Category Archives: family

A Saturday

This is just to record what a Saturday during what we hope are the late stages of the pandemic looks like here.

Slept well but had complicated dreams; the only part I remember is that I ran into Mike Sonnenschein in Pittsburgh while eating a gigantic meatball I’d bought at a hipster bookstore, and he invited me over, but when I got there, it wasn’t Mike’s house anymore, it was Craig Westerland’s. Akshay Venkatesh was there too. We were going to work on something but nobody really knew how to start and Craig and Akshay were absently flipping through their phones. The thing was, Craig had a tiger for a pet and the tiger got out of its cage and seemed really threatening. It was a bad scene.

A cold wave from the arctic settled in here overnight and it was 7 Fahrenheit this morning. AB and I made French toast with the challah that was left over from last night and watched Kids Baking Challenge on Netflix. Then I had to go out into it and scrape the car, remembering, as I do every time I scrape the car, that I broke the head off the scraper so I have to use the jagged plastic edge of what used to be the head, which works well at breaking up the big chunks of ice but is pretty bad at getting the window fully clean. I’ve lived here long enough to not find 7 Fahrenheit that bad, for the fifteen minutes it takes to scrape off the car. I wore the voluminous sweater that’s so ugly I wear it only on the coldest days. I’m not even sure it’s that warm, but psychologically the body feels it wouldn’t be clad in such an ugly sweater unless the sweater was warm, and that creates the right sensation.

Quiet afternoon. CJ had a mock trial competition against teams from Oregon and Brookfield. AB and I worked on some fractions homework. I posted an early-term course questionnaire for the real analysis course I’m teaching for the first time in my life, and I went through another 50 pages of page proofs of Shape. How there can still be so many typos and small verbal infelicities, after I and others have gone over it so many times, I don’t really know. And there will still be some I miss, and which will appear on paper in thousands of printed books. I wrote a math email to Aaron Landesman, about something related to my work with Westerland and Venkatesh (no tigers.) In honor of Dr. Mrs. Q’s half-birthday we got takeout from Graze for dinner. They had the patty melt special, which I’ve only seen there once before, and which is superb, certainly the best patty melt in the city. I got it with Impossible since we don’t eat milk and meat together in the house.

After dinner, we did what we’ve been doing a lot of weekends, play online games at Jackbox with my sister’s family and my parents. Then we all retreated into our zones. AB is doing some homework. CJ is talking to friends on the phone. I washed dishes while I watched a movie, Fort Tilden, about people being out in the city, in the summer, coming in and out of contact with other people. It was funny.

I’m going to put AB to bed and then think, just a little bit, about a cohomology group whose contribution I don’t understand.

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Pandemic blog 44: white Christmas

Just above freezing today, a light snow falling. I took a walk down to Wingra Park, reading He Knew He Was Right, one of the funny parts where a hapless clergyman attempts vainly to not get married (I know that describes a lot of Trollope but the joke lands every time.) The near shore of Lake Wingra was a hockey rink for parents and their kids, on the last day of the long Christmas weekend. Last night, as the holiday requires, we ordered Chinese delivery from Ichiban (in Madison, for reasons lost to history, Szechuan restaurants have Japanese names) and watched the new Pixar movie, Soul. There are very few movies all four of us are willing to sit down and watch in full; I think this year it was just Soul and American Pickle, so I guess we only like to watch sappy movies about hapless comic figures who return from apparent death. The kids and I agree that cumin lamb should be one of those Chinese dishes on the permanent shortlist of American menu standards, like kung pao chicken and ma po tofu and beef lo mein; why isn’t it? Is it hard to make?

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Pandemic blog 25: version

I’ve always thought of myself as an extravert, but am I? I read lots of articles about the almost unendurable pain of being cut off from physical contact with friends, relatives, and just random people out in the world. I’m lucky — I don’t experience that as pain. Partly, I guess, it’s because I haven’t really been contactless. I go for walks, I talk at a distance to friends I see; or I work on the porch and I talk to people I know who come by.

There are individual differences. I took CJ to the middle school to pick up the contents of his locker; it was the first time in two and a half months he’d been 100 feet from our house. He really doesn’t need variety. Me, I take my walks, and I go for bike rides with AB. I could really do things this way for a long time, forever if I had to.

