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Recollections of the Bronx

Photo credit: James Ting on Unsplash

With comments by Herb Hahn

My first experience in the Bronx occurred on August 7, 1947, on a hot, humid day, when I entered the world at the Royal Hospital on the Grand Concourse. Back in those days there was no air conditioning, so my first days in the maternity ward were not so royal or grand. At least there was no need to stick me in an incubator.

After a few days in the Bronx, I was brought across the 207th Street Bridge into the Inwood section of Manhattan at 590 West 204th St., where we had an apartment that fortunately was above a liquor store, a fruit and vegetable store, a kosher butcher store, and a candy store. This was still in the era preceding the 7/11 convenience stores that consolidated most of the above into one small location.

Although officially a resident of Manhattan, we spent many days across the Harlem River in the Bronx. The Bronx Zoo was a 20-minute bus ride and after many zoo visits, I knew most of the monkeys and apes on a first name basis. I also loved watching the seals swimming, diving, and sunning themselves and decided that they had a pretty good lifestyle which I attempted to copy on the beaches of Israel. In addition to the Bronx Zoo, there was the Bronx Botanical Gardens and best of all, Yankee Stadium, the home of Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, and the rest of the Bronx Bombers. We could take the NYC Subway to Yankee Stadium, buy a seat in the bleachers for around 26 cents, and after the games, (we only went to "double-headers" so we could see two games for the price of one), hang out by the exit nearest the player's locker room and hope Mickey or Whitey Ford would stop and sign one of our baseball cards that had their pictures on them.

Another Bronx venue I frequently visited was Alexanders – a department store similar to Macy's that was on the Grand Concourse. My mother used to take me there to get my clothes and she always got everything two sizes too big with the statement "don't worry, you'll grow into them". I suppose it was her way of making ends meet when money was scarce and also her Jewish Mother's instinct that might encourage me to eat more so that the clothes would fit sooner. My mother (who grew up in the Gun Hill Road section of the Bronx ) knew how to kill two birds with one stone ( what is now called "multi-tasking").

Of course, during the hot and humid summers another destination in the Bronx was Orchard Beach, which was known as the "Bronx Riviera". Since I had not yet started my life of international travel, I had no idea the Bronx Riviera looked nothing like the French Riviera.In those days cooling off at the beach was all I cared about. Pelham Bay waters by the beach would be full of watercraft, which may be why I eventually ended up living on a yacht in Hong Kong some 50 years later.

Eventually I reached high school, passed the entrance exam and was admitted to the Bronx High School of Science. Bronx Science was considered one of the best schools in the USA. At least it was until I attended as I probably brought down the grade averages on tests like the SAT. I was not in contention for Valedictorian but was quite famous at Bronx Science for fighting (and beating up) some of the kids from De Witt Clinton High School which was in the same area. I suppose my high school fighting career was good training for when I eventually served in the Israel Defense Forces. I believe I may still hold the record for number of days spent in detention at Bronx Science – something that was omitted from my biography in the 1964 yearbook. After graduating high school, I continued my education in the Bronx at Hunter College Uptown which was part of the New York City University system. The name was ultimately changed to Lehman College.

After one year at Hunter/Lehman, I left the Bronx (I thought for good) and made Aliyah to Israel. As my parents still lived near Pelham Parkway, I still had some ties to the Bronx and did visit them a couple of times before they joined the Great Jewish Migration from the Bronx to Florida. Then the only times I passed through the Bronx was when I would come to New York on business and drive from one of the airports to Manhattan via the Whitestone Bridge and the Cross Bronx Expressway.

Around three years ago (before Covid), I did take my family to see where I grew up as a kid and pointed across the Harlem River under the Henry Hudson Bridge to the Bronx. I suppose the Bronx has changed quite a bit since my childhood. Alexanders is long closed, there is a new Yankee Stadium where tickets probably go for hundreds of bucks. I guess Thomas Wolfe's book "You Can't Go Home Again " says it all.

Written by Zvi Enav, Raanana, formerly the author known as Howard Weinreb, Bronx Science Class of 1964.

Random Comments by Herb Hahn

The above story came about when I met Zvi's wife Zeny in Raanana and she told me they lived once upon a time in Hong Kong. I mentioned that my wife, Lenore and I had been there too visiting family on Victoria Peak, the highest point in town, which overlooks all of the city. Zvi, Zeny, Lenore and I then met by chance at the Raananim Mall in North Raanana and we swapped Bronx stories. He and I could almost be twins.

I was born at Fordham Hospital in the Bronx, which is no more. It was replaced by Fordham University. I went to DeWitt Clinton High School, but I was not a fighter, I was a lover. I used to scorch myself at Orchard Beach (and Brighton Beach in Brooklyn). There were no sunscreens back then. I lived at 250 East Gun Hill Road as a kid. Lenore was born at Dr. Leff's on the Grand Concourse. My mother used to shlep me down from the Bronx, by subway, to S. Klein department store at 14th Street and Union Square in Manhattan, to buy me clothes. She always bought me clothes that were too big so I could grow into them. S. Klein is now gone. Lenore went to Lehman College and Hunter College. I went to City College Downtown, School of Business Administration. The school was later renamed Bernard Baruch College. Lenore and I were married at a venue across from Yankee Stadium. I was still in the US Army stationed at Fort Jackson in Columbia, South Carolina. We rented a four room furnished house off base and started our married life there in June of 1955. Then back to New York. Those are just a few of my good memories of The Bronx.

 

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Thursday, 13 June 2024

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