23 Jul “Neighbor Told Me, ‘Go Back to Prince Street,’” by Andrew Malekoff, Blank Slate Media, July 15, 2019
By Andrew Malekoff
On Sunday, July 14, President Trump tweeted that four Democratic lawmakers, all women of color, should “go back” to where they came from. When I first read his tweet, it brought me back to my childhood. My family had just moved from a predominantly Jewish neighborhood in Newark, N.J., to a nearby suburb called Maplewood.
My grandparents were all Eastern European immigrants from Poland and Russia who fled persecution and settled in Newark to raise their families in the 1920s and 30s.
I wasn’t familiar with the suburbs. In Newark, everything was concrete. We lived in a flat. My friends and I played on the sidewalks and in the streets. I don’t remember seeing much green. No front lawns, few trees and maybe a small patch of grass in the back.
In Newark, the stores were just around the corner. I could walk anywhere: to the grocery, bakery, hot dog joint, candy store and luncheonette. In the suburbs wheels were needed to get most anywhere.
We left Newark in the summer of 1961, so that my younger brother and I could begin the year at our new school. I started to make a few new friends. We played close to home, often in someone’s backyard or driveway, especially if they had a basketball hoop. Or, we rode our bikes to the schoolyard or park.
As fall came, the leaves blanketed front yards. Everyone raked the leaves into the street and burned them. Fire in the street and the smell of burning leaves was something new to me and now an indelible memory.
Another memory is a day during my first winter in Maplewood when it snowed so much that school was canceled. My brother and I were up early in the morning and we went out to play in the snow. Snowball fights were a staple for boys in those days.
When I threw a snowball at a neighbor who was about my age, it must have stung because he ran into his house. The next thing I knew, his mother stepped outside and hollered at us, “Why don’t you go back to Prince Street!”
I didn’t know what she was talking about except I could tell from her red face and the sound of her voice that she was angry and didn’t want us around.
We went home and I asked my mom, “What is Prince Street?” She said, “Why are you asking me that?” I said, “The lady a few houses down told us we should go back there.” My mother was wearing a bathrobe and slippers. There was snow on ground but she stormed out of the house, walked two houses down, and started banging on that neighbor’s front door and screaming. She was enraged.
The neighbor lady never came out of her house. I didn’t understand what was going on.
When my mother returned, I asked her why she was so mad. I couldn’t quite make out what she was saying. I let it go, but the memory never left me.
Years later when the incident came to mind, I did a little research and discovered that Prince Street was Newark’s version of New York City’s Lower East Side, where a concentrated immigrant Jewish population of Eastern European descent resided in cold-water tenements. According to Newark historian Nat Bodian, “Yiddish was the primary language heard on the street. Pushcarts lined the curbs on both sides of the street.”
Despite one morning of unpleasantness as time went by our families resumed cordial relations. Although now understanding where my neighbor was coming from, I have since forgiven her.
If only the animus in our nation could be so easily remedied. If only, the president’s tweet was just a fleeting expression of anger, as offensive as it was, as opposed to further evidence of a deeply entrenched pattern of racial intolerance that is becoming normalized in the U.S.
All people of good conscience on both sides of the political battleground must transcend their partisan interests long enough to stand up and speak out against such expressions.
Andrew Malekoff is the Executive Director of North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, which provides comprehensive mental health services for children from birth through 24 and their families, including support for pregnant and parenting teens and their babies. To find out more, visit www.northshorechildguidance.org.