The Grand Concourse was “the” neighborhood, a wide, majestic boulevard filled with grand apartment buildings, synagogues, theaters, and restaurants.
On the High Holidays, observant and non-observant Jews alike promenaded along the Grand Concourse in their best clothes in the Bronx Jewish equivalent of the Easter Parade. The Grand Concourse was home to several synagogues, among the largest, Temple Adath Israel at 169th Street, where Richard Tucker was the cantor before becoming a star of the Metropolitan Opera, and the Concourse Center of Israel, near 183rd Street.
Small crowds usually gathered outside the synagogues during High Holiday services, men and women, holiday-dressed, wearing hats, and smoking, taking breaks from the proceedings, and restless children uncomfortable in their dress-up clothing, taking even longer breaks.
Near the Concourse Center of Israel was the Ascot Theater, the only art movie house in the Bronx and one of the few in New York City. Yiddish language movies with English subtitles starring such as Molly Picon and Moishe Oysher played at the Ascot. The pre-World War II Yiddish film industry lived a brief life, but the movies found a home at the Ascot, among other foreign language movies shown there. As more foreign movies came to the U.S. in the 1940s and 1950s, they also played at the Ascot, the place where young Jewish men would take their dates to demonstrate they were “intellectual.”
By Avery Corman, author of My Old Neighborhood Remembered, a memoir of Bronx life in the 1940s and 1950s.
A remembrance of Shabbat on the Concourse, submitted by Sam Goodman, an urban planner in the Bronx President’s office:
Arriving at my maternal Grandparent’s home at 1555 Grand Concourse;
The sweet fragrances of a Shabbos dinner in the making;
I would always want to chop the liver;
The heat from the stove would fog up the kitchen window;
Grandma would ask me to count how many of us would be dining;
There was a place for all ten grandkids and our parents in my Grandma’s dining room, but who will have to sit at the “children’s table?” Not me-I’m the oldest;
Grandpa always poured the wine into each crystal glass on the table;
Grandma would cover her eyes to bless the candles-I wondered why;
Grandpa would “bench Kiddush” without a prayer book, pronouncing Hebrew words in a Yiddish accent.
I would say “the motzi” over the challah. No one spoke a word until everyone has a slice and only then after tasting the sweetness of the bread did someone speak;
Grandma would say, “now be sure to spill some wine—I just washed the tablecloth.”
All the food being served was placed on the table for all to share and celebrate;
There was always sponge cake for dessert with tea—no milk or dairy allowed.
“Better stop running the lady downstairs will get angry—she just banged up.”
I don’t know how—but there was always enough beds for us kids to sleep in. I got to sleep in the room my mom grew up in; “Blossom’s room.” My cousins slept in “Uncle Arthur’s room.”
Saturday morning, my Grandfather went to pray, we went to Claremont Park.