didn't know anything about Craig's Comisar family until this past
Shabbat when Craig talked to his Uncle Manny. We've included what we
learned from him here. Wendy has been trying to get Craig to find out
more about his family for years, but with no success. Now, however, his curiosity
is piqued, and he is gung-ho to visit Manny and get some family
photographs to add to this website. So, stay tuned.
appears to be some debate over whether Mr. Comisar went by his Hebrew
name Shalom (for whom Craig was named) or his English name Simon.
We'll refer to him as Shalom, since that is what Manny said he went by
primarily, and since he spoke almost exclusively Yiddish, that seems to
make more sense.
Simon (Kommissar) Comisar
Shalom was the youngest of the somewhere between 15
and 20 children born to Channah and Maor Wolf Kommissar (Maor means from
the light in Hebrew—we looked it up). Shalom was born in Rafaulfka,
Russia (modern-day Poland) around 1890. As a young man he suffered the
fate of many young Jewish men—he was drafted for life into the Russian
Army. Eventually he escaped the Czar’s grip and made his way to the
United States. They tried to change his name at Ellis Island, but he
told them if Kommissar was good enough for him in Russia, it was good
enough for him in the U. S. They insisted on anglicizing the spelling,
though. Shalom worked his way from the East Coast to Sharon, PA (we
mention this because Wendy has family there today) and eventually to
Shalom had his greatest business sucesses in the
hospitality industry, owning a series of restaurants (including founding
La Normandie in Cincinnati) and bars. As the family story is
told, he was a bootlegger and also had to pay-off the mob to stay in
business. At one point, he was in arrears on his mob pay-off and they
came to his house. Craig’s father recalls his parents’ being held at
gunpoint until they produced the required sum.
Shalom married Fay Kuhr. Their marriage was arranged through a matchmaker, and they
went on to have three sons, the last of whom, Steve
was born when Shalom was about 50. According to Steve, Shalom rarely
spoke and even more rarely spoke English. His one phrase of English was,
“Be quiet, Fay,” when he got tired of being bossed around.
Fromme Rivka Kuhr Comisar
The engagement announcement for Fay
and Simon Comisar.
As the family legend goes, Fay Kuhr was conceived
on-board The Maine en route to Ellis Island. Her father David Berryl (Couer)
Kuhr (the employee at Ellis Island was of German extraction and so
German-Americanized the French name) was an immigrant to the U.S. from
Riega, Latvia. He was the son of Abraham Isaac and Elka Couer. How did
French Jews end up in Latvia? Another family legend says that an ancestor
fought in Napoleon’s army. During the fatal march into Russia, this
ancestor decided Latvia was preferable to France and just stayed. David
was married to Yetta (Isaacson) Shear, just before boarding The Maine.
Yetta was a Lithuanian, the daughter of Chaim (Isaacson) Shear. Fay was
born sometime after David and Yetta’s arrival in Cincinnati’s west
end. Eventually, David saved enough money to bring his mother Elka to the
U.S. (his father was already deceased). Elka is buried in the Jewish
cemetery in Price Hill in Cincinnati. At the time Jews were not permitted
to be buried within the city limits.
Fay was a woman of indomitable personality. She
married a man some 16 years her senior, but ruled her home with an iron
hand. Craig’s father Steve talks of her like he’s still afraid of her.
She served as bouncer at several of the family’s bars and would not let
anyone cross her. Once when Steve was about 5 years old, she came home to
find him praying to Baby Jesus. That was the end of the family’s
Catholic maid, whose ears, one would imagine are still burning wherever
she is today. Although Fay was born and raised in Cincinnati, she spoke
exclusively Yiddish at home. Though Steve and his brothers have long-since
converted to exclusively English, Craig says that their conversations are
always liberally dosed with Yiddish words.
A page of a letter sent to the
Comisars written in Yiddish. Yiddish was the language of Ashkenazi Jews.
It is roughly a combination of Hebrew and German, written using the Hebrew