Paper Bags

My grandmother Malka was fourteen when her father, my great-grandfather Moshe, finally raised the money to bring her and her mother from their small Polish village to Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Moshe had settled in Brooklyn four years earlier in 1935, with the help of a distant relative who had moved there a few years before him. Malka would later describe her departure from Poland as a great escape; a few months later, the door would close for her relatives back home, as Poland was quickly embroiled in World War II. My great-grandparents were self-described intellectuals who had socialized and made a living only within their Jewish community in Poland, but in Brooklyn, they became small business owners in a diverse and dynamic economy. The M. Leuben Paper Bag store opened on Debeviose Street, in Williamsburg in 1940. Moshe operated out of a single room on the ground floor of a tenement building, where paper bags were piled all the way up to the ceiling. Customers had to navigate a small aisle to reach the counter, where my great-grandfather could be found marking bundles of bags with a big black piece of chalk. I don’t know how Moshe landed on the paper bag business or who his suppliers were, but his business was successful. My great grandmother stayed at home, studying books in Yiddish and learning English. My great-grandparents quickly moved from a one bedroom apartment to a two-bedroom apartment. My grandmother was able to attend college, studying first at Brooklyn College and then at Herzliya Teacher’s College, leaving the world of paper bags behind.    

Place(s): Poland, Williamsburg, Debeviose Street
Year: 1939

– Naomi Fischer

Relationship:  Grandchild of im/migrant Grandchild of im/migrant