Oral histories are intimate conversations between and among people who have generously agreed to share these recordings with BHS’s archives and researchers. Please listen in the spirit with which these were shared. BHS abides by the General Principles & Best Practices for Oral History as agreed upon by the Oral History Association and expects that use of this material will be done with respect for these professional ethics.
Every oral history relies on the memories, views, and opinions of the narrator. Because of the personal nature of oral history, listeners may find some viewpoints or language of the recorded participants to be objectionable. In keeping with its mission of preservation and unfettered access whenever possible, BHS presents these views as recorded.
The audio recording should be considered the primary source for each interview. Where provided, transcripts created prior to 2008 or commissioned by a third party other than BHS, serve as a guide to the interview and are not considered verbatim. More recent transcripts commissioned by BHS are nearly verbatim copies of the recorded interview, and as such may contain the natural false starts, verbal stumbles, misspeaks, and repetitions that are common in conversation. The decision for their inclusion was made because BHS gives primacy to the audible voice and also because some researchers do find useful information in these verbal patterns. Unless these verbal patterns are germane to your scholarly work, when quoting from this material researchers are encouraged to correct the grammar and make other modifications maintaining the flavor of the narrator’s speech while editing the material for the standards of print.
All citations must be attributed to Brooklyn Historical Society:
[Last name, First name], Oral history interview conducted by [Interviewer’s First name Last name], [Month DD, YYYY], [Title of Collection], [Call #]; Brooklyn Historical Society.
These interviews are made available for research purposes only. For more information about other kinds of usage and permissions, see BHS’s rights and reproductions policy.
Oral history interview conducted by Liz H. Strong
April 11, 2018
Call number: 2018.006.13
STRONG: All right. So, my name is Liz Strong. Today is April 11th, 2018. This is
Oral History Interview for the Muslims in Brooklyn Public History Project at the
Brooklyn Historical Society. Marion, just introduce yourself, and let me know
when and where you were born.
SEDOROWITZ: Oh, okay. My name is Marion Sedorowitz. I was born in Bushwick
General Hospital in 1954, and we lived in Brooklyn and then moved out to Long
Island, so -- I'm not sure how much more you want from me.
STRONG: I -- I would love as many details as you're willing to share about your
childhood. I am hearing a little bit of clicking though. I think it may be from
your cell phone. Would you mind turning your cell phone off?
SEDOROWITZ: My cell phone?1:00
STRONG: Yeah. Sometimes --
SEDOROWITZ: Wow, okay.
STRONG: -- it just being on makes a weird signal in the sensitive --
STRONG: -- microphones.
STRONG: Let's see if that fixes it. [pause] Okay. I think that's a little
better. Sorry about that.
SEDOROWITZ: Is it? Oh, wow.
STRONG: Isn't that crazy?3:00
STRONG: So, tell me what you remember about your -- your parents, your siblings.
And don't worry about that checklist. I have notes in front of me, so we'll hit4:00
all the points.
SEDOROWITZ: Oh, okay.
STRONG: Just -- just whatever you remember about your family growing up.
SEDOROWITZ: Well, I have a -- a younger brother, three years younger than5:00
myself. And in 1960, we -- we were living in Brooklyn, but my parents had been
building a house in Hauppauge and -- Long Island -- and they decided to move us
out there, and we moved out. But most of my family, cousins, and friends, at
that times, were in Brooklyn or in Middle Village, Queens.6:00
So, it was a big transition for me personally, even though I was only going into
the second grade. It felt like my world had turned around because I really loved
being in Brooklyn. But my parents felt that they could give us a better life --
my brother and then myself -- so that we could -- the education in the schools
-- in the public schools, at that time, they were, they felt, not helping us.7:00
And they couldn't really afford, you know, any kind of private school.
So, out in Long Island when we finally moved out there in the 19-- early 1960s,
my brother was too young to go to school yet, but I went to school. And I found
out that they were right because I was severely in mathematics, which I thought
I was great at -- at the -- in second grade, I thought I was something else, was
I was -- really didn't know anything. And they were a lot more advanced in8:00
second grade than I was in the public system in New York.
So, it took a lot of work, a little depression -- depressing for me. But
finally, I began to enjoy that because we did have room to play around, grass
instead of really just the sidewalks and the -- the train. We had the -- the L
was right near the -- right down the block from us.9:00
But I did miss all my family. But my parents tried their best. They -- we --
they had people down, our cousins down, or we would -- they would make sure we
would go into Queens and into our mosque in Brooklyn to -- either for religious
classes, or for the holidays, or, you know, for any other occasion, social
occasions, that we would always be a part of the -- the -- the Brooklyn Moslem10:00
Mosque. So, I thought that was pretty good, and I thought that was great.
I -- in where I was living, my brother, and I were the only Muslims in the
school district. I mean the Hauppauge School District wasn't that big, at that
time, so you know, you would know if there was somebody there who was a Muslim11:00
in your school. So it was good, but it was also, you know, bad as a child
because you were picked out and determined that, you know, "Could you educate
the rest of the class about what is being a Muslim about?" I wasn't a public
speaker at that time, so -- or neither am I now, but the point of it is, is that
I -- I got a little frustrated with that. But like, obviously, I grew out of12:00
that, and --
One of the biggest things I have to credit my -- my parents with was that they
didn't shy from the fact that they were Muslim, even though that was -- even in
the 60s, that wasn't the majority of people. And everybody was either Jewish or
Christian, but they never shied from it, and so, I was brought up that way. So,
I never felt that I had to worry about telling anybody that I was a Muslim.13:00
And then there were some trying times during that time because of the -- the
Black Panthers, Malcolm X, and how people saw the religion, and how it was
presented. Even in the media then, how little it was as it is today, it was
still presented not in a positive fashion. And especially in -- in -- in the
metropolitan area, New York and Brooklyn. So, it -- it got a little frustrating
at that time, but they still -- the organization still in the '60s was very14:00
strong here in Brooklyn. There were over 700 member families in the '60s, and
the -- over the years, obviously, as people have become more educated, and also
they moved out of the state and living all over the United States, that that
membership got less and less over time. As well as -- as the educated children
that were, I guess, the -- that were born in between the '40s and the '60s, they
became more involved with the activities other than the organization. And -- and
eventually, they ended up marrying non-Muslim and were sort of raising families,
Although, I think in their hearts because of what I hear from them -- and I
still keep in touch with a lot of people -- that they still remember the
culture, the organization, the feeling of belonging to something, and the happy
times. And also the food. You know, that's the biggest thing, they re-- They all16:00
-- they all start talking about the food of our -- or the Tatar food, the Polish
food, the Russian food. And they, kind of, have smiles of talking about their
mother or their grandmother and how they would make this and how -- how they
enjoyed it, so --17:00
There are still those things, and we do have a membership here that are very
loyal. And they may not come here, but they are here in their spirits. They
support the mosque, and maybe they're getting -- some of them are getting older.
Well, I'm even getting a lot older than I thought I would be at this point, but
-- you know. It's -- we're still pretty much dedicated.18:00
Our mission in life, and even my mission in life, is to make sure that this
organization is recognized for our ancestor's efforts to start something from
nothing and create an organization that had a major group of people following
it. And they were able to build a -- have a brick-and-mortar place in on
Brooklyn -- in Brooklyn, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and also have a place for
burial for people for their members. And so, that is a pretty big19:00
accomplishment. That's what my -- my intent is to make sure that they're
remembered for all their efforts. And that's about it, I guess.
STRONG: Tell me a little bit about your -- your own ancestry. You told me a
little on the phone about your family history. What do you -- what do you know
about that story?
