Category Archives: the Bronx

Krakow: The Pope and the Holocaust; I Am Proudly & Humbly Connected to Both*

IT MAKES SENSE TO ME

By Larry Peterson

Mom died from leukemia way back in 1961. She had just turned 40 and, at the time, there were no cures, no chemo and no bone-marrow transplants. She was dead within six months of diagnosis.

We lived in the Bronx in a five floor walk-up. Grandma lived up on the fifth floor and we were down on the third.  Grandma gave up her apartment and moved in with us downstairs. I guess it was to help take care of the “little ones”; I was 15, Carolyn was 13, Danny was 11, Bobby was six and Johnny was two). But, it was not a good thing. Grandma hated dad because, for some bizarre reason, she decided he had killed her daughter and let him know it every chance she had.
I have no explanation for this nor will I ever. None of us do. Hey, we were kids, what did we know. Grandma’s grief was so intense that Dad could not handle it. It was just the way it was. Dad solved the problem by avoiding Grandma as much as possible. He just began hanging out in the local saloons which actually gave Grandma a real reason to yell at him.

On March 8, 1963, Grandma had a massive stroke. I saw her standing seemingly twisted in a body spasm and managed to drag her to the bed. I held her in my arms as she summoned the strength to say an Act of Contrition.  Looking me dead in the eye, she slowly slurred each word. Then we said an “Our Father” together. I was crying like a baby and so were my sister and brother, Danny. Dad was in the other room with Bobby and Johnny, waiting for the priest to show up. He was not crying.

When we finished praying she closed her eyes and became comatose. Father Quirk arrived and administered Last Rites. She died a few hours later in the hospital. That moment is etched forever in my brain’s “like it just happened” memory section.

What does Krakow and World Youth day have to do with all of that? Well, the first question that must be asked is, who was Grandma’s husband, our Grandpa? We were kids and had never asked. We never thought about it. That’s what kids do—take things for granted.

But then Mom was gone and Grandma was gone and Dad was drinking heavily. He died two years later. We had never gotten to the point of asking, “Hey, where is Grandpa?” Just like that it was too late. As adults we never found out—until four years ago. And now, with the Pope going to Krakow, Grandpa is in the forefront of my mind.  Krakow was Grandpa’s hometown.

Forced deportation from the Krakow ghetto, 1942   wikipediacommons
Our Mom had a brother, my namesake, Uncle Larry. He had been in the 8th Army Air-Force during World War II and his plane had been shot down on a bombing mission. He survived the war as a POW in the infamous Stalag 17. One time I asked him about his dad. He told me, “He died.” He never said another word.  That was that. Then we grew up, our folks were gone, and we lost contact as we began our own individual lives.

About four years ago I received a message on Facebook (kudos to Facebook) by none other than my long lost cousin, Vicki, Uncle Larry’s oldest. She had been on a “quest” and located me. Like dominoes perfectly colliding, my sister and brothers and cousins all reconnected. Now, to the point of this essay.

What follows may seem implausible but it is true and we have the documentation to confirm it. Vicki had been wondering about the missing Grandpa too. Her dad told her the same thing he had told me. Now he was gone. But she never stopped wondering and began a journey into the world of genealogy.  Lo and behold, she unraveled the mystery of the missing Grandpa.

Our grandma was an immigrant from Austria. A devout Catholic who never missed Mass, she married a man by the name of Isidore Schul. This was our grandfather. He was a Hebrew man from Krakow. Our maternal grandfather was Jewish. Shocker of shockers, the immigration papers and naturalization papers all confirm this. He made it to America in 1907.

We cannot understa
nd how these two unlikely people connected, got married and had two children, one of them our own mother. But it was so and that mystery will never be unraveled. We dubbed our long, lost, mysterious grandfather, Grandpa Irv. He and grandma split up when Mom and Uncle Larry were young children. Grandpa Irv died in the Bronx in 1965. We will never know more than I revealed here.

But here is the thing. Cradle Catholics, we are also 25% Jewish. Grandpa Irv was the only one of his family to get to America. His parent’s names were Simon and Regina Schul. Simon and Regina are our great-grandparents. We do not know if they died in the Holocaust or before it began but apparently, from what Vicki discovered, Grandpa Irv’s siblings did. Probably in Ravensbruck but it might have been Auschwitz.

