Author at the graves of his great grand­fa­ther and great grandmother

My Armen­ian grand­fa­ther, JK, was mar­ried to an Armen­ian woman named Haganoush, who dis­cov­ered she couldn’t have chil­dren. For JK, not hav­ing a male heir was com­plete­ly unac­cept­able. But Haganoush had been brought to Philadel­phia from the Repub­lic of Arme­nia as part of an arranged mar­riage in 1921, six years after the start of the Armen­ian geno­cide, and divorc­ing a sur­vivor like her was also com­plete­ly unacceptable.

So instead, my grand­fa­ther played around while his wife looked the oth­er way. In the mid-1930s, JK met a woman named Shirley Livshitz at a Jew­ish dance. He told her he was sin­gle and Jew­ish. Both mon­u­men­tal lies. She was a beau­ty and no doubt cap­ti­vat­ed him, at least tem­porar­i­ly. When she became preg­nant, JK sent her to live in a board­ing house so no one would find out and agreed to sup­port her financially.

This was almost cer­tain­ly because the result­ing child, my uncle Jack, was a boy. If he had been a girl, I feel sure that JK wouldn’t have sup­port­ed his sec­ond fam­i­ly. Indeed, when my grand­moth­er — my bio­log­i­cal one — gave birth to the sons JK want­ed, first Jack and then my father, Bob, his finan­cial sup­port came with a con­di­tion: They had to be raised as Chris­tians. They were to learn noth­ing of their Jew­ish ances­try, cul­ture, or tra­di­tions. And since my uncle and my father could have no con­tact with the Armen­ian side of their fam­i­ly — lest JK’s secret be exposed — they also learned lit­tle of their Armen­ian heritage.

So even though my father and my uncle belonged to groups affect­ed by two of the worst geno­cides of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry, they knew almost noth­ing about their con­nec­tion to either one because their father had birthed them into a false famil­ial history.

Could I ever in my life tell a big­ger lie than that?

Well, no.

But not for lack of trying.


My book, RUSE: Lying the Amer­i­can Dream from Hol­ly­wood to Wall Street, details my career as (arguably) the world’s #1 cor­po­rate spy — but it also illu­mi­nates the way the past influ­ences the present which then changes the future. Even before the pub­li­ca­tion of RUSE, I’d done exten­sive genealog­i­cal research on my Jew­ish roots. But the Russ­ian inva­sion of Ukraine real­ly made me con­sid­er this aspect of my her­itage since my Jew­ish ances­tors came from the small vil­lage of Vin­nit­sya, less than two hun­dred miles from Kyiv. And, like Ukrain­ian Pres­i­dent Zelen­sky, I am a quar­ter Jewish.

Author’s grand­moth­er, father, and uncle at a fam­i­ly Bar Mitz­vah in 1945

I thought of the old pic­tures I’d been sent by my Jew­ish rel­a­tives, none of whom I’d ever met or spo­ken to before my research. Yet they were all will­ing to share with me not only the pho­tos but, more impor­tant­ly, the sto­ries of our shared his­to­ry. I received pho­tos of my great grand­fa­ther, Alexan­der Sasha” Livshitz, and one of my great grand­moth­er, Blan­ca Golds­man. I learned that Blanca’s grand­fa­ther was called Mor­ton. Was that why my father’s mid­dle name was Mar­tin? A mid­dle name I’d inher­it­ed, too, since I am a junior. There was no Mar­tin any­where else in our fam­i­ly, so my name — at least one of them — seems to be Jewish.

From cen­sus records, I learned that Blan­ca lived with my grand­moth­er, Shirley, when my father and uncle were small chil­dren. A Jew­ish friend said it was high­ly like­ly she spoke Yid­dish to her grand­chil­dren when she tucked them in at night since she had come from the old coun­try.” Unfor­tu­nate­ly, Blan­ca died before they were old enough to retain any mem­o­ry of her.

But the most inter­est­ing arti­fact I was giv­en was a pho­to of my father and his broth­er as young boys at the Bar Mitz­vah of their old­er cousin in 1945. I imag­ine my grand­moth­er had to hide their atten­dance from my grand­fa­ther, JK. In the pic­ture she sits at the far-left cor­ner of the frame look­ing ner­vous as if per­haps the pho­to would become evi­dence of her vio­la­tion of the pact they’d made. While my father and uncle were nev­er allowed to be Bar Mitz­va­hed — nor were they allowed to go to tem­ple — for this one day they were part of Jew­ish tra­di­tion and sur­round­ed by rel­a­tives they would nev­er see again. Our Jew­ish her­itage seemed to end there until more than fifty years lat­er when my broth­er fell in love with and mar­ried a Jew­ish woman. Today, their three chil­dren are being raised in the Jew­ish faith.

Some­where my great grand­moth­er is whis­per­ing bash­ert.

Robert Ker­beck is the founder of the Mal­ibu Writ­ers Cir­cle and his essays and short sto­ries have been fea­tured in numer­ous mag­a­zines and lit­er­ary jour­nals, includ­ing Nar­ra­tive­ly, Cimar­ron Review and Los Ange­les Mag­a­zine. His short sto­ry, Recon­nect­ed”, was adapt­ed into an award-win­ning film and has appeared at film fes­ti­vals world­wide. He is a life­time mem­ber of The Actors Stu­dio and an award-win­ning actor. He is also the author of Mal­ibu Burn­ing: The Real Sto­ry Behind LA’s Most Dev­as­tat­ing Wildfire.