[Here you have it right out of the mouths of the Jews. Now you know why Powell got so high in the US Military. You'll see that the upper echelons of life are filled either with Jews or those with close links to Jews. Jan]
Colin Powell’s early life was steeped in Jewish culture and Yiddish. It stayed with him.
Colin Powell, the former U.S. Secretary of State and first Black person to hold the job, lived on the same South Bronx block as Norman and Amy Brash, friends “so close they were considered relatives,” and Powell called them “Mammele and Papelle.”
“Don’t ask me why the Jewish diminutives,” Powell, who died Monday at 84, wrote in “My American Journey,” his 1995 autobiography, “since they were also Jamaican.”
But, growing up in the 1940’s and 1950’s in what he called the “heavily Jewish neighborhood” of Hunts Point, Powell, whose parents immigrated from Jamaica, had many Jewish friends. In fact, his life was filled with Yiddishkeit.
The old neighborhood
Melvin Klein’s family had Powell over every week to watch Milton Berle and Molly Goldberg on one of the first televisions in the neighborhood. Powell’s sister’s “closest” chums were the Teitelbaum sisters. He earned a quarter every Shabbat to turn off the lights at an Orthodox synagogue. And Jay Sickser, the Jewish owner of Sickser’s — “Everything For The Baby” store — gave Powell a job when he was 14. (Powell’s father also worked at Jewish businesses, including Ginsburg’s in the garment district, where he rose to become foreman of the shipping department.)
The future general worked at Sickser’s for 75 cents an hour as, in his own words, a part-time schlepper, and stayed until he was a sophomore in college. He learned a considerable amount of Yiddish there, which he enjoyed, in the decades to come, sprinkling into his conversations with Jews and even the prime minister of Israel. “Men kent reden Yiddish” he told an astounded Yitzhak Shamir, then Israeli prime minister, ahead of the first Gulf War in 1991. “We can speak Yiddish.”
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Yiddish, Powell said in remarks at a 2017 dinner hosted by the World Jewish Congress, “has served me so well over the last 60 years.”
Powell even claims a Jewish relative, on his father’s side, in a heritage that also includes Africans, English, Scots and Irish.
Jews, Powell recalled of his old neighborhood, were part of the streetscape where no one was a minority. On every block there was a Jewish-owned candy store where he would buy egg creams and seltzers, “two-cents, plain.” He remembered Jewish and Puerto Rican-owned bakeries, Chinese-owned laundromats and Italian-owned shoe repair shops.
“He said he never felt the sting of bigotry in the Bronx,” said Lloyd Ultan, the Bronx’s official historian and a history professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University.
Powell wrote that it wasn’t as if he never heard a racial epithet in the South Bronx of his youth, a mix of Jews, Blacks, Italians, Latinos and others: “I was eventually to taste the poison of bigotry,” he said, but it was far from the Bronx.
In the late 1950’s, as drugs and crime made Hunts Point more dangerous, and Jewish families left their apartments for homes in the suburbs, the Powell family would buy a three-bedroom bungalow in Queens from a Jewish family named Wiener.
But what Powell learned about Jews and Yiddish would stay with him.
Yiddish as a second language
“Let me put to rest this rumor as to whether or not I speak Yiddish,” Powell said in a speech at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference in Washington in 1991. “I really do not speak Yiddish, maybe a bissel (a little), who knows?”
It was more than a “bissel.” In “My American Journey,” Powell — called “Collie” by Sickser — relates that he had picked up enough Yiddish so that when couples were speaking to each other on the store’s second floor about how much they might be willing to spend on a stroller or crib, he understood. But he didn’t always let on.
“This shwarz klabe what did he understand?” Powell wrote, using the Yiddish phrase for “Black boy,” a term now considered pejorative.”I’d excuse myself and report to Mr. S., who would come up, armed with my intelligence, and close the deal.”
In 1992, Powell recalled, at a Hanukkah dinner at Yeshiva University, that Sickser’s would give him a playful ”gezunten keppel”, a blessing head, and mimed a slap.
“To keep me straight,” Powell explained.