Sunday, November 20, 2011

My Uncle Warren


My uncle, Warren Gelayder, passed away yesterday. Warren grew up with my mother in Newark, New Jersey and spent most of his life in the jewelry business. I will remember him mostly for his affability. He never took himself too seriously and always seemed to be in a good mood. I think his sense of humor was one of the things that made him such a good father. He was truly a family man -- I always admired his commitment to his wife and kids. He will be missed.

Even before he fell ill, I often found myself thinking of Warren when I visited Newark Community Solutions. Mostly what I thought about is how our individual lives intersect with the lives of the cities we inhabit.

My family's story on my mom's side is fairly typical of the American Jewish experience. My grandmother Loretta moved to the U.S. as a small child. She came with her family from the town of Lwow, which was then part of the Austro-Hungarian empire (after a brief spell as part of Poland, the city is now part of the Ukraine and called Lviv). Like many Americans, their immigration had roots both economic (the search for a better life) and political (the search for a life not defined by anti-semitism).

My grandmother, who became a U.S. citizen in the 1950s, ended up marrying Max Gelayder. (As an aside, the family name "Gelayder" is apparently an Americanized version of the Russian "Galaida.") For many years, my grandfather presided over a jewelry store at 519 Fulton Street in downtown Brooklyn. My uncle Warren followed him into the business. The picture above captures Warren in front of the store in the 1960s.

Alas, the family business in Brooklyn didn't last forever. Nor did the good times in Newark: like many Jewish families, the Gelayders ended up moving to the suburbs. If the forces of history pushed my uncle out of Newark and Brooklyn at the end of the last century, those same forces are pushing me in the other direction: I find myself living in Brooklyn and working in Newark (albeit only occasionally). I enjoy the symmetry. And I wonder what my daughters' relationship will be to these places that have helped to define our family, for both good and bad, for nearly 100 years.