I don’t have to. The restrictions on gatherings and business are starting to lift now; cases aren’t really declining, are maybe even going up a little, but there seems to be some sense that with testing protocols in place we can afford to experiment with a gradual, carefully monitored relaxation of restrictions.

It’s aggregates that matter. Not everybody has to be perfectly sealed off, which is good, because not everybody can be. But the easier it is for you to not see people, the less you should see people. From each according to, etc.

Pandemic blog 1

Hello from social distancing! I thought it might be good to write down an occasional account of what’s happening with us during the coronavirus pandemic, because the situation is changing so fast and it’s good to have some record of what we know, what we don’t know, and what we thought was happening. A month ago this was something that was happening elsewhere (even though there was already a case in Madison, someone who’d returned from a trip to China.) Ten days ago I was at the Arizona Winter School; I was already worried about travel restrictions and whether there would be problems getting home, but didn’t think twice about eating in restaurants, taking cabs, or being at a meeting of a hundred people. The airports were full and everything seemed pretty normal. But Tanya canceled her conference trip last week but was very conflicted about whether it was irresponsible to do so, and I virtualized the on-campus meetings I had on March 11 and 12, feeling sheepish and like people would be rolling their eyes.

On the 11th, the school district wrote us to say that since no cases had been detected among students or staff, the schools weren’t closing. On the 13th, the governor declared that schools statewide would close on the 18th. On the 14th, Saturday, we thought we’d probably send the kids on Monday but by the 15th we’d decided not to. That afternoon the closure date was moved up to “already closed” and extended until at least April 6. Parents were told they could come to the building to pick up their kids’ medication. On the 17th all University of Wisconsin employees were instructed to work from home unless their work was impossible to do remotely. Yesterday, the 18th, the governor extended the school closing interval to indefinite, and ordered all bars and restaurants to close except for takeout and delivery.

So here we are. We have been OK in the house so far. I’ve gone to Trader Joe’s twice since Friday, trying not to overbuy in a situation where everybody wants the same things. I’m mostly stocking groceries which last weeks or longer and which I know we’ll use eventually: oatmeal, canned beans and salmon, onions, eggs. We are trying to figure out how much of the day to try to cobble into something like a schoolday and how much it’s going to be pure baking and TV-watching. Yesterday, for a change of scenery, I took the kids to the highest point in Dane County, which as you might imagine is not very high. I am trying to get the kids to let me teach them to play guitar but no one’s interested. At night I am trying to shut out the world a bit by going through a draft of a paper and reading the 700-page Edith Wharton biography I aspirationally bought in January. (But what about when she gets to 1918….?) We are in just about the maximally advantageous position for self-isolation; my job can be done at home, Tanya’s can too with some teleconferencing, I am not in the classroom this term so am not scrambling to invent distant learning from scratch… and even for us it’s daunting, the weeks and months to come.

There’s a lot nobody knows. We don’t really know when our taxes are due, or whether there’s going to be summer camp, or whether we’re going to do the 2020 Presidential election by mail, or, you know, how many people are going to die of this. My mom wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times suggesting we were in for multiple waves of “social distancing.”

Partly that’s because there’s a lot about this virus we don’t know. We don’t really know whether you can get it again once you’ve recovered, though a paper released today about rhesus monkeys suggests acquired immunity may be pretty good. Without knowing that it’s impossible to know what the pandemic dynamics look like. We also don’t really seem to understand what factors lead to bursts of transmission. One guy in New Rochelle seems to have infected dozens of people he came into casual contact with, as did “Patient 31” at a church service in South Korea. But on the Diamond Princess, a cruise ship that was quarantined in Yokohama Bay for two weeks in February, only somewhere between 400-700 of the 3700 passengers were infected; that seems good, considering how many people must have been asymptomatically shedding virus in close quarters. (And one of those passengers seems to have been reinfected in Japan after recovering and disembarking, which suggests acquired immunity isn’t total.) The number of cases, at this stage of the epidemic, is exp(ct) and everything depends on the value of c, about which we know nothing except that our actions have substantial effect on it. How much effect does closing the schools have? In Wisconsin, schoolchildren are about one in every eight people in the state, and a school environment involves repeated congregation in large groups, so — maybe a lot? Did I mention we don’t know? I am seeing some people on the internet say children under 9 can’t get infected, which I think is false, and I think it’s dangerous for people to think it’s true.

