Monday, April 21, 2008

August 9, 1926

[Note: This letter has no envelope]


August 9, 1926

My dear Jeanie:

Received your letter
and I am glad that you are enjoying the
fun that the country has to offer.

Your letters are so short, I
understand how busy you must be, I don't
think that you should be lazy when you are
writing to me.1

Everything in the family is as
usual, nothing new, everybody is in good

Yesterday (Sunday) I went to
Hawthorne Field Brooklyn to see the 1st
Soccer Football game of the season,
The Brooklyn Wanderers defeated an all
star team by the score 10 to 1.

I am writing this because on
the Wanderers team now are 5 of the best
Hakoah players, The names will be familiar
to you,: Neufeld, Schenfeld, Drucker,
Eisenhofer and Konrad, all goals were
scored by the Hakoah boys.

The Wanderers have adopted the
White and Blue uniform, so the Hakoah
boys feel much at home.


It will interest you to know that
the playing field is about 15 minutes
ride from your house,2

They are playing every Sunday
and if you should be interested to
go there you will easily recognize
the Hakoah gang among the rest of
the team that are Irish, you will
recognize especially Neufeld who is

Everything is O.K. with me and
I would like to know when I will
have the pleasure to be with you again.

Well my beloved friend I am
closing again with regards and kisses.



Extra k-----s for Ma.


Matt's Notes

1 - When my grandmother went away on vacation in 1925, Papa's letters to her were flush with excitement, purplish prose and declarations of his devotion. He kept his tone playful and light even when he mentioned her other suitors, as if the thought of her loving anyone but him was worthy of little more than a dismissive chuckle. By contrast, his 1926 letters show the wear and tear wrought by a year of stalled courtship. Papa cannot conceal his real anxiety over losing my grandmother to another man, cannot suppress his surprise over her ongoing indifference and, in this uncharacteristically disapproving passage, cannot but criticize her failure to give him his due through correspondence. (To call her letter writing "lazy" is a strong indictment; recall his exasperation when, in an earlier letter, he deemed my grandmother's sister Sally "kind of lazy" about writing.)

2 - Hawthorne Field, the Brooklyn Wanderers' home, was located at the intersection of Brooklyn Avenue and Hawthorne Street, a little over two-and-a-half miles south of my grandmother's Hart Street home. There was, and still is, no direct subway connection between those two locations, but an old surface transit map at indicates that a Nostrand Avenue trolley line would have facilitated the 15-minute ride Papa describes.

Brooklyn's trolleys are no more, of course, but Hawthorne Field has not entirely disappeared. According to the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, it became part of the George Wingate High School campus in 1954, at which point the surrounding neighborhood, which had been known as "Pigtown" due to its long-ago concentration of animal farms, apparently changed its nickname to "Wingate." (I don't know the area well, but I just think of it as "Flatbush".) The field was rechristened "Wingate Park" in 1987, and nowadays it still serves as a venue for various public events.

3 - Hakoah Vienna was an all-Jewish athletic club originally formed by Austrian Jews who, in the early 20th century, found themselves shut out of their country's culturally important athletic organizations. Hakoah fielded a number of excellent teams in pre-Nazi Europe (the womens' swim team was the subject of a documentary called Watermarks) including a legendary soccer club that won the 1925 Austrian national championship (below).

Not surprisingly, Papa went gaga for Hakoah not only due to ethnic pride but because he, along with many others like him, disliked the stereotypical image of bookish, physically maladroit Jews. ("Hakoah" means "the strength" in Hebrew.)
In fact, the brand of Zionism to which Papa subscribed made the development of a counter-type -- the athletic, virile "muscle Jew" -- essential to their cause, lest the Jewish people find themselves unprepared, both practically and in appearance, for the rigors of settling Palestine.

Here's how the New York Times described Hakoah when the soccer club arrived in America for a series of exhibition games in April of 1926:

The arrival of the Hakoah stars marks a new milestone in the advancement of soccer and is equally as significant in the realm of Jewish endeavor...

Following the war, athletic conditions in Vienna were in a state of chaos. Then it was that leaders among the Jews came to the conclusion that the athletic development of the race should receive serious consideration, so the formation of the Hakoah Club gradually took shape. Membership was restricted to Jews and from a feeble beginning, the club grew until now it has more than 5,000 members and has served as an inspiration to Jews all over Europe where several clubs similar to Hakoah have become realities.
Hakoah inspired athletic clubs in the United States as well, including a New York-area amateur soccer team that Papa went to see in 1924 and wrote about in his diary. Time Magazine's sports editor, if not similarly inspired, at least found Hakoah's first American match worth a few bemused words:

Agile young noblemen at Oxford, bandy-legged Scotsmen, savage Welshmen, bounding hooligans in Dublin sandlots, to say nothing of Germans, Frenchmen, Poles, and European Hebrews, play the game of soccer. American college boys play it too, but they rarely go out to watch it, and the crowd of 46,000 that gathered in the Polo Grounds, Manhattan, last week, to see the Hakoah (Jewish) soccer team from Vienna play a team (Irish) recruited from the New York Giants and the Indiana Flooring Co., was the largest crowd that had ever watched a soccer game in the U. S.

As in their opening games, the Viennese amazed the onlookers with their speed and long, swinging passes. The underslung, knuckle-kneed U. S. players met them with a massed defense, a short-passing attack. Though the ball flew like a heavy bird four times as often toward the U. S. goal as it hurtled like a bullet toward the Hakoans', it entered the latter three times, the former never.
As various sources tell the tale, it was during Hakoah's barnstorming tour of America that Nat Agar, a Jewish soccer star in his own right and owner of the Brooklyn Wanderers of the American Soccer League, approached several Hakoah players (like Kalman Konrad, pictured at left) and lured them to his team. This was surely a good business move for Agar, who also owned Hawthorne Field, the Wanderers' home. American soccer was on the rise at the time, and judging by Papa's certainty over my grandmother's familiarity with Hakoah's players, the 1926 Wanderers must have been quite a popular draw.

Perhaps the stars Papa mentions in his letter would still be household names today if American soccer had capitalized on the success it enjoyed in the 1920's. Alas, a war between rival leagues and the Depression's effect on team sponsors put a halt to soccer's "Golden Age" in the U.S., and it never saw a resurgence in Papa's lifetime.

I'm once again struck by how many major and minor cultural eras Papa lived through, and how many I've learned about in the course of researching his diary and letters. How did he feel about the disappearance of a pastime he once enjoyed and the loss of a team he'd identified with as both a New Yorker and a Jew? Was it as remarkable to him as the decline of silent film, or the League of Nations, or Prohibition? Or was it a more subtle change he only thought about in nostalgic moments, like the advent of the designated hitter rule or the phasing out of leather hand straps from New York's subways? Is there any way to name all the beginnings and endings someone witnesses in a lifetime?




Image Sources:

1 comment:

  1. The player in the picture is not Kálmán Konrád, but Alfred Schaffer, another great magyar centre-forward.

    Kálmán Konrád,Alfred Schaffer,Gustav 'Guggi' Wieser,Matthias Sindelar, this is the great attacking players of Wiener Amateure in the early '20.

    Sorry for my poor english. Bye.