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Oral history interview conducted by Aviva Segall
August 16, 1993
Call number: 1994.006.08
AVIVA SEGALL: Mrs. Goldman, may I please have your full name?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: Esther Goldman.
AVIVA SEGALL: And your maiden name?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: Gordon
AVIVA SEGALL: And your age?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: As a matter of fact, [date redacted for privacy] is my birthday.I will be 67.
AVIVA SEGALL: Were you born in the United States?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: I was born in Poland in 1926.
AVIVA SEGALL: When did you…
ESTHER GOLDMAN: We came to New York in 1934.
AVIVA SEGALL: Where in Poland did you live?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: In a small town called Dokchutz, which is near the Russianborder. My father's parents had lived there and he grew up there with his 1:00brothers, and he was the youngest of the children, so he remained with his parents. His brothers had emigrated to America many years before that. After both of his parents had passed on, his brothers wanted him to come to America where they were, and my father kept saying no, because he wanted his children to grow up in the Orthodox way, as we lived in Europe. He heard that the United States was full of money and good times and religious ways were cast aside, so he didn't want to come. But his brothers kept persisting and finally, on the advice of the previous Lubavitch Rebbe, Rabbi Schneerson, who promised my father that his children would grow up to be students in a Lubavitch yeshiva 2:00here in America, my father gave in and he came in '32. He arranged himself, he got a position, he took an apartment, he furnished it, and then he brought us out.
AVIVA SEGALL: Do you have any recollections of those early years in Poland?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: Yes.
AVIVA SEGALL: What were some of your fonder recollections?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: I had a lot of friends.
AVIVA SEGALL: Orthodox?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: Not necessarily.
AVIVA SEGALL: Some Polish children?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: Yes. I remember a little boy whose name was Eugik. I supposehere he would be called Eugene and we really rough housed it. I was a tomboy as a child and I had lots of fun playing with him.
AVIVA SEGALL: How did your family support itself while your father was in theUnited States?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: My father sent us support.
AVIVA SEGALL: What kind of a position did he have?3:00
ESTHER GOLDMAN: My father was a shochet, a ritual slaughterer. All of hisbrother were. My grandfather was, it was a tradition in the family. They were all what is known as shochten.
AVIVA SEGALL: When you came here, what did you expect?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: Was I happy with what I found in America?
AVIVA SEGALL: Well, did you have any expectations about what there would be?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: The only thing that surprised me was when we arrived, we arrivedat the Brooklyn piers, which was somewhere around Bay Ridge, and I was aghast at how everything was filthy. As a little girl… But then once we got home and we got settled and I went out to play and I had friends, all that didn't matter.
AVIVA SEGALL: Where was home?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: We lived in East New York.
AVIVA SEGALL: Do you remember the address?4:00
ESTHER GOLDMAN: 669 Hinsdale Street. It's boarded up now. Whenever we pass it,we always look that way, and the last time, the windows were all boarded up.
AVIVA SEGALL: What kind of a religious atmosphere was there in the neighborhood?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: It was fine. I went to public school. In the afternoon, we wentto a Hebrew school. It was the Pennsylvania Avenue Talmud Torrah that everybody went to. There were religious children, there were not so religious children there. East New York was really basically a Jewish area at that time. It was like a carryover of the shtetl kind of life. Neighbors were very friendly, the neighbors helped my mother a lot. She didn't know how to turn on the stove. She had come from a wood burning stove in Europe, so they taught her all these 5:00things. Everyone was very helpful to her and to all of us.
AVIVA SEGALL: So your father was able to make a living immediately?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: Yes. My father's uncle had had this position before him and whenhis uncle took sick… In those days, you bought a position like this. You didn't just get a job being a shochet. They used to sell these positions because it was an important job. It paid well, it was a respectable position. So my uncle sold it to my father. My father paid off the family for a number of years until he finished paying for that job.
AVIVA SEGALL: Was your family always Lubavitch?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: Yes we were.
AVIVA SEGALL: And did your mother also come from a Lubavitch family?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: My mother came from Russia. I know her parents were very, veryOrthodox because I remember her telling me that her mother used to fast on 6:00Mondays and Thursdays, you know, the days of Crea. We've met some of the family now. Of course, nobody's religious now. None of her family is religious now. They are Russians. Some of them came to visit us. They lived to be able to see us, knowing that we are alive. My mother's family knew that we were here. They wanted to see us and they wanted to be able to go to Israel.
