After graduation from Boys High, I was admitted to CCNY Downtown – now known as Baruch School of Business. It was located in an office building converted to a college. It was a 17- story edifice at the corner of Lexington Avenue and 23rd Street; of course, we had no campus. I believe that many renovations and extensions have taken place since my time.
During the depression, Pres. Roosevelt created many alphabetic governmental agencies to alleviate the economic condition of the country; i.e. NRA, WPA, NYA, etc: The latter was the National Youth Administration, which aided college students by having them work at school. The maximum number of hours a student could work per month was 30 and the wage was 50 cents per hour; thus arriving at maximum earnings of $15 per month.
The person who administered this at our school was an elderly math instructor. Knowing that he was inundated with applications for student aid, I went to his office and offered my services in processing the applications. Incidentally, every college was given a quota of the number of students who could receive this aid; thus, most of the applications were rejected since almost everybody applied. He was so grateful for my offer that he turned over the entire operation to me and I had final authority as to which student was accepted for this program. You can be assured that all my friends were accepted.
The various departments of the college would send in a request to me for the number of students that they can employ. One of these departments was the school library. Always liking books and magazines and realizing that working in the library would be the most pleasant, I selected this department for myself. I visited Mrs. Nelson, the head librarian, in her office and we immediately hit it off. In fact, a year later she told me that there was a special library fund that could increase my monthly hours from 30 to 60; thus, increasing my earnings from $15 to $30 per month. I believe that I was the only student at the school lucky enough to earn that much.
When the students went to the library for studying and needed a particular book, they consulted the files for the number of the book based on the Dewey system. They filled out a slip, which they would hand to me or to the other librarians who were not students but professional librarians, I being the only student librarian. With slip in hand, I would go to the aisle where that number would be located, obtain the book or magazine and hand it to the student who would then sign the slip which we retained until the article was returned.
Our library had 2 stories; books on the first story and magazines and bound theses on the upper story. Every day all the shelves and books were dusted. Despite this, I contracted hay fever, which my allergist attributed to my job. I remember reading U.S. News & World Report at every opportunity when things were slow and subscribing to this journal for many years after graduation.
Although the college was primarily a school of business, there were many students majoring in history and pre-law subjects. Among the latter were some girls and I am embarrassed to state that, when a young lady would hand me a slip, I would blush terribly. My hope was that she wouldn’t notice my facial blushing.
Around this time, at one of the get-togethers at the H.H. of Boro Park, I met Laura, a tall, thin blonde with a lot of class who was a member of that group. We dated for about a year seeing each other almost every Saturday night. We enjoyed going to the Metropolitan Museum of Art listening to free classical concerts and occasionally to the Loews Boro Park. After taking her home I would be hosted by her mother, who would serve us cake and coffee and then I would leave around 2 am My trip home was extremely difficult, waiting for an hour for the BMT, changing at Atlantic Ave. for the IRT, waiting another hour for that train, and then walking home from the station. It was usually day- time at 5 am when I arrived home. There was no fear of being mugged in those days.
At one of the parties in Boro Park, a young, pretty, tall girl entertained the group by declaiming. Since my girl friend, Laura, was sitting on my lap, I must be frank in stating that I was not paying too much attention to the declaimer. At the close of the evening, I was prepared to escort Laura home when Laura’s friend, Florence Zivitz, suggested that it would be more advisable that Zach Gellman, the declaimer’s date, who lived in Boro Park should take Laura home while I take the declaimer home; she lived a few blocks from my home. I must have been introduced to this young lady but, as usual, I forgot her name.
I and the others thought this was an excellent idea except for Laura who adamantly refused to go along with this idea and I, therefore, took her home. When I arrived at the subway station, Zach, his date, Florence and her boyfriend David Alexander, are still waiting for the train. Not wanting to interfere with them, I stayed quite a distance from them without talking to them at all. When the train arrived, we all entered the same car and I found the mystery woman staring at me throughout the ride home. I must admit that I thought she was lovely but nothing beyond that feeling. I, later on, learned that she told her mother that night that she met a young man whom she would marry, and she did. This occurred in June 1936 when I was 18 and just finished my freshman year.
