In the spring of 1938, at the age of twenty, I was employed as manager at Auerbach’s Hotel in Spring Valley, N.Y. Mr. Auerbach, the proprietor, as a widower married the sister of Sam Simons, the husband of my Aunt Mary. My duties included that of desk clerk; taking reservations, registration of guests, assigning rooms and preparation of guests’ bills. Also, I was the maître d’; placing guests at tables guided by their marital status, age and gender. In addition, I was the head and only bookkeeper; making deposits, paying bills and keeping the books.
My employment commenced on Passover. During chal hamoed (intermediate days) I saw a headline in the N.Y. Daily News which, to say the least, had a severe traumatic effect on me. I cannot remember the exact wording of the headline but it caused me to go inside the paper to read the story. Hilda’s grandfather Hersh Meilach Hecht was beaten to death in his home by his mikva employee; the perpetrator using a bedpost. He, apparently, bled to death. I immediately called Hilda to confirm what I had read, although it was silly of me to do so since all the facts related in the newspaper were sufficient to preclude confirmation. I guess that I just didn’t want to believe this horrible event; also, the call was to console her.
Ten years later in 1948 we were living at Glendale Court in the East Flatbush section of Brooklyn. One evening, we received a visit from two police detectives who requested that Hilda come to the police precinct on Liberty Avenue to identify two suspects of the killing who were apprehended in South Carolina. I, naturally, accompanied her and when we arrived at the station we were told to stay in a room and look through the door where both were seated. Hilda immediately identified the older one as her grandfather’s employee; it seems that the younger one was his nephew who persuaded his uncle that both should rob the home.
Hersh Meilach, for many years, collected funds to send to Israel and this fact was well known by his employee. Evidently, he arrived at home at a very unpropitious moment and caught them in the act of robbery. Both were convicted and received a sentence of 10-20 years and were released after 7 years for good behavior. I assume that this light sentence was due to the fact that the murder was not premeditated; also, no gun or knife was used.
Although there were girl friends in my past life, I was not prepared for the events that ensued at the hotel. Many females, both single and married, were looking for a sexual fling with the employees, whose additional duties included mingling with the guests at dances and all social activities.
I will just mention a few incidents that involved me. One of the guests was a woman about 35 years of age, with a child of 4 or 5 and married to a very rich man in his sixties. She stayed at Auerbachs the entire summer; her husband visited her weekends arriving in a chauffeured expensive car. She always eyed me up and enjoyed speaking to me. On one particular weekend, her husband did not show up. While dancing with me at our Saturday night dance, she asked me to please come to her room to fix the window, which, supposedly, was not functioning properly. Whether I was still a yeshiva bocher (boy) and unsophisticated or scared to lose my virginity, I said: “I’ll be glad to send up the maintenance man;” her reply was immediate: “Don’t bother.” She never had a broken window again.
Another experience that I had was with another woman who was very attractive with a body to match. I would say she was in her early thirties and married to a dentist who came out weekends. During the week she and I would sit at night after dinner in a swing for two and indulge in light petting. She did not need any repairs in her room, but, nevertheless, she invited me very often to her bedroom and couldn’t understand why a young man of twenty constantly refused her. In fact, she gave me her address in the city so that we could have an affair while her husband was at his office.
To complicate matters, she had a very pretty, younger sister who came up weekends and who also took a fancy to me. The married sister must have confided in her about my refusal to engage in sex with her. I was flabbergasted when the younger sibling advised me not to become involved with her sister, as she wanted me for herself. She, too, gave me her address, which I promptly discarded. There were also many single girls who were not immune to one-night stands. Mendel still retained his virginity, for better or worse.
I have asked myself many times what prevented this twenty-year old from taking advantage of the many opportunities afforded me. After all, at this age the libido is at its strongest. I conclude that there were many factors in my rejecting these advances. To begin with, having sexual relations with an eishes ish (wife of a Jewish man) would be adulterous; and, being an Orthodox young man would not allow me to violate the seventh commandment. My religious scruples also came into focus with unmarried women. Perhaps I was fearful that I would embarrass myself in the act, being a virgin; and, last but not least, I had a girl friend.