AVIVA SEGALL: So they were Zionists?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: I don't think so. Being Jewish and Israel is all one thing.
AVIVA SEGALL: As you were growing up, you were kept in a religious environmentafter school or in your social group, but during the daytime, you were in public 7:00school. As a public school student, what other kinds of children were there?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: When I was in elementary, maybe there was one Black child in theschool. I remember a little story that took place just before the summer vacation. There was an assembly and the principal asked the children what time of the year they like the best, and this little Black boy raised his hand and he said he likes the summertime. When the principal asked why, he said very loudly, "Because there's no school." It stuck in my memory that he was very honest.
AVIVA SEGALL: What did you do for high school?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: I went Girl's Commercial. That was the only girl's high schoolthat I knew. At that time, we lived on Eastern Parkway. We moved to Eastern Parkway when the previous Rebbe came to America. 8:00
AVIVA SEGALL: You remember when the Rebbe came? Could you describe that a bit please?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: What his arrival, the day he came?
AVIVA SEGALL: Yes, if you remember.
ESTHER GOLDMAN: For my father, for my brothers, I suppose for all of us, it wasthe most exciting day because my father dreamed of being reunited with the Rebbe, and here the Rebbe came. I remember just when he came, around March or so, and that Pesach, my mother and I were both abandoned because my father and my brothers went to be with the Rebbe. They had rented a house for him in Lakewood, and my mother prepared everything for Pesach, we cooked everything. We gave it to them, and off they went and the two of us were by ourselves. 9:00
AVIVA SEGALL: You were the only girl in the family?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: I was always the only daughter. I had three brothers. Oneyounger, two older.
AVIVA SEGALL: What did it mean to you when the Rebbe came?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: It's like all the pieces were in place.
AVIVA SEGALL: Could you elaborate on that a bit? What was the Rebbe to you atthat time?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: The Rebbe was a very important person in our lives. I'm sure myfather never did anything very serious without asking the Rebbe. In fact, after my father passed away, and my brothers and my husband were going to a lot of tsorem , they even found something in a sacred Tania that my father had written when were still in Poland, and you couldn't call up on the phone and ask a 10:00question of the Rebbe. He wanted a blessing. Either my mother was going to have a baby or an operation. It was something very vital, and because you couldn't communicate, he would write his request to the Rebbe and put it into the Tania and then it was as though he had made the request personally.
AVIVA SEGALL: Did he receive answers?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: I don't think so.
AVIVA SEGALL: At what point did you move to Eastern Parkway?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: When the Rebbe came, when 770 was built for the Rebbe.
AVIVA SEGALL: What year was that?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: 1941.
AVIVA SEGALL: And do you remember when they brought the Rebbe to 770? Were you there?11:00
ESTHER GOLDMAN: The day he moved in? No.
AVIVA SEGALL: What did the Lubavitch community consist of at that time?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: Very, very few families. Maybe there were five other familiesbesides ours. Most people who lived in Brownsville or East New York or in Williamsburg or in Borough Park stayed where they were. When they could come, they came and our house was always brimming with visitors. I never had my bed on Yante.
AVIVA SEGALL: Again, could you describe what it was like for those five familiesas a community? What made them community? 12:00
ESTHER GOLDMAN: Our attachment to the Rebbe.
AVIVA SEGALL: So that was 1940 and you were still going to Commercial High School?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: Yes, and when I was going to high school, I went toWilliamsburg, to Bais Yaakov at night. Instead of going to the Talmud Torrah, I went to Bais Yaakov High School at night.
AVIVA SEGALL: Did you have any contact with the previous Lubavitch Rebbepersonally during that time?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: I saw him. We weren't that many people, so Yom Tovim I would see him.
AVIVA SEGALL: After you were finished with high school, what was your highest degree?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: I only went to high school.13:00
AVIVA SEGALL: Were there other Jews living in Crown Heights?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: Only. Except for the side streets, like Lincoln Place and UnionStreet, where there are small one family houses, there were lots of Catholic families. They belonged to the church on Brooklyn Avenue and St. John's Place. I don't remember the name of it now. Lots of the young families lived on those little streets.
AVIVA SEGALL: They were mostly Jewish people.
ESTHER GOLDMAN: Yes.
AVIVA SEGALL: What kind of Jews were they?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: All kinds. There were Orthodox Shuls, Conservative Shuls andReform Shuls in Crown Heights.
