Sunday, December 18, 2011

Happy Hannukah.  Sorry for the delay in the publishing of this entry.   I don't have 8 items here, but hopefully the warm feelings you'll get from reading about Old Trenton will fill the darkest days of the year (in terms of sunlight) with a little more light.

 A few weeks ago, I interviewed Bertha Ropeik, who's maiden name was Bertha Levine.   The other day, she lent me her husband Arnie's 1947 Rider College yearbook, so I could scan a few pictures in it.  She also had an old copy of the February 17, 1947 issue of Life Magazine, in which there was pictorial story about the Rider College fraternity, Phi Sigma Nu, which staged the first of what has become a Christmas Day tradition in the area.  A group of college kids decided to re-enact Washington's Crossing of the Delaware and Arnie had done the PR on it, letting the editors of Life know that it was going to happen.   At the back of that 1947 yearbook were more pictures of the crossing, which I've included here. 

 -The Shadow, 1947

In case you missed it, the biggest Trenton story of the past couple of weekw didn't have anything to do with the old jewish community, or maybe it did.   DeLorenzo's is closing their store in Trenton and the repercussions are shaking the earth all the way to San Francisco, where Tony Siegle is mourning the loss.   This arrived in my mailbox the day after the Times' story ran.

"I read in the Trenton Times that DeLorenzos on Hudson St. is closing it's door.  That is sad news indeed. I think every Jew who lived in Trenton in the 1950's on went the for "Tomato pies" and it became an institution. I think that now verifies kills the Trenton we knew and loved."

We moved to this area in 1996 and had the privilege of standing outside for about an hour before enjoying the best Tomato Pie I ever ate.   First the hotels, then the movie theaters, the synagogues and now DeLorenzo's.  Ouch.

I ran into Elaine Lavine Sunday morning at Adath Israel and started talking about her father's store in Old Tenton, Palat's Dairy.  I had my phone with me and showed her a photo of her Uncle Herman's store, Palat's Furs at 17 Cooper Street.   There is a photo of it from the 1958 tax records in the archives.  

She told me that her memories of the business was of the trappers from South Jersey coming into the store with their muskrats and having them skinned.   Their pelts were stretched out on boards and then used to make coats.  Where do the trappers take their muskrats these days?  Not to Quakerbridge Mall, I'm sure.   Another sign that the times, they are a-changing.

And as promised, here is the second installment of my interview with Robert Olinsky in Israel.  In going through some of the old pictures from the YMHA/JCC, I couldn't find a shot of Bob.  I did find a shot of his father, Joe and his twin brother Richard.  In this section Bob talks about hanging out the at YMHA and his father's cousin, Ben Olinsky, who ran the Biddy League, as well as Ben's wife, Muriel.

Again, Happy Hannukah to all.


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Recent History-The Making of the Torah Covers at Adath Israel

When I started writing this blog last February, we concentrated on the neighborhood that was central to Jewish life in Trenton in the early 1900's through the 1940's.   As we've progressed, the focus has widened, both in terms of the area and the era.  While there is still much to mine in the history of the older days, there is still a vibrant Jewish community in the suburbs of Trenton.   From Yardley, to Lawrenceville, to Princeton to West Windsor to Lambertville, the Jewish families that started downtown have spread across the region.   I am a member of Adath Israel in Lawrenceville and a few years back, our congregation commissioned a new Torah and covers to adorn our existing Torahs.  I produced a video about discovering an error in one of the synagogue's older Torahs, the collection of items to put in a G'nezah, the commissioning of a new Torah form Israel and its dedication.  In October of 2008, Hedda Morton, the Director of Congregational Learning at Adath and I drove up to Woodbridge, Connecticut to visit with the artist who was selected to create the new Torah covers.   I edited the video, but the footage wound up on a hard drive that found its way to a shelf.   This morning I found that hard drive and touched up the video.   It's recent history, but I submit to our readers the story of the Torah adornments now being used at Adath Israel.

For those of you wondering what happened to the next installment of Bob Olinsky's interview, it's coming.   I've gotten a little swamped on the work side of life, so in order to keep fresh material out there, I decided to publish this entry.  There is more with Bob.  In upcoming episodes, he talks about his Aunt Sylvia Olinsky, who worked at Waldman's barbershop.  She was the manicurist and many people I've talked with have Sylvia stories.  If you have any that you'd like me to include, please give send me an e-mail and I will do my best.  Apparently, she was one of the real characters of Old Trenton, who could both take it and dish it out.   I'm also looking for pictures of Waldman's or Syliva.   If you have any, please contact me.



Sunday, December 4, 2011

Bob Olinsky-Weather or Not

Bob Olinsky- Weather or not---A Trenton voice familiar all over Israel

As many of you know, this blog began less than a year ago and really started as an offshoot of an Adult Education Class that I organized at Adath Israel in early March 2011.   One of the first things that I did when I set up the blog was to post pictures that I scanned at the Trenton Public Library.  The first batch was of people who there weren’t any ID’s for.  The second batch was of tax photos from the City of Trenton taken between 1938 and 1958.  I encouraged (and still encourage people) to look at those pictures and if they stir memories or you can ID anyone in the pictures to note the Photo # and send me an e-mail so that I can add these ID’s to the Archives of the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Trenton.

