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A Great Time and Place to Grow Up

           by Rita (Zuckerman) Jaros

           I grew up in Sunnyside between 1943 and 1960 or thereabouts.  It was a very different time.  As kids, we walked to school, played outside every day (biking, roller skating, jumping rope, playing “potsy," stick ball, hide and seek, “war,” and more) in the street, on the sidewalks, in the park on 43rd street.  We traveled all over the neighborhood on our own, no worries about our safety outdoors without adult supervision.  On 46th street we were a gang of kids drawing up sides, picking “it,” of mixed ages and sexes. We didn’t have a TV until 1948 and even then my sister and I were limited to 2 programs (a day?  a week?, I don’t remember).  There was no internet, no cell phones, nothing to keep us indoors.


          As adolescents we were a group of boys and girls who square danced in Etta Kampf’s basement on 48th street, regularly gathered and sat on the stoop of Beth Summers’ house on 47th street, and, on weekends, took the Flushing IRT into Manhattan to go to museums and parks.  A ten minute walk to the elevated, fifteen cents, and a 15 minute train ride brought us to the center of the city to enjoy the best of it and most of it was free (except the Museum of Modern Art which had an entrance fee).  And yet we lived where there were back yards, gardens, central courts, and alleys that were there for us to spend time in after school and on weekends.  It was a wonderful place to grow up.


          By junior high school I became aware of a division in Sunnyside.  It wasn’t Democrats and Republicans.  I didn’t know any Republicans.  It was the Socialists and the Communists.  In our group of boys and girls who met daily after school and on weekends there were some who were members of a “discussion group,” meeting on Tuesday evenings, and some who were not invited to participate.  I was one of the ones not invited.  I came to understand that those who were members of the discussion group were children of Communist Party members.  My parents, Social Democrats, were voters in the Liberal Party (Mark Starr on 47th street regularly ran for office — unsuccessfully — on the Liberal Party ticket).  I don’t remember this troubling me particularly.  It was just a fact of life.  I was not aware of conflicts between adults over political issues in the community though there probably were quite a few.  


          This group of junior high school kids was especially important to me.  They included Nancy Shapiro, Jean Amatneek, Beth Summers, Bobby Vladeck, Mark Horowitz, Eddie Del Vecchio, Jimmy O’Neil.  As we went on to high school some went to Bryant High School, Nancy and I went to the High School of Music and Art in Manhattan (now La Guardia High School) and over the next two years the ties loosened and we lost touch. But each and every one of them remain important to me and part of very happy memories.


          Growing up in the home of atheists who had been raised in Orthodox Jewish homes, my parents were anxious for us to have a non-religious education that would give us knowledge and pride in our Jewish heritage.  Ben Stonehill on 46th street was a major force, along with my father Harold Zuckerman, in establishing the Jewish School of Sunnyside which was designed to give kids a background in Jewish culture and history.  I remember fondly Jewish School of Sunnyside picnics every year where most of the families my parents were close to participated.  We also had fairly secular passover seders each year —  families taking part were the Stonehills, the Levines, the Turitz’, and the Zuckermans.  

          I started at Queens College in 1959, a time when the University of the City of New York (Queens, Brooklyn, Hunter) was free, with a $14.00 registration fee each semester — what extraordinary good fortune.  I commuted from our home on 46th Street on the Flushing IRT (to Main Street, the last stop, against rush hour) and then by bus to the college.  I left Sunnyside in my junior year of college to live in an apartment near the school and never returned to live there again.  I spent a few years living in Manhattan, then, married to a medical student-intern-resident-doctor, lived in Brooklyn, New Haven CT, Burlington VT, and finally in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts.  I returned to visit my parents in Sunnyside regularly, was delighted to bring my children there and to introduce them to the riches of Manhattan — the museums, plays, Fifth Avenue, et al.   I was so pleased to see the amazingly improved diversity all over Queens, including Sunnyside, especially evident when traveling on the IRT into the city and out to Flushing.  The only African American I saw as a child was the superintendent of the apartment houses on 46th street between Skillman Avenue and 43rd Street and Mrs. Armstrong, the fourth grade teacher at P.S. 150.  I do not remember ever seeing Asian, East Asian, or Latino faces and all of my elementary school classmates were white.


          When my parents moved in the late 1980s to Amherst, Massachusetts to be nearer to me, my visits to New York City, and Sunnyside, came to an end. 


Betty Brody, Rita Zuckerman, Ellen Fried

Rita (Zuckerman) Jaros lived on 46th Street from birth till age 19.  She met her partner Wes Talley 23 years ago in her late career as a National Park Ranger out west.  They love long walks (the Camino de Santiago routes in Spain, the Coast to Coast in England), roaming about the west in their converted Ford van, visiting the southwest in the winter, and studying Spanish in Antigua, Guatemala a few weeks each year.  Their home is in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts, a small town in the foothills of the Berkshires,  just south of Brattleboro Vermont.

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