Jennifer Grey – Who Do You Think You Are – “Her Name Was Shendyl”

I have such fond memories of Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze in their Academy Award Winning timeless love story, Dirty Dancing.

My friend and I used to have Dirty Dancing stitch-a-thons, watching and stitching, both of us being cross-stitchers at the time. It’s hard to believe that was almost 30 years ago now. That friend moved away long ago, Patrick, sadly, passed away, but Jennifer is the same lovely lady – matured a bit.

On this Sunday’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are? at 10/9c on TLC, Jennifer is the star once again, uncovering the truth about the emigrant grandfather she thought she knew, learning how he survived adversity to become a beacon of his community. Jennifer also uncovers the devastating tragedy that stopped her great-grandmother from ever making it to America.

Jennifer says that “beyond my parents’ story, I knew so little.” I think that’s true for many, especially today with the hustle and bustle of our hectic lifestyles. By the time we realize we want to know, it’s too late.

Jennifer knew her grandparents, but didn’t know the name of her grandfather’s mother. That struck her as very odd, that her mother, still living, didn’t know her own grandmother’s name. How could they not know her name?

As a child, Jennifer’s grandfather, Izzy, below, struck her as beaten down and sad.

Photo courtesy TLC

Izzy’s real name was Israel Brower. He was a Jewish immigrant at the age of 16, in 1907, from Russia. He and his siblings traveled alone to American onboard a ship to join their father, already here. The family story was that Izzy had immigrated with the family silver sewn into the lining of his coat.

If that’s true, that’s probably all they had.

It’s worth noting that even in the 1900s, surname spellings can differ dramatically. Brower here, Braver on the ship’s manifest and Browerman in Russia.

Izzy, even as a young person, exhibited a great deal of drive and ambition. Many job postings of that time included phrases such as “Jews need not apply,” which motivated many Jewish people to enter the professional world, where they were not beholden to anyone for a job. Izzy went from being a printer, his occupation upon arrival, looking for work, to a pharmacist, owning his own drugstore by 1910. For some people, including Izzy, deprivation, anti-Semitism and challenges translate into the development of tenacity.

Jennifer visited the pharmacy school that Izzy attended and was able to view original documents. No white gloves needed this time!

Photo courtesy TLC

It’s interesting to see how different the pharmacy profession was then and now. Drug stores were an integral part of every community and neighborhood, with the druggist dispensing medical information as well. The line between practicing medicine and filling prescriptions was much greyer then.

Jennifer goes on to discover more about Izzy, bringing the story of his life to light in ways she certainly didn’t expect.

Still, pieces were missing. She had found Izzy’s siblings and father, but what about his mother? Where was she? What was her name?

Jennifer wondered why she didn’t know. Why her mother didn’t know. Why no one spoke of life before America in her Jewish family. Why?

As the Jewish historian told Jennifer, “Immigration is a rupture.” The stories get left behind. As someone else said, which is so true, “What the son wishes to forget, the grandson wishes to remember.” What we view today as interesting heritage, they viewed as bad memories that needed to by confined to the past.

Many immigrants didn’t immigrate because they simply wanted to. In the case of Jewish families, they immigrated for survival. Their memories of the homeland weren’t good ones, and they wished to put the bad, whatever it was and however awful it had been, behind them forever. They only looked to the future. Sometimes that future didn’t hold everyone from the past…

Her name was Shendyl. Shendyl. And as for what happened to Shendyl, you’ll need to tune in or watch online after the episode airs.

2 thoughts on “Jennifer Grey – Who Do You Think You Are – “Her Name Was Shendyl”

  1. Interesting post. I was interested in Jennifer’s story and hope to see the presentation, though I do not have cable, and thus TLC. Dirty Dancing was on of my daughter’s favorite films that was filmed about 10 miles north of our house at Mountain Lake, VA (not Smith Mtn Lake). An interesting side note is that the 2nd largest earthquake east of the Mississippi River was centers at Mtn Lake in 1899. Another earthquake in the 90s cause the lake to go down drastically, leaving the gazebo from the movie surrounded by dry land. Your blog was a nice memory jogger.

  2. On the program they attribute Izzy’s conscientious objection to his being a socialist; however the document clearly stated he was his father’s sole means of support and it also showed “support conscientious objection.”

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