a sportscaster.  I have now become a corporate sellout and I do media relations.  So now I'm just on the other side of what I used to do.  And I've been living in Texas for the majority of my life.  Over 40 years.

MICHAEL:  Speaking of sports, Barry, would you be next?

BARRY:  Sure.  My name is Barry Baum.  I'm approximately 52.  I live in Milwaukee.  I've lived here for the past four years.  Previously, I lived in Brooklyn.  And my grandfather was Harold Levitt.

MICHAEL:  And, the last but not least, Josh – tell us about you.

JOSH: I am Josh.  I am 26-years-old.  I live in San Francisco in the Haight-Ashbury district.  Was born and raised here. And I am an architect for the city of San Francisco.

MICHAEL: And then there's your other claim to fame.  You're the grandson of Harold Levitt.

JOSH: Yes!

MICHAEL:   Now if you've wondering why I gathered you here, it's mostly because of one object.  Something I've saved for 45 years in a box that I've lugged with me wherever I went.   It's a recording of your distant relative Sadie Levitt Wiseman.  Sadie was your grandparent's first cousin, and she was really interested in family history.  She tracked down details about our ancestors that almost everyone had forgotten.  In 1977, my father recorded Sadie telling the story of our family.  And I have a cassette of it right here.  Voila!

JOSH:  (kidding) I'm sorry, Michael.  What is a cassette?  Could you tell us?

MICHAEL: (groans) It's something you used to record on in the ancient days. And it holds many wonderful details about where all of you came from.   Sadie got her information mostly by interviewing family members.  Barry – let me ask you something.  When Levitts tell a story, is it always totally 100% accurate?

BARRY:  No it is not.

MICHAEL:  Have you ever heard a Levitt exaggerate?

BARRY:  Yes I have. 

MICHAEL:  Okay, just checking.  Thank you.  That was a little reality check. So this tape may not be the most reliable bit of history.  But here's why it's amazing.  Until this tape was made, nobody knew a thing about our ancestors.  Nothing.  But in this tape there are clues.   And those clues lead me to the Internet.  And what I discovered is astounding, at least to me.  We now know exact details about our ancestors all the way back to the time of the American Civil War.  Things that many families don't know.  When I tracked down all this stuff based on Sadie's clues, I got so excited that I had to print it out.  So now I don't just have a cassette, I also have a big stack of papers. The reality is:  When I check out from this planet sometime in the future, someone's gonna get hired to throw this stuff right in the dumpster.   I have some very close family members who'd say, "So what?  It's the past!  Throw it out!  Why do we need this stuff?"  But I know there are thousands of people out there who understand what I'm talking about.  People who've held onto boxes of old photos and family histories.  We can't let this stuff get thrown away.   So that's why I gathered the four of you. My only hope is to tell you the unknown tale of your past, and make it so exciting – or at least exciting enough -- that one of you will want to keep this stuff and promise me that you'll pass it on to another generation.  The tale that  I pieced together involves family members who died LONG before we were born.  But when you learn more about them, you can see that their actions, their decisions, their mistakes sent out ripples that determined who each of us is today,    Their story includes some BIG surprises.  A kidnapping, a death from appendicitis, a deadly flood, a 10-year-old girl who gets left behind when her parents move across the ocean – talk about home alone!  Then a violin virtuoso, valuable jewelry, cheap crappy jewelry.  There were two horrible accidents.  And a  lot about Wilmington Delaware.  Barry – where's your friend Joe Biden?  He loves Wilmington.

BARRY: Did you invite him, Michael?

MICHAEL:  I thought you'd invite him.

BARRY: I apologize.  Maybe the next one… the sequel.

SUNNY:  Michael, I'm sorry to interrupt but my father played baseball with Joe Biden in junior high school.

MICHAEL:  What?  That is the interruption that we want!  Now let me pause to ask a really basic question:  Sunny, do you feel slightly American?  Totally American?  

SUNNY:  Yeah, I feel pretty much 100% American.

MICHAEL:   The thing is… we  ARE totally American.  But the truth is, for us – and for many families like ours -- our roots here are not deep at all.  I'm just the second generation born in this country and you're the third. Not a long time.  Josh – do you know what country your mother Donna's grandparents lived before coming to the U.S.?

JOSH:  I know it's Eastern Europe.  And something is telling me Lithuania.  But I don't know where I'm getting that from. I could be totally making it up.

MICHAEL:  That is the crazy thing.  That's normal. So many immigrant families cross that ocean and leave their history behind them.  And I'm just curious, why is this the case?  Does anyone have an answer that they want to give?  Why don't immigrants – like our grandparents and great-grandparents -- save the details from their life on the other side of the ocean?  Does anyone have thoughts about that?

MATT:  You might be asking the wrong question, Mike.  To me, I'm no sure it's that they don't save them.  It's that they don't talk about them.  And why do they not talk about them? I mean, this is a complete shot in the dark but generations ago, I think there was probably such a huge emphasis placed on becoming American and fitting in here that people kind of abandoned at least publicly talking about where they came from because they so wanted to be included and involved here.  But I could be wrong.

SUNNY:  I agree with that. I think there was a huge emphasis on, you know, immigrants who came to this country to assimilate as Americans.  And so there was either this desire or need or thought to subjugate a little bit of your European, or history, or wherever you came from, as Matt said, in order to fit into this country and become American.

MICHAEL:  You know, that really makes sense. And in a way, it's still true. If I want to tell the real story of our family, their whole lives were about different customs, a different religion, they even spoke a different language.  Probably not the best thing to share if we want to fit in.  Of course, there is one among us who always fits in.  Sally – can you tell us about your family history?  Where were your great- grandparents born?

SALLY: How 'bout we go great-great-great….?  My relatives missed the Mayflower by a few minutes.  They came over in the late 1600s.

MICHAEL:  Oh boy.  That's why we invited one WASP to join us.

MATT:  Well no.  One and a half.  Because my father's side is exactly the same.  They were late 1600s.  My great-great-great- grandparents were born here as well.  But on the other side.

SUNNY:  Yes, and same with me on my mother's side, who did a genealogy and went back six generations to England. 

