Newark Memories

by Esther Kaplan


Esther LEVINE Kaplan
Born 1925- living

I was born in 1925 in our house at 55 Quitman Ave. My father, Isaac Levine, was an upholsterer and had brought his skills to America from his family who owned a big furniture store like Macy’s in Vilnius and then his experience in London and Paris. He had 8 brothers and sisters, some of whom came to America and lived close by, others who perished in the Holocaust.

My Aunt Rose Cohen, his sister, was married to a Dr. Harry Cohenand was very wealthy and influential. During the war she worked for the underground and would bring us news about family. One of my cousins escaped from Auschwitz and joined the Bielski Brother underground in the Black Forest. My mother, Lena Chadakowitz, had 3 sisters, Sadie, Sarah and Rose, who all came to America, as well as my grandmother, Ida or Chaya. They raised their families together and we visited them often in Jamaica, Queens and the summer.

I had four older brothers, Bob, Harry, Marty AND Joe. My brother Harry was a 6 ft 4 boxer who won the golden globe championship at Madison Square Garden in 1936 when he was 22. Most boxers belonged to a group who used to beat up Nazis when they held rallies. They were called the Minutemen. The head of the Jewish Newark mafia, Longie Zwillman supported them. Harry was a Minuteman and would come home saying they beat up Nazis. He even went to the Madison Square Garden Bund Rally with the Minutemen on President's Day in 1939.

By 1938, the mafia and Minutemen hung out on Hawthorne Ave. My cousin Pauline’s father, Irving the barber, used to cut Longie’s hair at his 419 Hawthorne Avenue shop. The mafia would gamble behind the Abraham Block’s Candy Store which was next to the barber. Everyone loved Longie who was like Robin Hood who protected the Jews. He helped some of my cousins get out of Europe. On Halloween, he threw coins out to the kids. My nephew Bruce Leveine's mother Lil was a cigarette girl in his clubs. When I later worked for the Treasury dept. in the IRS for the government, I typed up Longie’s power of attorney and was supposed to go to court to swear on it, but I think that’s when Longie committed suicide.

We moved around a lot, usually just a block or two each time, especially once the depression hit. 55 Quitman Avenue, Reeves Place, 369 & 411 Hawthorne Avenue, and 171 Nye Avenue. By 1935, we lived on Hawthorne Ave near Clinton Place and Hawthorne Elementary school. We often lived in the same building with cousins and extended family. We lived on the 2nd floor of a 3 story building that had 6 apts. on Hawthorne Ave. Michael Byock’s candy store was on the ground floor. We would get knishes at Cohens deli and baked goods at Keil’s. I worked as a salesgirl on the old register at Keil's bakery from 16 years old to 18 years old and I could bring a slice of the 20 pound cake and bread. When I was younger, we played hopscotch and ball games in the cement parking lot we called the Big Yard behind 3 of the buildings. My brother and I shared a pair of roller skates and we'd ride down the hill on one skate.


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