Lew Polo was my paternal grandmother’s younger brother. Stories swirl around in our family history about his unusual life.From people who met him, I get the impression that he was quite a character with a sharp sense of humor, who did not follow the laws of convention. A lovable rogue. The wicked son in the Passover Haggada.But most of all, he’s known as the black sheep of our family. The contrast between him and his parents and siblings is stark.Lew’s parents, my great-grandparents, Yeshaya (Schaja) and Rivka Davidovitch, brought the family over from Poland to Hackney in the East End of London round about the early 20th century.His father was a highly respected hassid belonging to the very religious Gur movement.Yeshaya supported his family by selling kiddush wine and serving as the shammes (beadle) in a synagogue that had the moniker “St. Thomas’s,” after the street in which it was situated.Yeshaya also had a small following who attended Torah talks he gave. He had a reputation for being particularly kind and considerate. A story is told of a time Yeshaya was walking down the street with his followers, when a woman recognized him in the distance. She came over to greet him and held out her hand – which, to everyone’s surprise, he shook.In those days, it was unheard of for a hassid to shake a woman’s hand.After she had gone on her way, he explained to his astonished followers, “It’s more important not to embarrass anyone.”Lew’s mother, Rivka, was very proud of her ancestry. She came from the Kahana family in Poland, which boasted a number of distinguished rabbis.When she arrived in Hackney, she organized a group of Jewish women who went around collecting money for a yeshiva in the Holy Land.After Rivka died, the head of the yeshiva made a point of visiting her daughter, my grandmother Dora, during the shiva mourning period.Before he entered the room, his assistant first came in and shooed out all the women aside from my grandmother. The rabbi then entered and spoke to Dora and offered his condolences, while not facing her.All of Yeshaya and Rivka’s children turned out to be fine, outstanding citizens. Except for one, Lew, who chose a lifestyle different from the rest of his family. At various times, he was the owner of the Hollywood Club nightclub, a furrier and a bookie. “Lew Polo,” was actually what he called himself when he was a bookie.Family legend has it that during his bookie days, Lew Polo, while watching a dog race, realized that the favorite was winning, which meant that a lot of people would soon be demanding money from him. The prospect of significant financial loss loomed imminent. In desperation, he flung a cat onto the tracks.I strongly suspect, though, that this story is apocryphal and that no cats were actually flung anywhere.It’s ironic, considering the life he led, that even many of the stories told about Lew might not exactly be the literal, entirely honest truth.For a long time, all went well for Lew. He managed to constantly wheel and deal and keep ahead of the game.That is, until the outbreak of a world war, which threatened his way of life. The idea of being drafted did not appeal to him; it didn’t fit in with his concern for his own welfare.However, he found a way out: He discovered that firefighters were exempt from the draft, so he volunteered to fight fires.But it didn’t take him long to realize that he had literally jumped from the frying pan into the fire: being a firefighter during a war was dangerous.Again, he found a way out: If he could get a doctor to give him a sick note excusing him from his duties for a long period of time, he would be discharged.This wasn’t as easy as it seemed. After all, he was perfectly healthy.His wits saved him again. He was able to persuade several doctors to each consecutively give him a sick note for a few days, which, altogether, added up to the amount of time he needed.Lew probably got away with a lot during his life. But his luck eventually ran out. He finally got his comeuppance when he was arrested and sentenced to prison following a mysterious fire at a warehouse he owned.Strangely enough, the police and the court were not willing to accept his alibi, even though he had several witnesses that he was nowhere near the site when the conflagration occurred.In fact, while his warehouse was burning, Lew was in his local synagogue devoutly chanting the Kol Nidre prayer on the holiest night of the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur.