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Family Background

Myron Kandel

— My father died when I was eleven. And I gather that my father and mother had achieved some means during the '20s. I'm told that they even had a chauffeured car. My father had been what was called a converter in the textile industry, and that's somebody who'd buy large quantities of fabric, in this case silk, and then sell them to manufacturers. And apparently he was quite successful and very well regarded in his field and had developed various philanthropic and religious interests. And so around the beginning of the Depression he retired to devote himself to these activities, and then, I'm told, began investing in the stock market — well after the crash — where apparently he lost most of his money. Oh, and in the mid-30s, I guess this was even after he blew the family fortune in the market, he became president of a quite large synagogue called the Ocean Parkway Jewish Center, and he was president of that congregation for about five years. I remember as a boy going to services on the high holidays, and he sat up on the altar with the rabbi and the cantor. And every once in a while I would go up and sit with him. So that was a big deal.

Geri Stevens

— I went to secular school. Antwerp was a bilingual city at the time and you had a choice. You could either send your child to a school where French was the predominant language or to a school where Flemish was the predominant language. I went to a French-speaking school. When I left Belgium I understood some Flemish but I completely forgot it because I never used it. French I still speak. At home we spoke Hebrew. That was the language my parents spoke to each other intentionally, because as I said, my father was a flaming Zionist and he was extremely interested in the idea of promoting Hebrew as a language.

Gene Bluestein

— Both of my parents were from Besarabia, which was an area between Rumania and Russia that shifted back and forth. They met in the fur industry and they married. The furriers union was a Red union, but as far as I know they were never members. The first year they were married my father decided to go back and live in the Soviet Union, 'cause he had heard wonderful stories about it. And he went there and of course it was awful. They didn't have food, they didn't have heating, plumbing, so he came back and he bad-mouthed the Soviet Union. So everybody ostracized him as a result and he became very conservative, actually. My mother was still pretty radical.

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Al Lasher

— My mother's parents came from Rumania. She was conceived here, and my grandmother went back to Rumania so she could give birth to my mother near her family. I was born in Williamsburg General Hospital. My father went to NYU. He went to NYU and he worked full time at the post office. And for his trouble he got tuberculosis and he died at age forty-two of tuberculosis 'cause it doesn't go away. They didn't have the drugs then to treat it. I was sixteen and my brother was nine.

Herb Dorfman

— My father was a little bit of a gambler, not a big gambler. He played billiards for a couple of dollars. He played gin rummy, you know, mostly to give me some money. [There was a] place that he hung around on Broadway, one of these old-time places where very little money was actually exchanged but everybody hung around and looked like a big time gangster. Damon Runyon kind of stuff. My mother had sort of a checkered career. She and my father separated at an early age. She was a good manicurist and she discovered that she only had to manicure three days a week, and she'd make a living wage. And all the guys who came in flirted with her. She was a beautiful woman. And not just beautiful, she was sexy. Even I at that age knew she was sexy. So, you know, she did all right. She never remarried. She had opportunities. But in a way, you get used to sort of not worrying about, you know, who you're sleeping with or you're not sleeping with — she just did her life. But they both taught me to use my head, to be easy about things, not to be blue-nosed or too heavy, and to laugh as much as possible. So we did. And we did.

Ann Lane

— Oh, I'll tell you a wonderful one. When we went to Radio City Music Hall when we were little kids, to the Christmas show, we always counted the number of women in the orchestra. I still do it. My mother said, "It's only the harpist. You notice it's only the harpist." For decades it was only the harpist. There was always that. There was always — and it wasn't called feminism — there was always a sense that the women are being cheated. And that was the message she passed on to me. Earn your own living, take care of yourself.

Harry Barron

— My father came from a rather religious family. He fashioned himself as a socialist. He read the Jewish Daily Forward, which was a blessing because it was the Forward that educated these immigrants so that, you know, their children wouldn't seem like total Martians. Their readers were able to absorb and become better citizens, adjust to the new world.

Bill Taylor

— My father went to Stuyvesant High School and Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute, and virtually his whole career he worked for the Department of Water Supply, Gas, and Electricity as an engineer. He discovered after a while that in order to advance beyond a certain level he needed to be politically connected, so he joined the clubhouse when we moved to Crown Heights. Eventually he became the Commissioner of Water Supply for Brooklyn. My mother was a bookkeeper. I'm not exactly sure how my parents met. My mother was a Young Socialist, although neither of them were great political activists.

Herb Dorfman

— Every time Roosevelt came to New York my mother dragged me to the parades. And my father and his family were Democrats. There was no question about it. There was nothing Republicans had to say that was of any use to them. Democrat is what you did. That's what represented the liberal views that they took for themselves as people who had come to the country and whose family background was in Europe. So they were very liberal politically. And my mother was active on a local basis. She worked with some local groups in Brooklyn, social groups that also organized at election time to support one or another candidate. She and my father were both very undereducated for one reason or another, both very smart. My father would read the newspaper assiduously. He wanted very much to be on top of what was going on. But without that educational basis it's very hard. You know?

Mike Lutzker

— The 1930s made a lot of people radicals. Bankers were not in favor. Unemployment was hanging over people’s heads. My folks remembered the Hoovervilles in Central Park, and they imbued me — although I think it was more my friends later on. But that was a time that made radicals out of people who would otherwise be conservatives or, you know, not care about politics. The New Deal left a lot of people, including my parents, with the feeling that Roosevelt had not fought hard enough, that the New Deal had not gone far enough, and that they wanted somebody who would carry it further after his death. They understood that a lot of legislation had to be put on the shelf during the war, but after the war they expected that the New Deal would carry forward. The other radicalizing experience for my parents, and transmitted to me, was the Spanish Civil War. Franco proclaimed himself a fascist, Mussolini sent troops to Spain, Hitler sent artillery and air force, Madrid and Barcelona were bombed. The bombing of civilians in the 1930s was something that was new. The Republican government did not receive the support of either Britain or France or the United States. And Spain did receive help, though on a much smaller scale, from the Soviet Union — that seemed to line Europe up between fascists and anti-fascists. It was the period of the Popular Front when socialists and Communists actually for a while stopped fighting each other and tried to unite against Germany and fascist Italy. My parents were very good friends with a family whose son enlisted in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade and went to fight in Spain and was killed. My parents named my youngest brother Paul after this young man who'd been killed in Spain. They spoke of it as the dress rehearsal for the next war with Mussolini and Hitler. I mean, my parents were not always right in their views but they got this one right.

Al Lasher

— My father taught school. It was the best kind of job for him because he had to rest a lot because of the tuberculosis. He would spend summers in bed. Fully dressed, but always in bed. He would come home from school at three o'clock and get right into bed, and all weekend. The interesting thing was that I had no perception that he was ill — zero — because it was always that way. At any rate, we were fortunate in that he was working during the Depression. He made all of three thousand dollars a year, as I recall, which at that time was a living wage.

Rhoda Karpatkin

— It was an apolitical family, non-political. Raising a family in the Depression was an all-consuming life for my parents. My father worked seven days a week. My mother worked part-time. I started working when I was eleven — I could do babysitting because of the War. And I worked with working papers starting when I was fourteen. And I believed it was the most wonderful thing in the world that I could have a job. I mean, that was such a triumph. So they saw us bettering ourselves. And nothing I was doing seemed to lead in that direction so they were not supportive. They weren't even supportive of my high school journalism. They thought it was just sidetracking what I ought to be paying attention to. And besides that, I was a girl. I was the daughter and I wasn't interested in cooking or housekeeping or any of those things, to the despair of my mother. It took many, many, many years before she decided that I had turned out okay.