MICHAEL:  Whoa.  Well, there you go.  But the Levitts did not emulate you.  They can over and they forgot everything. Or they didn't… as you said, they didn't talk about it.  Okay, before we get started, I have another question:  Do any of you belong to a synagogue or do you follow any Jewish practices at all?  Josh – do you follow any?

JOSH:  Yes.  I had bar mitzvah at 13.  I wouldn't say I really practice anymore or go to Temple anymore. But growing up, I definitely did.  And it was a good community to be a part of.  I still have a lot of friends from Hebrew School.  So yeah, I really enjoyed it growing up.  But yeah, not really practicing anymore.

MICHAEL:  And Barry, what about you?

BARRY:  Belonged to a synagogue until a couple of years ago.  My kids were bar mitzvah-ed. We got to synagogue – now it's on Zoom – on the High Holidays. And we celebrate Chanukah and Passover.

MICHAEL:  And, of course, those bar mitzvahs – all of them, including yours – were the largest events that ever happened in this country. Matt – what about you?

MATT: I was raised in a house where my mother did her best.  We lit Chanukah candles and sang songs next to our Christmas tree.  But in the end, the Christian side won out for me and my family.

MICHAEL:  Yup.  And Sunny?
 SUNNY:  Yeah.  I can remember up to about age 3, it's pretty much the same.  Lighting the menorah and a Christmas tree around the same time.  My parents divorced when I was three-and-a-half and so, as Matt said, the Christian side won out. I did go to a few seders with my father, when visiting him in New York.  But that's the extent to my experience, either with a synagogue or the Jewish tradition.  

MATT:  Michael, I have… one of my favorite artifacts from this family is I have Melvin and Sylvia's menorah prominently displayed in my house.  And I don't…. I wish I knew more history about it.  I don't know how far back it goes.  But it's clearly extremely old.  

MICHAEL:  The interesting thing is, we all are very different in this range. But I want to ask you to stop for a minute and look at your hands.  And if you are looking at them, we now have a lot of Levitts looking at their hands.  And what I can tell you is that the story I'm telling today is in these hands. It's you.  It is us.  Despite our differences, it is us.  You are looking at the hands of the great-great-grandchildren of...  a Lithuanian rabbi known as Moses Mendel Levite Sisinsky.

JOSH:  Oh wow.

MICHAEL: Sadie mentioned that Moses Mendel was born in 1846 in a Lithuanian town called Yanishok.  So I looked up Yanishok on Youtube... and I found that ...  just about a year ago... a travel agency called Jerulita Travel posted a video tour of the Jewish section of that town, which is now called Yonishkiss.  It turns out that the Jewish population in the 1800s included a few thousand people.   Many of them left at the end of 1800s.  Any of them who remained in the 1940s -- which possibly including distant relatives of ours – they were all murdered during the Holocaust.  Today, there are no Jews in YON-ish-kiss.  But that's not the end of the story. You can still see in the center of town two large synagogues – one white and one red – right beside each other, and very close to the church.  That already tells us a lot.  First of all, Jews could never be happy with one synagogue.  They always need another, a second one, so they can say, "I would NEVER go that synagogue if my life depended on it."  Also, those buildings tell us that Jews and Christians – at one point – got along well enough to worship right next to each other.  Now here's the modern-day surprise:  The current residents of Yonishkiss and some of the Jews who moved away have worked together to restore both synagogues, turning them into museums and event spaces.  The interior of one of them had been destroyed by the Nazis and the Soviets, who used it as a gym.  But the other one has been beautifully preserved.  So you can see the exact place where your great-great-great-grandparents prayed in the early 1800s.   And if you want to take a look, I put a link to the clip on our website:   These two buildings were particularly important to Moses Mendel because, as Sadie learned from her research, he was kind of a brain.  And, for brainy Jewish boys in those days, the best possible option was to study to become a rabbi.  Here's how Sadie tells it: 


SADIE LEVITT WISEMAN: He was considered a prodigy at a very early age. He had a remarkable attitude for learning. But dire circumstances – financial – precluded intense learning until he was accepted at a gratuitous yeshiva, a seminary.  And he spent six years there. And he met many Talmudic scholars. And at 18, he returned to his home in Yanishok and married Leah, the daughter of a small innkeeper.  And he stayed there and he developed his potential. And he became a very renowned spiritual leader.


MICHAEL: Sadie goes on to explain that Moses become a rabbi who was in pretty high demand.  In the version she tells, he was an amazing speaker. So he went around Russia giving lectures about life in the poor Jewish communities.  Is there anyone on this call who can carry a tune, who can sing well?  Josh- how's your singing?

JOSH:  Um, well, it's not great.

MICHAEL:  Well, here's the thing.  Moses Mendel was great  at singing Hebrew prayers, like a cantor.  But we all know you don't need a good voice for that.  So that explains the rest of us.

JOSH:  That's major.

MICHAEL: Moses had one other skill.  Male Levitts, please close your ears for a minute.  I hope you're not listening. He was also a moyl.  In other words, he did that little operation when baby boys are born.

JOSH:  Oh God.

MICHAEL: If any of you inherited that skill, I don't want to hear about it.  Okay, you can listen again.  The main point is, the guy was versatile.  A one-stop purveyor of everything rabbinical.  He must have had a ton of energy.  Which may explain a little bit about his offspring.  But we'll get to that in a bit.    After their marriage,  Miriam Leah and Moses moved away from Yanishok.  And this lead to a very interesting situation.  I'm gonna play you another clip from Sadie.  So you can hear about it. 

 SADIE LEVITT WISEMAN: From there, he became the spiritual leader of Pumpian. His reputation had grown and he received a call to come to Ligum – a small community in Russia – from Pumpian.  But the Pumpianers didn't want to let him go.  So secretly at night, they kidnapped him and they took him to Ligam and there he stayed for 14 years.


