Perspective on Bronxville
To the Editor:
As a Jew with a Bronxville, New York, Post Office address, I thought your readers might be interested in some of my own observations of the town described by Harry Gersh in “Gentlemen’s Agreement in Bronxville” (February). As Mr. Gersh shows, Jews are excluded from home ownership within the “Holy Square Mile.” But there is a very fluid situation on the periphery of Bronxville. Mr. Gersh presented a black-and-white indictment which is quite accurate; but there are grays in the picture as well.
The 1959 Guide for Bronxville, published by the Bronxville Chamber of Commerce, contains a complete listing of residents in the area; my own name is one of nine Cohens listed. The impartiality of listings and the availability of advertising space to all businesses, regardless of the religious affiliation of the proprietors, are a credit to the Bronxville business community. . . . The Guide also reveals that there are some Jewish-owned businesses in Bronxville. It seems that Bronxville businessmen have a different attitude from those who control [real estate].
I live in an apartment-house co-op located at the intersection of Yonkers, Tuckahoe, and Bronxville. We look out across a beautifully-maintained park area at the opposite end of which are expensive Bronxville properties. Some 75 per cent of our FHA-financed co-op is occupied by Jewish families, the remaining 25 per cent by those of other faiths. The atmosphere is friendly, although socializing tends to follow denominational lines. We pay our taxes to Yonkers, take the N.Y. Central railroad at Tuckahoe, and receive our mail through the courtesy of the Bronxville Post Office. We use the same park, and when the river freezes over we skate on the same ice.
When our children enlist in the Boy Scouts, it is at the Bronxville Cabin, the nearest scout facility. Award night at the scouts reads some-what like “a Fourth of July orator’s dream” (to borrow Mr. Gersh’s phrase), and a small number of Jews are among those scouts regularly honored. Scouting in Bronxville is community-sponsored, without regard to church affiliation. As a parent, I have appeared at various scout meetings open to parents, but among the adults there was little communication. I would have been interested in functioning on an adult committee (I had spent three years as a Cubmaster in a previous community), but I wasn’t asked, and I never felt free to volunteer. . . . But my son experienced no intolerance while he was a scout.
Schooling for our youngsters is at “Bronxville 8,” a Yonkers school with a Bronxville tag. Its traditions are difficult for the Jewish students. Christmas pageants along religious lines are strongly entrenched; and, despite an increasing number of Jewish students, some teachers insist that the Jewish children participate. . . .
On the other hand, the Bronxville library, the best in the area, provided us with a pleasant surprise: the so-called Hayward Collection, which contains some 250 books dealing on Jewish subjects, including works by Salo W. Baron, Louis Finkelstein, Cyrus Adler, Judah L. Magnes, and even Theodore Herzl’s The Jewish State. . . . According to the Reporter, a local newspaper, “in 1938, the Misses Hayward presented $700 to the library for the purchase of books honoring the Jewish Race. The gift was designed as a protest against Adolf Hitler and was in memory of their father, Richard Hayward, first rector of Christ Church, a Christian priest who as such possessed a Jewish heritage, and their brother, Robert Otis.” More recently, the same two sisters established a parallel collection which concerns itself with the colored peoples. . . . Recently, my wife was present when Mr. James G. McDonald, the first U.S. Ambassador to Israel and a resident of Bronxville, presented an armful of issues of COMMENTARY to the library. . . .
Courses in adult education are offered at the Bronxville High School. I registered for one such course, “How to Invest”; it was attended predominantly by middle-aged women, and there was none of the communication that often takes place among Jews in adult education classes. But there was nothing that could be interpreted as intolerance, either.
We occasionally shop in Bronxville. I find the general atmosphere in the stores somewhat alien; but there are a number of Jewish shopkeepers, among them a personal friend who told us that he had received cooperation from the Chamber of Commerce and the Bank in setting up his business. He performs a needed service and is doing well. . . .
I checked Mr. Gersh’s story of real-estate restrictions within the incorporated village of Bronxville, and found his claims verified in a booklet about the Bronxville and Lawrence Properties, printed by the Lawrence office. Some excerpts follow: “The wise restrictions and sound development program laid down by William V. Lawrence half a century ago have been scrupulously carried forward by his heirs, both in the sale of residential properties and in the careful selection of tenants for the sixty splendid apartment groups. . . .” “Bronxville is actually a country village that has retained all its tranquil charm through planned growth and wise restrictions. . . .” “Ownership-management provides the highest service standards, and rigid social and financial restrictions assure desirable neighbors. . . .”
Mr. Gersh questions whether the same William Van Duzer Lawrence who founded the liberal Sarah Lawrence College could have fathered a policy of restriction. According to his heirs, he did.
I am not a social scientist, and so cannot evaluate with any authority my own experiences and those of my fellow Jews in suburbia. Nevertheless, it is difficult for me to envision the Holy Square Mile forever resisting the onslaught of the new America that so vigorously surrounds it.
David L. Cohen
To the Editor:
. . . Further proof of the charge that COMMENTARY “makes a mountain out of a molehill,” made by one of your readers in the “Letters” section of your February number, can be found in the very same number, in which seven valuable pages were devoted to shedding tears over community discrimination in Bronxville (“Gentlemen’s Agreement in Bronxville,” by Harry Gersh). I am sure that millions of Jews would gladly endure this ostracism and live happy and fruitful lives ouside the Gan Eden of Bronxville. . . . Would it not be possible for your magazine to deal with more serious problems, for example the brazen economic discrimination practiced in New York City and elsewhere against would-be Jewish job applicants? Here is something which hits one as a Jew right between the teeth—the denial of one’s right to earn a living. As for buying a house in Bronxville, the issue might have provided good copy for an article by Mr. Gersh, but neither I nor your other readers, I hope, can take the matter very seriously. . . .
New York City