Brooklyn, New York has been having its "moment" for at least a few years now. Hipsters and trend-setters, real estate mavens and all types of people and interests seem to flock here now. Decades ago people would deride those of us from Brooklyn, mocking our accents. Many Brooklynites would hide the fact that they came from here. Now people who have lived here for perhaps three years proudly assert that they are from Brooklyn. Oy vey. Times change.

As a third-generation Brooklyn Jew, I've seen plenty. Some good, some bad, much banal. Allow me to reminisce a bit about the block I lived on as a kid. From the ages of 6 through young adulthood, I lived on East 22nd Street between Avenues J and K. At some point the street had a name, not just a number. During my tenure there, from 1971 through 1996, it was predominantly populated by Jewish families, and by the time I moved out of the house it was completely Jewish. It was a mixture of Ashkenazic and Sephardic families, running the gamut from barely affiliated to strictly Orthodox. All private houses with separate garages, and  just one two-family home.

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For the most part it was a pleasant, peaceful block. Kids ran around and played games such as stoop ball, freeze tag, punch ball and basketball. We roller skated and biked. Some parents, such as mine, were very into gardening. A few people enjoyed restoring their cars that were parked in driveways. We could walk to a well-regarded public elementary school, a mediocre junior high school, two very good high schools, a public college (Brooklyn College) and a Solomon Schechter Day School/Hebrew after school. Synagogues were within walking distance. Most houses had trees and nicely maintained lawns.

But certain dangers lurked about. Perhaps the earliest recollection I have of a dangerous situation was when a group of us kids were running around and playing in the street, and my younger brother was struck by a large car! Fortunately the car (with Florida license plates) was moving slowly, and Ben was not hurt badly. But we all got upset about this, understandably, especially after the driver, a heavy set woman, got out and looked at her fender instead of my brother. She was relieved that he didn't do any damage to her car, and when we yelled at her for being callous, she got in the car and sped away!

A few years later we had a different kind of creepy incident. A young guy driving his car slowed up near a group of us, and asked us for directions or the time. When we approached the car, we saw that he was naked. We screamed, he laughed and sped off. Maybe a year or two after this (my memory is hazy) a wailing ambulance stopped at the house on the southwest corner and several people amassed. We found out that the rabbi who lived there (I couldn't tell you his name, but he seemed very old) had been stricken with a heart attack and was taken away to a hospital, where he died. Or maybe he died at home. It was the talk of the block for a while.

In the 1980s things got even weirder. One time I was at the southern end of my block, walking home from high school, when I noticed that there was yellow police department tape blocking my way. Huh? And when I tried to get through, two or three cops hassled me about walking here. I insisted that I lived on the block but at first they didn't want to grant me entrance. As if I were a menace? Sheesh. Finally they let me through. I found out that the judge who lived on our block, by the name of Bloom, had received a bomb threat. I never found out if it was legitimate.

A few years later two very strange things happened. One morning my father was walking to the nearby subway train station when he came upon a stranger smoking a marijuana joint. I don't recall if he and my dad exchanged words, but the stranger punched my dad in the nose, and ran away. My dad, a big, strong guy, flopped to the ground! He had a nasty bruise on his face.

And then there were the dead chickens on the sidewalk. Yes, dead chickens. Ewww. A couple of dead foul were on the sidewalk at the northern end. We were aghast, and even though we were thoroughly repulsed by this, we all had to go look, again and again. And no one wanted to cart them away so they sat there for a few days, decaying. I kid you not. Finally one day they were gone. My mother speculated that they were dumped by someone who wanted them for a voodoo ritual. Maybe she was right. Certainly not a kashering experiment gone wrong!

There you have it, folks. I've showed you both the pastoral and creepy sides of my street in Jewish Brooklyn. More to come soon!

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