In 1927, at the age of nine, I entered the fourth grade in my secular studies at the Yeshiva. The Hebrew section did not designate by number the class one attended. From grade 1 till you graduated, the secular class consisted of the same students; there was no skipping, nor being left back. However, in the Hebrew studies, there were three tiers of classes in each grade. You were placed in the tiers depending on your proficiency, usually how well you did in gemorrah (Talmud). I was bored stiff learning gemorrah since the rebbi repeated the blat (page) over and over again till every student knew it well. I enjoyed learning Chumash, Rashi, – an eleventh century French rabbi who produced the most read and studied commentary on the Bible, Prophets and the Talmud.
My first Hebrew teacher when I entered YTV at the age of eight was Rabbi or Mr. Greenberg. We never asked nor were told whether a particular teacher had semicha (rabbinical ordination). In his class we learned chumish, rashi, tanach and digduk (Hebrew grammar). The next Hebrew teacher was Rabbi Kaplan; I will refer to all my Hebrew teachers henceforth as Rabbi. His son Abraham was in all my secular classes, I remember him quite well; he was a very fine young man whom I liked.
In this class we learned, in addition to chumish and rashi, more intensive study of neviyim (Prophets) and mishlei (Proverbs). When we reached the age of ten, we were taught trup (singing the haftorah and reading of the Torah in song). Each word in the Torah and the haftorah is marked with a sign (musical note) informing the reader how to express that word musically. These signs, however, are not marked in the Torah scroll from which we read every Monday, Thursday, Saturday, every month on the day or days of the new moon, all fast days, and all holidays. Therefore, the reader must memorize every sign or note of the portion of the Torah he is reading. To facilitate the memorization of this task, a book called a tikun was published. On one side of its pages is the exact copy of the Torah scroll showing each word without a sign and on the other side, the page shows each word with the sign.
Since my father served in the Russian army, I cannot attribute my attraction to the Navy to genetics; however, at the age of nine for some unknown reason, I became very much interested in the U.S. Navy. Our home was about a half a mile from the Brooklyn Navy Yard on Sands Street and Flushing Avenue. Every year for an entire week people were permitted to enter the Yard and board any and all ships stationed therein. I would walk on a Saturday and board the submarines, battleships, cruisers and destroyers. On each ship were guides who would describe every part of the ship and the functions of all the equipment. The galleys – the kitchen and cooking area- and the engine room, in particular, fascinated me.
Little did I know then that later on in life I would be the officer in charge of a ship’s galley. Watching the crew go about their chores instilled in me a sense of envy. Of all the ships that I boarded, the submarine was most admired by me. Unfortunately, being claustrophobic prevented me from choosing this type of ship when I enlisted in World War II. Many times during the one hour recess, between 3 and 4 p.m., I and some of my classmates would visit the Navy Yard and just gaze upon the various ships that were there. We did this from outside the yard, not being permitted to enter. The Yeshiva was seven or eight blocks from the Navy Yard.
On chal hamoed (the intermediate days of the Passover and Succoth Holidays) we did not attend classes at YTV. Since my parents could not afford to go to hotels for these holidays as many do today, I had nothing to occupy my time since all my friends on the block were attending school. However, I had the good fortune of being liked by Mr. Gold, the wholesale egg man who occupied one of the stores in our tenement building. During chal hamoed, I would accompany him on his horse and wagon early in the morning to pick up his daily supply of egg crates from the Wallabout Market which was about a mile from our home. Then, we would distribute the eggs to groceries, bakeries, etc. He would allow me to hold the reins by myself for a good part of the day and I felt like I was a Brooklyn cowboy.
Around this time of my life, I began to become interested in professional sports, especially major league baseball. Since television and even radio broadcasts of the games did not exist, a baseball fan received his play-by-play information through the ticker tape. Every poolroom would have a ticker primarily for the results of the horse races, as big time betting was conducted in these poolrooms.
A very large blackboard was installed that would show what was transpiring at all major-league games. The ticker would report home run info as to who hit it, how many teammates were on and the inning. For example, “Ruth homered with 2 men on in the bottom of the 3rd”. Also it stated any change of pitchers e.g., “Pennock replaced by Hoyt in the top of the 5th”. At the end of each team’s time at bat you would receive hits, runs and errors. Each poolroom had an artistically talented young man who wrote on the blackboard using multi-colored chalks to display all this data.
The very first time that I was exposed to this new experience was the 1927 World Series between the Yanks and Pittsburgh. All games were held during the day, as nightlights did not come into being till several years later; I believe it was 1939. Several blocks from my Yeshiva, a poolroom exhibited its board outside so that people did not have to enter its premises. During my afternoon recess, which lasted one hour, I went to see what was happening at the game.
The Yankees, as usual, had a very formidable lineup: Lou Gehrig at first, Tony Lazzeri at second, Mark Koenig at short, Joe Dugan at third, Babe Ruth, Earl Combs, Bob Meusel, in the outfield, Benny Bengough catching and quite a pitching staff consisting of Herb Pennock, George Pipgras and Waite Hoyt.
On the Pittsburgh Pirates were no slouches either; having Pie Traynor at third, Glenn Wright at short and Paul and Lloyd Waner in the outfield. Bob O’Farrell caught and a pitching staff headed by a Hall of Famer, Grover Cleveland Alexander, who did his best while drunk, and Jesse Haines. The Yanks were victorious in 4 games.