Renia: A Holocaust Memoir

Table of Contents

Rick's Bar Mitzvah, November 1961.

Rick's Bar Mitzvah, November 1961.

In 1961, the year after we moved to Chicago, Rick had his Bar Mitzvah. He didn’t go to cheder but he did have lessons. The husband of one of the cousins was a cantor in a synagogue so he got us a hall. We didn’t make a big thing out of the party but it was nice. To save money, we had a buffet dinner. We hired a man who played the accordion. About seventy people were there, mostly Leon’s family, a few members of my family and friends. We were beginning to feel that things were getting better. [group photo]

Then — this was 1962 or 1963 — Leon had a car accident, hurt his neck, and couldn’t work for a time. While he was recuperating, we decided it was time for him to quit the glass factory and try something else. Because he’d always been good at photography, he bought some equipment and started shooting weddings and Bar Mitzvahs. We ran the business out of our apartment. The business was called Deluxe Photo by Feldman but at the beginning, it wasn’t very deluxe. We were barely making ends meet. Rick helped him but it meant giving up almost all of his weekends. I helped too.

Left: Leon, the kids and me at Rick's Bar Mitzvah. Right: Eva singing "Schein vee dee levone".

Left: Leon, the kids and me at Rick's Bar Mitzvah. Right: Eva singing "Schein vee dee levone".

When it came to disciplining our kids, Leon was more strict than I was. For example, Leon used to give Eva a weekly allowance. He told her, “I don’t care what you spend the money on but you should know how you spend it.” He insisted that she write down every expenditure. If I made demands on the kids — to help around the house — they wouldn’t listen. But Leon would have a little meeting with them on Sundays. He’d remind them that mommy was working and he was working and that everybody had to pitch in and help. Sunday morning was cleaning day. Leon did most of the work but Rick had to vacuum. Eva had little chores like cleaning the mirrors. The kitchen was my responsibility. I cleaned it and cooked for a week at a time.

Business cards.For a while, I even had my own beauty shop in Chicago, Chez Paris, located at Kimble and Lawrence Streets. A hairdresser I’d worked with, Joyce Cairo, and I became partners. I did the nails and she did the hair. We even had somebody working for us. Leon and her father fixed the place up for us. But Joyce fell in love with a man who was installing air-conditioners in the shop and she asked me to buy her out. First of all, I didn’t have the money, and second it didn’t make sense. You can’t have a hair salon if you are not a hairdresser. We sold the shop and I found a job working for somebody else.

In June 1963, having lived over a tavern for two and a half years, we moved to an apartment in a two-storey house on a more residential street — 4832 North Troy Street. Eventually, we saved some money, borrowed a little from friends, and were able to make a down payment on a co-op apartment at 8303 North Christiana Street in Skokie, a predominantly Jewish suburb of Chicago. Leon, who had always been very handy, finished the basement and that’s where his photography business was located.

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