2009-06-12 / Columnists

It's My Turn

You're From Arverne? Me Too: Jewish Geography
By Marjorie Gottleib Wolfe

Marjorie Gottleib Wolfe is a former Arverne resident who writes regularly for a number of periodicals.

A man stumbles up to the only other patron in a bar at a Caribbean getaway and asks if he could buy him a drink.

"Of course, thanks" comes the reply. The man then asks, "Where are you from?"

"I'm from New York," replied the second man.

"The man then responded: "You don't say so. I'm from New York, too.

Let's have a 'L'Chaim' to New York." Curious, he than asks: "Where in New York?"

"Brooklyn," comes the reply.

"I can't believe it. Me, too. Let's have another 'L'Chaim' to Brooklyn."

Now the second man is quite intrigued, so he says, "What high school did you attend?"

"Stinkin' Lincoln," replied the first man. "I graduated in '95."

"Unbelievable!!!" exclaims the second man.

"Me, too!!"

"That's it! Let's have another drink!— 'L'Chaim' to miracles!"

About that time, in comes one of the regulars who sits down at the bar and notices the two guys in utter joy.

"What's up?" he asks the bartender. "Nothing much," replied the bartender.

"The Rosenberg twins are drunk again!"

According to Wikipedia, "Jewish geography is a popular 'game' sometimes played when American Jews meet each other for the first time and try to identify people they know in common. The game has become something of an informal social custom in the Jewish community and it's often surprisingly easy for strangers who play it to discover mutual acquaintances and establish instant context and connection.

Rabbi Allison Bergman Vann gave a sermon on March 16, 2007. She said, "I know that I am not alone in a game that is played quite often. We call it, with a laugh: Jewish geography. What is Jewish geography?

When you meet someone from another part of the country—or even the world—and say, "Hey, I know someone from Baltimore. Do you know Shmuel Cohen?"

And they say, "No, but is he related to Esther Cohen?" and you say, "I think that's his aunt!" and then the game continues.

For some, it can continue for quite some time. By the way, this game often trumps the popular game of six degrees of separation, because we can usually make the connection in about two moves, rather than six."

Whenever I give a talk at the Bayswater Jewish Center, a JCC, a Brandeis meeting, or a Yiddish club and mention that my grandparents, Louis and Clara Gottlieb, lived on East 98 Street and Rutland Road, in Brooklyn, someone in the audience asks, "Did your grandparents get FREE dishes at the Sutter Avenue theatre?"

When I casually mention that I grew up on Beach 68 Street in Arverne, someone asks if I remember PS 42, Rockaway's Playland, Morton's Army and Navy Store, Drs. Hoffner and Langer, Mary's uncheonette, the Waffle stand on Beach 70 Street, and Kugel's Hardware Store.

Morris Kressel remembers working at Shorty's Lockers. Everyone remembers the American/Chinese restaurant, the Far Rockaway Palace, located at 1041-45 Central Avenue. We ate there every Sunday night.

I recently had the pleasure of reading Lisa Alcalay Klug's book, "Cool Jew - The Ultimate Guide for Every Member of the Tribe." Two pages of the book are devoted to "Jewish Geography." It begins: "MINNY HYAMOWITZ lives in FAR ROCKAWAY and winters in MIAMI BEACH.

Her dear friend is ROCHELLE FINKELSTEIN, who is actually her third cousin once removed. Their grandparents and great-grandparents all came from the OLD COUNTRY."

And so begins MY "Jewish Geography": MARJORIE GOTTLIEB WOLFE grew up in ARVERNE. She belonged to DERECH EMUNOH synagogue on Beach 67 Street.

Her rabbi, EUGENE COHEN, recently passed away; she has fond memories of ADA COHEN accompanying her to the mikva prior to her wedding. She married HOWARD WOLFE at the BELLE HARBOR JEWISH CENTER, just a short distance from the home of "folk humorist," SAM LEVENSON. (He lived in NEPONSIT.)

MRS. LEVENSON used to say to her "man" (husband), "Go outside and see what Sammy's doing and tell him to stop." Composer, Richard Rogers was born in ARVERNE, and FAR ROCKAWAY had been a summer home to SID CAESAR, ARTHUR MILLER, JUDY GARLAND, and former NYC mayor, ABE BEAME. Opera singer, ENRICO CARUSO, had a summer home in BAYSWATER.

MARJORIE (aka "Malka") now lives in SYOSSET, NY. Her dearest friend, SYLVIA, lives in a gated S. Florida development named, "JOURNEY'S END." When SYLVIA fled from NY, she first considered living at KINGS POINT, a sprawling development in DELRAY BEACH. She also checked out CENTURY VILLAGE in WPB. After all, RED BUTTONS said, "...so come on down. Spend three fun-filled days and two fun-filled nights as our guest. And then, when you buy, $400 in travel expenses will be repaid to you at closing."

SYLVIA'S sister, ESTELLE, lives in a development named VALENCIA RESERVE.

Or is it VALENCIA SHORE, VALENCIA LAKES, or VALENCIA POINT? "Ver vaist?" (Who knows?)

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