As I celebrate the arrival of the fifth year of this blog, LEAVINGWEST83RDSTREET, I thought to start with what continue to be sensitive subjects in the USA.
My religion, Judaism, was alway important in my West Side life. When I was five, I was so enamored of Rabbi Jack Cohen of the Society for the Advancement of Judaism on West 86th Street that I begged to attend religious school. I did, right through my bar mitzvah, about which I have already written. My sister and I traveled different paths and I traveled more than one myself, but we both kept religion close.
Religion was noticeable in public school pretty much only on the day of “released time” when the Catholic kids got to go to religious education. We Jews went after school. I doubt that they loved their religion time any more than we did, except we had to give up play time for ours, they had to give up school.
Except for those clashes with the parochial school kids coming out of the Holy Trinity school up the block , and looking out our back windows at those same kids having their knuckles thrashed by their nuns, there was no issue of religious friction in my life. Everybody kept to themselves or just kept quiet.
We didn’t know the difference between Catholics and other Christians, we thought they were all the same. I don’t recall any storefront churches in those days, but I didn’t wander much east of Amsterdam Avenue or along its length.
As an adult I see religion as something over which humans have fought for centuries and continue to do so.
Right up there with religion is class as a problem among people.
I believe that class was an unknown differentiator to we kids in public school nine. It was, like religion, rarely if ever discussed. Religion popped into conversations around Bar Mitzvah and Confirmation.
Rich kids went to private schools like Franklin and McBurney and we didn’t mix with them until high school.
There were kids with bigger apartments with Riverside Drive addresses and the West End Avenue kids did seem to have more space too, but this didn’t translate, for us, into wealth and I don’t recall ever being excluded because I lived on the other side of Broadway.
Those bigger apartments had room for a grand piano and everybody had their own bedroom. Our dining table was moved into the living room when I had to move into dad’s study (which had been carved out of the dining room) and at that time the dining room became his work space.
I always had enough, went to a Jewish summer camp for many years and then a non-denominational day camp, and I got an allowance that grew with me. It was, of course, never enough. So, on my West Side there was never an issue of class.
I’ll leave race and ethnicity for another essay. Much has already been written but there is always more. Here, I’ll say that unlike religion and economic class, race and ethnicity were open dividers even in elementary school as kids of color (as we would call them today) were almost completely separated from the white kids right through the public school system of the 1950s and 60s.