MICHAEL:  Your great-grandfather was kidnapped because of his Jewish learning!  And that is all part of how you got where you are. If that hadn't happened, who knows?  Now here's another crazy surprise. You know those two towns she mentioned?  Ligam and Pumpian.  On Youtube, right now, there are video tours of both of those towns too.  They were and still are TINY towns.  I don't know how it ended up that there are video tours of both of them. In the video of Pompian, which is now called Pompenai, you can see that the synagogue is gone.  But they show the rabbi's house.  And Moses was the rabbi.  So that's probably the exact house  YOUR family lived.  You've heard the expression shabby chic?  Well, only one of those terms applies to this house.  And it ain't chic.  Let's just hope it was nicer 150 years ago. In their other town Ligam, the synagogue is still there.  It's a brick structure, in pretty bad shape – now it's used for storing grain.  It's very rural there.  Must have been a lot of Jewish farmers.  So you may wonder:  If Moses Mendel was such a prodigy, wouldn't he have gone to a larger town, or a richer town?  This seems to bring us back to the theme of Levitts and exaggeration. Maybe Moses Mendel wasn't quite the religious celebrity that Sadie described.


Barry, I'm coming back to you again.  Can you just confirm? Have you ever heard exaggeration when a Levitt told a story? 

BARRY:  Yes I have.

MICHAEL:  There we go.  What we know for sure is that Miriam and Moses stayed in Lithuania for 14 years after their marriage, and had seven children.  The oldest son Harry would be your great-great-uncle, or something.  It sounds as if he was ambitious.  In the late 1880s, he took off and went to the U.S. And he must have been in his 20s.  Unfortunately, he made a big mistake.  He moved to moved to Pennsylvania.  To a particular place called Johnstown.  Yes, the Johnstown Flood happened a year after he went there. And was never heard from again. Your relative. Your relative.

SALLY:  Wow.

MICHAEL:  But he wasn't the only person with a plan to get outta Lithuania.  The people of Ligam – the town -- started moving to the U.S. in large numbers.  Two of the places they settled were Baltimore Maryland and another place you might not guess – Chattanooga Tennessee.  According to Sadie, those Jews in Tennessee, they wanted a really good rabbi who was a good speaker.  So they sent for Moses Mendel. He went, and he took the whole family with him.  They go there in 1892.   They made a real trip out of this.  On the way to Tennessee, he stopped in Baltimore to give a speech to other families from Ligum.  Then he went to Virginia.  Have any of you ever been in Norfolk Virginia?  Anybody?

SUNNY:  Well, my mother's side of the family are from Norfolk, Virginia.

MICHAEL: If you don't know it, you have relatives on your father's side too in Norfolk. And what ever that synagogue is – it's in Berkley, across the river, your great-great-grandfather consecrated that synagogue. I think you just go there and look for short bald men and you're probably related to them.   When they got to Tennessee, Moses Mendel was the rabbi for the B'nai Chein congregation.  They later changed their name to B'nai Zion – and it's there to this day.  This is when the Sisinskys decided one last name was enough.  So they tossed the second one.  That's how we became Levitts. Partly, it's practical – the name is easier for Americans to pronounce.  But it's also kind of a prestige move.  Supposedly, this name means that we are direct descendants of Levi, who lead one of the 12 tribes of Israel.  The Levites used to have special religious status.  They helped out with rituals in the synagogue. Often they were artists.  But I have some bad news.  This status is passed through the father's family.  So Sunny – you and your brother Mark are the only two with a male Levitt father.  That means you're the only legit Levites.  And the buck stops here because neither of you had male kids.  In other words, our branch of the family -- downwardly mobile.  One interesting detail is that the Ochs family – the ones who owned the New York Times – they're now Episcopalian New Yorkers.  But they started as Jews in Tennessee.  It's true.  And Sadie was proud to say that your great-great-grandfather used his skills as a moyl – and you remember what a moyl is – he used it at the birth of Adolph Ochs.  But I looked it up and that's not true. Because Ochs was born in 1858 and had no sons.  And, to me, it is  so interesting that this got into Sadie's story.  Quite possibly, she just wanted our family – the Levitts -- to have a piece of the New York Times.   But wait, there's more!  I was checking some details yesterday on Wikipedia and I confirmed that Sadie was wrong.  But she was close.  It was not Adolph Ochs who went under the knife with Moses Mendel at his bris.  It was his nephew Julius Ochs Adler, born in Chattanooga on December 3, 1892.  Not only did Julius become a major hero in both World War I and World War II, but he also became publisher of the Chattanooga Times and General Manager of the New York Times.  Barry – you worked at the New York Post.  I worked at People Magazine.  We could have gone right to the New York Times and claimed a family connections.  Do you regret it? 

BARRY:  I had an interview at the Times once.  I should have brought that up.  I didn't know about it.

MICHAEL:  That's a missed opportunity. So we're gonna get to the second family tragedy after the Johnstown Flood.  They'd been in Chattanooga a very short time – maybe a year or so – and  Moses Mendel got an acute case of appendicitis.  I don't know if it was his religious beliefs or superstition, but he wouldn't let the doctors operate on him.  And he died.  And they ran out of room in the cemetery for the synagogue when he died. So B'nai Chein bought a pretty bit of land on the hillside outside of town and your great-great-grandfather was one of the first people buried there. It turns out Cindy and I have a goddaughter in Chattanooga, Tennessee and two of our close friends live there.  And we went to visit them.  And so we went out to the cemetery. And we knew that his grave was at the top of the hill.  He had the best view of anybody.  And we went to the top of the hill, and all the headstones had crumbled and we couldn't read the Hebrew.   So we couldn't tell which was his.  But we knew he was at the top.  So we read the Kaddish – and, Sally, that's  the prayer for the dead. 

SALLY: I know that.

MICHAEL: It was surprisingly moving.  As Sally will tell you, I cry at everything.  But it felt really powerful.  To be there at his grave.  I'm sure, in 1894, the rest of the family was crying too.  Not only from losing him, but they were stranded in Chattanooga.  Moses Mendel's brother Abbe took over as rabbi of the synagogue for a while.   Butt then, here's another interesting thing: Abbe moved to Halifax Nova Scotia where he became the shohen or ritual slaughterer for the Jewish community there.  Did you know that you have relatives in Halifax Nova Scotia?

MATT: Nope.

SUNNY: No, I did not.