I started the blog on February 17th and on March 14th, I received the first of many e-mails from Bob Olinsky, a former Trentonian, who now lives in Israel.  In the past year, Bob has retired after 40 years of working for the Israeli Weather Service.   Last week, I got a chance to sit down and talk with Bob about the Trenton he remembers, how he wound up in Israel, and how he became perhaps the most recognizable voice on Israeli radio.  We did this interview on Skype and my hope was to have video and audio of Bob, but the connection wasn’t good enough on Bob’s end to support the video, so I’ve tried to add visuals where it was appropriate. 

What follows is part one of the conversation.   We started with Bob’s recollections of Trenton.  (Editor’s note:  The first picture of Bob is the only recent one that he could find.   It was taken in Italy in 2005.   Bob and his wife are living in an apartment, preparing to move next year and most of their photos are in storage).

Bob mentions Sol in the interview.  Sol is Sol Weinstein lived for a short time at 61 Union Street.  After speaking with Bob last week, I also spoke with Sol, who told me that he thought his uncles were the bootleggers.  They might have been, but apparently they weren’t the only ones.  This is part one of the interview.  In subsequent weeks, we’ll have more from Bob.

I’ve been asked a number of times in the past 10 months, why I, a non-Trentonian, am doing this blog.  There are many reasons, but one of them is that I have had a wonderful time listening to the stories, filled with passion about old Trenton.   It also has been an education for me about how powerful the Internet is as a tool for bringing people together.  I’ve served as a conduit for a number of people who have fallen out of touch with old friends.  To help facilitate that, we’ve set up a Facebook Group page, (search Trenton Jewish Project on Facebook) where you can register and send e-mail directly to one another.  In the coming months, I hope to add other layers of Social Media to this project.  One thing Social Media can’t replace is face-to-face interaction.  On January 29th, I’ll be speaking at Adath Israel in Lawrenceville.   In addition to showing some video from interviews that I’ve done in the past year with Trentonians, I’m hoping to put together a panel which can speak about how Trenton’s Jewish population transformed over the years.   It should be a fascinating morning.   Mark the date on your calendars.  As plans come together, I’ll keep you updated.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Post Thanksgiving Edition

Post Thanksgiving Edition-

My apologies for a late update to the blog, but I have excuses.  My mother came in from Texas, my sister came to visit from Downingtown, PA, my in-laws arrived from Wappingers Falls, NY, we had a Bar Mitzvah to attend and my wife worked the weekend.   Next week doesn't offer too many opportunities to update the blog, with a video shoot on Monday, a funeral in Central Pennsylvania on Tuesday for my wife's great Aunt Margaret, who passed last Friday at age 104 and who knows what at the end of the week, so I'm taking a few minutes on Sunday to at least let you know that we are still here.

Please save the date, January 29th, 2012 on your calendars.  We are going to have a meeting about Old Trenton in conjunction with the Adath Israel Adult Education Committee with the topic being the Trenton Jewish Project.   Time and details to come.  

I did a Skype interview on Wednesday with Bob Olinsky in Israel and will be cutting that up and publishing it on the blog in the coming weeks.

I am a member at Adath Israel and it was a rough week for our community.  Two of our contemporaries lost parents during the week and on Shabbat, the Rabbi announced that Gerald Popkin had passed away.  His death notice, which was forwarded to me by Tony Siegle,  is attached:

 Gerald S. Popkin JACKSON - Gerald S. Popkin, 72, passed away Friday, Nov. 25, 2011. Born in Trenton, Mr. Popkin was a former resident of Lawrenceville. He was a graduate of Rider University (BA) and Trenton State College (MA). He was a professor of education at The College of New Jersey and Mercer County Community College. Mr. Popkin retired from the Millstone public schools as assistant superintendent and director of curriculum. He served as a trustee at Adath Israel Congregation. He was the finest example of an educator. Mr. Popkin was respected by students, teachers, administrators and parents. He leaves behind a legacy that will be carried on by the lives he touched. Son of the late Bernard and Florence (Schwartz) Popkin, he is survived by his wife, Harriet Berger Popkin; sister and brother-in-law, Cynthia and Stanley Saperstein; two nephews, Eric Saperstein and Jonathan (Jaclyn) Saperstein; special families, Donna and Robert Siana (and their children, Alicia and Jon), Lisa and Charles Gelo (and their children Katie and Nicholas). Funeral services are Monday at 11:30 a.m. at Adath Israel Congregation, 1958 Lawrenceville Road, Lawrenceville. The period of mourning will be observed Monday through Wednesday at the Popkin residence. The family respectfully requests memorial contributions to Adath Israel Congregation (Rabbi's Discretionary Fund) or Greenwood House, 53 Walter St., Ewing, NJ. Funeral arrangements are by Orland's Ewing Memorial Chapel, 1534 Pennington Road, Ewing Township.

The funeral will be held at Adath Israel on Monday morning  at 11:30 am.

Late last night I also received a wonderful personal recollection of Trenton from Estelle Bogad, who contacted me a couple of weeks ago to have me add another Trenton Ex-Pat, Sam Gordon, to the e-mail list.  Estelle lives in Arcadia, California now and here's what she wrote:

My name is Estelle Rabstein Bogad. I was raised in Trenton until l946. at which date I married Milt Bogad.
 We moved to California in l949.  To go back to  early days, I lived on Perry Street. I did not live in any Jewish section because my Dad first had a soda factory and when prohibition was repealed we had a liquor store at that location. I had 2 sisters, one was Ruth Rabstein Pellettieri, who defended the "Trenton Six" My other sister was Rose Rabstein Hirsch who was married to Sam Hirsch, the son of the couple you have honored on those benches. I did graduate Trenton High School in "39, graduated Temple University in "43. and taught at Trenton High "from "43 to "46.
Enough about me personally.
I wanted to fill you in  on Trenton before the 40"s.   There were 4 shuls on Union Street. The first one from Market street was one of the smallest and  one of the poorest. My family was a member there forever. My Dad was responsible for building the house for Rabbi Kantorowitz on the Workers of Truth Cemetery and he was buried there until he was moved to Israel.

