Read an Excerpt
Jules Podell and the Hottest Club North of Havana
The Family Podell
It all began in the town of Odessa; Nathan and Malka Podlubno lived there along with their two daughters, Minnie and Rose, and their small son, Julius. Odessa is a city of the Ukraine, which sits on the edge of the Black Sea. Catherine the Great founded the port city in 1794. Odessa served as a haven for Jews who were banned from certain regions of Russia but were free to make their home in the city. Because Odessa was open to everyone, foreigners of all kinds flocked there and it soon became one of the biggest cities in Russia.
From pictures I have seen and the stories I have heard, Malka, my father's mother, was very forceful and made all the important decisions; she was the head of the family. Nathan, by all accounts, was a gentle, meek, and mild-mannered man who worked in the town as a butcher. When he was not working, Nathan attended synagogue daily, as he was devoted to his religious studies and followed the teachings of the Torah faithfully. Malka was left to deal with the everyday duties of raising three children: Minnie, the oldest daughter; Rose, who had been born with a slightly hunched back; and the baby, Julius.
I know, from hearing the story, that one terrible night the Cossacks invaded the town of Odessa. I don't know the exact year, but the Cossacks were burning villages in Russia, trying to banish all Jews from the region. Men on horseback with sabers and torches went from village to village burning them down and driving the Jewish people from their homes. The Podlubno family was forced to flee their home and leave all oftheir material belongings behind. Minnie, who was only nine years old at this time, carried Julius to safety on her back as the family fled the terror. The Podlubnos found temporary refuge with a maid who had previously worked for them, who welcomed the family into her home as a safe haven.
While the Podlubnos were definitely not the wealthiest family in Odessa, they seemed to live a comfortable "middle class" existence. However, their lives and situation were forever changed once the Cossacks raided Odessa. It seems from that point on, the children's memories of their early years in Odessa were something they tried to forget and would rarely discuss.
The only mention of these past times would come from the oldest sister, Minnie, who constantly reminded Jules and held over his head the fact that if it hadn't been for her, he might have died. Jules, on the other hand, was grateful and always acknowledged that Minnie had saved his life during the Cossack raid.
I am not sure exactly how much time elapsed after the family was forced to flee their home in Odessa, but because of some hidden funds or a benefactor, the Podlubnos soon boarded a ship for a voyage that would take them to America. They were on their way to the "land of the free and the brave" to start a new life.
Upon arrival in the United States, the family quickly settled in the Sheepshead Bay area of Brooklyn, on Mermaid Avenue. Even today it remains the heart and soul of the New York Russian community. The neighborhood, near Coney Island, was full of Russians who had fled situations similar to the Podlubnos'. Although none of the Podlubnos spoke English, they were soon able to adapt and adjust to life in America. Through a friend of a friend, Nathan was able to secure a job at a local butcher shop near his new home. Since he was not the overly ambitious type, Nathan was happy to employ his skills as a butcher as he had done in Odessa. Although the job did not pay well and money was tight, Nathan was at least content with the situation. Once they had settled into a fairly simple routine, Malka and Nathan would have another child, a girl. My aunt Ann would become the only member of the Podlubno family who was born in America. I believe it was also at this time that the family Americanized its name from Podlubno to Podell.
Life in America was not easy for a family now made up of six people with a minimal income. Their standard of living was less than ideal at first, and it was a struggle almost every day. Malka would take odd jobs to improve the family's financial situation, but her main focus was her children. Times were tough, but like other recent arrivals to the United States, the family was happy to escape the horrors of their homeland and relished the freedom in their new home.
My father, Jules, was cut from the same cloth as his mother; he had more ambition and drive in his pinkie finger than his father had in his entire body. This trait would become apparent when at the young age of seven, Julius decided he'd had enough of being "poor" and walked out of his school during lunch. The family would say that Jules never looked back from that moment. He simply quit school, abandoning a formal education for odd jobs in the neighborhood to increase his family's income. Young Jules would be educated in the streets of New York by those who were in a similar situation. Ironically, he followed in his father's footsteps for a brief period of time, working for the same butcher shop that employed Nathan. Jules would tell his mother that he was the man in the family and would someday support all of them. True to his word, in a few short years, he did!
There was never much said about my father's teenage years that I can remember except about his ambition and drive to make a better life for himself and his family. He would hand all of his hard-earned money over to his mama, Malka, to supplement his father's income and keep the family afloat. I believe it was at this stage in his life that he met and formed relationships with the people who would be instrumental in his later years as a nightclub owner.The Copa
Jules Podell and the Hottest Club North of Havana. Copyright © by Mickey Podell-Raber. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.