One Breslin (Wilbur) Remembers Another (Jimmy)
BY WILBUR BRESLIN
GARDEN CITY, NY (Mar. 21, 2016) – Famed writer and journalist Jimmy Breslin, who died a few days ago, gave me a wonderful gift. It all started when we first met at Sardi’s in 1985 to celebrate Newsday’s new Manhattan office opening. I was invited along with many Newsday executives and reporters. I recall standing around having drinks when all of a sudden Tim Russert, the moderator for NBC’s Meet the Press and who was master of ceremonies that day, came over to me and said “Jimmy Breslin has invited you over for a drink at the bar and we’d like to take pictures of the two Breslins.”
I had never met Jimmy Breslin, but I certainly knew who he was. When I was introduced to him he said “You’re not Irish!” I said “No. I’m not.” And he said, “What are you?” I said “I’m Jewish.” I was anticipating some kind of anti-Semitic remark, but what he said was just the opposite. “If you’re Jewish, you must be related to my best friend, Bernard Breslin.” I told him I didn’t know a Bernard Breslin.
Four days later I got a call from Bernard Breslin who introduced himself and said he was with James Felt Realty in Manhattan. “Jimmy Breslin suggested I call you, and by the way, a lot of people ask me if I’m related to you, Willie Breslin from Long Island, and I always say ‘no.’” I know we are not related because my family’s name was not Breslin it was Bezozi before it was changed. He mentioned some of his relatives but none of their names sounded familiar. Determined to find out if we were related, he continued to call me over the next few months, offering a new bunch of names of his relatives. But still, nothing clicked. Finally he mentioned his cousin, Nat Sherman, known for his line of handmade cigars. It was then that I remembered my father, Harry Breslin, talking about his distant relative who was a cigar maker. “That’s it! That’s the guy!” Bernard said. “We have something in common.” The name Bezozi resounded loud and clear. My father, who was two years old when he came to this country, had an uncle living in New Jersey who had changed his name from Bezozi to Breslin. Years later, as an adult, my father changed his name from Bezozi to Breslin as well.
That prompted us to set up a meeting a few months later at the Plaza Hotel. When I saw him I knew instantly that we were related. He had the Breslin face.
Nat Sherman was the first inkling that Bernard and I shared the same lineage. But what really clinched it was when he called a few weeks later and asked me “did your grandfather, Jacob Bezozi, have a missing toe?”
I called my Uncle Manny and asked if his father had a missing toe and Manny said he did. That cemented our connection, and years later Jimmy Breslin wrote a big article about how he put me and Bernard together and how we found out we were cousins. Bernard would come to the Island and visit my Uncle Manny and we would spend time together and for years we kept in touch.
Even though Jimmy Breslin wasn’t related to me, his gift to me was connecting me with my roots. He was dogged in getting to the bottom of every story, whether it was of national interest or tracking the lineage of a single family over generations. Because he did that for me, we became good friends, as did his son Patrick, who is to this day, a good friend.