To give you more on Trenton - the BEST Jewish bakery on Market Street was Kohns. Mae Kohn, one of the daughters, ran it for years. If you back up from there, Palats. a dairy store was on the corner of Market and Cooper. Coming toward Union you had Siegels Deli. You haven"t eaten deli until you had it from there.
I could name a few more but I think enough for now.
We all went to the Y. We had a Girl"s social club that met there. Our senior advisor was Edith Citroen. What fun!!! Name of the club was Cleophas Club.  

If you want to speak about Jewtown you have to include the people who lived there - the Rosenthals, the Gordons, and many more I can't think of right now.

This was Jewtown. The people you have mentioned were the Jews who  moved to the westside and then joined Adath.

Of course the city came in and destroyed it completely,
I could go on and on, I had some very dear friends who are now buried on the Workers of Truth cemetery. I am very grateful to Allan Richman and his group for taking over the maintenance of the cemetery.
Hope this will help your archives.

I invite you to look at the photo gallery of Old Jewish Trenton to see if the pictures bring back memories that you might share with us.

Estelle's letter mentions her sister, Ruth Rabstein Pellettieri and her involvement in the Trenton Six case.  I didn't know about this chapter of Trenton history, but offer some links for those of you who do or those who don't, but want to learn more.

Here's the Wikipedia link.

This article from Capital Century includes an article that quotes Estelle's sister extensively.

There is also a book about the case available on Amazon.

It's amazing to read about the abuses of power and the struggle of people to find the truth, but even more incredible that some of the same kinds of cases can still happen today.

Thank you, Estelle for adding to our growing collection of Trenton memories.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Ben Kaufman-American Hero

A Post Veterans Day Remembrance.   
Ben Kaufman, World War I Hero
For the second straight week, Arthur Finkle is the inspiration for a blog entry.   Last Friday was Veteran’s Day and I was going through the Trenton Jewish Project e-mail box when I came upon a note from Arthur that he sent back in July.   The e-mail contained the minutes of a meeting that a group of 10 of us had to discuss possible offshoots of this endeavor and also included a article from the Virtual Jewish Library about his uncle, Ben Kaufman.  According to the article, Kaufman was born in Buffalo and grew up in Brooklyn.  His migration to Trenton isn’t mentioned and my research to this point doesn’t document when he arrived in town, but his impact on the area is well documented.   I’ve attached a copy of the article below

Benjamin Kaufman
Citation for Congressional Medal of Honor
by Seymour "Sy" Brody


Rank and organization: 
First Sergeant, United States Army,
Company K, 308th Infantry, 77th Division 
Place and date: 
In the forest of Argonne, France,
4 October, 1918 
Entered service at: 
Brooklyn, New York 
Buffalo, New York 
He took out a patrol for the purpose of attacking an enemy machine gun which had checked the advance of the company. Before reaching the gun, he became separated from the patrol and a machine gun bullet shattered his right arm. Without hesitation, he advanced on the gun alone, throwing grenades with his left hand and charging with an empty pistol, taking one prisoner and scattering the crew, bringing the gun and prisoner back to the first-aid station. 
Sergeant Benjamin Kaufman was an unassuming young man who grew up in Brooklyn, rooted for the Dodgers and found himself going to Syracuse University when the United States became a participant in World War I in 1917. 
Kaufman responded to the call to arms and joined the Army, where he was assigned to Company K, 308th Infantry. He excelled in camp sports and the company respected him as being a tough soldier and a good sport. He quickly rose to the rank of sergeant and he twice refused the honor of becoming an officer. 
Kaufman proved to be a hero almost as soon as he was in combat in France. He became blinded by a gas shell while aiding in the rescue of several of his men. Despite his refusal of medical help, doctors forced him to go to the hospital. For fighting men like Kaufman, the hospital was no place to be. He borrowed a uniform and made his way back to his outfit. Kaufman was quickly faced with a court martial for leaving the hospital. However, Army officers saw it Kaufman's way and dropped the charges so that he could rejoin his outfit. 
While serving in an advance detail in the Argonne on October 4, 1918, Kaufman and his men came under heavy fire from a German machine gun. Two of his men were wounded. Kaufman realized that he had to silence the machine gun before help could reach the wounded men. 
Before he could use his own weapon, Kaufman was struck in the arm by an enemy bullet. With his shattered, bleeding right arm hanging limp at his side, Kaufman advanced on the enemy, lobbing hand grenades with his left arm. He eventually reached the German position and captured a surviving German soldier. 
Kaufman returned to the American lines with his prisoner. He fainted from the loss of blood after revealing the position of the German lines, which made it possible for the Americans to move forward. 
Kaufman received awards for bravery from nine foreign governments. The United States awarded him the Congressional Medal of Honor. After the war, he became active in the Jewish War Veterans of the United States of America, serving as national commander in 1941 - 1942. The Ben Kaufman Post 156 of the JWV in Trenton, New Jersey, is a living memorial to a man who always had a smile on his face even when the going was rough. 

