Meet the Perl Family: The American Family

Peter Lefcourts: The American Family


The legacy of every family and the people within the framework of each family are all different, unique and special to those within their circle. Lives begin at an early age and there is usually one person that heads a family. In some it might be the mother taking the role of matriarch or the father, strong figure that creates the rules, mores and decisions for the younger members. The Perl family has their own dynamics. Living on Long Island and coming here from Poland, this family creates a tapestry of many interesting colors, shapes and threads that will finally fill the walls of many museums, art galleries or their homes when all of the events that comprise the Perl family finally fill this amazing family tapestry. This amazing story begins on November 22, 1963 with an event that changed the course of many lives and history. Throughout the first chapter of this novel the author introduces each of the ten main characters and their reactions to what happens that day. He explains where they were, what they were doing and their initial thoughts when President Kennedy is assassinated.


Let’s begin creating our tapestry with ten blank squares and one more in the center with the name Perl embroidered in gold. The top corner will be reserved for the head of the family, Nathan who the author introduces as a cutter working on 7th Avenue. The next square is reserved for Meyer a tailor, like my grandfather who came from Poland, but with one exception, Meyer had a thing for the ladies, namely Yiddish actresses in the theater. Top right hand corner we will put Jackie, who like Meyer had his own weaknesses for women. Jackie a lawyer loved his alcohol and worked with clients that his family might not consider reputable. The next row on the left we will reserve for Michael. Michael is quite intelligent, a businessman and definitely wants better for his children and not have to pinch pennies. His goal is to make money and lots of it. Elaine gets the square in the middle and she is an educator but not really satisfied with her life. The final square in the second row goes to Steven. Steven is an artist, smart and like most artists is struggling with his craft but he has many other problems to deal with too that I will relate as we fill in his square. Bottom row on the left let’s give Roberta the first square. She is the rebel of the family and what you might say a typical 60’s hippie. Lillian Perl gets the one in the center and Nathan’s wife. Three more squares will be filled as we learn more about this family and their lives. When the tapestry is completed and all of the spaces in all of the squares are filled in what you will see will surprise you as the history of one family, their defeats, successes and triumphs creating their legacy.


As each family member’s life is described so vividly by the author you not only get to know them, hear their inner most thoughts and hopes but you understand the conflicts within the family, those striving to survive and the reasons their political views. Discussing the Vietnam War, their beliefs about going to fight for our country, the problems Jackie encounters when his boss learns what and his wife are doing and the promises made to assist him no matter what. Within the family you learn about Lillian, their stepmother who Uncle Meyer does not like, Elaine tolerates and Nathan is happy to have as his wife. Enter a new family member; Naomi married to Michael giving her the next square in the tapestry. The novel moves ahead to 1966 where we learn more about Elaine and her new career as an educator. We also learn about her relationship with Stuart that seems to be at standstill as his primary concern is Medical School at an Albert Einstein in the Bronx where I grew up and his lack of commitment.


But, the history of this family really begins with a timeline. Timelines depict the events in history, happenings or breakthroughs in a concise and timely fashion. The Perl family appears to be just like any other typical American family but when you look beneath their appearances, learn more about their inner thoughts and personalities you will find secrets, lies, deceptions that begin when Kennedy was killed all the way until the end of this timeline in 2001 with September 11th. This intricate timeline will allow the reader to understand what appears to be a perfect American family is really just like any other with imperfections, flaws, highs, lows but with a strong bind that ties them together although sometimes frayed but never completely severing.


But, there is much more to relate first as Elaine marries Stuart who seems more married to his job as a doctor than Elaine. Michael’s business opportunity needs financial backing, which he gets from his father in law with a serious stipulation if he fails. Added in is Bobbie whose behavior seems to be more spontaneous, rebellious and no one seems to notice what she is up to or doing. But, the real story begins when Uncle Meyer finds himself in a difficult situation when three Negro youths come into his tailor shop to harass him and rob him. What happens next will definitely surprise the reader as a man over 80 not only defends himself but also gets arrested for shooting one of the robbers. The Perl family is a tightly knit and when one is in trouble everyone comes to their aid as they did Uncle Meyer. Uncle Meyer is a great character whose personality is touch, soft when he has to be, independent and no holds barred when dealing with his family or anyone else. As the author brings the family together to help Uncle Meyer, Steven returns home from Paris to a walk welcome. As Nathan explains what happened with Meyer to Steven, Bobby relates how so many top Jewish lawyers wanted to come to his defense.