AVIVA SEGALL: Was there intermixing of the different types of Jews within the14:00community? Did you spend time with the other girls in the neighborhood who might have been going to the reformed or conservative Shuls?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: I spent time, yes. In those days, even teenage girls and boysplayed outside, which is unheard of now. You don't let a child play outside. We did. Eastern Parkway was always full of youngsters. The benches were always full. It was nice. I must tell you on a Yom Tov, on a Jewish holiday, Eastern Parkway, between about Albany Avenue until about New York Avenue was wall to wall with people. You had the Young Israel, you had home baked Challah, you had the Jewish Center. We came into the picture much later. But all of these Shuls, they had thousands of people there. 15:00
AVIVA SEGALL: What happened all of those Jews and how did Lubavitch end up beingthe predominant Jewish community here?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: They all moved out.
AVIVA SEGALL: When was that?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: Many year ago, I would say about 40 years ago, maybe 35 years,as soon as the Lubavitch came.
AVIVA SEGALL: So as soon as the Lubavitch came, the other communities left?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: Not all at once.
AVIVA SEGALL: To what do you attribute their leaving?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: They didn't want to live in an area where there were HasidicJews, who wear the black hats and the black suits and so forth, and beards.
AVIVA SEGALL: How did you pick up that kind of reasoning? Was this somethingthat you discussed with people who left? Were you shunned? 16:00
ESTHER GOLDMAN: I wasn't shunned by anybody, but it was very obvious.
AVIVA SEGALL: After the Jews moved out, who started replacing them by buyinghouses, renting apartments, etc.
ESTHER GOLDMAN: Blacks.
AVIVA SEGALL: And you say that that was probably around 1945, 1950?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: Probably.
AVIVA SEGALL: After the war. In fact, during the war, do you recall Jews cominginto Crown Heights? Do you recall knowing about what was happening to Jews in Europe or Jews in Russia at that time, Lubavitchers?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: We knew what was happening in Russia, but we also knew thatnobody believed it.
AVIVA SEGALL: When you say what was happening in Russia, how did you know?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: Because every once in a while, someone got a letter. Between the17:00lines, you could read what was happening. That anyone who was caught practicing religion was sent to Siberia, and how many were killed outright. Anyone who ran a little school had to do it underground. Nobody was allowed to teach religion out in the open. We knew what was happening.
AVIVA SEGALL: After you left high school, what did you do? Did you work?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: Sure. My first job was at the Jewish Welfare Board. I was aclerk in the mail department, because I had a friend who was working there and she got me a job too. I didn't want anything more responsible than that because 18:00I had been to summer camp the year before and I wanted to go once more. I knew it was going to be my last fling until I became a mature woman. I made a lot of friends. I had a very nice time at that job. Then I went off to camp, but the second year was not as great as the first.
AVIVA SEGALL: Which camp was that?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: Camp. That was the first year of an all-Jewish girl camp in theUnited States. If I were to tell you the women who were there in the first year of camp, I could write a historical novel. I also was Athletics Counselor, 19:00believe it or not.
AVIVA SEGALL: During a certain period, after you were seventeen and eighteen,people were no doubt looking to get you married.
ESTHER GOLDMAN: Oh yeah? Why did it take me so long to get married? I didn't getmarried until I was 22. I had to wait for my husband to come from Shang Hai after the war.
AVIVA SEGALL: Weren't people looking into…
ESTHER GOLDMAN: Yeah, but I wasn't interested. I didn't like what they had.20:00
AVIVA SEGALL: Were there many Lubavitch men? Were you only interested in aLubavitch man?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: It could only be a Lubavitch.
AVIVA SEGALL: Were people trying to introduce you to other types of men?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: No.
AVIVA SEGALL: Why did you feel like you only wanted to marry a Lubavitch?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: It was part of my life. I was born a Lubavitcher, I had to havea Lubavitcher. I wasn't looking for anything else. It's the kind of shoe that really fits.
AVIVA SEGALL: What did you do for those years when probably most of your friendswere getting married?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: I worked and I had friends, and it was no problem.
AVIVA SEGALL: How did you meet your husband and in what year?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: We got married March of '49, so I probably met him the year21:00before. I want to tell you a little story. My mother used to have an open house. She had guests all the time. You know, the Crown Heights Lubavitch community was very small. There weren't too many people living here and my mother was a very good natured person, so everyone came to her for coffee with cake. He also came.
AVIVA SEGALL: So you saw him and thought here's an interesting man?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: No, I thought here's a good looking man.
AVIVA SEGALL: So you initiated it? You asked to meet him?22:00
ESTHER GOLDMAN: Well, my parents had something to do with it too.