MICHAEL:  Sadie really loved this story.  She got a kick out of it.  He was sued by the SPCA. They thought he was doing cruelty to animals.  So he had to go to court and explain kosher butchery.  Which, by the way, was the most humane way to do it at the time. And they ultimately let him off.  That was your great-great-grandfather's brother.  But the rest of the family had to decide what to do and you remember, I told you, where did the people from Ligam go?

SUNNY:  Baltimore?  Was it Baltimore Maryland?

MICHAEL: That's a win.  That is a win for Sunny.  Okay, good job.  Miriam Leah packed up all her kids, took 'em back, and she started a small grocery store on what was then called German Street and now it's called Redwood Street.  It's absolutely amazing when you think about people like Miriam Leah -- how tough they were and how they survived.  She was born and married and had children in Lithuania, got seven kids across an ocean, took them to Tennessee and back again, bounced back from losing her husband, started her own business, and somehow became so American that she changed her name to Mary Lou. And she got a very interesting proposal for a second marriage, which Sadie shared.  

 SADIE LEVITT WISEMAN: A suitor came to call on her. And so she said, "I'm not pretty, you can see. I'm not smart, you can hear. And I haven't any money, I'm telling you."


MICHAEL: I just love that story 'cause she was so honest.  They got married.  They ended up in Michigan. And the family spread out in other directions too.  At least one of our relatives went to Utah and started a whole Mormon branch of the family. Don't know if Moses Mendel would be too thrilled that his grandchildren left the faith – but wherever he is, he has to get over it.  Anyway, the good news is, this is where we get to the hero of our story.  From our standpoint, he's the most important child of Moses Mendel and Mary Lou.  Their middle son and your great-grandfather, Aaron Sisinski -- who later became Aaron Levitt. Without Aaron, none of us would be here.  But there's another important point.

He's the one who took the leap and helped the Levitts become 100% American .  In the 1920s, Aaron published a newspaper advertisement for his business. This included cartoons that showed the stages of his career.  First, he was a newspaper boy and later a traveling, selling silverware sets on a payment plan.  The year 1909 was a very important one for Aaron.  That's when he did one of the best things he could have done for us:  He got married to Clara Leibowitz.   I'm wondering cousins.  Did any of you meet Clara Levitt?

SUNNY:  Several times.  Yes.

BARRY:  Yes, yes, yes.

MICHAEL: Yes. Two of you did. 

MATT:  Yeah.  Same here.  I have photos of her when I was little.

MICHAEL:  Josh, no?


MICHAEL: Okay, can anyone give me quick impression of her?  Sunny, anything?
 SUNNY: I remember her being very bright.  She always looked up at you when she spoke with you, with a big heart and a very big face for her stature.  Which is what made her so loving. And a big smile.

MICHAEL:  It's interesting, Sunny.  You were very generous as a child.  Because most people did not see her as warm and fuzzy.  She left a strong impression.  And I really can't explain why.  But I loved her.  She had a huge impact on me.  Changed my whole life.  I'm not even sure why. She definitely taught me that it's okay to have your own style.  Her look was, like, pre-punk.  She was about 4' 8".  She had her blue hair – she dyed it blue and combed it straight up.  She had silver butterfly glasses, shaped like butterflies.

BARRY: Oh yes. The glasses.   I remember the glasses.

MICHAEL: She had thick arthritic fingers with bright red fingernails. She had a cane that she'd use to ram the legs of anyone who got in her way, if she was getting off a plane.  She had a thick German accent.  She had big hearing aids that squeaked and only made her more deaf.  When she put them in, she heard worse. And false teeth that would fall out in very inconvenient ways. I remember one night – it was dark -- we were driving home from a restaurant on route 128 north of Boston. Clara yells from the backseat, "Pull over!"  Unfortunately, the meal did not agree with her.  Maybe there was something un-kosher in it. So she got out of the car – we pulled over. She got sick.  She got back in the car. As we get closer to home, my mother asked Clara a question and when she answers, we realize Clara's teeth are not with her any longer.  So we turn around the car, we drive back, we find the same spot.  My father – with a flashlight – goes digging for those teeth.  He finds them and we go home.

SUNNY: Oh my word.

MICHAEL:   She was so entertaining. She also taught us all how to play canasta.  And she would compete with us like crazy.  She wanted to win. She would say, "I'm gonna mop the floor up with ya." And also, when it was time to take a card, she'd always say, "You can't get poor from taking. You can't get poor from taking."  Over and over again.  She had more expressions than anybody you'd ever met. What do you say when you're in the checkout line at Whole Foods and the cashier tells you that that tiny little heirloom tomato is gonna cost ya ten dollars?"

SALLY:  What a ripoff!

MICHAEL: Okay, Clara's got a better one for you.  The next time it happens, say this: "Jesse James had a horse."

SALLY:  What?

MICHAEL: Do you know what that means?

SALLY: No!  What does it mean?

MICHAEL: It means, "If you're gonna rob me, go get a fucking horse!"

SALLY:  Okay.

MICHAEL:  That's one of her best ones.  She used to say it when we went to the deli and they tried to charge her for smoked salmon. Nobody ever knew what it meant.  But she got her point across.

SALLY:  I bet she did.  She was Clara.

MICHAEL: Here's the part that seems really strange to me.  My parents had absolutely no interest in Clara's history.  My mother never asked who her grandparents were. It was like Clara dropped from the sky when her Doris were born, and that was it.  They didn't care.  So we all picked up on that. We didn't ask her anything.  We didn't ask her about her history. Like, why did she have a German accent?  She was a walking  history museum.  And we never went into a single gallery one.  We just stared at the stone façade.  That's it. We never asked, "What's inside?" Pretty much that's all we knew.  Until…. I don't want this to sound like an ad. But  I discovered and  And I got some interesting documentation that explains Clara a little bit.  We never knew her age.  And I can confirm that there are official government documents where she has five different birthdates.  Apparently, she kept getting younger instead of older. The dates get later and later and later.  That was Clara.  I found out from census that she had seven brothers and sisters. And here's the interesting thing to explain her a little bit – the person who was maybe a little difficult.  Her father Beryl came to Baltimore in 1890.  He sailed from the port of Libau in Latvia – which may be how he got the last name Lebowitz.  In the U.S. census records, he is listed as a "rag dealer." I have so say, I'm not really sure what that means.  So can we agree that maybe he was a used clothing dealer?  Does that sound right?