For me, personally, I am humbled by this connection. Jesus, the Blessed Mother, St. Joseph, their  relatives, St. Ann, St. Joachim, and the apostles etc. were all Jewish. They were also the first Catholics. And today, as I write this, Pope Francis is in Krakow, Grandpa Irv’s hometown. I feel connected to it all and the Holocaust has a whole new meaning for me. It is all part of my heritage. My “own people” were killed there.  SHALOM

*This article also appeared in Aleteia. org on July 28,2016

                                     ©Larry Peterson 2016 All Rights Reserved

All Saint's Day: Never Forget that Our Christian Roots are Embedded in Judaism

IT MAKES SENSE TO ME

by Larry Peterson

My father has been dead for many years but he is still teaching me how to be  Catholic. He is doing this by living in my mind via memories of his personal Christianity in action.  The Feast of All Saint’s Day flips a switch that turns on one of these memories. That is also when I began to embrace the fact that the vast majority of the first Catholics were born and raised Jewish .

I remember that Friday night long ago. We lived in the south Bronx in a five story walk-up on Sherman Ave. There were eight of us in a four room apartment and we never even considered that it was small and cramped. The neighborhood was the same for all families except for those living up on the upscale Grand Concourse. That’s where the “money” people lived in buildings with courtyards and sometimes the courtyards even had fish ponds in the middle.

It was still September and  summer had not yet left. Back then no-one had air-conditioning and everyone kept their windows open praying for a breeze. The screaming started a little past midnight. It filled the back alleyway and floated unmercifully upward and into the open windows. Our apartment was directly above the window from where the screams were coming and on this night they seemed exceptionally close and  blood-curdling. Pop got up and my brother, Danny, whispered from his bed, “I think he’s going down there.”

We watched as Pop left our apartment and headed down the stairs. We followed and quietly sat on the upper landing stretching our necks so our heads would make a right-angle turn to see down and around the landing below. We watched our father, who without hesitation, walked over to the apartment door and began banging on it with his fist. This was the apartment of Leo and Sophie Rabinowitz. Leo was the landlord and he owned the building. No one dared complain to the landlord about noise coming from his apartment even if it was about midnight screams that curled the hairs on your neck. But Pop was not going down to complain. He was going to see if he could help. He had this way about him and sometimes he was uncommonly instinctive.

The door opened and Leo poked his head out. Pop started talking to him and, incredibly, Leo just stood there listening. The man was short, maybe 5’2″, he had a droopy mustache that needed tending and his sagging shoulders said he was obviously worn out. He held a pipe off to the side of his head and his face seemed to be saying, “Please help me.” Pop continued talking for a minute or so and suddenly Leo Rabinowitz, the “feared” Jewish landlord, buried his head in my father’s chest and began crying unashamedly. Danny and I were stunned. Then Pop, his arm around Leo’s shoulder, disappeared into Leo’s apartment.

We both went back into our apartment and lay there conjecturing away at all the possibilities that may have caused this unexpected union between a landlord and tenant, a Jewish man and a Catholic man, between two people who were neighbors but were not really except for location and who had nothing in common. Within fifteen minutes Bobby, Johnny and Carolyn had joined Danny and myself in the conversation and by the time our  five imaginations extrapolated each other’s ideas, we “knew”  that Leo Rabinowitz was a communist spy and he had somehow killed our father and disposed of his dismembered body in the coal furnace down in the basement.

As we plotted our course of action Pop came back into our apartment. It had been a few hours, or at least it seemed that way. Pop just walked through our bedroom and headed to the back room moving ever so slowly. When he paused by his workbench he sat on the stool, lowered his head into his upraised fingers, took in a deep breath and sighed. Then, ever so quietly, he pulled his beads from his pocket and started praying the  rosary. None of us interrupted and I think we all just fell asleep.

We found out about those screams the next morning. Sophie was having nightmares all right, nightmares of her two boys, ages 12 and 9, being clubbed to death with rifle butts by the Nazis, who also  insisted that the boy’s mom and dad watch as they killed their sons. To this day I cannot imagine what those moments in their lives were like. They were loving parents and were rendered helpless as godless people murdered their children, enjoying inflicting their heinous butchery on innocents. The ultimate torture distributed by the Nazis was allowing Leo and Sophie to watch. Sophie’s screams told that story night after night, year after year after year. How ghastly and cruel those memories had to be.

