Rymalower Young Men's Benevolent Association

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History

The First 90 years! 

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Rymalower in Galicia, 19th century

        HISTORY

 

     Rymalower was in Galicia that was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until 1918. Galicia is a region lying along the north side of the Carpathian Mountains, consisting of the provinces of Krakow, L’viv, Tarnopol and Stanisiawow, which between the years 1772 and 1918 formed a crown land of the Austrian Empire. After the second World War western Galicia became a part of Poland and eastern Galicia became  part of the Ukraine that was part of the Soviet Union.

 

     In 1965 MORRIS WEISSBROT tried to locate Rymalower. He found a couple who ran a restaurant and who remembered the town but told him the name had been changed. (It appears that land won as a result of war was not considered “occupied territory” as it is today.)  For many years no further information could be found. Rymalower had disappeared in Europe but the heritage would be kept alive in America. However, with the breakup of the Soviet Union, Grzymalow or Rymalower once more appeared on the map as Hrymayliv in the Ukraine.

 

     We are all familiar with the pictures of the immigrant families who came to America in the early years of the 20th century. What is interesting about our organizers is that for the most part they emigrated by themselves as teen-agers.

We can only surmise why this was the case but there are two factors that probably played a large part in their decision to leave “der heim.” First, Rymalower was a small town with a lack of opportunity for much economic advancement. Second, and perhaps a very strong factor, was a compulsory seven year term in the army of a nation in which they were basically second class citizens, and an army that did not make allowances for religious requirements. ABE MORGENSTERN did not emigrate at that time. He was drafted into the Austrian army for seven years, served in the first World War, was wounded, and those of us who remember him, remember that he limped for the rest of his life.

 

     It must have taken a great deal of courage for these boys…or young men as they called themselves…to come here with little money, no trade to engage in and for the most part little fluency in the English language. An easy trade to learn was window cleaning as all they needed was some tools and a willingness to work hard in all kinds of weather. Many took up cleaning windows to earn a living.

 

     One of the first things they did was unite to help each other…not as window cleaners but as friends. They formed this organization which became the basis of their social existence for many years. As more young men arrived they were welcomed into the fold.

 

     JACOB FLESHNER was one of the first arrivals and he made every attempt to become “Americanized.” One member reminisced that when he came here his friend Jack took him to a baseballgame. He didn’t understand what it was                                All about and asked Jack what was going on. Jack replied that he didn’t know either but this was part of being an American.

 

     The “boys” were obviously quite astute. They formed their organization with a charter from the state, they wrote a Constitution, they set up a free loan fund. This all took place at a time when there were no unemployment benefits, no social security or disability payments. They paid their dues and built up a fund to which any needy member had access…no questions asked…and to which the money was paid back as the member was able to do so. Usually another brother would guarantee the return. In later years SAMUEL BERGER administered this “oxiah” or free loan fund for many years.

 

     There were also sick benefits, not much, but at least something to help a brother who was unable to work for a time. Benefits and friendships became even more important as marriages took place and families grew. In the 1930’s during a particularly bad economic slump one brother had difficulty with his eyes and could not work. ISIDORE NADLER met him outside of a grocery store one day and withdrew the four dollars he had in his pocket. He gave his friend two of the dollars and told him to go inside and buy food for his family. When his friend protested that Izzy also had children to feed, Izzy replied that he had only two children while the other man had four, and insisted on his taking the money.

 

     Friends, brothers, were there for all types of occasions. MORRIS SCHUHAN was having difficulty with the immigration department  for some minor reason and was in danger of being deported. JULIUS WEISSBROT who was more familiar with American protocol by this time helped him to straighten matters out and remain in this country. When Morris opened a butcher shop he promised that he would always deliver meat to his friend and did so for many years.After Julius passed away in 1953 Morris continued to follow the family even when they moved to another borough and no matter what the weather. After he passed on, his nephew JONAS PASTERNAK continued the tradition until the late 1990’s when heart problems forced the family to eliminate meat from their diet. They don’t miss the meat but they do miss seeing Jonas every two weeks.

 

     The young men were not only concerned with the present…they were also concerned with the future. One of the first things the Rymalower organization did was purchase cemetery plots in Staten Island and much later on Long Island. This guaranteed that every member and his wife would have a final resting place without the hassle of arranging for one at a time of great sorrow and at great expense. In addition there would also be a small benefit to help with funeral costs and erection of a monument. Families were also provided for…unmarried daughters, and sons under the age of 18 (since at the age of 18 sons could become members in their own right).

