Sunday, April 2, 2017

My Father and Why I Am Blogging.

I suppose first off the most basic reason I am blogging is that I am a writer. I write and I blog and therefore makes sense it's easier for me to keep my thoughts here on a blog for me to review and to share with you. It's what I do and what I do best in many ways. And as it's my blog and something I am doing for fun I don't always follow rules. When I am editing something for someone I stick to the rules. When I have a writing assignment and am told it needs to fit into a space, mention certain subjects and be no longer than 750 words I come in at 749 words with all the i's dotted and t's crossed just write in a precise way. However I am just writing here in an often flow of thought state of mind to help me organize my thoughts so hang on and I hope by reading my story it will help you with your own search for lost relatives and branches of family trees that have broken off and drifted away with the wind.

My father was born in the Bronx. My grandmother Esther was very proud he was born in the hospital and he was first generation American. He was indeed very American in the ways that we judge people by and yet he identified mostly as a Jew from New York .. more specifically the Bronx. In those early years before I knew there were five boroughs I thought "THE BRONX" was it's own city different from New York City. It was "THE BRONX" as he would say it and now that I am older and have known people from Brooklyn and Manhattan and Queens I can definitely say each borough produced a somewhat different version of a New Yorker. And no I never met anyone who was born and raised in Staten Island, however I know they exist. Suffice it say he was proud of being from "THE BRONX" and enjoyed his childhood greatly I believe from his many stories of life growing up there.

He also enjoyed Miami and he never looked back on his decision to move to Miami. But that's for later in this story.

His name was Seymour B. Schwartz and he went by Sy. Later in life he went by his Hebrew name Shmuel Ber as he became more religious after he turned 40 and became involved with Chabad also known as Lubavitch.

His father Herman (Chaim) Schwartz was from Hungary. Herman came to America to escape the troubles most Jews faced in Europe. His parents came from their home in a town named Budalo where they owned a store and had a good life with good food and lot's of "country air" but times were not good and everyone said to move to America for a better life. Herman liked America as did his sister Mary and his older sister Sarah (Sadie) who got married and settled down. His father did not like America and missed Hungary. Apparently my Great Grandfather Yehuda Leib didn't like the sweat shops in New York City and the lack of clean air and the family he left behind. He left with the younger boys and his wife and Herman and Mary remained behind with their grown married sister in America.

When this picture was taken I don't know.
Possibly at Sadie's wedding or possibly to mark their life in some way.
Cute little dress Gussie (Rivka Gizelle) was wearing. 
Almost looks like she might be pregnant.
She covered her hair as was the custom of her faily.
Of the three boys there only one surived.
They were all killed by the Nazis...
One Bela who bcame Simcha in Israel gave testimony.
Sad, but true.
But this blog post is not about the Holocaust.
It's about my father and life in the Bronx.

The very beautiful Sadie died young.
She needed a minor operation....
...but back then no operation was minor.
And she died.
Leaving Herman a young teenager to take care of his Mary.
As my cousin Howard tells it..
It was a big, huge responsibility.
But Herman took care of his mother Mary always.
And they were left to deal with the loss of their big sister.
Life goes on...

Herman from Hungary married Esther from Plunge, Lithuania in New York City. It was almost a mixed marriage as they came from very different cultures. Her family were litvaks and city dwellers who owned stores and traded and just were very different. They had two children. My father Sy and his older sister Sylvie who was named after Esther's mother Tzipporah. Herman liked to play chess, Grandma Esther liked to paint and go to art galleries. And Herman worked hard building up a tie business that eventually sold to large stores such as Bloomingdales. They had a good life despite the sadness of losing relatives who were still in Europe and that is part and parcel of all of our Jewish Family History isn't it? Life went on and the focus was on the here and now, day to day of life. They traveled to Florida often in the winter and eventually retired to South Beach where Herman played chess and Grandma Esther kept busy with her sister Ida and enjoyed visits from the Grandkids who lived in Miami nearby.

So back to my father.... Hard to say where to start. He loved baseball. If there was one thing I could, would say it was he loved baseball. And when I say baseball I don't mean he had some sort of hero worship of a player as much as the mathematics of baseball. It's very mathematical from a statistics point of view. I mean let's be honest it's not Ice Hockey or Football or even Basketball where there are scores being scored and plays being made and drama and excitement every minute of the game. Sometimes you just sit there waiting, biting every nail off waiting for someone to for gosh sakes hit the fricking ball. Being a girl raised down South where Football is King watching a baseball game to me was like watching a slow motion tortoise race . . . And my father would explain "THAT WAS THE EXCITING PART a good no hitter!!" Obviously Daddy and I had very different tastes when it came to exciting sports. Baseball to me was tediously slow but my father watched or listened to it like background noise while working on paper work. 

