“Explain,” I said, though I had a pretty good idea where this was going.
“When I was a little boy,” Eric said, “my mother used to always invite family members living in Toronto for shabbat dinner. Aunts, uncles, cousins. I think she was lonely and missed the days of her youth in Israel, where life was more sociable.” The waiter arrived with our food. Eric smiled and thanked him. As he ate, he continued with his story.
Discussion of Jonathan Coreff was forbidden in Eric’s mother’s household. He was a bad guy who’d screwed a lot of people and gone to jail for it. That was it. End of topic. But at shabbat dinners Jonathan’s name did come up occasionally and so did discussion of the Bukh. When that happened, little Eric was all ears. “What’s the Bukh?” he asked the first time he heard that word. His great aunt, Pammy Gurevich, kindly explained that in their family there was an ancient book of wisdom that had been passed down for generations and was very valuable.
“People would kill for it,” said one of the relatives.
“Ownership of the Bukh brought great good fortune,” exclaimed another.
“I don’t know,” interposed a third. “Some say ownership of the Bukh brought nothing but trouble.”
All the relatives agreed that the Bukh had disappeared in the early 1950s and that Jonathan Coreff was the person who had stolen it. “That’s right,” said Pammy Gurevich. “Daniel Gottlieb brought the Bukh to Israel from Lemberg in the Ukraine. His son-in-law, Jonathan Coreff, was always hanging around the house and would have had ample opportunity to steal it, especially when Daniel got so sick and old.”
“I heard from a good source he got a quarter of a million dollars for it,” ventured one of the uncles.
“We’ll never know,” said another. “The schlemiel hung himself before admitting the truth.”
“And that,” said Eric, “is how I got so fascinated with the story of the Bukh. I decided very early on that I was going to find the volume my grandfather had stolen from my great grandfather and remove the dirty Coreff stain from our family history.” He reached for his wine and finished it off. “I got pretty close.”
“You did,” I agreed. “And now what?”
“Now,” said Eric, setting down his glass, “I don’t know, I just don’t know. I feel like my life has gone to shit.”