SEDOROWITZ: Well, I know that my -- from listening to the stories from my
parents. My mother, her story is a little bit shorter because I'm trying to
still find out that information. So, she -- basically, her mother was -- this is
her mother's second marriage, and so she had children, I think two sons, from an20:00
earlier marriage. She was a widow and then -- and then she married my
grandfather. They had three children, and -- and my grandmother died in
childbirth with the third child. She died of that. The -- the -- the third child survived.
But because of that my -- my grandfather worked with the furriers within the
furrier union, and so he didn't really -- in those days, the men never would21:00
even think about raising young children because my mother was the -- was the
oldest and was three. So, they had to split the children up. And my mother and
my uncle grew up in Connecticut -- in a farm up in Connecticut, and my -- my
aunt grew up with a family in New Jersey. But it didn't mean that they were22:00
disconnected, but they just were separated because they needed to separate them
at that time.
My father's side is a little bit more fleshed out because of his stories, and --
and it -- my father remembers things as a child because that's really his23:00
stories of when he was in -- well, it's now Belarus. It was a small town. But he
really wasn't born in -- in Europe or in Belarus. He was born in Freehold, New
Jersey. So, what happened is -- is along the way, they -- they -- because of the
[Great] Depression and the things were not really good in the United States, his
father decided to get a job in the railroad and would be away from home, and
send his wife and the two sons to -- back to Belarus to the town. And that's how24:00
they existed for a long time, separate, and he would, I guess, send money.
And they had a farm, and my father talked about the -- the -- the -- the lamb,
the -- the baby lambs, and he would talk about the chickens, and all of that
there. My mother had the same experience, but it was in Connecticut with the --
all -- all the -- the farm animals. But they had to leave because of the25:00
impending of the war coming, World War II. And because his -- my father's
brother was so much older than my father, maybe six or seven years older. I'm
not really sure off the top of my head. But that basically because of the war,
they were going to -- the Russian army was, kind of, looking for young men to
come and serve in the army there. And they -- since they were American citizens,
they returned back.
But I always enjoyed listening to my father's stories. Some of them -- he was26:00
still traumatically affected by them, too, and -- and some of them were very
happy stories. That's, kind of, the history of where they came from.
STRONG: Give me an example of a story that -- that you remember or that sticks
SEDOROWITZ: Well, I mean [laughter] the one that hits my mind, and it's a27:00
traumatic story but is -- it -- it's -- you know, well, he was trying to also
teach us a lesson about animals. Because they were on a farm, their animals were
not just their pets. They were food. But he didn't know that as a kid, okay. So,
there, they had some sheep, and the -- one of the sheep, I guess, was
slaughtered and he did not -- when he realized that, he did not want to eat28:00
lamb. And I remember my mother could not serve lamb in the house even after he
was older, "No, that's okay. I don't want any lamb."
SEDOROWITZ: And that was very traumatic for him because -- but he always told us
about, you know, in his mind, you-- "Your pets don't -- don't -- you know, don't
treat them as, you know, that somebody very close to you." But I'm like, "No,
Dad, that was because it was different times then." But that was, kind of, how30:00
he got what he got from that. So it's very, very funny. But my father was a very
funny and kind man, quiet-spoken.
My mother was the -- I guess the do-- the doer, the organizer. And I think
that's a lot because of she had to be an adult very early in life and take
charge of things. So I guess it worked in their relationship. You know, you
always need somebody that does things and organizes things, and then somebody31:00
that, you know, follows through. So, I think they had a good marriage. You know,
they were very happy.
STRONG: What, ultimately, brought them here to be part of this -- this mosque
and this community?32:00
SEDOROWITZ: Well, the -- this mosque was started, like, in 1907. So, my parents
were born in -- in -- they were both born in the United States, so they were
born in 1918 and '19. So, they -- the mosque, they knew about the mosque, and
the mosque was originally called the Lithuanian Tatar Society because -- even
though town where my -- my father came from was very close to the border of now33:00
that's Lithuania and Belarus. But those borders changed all the time. So, one
year they could be Lithuania, and another year they could be Polish, and then
another year they could be Belarusian, or White Russians as my -- or my parents
But they lived very close in different -- close towns, and we're finding that34:00
out because in September, we're going to do this Tatar heritage tour. And I'm --
I'm working with people that are fellow Tatars and also related to us. Their
names are spelled a little different but they're -- you could absolutely know
that that's our names. So, there are a lot of people there, and they're very
excited, and we're very excited. I always wanted, because of the stories, to see35:00
the town, you know, where my father grew up.
My mother's family, I think, was basically from Kleck Novogrudek. We're going to
go there too. But within a -- like 100 kilometer, right -- what's that 60-mile
radius? That's where the towns where that they grew -- and they -- they -- the
towns weren't just settled by Tatars. There were Christians and Jewish people,36:00
and everybody lived hand in hand. Nobody had an issue with anybody else, and so
it -- the -- the villages worked. And -- and these towns, they still have a
small amount of Tatar community, and there they have all -- all the
denominations of Jewish, and Christian, and Muslims in those towns. So, it will
be exciting to see that, you know? So, we're ex--
So, it was very easy for them to assimilate because the organization was here37:00
and established. They -- they were working from some other place because the
building was, like, purchased in the 1920s. But I could see my father and mother
were both very part of their youth organization at the time. I have a -- I was
looking through some of my stuff -- a -- well, I guess, it's a mimeograph? I'm
not even sure what it is -- those. Remember those? I don't know. You probably38:00
don't remember. Mimeograph of newsletters that my -- my -- my mother was,
apparently, the president of the youth organization, and so they did a little
newsletter about their activities and everything. Because my parents, really,
didn't get together until my mother was in her thirties, like early thirties.
But most people, at that time, were already married. They were one of the last39:00
of their group to -- to get married.
So, she did a lot of things and traveled a lot, my mother. I suppose so, but I
guess she got all of that out before she decided she had to get settled down and
have kids, which is nice too. So, I guess, that was really how I know that they
-- that was very important to them because I could see that. And also, how they40:00
made sure we understand the traditions of -- of the Tatars and the -- how it
related to Islam. And also, my mother teaching me how to prepare all of these
dishes as well. I'll have a little --?41:00
STRONG: Oh, yeah.
SEDOROWITZ: I'm going to take a little sip.
STRONG: Any time. You notice that I'm sniffling, and drinking, and all these42:00
things as well, so don't even worry about it.
SEDOROWITZ: Okay. Because of my throat, wow.
STRONG: Let me know if you want to take a break or anything.43:00
SEDOROWITZ: Yeah. Okay. Sure, sure.
STRONG: Tell me about some of the -- the education you got from your parents
about these traditions or about Islam. Any specific memories that come to mind?
SEDOROWITZ: Well, we definitely -- one of the things is they made sure that we44:00
attended Friday-night classes where a group of -- of -- of other, mostly men I
think were -- who were either imams or interested in the religion would teach
us. So, it wasn't really a formal teacher, but they -- they knew the Qur'an, and
they knew the Tatar way of their religion in terms of how we would practice, the
holidays, the prayers.
One of the biggest difference is, you know, and -- and -- another Muslim, let's45:00
say, from the Middle East would say that we -- we're -- we practice different,
way different than they practice. We're all -- we're Sunni. That's our sect,
Sunni sect, and that's, like, the majority of Muslims are Sunni. But basically,
we -- one of the biggest things is prayer five times. That's something that they
did not practice there.46:00
The history of the Tatars is that they really were from Mongolia, Turkey, and --
and Genghis Khan is a very important part of that. And he -- his brother was one
that was doing -- with his group of Tatars, going and doing a lot of -- they47:00
were really warriors and they would -- they were going through Turkey, and
that's where they picked up Islam. And then they were asked by the Polish prince
and the Lithuanian prince to help with -- well, I mean -- was he a prince? He
was --? I think he was a king, King Vytautas, was to help them secure their
kingdoms because they were getting a lot of people trying to overtake it. So,
they did that, and they -- they were so grateful that they said, "Listen, stay48:00
here. Help us protect our land, and -- and we'll give you land, we'll give you
rights." And I guess they said, "Yes, let's do that."