JOSH: Yeah.  That sounds right.

MATT: Sure.

MICHAEL: Definitely sounds like an old-school kind of job.  And something tells me he was an old-school kind of guy.  He was 15 years older than Clara's mother Sarah.  So either he was a cradle robber.  Or they had an old-school arranged marriage. He came to Baltimore first on his own.  Then Sarah came over with some of the kids six years later in 1896.  Here is the weird part.  I found the paper, the document of Clara's voyage to the U.S. Your great-grandmother. And she came from Bremen Germany and she left through the port of Libau.  And her trip  was in 1900, 10 years after her father left and 4 years after her mother left.  She was in Eastern Europe without her parents from age 10 to 14.  The census says she joined the family in Baltimore when she was 15. And she already had a career. She was a milliner. Anyone know what a milliner is?  

SUNNY: Makes hats.

MICHAEL:  Yeah.  Hatmaker.  But come on!  She was 15-years-old. How many of you had to be listed as a job when you were 15? Your great-grandmother was not from a wealthy family. And they lived right in the downtown area, if you ever see 914 East Fayette Street. Used to be a slum. But now it's all been torn down and replaced by a post office. Now it's interesting that Clara's sister Jenny also grew up also in poverty. And she had a daughter named Bea. One of the things about Bea relates to another family. Has anyone here  been to Baltimore?

SUNNY: Many times.

MICHAEL: Do you know the name of the symphony hall?

SUNNY: Meyerhoff.

MICHAEL: Yes.   Do you know a name of the wing of one of the museums?

SUNNY: I don't.

MICHAEL: Meyerhoff.  There's Meyerhoff everywhere.  The Meyerhoffs did very well. They were not like the Lebowitzes.  And Jenny's daughter Bea married Jack Meyerhoff.  So Jenny – Clara's sister – went from the worst kind of poverty to having a daughter marry into one of the wealthiest families in Baltimore.  And they were my mother's first cousins.  Of course, the most important person in Clara's life was not a sister or a niece. The most important person – even many years after he was gone – was her husband Aaron Levitt. Because of Sadie's research, we know more about him that we knew about Clara – even though we knew Clara and we didn't know him!  There's a lot more information about him. Aaron's first big job was at Castelberg's Jewelry Store, in downtown Baltimore.  While he worked his way up to become the store manager, he must have had a good salary. He and Clara eventually settled in a nice home up near Druid Hill Park.  I'm certain that Aaron and Clara shared wonderful times there.  Or, at the bare minimum, two wonderful nights.  Because those nights produced both of your grandparents.  Melvin who was born in 1910 and Harold who was born in 1916.  Without those nights, Sally and I would be on this call all alone, recording a podcast about her dog.  Sally, tell us about your dog.

SALLY:  My dog? Misha?


SALLY:  Oh she's a beautiful fluffy king shepherd.

MICHAEL: Okay, that's enough of that.  Enough. Okay. Back to the Levitts.  About six weeks after Harold was born, Aaron got asked to start a branch of Castleberg's Jewelry Store in Wilmington Delaware. Did you know all this before Barry?  Had you heard all this before?

BARRY: No. No.

MICHAEL:  Oh, okay good.  Because there are some good twists coming.  We haven't had all the twists yet.  He was running that store in 1921 when this crazy thing happened.  It affected al of us, this crazy thing.  You wouldn't think so.  But it did.  Joseph Castelberg –  he was the owner of all these jewelry stores.  He had branches in Washington, Norfolk Virginia, Atlantic City – he called for the elevator in the Emersonian Apartment House in Baltimore, which is still there to this day.  Near Druid Hill Park.  And this was one of the fanciest residences where rich Jewish people lived.  It was financed, built up in 1912 by Isaac Emerson.  Anyone know what he invented?  No?  Bromo Seltzer.  Does anyone know what Bromo Seltzer is?


MATT: I do not.

SUNNY:  Is it like Alka Seltzer?

MICHAEL:  Yes.  Sunny's hot today.  She's got all the answers. This apartment had high carved plaster ceilings, marble sinks.   It was very fancy.  I saw all this in an article about the apartment which was renovated recently.  So we learned all these details. When the elevator arrived, Joseph stepped in and something went wrong.  He was caught in the door and he died in a terrible way.

SALLY: Oh my God.  Awful.

MICHAEL:  Yeah.  So he was really close to Aaron because the Baltimore newspapers wrote, "Aaron Levitt told us what happened."  So Aaron was the voice for the Castleberg family.  And it had a big effect on our family.  Because Aaron was about 37. He had just been naturalized a citizen. He wasn't naturalized till he was 37.  And he had to close the store.  But he immediately opened his own store – which was called The Levitt Jewelry Company.  This, Sally, is where we begin to see what a clever guy he was.

SALLY:  Okay.

MICHAEL: He couldn't afford to stay in the Castelberg store.  So he moved down the block to a second-floor space at 724 Market Street.  And he took out a big newspaper ad.  Now Sally, when you got out of college, you were very  interested in marketing.  So I sent you the ad copy.  And if you can take a look at that, can you tell us what his slogan was.

SALLY:  Leave it to Levitt!

MICHAEL: He always had a new way to promote the store.  The big example was his credit policy. He gave credit to everyone.  This was the perfect angle for the 1920s, when everyone was spending money like crazy, even if they didn't have it. Sally, can you read the credit policy for us?

SALLY: " Why worry about cash?  You can buy anything in my stock on the easiest Credit Terms imaginable.  Just bring along an honest face and I'll show you how much faith I have in you.  You wear as you pay – the Levitt way!"

MICHAEL:  There we go.  That's a slogan for all of us.  You wear as you pay – the Levitt way.  The guy was into marketing. And, last of all, Sally, this is the cool thing. He had gone from a nice store owned by Castleberg.  He's on the second floor in a little tiny space.  How does he turn this into a good thing?