It was quite common in those days to attend a dance celebrating the end of the Yom Kippur fast. I had made a date with Laura for that evening asking her to bring her friends Lillian and Henrietta for my friends Maxie Eisenberg and Sandy Wasserman who had dated these girls previously. Maxie owned a car and we were off to Laura’s home to pick up the girls. Upon our arrival, Laura met us at the door, not inviting us in, and informed us that Lillian had a headache so that the date was off. I, always being sensitive, could not understand why she didn’t call us to tell us not to come. Also, I could not understand why she and Henrietta wouldn’t keep the date despite Lillian’s headache. I would never allow anyone to make a fool of me; thus, our friendship was over.
On Simchas Torah 1936, I told my mother that I was going to change the place of attendance of hakofes (seven rounds of marching with Torah scrolls) by going to the Hebrew Educational Society. I had never attended hakofes at the HES so perhaps it was berschert (destined) that I do so now. When I entered the lobby, I met Florence Zivits who told me that she is awaiting Hilda Friedfeld for hakofes. I inquired as to who was Hilda Friedfeld. She replied that she was the girl who declaimed in Boro Park and I immediately remembered her. As we walked outside the building, Hilda’s sister Esther and her friend Esther Zomick approached us and informed us that Hilda was on her way to the HES.
When Hilda arrived, I was stricken with her class, clothing and demeanor. She was even more beautiful than when I last saw her. We went in for hakofes and, after about an hour, I asked her if she would like to take a walk with me. She said yes and we walked for about 30 minutes and finally sat down on a bench in a little park at the beginning of Pitkin Ave. At the time, I was wearing glasses and after staring at her for several minutes, I removed my glasses and said: “You are a very pretty girl.” She began to laugh, which she did quite often. Her laughter intrigued me, as I was accustomed to living in a very serious household.
A week after I met Hilda, Murry and Gertrude Fishman were married. How they met creates a very interesting story. In June 1935, Gert received her 2-week vacation from R.H. Macy & Co. where she worked in the payroll department earning $17 per week. Living then in Coney Island with her parents in a not too affluent home, she looked for a resort, which she could afford. Gert, as did her sister Lena, turned over her entire earnings to her mother who in turn would give her an allowance for her needs. Her father, Solomon, who was an insurance agent for the Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. was in poor health and at that time was convalescing at a sanitarium run by his employer. Gert found a small boarding house in the Catskills whose weekly rate was $14 per week, including 3 meals a day.
On her first Sunday at this resort, a group of four young men checked into the boarding house in a pouring rain. It seems that they were headed for a hotel in Pennsylvania but wanted to stop for a meal and wait for the rain to subside; they were seated at the table with Gert and her friend. After the meal and arriving in her room, Gert began singing “Im ein ani lemili”. When Murry heard her voice, he immediately joined her in song; both of them being blessed with beautiful voices. They sang together entertaining all the guests till 4-5 am. Murry decided to stay for 1 week and Gert stayed on for another week. He didn’t take her phone number so she thought he wasn’t interested in her but she fell for him immediately as he was extremely handsome and talented. Several weeks later, Gert opens her door on West 23rd Street in Coney Island and who should be staring at her but her prince charming. The fact, that he was able to find her address, shows that destiny triumphs.
The first time I met her was when Murry brought her home to meet the family. I was immediately impressed with her quiet beauty, classy bearing and her intelligence. One must remember that Murry and I, although sleeping in the same bed, were not particularly close, perhaps due to the gap in age. At any rate, he made the introductions and then I went into my room and stayed there for the rest of the evening. I must admit, in retrospect, that I did not act civilly and that is why Gert has accused me many times of not liking her on that first visit. Nothing could be further from the truth, as I have always liked her. No wife could have ever loved a husband more than she loved my brother.
On October 10, 1936, their marriage took place in the Elsmere Hall, owned by a great-aunt of Gert. It was a very lovely and happy wedding, filled with much singing. Murry, being very much like his brother wasn’t a great believer in making reservations so that when he arrived with his new bride at the Concourse Plaza Hotel to celebrate his wedding night, no rooms were available. They ended up in the Hotel Theresa in Harlem where Fidel Castro stayed years later. Gert’s cousin Jan Pierce, the celebrated singer, attended the wedding.
The newlyweds moved in with Gert’s parents for a few weeks and then rented an apartment in Bensonhurst. Shortly before his marriage, Murry left Arthur Beer & Co. and went to work for Metropolitan Life as an agent. After 1 month, he realized this wasn’t for him so he went to work for Macy’s in the piece goods department.