2005-10-19-Book Review: Zelig's Odyssey
Zelig's Odyssey by Shimon Camiel, iUniverse, 2005, 262 pages, $17.95
Reviewed by Donald H. Harrison
The just-released book, Zelig’s Odyssey
by Shimon Camiel, while “fiction,” will provide readers with a
hilarious insight into one of San Diego’s best known Jewish family
groupings—the Klazkins, the Shelleys,
the Camiels, and the Thalers.
If you’re into San Diego Jewish history
and genealogy—and, believe me, I am—here’s how they all connect: the
widow Anna Klazskin married George Shelley.
One of her daughters, Jeanne Klazkin, married Zelig
Camiel. Another of her
daughters, Gertrude Shelley, became none other than Gert
Thaler, whose column can be found in another section of this newspaper.
Jeanne and Zelig Camiel were the parents of Shimon
Camiel, the author, who in his younger days was known as Stanton Camiel.
The principal character in this book is
Zelig Camiel, whose lusty life is traced from his boyhood in the town of
Ostrolenka, Poland, where he was a mazik, a troublemaker, to his
emigration during the 1920s to Cuba, then to Mexico, thence to Honduras, and
finally to San Diego, as the husband of Jeanne.
Along the way, we meet Anna Klazkin, who,
following the death of her husband Isaac, scratches out a living by buying and
selling rags from the back of a horse-drawn cart. The nice ladies of Temple
Beth Israel came to her aid, concerned she needed financial help to raise her
struggling family. Later in life,
Shelley, she herself would perform many mitzvot as an activist in a
variety of causes.
read about Anna Shelley, Gert Thaler, Zel Camiel and Gert Thaler today in the
biographical pages put up about her by the Louis Rose Society for the
Preservation of Jewish History by using the “San Diego Jewish Honor Roll”
link at www.jewishsightseeing.com
Zelig met Jeanne while he was working at the
Agua Caliente casino in Tijuana, and they were married—after Zelig had a
brief marriage and annulment with another woman.
Jeanne committed herself to Zelig despite the fact that Mexican authorities had decided to prohibit non-Mexicans from
being employed by the casino, thus leaving Zelig jobless.
Thereafter, Zelig was forced to make some major adjustments in his life
style—eventually becoming a co-proprietor with brother-in-law Joe Kaplan of
the Mission Bell Market at Eighth and B Streets.
According to Shimon, the partnership was all
Anna Shelley’s idea. Quoting her as speaking in heavily-accented English, he
wrote of her saying to her son-in-law: “Zelig, I haff a proposition for
you…Vel, you known I’m not so young as I used to be.
Efter all, I’m now almost fifty years old. Tank God, mit Mr. Shelley
I don’t have to vork too hard—you know the Jewish Consumptive Relief
Association. Also—mine Zionist
vork. Maybe it’s time that I
stop vorking so much in the store…So maybe you should go to vork our little
store downtown mit your brother-in-law Joe. Vot you tink?”
Whether Anna Shelley’s accent was that
thick, who knows; this, as the book clearly states, is fiction.
Maybe Gert Thaler—whom we first meet as a precocious, bratty
13-year-old in Shimon’s book—may decide to enlighten us on these and other
matters in a future column.
But in the meantime, I heartily recommend that you purchase Zelig’s Odyssey for yourself, through Amazon.com if not through local bookstores. Notwithstanding some poignant passages about the fate of the Camiel family that remained behind in Ostrolenka, the book overall is a hoot! Thanks Shimon, thanks for sharing!