And, of course, the -- those -- like Genghis Khan, they really didn't have,
like, last names, so basically -- and they were men and where are they going to
find the women? So, they picked Christian women or Jewish women, and they49:00
married them, and converted them, and they took the -- the women's last name.
So, they -- they didn't have those Polish or Russian-sounding names before, but
that's what -- what happened. They -- and they assimilated into the culture of
that country -- those countries at that time. So, praying five times was -- was
something that that was, like, not listed as an important thing to do.50:00
But when the holidays came and Ramadan, the holy month, fasting was very
important for the 30 days, and also going to the mosque, and Friday night, like,
is our Sabbath. So, we -- very important in terms of opening the mosque, and
also teaching, and having religious activity at -- it's -- it's a sign of
respect. And so, Friday-night classes were the classes that we would go to.51:00
And being out in Long Island, my mother didn't drive. We had to take a taxi and
the Long Island Railroad, which was really bad in those days. You think it's bad
now, but it was really bad then but -- and we -- and then we'd have to get off
in Jamaica and -- and -- and then take another bus that take -- would take us
right on to Grand Street and then we would be able to get here. So, it was,
literally, maybe a three hour, two-and-a-half to three-hour trip on Friday,52:00
which is the last thing a kid wanted to do when they had their weekend, you
know? But it was a chance to see my cousins and -- and play with them, and --
and the religious classes were like, "Oh, okay, we'll -- we'll do that."
What we did, they taught us Arabic, they taught us these prayers. They taught us53:00
the essential way of praying upstairs and -- and meaning as best as they could.
And I'm -- I guess we're fortunate in that.
And it was up to our parents to make sure that -- it wasn't really like a school
or anything, but up to our parents to make sure we attended. And, like my mother
would make sure that we would continue to learn when the classes were out. So,
summer was, like, we had to go and spend every day, like a half an hour reading
the Qur'an, and that was torture. It really was.54:00
SEDOROWITZ: I have to be honest because, you know, you're dealing -- the -- the
problem, as I see it now, that they taught us the prayers, but we didn't
understand the -- the language. If we had learned Arabic then we could55:00
understand the prayers and the meaning. The transliteration -- and they tried.
We had books with transliteration. They created, in the 1940s, what they called
the Blue Book.
STRONG: This organization did?56:00
SEDOROWITZ: Yes and -- which has all the prayers that you essentially need and a
little primer on Islam. And it is really wonderful, and it -- it also did it
phonetically and they trans-- and they translated it into English. So, you had
an idea, but it's just, like, kind of how the Bible is. We needed some other
kind of story to help us.57:00
When I would go years ago into the doctor's office, and they would have a Bible
there, but -- and it would be like in the story form. And I would open it up and
read it because we do believe in the Old Testament. So, we would read -- I would
read that, and it was, like, fascinating. It was great stories, but it didn't
translate to us in -- in -- in -- in here because of the -- the language
situation. But we knew that it was important, that it is respect out of -- with58:00
your -- your parents, and -- and stuff -- that we made sure that we learned
And I could be nowhere near as my uncle, Ibrahim Ratkewitch, did because my
uncle was not only an imam, but he also was someone, as a child, that memorized59:00
the Qur'an. And that was a big celebration when he was in Europe, and they
always talked about that celebration. So, we had a very high honor for that. And
he also -- he was very serious about Islam, but he was also broadminded in that
he read everything about all the religions. And he would -- he do a lot of work
for the mosque in terms of working with other mosques. So, he was very good in
Unfortunately, he -- he -- he -- he went to Mecca in a hajj. And he -- his wife
had passed away, my aunt, about two years before, and he had had a heart attack.
But he -- he -- he got well and then he went with another companion, another man60:00
who -- who also had been several times on the hajj. So he was -- this was his
moment because this is a dream come true for him. And he -- they were going to
go to Egypt first and then make it to do the hajj.61:00
But what happened is -- is that he did make it, and the unfortunate thing, he
got heat stroke there. And he passed away in Mecca, and -- which is the most, I
guess, respected, heavenliest thing you could possibly do is to pass away in
Mecca. But it was a very hard thing to try to get his -- his body out of Mecca
to be buried with his wife.
But -- I guess, there were a few people who -- who had the feeling that he might
not make it back, and I was one, my mother was one. And I -- I just knew that
something was going to happen, that he wasn't going to make it back. And he knew62:00
because he said to me -- one day, he said to me, "I -- I don't think I'm going
to see my cousin's daughter being born." Alyssa. "I'm not going to -- I'm not
going to get to see Alyssa being born." But I thought it was because he got
diagnosed with macular degeneration. But then I thought about it, and I realized
that he was trying to tell me something. So, I think he knew. This was his63:00
calling and he needed to do this, so he did.
And I mean it was a sad time, but for him, we -- he became Hajj Imam Abraham
Ratkewitch. So that was -- that was very interesting. And so, we -- we learned a
lot from that experience about that, you know, in trying to do the hajj. It's
very exhaustive, and extensive, and -- I don't know. We'll probably -- it is64:00
something that is we're obligated to do, but I don't know if I can virtually do
it because it is scary in a sense because it's always hot there. So, I'm -- I'm
going to take a moment for a drink.
STRONG: Oh, yeah, of course.65:00
SEDOROWITZ: But then that was funny that that happened that way.
STRONG: I'm curious a little bit about -- you mentioned in second grade when you
moved out to Long Island that you -- you missed Brooklyn because it had been,
kind of, like this ideal place for you. Can you talk to me more about your life
before second grade, and describe the neighborhood where you lived and how you played?
SEDOROWITZ: Yeah. Well, we lived in -- in Granite Street in -- on -- in Bushwick66:00
right near Bushwick Avenue and the -- the el train. I'm not sure. I couldn't
tell you whether it was the -- the M or the -- not -- it wasn't the L train but
-- but the elevated train when I say el train. I think it was either the M or
whatever. But basically, we lived in an apartment. We did live in the projects
in Brooklyn on Cook Street first and then we moved to -- to Granite Street. And67:00
so, we were in an apartment, and we'd walk to school -- or I walked to school
with my -- what -- who -- I guess it was my mother. Or, you know, maybe my
father picked me up. My father worked. He could walk to work. So, he worked in a
Chevrolet, Grove Chevrolet it was, and that was just up the block near the --
where the -- what's -- Jackie Robinson Parkway is. But, yeah so he lived right
over there. I mean he worked right over there, and we lived like right by there.68:00
So that was -- it was that and we --
I had -- there was a lot of younger people on our block, and I had a lot of fun.
You know, we'd play all those street games that we would play. And it was very
sad for me to lose all of that because everything was -- seemed like right69:00
around me. I wanted to go down the block for bubblegum, there it was, go right
-- right around the block. Okay, you had to pick up the bread, or the milk, or
whatever, but you -- you -- you got bubblegum or a -- what they called it --
Chewy Chunky -- Chunky? It was this little square with raisin and lots of
chocolate. They're like a penny a piece, or two for a penny, or something like70:00
that. And -- I think it must have been two for a penny because I would share it
with my friend Jackie at the time. And -- and there were a lot of boys and
girls. We'd play stoopball, or, you know, all the other -- all the other games
that we play. There was no lack of -- of fun, and they --
And even those trucks would come down, not only for the ice cream, but they
would come down, and you would have those amusement ride on the truck like a71:00
little a ca-- a carousel, a little Ferris wheel. And you just come down the
block and -- and a couple of those things, and we would, you know, go in those things.
