By Alice Zappert Bonis
Editor’s note: This talk was given by Alice Zappert Bonis at the Holocaust memorial service on October 2 at the Temple Israel Cemetery.
When I was asked to share my memories of the Get Together Club my mind went to more than the storied kaffeeklatsch that ended each monthly meeting.
But first a little background.
As recounted by Rhonda Levine [in her book “Class, Networks, and Identity: Replanting Jewish Lives from Nazi Germany to Rural New York”], this part of New York state – by the middle [1930s] – had a thriving German Jewish community, mostly cattle dealers, many of whom were already involved with the local Binghamton synagogues and religious schools.
In the late ‘30s, they were joined by those who fled the Nazis from their homes in Germany, Austria [and] in central Europe, and who found homes in Binghamton, Whitney Point, Greene and Norwich for example. Among them were the families of Louie Rosenberg, Charlie Manasse, Steve and Carol Herz, Shelley Hubal and mine – the Zapperts, Schneiders and Platschecks.
Several years ago, I shared a photo with you, probably taken in 1940. Germaine Rosenberg is seated next to my mother Angela Zappert, who is holding a 2-year-old Louie on her lap.
I became curious how these newcomers had found each other and become close friends. Searching old Jewish Center Reporter Year Books, I found that the JCC, in late 1938, founded a Jewish Newcomers Club. Mystery probably solved. That club was initially chaired by Mrs. Izetta Dorfman.
Her husband, Dr. Maurice Dorfman, was the sponsor in 1938 for my father Dr. Robert Zappert. The two men had received their doctorates in chemistry at the University of Vienna in 1935. If it were not for Dr. Dorfman, I would not be here today, nor would the rest of my family, including my uncle Josef Schneider, whose anguish inspired the creation of the monument.
And so friendships were made, especially among the women, both living in the Triple Cities as well as the rural surrounding areas.
Then, the next influx of “newcomers” arrived as a result of Congress’ Displaced Persons Act of 1948, which allowed up to 200,000 DPs to enter this country. Our JCC sponsored in total more than 20 of these family units.
The Get Together club was formed the same year, 1948. A coincidence?
Although I can’t find it in the sources I have searched, my memory and impression are that the club reached out in particular to these DPs and that was on the agenda for most of the meetings. Several of the women became members and friends.
According to the reports in the annual JCC yearbooks, the club was comprised of women fortunate enough to establish new homes [who had] a desire to extend a helping hand where needed, to bring some cheer to the Jewish patients at the State Hospital [and] remembering the senior citizens at the Home for the Aged in Syracuse. In [its] earlier years, [they supported] Youth Aliyah and I particularly remember the collection and shipment of items to relocation centers and individuals in Israel. But, and I quote, “There are instances where we help but we keep it confidential.”
Those goals were met by dues and activities like the annual bake sale at Fowlers Department Store. My grandmother was featured in an article in the Binghamton Press making apple strudel and Sacher torte.
Their most cherished accomplishment was the reason we are here today. The dedication in 1952 of this memorial.
My actual memories are limited as I was only 7 in 1948 and 11 in 1952.
But, yes, I do remember the trips to different homes, waiting with the children and men until the business meeting was over. Yes, I remember the plentiful and delicious deserts. Yes, I remember in later years the meetings at the Old JCC on Front St.
Mostly I remember the enduring friendships: the friendships of our grandmothers, the friendships of our mothers. They came together for a bridal shower for my cousin Lucy Schneider. They came together to celebrate my Grandmother Louise Platscheck’s special birthday. They came together to help me celebrate my mother Angela Zappert’s 80th birthday.
As a daughter of the Get Together Club, I am sure I speak for the other children of the Get Together Club. I am extremely grateful to Rhonda Levine and her curiosity that led her to tell the story both of this monument and of the ceremony that had been held here annually. I am thankful she was able to tell the story in the words of members she was able to interview, among them my mother and her sister, Lilly Schneider.
I am also grateful that the Federation has revived the ceremony, and grateful that all of our communities’ rabbis participate: Kaddish once again for those whose names are enshrined in this monument.