And oddly my father's favorite team was not the Yankees but the Detroit Tigers. It turns out this was not really soooo odd as to many Jewish kids growing up in America the team that the Jewish Hank Greenberg played on became the favorite team of many kids both in Brooklyn and the Bronx. If therew as one unifying factor in boys lives back then it was Jewish Pride for the Jewish players on the Detroit Tigers team.

My father who received a BS in Mathematics from the University of Miami took to baseball the way he took to watching the dogs at the Dog Track. He enjoyed the math behind the game more than gambling. He often told me if he just wanted to gamble he'd only go to Jai Alai as there was no guarantees with dealing with people, but dogs had a pattern and dogs ran and if you knew each dog and how they ran against other dogs you could probably make a living at the Dog Track. I do think he enjoyed gambling ;) but to him he was quiet at the track or watching a baseball game watching for every little nuance and keeping note of statistics for the next time. There was no yelling or screaming or emotion shown other than an occasional "crap!" or "how about that!" when he was watching a baseball game. He was like that at Jai Alai too. You could never tell for sure if he won or lost until he went to pick up his winnings. 

When he was young he worked for a watchmaker in NYC that was a friend of the family. He said he wasn't really an apprentice as much as he'd do favors for the watchmaker. When I asked him what kind of favors he'd laugh and say he'd send him on errands on the subway to another jeweler or watchmaker and trade whatever he was carrying for whatever he was given by the other person. One day he looked inside the cigar box that was shut tight and there was expensive jewelry in it. He realized it was worth a fortune and he was trusted to carry it back and forth on the subway. After that sometimes he'd look inside and see money. He also suggested maybe he was running numbers who knows. It really didn't matter in the world of the mid 1930s he had a job. And while there he taught him how to fix watches which he would do sometimes to make extra money when I was very little. He said in retrospect it was crazy to let a kid get on and off 3 subway cars carrying valuables but he trusted him to get the goods wherever they were going. Life in the fast lane in New York City in the mid 1930s. 

As a young child he heard that some of the neighborhood kids were going out at night loading crates onto ships headed for Palestine. He knew it wasn't considered 100% kosher legally but all the kids were doing it not because they were Zionists but because they were Jewish and wanted to do something to help the hoped for state of Israel. His father caught him sneaking back in the house one night and asked him what he was doing. Being honest, though he could be sketchy at times, he told his father who told him he wasn't to do it again and being a good kid he listened to his father and didn't. Over time interviewing people doing Oral Histories I've heard this story over and over from kids his age who lived in NYC. Some people were members of Betar and others were just there to impress a girl or a new friend or do to something, somehow to make a difference. Many of our fathers and grandparents snuck out one night late not to party or get high or dance the night away, but to do something to make a statement, take a stand... to stand up for what would be the new State of Israel. But they didn't all talk about it and in truth to many it wasn't such a big deal, but something you did with a few friends because you were a Jew and you wanted to do your part even far away in the Bronx or Brooklyn.

Around fifteen years old my father got sick when he was young and he didn't get over it very fast. Finally after a few weeks went by he was diagnosed with Rheumatic Fever. Whether he had it or he didn't was in question when he was older as he had no scar damage in his lungs. But the upside of that illness was he was exempt from army service towards the end of WW2 when he came of age to do his civic duty. He did have bad allergies, post nasal drip and sinus problems. When he was about 15 he graduated high school early in a special program for kids with good grades and moved to Miami to live with his beloved Aunt Ida who was a widow and living in Miami Beach. The weather helped his allergies and his health improved. He went home on Winter Break, joined a few friends on a triple date that entailed taking two trains from the Bronx to Brooklyn, picking up the girls and going into Manhattan then taking them back to Brooklyn and then going back to the Bronx. It was bitter cold, he was freezing, he got sick a few days later and decided he was staying in Florida. And he did...

He went to the University of Miami at the age of 16 taking classes, working as a waiter on Miami Beach for money and free meals and staying in close touch with his Aunt who was much like a second mother to him. He hung out in the various local Jewish Youth groups. He worked, he studied and if he did something it was something "Jewish" and he went to UM games with friends. One of those friends was my mother who he met at some Jewish Youth group after graduating working in the Miami area. She was studying music and performing with the local Opera group, but her father died and she stopped singing briefly and at loose ends she met my father. This post is about him, but it would suffice to say they had basic root, core beliefs in common yet they were very different. He was very left brain, she was very right brain. She was raised by Grandma Mary who was a somewhat spoiled Southern Belle raised in Florida and he was raised in the Bronx during the depression.

