The Great Plotnik

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

"Sittin' on Lebewohl Square..."

Stuyvesant Square isn't Stuyvesant Square anymore, even though the title of The Great Plotnik's song about it isn't about to change. The corner of 10th St. and 2d Avenue in the East Village, once filled with hobos drinking Purex-and-water, is now equally filled with hipsters drinking espresso from the coffee and cookie truck parked in the bus zone. Two of those hipsters are Plotnik and Brooklyn Bellybone.

Plotnik chased Belly around the fountain in the darkness, lit up by hundreds of taxi headlights and street lamps and the the general brilliance of ambient New Yorkiness. "Come on, Papa," she cried and Plotnik chased after her, one way and then the other. "Papa!" she called. "What's keepin' yuh?"

For a safe spot, where Plotnik couldn't capture her, she would stand on the plaque that honors Abe Lebewohl. He would have liked that. Abe Lebewohl didn't have safe spots in his life for a long time.

Here is his story:


"Lebewohl was born in Kulykiv, Ukraine, in 1931. When the Soviets occupied western Ukraine, Abe’s father was arrested and exiled to Siberia, and Abe and his mother were banished to Kazakhstan. The family was reunited and traveled to western Ukraine and then to Poland. They illegally escaped Poland, and made their way through Austria to a refugee camp in Italy, where they spent five years before immigrating to America in 1950.

"For a few years, Lebewohl worked as a waiter at a twelve-seat coffee shop on Second Avenue and E. 10th Street. In 1954 the family purchased the property, and gradually expanded it into a 250-seat restaurant, the Second Avenue Deli. The deli became famous for its extensive menu of Ukrainian and Jewish delicacies and its stupendous sandwiches. Customers included such luminaries as Joe DiMaggio, Muhammad Ali, Jackie Mason, Bob Hope, Joan Rivers, Raoul Felder, and Milton Berle.

"Abe (also known as Abie) endeared himself to the East Village community with his deep humanity and unflagging generosity, and he often provided free food to homeless people, striking workers, and neighborhood events. In tribute to the Yiddish theaters clustered on and around Second Avenue, Lebewohl created a “Walkway of Yiddish Actors” at the restaurant’s entrance.

"On March 4, 1996, Abe Lebewohl was fatally shot while depositing his daily receipts at a nearby bank. More than 1,500 mourners attended his funeral at the Community Synagogue on East 6th Street. In tribute to his memory this park was named Abe Lebewohl Park.

"This triangular space in front of the St. Mark’s-in-the-Bowery Church dates to 1799. It was originally acquired, along with the triangle at East 10th and Stuyvesant Streets, for street purposes and was developed as a sitting area in 1938. The park is host to a greenmarket and a summer concert series. It contains a memorial flagpole that was dedicated in 1944 by the Ukrainian American Society."

So Isabella Louise, herself the great-great-grandaughter of at least two Ukrainians, stands on Abe Lebewohl's plaque in The Big Apple and calls herself "safe." Plotnik likes this a lot.


At 8:24 PM, Anonymous jj-aka-pp said...

and now I will sing a chorus of "Stuyvesant Square" to my cat. Great story. Sorry for the loss of Abie. I don't think I'd heard the whole story.


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