I called the late ‘70s Sunday summer pool parties held by my Holocaust survivor parents and their friends “Greener Acres” after the hit American television program “Green Acres” . The series was about a Hungarian accented city socialite unwillingly transplanted by her rural-loving husband to a… farm.
The Greeners (from the term for a recent immigrant, “Greenhorn”) didn’t mind.
In fact, they laughed! They understood the irony of Polish (mostly) survivors belonging to an exclusive “private club” in bucolic Bergen County, New Jersey.
Every Sunday for about nine weeks, weather permitting, about thirty Yiddish-speaking friends gathered at the Englewood, New Jersey pool home of Teddy and Marilyn (what else?) Greenbaum.
Teddy was a survivor. Marilyn was American-born but chose to surround herself with survivors and by osmosis became one as well.
Most of my parents’ friends did not have any relatives left after the war and so they formed new families and attachments.
When one family moved to the neighborhood, sooner or later, another family joined them. After a while, they had homes in Teaneck, Englewood Cliffs, Fair Lawn and Ft. Lee. The men were all self-employed. They created sweater, toy and, in my father’s case, furniture businesses.
They were close to each other and, by extension, we, their children, were close as well.
My best friend was Pearl.
She could do Polish-Yiddish dialects.
I thought myself a Yiddish speaker but when Pearl began, I remained silent.
She appeared to have inherited her talents from her mother, Ruth, a 4’11” (her inflated bouffant hair raised her to about 5’3”) laid-back dynamo. They both had a Jack Benny sort of sardonic, pitch-perfect open-eyed, exquisitely timed sense of humor.
The Greeners were a raucous and life affirming group. They brought the party with them, wherever they went.
The women prepared covered dishes of salad, brisket, chicken, cakes, fruit. My mother’s specialty was stuffed cabbage. People literally craved her “holepshes.” She was Romanian, one of the few non-Polish people in the group. Apparently there was a difference between Polish and Romanian stuffed cabbage. To make things even more complicated, most of the Greeners were Galitzianers (from southeast Poland) whose stuffed cabbage was even more distinct from Romanian stuffed cabbage. Nevertheless, everyone treated my mother’s food with affection and, in retrospect, respect. The Polish Jews (to my young eyes) could be quick-witted and blunt. My mother was not raised in the competitive world of Polish Jewry but in an isolated, idyllic Carpathian hamlet. I think the The Greeners saw an Old World modesty and gentleness in my mother that they knew they would never see again.
We ate and ate, then ate some more. We frolicked in the blue water.
Teddy was a talented photographer and took many pictures of “the festivities” which he hung on the walls of his home.
As the afternoon wore on, the card games began.
My dad, ever the serious stoic, thought gambling was a waste of time, but everyone else (with the exception of my mother who sat and talked with Marilyn) played cards.
They loved the company, the camaraderie and would stay until darkness fell.
In years to come, after many of the members of Greener Aces had passed away, my aunt told me something of which I had been unaware. She said that money had been collected each week at the pool parties and at the end of the summer, the funds were used to purchase an ambulance for Magen David Adom.
GREENER ACRES was previously published in The Jewish Press.