If kids are out of school, lots of parents can’t work. And people who work in restaurants or bars can’t work. Lots of retail stores are shutting down in-person shopping too. The businesses need to pay their workers so the workers can live but then how can the businesses pay rent? And if the businesses don’t pay rent how can the owners pay their taxes? Here we reach the limit of my understanding of central economic planning. If the state government halts tax collection so the landlords can stop charging rent so the businesses can keep paying their workers even though there’s no work — then what?

“Social distancing works,” my mom says in her editorial, and that’s the one thing that seems like it’s just got to be true. We’re distant but we’re close together too. The empty streets look like civic responsibility and community to me, just as much as the Monroe Street Festival or the Fourth of July do. I know how the logistic curve works and I know people can’t sit at home forever and I know that once people start moving around, c goes back up. But every day we hold out is another day to retrofit unused buildings as hospital space, another day to build ventilators, another day to test drugs — today I am hearing promising things about chloroquine. So we are doing this apartness together. More soon. Stay strong! Stay distant!

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Ellenbergs

I got a message last week from the husband of my first cousin once removed;  his father-in-law, Leonard Ellenberg, was my grandfather Julius Ellenberg’s brother.  I never knew my grandfather; he died before I was born, and I was named for him.

The message contained a huge amount of information about a side of my family I’ve never known well.  I’m still going through it all.  But I wanted to share some of it while it was on my mind.

Here’s the manifest for the voyage of the S.S. Polonia, which left Danzig on September 17, 1923 and arrived in New York on October 1.

owadias-ellenbergs-family-immgration-doc

Owadje Ellenberg (always known as Owadia in my family) was my great-grandfather.  He came to New York with his wife Sura-Fejga (known to us as Sara), Markus (Max), Etia-Race (Ethel), Leon (Leonard), Samuel and Bernard.  Sara was seven months pregnant with my uncle Morris Ellenberg, the youngest child.

Owadje gives his occupation as “mason”; his son Max, only 17, was listed as “tailor.”  They came from Stanislawow, Poland, which is now the city of Ivano-Frankivsk in Ukraine.  On the immigration form you had to list a relative in your country of origin; Owadje listed his brother, Zacharja, who lived on Zosina Wola 6 in Stanislawow.  None of the old street names have survived to the present, but looking at this old map of Stanislawow

stanislawow

it seems pretty clear Zosina Wola is the present day Yevhena Konoval’tsya Street.  I have no way of knowing whether the numbering changed, but #6 Yevhena Konoval’tsya St. seems to be the setback building here:

screen-shot-2017-03-03-at-3-mar-10-53-pm

So this is the best guess I have as to where my ancestors lived in the old country.  The name Zosina Wola lives on only in the name of a bar a few blocks down Yevhena Konoval’tsya:

screen-shot-2017-03-03-at-3-mar-11-02-pm

 

Owadje, now Owadia, files a declaration of intention to naturalize in 1934:

owadia-ellenbergs-naturalization-doc

His signature is almost as bad as mine!  By 1934 he’s living in Borough Park, Brooklyn, a plasterer.  5 foot 7 and 160lb; I think every subsequent Ellenberg man has been that size by the age of 15.  Shtetl nutrition.  There are two separate questions on this form, “color” and “race”:  for color he puts white, for race he puts “Hebrew.”  What did other Europeans put for race?  He puts his hometown as Sopoff, which I think must be the modern Sopiv; my great-grandmother Sara was from Obertyn, quite close by.  I guess they moved to the big city, Stanislowow, about 40 miles away, when they were pretty young; they got married there in 1902, when they were 21.  The form says he previously filed a declaration of intention in 1926.  What happened?  Did he just not follow through, or was his naturalization rejected?  Did he ever become a citizen?  I don’t know.

