David the King! by
50
(94 Stories)

Prompted By Refugees

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They were always readmitted, though; Dave seemed unable to hold a grudge.

I’ve known a few people in my lifetime who were fleeing bad situations, seeking refuge. My friend Jose (“Names Have Meaning”) was a refugee in that respect. But of refugees in the usual sense, people who fled their country in search of a better life, or merely to stay alive, only one comes to mind. His name was Dave Elbaum.

When I was quite young, my father and his brother Tom owned a stove and heating repair and installation business based in Jersey City. Because of this, I learned to wait on customers, and to cut, thread and solder pipe, before I learned to ride a bike. Dave owned some rental properties in the area, and hired Dad’s company to do work on stoves and the now-illegal “gas-on-gas” stove/heater combos. Dave also owned a small grocery store that literally butted up against my grade school. Since they met almost every day, Dad and Dave became close friends. My father always had a soft spot for people who, like himself, were seen as “outsiders.”

Dave spoke English with a pronounced Polish accent, although I had no trouble understanding him. Running as he did a store that sold candy, soda and sandwiches located next to a grammar school full of rambunctious and occasionally sociopathic kids, he dealt with a lot of crap. I have no idea how much of that crap was anti-Semitic, but Dave had a thick skin, a loud voice and did not hesitate to eject troublemakers and petty thieves. They were always readmitted, though; Dave seemed unable to hold a grudge.

Not that I was one of those troublemakers; he was a family friend and my parents would have been EXTREMELY unhappy with me had I given him (or indeed, any adult) trouble or shown disrespect. Besides, I liked Dave. He was effortlessly funny, and if no one was looking he’d slip me a free Joyva chocolate-covered raspberry bar. When I walked into the store he’d shout out “DAVID THE KING!” with a big smile on his face.

Dave’s kids Bernie and Regina (who was always called Gina) worked in the store when not in school. Gina was one of my earliest crushes, a cute blonde with a lovely smile, my first “older woman.” She and Bernie always piled my sandwiches high with extra cold cuts.

Dave’s generosity also kept his customers fed when they hit hard times, as we did on several occasions when Dad was out of work due to his serious back problems. It was many years before I understood what was going on when Mom sent me to Elbaum’s for groceries and, instead of giving me money, instructed me to tell Dave to “put it on the book.”

But my most vivid memory of Dave was the day I saw a number tattooed in blue on his forearm. Always a shy kid, I didn’t dare to ask him what it was, but when we left the store I queried my father about it. I must have been quite young, because Dad would only tell me that it was a horrible thing that had been done against Dave’s will and that I must never ask him about it or it would hurt him terribly.

Up until then, Nazis had just been the guys in the fancier uniforms that we always beat in war movies, the ones whose leader did a lot of shouting. I thought that “Nazi” was just German for “German.” Up until that moment, I had never heard of The Holocaust.

When Dave died, I was in Bayonne visiting my parents. I walked over to the store to see it again, maybe say hi to Gina. The store was closed. A sign on the door said that they were at Dave’s funeral.

I heard again in my mind a big, booming voice shouting “DAVID THE KING!” I wished very much that I knew where the service was being held, so I could go and say goodbye.

 

The Featured Image is from a post in a Bayonne-centric Facebook group, run by another old guy from downtown. Below is the text that accompanied that post. The last sentence is a pretty good facsimile of Dave’s troublemaker ejection voice!

“Regarding Elbaum’s Food Market:
In 1939, David Elbaum’s lumber company – located in Poland – was taken from him by the Nazis. At that time, Dave was a multi-millionaire (in today’s money). In 1950, at the age of thirty-five (35), he married Syma Brener and together they were housed at a refugee camp in Munich, Germany; they Emigrated out of Munich in May of that same year. They arrived in the US (near penniless) and settled in at 537 east 171st street, Bronx, NY.

To further, David Elbaum Entered this world on the 1st of May in 1915. He was the son of Dov Ber Elbaum (born 1884 – Tishowice, Poland) and Hena Sarah Elbaum [(born 1885 – Ciechanow, Ukraine)(born Silverberg)]. He had four (4) siblings. He departed this world on the 13th of November- 1995. Syma Elbaum departed this world on the 25th of May, 2006. The Elbaum’s leave behind four (4) cherished children – Bernard, Harry, Regina, and Phyllis.
With That Said: “Now! Get The Hell Hell Ell Ell Out…” ”

Profile photo of Dave Ventre Dave Ventre
A hyper-annuated wannabee scientist with a lovely wife and a mountain biking problem.


Tags: Refugees, friends, family friends, Jews, Jewish, Holocaust
Characterizations: funny, well written

Comments

  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    It seems that your father and Dave really were great friends and he was wonderful to you. He worked hard and provided for his own family and evidently, for others like yours in needy times. You came to understand a survivor, up close and personal. He sounds like a loving, caring man, DAVID THE KING!

    • Dave Ventre says:

      He was all that. I admit that I sometimes found him a bit intimidating, especially when I was very young, because he was loud, and I was already developing my deep unease with raised voices and strongly expressed anger, even when not directed at me. The free Joyva jelly bars helped a bit, though.

      The Book was certainly not something that the local Shop-Rite would have done!

  2. Khati Hendry says:

    Great story, Dave, on so many levels. The joy in (the other) Dave’s interaction with the world comes through so clearly—and that despite a harrowing backstory that you didn’t understand as a kid. Too bad you missed his funeral. What treasures people can be. King David indeed.

  3. Laurie Levy says:

    Moving tribute to a refugee who succeeded against all odds and touched your life in a special way.

  4. Suzy says:

    Nice remembrance of a refugee whose story you didn’t know at the time. Interesting that you found so much information about him on a Bayonne Facebook group. It just shows that Facebook does serve some good purposes, much as we may malign it.

    • Dave Ventre says:

      Funny thing is that I quit that FB group (and most other “good olde days” groups I had joined) because of the thinly-veiled (or not at all veiled) bigotry in a significant minority of posts. That and my complete lack of patience for the general “everything sucks nowadays although it was great back when I was young and had hair/a thin waistline/lots of sex” attitude so prevalent in such groups.

  5. Marian says:

    What really struck me, Dave, was your noticing the tattoo on Dave’s arm and innocently wondering what that was about. I, too, saw tattoos like that when I was a child (funny, that’s part of my discomfort with tattoos today), and when they were explained to me, it left a lasting impression. Most of those who had the tattoos are now gone, leaving us with a more abstract problem of how to communicate the Holocaust to future generations. At least, that was so until the war in Ukraine.

  6. Bravo Dave, you have brought your larger-than-life family friend David back to life in your story.

    I understand why your father was vague when you asked him about the numbers on David’s arms – how can one explain genocide to a child – or for that matter how are we adults to understand it?

  7. John Shutkin says:

    What a decent, generous man Dave was — a true “king” in the best sense of the word. Though maybe an even better name for him would have been “mensch.” And that would probably be true even without his horrific personal history. But that history only underscores Dave’s truly noble self. It’s a cliche, but I must repeat it here: “I can only imagine….”

    Thank you for honoring Dave by sharing him with us on Retro. And, yes, the last line of the text from his old friend is itself worth the price of admission.

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