Showing posts with label Jewish Harlem. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Jewish Harlem. Show all posts

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Sports: Leaping Rooftops, Bronx Bombers, and Skating

Leaping across rooftops, no safety net in sight. That was my big-city-born-and-bred father's childhood "sport."

Harold Burk (1909-1978), my Dad, grew up in New York City's Jewish Harlem, on 109th Street near Fifth Avenue. As a teen, he and his friends would dare each other to leap across the rooftops of the 6 story tenements built close together in the neighborhood. When he told me this story, he seemed a bit amazed that he had survived--me too! No net, and no cape (it was before the invention of Superman).

Dad became a travel agent (at right, in his lobby office at the Savoy Plaza Hotel in New York City) and soon after marrying Mom, Daisy Schwartz (1919-1981), they moved to the Bronx. Only a short subway ride away from Yankee Stadium! No wonder Dad loved the Yankees as his spectator sport of choice. Every summer, he'd take his daughters to a few ball games. We were lucky enough to see many of the Yankee greats of the 1960s, stars like Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris. When not at the stadium, he would listen on those tinny 1960s transistor radios.

Of course, I still root for the Yankees (in vain, recently). But my personal spectator sport of choice is figure skating. Note I said "spectator sport" (meaning I don't actually skate, just attend skating events or watch on TV). Now you know why Winter Olympics, not Summer Olympics, are my favorite. 

#52Ancestors - Thanks to Amy Johnson Crow for this week's prompt.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Father's Day: Where Dad Lived (and Why)


For Father's Day, I'm telling stories of where Dad lived, and why, and stories he told me about everyday life. Harold Burk (1909-1978) was born in Jewish Harlem, 77 E. 109th Street in Manhattan. That's the address on his birth certificate and the address where he lived at the time of the 1910 Census. It's just a short walk from the Northern end of Central Park.

Thanks to the images in the New York City Public Library's digital collections, I can see tenements similar to the building where Dad lived and read about conditions there. These East Harlem buildings were not quite as cramped and dank as tenements in the Lower East Side. Another plus: They were "uptown" and therefore more desirable, with less-crowded streets and within reach of greener pastures (literally) in upper Manhattan and lower Bronx.

The reason Dad's family lived uptown, rather than downtown in the Lower East Side where so many immigrants lived, has to do with family connections as much as infrastructure. When my grandpa Isaac Burk (1882-1943) got to New York City in 1904-5, he boarded with the Mahler family at 1956 Third Avenue in Manhattan. That's where Isaac married my grandma Henrietta Mahler (1881-1954) in June, 1906.

The bride and groom may have been cousins, a possibility I'm still researching, because documents show Isaac's mother's maiden name as Shuham and the maiden name of Henrietta's grandmother as Shuham. Both of those families had roots in Lithuania. Strong possibility of family connections, but no proof (yet).

By 1909, when Dad was born, his parents Isaac & Henrietta were living only a seven-minute walk from Henrietta's Mahler family apartment on Third Avenue. By 1915, according to the New York City Census, the two families were living in separate apartments in the same tenement house at 7 East 105th Street in Jewish Harlem. Built-in babysitters for a growing family: Dad was 6, his older sister was 8, and there were two more siblings under the age of 4.

Both the Burk and Mahler families found it convenient and desirable to live uptown in East Harlem because workers could commute by "el" (elevated trains) to jobs located in midtown or downtown. The Third Avenue El, as it was known, was fast and affordable.

This elevated train line stopped running during my lifetime as other mass transit options took its place, and the car culture took hold. In the early 1900s, however, the el and later underground subway lines enabled working people to escape the dirty, noisy, crowded Lower East Side. The NYPL has some atmospheric photos of the "el" at various periods.

Dad told stories of playing stickball in the streets as a youngster (maybe ducking the few cars that passed). He also told of boys daring each other to jump from one tenement rooftop to another. Even though the tenements were often butted up against each other or barely a few inches away, it wasn't at all easy or safe. Dad admitted he was just plain lucky to live through those escapades. Bet his parents never knew what he was doing!

Dad also told stories of taking horse-drawn buses from his Harlem home north to the Bronx for a daylong picnic outing. Sounds like the children would eat and then play while the adults shmoozed and snoozed before returning to their tenements. By the time I was old enough to hear these stories, it was hard to imagine the Bronx as a bucolic collection of farmlands and rural picnic vistas--but entirely true, as photos in the NYPL collection demonstrate.

Happy Father's Day to my Dad and I'm delighted to keep his memory and his stories alive for future generations, in the spirit of #52Ancestors and the #GenealogyBlogParty's Dynamite Dads.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Those Places Thursday: My Mahler Ancestors in Jewish Harlem

Professor Jeffrey Gurock recently published his authoritative The Jews of Harlem, with additional research and updates to his earlier book on the subject, When Harlem Was Jewish, 1870-1930. I got my hands on a copy of the new book after reading about it in the New York Times.

My Mahler ancestors lived in that area of upper Manhattan, during the period Prof. Gurock describes. This book gave me a window into their Jewish immigrant experience, arriving and living in the Lower East Side, then moving uptown to Harlem.

Prof. Gurock writes that the opening of the elevated subway (1904) brought many immigrants to Harlem, escaping the teeming crowds and cramped tenements of the Lower East Side. He also notes that the move allowed many to find work locally in Harlem rather than commuting to jobs in midtown or, more commonly, in lower Manhattan.

Interestingly, Prof. Gurock points out that the density of population in Jewish Harlem tenement neighborhoods was, in fact, quite intense. Later, as families had a bit more money, they moved to the "subway suburbs," including the Bronx.

My Mahler family followed this pattern. Great-grandpa Meyer E. Mahler (1861-1910) and great-grandma Tillie Jacobs Mahler (185?-1952) originally lived in the Lower East Side when they arrived from "Russia" (really Eastern Europe). Around the turn of the 20th century, they lived on Chrystie Street and a bit later at Allen Street. Then the "el" opened and life changed.

By 1905, the NY Census shows the Mahler family at 1956 Third Avenue, between 107th and 108th Streets--a walkup tenement in Jewish Harlem. Meyer Mahler worked as a tailor in 1909 at 63 E. 117th Street. I can imagine him walking to work there, half a mile north of his residence (in a building no longer standing).  

By 1910, the family was living at 7 E. 105th Street, a much less crowded area of Jewish Harlem, as I understand Prof. Gurock's explanation. Poor Meyer died of stomach cancer that year, but his widow and children remained at that address until well after WWI. The younger son, Morris Mahler, seems to have been the main breadwinner at that point, and he commuted to work outside Jewish Harlem.

By 1925, the NY Census shows that the Mahler family had moved to the "subway suburb" of the Bronx, living at 2347 Morris Avenue (the first of a few addresses in and around the Bronx). The timing corresponds with what Prof. Gurock writes in his chapter, "The Scattering of the Harlem Jewish Community, 1917-1930."