After living on Hart Street for 2 years, our lease expired and Papa resumed his real estate activities. In 1930, a year after the stock exchange crash, the depression started in earnest and my father joined the unemployed ranks. Thus, receiving again 2 months concession-free rental- and a complete paint job of the entire apartment proved advantageous when compared to the cost of moving, which was around twenty dollars. Approximately 2 months prior to the expiration of the lease, Papa and Irene, -called Chayka and Ida previously- who was 19 years of age and the highest wage earner in the family would spend their Sundays looking for new apartments.
They located a 2 family house at 59 Vernon Avenue between Marcy and Nostrand Avenues, just two blocks from our former residence. We rented the upper floor while the owners, whose name was Gellis, occupied the street level floor.
I was now 12 years of age and befriended Maxie Gellis who was 14 and attended Boys High School, located at Marcy and Putnam Avenues which was 14 blocks from our home. Maishe –now called Morris- also attended this school as I did the following year. Acting always held an attraction for me; Maxie, his cousin and I would act out different plays that we would create. On Saturday nights, I would join my friend Norman and visit the Young Israel of Williamsburgh situated at Willoughby and Throop Avenues, 3 blocks from my house where we would play basketball.
An episode occurred around this time that has remained in my memory to this day. My father, being unemployed, wished to maintain his self-esteem by trying to earn some money. He became a peddler knocking on doors to sell men’s ties. On one particular day, when the temperature was flirting with zero, he returned home in the evening frozen stiff and without making one sale. I took one look at my poor father; went into a bedroom and began to sob. That picture has remained with me forever.
Being close to sexual maturity, I began to notice the other sex. Looking out the window one day, I saw a beautiful girl around my age walking in the street. She had black hair worn in curls and a classy look, which always attracted me to this day. I would keep looking out the window for close to a year hoping to get a glimpse of her and wishing that I would make her acquaintance; but I was too shy to introduce myself.
Mama was not a gourmet cook but she did excel in a few dishes. One of her specialties was chulent (a dish consisting of small potatoes, flanken meat, either stuffed derma or stuffed chicken neck, and plenty of chicken fat. This was before people heard about cholesterol and the drug “Lipitor”. On the corner of our street was a kosher bakery. I, not yet reaching the age of thirteen, would bring the large pot of chulent to the bakery before sundown on Friday and after Saturday prayers, I would return to retrieve the delicacy. The baker, also being an Orthodox Jew, would open the bakery after he left his schul. There were at least five or six other families availing themselves of his kindness.
My rabbi at YTV at this time was Rabbi Eisenberg, a Hungarian, who sported a long salt and pepper beard. He would constantly smoke alilka (a pipe 12″ long with an upturned bowl at the end) while teaching. About 5 or 6 months prior to my attaining “manhood”, Rabbi Eisenberg asked me if I, or my parents, would object to his instructing me in the way tefillin (phylacteries) are placed on my arm and my forehead. I replied that I and my parents would be honored by his request. Consequently, after he placed the tefillin on me, he hugged and kissed me; a gesture that I will always cherish since kissing and hugging was not prevalent in my family.
The time of my becoming a Bar-Mitzva now arrived. Of course, there was no question as to where the religious service would be held. Since I always prayed at the schtibel, I was called to the Torah there. Unlike today, I did not lead the congregation in the prayers; nor, did I read the weekly portion of the Torah. I received the Maftir aliya and chanted the Haftorah. Also, I refused my parents wish to deliver a mini sermon, called a dvar Torah or a pshetil. My celebration was held on Saturday only in our home.
At YTV, until I arrived in the 8B grade, nothing of great significance happened. My secular teacher, Mr. Kezbom, who arrived at YTV only a year before, was very much interested in extra-curricular activities for the students. His philosophy of teaching was to change the insular attitude of the yeshiva teaching staff. He felt that although we spent ten hours a day at school, we were intellectually equipped to engage in every facet of learning prevalent in secular schools. Thus, he wanted our class to be the first YTV graduating class to edit a “year book.” He chose the name of the publication to be “The CHRONICLE” and selected me to be the first editor-in-chief. I really don’t know if any other yeshiva elementary school had a graduation “year book.” He was so successful in his pedagogic innovations that, in the following year, he succeeded Mr. Blickstein as principal. Speaking of principals, there was also a change in the Hebrew department; Rabbi Dr. Stern replacing Rabbi Mendelowitz three years previously, both being very well loved by the entire student body. Being a member of the Yeshiva College faculty, Dr. Stern taught math in the afternoon.
Our graduation in January 1932 was held in the Young Israel of Brooklyn situated on Bedford Avenue and Keap Street in Williamsburgh. Another innovation at commencement exercises, which was instituted by Mr. Kezbom, was a play to be acted in only by the graduates. I played the role of “George Good”, which gives the reader a fairly good idea of his feeling toward me; he also chose me to give the salutatory address.
At this juncture, I must relate an incident that occurred a few moments after my address. As my mother was not literate in English, to this day I don’t know how she knew that there was an honor established which was superior to the one that her son Mendel was given. She inquired of me why I did not give the valedictory address; she now being a maven in graduation honors. As always, her children never could achieve enough to satisfy her. Throughout my scholastic life, I was criticized by her although in high school I achieved a 90 average and a Regents average of 93.
Upon graduation from YTV, Mama expected and wanted me to attend the Mesivta YTV, which was located at Taylor and Bedford Avenues, several blocks from the elementary school; Papa, as usual, was non-committal. This situation was not the first, nor the last where we disagreed; I remained very emphatic in my desire to attend Boys High School where Morris attended previously. Continuing to be extremely bored learning gemorrah), attending a yeshiva certainly did not appeal to me.
Since so many students attended Boys, the freshman class had to go to three different annexes: Waverly in the Fort Greene area, Lewis in the Bushwick area and Johnson in the Williamsburgh area. For my first semester, I was assigned to Waverly. From my home in Bedford-Stuyvesant, I traveled to school by trolley car. In my second semester, I went to Lewis where I attended from Sept. 1932 to Jan. 1933. At Lewis, one experience is still remembered by me. At YTV, I had no girls in my classes and never had a female teacher. Lo and behold, I was now blessed with one lady instructor, Miss Dalrymple, my English teacher, who came from the South. She, in my eyes, personified everything a Southern gal was supposed to look like. Possessing a beautiful face with a body to match, she aroused Mendel who had now reached puberty and whose hormones were working overtime. I sat in the rear center of her class and had a perfect vantage point in staring at her legs underneath her desk. This was my first sexual infatuation with a woman.