GalanteMy great-great-grandfather, Reb Elijah Joseph Galante, was the rabbi of Rasanovka in the pale of settlement. He was also a renowned author of discourses, allegories, and homiletics. This is a lost art today, and it is not even clear what Homiletics actually were. Reb Isidor of Plonsk maintains that Homiletics were distilled from that part of the wisdom of the prophets which was thought, but not uttered. Modern scholars of Judaica, on the other hand, believe that Homiletics, poor relatives of hominy, were prepared from buckwheat kernels too tough to make kasha, and were quite inedible unless drowned in gravy.
I was led to muse about my family's history two decades ago when I went to buy a new automobile. A Mitsubishi agency advertised '89 sedans for the dealer's wholesale cost plus 89 cents. Two features of this ad intrigued me. First, I wondered how even the Japanese, frugal people though they are, could keep body and soul together on a profit margin of 89 cents. Second, the advertised sedan bore my family name. I first reviewed the history of the long-lost Japanese branch of my family, and then set off to examine and test-drive a Mitsubishi Galant.
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Life was stern in the pale of settlement, but rumors, letters, and even picture post-cards drifted back from the adventurous souls who had emigrated to America. They described the wonders of the new world in glowing terms, especially a fabulous region called the lower East side, and more and more people joined the emigation. My grandfather, Reb Avraham Naftali Galante, reached Ellis Island in 1912, where Immigration officials changed the name's spelling to Gallant. Another branch of the family, more unworldly, steeped in discourses and Homiletics, thought they could reach the lower East side by simply heading due East from Rasanovka. After about 7000 miles, they found themselves in the land of the rising sun.
At first they were deeply puzzled by the fact that the people there didn't look Jewish. "Only in Amerika," they told themselves, and assumed that the locals were red Indians. In any case, they had been led to expect all kinds of strangeness in the new world. Even today, after four generations in Japan, they are still under the impression that Long Island is one of the Japanese islands, and that they themselves live near Montauk.
They soon became accustomed to the strange practices of the new world, and set up a family business. It was a typical Jewish commercial success story. Starting with a pushcart in the Tokyo business district called the Ginzberg, they branched out into ladies' hats, coats, alterations, dry goods, shipbuilding, petrochemicals, steel, airplanes, and automobile engines. They also developed a line of gefilte raw fish which became such a success that the company took its name from this product: Mitzvasushi.The name gradually changed to Mitsubishi, because the locals could not pronounce the letter "v", and to take advantage of the vast American market for all things with an unmistakably Japanese name. Scholars of automobilica have long known that the engine of the Dodge Dart was, in fact, exported to the U.S. from Japan. It is less well-known that the name Dart is a corruption of the Yiddish-Japanese word dortn which means "over there."
Eventually, the company decided to manufacture a complete Mitsubishi automobile bearing the family name. It combines the slanty aerodynamic design typical of Japanese cars with a unique fuel injection system based on chopped liver with onions. Motor Trend magazine says of the Mitsubishi Galant: "vigor, style, and level of world-class technology that advances the benchmark, although there is also a touch of heartburn."
§ § §The one I drove felt just right. You might almost say that it had my name on it. I made a feeble attempt to play hard-to-get, but the vehicle began to rub up against my leg like a cat, and in a trice I had turned over my wallet, my pocket watch, and my aged mother as a deposit. I am now its official owner, although the agency is keeping it for another week in order to clear my pocket watch and aged mother with the bank. They will also install cruise-control and something called an undercoat, which I believe is something like the long black coat worn by the car's relatives in Brooklyn.
Above its undercoat, my sedan is a sleek silver-grey colour, like the Tokyo-Osaka bullet train. It had a tiny scuff-mark on the rear bumper, for which the salesman apologized profusely, intimating that the manager would commit hari kiri if it offended me. I bowed deeply, and reassured him that my honorable ancestors would take no offense, particularly if the scuff-mark was carefully repaired while we took tea. In any case, I pointed out, the sale of a Galant to a Gallant was essentially a family affair, or, as we say in Tokyo, all in the mishpokha. The salesman bowed more deeply still, and inquired whether my honorable ancestors included Reb Elijah Joseph Galante, the renowned gaon of Rasanovka. Then, he peered closely at me: "Funny," he said, "you don't look Japanese."--- Jon Gallant
©1990 "Exquisite Corpse" Magazine