An Internet search turned up more interesting articles, including a picture in the Wikipedia entry.
Benjamin Kaufman (Medal of Honor)
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
For Benjamin Kaufman (professor of psychiatry), see Benjamin Kaufman.

Place of birth
Place of death
Mercer Medical Center in Trenton, New Jersey
Years of service
1917 - 1919
Company K, 308th Infantry, 77th Division
Benjamin Kaufman (March 10, 1894-February 5, 1981) was a First Sergeant in the U.S. Army during World War I. He received the Medal of Honor and the Croix de Guerre for bravery in action in the Argonne Forest, France on October 4, 1918.

Kaufman was born in Buffalo, but grew up in Brooklyn, where he lived at 2113 Pitkin Avenue, at the time of enlistment. His mother was Mrs. Anna Kaufman. He was attending Syracuse University when he had to respond to the call to arms and joined the Army in 1917. He was assigned to Company K, 308th Infantry, 77th Division.
Kaufman proved to be a hero almost as soon as he was in combat in France. He became blinded by a gas shell while aiding in the rescue of several of his men. Despite his refusal of medical help, doctors forced him to go to the hospital. Kaufman decided to go back to battle and borrowed a uniform and made his way back to his outfit. Kaufman was faced with a court martial but the charges were dropped. Kaufman received awards for bravery from nine foreign governments. The United States awarded him the Medal of Honor on April 8, 1919.
During World War II, he was director of the War Manpower Commission in New Jersey. He was also a commander of the New Jersey Council of the Disabled American Veterans of the World War and a national vice commander of the National Legion of Valor.
He was the executive director of the Jewish War Veterans of the United States from 1945 to 1959 and a former national commander of the organization, and for nearly 10 years, he was the manager of the Trenton office of the State Employment Service.
Benjamin Kaufman died on February 5, 1981 at the Mercer Medical Center in Trenton at the age of 86. He was survived by his wife, the former Dorothy Finkle; a daughter, Rita DeVries; a sister, Jennie Edwards, and two grandchildren.
Medal of Honor citation
He took out a patrol for the purpose of attacking an enemy machine gun which had checked the advance of his company. Before reaching the gun he became separated from his patrol and a machinegun bullet shattered his right arm. Without hesitation he advanced on the gun alone, throwing grenades with his left hand and charging with an empty pistol, taking one prisoner and scattering the crew, bringing the gun and prisoner back to the first-aid station.[1] AFTER escaping from a field hospital to re-join his unit.
Apparently I wasn’t the only one who was thinking about Ben Kaufman recently.   Further down the page of Google results was a link to an interview with a World War I history buff and author, Robert J. Laplander.   I must admit that I had never heard of the website Human Events or Guns and Patriots before, and I make no endorsement of their organization or viewpoints, but if you scrub through the podcast (click on the link to open the Podcast) to the 41:36 mark, you will be able to hear Laplander talk about the amazing bravery exhibited by Kaufman and why his actions on October 4, 1918 were recognized. 
I also direct you to two passages from the book Lost Battalions:The Great War and the Crisis of American Nationality by Richard Slotkin, available on line at this link.    (The link searches for Ben Kaufman and if you click on the next button you will find the two citings below)The first passage, starting on page 329 and details Kaufman’s heroic acts.   
The book also highlights the a 1942 Look Magazine article that profiled Kaufman.  

The second passage comes later in the book starting on Page 534 and deals with Kaufman’s leadership of the Jewish War Veterans and his success in fighting anti-semitism and the acceptance of Jewish soliders.   Here is an excerpt from the book that sums this up.
“Implicit in Kaufman’s legend and explicit in the agenda of the JWV and other Jewish organizations, was the insistence that the social bargain of 1917 must now at last be fulfilled.   Kaufman was living proof that the Jews had kept their part of the original bargain.  Nazism was a demonstration of what could happen to a nation that could not overcome race prejudice.   Jews were ready to fight in a second world war-even Kaufman, a survivor of the first, was willing to fight again-but acceptance of their Americanism could not be conditional on the quality of their performance.  Their Americanism must be assumed and recognized at the start.”

You’ll notice in the articles above, there is a gap between Kaufman being awarded the Medal of Honor and his appointment to the War Manpower Commission in New Jersey and his work with the DAV and positions with the Jewish War Veterans of the United States.  If anyone can add some insight here on how Ben Kaufman wound up in Trenton and when, that would be a nice addition to the local history. 
According to an article in the New Jersey Jewish News, published August 8, 2011, the Benjamin Kaufman Post #156 of the Jewish War Veterans merged in 2010 with Post 156 and is now called the SPC Mark Seiden/Benjamin Kaufman Post #444 and meets in East Windsor on the third Thursday of each month.
Kaufman died in 1981 and is buried at Fountain Lawn Memorial Park, Plot MI, Grave 5.  
Editor’s note:   Anita “Sugie” Ellis sent me an e-mail on Tuesday morning, informing me that the Jerusalem Post had done an article on the re-release of Trenton native, Sol Weinstein’s Oy-Oy-Seven books.   Of course, if you are a regular reader of the Trenton Jewish Project, you already knew that.  Here is the link to the JPost article.
Herb Spiegel added this observation...
“You know one of his non Israel Bond book was dedicated to me? Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex And Couldn't Wait to Ask...of course he dedicated it to all his friends...the dedication was many, many pages long. I think, longer than the book!”