All Saint’s Day is celebrated on November 1. The gospel reading for the day is from Matthew 5:1-12, The Beatitudes. When the priest reads them the switch will flip and I will go back to that Friday once again. It always happens. I hear #2,  “Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted”; then #5, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy”; and #7, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.”

Pop lived all three of those Beatitudes that Friday night long ago. He mourned with his Jewish neighbors, he was merciful to them and he brought a sense of peace into their lives. My gift was being able to remember how a Catholic man reached out to his Jewish neighbors and how they became friends. I also remember that because of that friendship Leo and Sophie Rabinowitz became friends with other folks in the building and in the neighborhood.

My final lesson in all of this was when Pop told me to get out my missal and read the Roman Canon. I did and began reading., silently. “Out loud”, he said. I paused for a moment and looked at him. He said, “Just do it.”

I did until I got to the part that read, “whose memory we venerate, especially the glorious ever-Virgin Mary—,and blessed Joseph, her spouse—“, etc. “Okay, stop,” he said. “Tell me about all those people.”

“What about them?” I don’t understand.”

“Never ever forget that most all of them were Jewish, including Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Our roots are deeply embedded in Judaism. We Catholic/Christians and Jews are joined at the spiritual hip “in perpetuity. Leo and Sophie Rabinowitz are our brother and sister too. Never forget that.”

I never forgot.

John F Kennedy, a Kid from the Bronx and a Moment in Time

IT MAKES SENSE TO ME

by Larry Peterson

“The president is dead.”  For those of us who can remember those words from 50 years ago they were seared into our brains like letters sand-blasted into a granite headstone forever; clear, succinct and unmistakable in meaning. How could this be? Things like this did not happen, especially in the America of 1963.  But then a few days later, John-John, in his little top coat and short pants, saluted as the caisson went by holding his dad’s  body covered by our flag. It was real all right, no doubt about it.

I had a personal connection to John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Just like the moment when I heard of his death these moment(s) are also seared into my brain and the memories of them are as clear and vivid as if they happened ten minutes ago. The only difference is these are MY moments with JFK. No one else ever had these moments just me and the 35th President of the United States. And I do not care if you believe me or not. I just felt that I should share. Let us go back to November 5, 1960.
The most famous hotel in the Bronx was the Concourse Plaza Hotel on the corner of 161st Street and the Grand Concourse. Built in 1922 it was an elegant 12 story hotel three blocks from Yankee Stadium. Many of the Yankees had stayed there including Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle and others. The hotel had a grand ballroom and fancy dining rooms. On Saturday, November 5, 1960, Senator John F. Kennedy was to deliver a campaign speech at the hotel. His fateful election to the presidency was now only four days away. 
I had an after school job delivering groceries and stocking shelves for Harry “the Grocer” Greenhouse. I worked for Harry every day after school until 6 p.m. and on Saturdays from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. One of my frequent delivery stops was the Concourse Plaza Hotel. There were a number of elderly tenants that lived there year round and they always called Harry when they needed anything from bread to fruit to bologna to beer to band-aids or whatever. I would bag up the stuff, load it into a cart and push it up the two hills to the hotel. I would go there at least twice a week sometimes more. I had made a delivery to a  customer on the eighth floor on Friday and she told me that Senator Kennedy was coming in the morning to give a speech. She was very excited about it and told me she was going to make sure she was down in the ballroom when he arrived. She said she thought he was going to be there at 10 o’clock. I had to start work at 10 o’clock and  I was quite disappointed that I might miss my chance to see the Senator. Then things changed.
That Friday night I saw my friend ‘Sticks’ (real name Tommy) and told him about JFK coming to the hotel in the morning. He said we should just go up there about 9 a.m. and see what happens. It made sense to me so that is what we did. I do not remember why but  we did not get up to the hotel until about 9:30. We came up to the hotel through the rear loading dock which was off 162nd Street. That is where I always came in to make deliveries and I knew my way around the back and basement of the hotel like the back of my hand. It was a bit strange because there were no cars or trucks or anything or anyone for that matter at the rear of the hotel. The overhead doors for truck deliveries were closed and the only way in was through a door up some stairs at the end of the loading dock. ‘Sticks’ hurried ahead of me and went through the door. I was not as quick so it took me about an extra half minute to reach the door. By the time I did ‘Sticks’ had disappeared. I hurriedly walked down a short corridor and made a left. I can remember that it was quite dark. (Whew! Right now, as I write this so many years years later, the memories have become crystal clear.)

