Back to Conference Participants Abstract: Brooklyn Memoirs  




This is an oral history of my selective memories of growing up in Brooklyn. It is probably also based upon what Freud called "dynamic forgetting."
I was born in Brooklyn in June 1930, was conceived in September 1929, one month before the crash. This has been the continuing story of my life, conceived in prosperity, born in depression; high expectations coupled with cynical outlook. My entire family on both sides, were Brooklyn residents. My paternal grandfather arrived from Romania in 1880 and settled in what became New Lots hoping to become the first Jewish farmer in Brooklyn. That never happened but he was a Brownsville pioneer and raised his three sons (including my father) to hobnob with people like Lepke, Mendy Weiss and Abe Reles, outstanding citizens all. When I was a kid I frequented Oliverišs barber shop on Sutter Avenue and met some of these Murder, Inc. people myself.
Growing up in Brooklyn, I lived through at least five historic events, the beginning of talking pictures, the depression, World War II, the Dodgers winning their first pennant in over twenty years, and Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier. Underlying all this was a fervent loyalty to a sense of Brooklyn communities I shared with almost everyone I knew. Similar to the group psychology of small countries, this pride was tinged with a sense of inferiority, even shame. The world laughed at our accent, Brooklynites were objects of laughter and comedy, and even Dodgers were called "Dem Bums".
This Conference celebrates the official attachment of Brooklyn to New York. Yet growing up I always felt apart from New York, estranged from the larger world outside. We were the urban folk community. Visiting Manhattan, I always spoke of going to "New York." Even the Brooklyn subway stations contained signs reading "to New York".
Throughout, Dodger baseball functioned as a secular religion, a powerful cohesive force crossing class and ethnic, even age boundaries. As my grandfather used to say, "Oy the Dodgers, they can make you crazy." With a population of two million, Brooklyn was one of Americašs largest cities. In the thirties and forties, it was predominantly white ethnic with a Jewish population of about one million, 50% of the entire borough.
Witnessing Jackie Robinson's historic appearances in Brooklyn with Montreal and the Dodgers, I left Brooklyn for college in the Fall of 1947. I continued to follow the Dodgers avidly. For me, their fate represented my continued Brooklyn attachment, which was torn asunder by their departure for Los Angeles. I never forgave the organization for kidnapping the heart of my Brooklyn identity. Yet with three degrees from midwestern universities and my professional reputation as professor of sociology, I still wear my Brooklyn identity. When asked verbally or in writing of my birthplace, I always reply with special pride, "Brooklyn."