Parkchester revisited through the eyes of an early Jewish resident

Parkchester opened in 1940, around when throngs of working class Jewish families and other groups were immediately drawn to the development’s convenient location and expansive landscaped setting.

Next year, 2020, marks Parkchester’s historic 80th anniversary.

It’s while waiting for the #6 IRT on the Parkchester train station platform that one sees a spectacular view of the Parkchester community and the Cross Bronx Expressway from the other side.

This Bronx neighborhood is as close as you can get to a ‘city within a city,’ designed and constructed as a balanced community of residential units, retail stores and eateries.

The architecture and beauty of Parkchester is also unique to not just the borough but all of the city.

The center of attraction is the Metropolitan Oval which has an exquisitely landscaped garden design, boasting a beautiful array of flowerbeds and an awe-inspiring fountain.

Despite its appealing aesthetics, there was a seething undertone of racial bias.

The Parkchester community we know today has come a long way from when it was ‘segregated racially’ before the 60s in the height of civil rights activism.

Jeffrey Gurock, in his latest captivating literary work, ‘Parkchester: A Bronx Tale of Race and Ethnicity,’ tells the story and history of one of the largest housing communities in New York City dating back before construction began in 1939.

Gurock, a Libby M. Klaperman professor of Jewish History at Yeshiva University, has written and edited 22 books that focused on semetic history in and around the metropolitan area for the past 43 years.

His works also include urban history, inter-ethnic history and what it means to be a Jew in New York.

Gurock’s first book was his Doctoral Dissertation almost 40 years ago which delved into the history of the Jewish community of Harlem.

During that time, he became interested in the relationship between Blacks and Jews enough so to start studying communities where Blacks and Jews lived near each other.

That first book, ‘When Harlem was Jewish’ examines the movement of the NYC Jewish population from the lower east side to upper east side of Manhattan.

Jewish culture has always been the focus of his books, however in his latest tome he says, “The Jews in this book are not the focus of this story, they are part of the story,” said Gurock.

The difference between his latest work is that it tells the story of a community which was Irish, Italian and Jewish and segregated racially until 1968.

“Today the community is (made up of) Bangladeshis, Malaysians, African Americans and Latinos,” said Gurock.

This latest introspect is about race and ethnic life in the Parkchester community and about people getting along with their ethnic neighbors.

The Bronx County Historical Society, which Gurock considers a gem, provided much of the research and photos he needed to complete his work.

Gurock now lives in Riverdale, but he is proud to say he lived in Parkchester for the first 25 years of his life with his parents among the first residents to ever call Parkchester home.

He reflects on growing up in Parkchester when his father was a firefighter and his mother was a bookkeeper who worked at the Empire State Building while remembering going to his orthodox synagogue in Parkchester too.

He points out that one of the six mosques located around Parkchester today was formerly Young Israel of Parkchester, the synagogue Gurock and his family attended.

“In the book there is some personal stuff, but it’s all rooted in solid scholarship. It’s important for the book,” Gurock said.

“Parkchester is about to celebrate its 80th anniversary,” said Gurock. “I thought I would write a book to both celebrate the community but also to look at it critically. It’s time for us to look at this community very seriously. Parkchester is a delight to all ethnic cultures as they strive “to get along, to live well together as neighbors and hopefully as friends,” said Gurock.

While researching and writing this book, Gurock also met some wonderful people in Parkchester.

“Writing this book has been a ‘labor of love,’” said Gurock. “It’s nice to return to where you came from,”

During a summer concert at the Metropolitan Oval, he gave out autographed copies of his book, became friends with the Bangledeshis; made a very good friend in one of the area’s Catholic priests, and met a young Muslim man. “One of the marvelous things is I’ve now met some of the first African Americans who moved into Parkchester and they remind me of my parents,” said Gurock.

Parkchester: A tale of Race and Ethnicity is a page turner, a history lesson, and a Bronx tale about a community and the various ethnic cultures who reside there.

Gurock’s next book signing event is on Monday, October 14 at his local synagogue, The Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, in the Bronx.

The book will be released on Tuesday, October 15.

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