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Nurturing Neighborhood: The Brownsville Boys' Club and Jewish Community in Urban America, 1940-1990

Copyright Date: 1990
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Nurturing Neighborhood
    Book Description:

    Drawing heavily on the reminiscences of the Brownsville boys themselves, and skillfully integrating these with material from newspapers, books, and commentary of the time, Sorin creates an original and compelling picture of the communal and individual vitality that allowed an unusual and heartening social achievement.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-8898-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. Prologue
    (pp. 1-7)

    For the past twenty years and more, former members of the Brownsville Boys Club (1940–55) have been holding reunions in the Catskill Mountains of New York every fall. Each time, several hundred men and their wives come together to socialize and to talk about the “old neighborhood,” a depression-impoverished Jewish section of east Brooklyn, six miles from lower Manhattan. Relatively successful by many of the measures we use in American society, these men continue to feel a deep need to share, and share again, the memories of their childhood and teenage years, and to tell and retell the stories...

  6. CHAPTER 1 Brooklyn’s “Lower East Side”: Brownsville Before the Boys Club
    (pp. 9-28)

    By the time the Boys Club was born near the end of the depression in March 1940, many Jewish residents of Brownsville, a crowded, impoverished neighborhood in east Brooklyn, were preparing to leave or were, at least, dreaming of leaving for “greener pastures.” But only sixty years earlier, in the 1880s, Brown’s Village was itself surrounded by farms. In 1885 a moderately successful tailor from New York, Jacob Cohen, thinking the fresh country air of Brown’s Village would be good for his ailing wife, bought a house there. Not long afterward, other Jews from New York’s congested Lower East Side...

  7. CHAPTER 2 Founders, Framers, and the Formative Years: The Club Is Born
    (pp. 29-60)

    The Board of Education decision which put boys fourteen years of age and older out on the streets after school was terribly shortsighted, but notentirelyirrational. There were more children aged five to fourteen in New York City in 1940 than there were in the age group fifteen to nineteen.² This was particularly true in Brownsville where more than twenty-six thousand children were in the younger category and just over nineteen thousand in the older.³ Moreover, East New York and Brownsville, neighborhoods with only 15 percent of the population of Brooklyn in the 1930s, suffered, according to Brooklyn police...

  8. CHAPTER 3 Corner Kids and Cultural Cornerstones: The Brownsville Boys in Context
    (pp. 61-94)

    The boys who made the Brownsville Boys Club were raised in a Jewish immigrant culture, within which family and community were central. The parents of the boys, in the vast majority of cases, emigrated from the old countrywithfamily, or cametofamily already in New York City, or they did both. Although there was uprooting and dislocation, families were fairly quickly reconstructed in America. Dozens of the men repeated stories they had heard as boys about relatives brought here by other relatives. It was hardly ever easy. George Berch, vice president of the Brownsville Boys Club in 1946,...

  9. CHAPTER 4 Soldiers, Storefronts, and Social Change: The Club Carries On
    (pp. 95-119)

    The war brought a number of problems to Brownsville and to the Brownsville Boys Club. Virtually all of the “older” boys who had been most responsible for the founding and framing of the BBC were, along with nearly five hundred other club members, serving in one branch or another of the armed forces.¹ Doc Baroff, Yussie Feldman, Y.D. Deutch and George Schmaren were in the army, and Izzy Lesovoy was in the navy. Only Norman Goroff, of the “originals,” because of a heart problem, stayed on the home front. But the club carried on.

    Goroff, with the help of the...

  10. CHAPTER 5 Politicians, Professionals, and Philanthropists: Sell-Out or Trade-Off?
    (pp. 120-153)

    In the minds of many, the Brownsville Boys Club is associated with the name Abe Stark, Brooklyn politician and community activist. The club, over a seven-year period, with the conspicuous aid of Abe Stark, raised thousands of dollars to pay a growing professional social work staff, and well over one million dollars for a modern building. In October of 1953, the Brownsville Boys Club opened an impressive and extensive recreational facility on Linden Boulevard. Less than one month later Abe Stark was resoundingly elected president of the city council. He ran well ahead of the Democratic ticket which had swept...

  11. CHAPTER 6 Fright, Flight, and Failure: Brownsville After the Boys Club
    (pp. 154-188)

    When the Brownsville Boys Club was transferred to New York City, a hope was expressed that it could serve as a model for ways to combat juvenile delinquency. Stark claimed that “contrary to the general [large city] trend, the area served by the Brownsville Boys Club has experienced a 17 percent decrease in youthful offenses over the past two years.”¹ Seizing this statement, Mayor Wagner repeated it—with no accompanying statistics—in a public letter to Abe Stark and to two thousand people attending the Brownsville Boys Club dinner in September 1954. The change in Brownsville’s “rating,” from a problem...

  12. CHAPTER 7 Livelihoods, Longings, and Legacies: Brownsville Boys Now
    (pp. 189-204)

    The Brownsville Boys of the 1940s moved “up” and out to the suburbs, but their lives are still deeply informed by the values and simple pleasures of the old neighborhood. And their attitudes, activities and rhetoric continue to reflect the indelible experiences of their adolescence—saturation inyiddishkayt, intense peer-group togetherness, and participation in the Brownsville Boys Club.

    The boys rarely rose from rags to riches but they did move, at least, from rages to respectability. Nearly 22 percent are social work professionals, lawyers, engineers, college professors, dentists, and accountants. More than 30 percent own their own small businesses, and...

  13. APPENDIX A Interviews
    (pp. 205-208)
  14. APPENDIX B Questionnaires
    (pp. 209-210)
  15. Notes
    (pp. 211-236)
  16. Glossary
    (pp. 237-238)
  17. Note on Sources and Methodology
    (pp. 239-244)
  18. Index
    (pp. 245-256)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 257-257)