Video: Oral History Of First Settlement House In Brighton Beach

In the video above, Irv Zuckerman, who lived as a child in Brighton Beach’s “first settlement house” during the Great Depression recalls how his parents ran a rooming house filled with those who could not afford to pay rent during the world’s great economic downturn.

The video was produced as part of the very cool Yiddish Book Center’s Wexler Oral History Project, a growing archive of stories of Yiddish tradition and culture throughout American history.

In 1930, when Zuckerman’s father realized that his income from manufacturing women’s hats would not be enough to support his family throughout the Depression, he devised a plan. He and his family would move to a large home in Brighton Beach and sublet rooms at a slightly higher space rate. The rent obtained from the renting out the rooms would pay for the rent of the entire house, and their family would live for free.

“There was one small problem with his figuring,” Zuckerman said. “And that was if we couldn’t pay the rent, neither could anybody else.”

Zuckerman describes what he learned from his mother, who not only did not have the heart to throw the in-debt tenants out, but dedicated much of her time and effort to them and in turn, ran what Zuckerman calls the first settlement house in Brighton Beach.

“She was the doctor, the counselor, the everything to the people who lived with us,” he said.

Hopefully, a return to those days isn’t around the corner, and history remains just that.


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