SALLY: "Our upstairs location brings prices down!  Lower rent makes lower price tags – you'll realize that the minute you see the way my goods are marked.  I'm perfectly willing to trade big profits for big boosters any day – I want to get you folks ROOTING for me!  My shop isn't so big but my values are!"

MICHAEL:   There we go!  The Levitt way.  Sounds like some Levitts we know.  That's the family tone. His business started growing.  He moved down the block. And instead of just selling jewelry – I don't know if you guys know this -- he sold electrical appliances, clothing, eye glasses and fabrics.  My mom used to tell the story that one of the customers asked him, "What kind of fabric is this?" And he didn't have a clue.  So he could only think of the word "schmatte" – which, Sally, means rag in Yiddish. So he said to the customer, "Oh, it's genuine shmattay cloth." And they bought it. Apparently.  He was doing better and better.  They always had a gimmick.  So clearly to get publicity, he decided to remodel and have a big reopening on September 10 1927.  There was a big article about it in the Wilmington Morning News.  The story, interestingly, appears right next to a huge   photo of Charlie Chaplin's ex-wife Lita Grey, who was going on some kind of dramatic tour.  And then Aaron Levitt next to her.  It might have been a slow day for news.  Now I have to do a little digression which I hope you'll humor me for.  Which is that many years later, I was working for People Magazine and I was covering a Friars Club Roast.  I can't remember who it was for.  But I figured they put me at the loser's table in the back. I'm wearing the tuxedo I bought in college for ten dollars.  The guy next to me – he does not look like his tuxedo cost ten dollars. He looks very well-dressed.  Very adult. Unlike me. And so we start talking and I say, "Well, what do you do?" And he says, "I'm in the jewelry business." And I go, "Oh my God. My grandfather was in the jewelry business. Was your father in the jewelry business? I wonder if they knew each other." And I said, "Have you heard of Levitt's jewelry store in Wilmington Deleware?" And he said, "No I haven't. My store is in New York." And I said, "Oh, is it on 47th Street where you buy all the jewels? Because my grandfather used to come up to 47th Street to buy jewels there."  He said, "Well, actually, we're farther up Fifth Avenue." And I'm like, "Woooo, good for you.  The high-priced spread." And I said, "What's the name of your store?" And he said, "Harry Winston." If you ever heard the song "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend," Harry Winston is mentioned in that. 

SUNNY: Oh yeah.

MICHAEL: I had no idea who he was. So I was like, "Oh well.  That's really great. Well, someday maybe you can talk to the Levitts and maybe everybody will get together."

JOSH: Oh wow.

MICHAEL: I'm sure Aaron would have been happy with that.  It seems that Aaron was a very  likeable guy.    The newspaper article for the store opening said this:  "Mr. Levitt makes up for his small stature by a readiness of wit and  congeniality that has won him a host of friends."

BARRY: That's not a Page Six mention, Michael.

MICHAEL: No, I don't think so.  Sadie felt the same way about her uncle.  Just so you don't take it just from me, I'm gonna play this little tape.  She knew him.  So this is what she said:


SADIE LEVITT WISEMAN: He was a very energetic personable man, a keen sense of humor, and must have been an excellent businessman.  Jolly, wonderful host. Generally speaking, he was always alive, witty, alert. He gravitated toward things fine – concerts, music, that kind of thing. I think he had intellectual tendencies.  He liked fine things.


MICHAEL: So Aaron had many excellent qualities.  But when it came to being a father, he made one big mistake.  When your grandfather Melvin was 15, he was written up in the Wilmington newspapers because of his amazing skills as a violinist.   In 1928, when he was 18, he was chosen to represent Delaware in the National Orchestra of the United States.  After that, he was invited to go to New York to try out to be a student of Leopold Auer, who was Jascha Heifetz's teacher. Melvin wasn't chosen.  But really only the best students got a  chance to try out.  This was a BIG deal. Then, in 1932, when he was 21, he was the violin soloist with a  student orchestra in the gold ballroom at the DuPont Hotel. But Aaron didn't trust this.  According to my mother, Aaron said, "What's the best you could hope for?  Playing in the Philadelphia Symphony?"  So he made Melvin go to Wharton Business School at the University of Pennsylvania. He convinced Melvin to work in the store.  This was crushing for Melvin.   We called him Uncle Milky because he was cheerful with us.  But his later life was very very sad. And Aaron made a very bad call.  Sunny, does that sound right to you?  

SUNNY:  That sounds right.  I understand he put that violin away and never played it again.

MATT: Can I add to the tragedy, Michael?


MATT:  My mother Lois – which is Melvin's daughter and the other musical Levitt – my mother was in the Michigan Opera Company and was a pretty renowned opera singer for a while, my mother had that violin, a Stradivarius, and it was stolen in a break-in of our home, a couple years after Melvin died. 

MICHAEL: I'm debating whether to tell you this.  But I'm gonna go wild and I’m gonna go for it. One of the things I learned from my many unlucky years of trying to play the violin is that it says Stradivarius.  Which means that it's in the style of Stradivarius.  Unless it's the Levitt family where over the years, we maybe think we have a real Stradivarius. There are 650 Stradivarius violins in the world.  And in the 1920s, when Melvin would have gotten his, it would have probably cost more than Aaron earned in his entire lifetime. It's unlikely that it was a real Stradivarius.  Was it wrong of me to tell you that?  

MATT:  No, actually I think that makes me feel better. If there was some sort of quarter-million-dollar lottery ticket stolen from me, that would have been harder to deal with than the hard truth later on that perhaps maybe a Levitt exaggerated. It's hard to imagine.

