Leon Solomonik could talk to anybody, in almost any language.
He spoke eight of them, by his Atlantic City friends’ count — English, Russian, Arabic, Hebrew, German, French, Italian and Spanish.
“We had an intern from Moscow,” says Carol Conley, a retired hostess from Casa di Napoli, at Showboat Casino Hotel, where Solomonik was a waiter for years. “Leon instantly started speaking to her in Russian and French — neither of which I knew he spoke.”
Solomonik spent lots of time on the Boardwalk and at work before he died last month, at 71. He lived just off the boards and walked the 1.5 miles to Showboat and home every day.
Trish Affanato, a neighbor, says her husband, Joe, liked walking the ’Walk with Solomonik — although there were stops along the way.
“My husband said at his memorial, ‘Everybody said they had coffee with Leon every day,’” Affanato recalls. “But Leon had his cliques of people he drank coffee with ... and smoked cigarettes.”
Mike Florius, of Galloway Township, was a coffee buddy. The two worked together, and always got in early — Solomonik usually four hours early. They would sit, read newspapers and analyze the world.
“But I’d see him around the city,” Florius says, “and he spoke to everyone. He would talk to the bums — and he could talk to the president of the company.”
Florius has a daughter with sickle-cell anemia — that was discovered just as he was buying a home. When Solomonik asked how he could help, Florius was honest: He said what he really needed was a few thousand dollars.
The next day, Florius found an envelope in his newspaper — with $2,500 inside.
“All Leon said was, ‘If you tell anybody this story, I’ll deny it,’” Florius says.
Friends say Solomonik was very private — despite a history that could make him the Most Interesting Man in the World.
He was born a “Shanghai Jew,” to parents who fled to China to escape the Holocaust, says Andrew Latz, a former Showboat boss. But Solomonik was adopted and raised in France before he went to study in London.
He lived in Cuba, in Israel on a kibbutz, and “fought in the Six-Day War,” Latz says. Solomonik got married and came to the U.S., but the marriage didn’t last. He lived in California and Las Vegas, then to Atlantic City when casinos arrived.
“As time went by, he started telling me his story,” says Latz, who hosted a memorial for Solomonik at his new Somers Point restaurant, Latz’s by the Bay. “But it was only a little at a time. ... What I’m telling you in 10 minutes, it took 21/2 years for him to tell me.”
Most of his friends knew they didn’t know the whole story. But they also knew Leon Solomonik could always make them laugh — in eight languages, at least.
A Life Lived appears Tuesdays and Saturdays.
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