It was my earliest conscious memory.
I was sitting at a rickety kitchen table in our Williamsburg, Brooklyn apartment, picking at a plaster hole in the yellow wall and saw a mouse dart across the floor. We weren’t frightened, my sister and I. We were curious. We had no pets or visitors besides our family who lived next door. They were also survivors like our parents. Everyone in our world seemed to be a survivor.
Accented English. Check.
No parents of their own. Check.
No stories of their childhood or teenage years. Check.
Occasionally using Polish or Romanian words. Check. Check.
We were waiting for my aunt, her husband and their daughter. They were going to take us on a trip.
It was the first time we had ever been out of the presence of my mother.
We boarded the elevated train at the Graham Avenue station. The car passed platform after platform, crossed the Williamsburg Bridge and descended into a tunnel.
The wicker seat scratched the backs of my legs. The ceiling fan circled leisurely above my head. I watched the swiftly changing scenes visible through the cloudy windows. The grinding sounds of the wheels and rhythmic movements lulled me.
I kept my hands folded in the flared crinoline skirt of my starched dress. My curly blonde hair was pinned back by a plastic barrette.
We were going to a television studio.
We had just gotten a “Tee Ver set”. It was housed in a shiny, double-doored, cherry mahogany cabinet and broadcast black and white programs over three channels.
My favorite shows were Westerns. The cowboys roamed a foreign, often hostile landscape. They reminded me of my parents.
Then, one day, my aunt announced that we were going to a television show called “The Children’s Hour.” in Manhattan. The announcer, Ed Herlihy’s voice was reassuring. Even his name seemed welcoming. Herlihy. Hur-la-hee.
Leaving Brooklyn was a disquieting event.
What if no one spoke Yiddish?
We entered a cavernous room. It was pitch-black except for the brilliant lights directed on the stage. Large boxes on wheeled towers faced the performers.
We sat in the upper balcony.
It reminded me of synagogue.
I looked at my aunt.
She wore a sheath dress, a hat clamped on her graying hair. Her leather purse was gripped in her gloved hands.
I looked at the sun-filled stage and back at her.
I was mesmerized by the music, the laughter, the excitement and yet I knew that I could never be down there with the other children, as much as I wanted to, not then or ever.
I would always be torn between the world of our family and their history and the spectacular, luminescent world before me.
Ed Herlihy began to speak.
I sat back in my seat, my arms on the armrests, my white tee-strapped shoes pointed to the ceiling and watched the performance.
Leaving Brooklyn first appeared on chabad.org.