MICHAEL:  Yeah. There we go.  Okay, so I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say that two more events in Aaron's life had a big effect on what happened to our family.  Unfortunately, both of these events were terrible. The first was unknown to anyone alive today till I found newspaper clips about it.  In 1925, when he was 41, Aaron was driving down Sycamore Street in Wilmington.  A 13-year-old girl named Anna Heap ran into the street and he hit her.  Her skull was fractured, and she was unconscious for three weeks in the hospital.   Aaron, who had called the police for help, was charged with assault and battery.  And was held on bail.  Of course, he was really upset about the accident and visited Anna in the hospital many times.  Later, Aaron paid a settlement of $3500 – which was a lot of money at that time.  The good news is that eventually Anna recovered. To me, this leads to one interesting – and I think related -- fact.  But this is really me pushing it, but… It had been 10 years since Clara and Aaron had a child.  And he was very upset, obviously, after this accident.  But something like nine months after all this was resolved, they gave birth to Doris.  I think there was some comforting that went on and it resulted in my mother. I can't prove it. But, you know, I feel there's some kind of connection between those two events.  They created a new child. But then, about a dozen years later,  Aaron had a second accident.  And t his one changed everything.  It was 1938 and things were going well for Aaron.  In January, he was co-chair of a fundraiser dance at the Hotel DuPont, once again in the Gold Room – everything happened in the Gold Room of the Hotel DuPont. They were raising money for the synagogue where he and Clara were founds, Temple Beth Shalom. But the next month, on February 14, 1938 – oof! Valentine's Day -- at 7 PM, he stepped off the curb in front of his house on Baynard Boulevard.  There was a street light right above him.  But it was dark at that hour.  And a 19-year-old named Harold Lowery was driving down the street at that moment.  Harold had been arrested on New Years Eve for drunk driving after a collision.  They let him off with no charges.  This time, Harold Lowery was drunk again.  And he hit Aaron.  And he hit him hard.  The newspapers covered the event in great detail.  Sally, can you read what they wrote?

SALLY: "The impact of the body and the automobile was heard by a number of residents of the section.  Among the group that ran into the street was Mr. Levitt's wife, unaware that it was her husband who was the victim.  When she recognized the injured man, she became hysterical."

MICHAEL:  To think of Clara – I mean, you only knew her a little bit Barry and Sunny – but to think of that person hysterical, on Valentine's Day, in the street, it's… it's… it's… terrible.   Aaron went to the hospital with a fractured skull and a fractured right hip.  He died the next day.  This had a big impact for our family.  For Melvin, then, there really was no choice.  He had to go in the business. I looked in the 1940 U.S. Census and Melvin and  his wife Sylvia and their young son who was your father Aaron, named after Aaron Levitt, moved back into the house with Clara and Doris.  Did you know that?

MATT:  No.  No I didn't.

MICHAEL: Yeah. They moved back.  This is the power of Clara. It's like… "I need you. You're coming!" And neither Clara nor Doris was ever the same.  Doris told a story. She said she saw the whole thing.  She said she was waiting to go to a brownie meeting and get picked up by her friend's brother.  She said her friend's brother was drunk and hit her father.  So she blamed herself. But it wasn't true. I remember telling the story, Barry, to your grandmother Evelyn, and she was like, "That's a bunch of crap."  But Doris – who was, if you knew her at all, she was generally cheerful like Aaron. But she never could process the sadness.  And she never could deal with death.  If anything bad happened, she just  was like, "Mm.. It's over."  That had impact for all of us.  So Melvin and Harold took over the store.  Harold loved it.  He came up with great gimmicks like his father.  While we're on that subject, does anyone else have any memories of Levitt Jewelry Store?  Like, what did it seem like to you?

MATT: It seemed very mom and pop.  It seemed very kind of cozy friendly… I was always happy that that was the family business because it seemed like a…. it hadn't been overrun by corporate anything. Felt like it had been in the family for generations type of place.

MICHAEL: Barry did you get any impression of it?

BARRY: I just remember there was a fake camera, to watch potential criminals if they walked in – up high.  It wasn't real but I remember my grandfather Harold telling me a story about how he had… there was somebody who came into the store who seemed that he wasn't there to buy jewelry. And my grandfather pointed out the camera, and said, "Look. You're on TV." And the potential criminal left the store right away.  

MICHAEL:  Yeah.  I remember that too.  I was the person.

SUNNY: Buda-bum.

MICHAEL:  I remember the last time I went to the store, Harold was very excited. He took me on a tour.   Melvin was in the back, fixing watches.  He had one of those magnifying glasses over one eye and these tiny tools in his hand.  He wasn't saying a word and he did not seem happy.  In many ways, he never got away from what his parents wanted him to do.  Even at the end he followed in Clara's footsteps.   He and Harold and Clara all spent their last days at the same nursing home in Wilmington called the Kutz Home.   There was a big oil painting on the wall of Hattie Kutz, who gave the money for the Home.  Every time Clara walked by it, she loved to remind everyone that she and Hattie were friends.  This gave her the right to act like she owned the place. In the end, Clara's mind veered toward dementia..  During my visit to the Kutz Home in 1979, my mom was wearing silver earrings with concentric circles in them.  And Clara pulled in close and tapped the earring with her thick finger till the circles started to spin.  Then she just sat and stared and said, "Beautiful.  Beautiful."  That's the little girl whose parents left her in Europe for four years on her own.  And that's the last thing I remember about her.  So that's the story of how a rabbi and his family, and a rag dealer and his family, came from Lithuania and Latvia in the 1890s to a new country. Then they quickly spread out from Tennessee to Maryland to Halifax to Virginia, Michigan, Salt Lake City.  And it all led up to the four of you in Texas, California, Maryland, Wisconsin finally hearing your history and getting the chance to hang out with Sally Libby.

MATT: Woo hoo!

MICHAEL: That pretty much brings us to the giveaway.  We want to find out if any of you people will take these things and I can mail them to you. And Sally, I was wondering if you could be the auctioneer and take this over. 

SALLY:  Certainly. We have the family history that Sadie wrote out and the cassette tape she recorded in 1977.  With information about the Levitt family.  Do I have a taker?  Don't all jump at once!

SUNNY:  Well, I'll tell you.  I have those handwritten notes.  Because Aunt Doris sent those to my father.

MATT: And Sunny sent it to me.  I have it too.  That's right.

MICHAEL:  Oh good.  But what about the cassette?  I mean, Josh, I know how interested you are in cassettes.

JOSH: I think I've played one cassette in my life.

