"The Wandering Jew" - Sun, June 15 By Jennifer Green
In memory of my father Bradley Jay Bogart
March 1, 1934 - December 17, 1994
Dedicated to Barry and Seagulls
My father was a little Jewish boy, born & bred in Chicago and he had 4 names throughout his life (I’ll explain as I go). He came into this world on March 1, 1934 and was believed to have been born Barry Jay Greenberg (name #2), but in recent years while doing some family genealogy, I uncovered his legal birth certificate and was shocked to learn his birth name was Mischa Behr Greenberg (Name #1). His name hadn’t been legally changed to Barry Jay Greenberg until he was almost 5 ½ years old. My dad had no knowledge of this in his lifetime and unfortunately we’ll probably never know why this was.
His parents were Russian Jews that immigrated to this country in the early 1900s. His mother Ethel (Goodman) Greenberg from Mariampole and his father Meyer Greenberg from Odessa. Their marriage was arranged, not uncommon during that period of time. According to Ethel, Meyer was a horrible alcoholic, but still my dad remembered receiving an incredible amount of love from him.
That’s about all he could ever remember, because at the age of 5 his beloved Daddy Greenberg died and just a year later his mother married her childhood sweetheart, Peter Bulgart. His name then became Barry Jay Bulgart (Name #3).
Barry was a bit of a problem child (to put it nicely) and Peter was a tough, no-nonsense Chicago Teamster that would tolerate none of it; which ended up only exacerbating Barry’s troublemaking personality. He was a husky, tall kid for elementary school age and attended Hebrew School where he had to wear a uniform and was forced to take violin lessons. He walked to school and became fodder for bullies – big, husky Jewish boy, shoved into a uniform, carrying a little violin case . . . you get the picture – needless to say he became a bit of a scrapper in order to defend himself.
Around age 12 (I say “around” because my dad’s stories tended to, ah hem, change a bit as it evolved over time), anyways . . . around age 12 he was told that his parents, Meyer and Ethel, were not his birth parents and that he was adopted. Once again, because of the birth certificate recently uncovered I believe this was a lie. Ethel and Meyer are both named on the certificate, however we know for a fact that Ethel physically could not have children – another unsolvable puzzle – we can only surmise that maybe Meyer was perhaps his birth father but Ethel was not his birth mother and some other woman had gotten pregnant with Meyer’s child.
Whatever the truth, the false adoption news threw my father into complete mental turmoil and he ran away from home, hitched hiked across the country via route 66 and never returned until some significant time later. It was during this adventure that he took it upon himself to change his name to Bradley Jay Bogart (Name #5). Remember at the time his name was Barry Jay Bulgart – so, Barry to Bradley (Brad) and Bulgart to Bogart because, well his Hollywood idol was - you guessed it - Humphrey Bogart. Makes perfect sense, right? We’ve been told many stories about this period of time in his life and who knows what’s true or not. It doesn’t really matter to us anyways because it was exciting to hear him tell of his adventures and we loved listening to them. If you’ve ever seen the movie “Big Fish” you’ll understand what the stories were sometimes like.
So, as this particular story goes, he eventually ended up in the home of Professor John Illiff in San Francisco, California. Years before Professor Illiff had been tricked into getting involved with the research and development group working on the Manhattan Project (creating the Atomic Bomb). He told my dad he didn’t realize what he had been doing until after the bomb was made. He had been told he was working on a cancer research device. Now remember, usually some element of my dad’s stories were true but not necessarily the core story line. I’ve researched the scientist’s name and came up with nothing. Anyways, back to where I was . . . my dad stayed with Professor Illiff a year before he headed back to Chicago and he claimed the Professor helped him with his education during that time period.
Not to be contained, Brad-Barry didn’t stay home for long and he soon showed up at the US Army’s doorstep (Camp Chaffee, Arkansas) on April 12, 1949 (he was 15 years old). We believe Ethel found out and informed the Army that he had lied about his age to get in. On May 17th, 1949 he was honorably discharged exactly 1 month and 5 days after he had been enlisted. I do have the original documents that prove this to be a factual story.
Ethel never wavered in trying to reign in her boy so as my dad got a bit older she “arranged” to have him marry a nice Jewish girl from the Chicago neighborhood. She was a good looking girl so I guess my dad figured – why not! They were married just long enough to create a beautiful little girl (my half-sister Linda) but then Brad-Barry (or as he liked to call himself “The Wandering Jew”) was off again and the marriage ended. He continued to travel around like a gypsy all over the United States and got married 1 or maybe 2 more times??? We aren’t quite sure, but he did father at least 3 more children during that time period, my much-loved half-brothers Pete & Joe Bulgart and half-sister Heather. There could always be more out there, but they haven’t come out of the woodwork yet.
Then in 1965 during one of his times back in Chicago, he met my mother Edith – the saint that would finally put up with all his crap and the true love of his life. At the time he was a bus driver for the city, she a young student at Northwestern University that rode his route. One day he finally got the nerve to slip her a note asking for her number and that was it…she gave it to him, boarded the crazy train and never got off!
So . . . the little Methodist farmer’s daughter from Michigan, the baby of the family and first child to go to college comes home with this smooth-talking con artist, rough edged, motorcycle riding, Jewish city boy 10 years her senior and announces they’re getting married. Boy, what I wouldn’t give to have been a fly on the farmhouse wall that day!
Not long after they married my dad got struck with wanderlust again and my mom followed him to Arizona where my oldest brother Michael was born. A couple of years later they were back in Chicago where I was born and then eventually we ended up in my mom’s home turf of Michigan where my little brother Nathan was born – and this is where Brad finally stayed. Well, kinda sorta . . . most of the time. He was “The Wandering Jew” remember.
So that’s it, the brief backstory of Mischa-Barry-Brad. A man, still a little boy searching for who he was - I’m not sure he ever really found out. I have lots of amazing stories about my father that I hope to share over time. One disclaimer however, I promise to tell the stories truthfully as I was told them, I can’t promise however that the story was told 100% truthfully to me (Remember the Big Fish reference).
I have discovered over the years that most of the stories all have some element of truth and they were usually told to us to instill some life value, whether it be love, tolerance, patience, endurance, determination, or to never give up. I am lucky to have had this unique, multi-faceted man as my father and grateful that my mother stuck through all the crazy and provided the “sane” in what would otherwise have been a totally “insane” childhood.
Happy Father’s Day Papa!!!