AVIVA SEGALL: Can I ask about your courtship? How did courtship proceed at thattime in the Lubavitch community?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: He was living in Buffalo at the time, so we wrote to each other,we talked on the phone. When he would come to New York, we would see each other. Until we got married, that's the way it went.
AVIVA SEGALL: Where would you go to see each other?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: He came to Brooklyn. We went out of the house. We didn't sit inthe house all the time. There were places to go to. 23:00
AVIVA SEGALL: Did you receive a blessing from the Rebbe to get married?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: Not only a blessing. It was the previous rebbe at the time, whosaid in Hebrew "ess a mazldik shrit far im aun far ir", "It's a fortunate step for him and for you."
AVIVA SEGALL: So you got married in 1949. Where did you live?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: We were supposed to live in Buffalo, but when we got back, afterthe wedding, my husband was also a shochet, just like my father. The slaughter 24:00house had closed down while we were in New York, and so we came back, and we stayed with my parents for a while until he got another position in Philadelphia. We lived there for about a year and a half, and then we came back to New York to stay.
AVIVA SEGALL: What was it like living in Philadelphia?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: It wasn't bad. It's about an hour and a half or two hours out ofNew York. We'd come in once a month. There were lots of Orthodox families there. We had neighbors who were very hospitable to us. Coming over for Pesach and things like that. I was busy with my little baby.
AVIVA SEGALL: How many children do you have?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: Four, two sons and two daughters.
AVIVA SEGALL: And the names of your daughters?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: The oldest one is Krainde Klein. Krainde is going to be 40 in25:00October. She was born in '53. Yossi is the oldest. He was 43, so he was born in 1950. And then Hanalea is going to be 37. She was born in '56 and Schmuly was 33.
AVIVA SEGALL: When you moved back to New York, where did you live?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: For a little while with my parents, and then we got an apartmentright around the corner from them on Brooklyn Avenue, corner of Union Street, 26:00opposite the church.
AVIVA SEGALL: Were you renting that apartment?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: Yes.
AVIVA SEGALL: That was in the early '50s. What did Crown Heights look like thenin general and then, and as the Lubavitch community?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: Lubavitch was still very, very small yet. There were lots ofJewish people and there were Catholics. All the small one family houses, I would say, were owned by Catholic families, with yards for their children to play in.
AVIVA SEGALL: While your husband was working and you were taking care of thechildren, did you work?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: No.
AVIVA SEGALL: Were you in New York at the time the previous rebbe passed away?Could you describe that please? 27:00
ESTHER GOLDMAN: In fact, I was in my parents' home at the time, because I wasexpecting my first born and I was going to give birth in Brooklyn, to be near my parents, not in Philadelphia, where I would have been all alone. It happened on a Shabbos, and my father was the Sexton of the school at 770. He would go to 770 every morning, to be sure that everything was alright, that the lights were on, that nothing that mattered would have happened at night. He came back later than he usually did. He usually took a walk over there and then came back, and then he'd go to shul. Here he wasn't coming back and we were all looking out the window to see what's taking him so long. We saw him coming, and his face was as white as a sheet. He came back wringing his hands and moaning and groaning. He 28:00told us what had happened.
AVIVA SEGALL: Could you tell me what effect it had on the Lubavitch community atthat time?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: Depending on the age of the people of the community, I think theolder people felt the loss of the previous Rebbe, and the young people were agitating and looking forward to the present Rebbe's appointment.
AVIVA SEGALL: So it was your feeling that in the community, people had already29:00understood that the present Rebbe was going to be the Rebbe. Was there any dissension?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: Very little.
AVIVA SEGALL: But there was.
ESTHER GOLDMAN: Yes, of course. There had to be. Without that, we wouldn't be normal.
AVIVA SEGALL: This was in 1950. Had you had contact with the present LubavitchRebbe before he became the Rebbe?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: Of course. It was not on a really personal level, but he wouldbe walking to 770, from his home, and back and forth. I couldn't help but see him when we were out on the street and he would always acknowledge us. That was it, as far as my personal contact. But of course, everybody knew who he was and 30:00what he was, what a learned person he was, and what an absolute gentleman he was.
AVIVA SEGALL: Did you know his wife?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: Yes.
AVIVA SEGALL: Did you have a personal relationship with his wife?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: Yes, she loved my son, Yossi.
