Ward, Lyla Blake. Broadway, Schrafft’s and Seeded Rye: Growing Up Slightly Jewish on the Upper West Side”, City Books, 2016.
It seems like lately I have been reading several books about growing up Jewish in New York of the 1930s. “Broadway, Schrafft’s and Seeded Rye—is how Lyla Blake Ward did so. The book is unique in that it uses essays and poems, histories and vintage photos to bring this period back to life.
Between 72nd and 110th Streets was considered a Jewish neighborhood. Fir many of those who lived there, this was their world and they only began to navigate outside of the area when they began to grow up. I think many of us who grew up Jewish did so in our own little worlds and did not begin venturing out of them until our parents felt we are competent to do so, For me growing up in New Orleans, I remember clearly that my school, my Hebrew school, grocery store, synagogue were all right there and the only place we went outside of this is when the folks took us to the JCC. Like Lyla, after school we played on the sidewalks as parents conversed with neighbors on their porches. It was a more innocent time back then.
Lyla’s entertainment included hopscotch, marbles, jump rope and playing jacks with other children her age on the sidewalks of New York. America, Ms. Ward and her friends enjoyed them on the sizzling streets of New York.
Back then, the stereotypical Jewish mother prevailed and all of us who grew up back then will see our mothers inside of Lyla’s. I all of a sudden remembered why we could not have anything sweet before dinner. Mother told us that it would ruin our appetite (like we would never have another) or when we spoke about new friend at school, the first question asked was “Is he/she Jewish?”. Mothers back them we like hens over their chicks.
We see Lyla Ward’s life through her eyes during three specific periods—childhood, the teen years and as an adult. I was stunned to read how much alike growing up Jewish (slightly or otherwise) seems to be universal. Reading the writer’s memories dragged up many of my own. Then there is the thought that so many of us share and that is why we grow up we are not going to be protective like our mothers until we realize that we are the same and think, “Oh my God, I have become my mother”.
We realize as we read that the neighborhoods of our youth played a very important part in who we are today. In Ward’s Upper West Side of Manhattan we see that it has great cultural significance as well as personal importance. This is Lyla Ward’s story but it is also the story of her neighborhood. She has been able to wonderfully share what was with her readers. She also captures the other people who lived in her neighborhood and it seems that everyone was Jewish. And the memories that come that—Stride Rite and Mother Goose shoes, Hellman’s mayonnaise (I still use it), halvah as a special treat, monogramming and so many other memories that so many of us share. (I almost forgot the Rosh Hashanah fashion show at shul). This is not only a fun read, it is a trip to the past and back again and the tickets to go there are very reasonable.