Monday, January 21, 2013
Happy New Year all. My apologies for the silence on this blog since the obit for Sol Weinstein, but it has been difficult to find time to sit down and write. That doesn't mean that you and the Jews of Trenton haven't been on mind. In fact, the New Year has given me some time for reflection about the Project and where it is heading. Sol's passing gave me impetus to think about ways to push things forward. Frankly, I am still formulating some ideas and those I have need more fleshing out, but Sol's death has made it clear that time is not a friend to an endeavor such as this.
The Trenton Jewish Project was featured in a recent cover story in the Hopewell Express. In December, I spent a couple of hours with Diccon Hyatt, who wrote the story. The result was a really nice article. To access it on line, click here.
A FEW BRIEF UPDATES.
I continue to receive updates from Art Finkle, whose work is progressing on his history of Trenton. Here's a link to Art's blog. I had lunch with Herm Finkle, who was one of the first people who I interviewed on camera when I started this project. He has had some recurring health problems, but is one of the most upbeat and inspiring people who I've had the pleasure of meeting. "Humpsey" is looking forward to a warm winter day, in order to get one more round of golf in.\
Maxine Valunas, who is Herm Finkle's niece just posted some new photos to our Facebook page. Click here to check them out. Marc Shenker also has posted some photos of his grandfather, Sam Segal and Mary Segal ouside of Segal's Deli.
I've received e-mails from many of you, introducing yourselves and offering up opportunities to learn more first-hand of Trenton from your parents, Aunts and Uncles. I hope my schedule allows this, but one of the things that I'm thinking of organizing is an event where you can come and I can videotape your reminiscences of Old Trenton. It will take some organizing, but will allow me to get much more accomplished than if I continue to steal away from my real work and try to catch-as-catch can. More on this in the future.
I've also heard from some people who live out of the area with great stories to tell. From Savannah, Dick Hochman sent me some information about the Mayflower Club, a group of 12 couples who played cards together for 50 years. I have yet to get a chance to talk to Dick in person, but hope to soon.
And Leigh Rogoff has contacted me from the Atlanta area. We talked on the phone and today (Jan. 21) he just sent me a long e-mail that I will share soon.
Just a week or so ago, I had lunch with Dr. Horace Shaffer, up in New Hope. Just short of his 90th birthday, Horace was a surgeon at Mercer Hospital and his father, one of the founders of Har Sinai, was a pathologist who set up the first lab at St. Frances. Horace told me that growing up on State Street, he never felt any anti-semitism. Not until he went to Princeton, where the quota was one Jew per hundred. As he recounted, "there were 650 members of my graduating class, so we had 6 1/2 jews. I knew three of them. Never met the half one, though."
Also, a shameless plug. A college buddy of mine, Dan Cohen, has produced a documentary called Mission of Hope, which tells the story about the miniature Torah which traveled from a concentration camp to space onthe ill-fated Space Shuttle Columbia, will be airing on PBS on Channel 13 NY on January 31 and on WHYY, Philadelphia on February 1st. Here is a link to the show's website.n It has taken him 7+ years to get this on TV and from the clips I've seen, I highly recommend it.
As I write this, I find myself in Detroit, finishing up my annual trek to the Motor City for the North American International Auto Show. I've been doing this since either 1992 or 1993. I missed a year in 1999, when my youngest son was less than a month old.
The show is a reminder that a New Year has started. Usually, the show's Press Days are during the first week of the year, but since the holidays fell on Tuesday the show organizers decided to push the event back a week. It wasn't always that way. There were some years when there would be a lot of hung over people arriving at Detroit Metro airport. Better this way.
Anyway, Detroit is making a comeback, as an auto town and as a city, yet there is a long way to go. The images of cars driving trough empty streets with steam belching from manhole covers that you see in the Chrysler commercials aren'y the creation of some Madison Avenue director. They are real. And in some ways, it's proof that there is warm blood flowing under the arteries of a city that some counted as dead a decade ago.
In some ways, it is reminiscent of Trenton. Hard by the banks of the St. Clair River, Detroit was devastated by the civil rights riots of 1968, as was Trenton. It's major industry, auto manufacturing abandoned the city in the 80's and any one who had the wherewithal moved out of downtown long ago. Yet, what remained was the architecture of a time period when buildings had large open public spaces and the little flourishes that aren't seen in many of today's glass and steel soul-less structures. The good news is that most of these buildings are still standing. The bad news is that a lot of them haven't been inhabited for 15 or 20 years. In fact, the hotel where we stay for the Auto Show was one such building until about 5 years ago, when it re-opened as the Westin Book Cadillac. A cab driver told me a few years back that there were trees growing in the building after being empty for 15 years. It reminds me of pictures of the interior of one of the Roebling buildings on Hamilton Street across from the Sun Bank arena with vegetation that had reclaimed the space that humans had abandoned.
So, I guess the upshot here is that when a city is so broke that it can't knock down its eyesores, eventually the laws of economics makes those properties so inexpensive that
they become attractive to investors and get rehabbed. There are some great old buildings in Trenton that are vacant. In Detroit, the catalysts for renewal were some stubborn businesses and the resurgence of the auto business. What will it take to nudge Trenton back?