 

 

 

     If there was ever any doubt that the Rymalower Young Men were not  just considered society members but rather friends, the annual trek to the cemetery in Staten Island dispelled that notion. As JAY LILKER wrote, “My father HARRY LILKER was an active committeeman and I recollect trips out to the Baron Hirsh Cemetery as a child…”  That is exactly what happened. Medical advances were far from what they are today and some members passed away at quite a young age. These were members such as SAMUEL EGAR in 1929, ISIDORE WEISS in 1936 and JOSEPH KLEINER (who may have been the first president) in 1938. Every year the members would take the ferry out to Staten Island and hold memorial services for all the departed brothers. Most did not own cars and even for those who did it was a long trip that required some refreshment. So JULIUS WEISSBROT would bring a barrel of herring and one of tomatoes. Others with cars would carry bread, drinks, plates and utensils. HARRY LILKER and others would make all the arrangements for serving food. These were the original “tailgate” parties.” This annual event continued for many years.

 

     Meeting rooms were readily available on the lower East Side of Manhattan. Central Plaza Annex was decided upon as a good location and meetings were held every second Tuesday of the month. Some brothers would wander in early in the evening and some hot and heavy pinochle games took place before the meetings began. Many years later at an exciting pre-meeting pinochle game another brother also named ABE MORGENSTERN suffered a fatal heart attack. His fellow players were unable to save him and remained in shock themselves.

 

     Once the President rapped the gavel to bring the meeting to order, everything became serious. The Inner Guard (JACK GREENFIELD’S office for many years) brought in the two flags that flanked the podium…on one side the American flag and on the other the Star of David…and the business of the evening took total precedence beginning with the Pledge of Allegiance and then the singing of “Hatikvah.”

 

     The organization functioned not only to alleviate the reality of their sometimes difficult existence in the early years, but also to provide happy social occasions in which to participate. There were luncheons and formal banquets at which the men wore tuxedos and the ladies wore evening gowns. The sense of special occasion was underscored by sometimes hiring a photographer to record the event. Perhaps the most notable banquet was the Victory Banquet  held in November,1945 to celebrate the end of the second World War and the return of so many Rymalower sons from the armed services. Anew entertainer was hired and “wowed” the audience. He was later to “wow” many other audiences as

Red Buttons.

 

 

 

 

 

     Toward the end of the 1950’s a new idea was broached…a weekend away together at a resort. Many members were able to attend and further weekends followed at hotels like Goldman’s and Saltz’s. Committees made up of people like HARRY LILKER, SIMON WOHL, JOSEPH WEISSBROT, NATHAN SCHERER and RUBIN DRUCKER would make the arrangements, collect fees and assign tables. HARRY LILKER in particular would make sure that everyone was having a good time. He would go from table to table offering “potent potables.” In fact, one little boy always thought that that nice man’s name was Harry Liquor.

 

     We were evidently not too lucky for some hotels. After our weekend at the Brookside it closed down and after our stay at Bader’s it was converted into a senior residence. Several weekends were spent at the Raleigh…the most recent one taking place in 1997. RUBIN DRUCKER took photographs at these events and they appear in this booklet.

 

     There was even more sociability among some of the families. There was the wedding between FRANCES TELLER, the daughter of JACK and ESTHER TELLER , and ARTHUR GREENFIELD who was the son of MEYER and ANNA GREENFIELD. Their plans for a large wedding were suddenly halted by the serious illness of the mother of the groom-to-be. Instead, Frances put on a nice suit and a little hat with a veil and they were married at Anna’s bedside shortly before she passed away.

 

     By 1938 the name of the flourishing First Rymalower Young Men’s Sick and Benevolent Association appeared in the Jewish Landsmanschaften of New York published by the Peretz Yiddish Writer’s Group. Bella Drucker recalls the years when her father Julius Weissbrot was Financial Secretary and there were about 150 members on the mailing list.  “Every two weeks my sister and brothers and I would help with the mailings…folding, sealing, stamping. As the youngest my job was to sit on the envelopes to make sure they stayed closed.”