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

What's a Bobashela?


Last year, my son and I went to Trenton High School to interview the varsity basketball coach, Gary Grant, for a video that we produced for the Colonial Valley Conference end of year basketball banquet.  We interviewed most of the coaches from the conference about their remembrances of Jjm Valvano, the late basketball coach from North Carolina State, who passed away 18 years ago from bone cancer.  It was my first time in the building.  
According to Wikipedia, "Trenton Central High School (TCHS) opened on January 4, 1932 and was formally dedicated on January 18 amid a crowd of five thousand. Hailed as “an ornament to the city” and “one of the show places of Trenton,” TCHS was one of the largest and most expensive high schools built in the country. The Chambers Street fa├žade stretches broadly for almost 1,000 feet (300 m), nearly as long as the Empire State Building is tall. The cost of the building, including land and furniture, totaled $3.3 million."  
Through the years, I had followed the ongoing debate of whether to renovate or rebuild the Grande Dame.  So, the first time I entered the gymnasium, I took in everything.  I thought back to how majestic that gym must have been when the school opened.  It struck me as more of a college gym, with the benches built on concrete, instead of the more modern folding stands.  I thought of all of the great athletes that have played in that gym.  What I didn't see were the collapsing ceilings and the general disrepair.  Then, last week in the Trenton Times there were pictures of the crumbling track and the criticisms of the current city administration's renovation priorities.
Last spring Arthur Finkle sent me  a photo of the second graduating class of TCHS at Mt. Vernon.  It's a wonderful picture and I've re-posted it below.  Arthur's uncle, Maurice was a member of the class of 1933. 

A few weeks ago, Art sent along 5 more images from that yearbook.  I was a little stumped when I saw the cover.  After all, what's a Bobashela?  An Internet search yielded the chart below, the genealogy of a racehorse that was born in 1925.  

Then I found an entry from the Trenton Historical Society, which cleared everything up.   The TCHS yearbook has been called Bobashela and has been published since at least 1918.  Trentonia at the Trenton Public Library has an extensive collection of the Yearbooks but is still missing a number of the years.  If you click on the link above, you'll see which ones they are missing.  Apparently Millsaps College in Mississippi also calls their yearbook Bobashela, as does a chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution in Decatur (GA?)  Any other background on how the yearbook got its name would be appreciated.

The pictures that Art sent are from the 1933 Bobashela.  Arthur's uncle Maurice (above) recently passed away.   I needed a little clarification and asked him whether he was also related to Anita Finkle, who is pictured on the same page.  Art replied, "My Finkle family was (at one time) was  enormous).  Anita was a member of another Finkle family  (nice folks but unrelated). Much smaller family.  Art also was kind enough to add to the TJP with his recollections of his days at Trenton High School.   

 Trenton High: Recollections
by:  Arthur Finkle
Trenton Central High School was one of the best times of my life. The variety of activities and the variegation of the student body were there for the picking. I graduated in 1959. ALL of my first cousins (David Popkin, Joel Popkin, Bernard Levy, Marilyn Hayfer, Florence and Leatrice Klatzkin graduated Trenton High) as well as my Aunts and Uncles.
My classes were the “X” classes (now Advanced Standing) in which we had about 30 students, half of whom were Jewish.
The Jewish student body was close. Although most were form Jr. 3, there were those from Jr. 1, 2 and 5 to my knowledge. He kept ourselves together in outside organizations like AZA, the YMHA, HSTY and USY. We also attended Tallis and Tfillin Club sponsored by AZA.
My activities included the Band, the Orchestra, Choir, Chorus, Rock ‘n Roll group (‘The Off keys’), the Forum Club. I belonged to the Red Band one year and the Black Band for two years for famous Sports Night. My main interest was the Debating Team with Mentor Saul Rossein. We went all over w Jersey and came in second for the state Championship.
I remember participating in the last Operetta, “Show Boat ‘ as well as in the school plays.
I remember Christian Herter coming down the aisle with a heavy cane before he spoke to the assembly. (Trenton High taught approximately  3,000 students. Lawrence High School was not built until 1965)
Friends then and today remain Al Downing, Frankie Aaronson, Dorothy Fizer, Eddie Berkelhammer (recently passed), Albie Stark, Mark Nath, Ellen (Mann) Somerstein , Russ Petranto, Larry Trachtenberg,  Bruce Lubitz, Stan Saperstein, Terry Rosenfeld, Larry Siegel.   Half of these students went to Cadwalader School.
Later in life at a 60th birthday party for the leader of the Red Band, I got to know Mateo Giammario, our great orchestral conductor. He taught to appreciate one the genius’ the 20th century – Aaron Copeland.
Trenton High prepared me for the social and intellectual life that I have experienced.

Editors notes:   Last week, I mentioned that the bench that the Saperstein Brothers were sitting on in the entry from October 24th was inscribed with a plaque commemorating the 50th anniversary of Albert and Anne Hirsch.  Well, this week I received an e-mail from Robin Hirsch, who lives in Los Angeles.  Her Aunt, Estelle Bogad, told her about the blog and Robin reports that Albert and Anne were her grandparents.

"Would love to know more.  I have many memories of Trenton.  My parents are both buried at Greenwood Cemetery and  we visit about once a year when we are East."

We'll see what we can do, RobinTell us about some of those Trenton memories.  