Here’s what his house in Brooklyn looks like now:

screen-shot-2017-03-04-at-4-mar-11-05-am

 

Did you notice whose name was missing from the Polonia’s manifest?  Ovadje’s oldest son, my grandfather, Julius.  Except one thing I’ve learned from all this is that I don’t actually know what my grandfather’s name was.  Julius is what we called him.  But my dad says his passport says “Israel Ellenberg.”  And his naturalization papers

julius-ellenberg-naturalization-doc

have him as “Juda Ellenberg”  (Juda being the Anglicization of Yehuda, his and my Hebrew name.)  So didn’t that have to be his legal name?  But how could that not be on his passport?

Update:  Cousin Phyllis came through for me!  My grandfather legally changed his name to Julius on June 13, 1927, four months after he filed for naturalization.    

1927-juda-ellenberg

My grandfather was the first to come to America, in December 1920, and he came alone.  He was 16.  He managed to make enough money to bring the whole rest of the family in late 1923, which was a good thing because in May 1924 Calvin Coolidge signed the Johnson-Reed Act which clamped down on immigration by people thought to be debasing the American racial stock:  among these were Italians, Chinese, Czechs, Spaniards, and Jews, definitely Jews.

Another thing I didn’t know:  my grandfather lists his port of entry as Vanceboro, Maine.  That’s not a seaport; it’s a small town on the Canadian border.  So Julius/Juda/Israel must have sailed to Canada; this I never knew.  Where would he have landed? Sounds like most Canadian immigrants landed at Quebec or Halifax, and Halifax makes much more sense if he entered the US at Vanceboro.  But why did he sail to Canada instead of the US?  And why did he leave from France (the form says “Montrese, France,” a place I can’t find) instead of Poland?  (Update:  My cousin comes through again:  another record shows that Julius arrived on Dec 7, 1920 in St. John, New Brunswick, conveyed in 3rd class by the S.S. Corsican.  Looks like this ship would have been coming from England, not France;  I don’t know how to reconcile that.)

In 1927, when he naturalized, Julius lived at 83 2nd Avenue, a building built in 1900 at the boundary of the Bowery and the East Village.  Here’s what it looks like now:

screen-shot-2017-03-04-at-4-mar-10-51-am

Not a lot of new immigrants able to afford rent there these days, I’m betting.  Later he’d move to Long Beach, Long Island, where my father and his sisters grew up.

My first-cousin-once-removed-in-law went farther back, too, all the way back to Mojżesz Ellenberg, who was born sometime in the middle of the 18th century.  The Hapsburg Empire required Jews to adopt surnames only in 1787; so Mojżesz could very well have been the first Ellenberg.  You may be thinking he’s Owadia’s father’s father’s father, but no — Ellenberg was Owadia’s mother’s name.  I was puzzled by this but actually it was common.  What it meant is that Mordko Kasirer, Owadia’s father, didn’t want to pay the fee for a civil marriage — why should he, when he was already married to Rivka Ellenberg in the synagogue?  But if you weren’t legally married, your children weren’t allowed to take their father’s surname.  So be it.  Mordko wasn’t gonna get ripped off by the system.  Definitely my relative.

Update:  Cousin Phyllis Rosner sends me my grandfather’s birth record.  At birth in Poland he’s Izrael Juda Ellenberg.  This still doesn’t answer what his legal name in the US was, but it explains the passport!

1904-izrael-juda-ellenberg-birth

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Marilyn Sachs, Amy and Laura, how to date a Communist

While I was in Seattle for the Joint Meeting, I stopped in to see my cousin Marilyn Sachs, the children’s author, who’s now 88.  She signed a copy of CJ’s favorite book of hers, Amy and Laura.  I re-read it on the plane and it made me cry just like it did when I was a kid.

We talked about writing and the past.  She and her husband, Morris, started dating in 1946, in Brooklyn.  Morris had recently returned from the war in the Pacific and was a Communist.  He thought movies were too expensive, so on their dates they went block to block ringing doorbells, trying to get signatures on a petition demanding that the Dodgers bring up Jackie Robinson from their minor-league affiliate in Montreal.  Now that is how you date, young people.

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“Losers often grow up to be writers”

My first cousin once removed Marilyn Sachs, on writing:

One final word of encouragement to those of you who are cowardly, cry babies, and liars, as I was. These are extremely promising qualities for future writers. If you are a coward, you will probably spend more time at the library than you would ordinarily, and if you tell lies, it just shows that you have an imagination even if others don’t always appreciate it. Cry babies tend to be sensitive, which is also a plus for writers. When I grew up, I found that I had become a great expert on bullies, and my books are full of them.

