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Saturday, October 01, 2022
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Someone once said: “If you live long enough, you start to sound just like your parents.” It may have been my nearly 90-year-old dad who said that. He often regales me with tales of when hot dogs at the kosher deli cost a nickel back when he was a kid. An article in the last issue of The Voice (“Teaneck: Looking Back, Moving Forward”) described Teaneck back in 1988, and among other things noted that you could get an apartment in West Gate for $600 a month. That prompted me to think to myself “Back in ’76, when we were young, our rent was $246 a month – for a two bedroom!” See, Dad? I sound just like you.

Coming to Teaneck

We came to Teaneck after Ellen and I wed back in 1976 because of parking. Really! My great- uncle Sam owned an apartment building in Kew Gardens, and he offered us a great deal. We arrived one evening to look at the apartment, and it took us over half an hour to find a parking spot—metered, of course—causing me to mutter to Ellen, “Can you imagine going food shopping at night? I’ll have to lie down in the spot to save it.” The apartment was nice enough and the rent cheap. My great-uncle described the shuls, shopping, proximity to transportation, and his belief that this was an up-and-coming Jewish community. To which I replied, “That’s all very nice, but I can’t live in a place with bad parking.”

Ellen’s brother Ed and his wife Barbara lived in Teaneck, having moved there a few years before. They offered to get us into their apartment complex, the Henrich Hudson Apartments on Lozier Place (between Terrace Circle and West Gate). They, too, described the shuls, shopping, proximity to transportation, and their belief that Teaneck was an up-and-coming Jewish community. Said I, “That’s all very nice, but how’s the parking?” When they told us parking was plentiful and not metered, I was hooked. So, we settled in Teaneck after our wedding. We were part of Aliyah Bet—the second wave of frum folks who moved to Teaneck. Funny thing, though, Ellen’s brother and his wife moved out about five minutes after we moved in. I often wonder about that.

Coming to Beth Aaron

There were just two Orthodox shuls in Teaneck back in 1976—Beth Aaron and B’nai Yeshurun. So, we checked out both shuls. B’nai Yeshurun was nice enough, but I was kind of leaning toward Beth Aaron, because the “parking” (seating) was tight at B’nai Yeshurun. What really sold me on Beth Aaron was the following incident: It was a warm early spring day. The AC was not on, but with the windows open it was comfortable. An older gent—someone’s guest I imagine—was sitting next to the window. Then this transpires:

Old gent closes window.

Another congregant walks over and opens it.

Old gent closes window.

The same congregant walks over and opens it again. Old gent closes window.

The same congregant walks over and opens it again.

As the congregant starts heading back to his seat, the older gent starts reaching for the window.

The same congregant turns and says “You touch that again, I’ll break your hand! Why do we all have to be hot? Sit somewhere else!”

That worked for me, since I was thinking exactly the same thing. I just had to join that shul! The congregant and I became friends and neighbors, and Ellen and I became active members, serving on the board and various committees, and being honored at the shul dinner (me, twice). In reality, it turned out Beth Aaron was then and is still today a great shul that, despite significant growth, is a warm, friendly and welcoming place.

When we joined Beth Aaron it was in a house. I sat in the talking section back near the fireplace because Rabbi Fass couldn’t see you. The shul had mice, who we sometimes tried to count toward a minyan. We held kiddushim in a small upstairs bedroom, often using an ironing board as a serving table. We’ve experienced three expansions over the years. Today, it is housed in a beautiful, modern, much larger building and the mice and ironing board are gone.

Amenities

Hard to believe, but at one point there were very few amenities for frum Jews back in the day. For example:

Restaurants: There were just two kosher restaurants back then, Jerusalem Pizza and King David. Jerusalem, which was located around where the Teaneck General Store is today, was half the size it was in later years. They had a Tuesday night takeout special; you got a plain pie for $2.99! The King David was a fleishig restaurant located where Pizza Crave is today. It operated according to no discernable schedule. I’m sure today there would be an app for this, but back then there were ad hoc phone trees. Someone would notice that they were open and call a friend, who would call another friend, etc. There were no kosher establishments on what today is “Restaurant Row” up in the Plaza. If you wanted to eat at a fancy restaurant, and didn’t want to go to the city, you went to either Gartner’s Inn (located near the Tappan Zee Bridge), or the Pelham Manor (located, oddly enough, in Pelham, NY).

Bakeries: There were no kosher bakeries in Teaneck back then. The first one, called “Phibbleberry’s” was on Queen Anne Road near Ludwig’s Hardware. I didn’t name it. [ed.note: No. You didn’t. But the editor of JLBC did, and she’s still married to the guy who owned it.]

Meat: Nope, no kosher meat either. People got their meat from Elizabeth, the Heights, Brooklyn, or Queens.

Mikveh: There were no mikvehs in Teaneck. One had to shlepp to the Heights, Great Neck, or this scary place in Union City.

Kosher Markets: Are you kidding? Nothing existed. No Ma’adan, no Glatt Express, no Best Glatt, no Grand & Essex, no Cedar Market, no nothing. A big treat was heading to Main Street in Queens to go food shopping.

Today

Teaneck today has become an amazing place. A time traveler form 1976 would be astounded to see the growth in terms of Yiddishkeit. The number of orthodox shuls, restaurants, and services is breathtaking. In short, there have been many, many changes. On the other hand, some things haven’t changed; the parking is still good!

By George Friedman

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