MICHAEL: Barry, what about the boys? Don't they want that cassette?

BARRY:  They've been asking me…. They want to get into casssettes… But we don't have a cassette player anymore.  So I think we'll have to pass.

MICHAEL:  I'm gonna have to throw it out!

MATT:  Michael, do you have an eight-track by any chance?

MICHAEL:  All right, Sally, Sally, quickly before I cry again, move on to the next thing.

SALLY: We have Levitt Jewelry Store memorabilia.  The advertisements. 

SUNNY:  I'll take that. Are you okay Matt?  Do you want it?  Anybody else?

MATT:  Oh yeah.  No, no, no.  Go for it.

SUNNY: I'll make copies.

MICHAEL:  But Barry can overrule you if Barry wants the photo of Uncle Harold in knickers.

SUNNY:  I don't need that.

BARRY:  That I would like.

SUNNY:  You have to have that.

MATT: You'd better take that.

SUNNY: Uncle WUH.  It stood for Wonderful Uncle Harold.

MICHAEL:  Yes, yes, that's what we called him too.

MATT:  That's right.  That's right.

MICHAEL: He signed all his letters, he'd just say, "Love, Wonderful." Okay, Sally, next.

SALLY: Okay, we have newspaper articles about Aaron's death and Joseph Castelberg's death.  

MICHAEL: No one's morbid enough to want it.  Oh boy.

BARRY:  No thank you.

SALLY: Is that a throw out?

MICHAEL: I didn't think it would go this way.  But I guess so. 

MATT: Well now, Michael, is this show not called "Throw It Out"? I'm just making sure.

MICHAEL: No, it is. Sally, tell him how much we've thrown out.

SALLY: Zero.

MICHAEL: C'mon, I shredded that card you gave me.

SALLY: Okay, one.   One thing.

SUNNY: Michael, could you upload that information in ancestry?  Sometimes you can upload some of those articles so that they're there for posterity and for generations to come.

MATT: Then you can throw it out and not even feel like you threw it out, Michael.

SALLY: Right.

MICHAEL: Oh my gosh. You are something else.  Thank you.  Okay, that's a goodie.  That's a solution there.  Sally, we have one more thing

SALLY:  Okay, we have the original photo of Aaron Levitt.

MICHAEL: Okay, I've got a few of those.  I have two.

SUNNY:  I've already taken. Go ahead.

MATT: Awesome.  Yeah.  For sure.

MICHAEL: Sally, you skipped the thing ahead of that.

SALLY:  Oh, we have newspaper articles about virtuoso violinist Melvin Levitt.

MATT:  Send it to either one of us and we'll get it to the other.

SALLY: Okay.

MICHAEL: Oh, it's very exciting.  Sally, do you have anything else?

SALLY: That's pretty much all of it.

SUNNY: And can I change my mind about getting the tapes? Because I think I want the tapes now.

MATT:  That's awesome.

SUNNY: I want to share them with my brother and my mother who knew Clara and knew that side of the family.


SUNNY:  So I'm sorry. I don't want to throw that in there.  But I'm thinking I really want those tapes now. So thank you!

MATT: Sunny also can't throw it out.

MICHAEL: We're related, Sunny!

SUNNY:  Yes!

MICHAEL: To bring it to a close, I have one last bit of Sadie.  She told us that Aaron's father Moses Mendel wrote wonderful sermon.  Her father Max saved the sermons.  This is very relevant to us and what we're doing here. So I'm gonna play that for you.  Here we go.  The last clip at the end of our Levitt story…


SADIE LEVITT WISEMAN: He wrote these sermons and he hoped that someday they would be able to publish them.  But unfortunately the tragedy of his early death precluded any such thing. So my father kept them. And I remember vividly that I would see them wherever we moved from Virginia to Annapolis to Baltimore. Whever we moved this bundle of manuscripts wrapped in linen would follow us. When my father died, my mother said that just last month my father had said to her, "You know, when I die, I want my father's manuscripts to be buried with me. Because one day a maid is going to come up in the attic and do some cleaning and she won't know what these are and she will throw them away.  At least I will feel that they are with me.  So when my father died, they built a little box of some sort and they buried them with him. Although Robert pulled out one of the things and kept it.


MICHAEL: Okay, the key thing is the last thing she said.  Robert, her brother, pulled out one of the sermons, and kept it. It is still on this planet. It didn't get buried.  It may be out there. If one of our distant relatives hears this podcast, and if we hear from the person at any point, whether I am on this planet or not, one of you has to take that sermon and pass it along.  Because, Sally, what's the name of this podcast?

SALLY: I Couldn't Throw It Out.

MICHAEL: Bye, everybody!

JOSH: Bye.



MATT: Bye guys.


I couldn't throw it out

I had to scream and shout

SALLY:   If you've been saving some family history of your own – especially if it's a crazy story that nobody knows --  send us a photo and tell us a bit of your tale on our website:  We'll highlight the best entries on our site. Remember, you can get updates about I Couldn't Throw It Out by following us on Instagram at throwitoutpod.

 MICHAEL:  And now, please join us as we dance around the living room to our rockin' theme song by Boots Kamp and Don Rauf, leader of our favorite band Life in a Blender.  And don't forget to join us for the next historic episode of...

SALLY:  I Couldn't Throw It Out

THEME SONG:  I Couldn't Throw It Out
   Performed by Don Rauf, Boots Kamp, and Jen Ayers
   Music by Boots Kamp and Don Rauf
   Lyrics by Don Rauf and Michael Small
 Out here in Nancy's – her big garage
This isn't a mi-  This isn't a mirage

Decades of stories, memories stacked
There is a redolence of some irrelevant facts.
But I couldn't throw it out
I have to scream and shout

It all seems so unjust
But still I know I must
Before I turn to dust
I've got to throw it out
Before I turn to dust
I've got to throw it out

Well, I couldn't throw it out
I couldn't throw it out
I'll sort through my possessions
In these painful sessions
I guess this is what it's about
The poems, cards and papers
The moldy musty vapors
I just gotta sort it out.

Well I couldn't throw it out
I couldn't throw it out
I couldn't throw it out
I couldn't throw it out