Monday, August 17, 2015

"I didn't realize I was Catholic until my first communion"

A conversation with Michael Kuzma

You were probably wondering if I was ever coming back, right?

Well, thank goodness, I've been extremely busy at work and in life, and I haven't had much time to write.  That said, the Trenton Jewish Project has never been too far from my mind.

In every day encounters, I run into people from Trenton and they are all passionate about their hometown and the old neighborhood.   Probably the most bizarre moment came when we were having pizza with the family of a friend of my college-aged son in Morrisville.  My son's friend's father mentioned that he had family form Trenton and that he didn't know much about them.   In about a minute, I was able to produce the picture below that showed a relative of his, standing in front of Stern's Meat Market that I had been given along the way.

While I haven't been writing, I have been doing an occasional interview or two.   When the Trenton Jewish Project first started, I got a couple of phone calls (which I don't encourage--please e-mail me instead) and one of them was from a guy who said he grew up in Trenton, but didn't realize he "was Catholic until he took his first Communion.  So, why would the Trenton Jewish Project talk to a "goy"?  Turns out he was a Shabbos goy and most of his friends were Jewish.  His Dad worked for the Sokalner family (who treated his family like their own family).   We spoke for what seemed to be hours (much to my wife's chagrin).   He had moved to Newport News, Virginia, but came back up north every once in a while.   Well, Mike (Mickey) Kuzma came back to town a couple of weeks ago and longtime reader, Herb Spiegel posted a picture of he and Mickey at lunch.  I contacted Herb, who put me in touch with Mickey and over the course of two days, he sat down for a couple of hours and told me some wonderful stories about Trenton and growing up in South Trenton.   

There is so much material in that interview that I wasn't sure where to start, but here's a little setup to this story.

We were talking about how the boys used to play ball in a lot not far from his house.  It also happened to be near the house of a budding opera star.  (The clip runs almost 6 minutes, so sit back and enjoy.)

Mickey Kuzma's brother, Robert, was killed in an automobile accident a few weeks after returning from WWII at an intersection off of Rte. 31 North of Pennington.   Our interview took place less than 5 miles from that spot.


A couple of notes.   Wendy Nardi, curator extraordinaire of the Trentoniana room at the Trenton Free Library has retired.   Wendy was a great friend and resource, who really knew as much as anyone about the archives of the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Trenton that Ozzie Zuckerman gave to the library.   Congratulations on your retirement Wendy.   Your gain is our loss.     Robert Most Clark had been working as an interim curator, but apparently he was not offered the full-time job.   According to the library website, a new curator has been hired and while Trentoniana has been closed this summer, it is supposed to reopen next month.   Keeping our fingers crossed.

Beverly Rubman is working on a project about the Jewish Free Loan society.   Anyone with stories about that institution can send them on to me and I will get them to Beverly.

Art Finkle has been working diligently on his book about the Jews of Trenton.  We look forward to seeing the fruits of his labor soon.

I will continue to update this site when I can.   I am trying to come up with a way to make this venture sustainable and find a way to continue to collect interviews with those of you who have stories to tell.   Send your suggestions to  Please don't call, but include your phone number in your email.  Also, don't send me any materials by snail mail  I really have no place to store things.   If there is something that you want to donate to the archives section at Trentoniana, once it re-opens, I'll let you know about procedures for doing that.

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