Famous true family story came shortly after they were married. Their food bill seemed overly high. She cooked nice enough dinners but he couldn't figure out what was costing so much. He decided to go shopping with her to see for himself what she was buying. He noticed she ignored sales and bought whatever brand she wanted often, but still that didn't account for the large disconnect in the food budget. She made chicken, hamburgers often nothing special and he couldn't figure out what was costing so much. After mentally adding up several things that could have been cheaper they got to the meat aisle. She looked through the meat for sale, picked up a package of beautiful steaks and rang the bell for the butcher. He was excited thinking she was going to make him a special dinner tonight when they went home. The butcher came over and she handed him the steaks and asked him politely to please grind them twice. He smiled and went off to grind them twice special for her and my father freaked. "WHAT ARE YOU DOING?" he said very loudly with his rough Bronx accent. She said very casually in a slow Southern Drawl "well I'm getting some meat for hamburgers that's all.... " He picked up a pack of cheap, ground meat on sale in some sort of bologna looking package and told her "THAT'S FOR HAMBURGERS!!" and she stared down and shook her head and told him no one eat's "that stuff!" and he yelled back that he was "RAISED ON THAT STUFF!"  He quickly figured out why his food bill was so high... He'd been eating expensive steak for hamburgers most nights. Culture clash ...from day one. 

My father was impressed by my mother's brains, creativity, looks and he felt blessed to have her as his wife. But to understand how she thought was about as foreign to him as a Princess from a different planet. He was raised in the Bronx during hard times, everyone worked and looked for sales, discounts and ways to survive. His father worked hard building up a business, his mother worked for his father part time and his Aunt Mary worked there as well. Everyone worked, everyone cut corners and to be honest he wasn't much of a dresser nor did he care about labels or styles he did this thing and my mother cared about styles, quality and she made me lamb chops for lunch and I don't just mean lamb chops but baby lamb chops. She accessorized and she studied art and music and never really majored in anything but fed her passion for artist expression. She actually dropped out of high school to study music and eventually went back at night to get a degree and then went on to studying in college for the next three decades doing everything possible to avoid actually graduating. My father's philosophy was if she was happy the family was happy so it didn't really matter as it was cheaper than her spending money redecorating the house. 

He worked two or three jobs though to be honest often I think it was so he had an excuse to get out of the house. Not because he didn't like being home with my mother he was born with a condition many Jews refer to as "no sitz fleish" meaning he was born restless and couldn't sit still easily. He liked being busy, he was a born multitasker before it was popular. He drove a taxi part time, he fixed watches, he worked a 9 to 5 job and she cooked dinner when she was in the mood and not busy finishing homework or a painting or redecorating the house. To my father redecorating the house was cheaper than moving which she wanted to do often.

Around 1973 she began studying with Chabad after taking classes with the local Rabbi often and working with Mizrachi and Hadassah and decided to move out of the suburbs to Miami Beach to be part of a larger Orthodox Community. My mother had started keeping Shabbos when I was five and made the house kosher. My father stayed home on Friday nights for dinner, enjoyed the meal, said Grace After Meals and went to sleep early. He woke up even earlier and drove a taxi to make extra money. After twelve years of that arrangement while he was saying Kaddish for his parents who died 11 months apart he decided to start keeping Shabbos as well. One thing led to another and by the late 1970s he considered himself a Lubavitcher and wandered around often from shul to shul on Miami Beach as he was restless and enjoyed watching different things. Eventually he found his way to a Shteeble (small shul in someone's home) and after enjoying a large kiddush after services complete with Cholent and Kishke that tasted much like he remembered as a child he found a place he felt comfortable.

The irony is that he had basically come home without realizing it. He was surprised to find the same prayer books there that his father used as a young man when he was a small child. He opened up a siddur one day, it was Hebrew on one side and Hungarian on the other side and he realized it was the type of prayer book his father used in the Bronx. It turns out the family that owned and operated the Shteeble was originally from the same area as the town his Grandfather was from in Hungary. Same county and at some time they actually lived in the town where he lived. 

The family name of Schwartz was really originally Weiss which means they went from being White to Black in ways. Another commonality for people with Jewish European Ancestry is family name changes to avoid service in the Tsar's Army. Google Conscription. They would come and take small boys away to serve for twenty some odd years and while there they were taught to be good Christians. Families did everything to protect their sons who were sometimes kidnapped as young boys in front of their homes. They sent children to other relatives, they moved to other places outside the reach of the Tsar or they sent their sons to relatives in other cities. Every family looking for lost Jewish Roots, broken branches comes across the name change game that makes finding the ancestors back in time extremely difficult if not impossible. 

Before the family lived in Budalow they lived in another town nearby. Sometimes the town was Hungary, sometimes Czech sometimes Russia. My father's father Herman taught me once to find it on a map by finding the river nearby as he said the borders changed all the time. He made good quality ties, I have a few of them. Silk, beautiful and some he imported from India..not just China. But, my father grew up in New York City hanging out with friends, taking trains, going to ball games and involved with other Jewish kids growing up in the shadow of events in Europe that were whispered about but never confirmed until after the war.

