November, 18, 2019
My name is Lisa. My Jewish name is Elka.
I grew up in a Jewish neighborhood, a Jewish, Italian and Sicilian neighborhood. Jews from all over the world. I’m 62 years old. So, that’s historically where I start. It was a neighborhood of many people from other countries who spoke other languages. Some people didn’t even speak English. The house next door to us. Unfortunately we were poor, my family. Even though they say Jews have money, we waited and we lived in a basement apartment and the people lived on top. And next to us an adjoining building, was an Italian family and the grandmother didn’t speak English. And that was pretty common that somebody, one of the family members did not necessarily, everybody had accents. Everybody had accents. From Poland, from Russia, from Syria. And we had a lot of Syrian Jews, French, I mean it was just from all over.
So anyway, the other thing about the neighbor that was so interesting is we had synagogues on like every block. There’d be a synagogue. And then we’d have like delicatessens and pizza parlors. Because that’s what we ate, it was like very ethnic. And I remember one time, one situation that’s so interesting and funny, we had Syrian Jews that owned a kosher pizza place, also sold falafels. And they sit in the middle of the floor with a big barrel and eat nuts. So it wasn’t like America, Apple Pie. It was very, very different.
The other part about it is that we spent a lot of time in the streets. Like it was like ’60s and ’70s and we danced in the streets and we played games in the streets. And we listened to music and we had fun. And it was like a mixture of like Jews and Italians. In a particular way that I have ways about me that are Jewish and ways about me that are Sicilian and Italian. So even though I’m Jewish, I have both. And I remember, I just want to say this, the first person I kissed, very young, I have to say I was nine years old. God help us. His name was Evans Agrepetus and he was Greek. He was like the only Greek person in the neighborhood. He was so cute. Dog skin, dark eyes, dark hair, and he could run faster backwards than I could run forwards. And I was a fast runner. He had like so much energy. And I remember there was like also a Hispanic guy. I can’t remember his name but he’s really tall and he was really nice and I just, that’s all I remember about him right now.
But the thing I just want to say about my neighborhood also is that it was a lot of survivors. Unfortunately this is the sad part of the Holocaust. My best friend’s father was in a concentration camp, he escaped on motorcycle and he lost his whole family. He made a new family, thank God cause my friend Frieda was born. And he was wonderful. He when I come to the door, he’d always say, “Hi Lisa.” And I remember, I mean I was a kid, right?
I remember one time, I’m just going to say everybody had accents. So Frieda’s mother had an accent. And she’d always say, “Frieda, go get the cookie shiiit.” But she was saying cookie sheets. I had a sweet 16 party and I was saying, I said I was making, we all made fun jokes. I said, “Frieda go get the cookie shiiit.” And her father was upstairs and he heard me. He was so cool this guy, he probably didn’t care. But anyway, I remember that.
But anyway, I just loved my neighborhood. I loved my neighborhood. I remember there was this girl Angela Prisco, she was Italian, right? And everybody used to call down. Call down from the, so her mother would call them Angela Michael come up to eat. And she was really skinny and she’d make a face. ” I don’t want to eat.” Meanwhile I love to eat, I love to eat. And my mother would make like, she was like, she’d make a grilled cheese sandwich. You’d stick it in the oven. It’s just cheese and bread. And that was the end of it.
I went up to Angela’s house, her mother made a grilled cheese sandwich. She put so much butter on the bottom of the pan. She put butter on the top of the bread, butter on the bottom of the bread. My mother was like kind of small and thin. Her mother had big plop, a black hair. She was big and full. And I said, “Why can’t I live here and have grilled cheese with butter on it every day?”
And meanwhile Angela’s like, “Oh, I have to eat again.” And I remember Angela and I, we used to dance and we made up this dance, a pigeon dance. We had so many pigeons, around, we’d go like this. And she was really good at it. She had a good neck. So anyway, all I can say was like…in its own way it was very diverse. And in its own way it was completely, completely isolated from the rest of America.
In terms of, I mean, we grew up with American things. Even on Sundays I ate this thing called shav, which was green sour. What do you call it? A sour grass soup. It was sour grass soup. It was shav. I mean, that was because I came from an Eastern European Jewish tradition. So what I’m saying is the food was different. There were churches all around, all kinds of churches and synagogues. Anyway, I wish I could explain more about it and say something else because….But I want to say I loved, loved, loved, loved, loved my neighborhood. I loved it.