Saturday, August 14, 2010

Papa's World's a Stage

Papa's quiet strength and generous spirit, so readily apparent in the pages of his diary and letters, has inspired my wife, Stephanie, to include a character who is very much like him in her one-woman show, "Feed the Monster."

A good chunk of "Feed the Monster" takes place in 1940's Brighton Beach, where Stephanie's character grew up and, of course, where Papa lived with my grandmother and later raised my mother. Stephanie's character deliberately has Papa's last name (Scheuermann) and quite accidentally shares my mother's Hebrew first name (Tsipporah, or Tsippy for short). "Papa", as Tsippy's father is known in the show, has a lot in common with Papa, most notably the way his outwardly ordinary, nearly anonymous existence belies the influence and inspiration he brought to the lives of others.

If you're in New York tonight I hope you'll come see the show's opening, of course (excuse the plug; I'm incredibly proud of Stephanie for putting her show together and making it to the Fringe Festival). If you don't get to see it, I hope you'll think again about Papa's Diary Project and one of the most enduring lessons it taught me: even a seemingly typical, quiet and anonymous life can, if we take the time to record and remember it, reveal itself to be remarkable, dramatic and significant, full of stories worth telling over and over again in many ways, on many stages.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Hennington Hall Revisited

A blogger who writes about Knickerbocker Village, the Lower East Side housing complex of his childhood, tells me he recently stumbled across Papa's October 20, 1924 diary entry while researching Hennington Hall. (Hennington Hall, located at 2nd Street near Avenue B, was a meeting facility where Papa's nomadic congregation apparently celebrated Simchas Torah that year, though they normally gathered at another location on East Broadway.)

He was kind enough to look into his own records for traces of Papa's history and came up with this 1927 photo depicting the corner of Rivington and Attorney Streets, just up the block from where Papa wrote his diary:

The Knickerbocker Village post has other artifacts as well, including a census record of Papa's residence at 96 Attorney Street (and listing his country of origin as Poland) and a newspaper clip describing the October 1931 shooting of a neighborhood thug known as "Big Schafie" (real name: Alfred Mederisch) whose corpse was found on the roof of Papa's building. (On the roof, I should point out, despite the promise made by the killer, Joseph Schoeffer, to "get big Schafie and throw him off a roof". I suppose he wasn't that reliable a fellow.) Papa, newly married and living elsewhere by then, would have missed the resulting hullaballoo, though it's hard to imagine that he didn't recognize Mederisch or Schoeffer's name when he read about them in the paper.