Growing up in Crown Heights, a group of us, all Beis Yaakov girls, cared about things like Nancy Drew books, movies like Exodus, My Fair Lady, and West Side Story (the kinds of things people snigger at today–cool no more), and songs like “The Twist” and “Venus,” and a little later, “The Sounds of Silence”–hits no more. Some of us also liked ice skating.
I discovered ice skating when the Rosenbaums (the Rosenbaums from the R in RYNJ) took me ice skating one Motzoei Shabbos when I came back to Weehawken to visit, after my parents had moved us to Brooklyn. Brooklyn was culture shock.
My brothers went to Bobov across from the Children’s Museum in the park, and we girl cousins and friends, about six of us, went to Rabbi Levi’s Beis Yaakov on the other side of the park, on Kingston Ave. The school bus driver was an equal opportunity abuser. He hit boys and girls. Boom. But that’s another story.
We girls had dreams about “The City” that came from the books we were fed by the wonderful children’s librarian at the local branch of the Brooklyn Public Library. We dreamed of ice skating in Central Park, in scenes like those illustrations you occasionally find in the New Yorker. We dreamed of riding at dusk through the park in a horse-drawn carriage as lights twinkled on in the towers surrounding the park, and no one had as yet figured out how to change the lights on the Empire State building.
Sundays were for fun and a group of us decided we would go ice skating every Sunday and then go for pizza. We started close to home, in Prospect Park, where you skated on a packed rink that felt like concrete and there was no room to move.
At first we rented our ice skates from the park, and they were horrible. We took our lives in our hands, wearing skirts ’cause pants were verboten. Double pairs of tights and an extra pair of bobby sox would have to do. No one ever heard of helmets, knee pads, elbow pads, wrist protectors… None of that. It was you and the ice.
Eventually we considered ourselves good enough to brave the crowds at Central Park, and bought our own skates and saved money to go to “The City” to skate once a month. Compared to today’s rates, we spent pennies.
As many as eight (or just two of us–my cousin and me) would hike ten blocks to the subway in front of 770, with our skates slung over our shoulders, and ride to Columbus Circle. Then we’d walk through the southwest entrance of Central Park to the Wollman Rink under a darkening sky and wonder if the carousel would be open and if we would have enough money left for hot cocoa at Rumplemeyer’s or tea at the Mayflower. No one ever spent more than $15 on a regular outing–and when we got home we had to account for every penny to our parents.
If we were feeling really flush, we would go to Rockefeller Center–where there were so few people, it was possible to embarrass yourself–and also watch and talk to inspirational skaters who would happily tell you how not to fall.
I don’t know how long it takes before we truly appreciate the beauty of such moments. We may even forget them. But as I read the Tablet article about Jews writing the ten top Xmas songs, and was humming along, I remembered those days, bundled up in Central Park, with the twinkling lights, the music we skated to, and the snowflakes that turned everything into a painting by Childe Hassam.
We lived that dream in the New Yorker illustration. We lived it as proper Beis Yaakov girls, floating on the ice, with our skirts flared out, our blue and white striped scarves wrapped around our necks, wearing rabbit fur ear muffs, and looking so chic, feeling so grown up and taking for granted things that are no more…like Beis Yaakov girls skating in Central Park.
As we headed back to the subway, we would stare with wonder at the giant star hanging over 57th and Fifth; the glittering, oh so elegant windows at Tiffany’s, Bonwit Teller, and Bendel’s, making our way to a subway station on the East Side. We would chatter and tell each other stories about things we noticed during our adventure. People don’t do that anymore. It’s all smartphones, iPods, or iPads–Facebook and some other app.
Next stop, Shabse and Naftali’s….the first kosher pizza shop in the world, always packed to the rafters on Sundays. The most delicious pizza in the history of the entire universe. Its luscious garlicky aroma has yet to be duplicated, especially when it came from steaming slices on a frozen winter day. It was a place boys and girls spoke to each other without fear, in a normal sort of soda-shop way–something taken for granted that is no more.
After chowing down on what has now become a permanent staple in every kosher home in the world; after smiling at the boys, we would go home and finish our homework–in notebooks made of paper. Soon to be no more.
By Jeanette Friedman