Beth Sarafraz

Cool Brooklyn Jews Cha-Cha, Fall In Love

Once upon a time, in October 1957, a singles dance is held at the Infants Home of Brooklyn, in Borough Park – a fundraiser, organized by William David Binn and his friends to support the 75 foster children living there.  Binn, 27 and unmarried, has done a mitzvah organizing this event, but he isn’t feeling like Mitzvah Man.  In fact, he’s walking around looking for a dance partner.

Suddenly, a beautiful woman walks across the room.  He’s never seen her before.  It’s a “Thunderbolt” moment – The Michael Corleone Sees Apollonia Vitelli Walking Through A Field In The Sicilian Countryside Moment, a love struck, heart bursting moment.  William Binn, seizing that moment, asks Edith Kaufman, 23, to dance and she says yes.

The music starts up: a Tito Puentes Cha-Cha!  Picture hot blasting timbales, vibraphone, sax, drums, congas, uncensored dance moves and remember, this is way before the Catskills, circa 1962, as portrayed in “Dirty Dancing.”  This is Borough Park, Brooklyn, where the cool Jews of 1957 have their moves down for Tito’s Cha-Cha.

“You’re a terrific dancer!” says Edith.  “Where did you learn how to dance so well?”

“I go to a lot of dances,” William tells her.  “I go dancing six nights a week.”

“You seem like a nice fellow, but I don’t like guys who go to dances,” she says.  She’s thinking, “Most of those guys are ‘sharpies’.”

The music ends.  William walks away.  But then he walks back.  He asks Edith and her friend, Marion, if they want to join his group to help raise funds for the Infants Home.

“I had a wonderful time,” Edith says, “but I don’t have transportation to get here every Thursday evening.”  She lives on Eastern Parkway, in Crown Heights — another Brooklyn neighborhood.

William realizes he has a friend, Philip, who lives near Edith.  “When I pick Phil up, I’ll pick you up and take both of you.”

He calls Phil over to make the introductions.  Phil remembers he had dated Edith four years earlier.  Edith recalls that her cousin Estelle married Oscar, a friend of William’s.

The night ends, the potential relationship left like that, up in the air.

A few days later, William is walking down Maiden Lane in Manhattan, on his way to work at Art Craft Optical Company.  And there, coming down the street is Edith, on her way to work at Samuel Abramson Jewelers.

“What are you doing here?” she asks him.  Discovering that they both work in the same neighborhood, they become solid friends, going “dutch treat” to lunch every workday.

The next fundraiser coming up for the Infants Home is something truly spectacular – to be held at the Waldorf Astoria, featuring Sammy Davis Jr.  It raises a problem for William, who has been dating a woman named Barbara for the past six months.  (Edith is only a “friend”.)  Who should he take to the show?  He calls to mind his motto: “Don’t focus on your problem, seek solutions!”

He decides to take Edith.  It’s a turning point in their relationship.  William says bye-bye Barbara and he and Edith become an “item.”

Fast forward to February 1958:  Valentine’s Day is coming up and William describes his state of mind as “afraid of losing Edith if I buy a cheap present.”  The answer to this dilemma seems to fall out of Shamayim right into his path in lower Manhattan – that is, a guy named Jerry, who sells diamond watches to Edith’s boss, Samuel Abramson, is suddenly walking towards him, on Broadway.  William asks Jerry if he can sell him, for 100 dollars, a diamond watch, as a surprise for Edith.  Jerry tells William to come to his Brooklyn apartment on Ocean Avenue the day after Valentine’s Day.

On February 15th, William picks up Edith for a movie and dinner date.  He asks her if they can stop by his friend’s apartment for a minute and she says okay.

When Jerry answers the door, Edith is startled and tells William: “I know Jerry, he sells diamond watches to my boss!”  Jerry brings out a case with ten diamond watches and asks her which one she thinks would sell the best.

“This one really caught my eye,” she says, making a selection.

“It’s yours!” says William.

The next month, he buys her a diamond ring and they become engaged.

On June 1, 1958 — just eight months after their first meeting — William and Edith get married.  Their first dance as husband and wife is not the Cha-Cha.  They do the Fox Trot to the romantic strains of “Love Is A Many Splendored Thing.”

They are destined to live happily ever after…

POSTSCRIPT:  Upon reaching their 50th Golden Wedding Anniversary a few years ago (see photo), they tell a reporter the secret to married bliss.  According to Edith, the secret is: “If you’ve got nothing good to say to your husband, then don’t say anything!”  William thinks the secret is: “Be kind, have only positive thoughts, feelings, words and actions toward each other, because the greatest gift in life is to love and be loved.”

Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to learn the Cha-Cha, either!  Every day can be Valentine’s Day if two people, after 50+ years together, still go dancing at the senior center several times a week – like the Binns.

William, 85 and Edith, 80, are featured in a recent NY Daily News story.  The two of them, photographed snuggling close together on a couch, grin like teenagers.  The story is about shopping for a Medicare Plan – together.

If that’s not love, what is?



About the Author
Beth Schenerman Sarafraz is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York. Her work has been published, through the years, in The New York Times, New Jersey Monthly Magazine, The Jewish Press, Brooklyn's Courier Life Newspapers, NY Blue Now Magazine, Police Officers Quarterly Magazine, East-Side, The Brooklyn Eagle, and more.
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