Our tapestry is beginning to fill up as each square now has many different lines, colors and events depicted in the character’s life. Nathan with his enlarged family, his floor that needs to push more work and not be back logged, his worries about Meyer and his life with Lillian are all part of his square. Meyer and his shop, the gun he bought to defend himself, his trial and the outcome next. Steven and his trip to Paris, his return and his hope of becoming a novelist are part of his square. Bobby her arrest, smoking pot, her time with Ellis and her rebellious behavior are all shown within her square. Naomi and Michael living together yet far apart as she takes care of their daughter but her thoughts and fears run with Michael as he struggles to make a living selling to jewelry on campus to faculty and students and asks for help in the most unlikely place. Let’s not forget Jackie who seems to come to everyone’s aid and forever the optimist and never the pessimist. As the trial of Meyer Perl begins the author brings to light many issues. Is he guilty of attempted murder? Was he defending himself? What about race? What was he thinking when he shot him? What memories of the past came flooding through?


But, like everything else lives intertwine, fate steps in and the tapestry gets larger as all of the squares are filled up and start blending together forming a picture of the lives of all of these people separately yet connected in some way. Nathan wanting only what is best for all of his children yet not noticing the changes in Steven, the stress in Michael and the discontent and disconnecting of Bobbie from the family. The only person she seems to relate to is Steven and yet he seems disconnected from everyone as he fights with his own demons and feelings of inner conflict. Jackie is high up in the DA’s office yet struggling to find a place for himself in the world as he flounders from woman to woman. But, my favorite character is Uncle Meyer who found love in his eighties even though some think she’s after his money. The author allows the reader to learn that the family seems to be falling apart as Steven is drafted and goes off to Viet Nam, Michael and Jackie join forces in a business venture leaving Naomi to care for the children, Bobbie leaves home to go to Woodstock gets pregnant and has a little girl. When everyone winds up together for short periods of time you can feel the tension in the room and the sadness in Nathan’s heart as things change all around even for him as he finally receives a well-deserved promotion. But, Uncle Meyer married Yvette and we move to 1975 when Steven returns, Nathan worries about his family and Lillian goes to Michael for financial help. Although they are one family at times you begin to wonder if anyone is really paying attention to the others. Closely knit in some respects yet distant in others with most not wanting to upset Nathan and disappoint him yet Bobbie seems headstrong and has a mind of her own.


Jackie’s wedding is goes off but Uncle Meyer dies leaving the family with a huge question: Does Yvette get the money? Can they prove if they were ever married when Jackie knew his uncle wanted to cut her out of her will?  The story moves to Israel where Nathan finally reunites with his brother, and Steven finds himself alone again in Paris. Bobbie immerses herself in the music business taking her Grace Slick along with her every step of the way. As Michael’s shopping mall begins to take shape.


Things changed and the family grew in some respects and fell apart in others. Bobbie’s life took on a different turn as her daughter went out on her own. Michael’s wealth increased, Jackie’s career in politics folded and the rest of the family moved on in many different ways. Tragedies, new found friendships, heartache and one man that tried to keep all of the squares in this tapestry together. What finally happens and where every winds up you have to read for yourself? As September 11th would change everything and one square would fade away with the life of the person who it belonged to.

The Perl family will make you laugh, cry, smile, angry and just plain want to be one of them as you meet them and get to know them in this wonderfully written story by writer, producer of films and television Peter Lefcourt.


Fran Lewis: reviewer

Just an aside: The Jewish words and expressions brought so much back that I could hear by grandmother using so many of the familiar expressions. The places the author mentions and the restaurant Patricia Murphy’s my parents knew. Beth David in Elmont is where my grandparents are buried.

Let’s dedicate this to the Perl Family and their great history and story.



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