I made the turn and froze dead in my tracks.  Someone else had also stopped short. The man I had almost walked into and who was now looking me in the eye was Senator Kennedy. We were less than a foot apart. He had finished his speech and was leaving via the rear entrance. He was with another man. That was it. No one else was there. Just me, John F. Kennedy and some other guy. The other man simply stepped near me and said, “Excuse us son.”  I said nothing and stepped back. Senator Kennedy smiled at me and said, “Good to see you.” Then he and his friend walked down some stairs and exited the door that led to 162nd Street.

The rear stairwell was right in front of me so I ran up a half flight to a platform and opened the big window. I looked out and below me and maybe 50 feet away the next President of the United States was standing next to a limo just talking to the man he had left the hotel with. There were no police, no guards in the street, no one else. I was staring out the window at John F. Kennedy. He was wearing a dark blue topcoat that had to be very expensive and his face had a perfect tan, something you do not see in New York City in November. His thick,sandy hair was blowing a bit and he ran his right hand up and across it. Then it happened. He looked up at me, smiled ( I can still see his teeth) and held up his hand. He did not wave it, he just held it up. He probably held it up for about two seconds. He was saying good-bye to ME, a kid from the south Bronx who just happened to be there at that moment. I held up my right hand to him and I guess I smiled. I don’t remember. Then he got into his limo and was gone. I watched as my new friend’s car turned onto the Grand Concourse. Talk about a “moment in time”.

 “Hey, what are you doing?”  I turned and ‘Sticks’ was at the bottom of the stairs. “I didn’t see him,”  he said. “Did you?”

“Yes, I did.”

We Catholics Have an Undeniably Jewish DNA

by Larry Peterson

When I was growing up in the Bronx we lived on the third floor  in a five story walk-up on Sherman Ave. There were eight of us in a four room apartment. In the apartment below lived  Leo and Sophie Rabinowitz.  Quite often, in the middle of the night,  blood-curdling screams filled the back alley  and our apartment and the hallways outside. The screams were coming from the Rabinowitz’s. It was Sophie. She was having recurring nightmares. But Leo was the landlord and no one dared complain about the eery  howls that constantly reached the ears of so many. There was one man,  however,  who could not leave this alone. That man was my father.
I remember that Friday night long ago very well. The screaming started about midnight. It was September and the windows  were still open because it was hot and the screaming seemed exceptionally chilling. Dad got up and my brother whispered from his bed, “I think he’s going down there.”  We got up and followed him and, without hesitating, Dad walked up to Leo’s  apartment door and began banging on it with his fist. We watched from the stairs as the door slowly opened. Leo poked his head out and just like that my father was embracing this little Jewish man who had buried his head in Dad’s chest  crying unashamedly. My brother and I, crouched down and peeking from the landing above,  were stunned.  Then Dad disappeared into that apartment with Leo Rabinowitz and did not leave for several hours. Sophie was having nightmares all right, recurring nightmares of her two boys, ages 12 and 9, being clubbed to death by the Nazis as they made her and Leo watch. Try as I may, I cannot  imagine what those moments in their lives were like. They were loving parents and were helpless, unable to save their very own children as godless people clubbed them to death. The Nazis tortured the parents  further by allowing them to live.
My father has been dead for many years but he is still teaching me about being Catholic today. How? The gospel reading for All Saints Day is from Matthew 5:1-12. The Beatitudes. When the priest read #7, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”,  I remembered that Friday night long ago. I remember how a Catholic man reached out to his Jewish neighbor and how they became friends. I also remember that because of that friendship Leo and Sophie Rabinowitz became friends with the other folks in the building. My father was the ‘peacemaker’ who initiated the peacemaking process. He did ‘GOOD’.
We Catholics have just celebrated All Saints Day and All Souls Day. During the reading of the Roman Canon at Mass, (First Eucharistic Prayer) the following words are read prior to the words of consecration: “In communion with those whose memory we venerate, especially the glorious ever-Virgin Mary, Mother of our God and Lord, Jesus Christ, and blessed Joseph, her Spouse, —–and all your saints.”  Were not all of them Jewish? Yeah..I think they were. There is no denying this fact. They are all canonized saints and their Judaism was always part of who they were.
Finally, let me mention our Holy Father, Pope Francis.  The Pope is very good friends with one of the primary Jewish leaders in Argentina, Rabbi Abraham Skorka.  In October of 2012, he presented to Rabbi Skorka an honorary doctorate degree from the Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina. It was the first time such an honor had been bestowed on any Jewish man in all of Latin America. Upon presenting the award to Rabbi Skorka, the Pope (then Jorge Cardinal Bergoglio) said, “You cannot imagine how long I have waited for this moment.”

