Alef Betty: Modern Hebrew Arts

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Jewish Geography

Today's story comes from Arielle Mir, with whom I'm collaborating on the Urban Family Passover Haggadah.

Benjamin Lutwick and Lillian Singer, Arielle's grandparents.

In November 1942, when my grandfather, Benjamin Lutwick, was 24 years old, he was drafted into the United States Army. He left his family and wife-to-be – my grandmother, Lillian Singer – in Brooklyn, New York. His first stop was training in Miami Beach before heading off to dozens of destinations. He was moved from place to place in the army, often faster than his duffel bag, which was brought along on separate military transport.

Ben was selected for special training, as part of the Army Airways Communications System Units, largely because of his skills in amateur (or ham) radio. He obtained his ham radio license when he was a student at Tilden High School, and had since been known by his handle "W2JGD" (or among ham friends, Two Jolly Gin Drinkers).

In December of 1943, Ben and his small team were transferred to Davis-Monthan Army-Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona. It was the first time Ben had been away from his family for such a long stretch, and he missed celebrating the Jewish holidays with them. As spring came the following year, so did the Passover holiday, and the base made arrangements for local Tucson Jewish families to host servicemen who wanted to observe. Tucson was a small city then, with under 40,000 residents and even fewer Jews. One census taker estimated there were 480 Jews in Tucson in 1940. Nevertheless, several opened their homes to the servicemen.

A seder far from home

With some trepidation, Ben arrived at the home of a woman and her son, who had extended their hospitality to him for Passover. After a short while, he realized his worry was unfounded as he began to exchange stories with his kind host. She, too, was far from home. She had come to Tucson with her son for the dry heat, to help relieve his asthma and respiratory problems. Like Ben, she was from Brooklyn. In fact, her husband was still there, maintaining his business and traveling back and forth to visit until their son's condition improved. As if that weren't enough Jewish geography, her Brooklyn home was on E. 95th between Winthrop and Clarkson Avenues in the East Flatbush neighborhood. Ben's parents lived just one block away on E. 95th, between Winthrop Avenue and Rutland Road.

Ben's neighbor-host made him feel like he belonged during the holiday; in a way, her hospitality shortened the distance between his military assignment and his home. Though it would be five long years – including stays in India and China – before Ben would return to Brooklyn and to Lillian, those small gestures of family and home helped him through those difficult years.

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