On the Labor Day weekend, many of the employees had to relinquish their rooms to guests, as the hotel was booked beyond capacity. I, and the others, would sleep in the lobby on the couches. I remember vividly moans and groans emanating from the many liaisons between the waiters and guests. Needless to say, I had very little sleep that night.
In the fall of 1938, Hilda and I were coming home on a Friday afternoon, I from school and she from work, traveling on the subway. I disliked what I was going to tell her but my patience with her father’s behavior towards me reached the boiling point. I told her that I did not consider myself unworthy of her despite her father’s feeling and that, perhaps, it would be better for both of us to discontinue our relationship. I liked her a great deal and we were seeing each other every day and enjoying every minute of it. However, being ostracized by her father and by her mother, under duress, for two years, I had occasional doubts whether I was in love with her. These doubts could have also been raised by my not understanding what love meant.
When I finished telling her how I felt, she began to cry and told me that she loved me and that her father’s objection was meaningless as far as she was concerned. If his attitude persisted, she was ready to elope with me when I was ready to marry her. Her loving, emotional words did not sway me and we departed.
Little did I know at that time how wise and resourceful my future wife was. A day later, on Saturday night, a basketball game and dance was scheduled between H.H. of Park Place and H.H. of Boro Park at the HES. In the middle of the first quarter, Hilda walks into the gymnasium escorted by a date. While playing in the game, I caught a glimpse of my ex-girl friend sitting in the stands and having a great time, laughing and joking with her new conquest. Since basketball was never one of my favorite participating sports, I never considered myself a good player; however, from that moment on, I played worse than ever. She, evidently, had very little interest in the game but came to make me jealous since after the second quarter, she left with her beau in tow.
If I had any previous doubts about my love for her, those feelings disappeared completely. I became a basket case not being able to sleep nor eat and realized how much I loved her. Walking around my house as a zombie, I was told by mother to reconcile with Hilda as soon as possible; since she could see how unhappy her son was and was worried about his health. To make matters worse, my friends told me on the following afternoon that she went that day to her new boy friend’s home to visit his folks. One must admit Hilda was a fast worker in order to accomplish her plan. This episode also revealed who were my true friends. Itchka, my best friend, proved his loyalty by consoling me and telling me to contact Hilda as soon as possible. Maxie Eisenberg, on the other hand, advised her that she should not return to me because I’m too tough and she would never be happy with me.
After the worst weekend of my life, on Monday evening I phoned her to say that I would like to return a book that she loaned me. She seemed happy to hear from me and consented to meet me that evening. After going to her home, we took a bus to Prospect Park and spent one of the most delightful nights that I can remember; needless to say, we never separated again and I could not have found a more devoted, loving and considerate life partner. In fact, before our very short-lived separation, she said to me: “Mac, if we ever marry and have children, you will always come first” and she kept that vow throughout our marriage.
It appears that our breakup did create a great change in my relationship with the Friedfeld household. Hilda took “the bull by the horns” and finally told her father in no uncertain terms that, despite his objection of me, she would marry me and expected him to receive me civilly henceforth. He, grudgingly at first, commenced greeting me; Sadie was relieved and behaved very warmly, and Esther began to like me.
Being an accounting student, I became quite useful to Harry in his dress business. Every Sunday, Harry, Sadie, Hilda and I would go to Pearl Dress to work, Hilda and I working on the books and her parents opening the returns. At the end of each month, Harry and I took a physical inventory of piece goods, and finished goods and I would compare the result with a perpetual (book) inventory, which I set up, to ascertain if any difference showed up due to theft or poor records. In the evening around 6, Harry would treat us to dinner at Farm Food Restaurant located at 49th Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues; the meal cost an incredible 75 cents.