But my parents were -- had it planned because they had purchased this property
out in Hauppauge that they were going to move there. So every weekend, we'd pile72:00
in the car and go -- go there and live in -- in the shell of a house for the
weekend and then come back on -- on Sunday, you know. So -- and it was like
every -- every weekend in the summer, we were there. You know, my mother was
doing what she needed to and -- whether it was painting or whatever. Because in
those days, people -- my parents, literally, built their own house. They build a
Cape Cod from scratch, I mean literally. There wasn't even electricity at some
points in the beginning. Well water. And they built their own house.
My uncle was an electrician, so he did the -- the -- the wiring and everything,73:00
and in those days, they get past inspection and we -- we -- we lived in that
house for quite a long time, you know, until they got a good offer from somebody
because it was right -- it happened to be like 100 feet from the Long Island
Expressway, which we thought it was going to go through our property. And it was
going to be eminent domain when they were trying to go to build that, but it74:00
just missed it by 100 feet. And so, our property became now an important thing
if you put businesses up there. So, my parents sold that and then they moved to
Huntington. And then my brother now lives in the house over there in Huntington.
So, it was good for them, and the property was very good. My parents always75:00
talked about owning land, owning your own place. That that was the goal in life,
and that's -- you know, I followed that goal. Buy your own home and -- and --
and, you know, it's very important to have land. And it's been good for actually
our whole family by doing that. I don't know for the next generation if that's
so much going to be the plan, but that really was the plan then.76:00
They truly believed in that ownership, and they -- they loved United States. My
father said he would never go. My mother never wanted to go to -- back to the --
because she never was there, and she never really wanted to go there. She -- she
was more like traveling in other areas, you know.77:00
STRONG: That reminds me. Can you tell me the story of coming back through Ellis Island?
SEDOROWITZ: Oh, yeah. Oh, you know, the last trip back, well, my father was too
-- still too young to be separated from his mother, so -- but my uncle was old78:00
enough to be separated as an adult male. So, they were put on two separate lines
to check then on the health and as well as going through immigration for their
passport and information. That, as they were going through my -- my father and
his mother, they spelled the name Ratkewitch, you know, phonetically, so it was
not spelled -- today, it's not spelled as it is in -- in Europe. And my uncle
got a completely different name from them as Rotkowitz. So, when they came out
of the line, and, I guess, nobody wanted to say anything about changing at the
time because they just wanted to get in there. And it was like really weird79:00
because they -- he had a birth certificate that said a different name.
So, it was -- I guess in that time, you know, things were so -- like I'm sure a
lot of people were leaving Europe and returning to the United States, and I
guess that's what happened. And so, they had to -- my -- my uncle, finally, as
he, a little bit later in life, said we can't have two different names. It
doesn't make sense. Because there were other Ratkewitchs as well, but they --80:00
they were somewhat related on a second, or third removed, or -- or cousin. I'm
not sure of that definition so much because I know it's a little confusing. But
so, they said, "No, we want to be both the same name." So, my uncle changed his
name back to that and so. But it's -- it's fascinating what happened.
STRONG: I'm curious also about how -- you know, you have uncles and cousins all81:00
living in this part of Brooklyn together. How did -- how did this part of
Brooklyn grow that community, and how did you guys fit in to the local culture
here? And what foods were there in common? You know, what -- what was -- what
was life like, and why was it -- why was it good for your community here?
SEDOROWITZ: Well, because of where they came from, they worked very closely with82:00
the Jewish population. The-- they felt most comfortable with them because, one,
the Jewish people didn't eat pork, and they -- they didn't pork. And also, a lot
of the foods they ate were the same foods that -- that the Jewish people ate.
So, when it came down to where to live in -- most of them settled in
Williamsburg, Brooklyn, which was close to the Jewish community, and in the
Lower East Side, which was close to the Jewish community. And they also -- and
some people went to a community in Massachusetts, which I don't know too much
about. But that's really, really how they settled with that and they --83:00
The foods -- because they always talk as well lovingly about the food, the
pickles, the, you know, corned beef, the pastrami, or -- or cheeses. The smoked
fish, you know, the lox, sable, herring. So, these were all the foods of their84:00
traditions. And then there were these things that were -- and, of course,
perogies or we call them kalduny, Russians call them pelmeni. There's different
names for them. But we had other dishes like babkas, which doesn't relate to the
Russian -- or the Jewish babka, but it's a different kind of babka with layers
of dough like filo layers, but it's not really filo, but that's the difference.85:00
There's a lot of little difference, and that might be the Tatar part of that.
And from what I see now, since -- let's just face it. In the '60s and the '70s,
the only way you could communicate to those people back home were through
letters. And, really, they really talked about very little things because they
were really looked at. Every let-- every letter, every packages were opened and86:00
-- and looked at because of communism then. And so, even though we, as an
organization, did send a lot of things there, it would be -- it was very
difficult to make sure that they actually received it. And you -- if you send
money and small little things or they asked for jeans, at that time, that they
-- they could sell on the black market to -- to make ends meet. But they were
really hurting in those days. So, I know, the organization made an attempt to87:00
try to help them.
Nowadays, through the internet, I'm speaking on a daily basis to people in
Belarus, Lithuania, and Poland through Facebook Messenger. It's just fabulous,
you know? And so we -- I could see that a lot of the foods that they have are
very similar, and also the -- the -- the Tatar influence on the food, which my88:00
-- my parents, my mother especially didn't say that, "Oh, this is Tatar." It
just was just what she knew when she's in Connecticut, how to make these things
and because this is what we made. But there was not enough background, and I --
you know, I can't blame her because, you know, that wasn't -- they didn't think89:00
about those things. They're just thinking about existing and -- and just, you
know, going on with life, not really looking at, like, we have foodies today and
stuff like that. It was just that.
But today, we look at it fondly as, "Wow, they -- they were delicious." I mean,90:00
they weren't spicy when you look at that, but they were delicious in how they --
how they were. They were also fatty, so you can't really eat a lot of it, you
know, when you have it, but it is -- they -- they truly are delicious.
STRONG: I'm curious about your experience as a young person in this building,
not just as classes, but like the community, the other children that you got to
know, your relationship with prayer, your relationship with the organization.
What was it like being a young person and a teenager here?91:00
SEDOROWITZ: Well, it was very comfortable I would think. As -- as a young
person, it was mostly classes and then really close with families. Going to one
another's houses, and they would play cards, and they -- and we -- we just have
fun in playing with the kids.92:00
But as I got older and like in the teenage years, they had a youth organization
that was pretty active. It was always active. There was always a group of people
that were doing things socially. So, we would do different trips as a group. I
was -- towards the later part, I was probably -- my age was the -- the last
group that really got into the youth organization. My brother never joined it
because it was already dissolved at that time. It was -- it was a great time.
We'd go bowling. The things that, you know, kids did as a group; bike trips, car93:00
trips, camping. We did camping trips. And then it kind of dissolved because most
people were in college at that point in time, and that wasn't their -- their focus.
And when I went to college then there was a group of people that I always hung
around with because there was another organization of Tatars different than us,
but that was in College Point that also we would interact socially with. And94:00
some of the older generation, like let's say 10 years older than I am, would --
actually married people from that other organization. And so, they -- we would
do trips with their young people, camping trips or boating up the -- up the
Hudson River, or one of those Bear Mountain cruises, or different other kinds of
trips. And so, it was a lot of fun. And I got to know a lot of people and -- not
just from our organization, but they were fellow Tatars and so they also had a
So, we created another newsletter. We called it Anur and -- the light. And we --
we had different things that we did. We had people that would write poems. You
know, we're the children of the -- the '70s, we're -- you know? So we're --
people writing poems, people doing different things, you know? And so, we
enjoyed that but then that dissolved, I guess, after doing it for a few years,
you know? Because, I mean, it was a lot of time and effort. We're mailing96:00
things, we're typing things, you know? Then we had got to xe-- now, we were
xeroxing. We're not mimeographing, but we're xeroxing. But still, I mean, that's
a lot of time and effort, and everybody had to take chances typing this
newsletter. And -- and -- and when I look at it, I laugh because it's like
hysterical what it looks like, you know, with the typing, and the typos, and
what we tried to do. But it was a lot of fun.97:00
And again, I -- I met a lot of people from the other organization, and we did
have a lot of -- a lot of really nice times together. But again, those people
then married, and they had families, and then their -- their -- I guess what was
important, what was at the top of their list there -- there, they had was98:00
raising their family. So that organiz-- those group of people went on to do that.