AVIVA SEGALL: How did that relationship start?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: We were one of the few Lubavitch families, so when Yossi wasborn and he was a baby and being taken to Shul with his father, he was like a little mascot over there. Everybody played with him. This little boy would walk upstairs where the Rebbe lived and to the third floor, where Mrs. [inaudible] lived, and the Rebbe's wife used to be visiting her. They would give him 31:00chocolate and he was a very cute little boy. They used to tell me that he was an ocharovatel'ny rebenok which in Russian means an adorable child.
AVIVA SEGALL: So you would take Yossi over to the Rebbe's wife often?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: No, I didn't take him. My husband used to take him to Shul andhe would explore.
AVIVA SEGALL: Your husband was still working as a slaughterer at that time?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: No, not anymore. That ended in Philadelphia, when Yossi wasalmost a year old and we came to New York, my husband bought a butcher shop in East New York on Cleveland Street. Then he moved to Sutter and Jerome and then 32:00from there, he moved to Coney Island Avenue, and he is still there.
AVIVA SEGALL: What caused him move from Cleveland to Sutter to Coney Island?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: Cleveland to Sutter was because he opened a larger store.Cleveland store was a hole in the wall. Sutter and Jerome he made into a very nice shop. But then the break-ins started. Every night the store would get broken into and the register was empty, and this was taken and that was taken. That's when he moved to Coney Island Avenue.
AVIVA SEGALL: How did the community begin to change?33:00
ESTHER GOLDMAN: I think when other Jewish families moved away, when the BoboverHasidim moved away… There were lots of Satmar Hasidim and there were Belzer Hasidim. They all moved away, and then we became the majority of the Jewish community. There was a time when we were not the majority. There were many other Jewish people living here. It's when they all left that we were the only ones who remained. That makes us the majority.
AVIVA SEGALL: The majority of Jews, but when did the Blacks start moving in.
ESTHER GOLDMAN: When the Jews moved away.
AVIVA SEGALL: So the Blacks repopulated the neighborhood. When did you buy your34:00first home?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: It's this house. All the years we lived on Crown Street, for 27years we were renting. It looked like my own house because I knew I was going to live there for a while, so we put a few dollars into it, but I was renting that.
AVIVA SEGALL: When did you move to this house?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: 7 years ago. Before Purim. It was in '86, only because we had35:00differences with the previous owner, and he sort of hinted that we should move on or we would have continued to rent.
AVIVA SEGALL: When did Lubavitch really start to grow in the neighborhood, whenpeople started coming from Russia?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: Maybe, but that was many years ago and they didn't all live inCrown Heights when they came. They probably lived in Brownsville and places like 36:00that, where rents were cheaper.
AVIVA SEGALL: What kind of assistance was there in the community for helpingpeople who were coming from Russia?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: I think there always was… The Federation had a branch like nowthey have Miana. At that time, it probably had another name. I know I had a cousin working for them. Joint Distribution Community.
AVIVA SEGALL: Within the Lubavitch community itself, were there any societies,any organizations?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: I know there were always loan organizations, and there was37:00always Hatzolah.
AVIVA SEGALL: What were the terms of the loans?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: They were interest free, that I know.
AVIVA SEGALL: And they were given to anyone who applied for them?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: Probably with a . Somebody had to cosign for them.
AVIVA SEGALL: Now Crown Heights is a community with many services. We haveschools here and there are synagogues here. Do you remember when Torrah was 38:00started, when Besrivkah started?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: Besrivkah started in East New York, and they only moved herewhen most of the Jews moved out of East New York. Torrah also started in Brownsville on Hopkinson Avenue. When they couldn't stay on Hopkinson Avenue any more, they came here.
AVIVA SEGALL: How did the Lubavitch support these schools?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: With tuition, with fund raising things, the way they do now. Theonly difference between Crown Heights and East New York and Brownsville and all the areas that Jews abandoned was that our Rebbe said, "We're not moving. We're not going to buy a new house every ten years because there are Blacks moving on the street. We're not moving. We're staying here." 39:00
AVIVA SEGALL: So you would say from that, that that's how this community ofCrown Heights stabilized and didn't deteriorate as East New York… There was a certain time when there was a transition in Crown Heights, where you had a slow growing Lubavitch community as the core community, which consisted of a few Lubavitchers, were replenished with or supplemented with Lubavitchers who were 40:00coming in from Russia, and other Jews were moving out of the neighborhood, Blacks were moving into the neighborhood, and Crown Heights has grown tremendously. How has Crown Heights grown?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: There was a time when our Rebbe started a movement, teachingyoung people the life of a Jewish person that they didn't know. Young Jewish people in America who weren't born to very orthodox families, who didn't continue their Jewish education, who went to elementary and high school and on to college, their religion was left at the wayside. Our Rebbe organized his young people to go onto the college campuses and start encouraging the Jewish 41:00boys and girls to study and to learn from whence they came and what they are, and all about our religion. He was very influential on many of them, who after they studied, got to know who they are and what they are, and they came to Crown Heights. Firstly to go to school, and then to live their lives as Orthodox Jews, to raise families.