The Priest and The Peaches–"a touching tale of family, survival, faith and hope"

Review Redux: “The Priest and The Peaches”

 Delightful tale filled with faith, love and humor, originally posted March 21, 2012
By 
This review is from: The Priest and the Peaches (Kindle Edition)

The Priest and the Peaches by Larry Peterson captures the life of the newly orphaned Peach kids as they struggle in the aftermath of their father’s death and plan his funeral. This touching tale of faith and hope offers a glimpse into the lives of this working class Catholic family set in 1960’s Bronx, NY. Steeped in faith and laced with humor Peterson’s tale delivers a powerful message “to love thy neighbor.”

This was an emotional and heartbreaking tale. This dysfunctional family has seen a lot of heart-ache. They lost their mother to leukemia; their grandma stepped in to help and recently passed away. Mr. Peach suffers from grief at the lost of his wife and turns to the bottle. The church and Father Sullivan step into help, but sadly the liquor takes its toll, leaving eighteen year old Teddy and seventeen year old Joanie to care for their three younger siblings. Teddy really steps up and tries to take care of them. Each of the kids is suffering and shows it differently. The youngest, Joey, thinks he is having conversations with his Dad. Add a nosy neighbor named Beatrice, an Aunt named Vera and a couple of drunks, you get quite the tale.

While I found parts of the tale to be rough, like the dialogue, (which might be expected from Bronxites) the overall message and tale was delightful. I enjoyed the lively cast of characters and their antics. Peterson captures their thoughts and emotions giving them depth. This was a quick and easy read that I finished in just a few hours. Peterson provides a touching tale of family, survival, faith, and hope. LYN.

Another 5 STAR unbiased review for The Priest & The Peaches

The book has been out for over a year and below are two  reviews. One  is brand spanking new and the other is almost one year old.  This book, based on a true story, is about blue-collar folks living and working and sharing their lives together in a tough NYC south Bronx neighborhood. The untimely death of the widower, Yimey Peach,  leaves his five kids to fend for themselves. Father Tim Sullivan, the parish priest, quietly guides them on their parentless journey starting with their father’s somewhat raucous New Year’s Eve Funeral. Characters such as Migrane Magrane, Fadeaway Walker, Little Red Coffey and others lead a bizarre contingent of family friends who are there to bid their friend Yimey, a Happy New Year. Only problem is they have usually had way too much to drink. Even the neighborhood shrew, the despised Beatrice Amon, gets involved–VERY involved. This book is funny, sad and definitely inspirational. See the two reviews below or go to Amazon where there 46 reviews posted,  mostly with 4 or 5 stars

5.0 out of 5 stars Well done, February 26, 2013
This review is from: The Priest and the Peaches (Kindle Edition)

Peterson has created a captivating novel that stars a large cast of unique characters who keep you enticed and make you not want to set your e-reader down even though it may be well past your bedtime! Your heart will be touched as you journey with the children. A few well placed unexpected twists add to the story, surprising the reader. A great read

5.0 out of 5 stars The Lord Works in Mysterious Ways, April 10, 2012
This review is from: The Priest and the Peaches (Kindle Edition)

Here is an alert to this book. Make sure you have a box of tissue ready. You will either laugh until you cry and you will cry at the sad moments. This book is that good. It is amazing to me how together these five orphans were. There was never any doubt in their minds that they all wanted to be together. The older two children who are in their late teens could have easily said nope I do not want the responsibility of caring for my younger siblings. They stepped up to the plate and decided that they did. To me that in itself speaks volumes. Teenagers are normally in their own little world not looking out for anyone but number one. ( Believe me I know I have 2 of my own.) The Peach family is a family that you will fall in love with. I found this book to be highly entertaining. I loved how be kind to others is a main theme of this book. How one good deed can turn into many more.

If you are interested in finding out more about Larry Peterson and his writings you can check out Tribute Books or his blog.

I received a complimentary copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.