And -- and there's still a core group of us, but we -- we -- we haven't -- their
children have not set up an organization because, I think, it's just like what's
going on in the country in general. I've gone to a lot of different programs.
One is called the Abraham's Table, and I've been to that a few times where it's99:00
a rabbi, priest, ministers, and -- and imams, and they talk about the -- the
similarities between the religions. But one of the things they brought up was --
is that -- they -- they said it, which was -- was alarming to me, 70 percent of
the young people today don't believe in organized religion. And to me, that --
yeah, and they're suffering. I'm listening to their problems and their issues.
And I -- I realized, we're -- we're -- we've done that and we're -- we've100:00
suffered that. But it's just more obvious to us than for them because we were
such a small organization to begin with.
And when I talk with the College Point group who -- all those people that were
there when I was younger, they're not there anymore. It's a different group of
people, but they're very nice, professional people. They're talking about their101:00
kids not wanting to even come and I'm like, "We were there 20 years ago." So,
yeah. So, they're concerned.
But we've, kind of, joined in a lot of aspects, a lot of social types of things.
They've also supported us in our social activities, our brunches. They -- they
are -- they -- they celebrated 90 years last year of existence. We -- and they
came to our 110th anniversary so that was nice.
And we do a lot of things. We do -- during the month of Ramadan, it's called
iftar dinners. They did one last year. They're doing another one. We're going to102:00
do one this year. And it's like opening our doors to the community because -- I
guess because of the issues with the older generation, with -- with Black
Muslims, and the violence, and 9/11. They -- they wanted to keep a very low
profile. But -- and that's not so good sometimes. You really have to open up,
and let people know there's nothing to worry about here. You know, educate
people. That's what should be your goal, not hide, and think it's going to go103:00
away because it's not going to go away. You know, people don't know what to
think, you know, and they -- they listen to media. But if you give them
alternative, hopefully, they're open-minded enough to understand and be
receptive to what you're saying.
And one of the things is like Kurban Bayram. We did a Kurban Bayram where we104:00
opened up, and we did a lamb barbeque. We opened it up, and there were people
from the block and around that came. And -- and people from the College Point
group came, but it was -- I did a little -- I did a little, I guess, a little
presentation about the holiday, and what it meant, and -- and about Abraham, and
how that relates for the Christians, for the Jewish people, and for the Muslims.
It's the same story. So, we are -- we are all -- all praying to one God. Okay?105:00
So, you -- I don't think people really understand that. They look at it to what
they hear in the media and do not really understand what, really, the religion
is about. And -- and that's -- you know, that's today's world, and -- and -- and
it's up to us to change that story.
STRONG: Was there --
STRONG: -- was there much anti-Muslim bias growing, sort of, in the general US
attitude when you were younger? Or did that really start to take hold in the
'60s as you described?107:00
SEDOROWITZ: No. I didn't -- I didn't even note anything. The '60s with the Black
Panthers, they became nervous about that and -- because of the violence. But
that really -- then it was okay for a long time. And then 9/11 created another
sit-- the whole situation to really go into this -- the -- I guess to the point
where we're at now in people's idea of us.
But our neighborhood, itself, have seen us, and know us, and know what we stand108:00
for, so they're not concerned here, you know -- and over here. But, you know, I
think the -- I -- I -- I meet people and if -- you know, one of the biggest
things when you meet people, politics, right, and religion, they're like taboo,
do not discuss. But as you be -- come to know people over time that kind of --
kind of creeps into the conversation.
And a lot of people, you know, they have this feeling, I find from my109:00
perspective that, as I said before, they just don't understand what the religion
is about. And I've had quite a few people who are my friends now, I consider my
friends now, say to me, "Well, what you said, why don't people say that? Now
that makes sense." But they are listening to a different narrative, and that's
problematic. But that could only work with people who are open-minded. If you're110:00
prejudiced and you close your mind then that's not going to work.
But I'm hoping -- I'm, I guess, an optimist that -- that if -- if people are
educated or, you know? Just so that they could realize and understand about the
-- what these words are and not fear things. Like -- what -- one of the words
that a lot of people fear is Sharia law, okay. But it's different for different111:00
people, and -- and -- and I guess that the -- the definition they got is -- or
jihad -- is the wrong definition because they were told that from the media,
from the -- the little blips or Facebook blips, or all their friends sending
them all this stuff that's fake news or whatever you want to call it. That112:00
they've got the wrong impression.
But can you imagine? Jihad was -- it was a beautiful word. And there are people
-- I know physicians, a lot of physicians are named Jihad, their first name. Can
you imagine that? They've taken that word, and, you know, they made it a bad
word, a bad name. And so, you know? Like sometimes, I say that there are always113:00
people that are fanatics in any religion or any kind of culture. So, you know,
you have to be more educated to understand the difference. Instead of -- you
know, they --
I feel my religion has been taken hostage by, you know, ISIS [Islamic State of114:00
Iraq and Syria], you know, or any of those other terrorist groups. And it's
become -- Islam is equated to terrorism. I mean, if -- when you have a president
that says that, and thinks that, and -- and reacts to that with this whole
immigration situation then, you know, that the -- the -- that's not good. So --
SEDOROWITZ: -- hoping -- and I've said this before, somebody had asked me that.
I said, "This too shall pass." And -- and hopefully, we -- we have to stand and
-- yeah. Because if anything, this presidency, for me -- what -- it -- it shook
me to my boots because I -- I knew it was going to happen because I could see
where the country was. And people were telling me I was crazy. I -- "Oh, no,116:00
what are you, kidding me? That's not going to happen." "No, no, no, I feel it.
There's something going on." And we -- we're -- we live in New York. That's
different than middle America, and there's something going on.
And this is -- this is -- it -- it was very upsetting to me for a bit of time,
but -- and I had to shut down friends and unfollow friends that I thought were
friends, and what they were saying. And it shocked me. So, I just -- like I -- I
was getting emotionally feeling very bad, so I said, "Oh, forget that." I117:00
unfollowed, and I said, "I'm only going to look at pictures of the kids, and I
don't want to hear anybody saying anything about anything. I'm not going to even
look at it." And that helped me a lot and then, finally, I said it, like I just
said before, "This too shall pass." And I have to, you know, move on and go from
it because what -- what are you going to do, you know?118:00
STRONG: It's so interesting that here at the mosque you're -- you're having
these conversations about whether to go under the radar to wait it out or to
open up more. And it sounds like from conversations we've had, there's a --
there's a philosophical difference between the generations.119:00
STRONG: Can you tell me a little bit about those conversations? And -- and how
you talk to people about opening up and getting more awareness with this community?
SEDOROWITZ: It's very tough because the -- the older generation, they went120:00
through the Depression and everything. So, they're pretty strong people, and
they had to work hard to get to where they are in their retirement. And what
they thought they did, they thought they did it with all good reasonings in
But I try to counteract that, and I've gotten a lot of resistance from them. But121:00
I counteracted that with the fact that I think that for us, our role needs to be
education. We need to face up to it and -- and also, to also honor our ancestors
who put their -- their time, their money, and their hard work to create this.
