Posted: Wednesday, May 8, 2013 5:17 pm | Updated: 5:23 pm, Wed May 8, 2013. on Home Reporter News By Theodore W. General Brooklyn’s official historian Ronald Schweiger was just elected as the 48th president of the Society of Old Brooklynites, which dates back to when Brooklyn was an independent city and the third largest in the nation. Schweiger, who is also the president of the Brooklyn College Alumni Association, joins a long list of… Read More »Ron Schweiger, new president of the Society of Old Brooklynites
Mah jongg! That’s the call of a winning hand! Since the 1920s, the game of mah jongg has ignited the popular imagination with its beautiful tiles, mythical origins, and communal spirit. Come learn the history and meaning of the beloved game that became a Jewish-American tradition.
Mah jongg is much more than a game: it is a carrier of fantasy, identity, memory, and meaning. Three bam, two dot, flower, five crack, dragons, winds! The tiles, lined up against racks as four players sit around card tables concentrating heavily on making a viable hand and winning the game.
From early 20th century Shanghai, where Jewish men and women first began playing to Brooklyn, mah jongg is a popular game played in senior citizen centers, community centers and in private homes, mah jongg. The game spread to the United States., becoming extremely popular among Jews from New York to California. The American version is slightly different than the Chinese. American sets have 152 tiles in four suits. In the early days, tiles were made of ivory, then bakelight and today different plastics and materials are used. The rules of the game are determined by the National Mah Jongg Association.
Jewish actors like Eddie Cantor and Woody Allen refer to their mothers playing mah jongg.
It is remarkable that Brooklyn has become synonymous with cultural ferment, artistic innovation and an unstoppable surge of gentrification that is attracting a growing horde of super achievers. Although these two strains of environment changers are often in conflict with one another, both are prospering, radically changing the reputation of the borough from what was once an object of both pride and ridicule to one of the most culturally dynamic places in America.
The fact that I no longer recognize it as ‘my Brooklyn’ does not in any way impugn its current significance, but looking at it from the vantage point of the Brooklyn of my childhood and youth, roughly within a sixteen year span from 1932 to 1948, I can only conclude that the present, despite its glorious trappings of culture and prosperity does not come close to the wonder, excitement and exultation that captured my adolescent soul and never let go of it.
I have recapitulated those old Brooklyn days in a number of my novels like Funny Boys, Banquet Before Dawn and the New York Echoes short story collections, which offer the most details of that halcyon experience, but allow me to open the spigot of memory with some brief images of that bygone moment of urban joy.
My life in Brooklyn was lived betwixt two neighborhoods, Brownsville and Crown Heights, both Jewish enclaves then. Irish and Italian neighborhoods were contiguous. Of course, there were other Brooklyn neighborhoods for every ethnic group under the sun, racial, national and religious. There were also wide economic and class distinctions easily identified by house sizes and the usual trappings of wealth.
In my Brooklyn days these other places seemed to reside in another country, perhaps another planet. We were very aware of our boundaries by look, smell, dress, religion and customs and we knew that when we crossed those lines we had invaded a somewhat hostile foreign land.
The first mikvah ever in Park Slope finally opened after more than five years of construction.
The three-story William and Betty Katz Center for Jewish Life, on 15th Street between Sixth and Seventh avenues, was celebrated with a grand ribbon-cutting ceremony on Monday, drawing dozens of observant Jews and shutting down the street to traffic for several hours. The project has been controversial with neighbors since its inception.
A mikvah, which literally translates as “pool,” is a Jewish ritual bathhouse and an integral part of the religion, said Rabbi Shimon Hecht, leader of Congregation B’nai Jacob on Ninth Street. He also heads the Chabad of Brownstone Brooklyn, which built the mikvah.
“It’s a dream come true,” he said, adding that building a mikvah even takes precedence over building a house of worship.
The pristine, spa-like, facility is designed for observant Jews to partake in a ritual process of purification and cleansing, in a solitary and ultra private manner, by immersing themselves in specially constructed pools. The new mikvah has baths for men on the first floor and separate baths for women on the lower level. It’s available only by appointment.
“It’s a major component of the Jewish community,” he said. “You need a mikvah because Jewish purity is dependent on a mikvah. You cannot build a family without a mikvah. And if you don’t have a family then you cannot build a community.”
Published June 03, 2013, The Jewish Daily Forward
Stanley Goldstein sits at the center of a narrow hat store in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, fielding customers’ questions about brim sizes, crowns and colors. Bencraft Hatters, which was first opened in 1948 by Goldstein’s father, has been selling hats to Jews and non-Jews for 65 years and carries everything from cowboy hats and flat caps to the fedoras and Homburgs favored by the religious crowd. At 85, Goldstein still oversees much of the operation in Williamsburg, while Steven Goldstein, Stanley Goldstein’s son and the other owner of the business, can often be found shuttling between Williamsburg and the Goldsteins’ other store in Boro Park. In their own way, the two stores represent different part of New York’s Jewish community: The Williamsburg location accommodates a more secular crowd, including hipsters, while in Boro Park the clientele tends to be distinctly Orthodox.