Being "Jewish" took up a big part of his life. When we lived in North Miami Beach he would go fill up at his car at the "Jewish Gas Station" and I'd argue with  him telling him it wasn't "JEWISH" it was a GAS STATION. He'd point out Israeli's owned it and I'd point out they sell eggs brined with pig's feet it's NOT Jewish it's just a gas station but he was a product of his times. He had good friends who were Italians, Greeks and your regular old Southern Baptists that you found in Miami but he was Jewish. He didn't eat pork and he was convinced God was onto something because you could get sick from eating a bad flounder but you could die from eating bad shellfish. And in his old age, his older years he became very religious. 

So what I'll end with here is something he told me several times and others. You can change your life at any age, he didn't start keeping Shabbos until he was turning 50 and he changed his life around one deed at a time and eliminating things he did, switching them up and studying... learning in the same way my mother always loved to learn suddenly he'd get in the car, drive down to the Yeshiva on South Beach, get a cup of coffee in the kitchen and sit and learn with a few of the students or the Rabbi. Bit by bit he learned and bit by bit his Hebrew got better until at one point he finally got to the point where he could pray from an all Hebrew Prayer Book. It's never too late to want to start doing something was his belief and that's true in ways. Not so hard to do in real life though but it is true.

My father used to say when he was old we had to promise to drive him to Jai Alai and drop him off so he wasn't the type of old guy chasing cars with his cane. Yet, as he got older he went less and less. When I was 19 he'd tell me to dress up with heels and he'd sneak me into Jai Alai, buy me a drink as long as I was quiet while he was thinking. Black Russians he'd order me and I'd watch the game and he'd try to explain it all to me. He loved it the excitement the fast pace no time for grammar just run, jump, catch the ball in the cesta swing it around fast and keep going.

He loved to talk to my friends and told me that those years when I was in High School and our house was party central were good years for him. He'd take long rides with my ex-husband and I at night to talk or just for company when he needed to get out and "drive on up to Hollywood Beach" trying to avoid the speed traps in Haulover on Collins Avenue. He was a quiet talker in a ways. Not a party animal but friendly. He made a better grandfather than he did a father as he worked nonstop when we were little and yet when my kids were little he'd drop everything to go pick one up from school when they got sick or in trouble and he'd take them out to the bakery or the movies. He was an easy going Grandfather... go figure.

He kept the picture below in his wallet.
His last wallet, a bit messy but his favorite pic I guess.
He came by the house and picked up the baby and took her for a walk.

He liked hot dogs and kishke. He liked to pile sauerkraut on his hot dogs.
He liked to walk the dog and shmooze with the neighbors.
He liked to jump in the car and go anywhere anytime without making a fuss for a ride.
He liked when my mother was happy, when we were healthy and he was a UM Fan.
UM fan and graduate.
Detroit became his city in all sports yet he never went there to visit.
He lived a basically good life as I believe he was low maintenance and took the long view.
He moved away from cold weather and spring allergies and found his own paradise.

He loved his family, had a few close friends and appreciated the small things. 

I learned the basics in life and the reality of "you gotta do what you gotta do" and applied it to life to get the job done. I was told by my mother that I am pragmatic like my father. Probably no one else would call me pragmatic but she spit out the words as if he wasn't a good thing. Being my father's daughter... I thought it was a good thing.

I miss him. 

So I may fix this up tomorrow or the next day. I may play with the grammar, add some links or pictures but one thing I want to leave you with is this... 

Whether you are forty or fifty or sixty it's not too late to make changes and to evolve. Restless people get that as they don't want to stay stagnant too long. Life is for living and evolving can be good sometimes and if things go badly... there's always Plan B and evolve again.

Sy Schwartz became Shmuel Ber to many, Daddy to the three of us and Zeyde to his grandchildren. My Grandma Mary adored him saying he "had a good heart and he was a prince of a man" so I'll leave it with that. For years he would drive down to his Aunt's apartment sometimes twice a day to check on her, to make sure she took her pills and had food in the house. On Jewish Holidays he'd walk down to South Beach from our house close to 3 miles to her apartment to make sure she was okay and took her pills. Who does that? He did as he loved her and you did what you had to do and he did... 

Besos BobbiStorm

Some pics of my father in his older years... 
Being my mother's daughter I'll think on spell checking tomorrow........


  1. I love how you write about your daddy and his life. I just found you recently and I also love your Hurricane Harbor. You've a gift with words and painting a picture. Thank you.

  2. Thank you Kay. I just saw this and rereading what I wrote I agree. I need to write more.