Tuesday, November 1, 2011

A Memory of Ben Olinsky

Ten years ago, I had no idea what a blog was.  If I had, I'm sure I would have published this at the time.   This Monday morning, October 31, 2011, I was cleaning up in my office and came upon a CD on which I had archived old documents from a computer that had long ago been recycled.  I had been on the lookout for years for a copy of a story that I had written in November of 2001.  It was on this disc.   If there was a point when the groundwork had been laid for putting together the Trenton Jewish Project, this was probably the it.  I've done just a little editing, changing some present tense sentences to past tense and updating the information about my kids.  But 99% of what you about to read was written a decade ago.

It was a sad time, for 9/11 had happened just two months earlier and there was much uncertainty.   The weather was changing.  Another winter was approaching and with it, an inevitable case of Seasonal Affect Disorder.  I had also just gotten some very bad news.  Someone who I had met only once, but made a lasting impression on me had just passed away.

                                                             By Ed Alpern

     If life is a game, then the measure of your accomplishments should be able to be totaled up shortly after your death.  The final buzzer sounds and the score is up there on the big board for all to see.  The tally includes all the people who you touch along the way and the impact that you have on them and your community.  This is the story of a man who won big.  He gave and touched and he deserves to be remembered.

     I didn’t meet Ben Olinsky until he was 82 years old.  By then, he was having trouble walking.  I only met him once.  We spoke for a little over an hour.  Almost a year to the day later, I attended his funeral.

     I first became aware of Benjamin C. Olinsky while doing a community service project at the Jewish Community Center of the Delaware Valley.  Both of my sons had attended Ring Nursery School at the Center and my oldest, age 8 at the time, was intensely proud of the 12 trophies he earned through the sports programs that were run year round.  After years of walking past yellowing and faded photos stapled to a bulletin board, I decided that these pictures needed to be preserved.  There were 226 of them.  They spanned the decades, beginning in the 19-teens with activities from the Trenton YMHA (Young Man’s Hebrew Association) and ending in the 80’s.  Most were black and white, many were ripped, almost all had neatly typed captions with names of people who had played basketball, wrestled, swam, played baseball, organized dances, supported soldiers, taught children how to play sports and be good sports.  It was a collection that demanded attention.

     As I removed the staples and faithfully made piles for the different decades to which the photographs belonged, I couldn’t help but wonder who these people were.  One face kept staring back at me.  I first noticed it in a 1933 picture of a basketball team.  There, in the center of the back row, was a handsome, skinny man, with dark hair, dark eyes, and a very faint smile.  “Wait a minute,” I said to myself.  “I’ve seen that face before.”  

I rifled back through the 1930’s pile, then the 40’s pile.  The skinny kid had put on some muscle and before I got to the end of the 1940’s, it was clear that Ben Olinsky was some kind of a gym rat. He must have lived at the Y. 

     At the top of the 1950’s pile I started seeing pictures of Ben Olinsky, not as a player, but as a coach.

And then I came upon a photo from 1955, there was a picture of five women who were members of the Dance Committee.  On the far right, the caption identified a Muriel Olinsky.  She didn’t look like a sister, but maybe a wife.  

Muriel Olinsky on the far left.
 It turns out that in the late 1940’s a woman named Muriel came to Rider College.  She played basketball and found her way down to the Y.  The athletic director of the Y at the time, a Scotty Mosovich, worked with Muriel on her free throws and happened to introduce Muriel to the gym rat.  An 82-year old Ben Olinsky described it as “the worst decision that Scotty ever made.”  The mating ritual was far from typical, but what else could you expect.  Ben challenged Muriel to a free throw shooting contest.  She won.  “I beat him at his game and he had to marry me,” remembers Muriel.  The match lasted 54 years.

     The 1950’s pile also provided me a more personal link to this mystery man, Mr. Olinsky.  From 1954, there was a picture of a an adult handing a basketball to a couple of boys who looked to be 7 or 8 years old.  The caption said one of the two kids was named Tal Brody.  

 It was a name that I knew from my teenage years.  I went to Israel in 1973 for six weeks with the summer camp I attended.  We went to the opening ceremonies of the Maccabiah games (The Jewish Olympics).  At my aunt’s apartment in Jerusalem, four of my friends and I watched as this same Tal Brody led the Israeli team to a spirited win over the United States team in the gold medal game.  Now, I held in my hand another picture.  One that made this public service project even more compelling.  Tal Brody, who grew up in Trenton, became a star at Trenton High, was an All-American at the University of Illinois, played on the U.S., then Israeli national teams, was a member of the ill-fated 1972 Israeli Olympic games and later became a national hero in Israel, and Ben Olinsky had crossed paths.    The photo brought a flood of my own memories of that summer of 1973.  We played many a basketball game that ended with one of us hitting a jumper from beyond the three point line (ABA rules, back then) as time ran out and another of us screaming…”Tal Brody at the buzzer…it’s good!!!”

By the bottom of the 1950’s pile, my man Ben was the guy giving out the trophies to the kids.

