Looking for Dubrow’s

I sat in a Potbelly restaurant in the Garment District of Manhattan, wishing it were Dubrow’s Cafeteria. The problem? Dubrow’s closed in 1985. Still, I wished.

When my sister Jackie and I were little, we would come into the City with Mom on the Erie Lackawana and PATH trains. We’d head to see Grandpa Morris at his office, 450 7th Avenue. It was a wood paneled office, not fancy, that Morris shared with one other man, Jerry, each maintaining his own law practice in the days when solo practitioners in Manhattan might be able to make it. In truth, I don’t know how many clients Grandpa had then, in the ‘70’s. But he went to work each day, dressed meticulously in his Brooks Brothers suit and polished shoes, a gentleman’s hat when the weather called for it. And we his granddaughters would come into the City, meet at him at his office and use the water cooler – much to our delight.

For lunch, we would bundle up and head to Dubrow’s. The cafeteria line was magical. Those white-green lights over the endless dishes of food. We had our favorites, Jackie and I – cottage cheese, sour cream and tomatoes, maybe blintzes, canned fruit or Jell-O, too. I am not sure we ever took advantage of any of the cooked options at Dubrow’s. Those meals live in my mind’s eye, a bit fuzzy around the edges thanks to the passage of time since the days when little girls in dresses were a usual sight as folks dressed up to go into the City.

On some visits, we would go to Yolanda’s tie workshop. Yolanda’s upstairs space was filled with fabrics, work table in the center, high shelves all around that were crafted into Rome Parlon ties. Silk scraps surrounded us on the work table and floor — blue, black, striped, vibrantly colored and geometrically patterned. And the bags of triangles and oddly shaped scraps she gave us to take home – the texture and shining color rich in potential for play and projects!tie fabric

Over 4 decades later, I walk by 450 Seventh Avenue, site of that office with the water cooler, seeking fabric in the Garment District, wishing Morris was here by my side. Between him and Grandma Ruth – a decorator who knew where to get the right (read best) fabrics for home and clothing — they would know where to go. And, even better would be the narrative as we walked. Morris would point out the history and make connections to the place.

Grandpa did this throughout the City, wherever we were, telling the stories of the places we saw. In the Garment District, Morris would no doubt tell me about his father, my great grandfather, a shop foreman and union leader of a blouse-making shop around Broadway on the East Side. Just as he told us what show opened in what theater in what year in the Theater District and which house he helped fill with an audience for previews (when you did not pay to see previews, he would remind us), helping his clients and friends. Just as he described the Grand Concourse and the Bronx around The (Yankee) Stadium in its heyday. Just as recounted precise detail about the (Lower) East Side around 165 Eldridge Street, the tenement in which he grew up, his school where his teachers called him “a little noisy about his own ideas,” and University Settlement house across the street where he saw Eleanor Roosevelt up close.

Every Morris story was a mix of New York and family history, interwoven into one ongoing story, told masterfully. That’s what NYC is for me, still, one tapestry of interwoven history. Each time I walk NYC streets, I hear Morris’ voice giving history and connection.

My teacher Rabbi Larry Hoffman writes 1Lawrence Hoffman, Meeting House Essays: Sacred Places and the Pilgrimage of Life, LiturgyTrainingPublications, 1991. that there are three types of sacred places. First, are inherently sacred places such as the Grand Canyon and the burning bush – filled with awe. Second are places where something historically significant happened – say, Judah Maccabee defeated Mattathias or Jacob experienced God’s presence as he saw in his sleep a ladder between heaven and earth. And, third, are those that become sacred because of our creation, such as our synagogues, built on locations not inherently sacred, but which we dedicate as sacred.

These profound and collective examples speak at another level, too. Not to diminish the sacredness of our collective sacred sites or our religious places in any way, I turn to a sub-category of sacred place, that which is sacred to the individual, places of our personal history that provide meaning beyond their salient face. Looking out on 7th Avenue near Grandpa’s office wondering exactly where Dubrow’s lived, I know that Morris gave us history here, creating connection more than he ever knew.

Notes   [ + ]

1. Lawrence Hoffman, Meeting House Essays: Sacred Places and the Pilgrimage of Life, LiturgyTrainingPublications, 1991.