And I ended up with, basically, I cannot let that pass, and they shouldn't
either. And do you want to honor them, or you don't want to honor them? And122:00
they're in a little -- they go, "No, we want to honor them." "I know you do
because you talk lovingly about your parents, and -- and your and grand--" they
remember their grandmother, and what -- what they did, and how they learned
things. Now, they stay in that era, but they can't move forward, but they
I said, "Well, you take how you love that and then put it to me," and I still
love that. I love the way my -- my parents -- I don't remember my grandparents
that well because I was very young when they passed away. But I remember my
entire family, what was the importance and how this organization was important
to them. And so, they know now. I haven't had much resistant now in the last
couple of years because, first of all, they've gotten older.123:00
SEDOROWITZ: So there's much less fight in them.
SEDOROWITZ: But for them, I guess, they want to make sure what's important to124:00
them, and make sure they have -- they're buried where their parents are, their
grandparents are in -- in the cemetery. And they want to make sure that that's
taken care of for them. That's where they are, I mean, the ones we're talking
about in their eighties and nineties.
We have one lady that's 99, and we had a couple of people that were over 100
that -- not more than a couple. I mean, my -- Jack's -- my husband Jack's aunt
passed away last year. She was 102, and she was good up until 100 and then, you
know, dementia happens. But when you -- what -- that's even more interesting.125:00
And I -- I just remembered something. When you're dealing even with somebody
with dementia, they still remember those old days, and they still remember a lot
of what happened. And if you will ask even my aunt who's 95, she'll talk about a
lot of the connections of what happened in the organization. She knows who's126:00
who, and I tried to grasp all of that and try to make sense of it because we
really don't have a good history of that. We have papers. We have minutes. Like
boy, do we have minutes, you know, of every meeting, and so I -- I have an idea
what went on but you know, there's a lot of good, fun factors, you know, that --
that we're missing. So I hope that --127:00
I -- I -- I do try to talk to her often and see her, but, you know, things like
the present, the memory is bad, but things from older days, they stick with her,
and they're fond memories. She still talks about her grandmother making her
memorize certain prayers, "And how I said it was very important." And I get a
kick out of that. So, I -- I -- they do understand about that part, and so they128:00
can't -- they have a hard time of telling me that -- that that's -- What I'm --
what I do and how important I -- I -- I talk about this mosque. They -- I think
that they understand that I'm doing it from a good place, and so they let me do that.
And -- and Alyssa, she's so much younger, and I tell Alyssa, "You did, at your129:00
age, more than I did because at a certain point, I gave up. And I just couldn't
deal with their -- you know, the older people at the time, the adults, you know,
and what they wanted to do, so I just shied away from it." But then when I got
married and Jack asked me to be on the board with him then I got more involved,
and I realized they -- they need a little bit more structure. So, I've been
trying to do that and inch my way and only now are we really able to move really130:00
forward with a lot of different changes. And it's all to keep the organization
running as -- as -- as long as it can run for our membership. That's the goal.
STRONG: Do want to take a short break?
SEDOROWITZ: Sure. I'm -- all of a sudden, I got -- I guess I'm talking.131:00
STRONG: All right. So, just diving back into this idea of communicating with the
older generation about changes, remind me of the story you told about the
separated prayer space for men and women when you were young. Can you tell me132:00
SEDOROWITZ: Well, I think traditionally, Islam, and I think every religion, at
some point in time, they did separate men from women. And certainly, in the
Jewish religion, that's the case. Women are -- in terms of Orthodox, they're --133:00
they're usually maybe up on top or somewhere different from where the men are. I
-- I -- Reformed Judaism, I think that's different because I've been to -- to --
to that, to temples, that it's not like the case.
But in Islam, it's still remains the case that men are separated from women, and
that was certainly up in -- in our -- our mosque here. That when we went to pray
up on the prayer room, that we had a big -- a big curtain that went from one end
splitting pretty much the -- the prayer room in half. And it was a big, heavy,134:00
wool curtain separating about, oh, I would say, maybe five feet high. And it's
pretty in-- intrusive, but that's how we grew up. And it was like, no, that's
the way it is and -- and -- I mean, I have to say it's a big room up there. But
in those days, if you didn't get here in time for when prayers were, or you're a135:00
little bit late, you -- you were standing room only, okay, in the back and in
the front. So, that was a big thing to rush to get there to -- to go upstairs
and be able to pray, you know, on the carpet. So that was all great, and fine,
But as we grew older and because my uncle was one of the imams, I had several
conversations with him saying, basically, that I couldn't understand why that
separation was. Because it's not the case in today -- in modern Judaism or
Christianity. And he -- his case was, basically, that when you pray, you 're --
you should be -- your whole focus towards God. And I -- I -- you know, one of
his things, which I discounted, but I'll say it anyway, is that men are very
weak and their thoughts will be that, if there was a woman next to him, that his
thoughts could not focus on God.
And I'm like, "Oh, okay. That makes no sense." "But --" he said, "But men and
women could pray together if they were all put on the same covering and head
covering like a -- like a hood. And then you couldn't tell a man from a woman."
I said, "Well, that's not going to happen." I said, "But why would you let women
be, you know, ignorant" -- that was the only word I could use at the time -- "to
not understanding or seeing what the imam is doing in prayer and follow --" And
we -- when he said follow the imam, who --? We're following a curtain in front
of us. We -- we don't really -- I mean we know but it -- that makes no sense.
So, he said, "Okay."
And our organization wasn't as big at the time but he said, "Okay, you could
stay in front of the curtain. One -- you could sit in one row behind -- in front
of the curtain, you know." And so, I said, "Okay, I'll take it. I don't mind us
being separated, but, you know, I think that if we're here to pray at --
individually, it's up to us to -- to meet that expectation to -- to focus on
God. If we don't then that should be our own sin." So I guess it was a
convincing argument at the time but --
So he allowed, and I said -- I said to my cousin's wife. I said, "Aisha, you've
got to help me here. I can't be the only one sitting there." And so, I -- I did
gather a couple of the younger women to sit there, and it was maybe four of us
or so at the time, maybe five. I can't remember exactly. But my mother and my
aunts, they were like, "Oh, no. There she goes, you know. No, I don't think so."
"Look, look if Uncle Abe said I can do it, I can do it." And then, of course,
they said, "Okay. Well, if Uncle Abe said you could do it, and he's running the
prayer." So I -- we did that.
And, I guess, it became worldwide known within our organization that this was
happening. Now, nobody complained about it, but then we said, "Okay." The men
goes, "Well, we don't really want them over there." I said, "Okay. Well, what if
we pull back half of the curtain, and the people that want to pray behind the
curtain, I understand and respect what they want but -- you know -- and the
people who don't will be on the other side." Okay. So, we did that and slowly
behold, everybody was moving over to the other side of the curtain, except for a
few people that decided that they wanted to see what the imam was doing.
And so, it became the majority of the people on the other side. My mother, I
think, prayed once and then she -- it was too much for her, she had to go back
to the curtain. [laughter] But my -- and so now, there's a very few people who
want to be behind the curtain. So, we just have a -- like a -- a room -- like a
little room divider for about, like, a fourth of the -- a quarter of the space,
not even, you know? Because everybody sits just looking at the imam and -- and
praying, following the imam like it should be. So, I thought that was very --
really when you think about it, it seems minor, but it was progressive at the time.
STRONG: Did you tell me that even the way women prayed was a little bit
STRONG: -- back then?
SEDOROWITZ: Yes, there were different things. When -- there are some things you
do with your hands. And -- and also, you also have to go down to the -- to the
rug and -- and pray. And the women would do it one way, and the men would do
another way. The men would stand up, and the women would be sitting on their
knees. And we're like, "Why -- why are we sitting on our knees?" So, we stood
up, and we followed what the imam was doing because that's what the imam is doing.