So, don’t feel you have to be smart, beautiful, brave and popular to become a writer. Or even to be a good speller. Losers often grow up to be writers, which means we have the final word.

Her books are mostly for kids.  Have you read them, parents?  Some of the classics:  Laura’s Luck (1965), my favorite alienated-kids-at-summer-camp book.  The Fat Girl (1984), a truly creepy YA novel about brutal psychosexual guerilla war in high school.  The Bear’s House (1972).  I remember almost nothing about this but just hearing the title makes me choke up so I know it was really sad.

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Letter from my great-grandfather

Last summer when I was at my Grandma Sylvia’s house in Tucson I copied out a handwritten letter her father, Jack Sussman, had written to her and her husband.  Here it is, for safekeeping.  Misspellings from the original.  My grandfather (also named Jack) had asthma, which is why they had moved to Tucson while my great-grandparents stayed in the Bronx.

June 12, 1944

Dear Sylvia and Jack,

First of all I want to apologize for not writing to you for such a long time. The family and I are in the Best of health. I ame also interested very much in Jacks health. I Believe that it is very important he should see a doctor more often. the same applies to you. Shirley is telling me that you dont look so good. I would like to mo wath is the matter with you. Mother and I would like to se you but it is too much expense we would rather se you come here.

I wish you a happy anniversary I hope that when your lease expires Jacks Sickness should also expire. love and kisses

Daddy

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Ask Uncle Quo: should I change my name when I get married?

Commenter RG asks:

Not relevant to this post, but curious to your thoughts: Debate is about a 26-28 year old woman who wants to keep her last name in marriage because of her professional identity. My response was to laugh, what identity do you have at that age? I said, sure there are a couple of hot shots – you came to mind – but I bet they could change their name to a peace symbol and still retain their professional identity. She’s not going into witness protection, FFS. curious what you think about name changes at marriage, reputation, and loss thereof? You seem like someone who would have considered it.

I wanna be like Cathy and answer random people’s questions on Sunday mornings!  In homage to Aunt Pythia I will answer as “Uncle Quo.”

Changing your name seems to me like it would be a massive gluteal agony.  Short answer, independent of any issues of professional identity:  Why would I ask my wife to do something I would never do myself in a million years?

Well, here’s one reason why:  there was a time and a place where not having the same name as your spouse was sufficiently weird that it carried with it its own long-term irritations.  But those days, in the social tranche where I hang out, are not just going, they are long, long gone.  As I said in the comments to the other thread, when I think about couples I know at UW, mostly in the “parents of young kids” demographic like me, it’s very hard for me to think of any who share a surname; the only example I can think of is a couple who both took a double surname (separated by a space, not a hyphen) with the wife’s original surname last.  When I think of couples I know in Madison outside the university, I do know some where the wife adopted the husband’s surname, but in each case they go by three names, no hyphen:  “firstname birthsurname newsurname.”

Professional identity:  in math, at any rate, of course this matters!  If you’re 28, you likely already have a Ph.D. and a couple of papers out, maybe you’re finishing a postdoc and you’re about to apply for tenure-track jobs, you’re going to be on a list of 400 applicants and you want someone on the hiring committee to recognize your name and look at your file, and you’re suddenly going to change your name to something nobody’s ever heard?

WonderWomanHellNo

 

As for me and Tanya, we got married 10 years ago and never considered changing names.  We had some vague idea of using my last name “socially” but we quickly realized there was no social situation where that felt appropriate.  Occasionally we get invited to a bar mitzvah by my older relatives on which Tanya is called by my last name.  And I changed my middle name on the Harvard alumni list to her last name.  Our kids have two middle names, the second of which is Tanya’s surname, and their surname is mine.  Nobody seems to be confused about the fact that we’re a family.

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Yossef Zisman, 1832-1925

 

This is my great great great grandfather, Yossef Zisman, who lived in Corjeuti, in what is now Moldova.  He died at 92 when his cart overturned in the snow and he was crushed by his own horse.YossefZisman

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