  He had started a program called the Biddy League, and he was now its president.  The Biddy League was the place where hundreds of kids, starting at the ripe age of 7, got their first chance to learn about and play the game of basketball.  One of the rules of the Biddy League was that everyone played at least a half.  When I finally met Ben in November of 2000, that rule was one of the facts he made sure to tell me. “Everybody got to play at least a half.  Whether they were good or bad.”  Tears actually started to well up in the eyes of this strong man who could swear like a sailor (he was one—Navy 1940’s) when he told me, “That was what I was the proudest of, I felt noches (yiddish for pride) when I saw the kids learning how to play.”  Tal Brody was one of those kids.  By the time I met Ben, Brody was a middle-aged insurance executive.  The man who is still considered Israel’s Mr. Basketball has lived a charmed life because of basketball.  I found Tal Brody's telephone number and interviewed him in 2000.   Brody told me, “I started playing basketball at the Y in the Biddy League, that was really where I got my start.” 

     Brody isn’t the only one with fond memories of the man and the program.  To this day, many of them still keep in touch with each other, sharing a link they forged as kids on the basketball court.  One was a weatherman in Israel and another a stock analyst for Robertson Stephens in San Francisco.  There’s a lawyer in Lawrenceville and a Rabbi in Jerusalem.   In fact, there are hundreds of people whose lives were touched by Ben Olinksy.  And I guess that’s the point.  Even though you won’t read about someone like Ben Olinsky in the pages of People Magazine or see his story on a TV magazine show, he was a man who gave of his time and volunteered so that future generations would have a positive experience and a love of sports.  So, I really wasn’t surprised on that bright and sunny day in November 2001 when the chapel at the funeral home was packed and more than 100 people came to say goodbye to Ben.

     I didn’t meet Ben Olinsky until he was 82 years old.  In November 2000, we sat and talked with a video camera rolling for a little more than an hour.  In the middle of the interview, a client called and I had to rush off to a meeting. We didn’t get a chance to talk again.  Almost a year to the day later, I ran into his wife at the local supermarket.  I asked how Ben was doing. “He was hanging in,” Muriel said, but knee problems were hobbling him physically and Alzheimer's was robbing him of his mental agility.  I promised to get her a copy of the interview.   It would be ready on the following Monday when Muriel would be at the Golden Age meeting at the JCC.  My wife dropped in to give her the tape as promised.  Muriel wasn’t there.  One of her best friends informed my wife that Ben had passed away on Sunday, four days after I ran into Muriel. 

     Ben Olinsky was 83 at the end of regulation.  I met him almost a year to the day before he died.  The seats were full at his funeral.  There might as well have been a big scoreboard at the end of the chapel where the rabbi spoke.  His friends and at least one acquaintance had come to celebrate a life that was a lopsided victory.

A side note---Last week, I included a color picture of the Saperstein brothers sitting on a bench.  One of our readers, Mary Lou Byer recognized the setting instantly as Ahavath Israel.  Not only that, but Mary Lou knew that the bench had made the trek from Ewing to Lawrenceville when Ahavath and Adath merged earlier this year.  Well, a little bit of detective work uncovered the wherabouts of that bench and a matching one.  In the synagogue offices at Adath, the benches have a home.   The benches are inscribed with a plaque commemorating the 50th Anniversary of Albert & Anne Hirsch.   Case solved.

Monday, October 24, 2011

A tribute and a Family History

 When I started this blog nine months ago, my hope was that it would start a buzz and get people thinking and talking about the Trenton in which they grew up.   There were (and still are) thousands of pictures in the archives down at the Trenton Public Library that needed to be identified.   We’ve made some progress there and you’re invited to look at the archives linked to this blog and add some more ID’s.  I hoped to interview a number of current and former Trentonians about their memories of the city’s Golden Age.  I’ve done some, but time restraints have limited the number.   But to make this project really work, I needed the readers to provide material to research and that has happened, too.

This blog entry is different from many of the past ones and I hope the beginning of a new chapter here.   After reading my article about the Butchers of Trenton, Stanley Saperstein, who I met at the first meeting at Adath Israel in March, sent me an e-mail, promising that he was going to work on a history of the Saperstein family and that it would take him about a month to put it together.   That was on October 19th.   On October 21st, I received the family history.   That’s fast turnaround, but it wasn’t all that surprising to me. 

Which leads me to a personal tribute before we move on to Stanley's family history.

Once you set your mind to doing something like this, the words just seem to fly on to the computer screen.  It wasn’t always that way for me, but if you’ve followed the news at all, you know that Steve Jobs of Apple fame passed away a couple of weeks ago.  I used to struggle to write.  Sitting at a typewriter was absolute torture.  Where to start? Where to end? what to put in the middle?  I was haunted by the need to organize your thoughts and then type them, almost perfectly, or rip up the paper and start over.  Sure, we had onion paper and then White-Out, but to produce a relatively neat final draft was almost impossible.   It wasn’t as much writer’s block as it was the incredible waste of trees and the mechanics of putting word to paper.   That all changed in 1984.   I was working at the CBS Morning News and one of my responsibilities was to work with Dr. Bob Arnot, who was incredibly young, very smart, but didn’t know much about writing video scripts.   He had one of these new computers called a Macintosh.   I watched in awe as he was able to highlight, then drag and drop letters, words, phrases paragraphs.  I remember asking him if I could touch the mouse and try it for myself.  My sister was in college at Penn and she was the real impetus for me to buy a computer of my own.   For $1700, I bought a Macintosh Plus.   It was a small one piece unit, with an even smaller black and white screen, 1 MB of internal RAM memory (today's come with at least 2,000 times more memory), a floppy disk drive (a relic), and no hard drive (today you can buy a terrabyte of memory-1,000 x1,000 megabytes for about $70).  By today's standards, that little computer is the equivalent what a Model A is to a brand new Mercedes-Benz.   It came with a word processing program and it worked.     I still have that Macintosh Plus at my office (along with a few newer models).   After Steve Jobs died, I took the old computer and plugged it in.  I wanted to see the smiling Mac that displays at start up.  