Steven explained that “there are three or four hat stores in Boro Park, and for the most part each hat store takes care of a different sect of the community.” Bencraft is mostly oriented toward the Lubavitch and Modern Orthodox communities, which are not heavily represented in Boro Park. That means that customers sometimes trek across the city just to try on a Borsalino.
There are two ways people typically explore Hasidic subjects through art. It is either a sensitive portrayal of a tradition they are a part of, or an outsider’s perspective on a strange and unique culture. Brooklyn based artist Michael Levin has done both, and quite successfully at that.
In his new series “Jews of Today” opening July 20th at the 109 Gallery in South Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Levin explores the nuances and contradictions of Hasidic ritual dress through a series of elegant drawings and explanations, delving into larger issues of Jewishness and cultural identity in the process.
Originally from Los Angeles, Levin received his BA in Classics at the University of Chicago in 2006, and this fall he will begin his MFA in Printmaking at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn.
Levin became obsessed with Hasidic culture and dress after becoming neighbors with many Hasidim in the ever gentrifying Williamsburg, and looking for a way to relate to them. Read More »Art Exhibit in Brooklyn Examines Hasidic Dress and Culture
On Tuesday,November 26.2012, a great Bronx-born but Brooklyn-bred American Jewish hero, Marvin Miller died. The Malach Hamoves (Angel of Death) claimed him at age 95. His daughter Susan cited liver cancer as the cause but, denied elevation to Baseball’s Hall of Fame, Miller, an outstanding economist and labor leader, may have succumbed to a broken heart.
Several years prior, at the Workmen’s Circle building, I shared a podium with this protean figure. Deeply honored and almost speechless, I greeted him in Yiddish. Why? According to my late mother, at the Workmen’s Circle — home of mame loshen (mother tongue) –one must speak Yiddish. Moreover, I pointed out that baseball’s peerless union leader, Marvin Miller owes his success to the Golden rule, that is to say the Harry Golden rule. Dress British. Think Yiddish.
To this paradigm, add a social conscience, rooted in trade union culture, grounded in prophetic tradition, and leavened with core values — and you have an unbeatable force. Marvin Miller recalled that his father worked in lower Manhattan dispensing tsadaka (charity) and wisdom in Chinese, English, and Yiddish.
Located on the main stretch of Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach Avenue, among numerous Russian delis, Russian-language bookstores and a shuttered Russian travel agency, the Brighton Neighborhood Association stands out. Its window is one of the few on the block with signs predominantly in English, and it’s one of the few storefronts near the elevated tracks of the B and Q trains that doesn’t actually sell anything.
This doesn’t stop people — and definitely not elderly Russians — from strolling through the glass front door, unannounced, on a regular basis. Some mistake the office for a thrift store and start lifting up, one by one, the porcelain and enamel elephants, gifts from friends and other tchotchkes on the desk of Pat Singer, founder and executive director of BNA, a not-for-profit social service agency in Brighton Beach, a neighborhood that stretches for one mile along the Atlantic coast.
Singer has to break into her limited knowledge of Russian to shoo them away: “Not magazin, this office! Not for sale, nooo! Get your hands off my desk!”
Singer, the granddaughter of Jewish immigrants from Odessa, is a community leader in this predominantly Russian-speaking neighborhood: “I’m called ‘the Mother of Brighton Beach,’ but I’m a bad mother, because I can’t communicate with my children.”
“I just can’t stay home,” said Eli Miller, 79, who has been delivering seltzer for more than 50 years.
Eli Miller, 79, New York City’s senior seltzer man, hoisted crate after crate of seltzer — weighing 70 pounds apiece — into his van and then draped himself over them.
“I’m running on fumes — the reason I work is, I just can’t stay home,” said Mr. Miller, who has been delivering seltzer in Brooklyn for more than a half-century.
He can afford to retire, but that would mean his customers, many of whom have been with him for decades, might have to resort to store-bought seltzer.
“I don’t want them to have to drink that dreck you buy in the supermarket,” he said, using the Yiddish term for dirt. “So I guess I’ll retire when Gabriel blows his horn.”
Mr. Miller said that when he began delivering, on March 10, 1960, there were perhaps 500 seltzer men in the city, and a half-dozen seltzer bottlers. Now he can count his delivery competition on one hand, and they all fill up at the last seltzer factory in the city: Gomberg Seltzer Works in Canarsie.