Different Slants

Seeing the World from a New Angle

The Irish-Jewish Rebellion of the South Side Ten-Year-Olds………….by Robert M. Katzman

                         by Robert M. Katzman © April 5, 2008

This unlikely story of pre-adolescent solidarity is about one hour, during one day, on one quiet South Side Chicago street, in which an astonishing assault was mounted to stop one sadistic adult from tormenting one child.

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I don’t believe abused children ever really recover. I believe they burn. A low flame perhaps, but it’s on, all the time. Some evil person who thinks they’re safe, in control and free to do as they please with one of them never knows when that low flame will burst into a wildfire…and consume them. This story is about one of those times.

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When you read my story, a harsh story, think about what you would have done, if I had come to your door that mild summer day, fifty-five years ago, to ask you to leave your home to come help me.

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It may be harder than you imagine to answer my question, once you find out what really happened, in the end.

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But first, some essential historical background:

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In 1960, I lived on the South Side of Chicago, near 87th and Stony and I went to the Charles P. Caldwell Grammar School, where at ten I was in the fifth grade.

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My neighborhood was solidly Jewish and Irish.  Growing up at that time, it was as common for me to hear Yiddish accented English from Warsaw, and Gaelic accented English from Cork, as it is to hear to hear Spanish accents today from Mexico, Costa Rica and Honduras on the streets and stores of Chicago.

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The Irish arrived here first in very large numbers, more than a million after the 1848 Potato Famine devastated the lives of the poor in British-Protestant controlled Catholic Ireland. Many died of starvation and disease and many more fled to America for a new start.

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Then came the great 1880-1914 wave of Jewish immigrants, my ancestors, fleeing the poor and terror ridden shtetles of Eastern Europe, an area then known as the Pale where Jews from various bordering countries were forced to live in a narrow geographic corridor and who were periodically attacked and killed by rampaging Cossacks with the blessing of the Czarist government. Over two million came past Miss Liberty, on ships.

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The Jews and the Irish had much in common. Both lived in terror of a merciless enemy too powerful to defeat and both saw America as the promised land, where all that mattered was how hard you worked and not where you were from and what God you believed in. At least, that was the dream.

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(Read on …)