Sunday, June 21, 2009

A Sojourn To The Lower East Side Of N.Y. With Fathers Day Thoughts*

The above photo was taken on 6/13/09 only last week.  The next to follow is my father so very young, before going off to war, still living in this neighborhood & before my time.  All in the blink of an eye.
Samuel Myron Kapelner was a fantastically devoted father to all his children, & grandfather to our sons, this photo to follow-- we're at the Bronx Zoo on a hot summer day.
The color on the street & all the energy, different from long ago, yet still with the promise of hope.
Inside a coffee shop.  The up side of the Lower East Side, seating with a view inside with local art & outside, cafe style with excellent coffee, all on Orchard Street, where someone I know, their family flourished, lived.  So that makes us neighbors/cousins in a sense.
*I still remember, that Passover Seder, decades ago--
The saying now is:  Everything Old Is New Again, so true in many ways--

Last weekend my husband & I went on a sojourn back to my father's childhood neighborhood, the Lower East Side of NY.  The last time I had been there was when I was quite young, my brother was a baby & I the big sister walked along side my mother as she pushed his stroller, we were in the Bronx & my father was to meet us after he got out of work, he worked as a chemist then at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.  It was dark out & we were standing next to a concrete embankment or overpass, waiting for a bus to attend a Passover Seder at my grandparents, my father's parents who lived at 61 Lewis Street.  Lewis Street no longer exists today, as apx. five streets or more were eliminated from the city street map.  My husband with the help of one of the Tenement Museum guides, [who would have thought, almost 2o yrs. ago a museum would be established of the neighborhood where my family & millions of others roots  had started out in this country] obtained a copy of an old map of the early to mid 1900's, it was noted that the building & street my father & his family had lived on no longer existed, but had been reconfigured into a newer apartment development or condos, along the East River.  That was ok with me as 61 Lewis Street was only one of many addresses they had.  My father often told me bits & pieces of his childhood memories, but many were far too painful for him to completely retell, for there were occasions when his entire family of seven people were put out on the street, furniture & all, [like a Dickens novel] because there were times when my grandmother could not pay the rent.  When I've asked my aunt the 2nd of my father's 3 sisters if she could share some information back to those days on the Lower East Side, all she would say, as her voice would waver & quake with emotion--  "I can't, I just can't talk about it, it's too, too painful."  None of that could be detected by the young observant child that I was way back when I attended that long ago Passover Seder, but of course times had gotten better for my grandparents, by then the Great Depression was over, it was the early 1950's for that Seder.

After attending just one of the mini lectures of the tour entitled "Piecing It Together" at  the Tenement Museum on 97 Orchard Street, in NYC, I got it, I could feel what it was my aunt was trying to convey. It was at that moment, being involved in the tour, hearing the details from someone who never knew my family or any of the 7,000 people a year, who had lived in just that building alone #97, & multiply it, & multiply it [more people were living in the Lower East Side of NY during my father's childhood, then were living in Bombay, India. It was the largest ghetto in the world, all immigrants.  And to think, from that small geographic neighborhood of Italians, Irish, Polish, Russian, German, Romanian, Austrian, Hungarian, with Jewish People from all over Eastern Europe,  they came to a world community of diversity & blended their cultures.  Many of the people who were fortunate enough to survive, experienced living in some of the worst sanitary conditions in the U.S.  The masses of individuals fortunate enough to survive, grew up to relish hard work & education, & many grew up to become well accomplished people of note in all trades & professions.  There are a zillion stories that have come out of the Lower East Side, & my family though special to me, are just one of so very many.  Even to this day when I meet another person, such as a member of the local Sisterhood that I belong to, & she would share her family's story, I know we share a uniquely special heritage, perhaps our families way back then may have known one another, in school, maybe gathered in the same place for religious services, worked, shopped, socialized or just passed one another on the the crowded streets.  Whatever they may have done, we were for a short moment in time, neighbors/cousins & shared a collective vision for a better life for ourselves & our children, the future generations of which we are now.   

My father, to his family & to all that knew him was a man of kindness, honesty & compassion, & was known for his great sense of humor.  He not only served with honor during WW11 , but was an accomplished scientist, [a nuclear physicist/chemist, a rocket scientist literally] who loved his chosen profession all of his life.  So it is with great love & honor that I remember him on special dates, & this one, Fathers Day will do, but I never really needed a designated day, he knew, he's my hero.  Myself having reached what seems like an immense decade in time, I needed to embark upon this roots trip--  "From Whence I've Come".


Postscript--  My cousins who now live in Texas were both born in the Lower East Side, they have taken the influence of the family's tradition into their present professional lives-- one of my cousins, her husband & her have chosen to continue their father's/my uncle's children's clothing business.  My uncle began by selling children's hats, which were made in the garment district in the Lower East Side, [of which as a child I had many & wore with style & pride], he later had a children's clothing business in Dallas, Texas which our cousins lovingly continue to this day, with an eye for quality & style which takes them all over the world.  If ever you are seeking something most special for a child in your life encourage your local children's boutique to purchase from Cooper Kids, a world wide buyer & distributor of high end quality children's clothing, or just go to [] & check out their creatively colorful web site of great fashion, taste & style.  Yes, a definite Lower East Side garment district influence here, with added steps into this computer age. 
My other cousin along with his wife own & operate a gallery that specializes in photographs, the gallery located in the art district of Dallas, on Dragon Street is the noted-- Photographs Do Not Bend or PDNB as some know them by.  You never know what it is that will catch your mind or imagination when you pop in for a viewing, presently there is an exhibit inspired by an artist's experience of when he was in the  Viet Nam War, & was an officially assigned artist of the military.  If I were a hop, skip & a jumper I'd travel into Dallas on a regular basis, but since I'm not I will continue to be thankful for the ease the internet gives me in order to click onto their site & at least get a mini taste of what it is the gallery is showing.  You can get in touch with them at []  

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

If our memories are gardens.......your garden is luscious and dense with more sunlight penetrating than seems possible..........