Ibrahim Gallo was 30 when he left Beyrouth, Syria on a ship to France – then went on the Rochambeau from Le Havre, France to Ellis Island in America. He went to “America” to set up a place to live, get a job and hopefully find jobs for his children. He had 6 of them back in Syria, 4 of them boys and 2 girls. The date he arrived was June 19, 1911 – the weather was humid and the smell of the fish, combined with the unbathed passengers, the horse shit and the dead bodies being carried from the steerage of the ship was overwhelming. The shouts and screams of the crowd of people, thieves waiting to scam the newcomers, dogs running wild and a sense that this was a much different world and he wanted to go back home.
He had been told the land was paved with gold and that all you needed to do is put out your hands and money would fall like manna from heaven. Maybe that was the case once but it seemed that the amount of people in the streets even the heavens couldn’t provide for them all.
Ibrahim was a short and stocky man, with black hair and blue eyes. Not good looking in any conventional way – but his smile and his sincerity was infectious and had helped him be successful in business back in Syria. All he needed was a chance, a partner to help him break through the culture and language barrier.
He didn’t speak a word of English – he was met at Ellis Island by a representative from his community in Damascus. A man by the name of Sabin was there to sign in all of the familiar faces he saw. He would speak Arabic to the new arrivals and they would respond in kind. Today there were over 60 “Shamies” as they were called. (Meaning person from Damascus). Ibrahim knew them all intimately, the adults had all been to his wedding, prayed in the same synagogue (called a K’nis) and somehow were related. He noticed several of them were denied entry because they had not passed the medical exams – they were being sent back on the ship. Most of them would end up in Mexico and other ports in Central and South America.
Ibrahim was lost. He had wondered too far away from the place he was sleeping. He was currently sleeping on a thin mattress on a floor of a barber shop owned by a “Shamie.” He had went out looking for work when he got lost. It had been two months now and he had picked up part of the language. Enough to be able to sell anything he would be given to sell, enough to be able to walk through the markets on the streets and get the foods he was looking for. But now, it was dark, cold and he was lost.
He noticed a man sitting on a stoop smoking a pipe and reading something. He walked over to him and asked him if he could help him find his way back home. The man looked friendly enough so he chanced an encounter.
“Where are you looking to go?” The man said in a Irish accent.
“De – Sex street.” Ibrahim said.
“Mister, I think you are meaning to pronounce it Essex Street, am I correct?”
“Yes, Mister.” He smiled.
“What brought you ’round these parts? You are far from Essex Street, ya know?”
“Work, I am looking for job. Money?”
“Are you an honest man?”
“No, I am Jewish.” He answered.
The Irish man laughed so hard he dropped his pipe on the floor and the tobacco all spilled out.
“I like you. What is your name mister Jewish man, ha ha ha.” Continuing to laugh.
“My name is Ibrahim Gallo.”
“Well I am Seamus Halloran – you can call me Jimmy.” Jimmy was a big man, over six foot tall, he had a head full of curly auburn hair, green eyes and a ready smile. He stayed away from alcohol because his father was a pious man who drilled into him that the alcohol will make decisions for him that he would quickly regret.
“Nice to meet you Mister Jimmy.” As he handed Jimmy back his pipe.
With that a friendship began. It started as Ibrahim, now being called Abe, became a partner with Jimmy in a ladies undergarment business. First selling on the streets and then moving into a small spot in the market only to open up a store on Grand Street sharing the space with a children’s wear retailer.
On March 14, 1914 the Chicago came to port; his family had arrived in New York. He not only had a place for them to sleep but he also had jobs for each of his sons and some money put away.
The years passed, the great war took its toll on the world, Al Jolson sang on stage, radio began to update the world, alcohol was prohibited, there was a heavy fascism movement taking over Europe and threatening the world and Babe Ruth began to hit home runs for the New York Yankees – with Abe and Jimmy in attendance for many of the games. Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton made em smile and women began to vote and with Jimmy’s advice to keep his money outside of the banking system – Abe and Jimmy avoided losing their money when Wall Street crashed.
Jimmy and Abe began to manufacture their own goods, their boys would sell them by traveling around the country and into central america. Jimmy had gotten married to an Irish lady in 1919 with Abe as his best man. A civil ceremony in City Hall right outside of the spot where they had all first stepped foot in New York City. They all laughed that night as they celebrated Jimmy and Dorothy – their friendship, their business all came about because Abe had gotten lost.
“You can only be found if you are lost Abie.”
“Glad to be found James.”