 

     After the war members were anxious to bring over any family who had managed to survive the Holocaust. ISIDORE NADLER’s nephews and nieces CARL and RAY NADLER and SEYMOUR and ASNA NADLER  became members even though their uncle was only a Rymalower in his heart.

 

     MORRIS SCHUHAN brought in as members his nieces and nephews JONAS and LUCIA PASTERNAK, PHILIP and CYLLA ENGELHARDT and SAMUEL and BETTY RATCHIK. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                          THE SPIN-OFF

 

    One of the important collateral effects of the Rymalower Young Men was the formation of the Rymalower Young Ladies’ Auxiliary. By 1930 the wives of the members  were ready for some action of their own. With the help of men like JACK TELLER, MAX BERGER, HARRY LILKER, JULIUS WEISSBROT and NATHAN SCHERER they organized their auxiliary with its own charter, meeting room and Wednesday evening meetings. To honor the men who helped them, they elected JACK TELLER as their first president.

 

     This again was at a time when there were no washing machines…laundry was done with a scrubbing board. There were no driers…clothes were hung on lines. There were no prepared or frozen delights to serve the family. Still, every other Wednesday evening the Rymalower wives would put on their hats and their shoes with a little heel and turn into the Rymalower Ladies.

 

     Whereas the men’s organization was intended to provide support to the brothers, the ladies organized for charitable purposes.  Their accomplishments were actually amazing. With strong support from their husbands they collected old clothing and ran rummage sales. They ran card parties to which they sold tickets and at which they served home made goodies. They sold raffle books which were donated by printers MOLLIE and MORRIS SPITZER. They held penny sales.

 

     The funds they collected were doled out to various charities. One of those closest to their hearts was the “Moos-Chitin” they were able to give out at Passover. All a member had to do was ask for money for a family they knew would have a difficult time preparing for the expensive holiday , and a check was handed over.

 

     The Rymalower Ladies remained in existence until the members became elderly and ill and the subway travel into Manhattan from the Bronx and Brooklyn became too difficult for them. By that time the government had begunproviding many social services and these good ladies disbanded their organization with the knowledge that they had performed a job well done.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                  THE AMENDED CONSTITUTION

 

     Times had changed. When the boys formed their society women did not even have the right to vote. They were protected under the aegis of their fathers and husbands. However, as life later in the century changed dramatically, so did the position of women in society change dramatically. Some women remained single because of educational advancement and enhanced employment opportunities. Several members suggested that the time had come to alter the rules to allow women to enter the organization in their own right. The membership had dwindled and new dues paying members would be a boon. A notice was sent to all the members asking them to vote for or against such a measure and in 1993 a Constitutional amendment was passed almost unanimously to let them in. The sole exception was one vote cast by a member who did it only as a tribute to the original boys.

 

                                    …AND NOW

 

     Times changed in many ways. Meeting rooms became more and more scarce as developers replaced small buildings with apartment complexes. Available meeting halls charged higher rents while far fewer members attended the meetings. They had settled in the outlying boroughs and the trip into “the city” became much less frequent with increasing age and illness. As some members retired, the exodus to Florida was on. The younger members, the sons, were for the most part not as deeply connected to the social aspects of the society. They led busy lives in a different world.

 

     Relief came in the form of JACK GREENFIELD. He and his family owned a building in which there was Beauty Shop that was closed on Mondays. He offered the Rymalower the use of a room in back of the shop whenever they wanted it…rent free…and meetings were held there for years.

 

     After Jack’s death Vice-President CARL NADLER and his wife RAY offered the use of their home for the now small meetings. They even served refreshments. This also came to an end when Carl and Ray moved to Florida. Meetings are now held in the home of Financial Secretary RUBIN DRUCKER and his wife BELLA…also with refreshments.

 

     The Rymalower organization today functions more as a caretaker society.

The current purpose is:

1. maintaining traditions and ties

2. burial rights

3. occasional social events (e.g. weekends, luncheons, meetings).

 

Only a couple of meetings are held annually since there is not too much business to discuss. Perhaps some of the younger members will be willing to pick up the gauntlet and make arrangements for a luncheon or a weekend outing because with all that…the beat goes on. It is a far cry from what once was…but it does go on. And with your loyalty it will continue.

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Rymalower Young Men's Benevolent Association  * 4 Croyden Road * Mineola * New York, US *11501