Street Games and Sunday School
by Gene Turitz
There is such a broad range of memories of growing up in Sunnyside. The first is about playing. The kids played together. Of course with me it was mostly “the boys”. Primarily those of us whose families came from eastern Europe and then there were some of German, Italian and Irish decent. And even one good friend who was a WASP.
We played in the street, on 46th St. We played stick ball – a game where you pitched the ball, mostly a “spaldeen” but sometimes an old tennis ball, on one bounce over home plate (a manhole cover). The bat was a cut-off broomstick. We played catch with a hardball trying to throw strikes over that same home plate as well as ground balls and pop-ups up through the trees.
When the season changed we played some touch football but, at least in my memory, it was hockey that took over the fall and winter. On roller-skates using “real” hockey sticks and a roll of electrical tape for a puck we spent hours racing up and down the block.
Of course a great deal of time was taken up with “the rules”. Never written down these were the basis of long and sometimes heated discussions. At what point does play stop when a car approaches? When does the play stop as you fight for the puck under a parked car? What happens when the puck is lost in the leaves that have come down from the wonderful Sycamore trees that lined the block.
The noise of us playing in the street was mostly tolerated by the neighbors except for a few who would call the police because we were annoying them. The cops responded sometimes by telling us to go away for a while and then come back and at other times they would threaten to “J.A.B. us” if we did not go away.
When the days were longer and we could play outside after dinner then the playing would also include girls. I think that there was also a greater age range at that time. It seems, at least in retrospect, that 46th St. was a comfortable place for us all. While most of our parents were working we all felt safe and that there was always some place we could go to hang out.
In the late 1940’s there came a time when I think, at first among the older kids, that at school and going to and from school there were kids who started calling us “kikes” and “Christ killers”. Since we were not being brought up “Jewish” we had little idea what they were talking about. A number of parents got together and decided to start a secular Jewish Sunday school. Later on I found that this was not unique to Sunnyside but schools like this were started in many communities. It was through this “Sunday school” that I learned about what being a secular Jew was. There was no religion taught or really talked about but lots about the culture of Jews around the world. We also learned about, what I later understood as, oppression not only of Jews but of many peoples around the world. A particular memory of the school was of our group writing a letter, this was around 1950, to the New York Yankees asking how come they did not have any black ball-players. We, of course, were Brooklyn Dodger fans. Another result of how we understood being Jewish came when three of us boys from the block, Bobby, Denis and I, went to join the Cub Scouts. The troop was at one of the Jewish Temples in the neighborhood. When they informed us that Denis could not join the troop, he was Protestant, the three of us walked out.