AVIVA SEGALL: These people were coming from very different backgrounds than theLubavitch community in Crown Heights. How did you experience that difference?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: Firstly, I have children and when my children were in school,they brought a lot of these girls -- I'm talking about my daughters. My son went 42:00to school in Canada. So as a young adult, he would come home with his friends three or four times a year and that's when I saw his friends. But my daughters went to school here -- in our girl's school called Bais Rivkah -- and they always brought their friends home. Most of the friends whom they brought were girls whose families didn't live in Crown Heights, so they needed a home family and we had many of them around our table, on Friday night for Shabbos, and for holidays. They were all young people who were very thirsty for all the knowledge that we had and all the life experience that we had, and we were very happy to share it with them.
AVIVA SEGALL: What was their contribution to this community?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: They made us aware of all the things that we took for granted.43:00Our movements within our home, we never stopped to think we have to get only a dairy dish or only a dairy spoon. To these girls, every step of the way, they had to think about what they were doing. When we realized it, it meant something to us. We were all teachers, teaching these young people a way of life.
AVIVA SEGALL: Was there any negative effect that you think their being in theneighborhood had?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: Not as far as I'm concerned. My daughters' friends were alllovely girls. I think the people who came were very genuine, because it was a big step for them. Many of them, their parents turned away from them. They are 44:00real people.
AVIVA SEGALL: What do you like most about living in Crown Heights?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: This is home.
AVIVA SEGALL: Do you feel comfortable and safe in your home?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: I do. I have a security system. I have an alarm, all my windows45:00and all my doors, and I have a steel door on the back porch. It's a necessary evil.
AVIVA SEGALL: Why is that so necessary here?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: In my other apartment, we were burglarized five times.
AVIVA SEGALL: Was it always necessary to live under such security systems inCrown Heights?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: The first time we found out that it was necessary - I reallydon't remember how many years ago it was - but we were burglarized and then you hadda do something about it. It seemed as though the alarm is a good idea because they all know what the tape on the windows and the door means. 46:00
AVIVA SEGALL: But this wouldn't deter you from remaining in the neighborhood?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: No, because our Rebbe said we are staying, so we're staying.
AVIVA SEGALL: This neighborhood has now become predominantly either Lubavitch orAfrican or West Indian American. Do you have any contact with people outside of the Lubavitch community who live in Crown Heights?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: Personal relationships, I really do not have.
AVIVA SEGALL: Do you know any of your neighbors? Do you have any neighbors who47:00are not part of the Lubavitch community?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: No. There is a Black family across the street who have beenthere for years. When we water our garden, I see him watering his garden. We're careful about the rubbish we put out -- and he's twice as careful. I just know him by sight, I really don't know him personally.
AVIVA SEGALL: And you've been living across the street from him for 7 years?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: Yeah.
AVIVA SEGALL: Do you know his name?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: Not really.
AVIVA SEGALL: How has it been possible to live in a neighborhood where there arepredominantly Black people living here, to avoid having any contact?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: I'm not avoiding him. He doesn't come across to say hello to meand I don't go across to say hello to him. I know he's there because I see him. 48:00I see he is a very fine man who takes very nice care of his property.
AVIVA SEGALL: Would you describe other people in this neighborhood as takinggood care of their property, Lubavitchers and Blacks?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: Most of the private homes are taken care of properly. Not all ofthe apartment houses are.
AVIVA SEGALL: From the time that you first came to Crown Heights until today,has the community changed for the better or the worse?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: There are many houses here in Crown Heights that have beenrenovated, that have been made beautiful. Mostly it's on the inside because you don't want everyone to suspect that you have a beautiful home inside. It may be too attractive to people who you don't want to share it with. But I know there 49:00are many homes that are absolutely stunning. The families live very nicely and they live very well, and they are not deprived because they live in Crown Heights. It may be a poverty area for some, but not for all.