 Of course, I didn’t have the system disk, so all I got was the question mark on the screen.  But it was still enough for me.  It was my homage to the man and the device that really changed the way I write.  I throw words on the screen as fast as I can, then move them, remove them, edit them, drag them, organize them and no trees die in the process.   It’s a freeing experience to write now and all I can say is thank you, Steve Jobs.

I trust that Stanley wrote his family history on a computer and that the speed with which he was able to write it had something to do with word processing software. 

The Saperstein Family

The Saperstein family is one of the original Market/ Union Street families. Meyer Saperstein and his wife Anna arrived in Trenton sometime around 1900. Meyer had a cart and horse that he collected metal scraps with. He started a scrap yard on New Street off of Union Street sometime after 1900. By 1915 he was wrecking old cars for parts and metals. Trenton Auto Parts was born around this time. Meyer sold used auto parts along with scrap metal. The business eventually went to my father Samuel and my Uncle Jacob called Jack. Jack was the elder born in 1904 and my father the youngest of seven brothers born in 1913 and one sister. The Brothers were Albert the oldest and owner of a pool hall, Simon who started his own scrap metal business, Joseph known as Jumbo was a bootlegger in the 1920s era and then a bookie. (Editors note:   Stanley tells me it's OK to let you all know that he still has Uncle Joe's gun.   "It is a 32 caliber Colt commonly known as a Saturday night special."   He had a luncheonette on Market Street. Edward married into a Maine lumber family and built up a very successful building supply business in Waterville Maine. Solomon was called Spotty because he had a white spot in his hair before he went bald. He and his wife Estelle owned Kalen’s Fine Arts, a Framing and Art studio, a Trenton landmark,   Ester was the Sister.

Here are all the brothers and sisters minus Albert, who had died of diabetes.
From left to right. Sam, Sol, Joe, Ester, Jack, Si and Ed 

Trenton Auto Parts was taken over by my father and Jack after Meyer died in 1950. Both of them entered the business at a young age. My father at 16 and Jack around the same age. The business did well in the 1920s. Both my father Sam and Jack learned how to rebuild parts. How they did this I never figured out. Jack specialized in transmissions and rears. He could fix any kind. Sam rebuilt carburetors generators alternators and other small parts.

During the thirties they almost starved in the great Depression. My father used to tell stories of how they ate spaghetti every day and were lucky to get it. WWII led to boom years with scrap metal bringing big prices and with no cars being manufactured, the parts business boomed. From that time on the business did well.

Sam Saperstein at the Civil War Monument in Cadwalder Park Trenton. 1940.
The cannons were still there when I was a kid and we played on them many
times. They were 12 pounders-Napoleon style. The carriages rotted away and
the barrels are now in the National Guard museum in Lawrenceville NJ

 My father opened Five Points Auto Parts on Warren St. but it was destroyed in a fire in 1957. In the sixties the Urban Renewal Project of Trenton took the business on New Street which by that time was half the block and part of the alley that ran perpendicular to New Street.

 Left to right:  Bob Saperstein, Stan Saperstein (the author), and his father, Jack Saperstein 1961

 The Saperstein Brothers;  Top: Jack, Joe, Sam Bottom: Si, Sol "Spotty"
I spent the summer of 1966 helping move the business to Southard Street where it remained until it closed with Jacks death at age 86 in 1990. My father had been disabled by a stroke a few years before. He died at the age of 79. The business at that time was the oldest auto parts store in Trenton.

When I was old enough to go the Yard short for Scrap Yard and get filthy playing among the old wrecks I was in heaven.  My cousin Jean Finkle, Jack’s Daughter, said she did the same thing. She is about 15 years older than me. Jack had four daughters.
Jack and my father were business opposites Jack was a no nonsense business man and my father would give the store away. Between the two they tempered each other. Jack was very generous to the family. He would do anything for his daughters and treated my brother and I like sons. He took me fishing many times  ( see photo) and when my brother Bob showed an interest in pool Jack took him under his wing. Jack played pool on a pro level learning in his brothers Al’s pool hall. Jack was also a antique glass collector. My father was a table tennis champion and taught my brother who to this day is a national ranked player. He also coached all our sports teams at the JCC and was voted Man of the Year.

Bob and Stanely Saperstein-Akiba Team Basketball-JCC Photo-1957-1958

My Uncle Spotty took over Kalen’s Fine Arts with his wife Estela when her parents passed on. The store was on South Broad Street. They sold high end art and did much of Trenton’s framing. They expanded the store to Princeton at Palmer Square and to Morrisville. As Trenton deteriorated they closed the Trenton store. They closed the Princeton location as they got older and ended up with the Morrisville store just before they retired. My brother learned framing from  Spotty and I learned to restore Gesso frames.

Thank you Stanley for taking the time and effort to write this family history and find these pictures.      Stanley also reports, "I am encouraging my brother –in-law do a similar article on the Popkin Brother Fruit and produce business. His grandfather started it and his father and uncle continued it. On his mother’s side his grandfather had a grocery store and were  involved in the Workmen’s Circle."  I hope this entry has also inspired others to sit down, right what you know about your family and share it with your family and with us.