And so, I guess, you know, other cultures -- I've been to Turkish mosques and
other mosques, and I noticed the women also still are in the back, or even in
another room, or up above on another tier. But they get to -- they get to see
the imam, or they get to see the imam televised into their room because -- and
it's most of Middle East is where the mosque -- the men are the first people to
go in on the main level and then the women get the second level, which is
something that I'm not really -- you know. I don't understand that because when
you read about Islam, Muhammad was very progressive for his time based on --
what -- the culture and the history that was going on there in that area. And he
-- he saw that women were really abused, and he felt that that was not right.
And, yeah, in -- in the Qur'an itself, it talks about honoring the woman and
your wife, and the importance, and what's involved. But it was progressive in
Unfortunately, for Islam, we -- there really was not a strong, progressive
movement. And I think that now there is one, but in those -- it's -- it's really
caused us to look like the women are treated in a backward way, but that wasn't
the intent. So, you have to read through things and understand. But then again,
it is practice where it seems like the woman is not important. But yet, in a lot
of things, and in the way of life in Islam, women are making -- are of central
importance. So it's -- it's different now.
STRONG: Talk to me about some of the -- the other people you remember maybe who
aren't with us now. Like the important characters or just the strange
characters, you know, people in the history of this community that stand out in
SEDOROWITZ: Well, most of the people that -- as I mentioned before, like my
grandfather was a furrier, or they make ones -- furriers. Some of the old types
of jobs from years ago but then the -- their -- their children went on to become
policemen, or other blue-collar workers, electricians, plumbers, you know, they
took on those aspects of life. Very few people got to college.
But one of the things about Tatars, they're very proud people, and they're also
very -- some of them have voices that you could hear from end in the room to the
other end of the room quite clearly. And they also have very strong tendencies
to let their feelings be known. So, there were quite a few characters like that.
But there was, truly, a separation -- and I think that's probably the case in
most organization -- where there was the religious people, the imams, and the
other people, the families that were very religious. And then there was the
political part, the people -- the operational people, I would call them, that
ran the operation or ran the organization.
They all believed in the same thing, but was more apt -- like there was a
separation of duties and that was clear. And so, a lot of -- of the prayers and
what we did came from, what we call as, hamails, and these were handwritten from
the old country that were brought over. And it really discussed not only prayers
but also in the Tatar, or sometimes it was in Russian, or sometimes -- well,
mostly, it was in Polish, Turkish, a combination of things, of languages in each
hamail because they just copied things. There were also stories, but they were
stories that -- of things that happened in Europe, but they brought them over.
And -- and they thought it was part of maybe a -- a prayer service because it
says it was part of the prayer service, and that's what they were used to.
But then -- you know, for example, my uncle had it translated by some people
that he -- he was able to get involved with this, and found out they were doing
stories about the tsar, and what was happening. Because every -- every service
in any of the religions does have a little bit of what was going on in the
community and things like that. So, this was what was going on. So, it was like,
"Oh, we got to cut this," which was good because the -- the -- the actual prayer
service, like, got cut in half.
STRONG: Oh, wow.
SEDOROWITZ: I was like, "What happened to all of that what was happening
before?" "No, no, no, that's no good. That's no good." And my uncle cut it all
out and -- and made it more relevant to today.
So, they did their part on that, but the political people, they were always
looking to what could -- they could do better for the organization in terms of
running it operationally, also social events, you know, getting together as a
group. And -- and also different types of ways to raise money. So they did that
and -- and they had different ideas.
But again, this was a generation that was a lot of people surviving the
Depression and World War II. So, what they thought was important was, you know,
over the years, didn't become important, you know? But for them -- and they also
were -- I don't know of a better term. I want to call it pack rat. But they
saved everything regardless of whether it was useful or not. And that -- that --
in the paper world, it's -- it's amazing how much paper we have and -- and
documentation. But, you know, in other things, it didn't -- you know, we weren't
able to move as fast as we should or should have moved. But they did invest as
they could for what they knew.
And the technology -- as technology advanced, they were a little too
apprehensive to take -- take that on and embrace it as -- as much as in my
generation has. You know, and we look at it as tools and aids to help us live.
They -- they look at it as, "Oh, it's too complicated, so we're not going to do
that. We'll just do what we always know and what -- what works for us."
I mean, there were a lot of individuals on both sides. I mean, from my family, I
mentioned my -- my father's family, they were very on the religious side. My
mother's brother was -- had been president here for a number of years, and so he
was more on that side. My father, I don't think he took any sides. He was like
-- like we used to say Switzerland.
SEDOROWITZ: He never wanted to upset anybody, and so he just went with the flow,
and that's really how -- how that happened. And then -- and, of course, my
husband's side -- Jack -- his mother's family, they came from a family, they
still are in -- in Europe, imams on the Moorzitz side of the family. His father
actually converted even though he was born in -- in Poland. They -- he converted
to Islam upon marrying his mother. So, that was very important then, you know,
to keep -- to marry within your group and religion. So, if you weren't from, you
needed to convert to be accepted at the time. So, that was a very, very tight in
And, I guess, that was another reason why that's dissuaded a lot of the younger
people from being a part, because of the backlash that they would feel from them
-- the older generation. And they were just trying to keep things together, you
know, and I understand that. I mean, I ended up marrying somebody from -- from
the organization but you know? I didn't understand that as a younger person, but
as an older person, I understand that.
STRONG: Tell me about why that's important since you understand it now.
SEDOROWITZ: Well, because I felt -- you know, for me, when I was younger, I was
unhappy about that because I was not, personally, be able to date a non-Muslim.
And as I grew older, I -- I really could not bring anybody home that wasn't a
Muslim that I was dating. And -- and I -- and purposely, I used to date Muslim
Indians, Muslim Middle Eastern, and my poor -- poor parents when I bring them
home, they were, like, sweating because it was, like, not really Tatar.
So I guess -- I guess that's one of the reasons why I saw that, and I saw that
my parents, you know, really felt that. I don't know. I know that it was not
important to a lot of my cousins, and I -- I love their -- my cousins' spouses.
They -- they're wonderful people. So, I mean, that wasn't the issue either. So,
for me, it was mostly comfort that I didn't have to explain myself. And -- and I
guess, the energy level in terms of that, like for Jack, I mean, we don't have
to -- it's just what it is, and we all -- we believe in the same thing. And it's
very easy in terms of the -- that type of -- that part of the -- of the
relationship. And it is important when you're -- you're doing that.
But I could see the other way. The children of my cousins, they're wonderful
people, and they also -- they have choices, whatever they want to do, you know?
For example, Alyssa's brother is not so interested. His wife is Christian, and
she's raising her children as Christian, but it doesn't matter. They're
wonderful boys, and they -- they're great. And Alyssa chose for her reasoning,
and Pete has accepted that and appreciates that. And she's choosing for her
children to raise them as Muslim, and that's her choice. So, you know, but
that's -- that's exceptions. Most -- most of my cousins chose, you know, their
children -- not to really raise them as Muslims. And -- and -- and maybe it was
the time. Maybe it was because of the issues we talked about of not really
understanding the language of Arabic and, really, the religion itself.
But the -- the religion is -- is -- really just shapes you in how you think and
in terms of -- it talks about modesty, and helping people, putting people above
yourself and -- and -- and -- so I feel that most of my family really does that
anyway. And I think as good human beings, you do that anyway. So, that's all
that really matters in the end, right? So that's how I think. And how you
practice and whether you believe in God, or believe in a force, or don't believe
in God, it's really how you live your life. And that is what Muhammed was about
-- living his life in a way that was honorable. And that's the goal that we all
should have as people.
