Thursday, September 18, 2014

My shtetele (shteh-teh-leh) Pelham Parkway

Some (Jewish) people remembered with longing the shtetlekh (villages where Jews lived) of their youth when they came to New York (Manhattan, usually the Lower East Side).  There was a song made wildly popular in and by the Yiddish Theater entitled "Mayn Shtetele Belz" in which the singer reminisces and becomes quite nostalgic for his home shtetl.

The Lower East Side became something of a shtetl on its own. But then those who lived there moved uptown and out - to Brooklyn, The Bronx and then to Queens and out to the Island and then south, west, even north to other states.

So  my "shtetl" was Pelham Parkway in the Bronx, as many of you already know, where my grandparents (mother's parents) lived for forty four years, and where my mom lived for twenty two years before she was married. An urban village, to use the term used by Herbert Gans in his book of  close to the same name (The Urban Villagers). Only it was a shtetl without agents of the Tsar creating pogroms. It was a shtetl the way the shtetl should have been.

My mom grew up there and said it was one of the best places in the world to grow up (especially if one was Jewish).

In the nineteen fifties and sixties, there was still very much of a shtetl feeling about Pelham Parkway. My grandma would go out shopping with her wagon and would meet other ladies she knew who were going shopping with their wagons. The stores selling foods she needed were all on Lydig Avenue, a block or so away, and there were many of them, most of them still small neighborhood stores. Some sold fruit and vegetables. Two sold fish. There were still two butcher shops (one had closed a few years before). There were candy stores which actually sold candy and a lot of other things.

On Saturday there was a hush over the area, even though many people didn't go to shul or to synagogue. It didn't matter. Some of the stores closed, some were still open. But it was still quiet. Then after services (not attended by all), people of all groupings walked around and greeted each other: the Orthodox, the Conservative, the Reform, the Secular. No one quarreled, at least on the basis of spirituality or belief systems.

The one group missing from this pleasing portrait of city life:  children.

We lived in the Bronx -after moving back from Rome, NY- until I was almost three. Then,, along with the majority of those who were in their twenties and had kids, we moved. For us, it was out to Long Island. So many reasons: houses were too expensive in Pelham Parkway, people my parents' age were moving out too, the commute to work was shorter, and it was supposed to be good for married couples to have their own lives apart from their parents.

We came back every weekend. Or my grandparents (mother's parents) came to us.

When I got older (12), we moved to Queens, and it became easier to go to the Bronx to visit  them by myself.

It was good to be back.

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