On Oct. 15, 1937, my father crossed the border from Kehl, in the southwest corner of Germany, into Strasbourg, France. Five days later he boarded the SS Bremen in Cherbourg for the five–day voyage across the Atlantic to New York.
My parents were both Ashkenazi Jews who grew up in not-particularly-religious homes, but that’s pretty much where their similarities ended. My father grew up in a world of big houses, fancy cars, and vacations at fashionable resorts. My mother, on the other hand, was the product of a tight-knit middle-class family. She had lived with her parents in the same house her entire life.
I grew up in the first-floor flat of my grandmother’s house on Willow Street in New Haven. It was a neighborhood of stout, three-story shingled houses a mile or so from the ivy-covered neo-Gothic halls of Yale University. It was a tight-knit community of immigrant families, mostly Italian, Irish, and Jewish.