AVIVA SEGALL: What do you like least about living in Crown Heights?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: There are no parks. We go to the Botanic Gardens, but that'squite a hike. There isn't a park for a young mother to take her children to in the area, where she would feel that she doesn't have to worry, that her children won't get hurt by other people.
AVIVA SEGALL: A couple of years ago, during the summer of 1991, there were riots50:00in Crown Heights. Could you describe what went on with your feelings at that time?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: Absolute panic. I went to work every day I did not stay home. Itook a cab coming
AVIVA SEGALL: Where do you work?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: I work in Manhattan, on Broadway and Spring in what is becominga very Soho area and I love it. I went to work every day, but I took a cab coming and going, because I was afraid to go into the subway. I had heard about people who were punched and they were told, "This is for killing the young boy," and I'm not that brave to take such chances. I go by subway every day. I will not be deprived of my freedom to go into the subway. But at that time, I didn't 51:00go, and for that weekend, we went up to the mountains to visit with the children and I was absolutely relieved that I was out of Crown Heights. We came back right after the weekend and we were pretty scared, because there were still eruptions here and there. You heard of a group of boys here and a group of boys there. It was very unsettling, to say the least. We were very frightened.
AVIVA SEGALL: At that time, did you have any thoughts of leaving the neighborhood?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: No.
AVIVA SEGALL: Do you think that it could have been contained in any way?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: Do you really want me to talk about that?
AVIVA SEGALL: Yes.
ESTHER GOLDMAN: It could have been contained that very night. That very night,52:00it could have been stopped, right then and there. Instead, it was blown out of proportion. Whatever happened two years ago was created.
AVIVA SEGALL: By whom? By the media, by the police, by the mayor, by the Black community?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: No, it was by the leaders of the Black community, by ReverendSharpton and his friends, and the media ate it up, because the whole country had what to look at? For two weeks, there was nothing but Crown Heights. They didn't have to go looking for news. We gave it to them, in their laps.
AVIVA SEGALL: How do you think the situation finally died down?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: When the police unfolded their hands and said, "Enough is53:00enough." That's when it stopped, and not until then.
AVIVA SEGALL: Did you feel threatened as a Jewish person on the street?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: Of course.
AVIVA SEGALL: Because you were Jewish or because you were White?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: We were White Jews. There were Black Jews living here. I don'tknow if they were afraid. Maybe they were ashamed, but they were not afraid.
AVIVA SEGALL: What do you think caused that tension? What do you think causedthat outpouring of anger?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: My own theory, I think it's jealousy. The Jewish community -there are some people who cannot work and who do not work and who get assistance of one sort or another, but the Jewish community is a working community. We work 54:00and we save and we achieve. I think that has everything to do with it. The people who were fighting us are not people who were working people, who are educated people, who know what a decent life is all about. They were young children who, whether they have fathers doesn't matter at this point, they don't realize that in order to live on this earth and to have self-respect, you have to earn it. You earn it by going to school and being a good student. You earn it by getting a job and being a good employee, but you have to earn it. No one is going to give it to you. They're going to give you welfare. What does that do to you? 55:00
AVIVA SEGALL: Do you experience today any of the same tensions as you did then,on the streets with the Black community?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: When the report on the Crown Heights rioting came out a fewweeks ago -- we were away at the time. Maybe had I been home, maybe I would have looked twice at who was walking alongside me or who was walking behind me, but by the time I got home, it was all history.
AVIVA SEGALL: Do you feel as if that tension, that underlying boiling anger thatwe experienced in 1991, do you think that that is dissipating?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: I don't know if it's dissipating. It's back to where it was56:00before it all started.
AVIVA SEGALL: Which is what?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: Nothing. We live our lives and everybody else lives their lives.As long as we don't step on each other's toes…
AVIVA SEGALL: Do you think that there is anything that the Hasidic communitycould offer to our neighbors?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: In what way?
AVIVA SEGALL: Organization wise, support wise… You said that you felt that…You mentioned something about fatherless children running around or people without jobs.
ESTHER GOLDMAN: You know what? I think it has to come from within their owncommunity. I think that their preachers are the ones who have to teach that to 57:00them. They're not going to take it from us. They're not going to listen to what we have to say on that subject. It's their preachers who must preach these things to them. It's to these people whom they listen, and if they will tell them, then maybe some changes will be made.
