My Hungarian Jewish Great-Grandfather

I come from many different places, both in terms of my own life and in terms of ancestry. I have lived in the U.S. (my birthplace and citizenry), Brazil, the Netherlands, the former Soviet Union, and now Hungary; within the U.S., I have lived in Arizona, Massachusetts, Connecticut, California, and New York. As far as ancestry goes, I am Jewish on my mother’s side (from Hungary, Ukraine, and Lithuania); on my father’s side, a mixture of French (with many generations in Canada), Irish, Norwegian, German, Dutch, and more. Each branch that I know anything about has an interesting history; I am proud of the mixture.

But yes, the boy in the photograph is my great-grandfather Max Fischer, at the time of his bar mitzvah (around his 13th year, which would have been 1898 or so). He and his family came to the U.S. from Györke, Hungary (now Ďurkov, Slovakia) when he was five or six. They spoke Hungarian at home. I have tracked down the ship passenger records, which list Györke as the town of origin, as well as many census records from the U.S., but so far have found no records from Hungary or Slovakia. That may still come.

Max’s eldest brother was Charles Fischer, whose inventions I have described both here on this blog and in Mind over Memes. About Max I know little except that he had a great sense of humor and met my great-grandmother, Flora Samuels, at an Edwin Markham poetry reading.

This branch of the family has been somewhat de-emphasized in family lore; I can’t complain, since that gave me some room to do my own research, which has been rewarding. I wouldn’t say that I came to Hungary—or chose to stay here—for the sake of my roots, but the roots exist, along with many others. I wish I could have met Max Fischer, who died four years before I was born. And how the protagonist of Rushmore ended up with the same name must be just another simple twist of fate.

  • “To know that you can do better next time, unrecognizably better, and that there is no next time, and that it is a blessing there is not, there is a thought to be going on with.”

    —Samuel Beckett, Malone Dies

  • TEDx Talk

    Delivered at TEDx Upper West Side, April 26, 2016.

  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

     

    Diana Senechal is the author of Republic of Noise: The Loss of Solitude in Schools and Culture and the 2011 winner of the Hiett Prize in the Humanities, awarded by the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture. Her second book, Mind over Memes: Passive Listening, Toxic Talk, and Other Modern Language Follies, was published by Rowman & Littlefield in October 2018. In February 2022, Deep Vellum will publish her translation of Gyula Jenei's 2018 poetry collection Mindig Más.

    Since November 2017, she has been teaching English, American civilization, and British civilization at the Varga Katalin Gimnázium in Szolnok, Hungary. From 2011 to 2016, she helped shape and teach the philosophy program at Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science & Engineering in New York City. In 2014, she and her students founded the philosophy journal CONTRARIWISE, which now has international participation and readership. In 2020, at the Varga Katalin Gimnázium, she and her students released the first issue of the online literary journal Folyosó.

  • INTERVIEWS AND TALKS

    On April 26, 2016, Diana Senechal delivered her talk "Take Away the Takeaway (Including This One)" at TEDx Upper West Side.
     

    Here is a video from the Dallas Institute's 2015 Education Forum.  Also see the video "Hiett Prize Winners Discuss the Future of the Humanities." 

    On April 19–21, 2014, Diana Senechal took part in a discussion of solitude on BBC World Service's programme The Forum.  

    On February 22, 2013, Diana Senechal was interviewed by Leah Wescott, editor-in-chief of The Cronk of Higher Education. Here is the podcast.

  • ABOUT THIS BLOG

    All blog contents are copyright © Diana Senechal. Anything on this blog may be quoted with proper attribution. Comments are welcome.

    On this blog, Take Away the Takeaway, I discuss literature, music, education, and other things. Some of the pieces are satirical and assigned (for clarity) to the satire category.

    When I revise a piece substantially after posting it, I note this at the end. Minor corrections (e.g., of punctuation and spelling) may go unannounced.

    Speaking of imperfection, my other blog, Megfogalmazások, abounds with imperfect Hungarian.

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