Life in America

by Harry Lazarus (Tenafly, NJ)
interviewed by Bruce Black

When I was growing up, I used to love listening to my grandfather, Harry Lazarus, z”l, retell  stories about his childhood in Zharnov and how he made his way to America. Before his death a number of years ago, I recorded one of our story-telling sessions in his apartment in Tenafly, NJ. In this final segment, he describes his arrival in America and his courtship with the woman who became his wife.

BB: How did you get to New York if you didn’t know any English?

HL: I didn’t know nothing. Just this word I knew: “Ticket, New York.” Then I didn’t know which train to take and I looked for Jewish faces and I said to a couple, “New York? New York?” And they said, “Yeah, New York.” And I went on the train and I took an English magazine and I’m reading because it was American inspectors, too. They could take me off from there again and send me back to Canada.

And I was reading and all of a sudden the train, in a certain place, stopped, and we had to change to another train. I had to run again and find out if the train goes to New York. And then I went up to the other train and didn’t say a thing, and I read the English paper, the English magazine, and then, when I come here to Grand Central, I went out and I looked if they don’t run after me.

And then I went up on a streetcar. I paid five cents and I said to the man, “Hundred Street, a Hundred Street.” I was sitting there in front and he was going, going, going, going. And then, when it was a Hundred Street, he said, “Here, go out here.” I went out to a Hundred Street and I walked over and there was my brother, Izzy, living. I was in America.

BB: So you lived with Izzy and his family?

HL: I was by my brother Izzy. I was living there a little while by him as a boarder, and then I didn’t want to go to be a bread baker. I wanted to be a cake baker. So, my brother Meir sent me in a place and I got ten dollars a week to learn how to be a cake baker. I went in there til I worked myself up to twenty-five dollars, and I worked myself up to forty dollars, and I was already that time about three years in this country, and then I got acquainted. I lived downstairs where my brother used to live, and there was a girl, Becky. And I lived there as a boarder for a little while and right away she fell in love with me. When I came home from work, she started to make me tea and talk and this and that, and then I said, “Have you got some nice pictures from friends?” She showed me this beautiful picture, and I said, “Oh, I would like to see this girl.” She said, “Oh, she’ll be here Sunday.” I said, “All right, I’ll be here Sunday with my friend.” But when we came to see them, they walked away.

BB: Why?

HL: They walked away. You know, those times, you used to have a Victrola in the house, and I said I’ll come back home with my friend and we’re gonna dance. But they walked away to Central Park. I didn’t run after them.

But then I used to belong to a place where all the lansleit came together every week, every two weeks, and we used to have somebody to have a speech and then they had some little music and we used to dance a little bit. We used to enjoy ourselves. So, a bunch of landsleit.

So I said to Becky, “Come, you want to go to dance at the place?”

She said, “All right.”

I said, “Take along your friend, too.”

And she took her along.

And she was a very beautiful girl.

Then, after the dance, I took her home. She lived in Second Avenue. Then I took Becky back home to a Hundred Street and that’s all.

Then, one time when I came down from my brother to go to sleep, it was about 9 or 10 o’clock, I came down and Fanny, this girl, came out from her friend’s house, from Becky. I said to her, “Fanny, can I take you to the bus, to the– what it used to be–an elevator.”

She said, “All right.”

I took her to the elevator, and I said, “Fanny, can you give me a date?”

She didn’t seem too eager.

I said, “It doesn’t have to be this week, it could be next week.”

She gave me a date for another week. And we made an appointment that we should meet at a certain place there. I came there and I walked up and down and down and up and up and down about a half hour, but I didn’t think, I never thought she was going to leave me out. And I stood there. And then all of a sudden, after a half hour, she came nice and dressed up.

I said, “Where were you? What’s the matter?”

“Oh,” she said, “my family was there and I told them that I want to see a boy. ‘What kind of boy? Ah, you’re not long in this country, what do you have to see a greenhorn?’”

She said but she didn’t care, she didn’t want to disappoint me. She came. She came, and I went with her for a visit.

We went around, you know, we went for a soda, we went there. In those years, I don’t remember how much it was, five cents or ten cents a soda, and I took her for a soda, and I took her for a little ride, and I made an appointment for the next time. All right.

Next time I made an appointment and we went to Coney Island. For five cents we went with the subway to Coney Island. There for a few cents I bought her a frankfurter. I don’t remember how much it was, ten cents or something.

BB: Nathan’s?

HL: Yeah, Nathan’s. And we ate this and sat around. She didn’t bathe, and I didn’t bathe. She didn’t want to bathe. And then a few of my friends were there in Coney Island and they were bathing. And after they were finished bathing, they all got dressed and they took a taxi to go back home. They said I should go into the taxi with Fanny. So I wanted to go in, but Fanny didn’t want to go in. It was there four boys in the taxi. She didn’t want to go in. So she said that she wants to go home with the subway. So I said all right we’ll go home with the subway.

And I made a date to see her again and again and again. And I worked myself up. I got a job already on 23rd Street in a pastry shop and I started to save up already a few dollars, and I used to go out with her. I used to take her for a ride. I used to go to a restaurant. It used to be fifty cents a dinner, you know? We used to go in for a dinner or something. Everything was nice, everything was good.

And then, after a few months walking around with her, I bought her a little fox, and I gave her this, a present. And we kept on going for a little while, and then I said to her, “Fanny, let’s get married. I got already five hundred dollars saved up. Let’s get married.”

And she said, “All right, I got two thousand dollars in the post office. We’ll put it together and we’re going to get married.”

I said, “Okay.”

So we made a date to go to the rabbi that was on 12th Street, and she lived on 8th Street. I dressed myself up in a nice blue suit and she dressed up beautiful, and we walked to the rabbi, and the rabbi had there about ten people.

BB: Friends of yours?

HL: A few friends, a few from the family, another few. He just made ten people to make the brachas and everything. Fanny’s mother made a dinner. About fifteen or twenty people were there for the dinner. My brother Meir was there for the dinner, too. His wife wasn’t there but he was there.

BB: How old were you?

HL: I was twenty-two years old. And she was the same, maybe a year younger. I was just three years in this country when I married Fanny. She was I think the same age, twenty-two. And we got married and we went for a honeymoon.

BB: Where did you go?

HL: A little town in New Jersey. With the bus, we went there. When we came there, the electric lights were out, and we had to be there in that place with candlelight overnight. The next day I had to go back, I had to go to work again. That was the honeymoon–one night.

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Filed under American Jewry, European Jewry, Family history

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