AVIVA SEGALL: If you could sit down with a Black neighbor of ours, let's say awoman in her 60s, what would you want to find out about her life?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: May I tell you something? I ride the subways every day and thepeople who go to work are decent people. I talk to people on the subway, people whom I sit next to. Some of them are younger, some of them are older. There are 58:00times when there's a situation, whether the subways are not running on time or the air conditioning is not working or whatever, you talk. You don't talk about life threatening things or anything like that, but small talk. I used to have a neighbor on Crown Street, who was about my age, and she had a mother living with her and my father was living with me. About the same time as mv father passed away her mother passed away. We had a lot in common. My heart was broken and hers was broken. One of my daughters is the same age as her daughter. She always used to ask me about my daughter and I would ask her about her daughter. We were women. I and my contemporaries have the same things to talk about. I used to 59:00meet her in the subway very often. She works for the Board of Education. We talked all the time. I wear a wig, because orthodox Jewish women cover their hair, and instead of wearing a hat, I wear a wig, because I feel it looks more natural. Her hair was thinning, and she went out and got a wig, but she couldn't wear it. She thought she could live with it but she couldn't. It's not a personal relationship. I've been to her house. She came to show me what her husband had done. He put all new walls into the house because it was old. He loved working in the house and one day she stopped me in the street and said, "You have to see what he is doing." I like the way she had her plants arranged 60:00and I copied it in my house. We're friendly neighbors, but on a personal relationship, it cannot be. It can't be an intimate relationship. We are a million miles apart.
AVIVA SEGALL: If there was something that you would want people to know aboutlife in Crown Heights. There's a lot of attention on Crown Heights now.
ESTHER GOLDMAN: They were shooting a movie on Kingston Avenue. It can't be good.It can't be favorable to us.
AVIVA SEGALL: So you feel that most people present Crown Heights in anunfavorable light. What would you say to say to someone to change their opinion?
ESTHER GOLDMAN: I would like them to know that we are not mad that we live here.61:00The consensus of opinion is that Lubavitchers who stay in Crown Heights are out of their minds. You cannot live with the Blacks and not be hurt in one way or another. I'm sorry to say this because I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings. I would like to be able to tell the world that we were right, that we can live together. It doesn't have to be an intimate relationship between neighbors. It's better when there is distance between neighbors. It's much healthier. But I would like the world to see that we were right -- that our Rebbe was right. That he said, "You don't have to run. You can stay and everybody respect one another." 62:00
Oral History Interview with Esther Goldman
Esther Goldman was born in Poland in 1926. An observant Jew from birth, she came to New York with her mother and siblings in 1934, joining her father who had arrived two years earlier. After living in the East New York neighborhood of Brooklyn for several years, Goldman's family moved to Eastern Parkway in the Crown Heights neighborhood in 1941. After marrying and briefly living in Philadelphia, Goldman returned to Crown Heights with her husband, and they had four children together. With Goldman's children grown and out of the house, she began working for a company on Broadway and Spring Street in Manhattan.
Esther Goldman discusses her upbringing in Poland, East New York and on Eastern Parkway in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn. She recalls the growing Lubavitch movement of the mid to late twentieth century, and traces her own life's journey through the milieu of faith, family, neighbors, white flight, and historic events - ending in the 1991 Crown Heights riot and its aftermath. Interview conducted by Aviva Segall.
This collection contains oral history recordings and transcripts, as well as exhibit materials, from Brooklyn Historical Society's Crown Heights History Project, also known as "Bridging Eastern Parkway." Crown Heights History Project oral histories include audio and transcripts created and collected within the context of an exhibition project undertaken in part by BHS in 1993 and 1994. Three interviewers recorded conversations with over forty narrators. In addition to exhibition product value, the oral histories were conducted as life history and community anthropology interviews; topics of discussion include family and heritage, immigration and relocation, cultural and racial relations, occupations and professions, education and religion, housing and gentrification, civil unrest and reconciliation, media representation and portrayal, and activism. The series of exhibition research materials document the outreach efforts for interviews and materials from the community as well as exhibit scripts and curatorial notes.
CitationGoldman, Esther, Oral history interview conducted by Aviva Segall, August 16, 1993, Crown Heights History Project collection, 1994.006.08; Brooklyn Historical Society.
- Congregation Lubavitch (Crown Heights, New York, N.Y.)
- Goldman, Esther
- Schneerson, Menachem Mendel, 1902-1994
- Sharpton, Al
- Emigration and immigration
- Ethnic neighborhoods
- Jewish neighborhoods
- Mass media and ethnic relations
- Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)
- Crown Heights (New York, N.Y.)
- Philadelphia (Pa.)
Finding AidCrown Heights History Project collection