STRONG: Tell me a little bit about meeting your husband and how your
relationship grew over the years.
SEDOROWITZ: Well, I mean, I met him in -- I'm sure he was part of the
organization, but his -- he -- they didn't have -- they went by public
transportation. It's a little difficult if anybody knows about Brooklyn, about
trying to use public transportation to get from one end of Brooklyn to the other
if you're not near a subway. And they -- yeah, he can do several buses and a
long trip to get here as well. But I don't really have too much of a
recollection of him as a younger person. But when I -- in college, or when we
had the youth organization, I think that they were at the -- the end of it as
well. Okay. I'll say my -- my husband is a year younger than me. Okay, that's --
but he was part of the organization for a little bit of time. But again, it was
difficult for him to -- to get to different places to meet up at that time.
So I guess, as we got older in college years, we -- at dances, we would meet. We
would have the different dances that -- we had the spring fling, the fall fling
what -- whatever, you know, kind of thing then, and stuff like that, and
holidays that we would get to meet each other. And he loves with a passion, and
so does his brother, polkas and dancing polkas, and they were part of a dance
group. I didn't really take part in a dance group, but I enjoyed dancing the
polkas in those days. So, we would go to these places since I had the
transportation, and I would take his brother, and we'll meet up with people,
other polka lovers of our organization. And, you know, you dance the night --
polkas. A great exercise, aerobic exercise for sure, but -- so. We would go to
Port Washington, Bayway, a ton of other places that were around the area -- you
know, the local area and dance.
And so, we dated in the '70s for a bit and then we, each, were still in college,
so we chose to -- you know, chose our career. I guess, we were -- we were
definitely not ready for marriage or anything like that. And then quite a few
years later, we ended up getting married. And he was always part of every
holiday. I -- I knew that he was -- felt as I did about the organization and
about the religious part, not just the org operational part, which was important
to me. That's I guess -- I guess, it was meant to be at that point, you know,
that -- that.
But I was -- like I said before, before we had this conversation, that I was,
kind of, focused on my career, and so was he as an architect, to, you know,
enhance our careers and not really looking at the bigger picture of things until
we got a lot older, I guess maybe mature and then we got married, so I think
last year was 20 years we were married.
STRONG: So, you were married in '97?
SEDOROWITZ: Nineteen ninety-seven.
STRONG: Ninety-seven. Well, tell me about the decision to get married then. How
did you know you were ready?
SEDOROWITZ: That's a hard question. I guess it was just something that just
happened. It was the time for whatever. You know, sometimes, at some point in
your life, you want a more constant companion, and that was the time that that
was happening. And so, that it just worked for us. It was just -- it was like a
two-year period. I think I lo-- I lost my mother, and I think he lost his father.
And then my father was very, very much strict in terms of morals and ethics, and
he didn't like that fact that we were, like, kind of, living together for a bit.
And he was very upset and wouldn't go on vacation with us. And he -- and it was
difficult because he did have a -- he did have a cerebral hemorrhage, so he was
-- like had a left-sided -- left side -- no, right-sided deficiency. But he
still had it. He -- he would tell you what he wanted to tell you, you know. He
-- remember, I told you he was Switzerland? He changed after that to be -- he
just told you what he felt like. And he didn't feel like that was appropriate.
And, I guess, unbeknownst to me, Jack had a conversation with my father and then
-- and then I -- I just -- I knew it was the right time. I don't know why. And
then we decided that we would get married. Unfortunately, my father passed away
like two months before we were going to get married. So, we had the invitations
out, and he passed away. But I -- I -- I kind of -- I knew that too, that was
going to happen because he was having difficulties, you know? So, it was still
heartbreaking, but I guess that it was just the timing of things.
So, and -- and then after a while you -- you just -- like I said, you wanted a
-- a companion. You're done with, you know, being on your own. Like I knew I
could be on my own, be self-independent, and whatever, but, yeah, okay, now --
now what? So, it was like a new phase for me, and I guess for him, he decided to
be mature about it, too, from his end. So, I guess, that was what happened.
STRONG: Tell me a little bit about your going to college, your education, and
your career that followed, and -- ?
SEDOROWITZ: Well, in terms of that, I mean, I was always great. I survived the
whole math problem -- issue in second grade to come to enjoy math and science.
So, I boldly told my mother that I was going to -- of course, we were going to
college. There was no question asked because when we did the weekend drives --
because that's really what you did. You just -- when my father was home on the
weekend, you just did your Sunday drive, and she would go and make my father
drive in front of colleges and universities, and she'd just talk about that.
She -- what -- she never asked me to become the doctor. She always had my -- my
brother, "You're going to become the doctor," and -- and -- and then she -- I --
but I knew I was going to college. And honestly, I now think I really wanted to
be a doctor, so I was like, "I didn't want to do that." So, I said, "I was going
to be -- like, I want to be a researcher in -- in -- in -- in biology or
chemistry." And she listened to me. And she's like, "What? You're going to --
you're going to have to go through a lot of schooling for that and higher
education." "That's what I want to do."
And then one day I came home from school, from high school, and on the kitchen
table is -- "I want you to look at this. This is about being a pharmacist." And
I'm like, "What? What are you telling me what I'm going to do?" And I said,
"Well --" She goes, "Read it. It talks about, you know, medical. You like that,
math, and you like chemistry, and when you finish this --" It was five years at
that time, "When you finish this, you could go out and get a good job. Other
than you have to go get your doctor degree. It will be 10 years before you're
going to make any money." And I'm, like, looking at that and going, "Oh, oh,
yeah, it does look good. Okay." So, I guess, she was the one who decided my
career, kind of got me into it.
And she was right because I really enjoyed going to school and to St. John's
[University] College of Pharmacy [and Health Services]. I was lucky enough to
have full scholarship at the time, which helped my parents tremendously. And I
went to school, I had my books paid for me, and I lived with my -- my uncle, and
my cousin, and my -- my aunt in Middle Village, and would commute to St. John's.
And I went through five years of school, and I -- yeah, I got a job. I did a --
I did an internship or -- at the time, they called them internships -- after I
graduated. You had to spend some time in a pharmacy.
I worked at a pharmacy, and I did a two-year internship at the VA [Veteran
Affairs] Hospital in New York, which I wanted to live in New York, but I
couldn't afford it. But I did that and then that got me into [Mount Sinai] St.
Luke's-Roosevelt where I worked in the hospital, staff pharmacist, moved up to
supervisor and assistant director and then moved on to do -- manage a homecare
infusion company that was out of Waltham, Massachusetts, and I managed the New
York branch. And -- because at that time, they wanted managers who had a
clinical background and pharmacists as well, so I went and did that. And I also
was able to get my master's in clinical pharmacy and have it paid for too. So, I
was -- it was very good.
School was very good for me. I enjoyed it. I enjoyed St. John's. It was a
wonderful campus. My parents were, like, dead set against me going to Brooklyn
College of Pharmacy, now called Arnold and Marie Schwartz College of Pharmacy.
Because in Brooklyn, "Oh, no, you can't go downtown Brooklyn. We'll be scared to
death, and this, and that." So, yeah, "What's going to happen to you?" So, I
could go to Queens and stay with my uncle. I wanted to get out of my parents'
house for just independence sake, but this wasn't exactly -- she was happy
enough that my aunt and uncle were watching me, but I was -- still had somewhat
independence, and that was fine with her. It worked out, and I became that.
And then over time, as I did the director of this -- the New York center, I had
a few different, kind of, other designations within the company. The company
purchased different other infusion companies. And then I got to know different
physicians, and I went into business with the physicians, infectious disease
physicians at NYU [New York University], and we did -- this was in the mid-'90s.
We did electronic medical record, which was really like in its infancy. And we
-- the reason why they wanted to get involved was to try to collate data to --
because of the AIDS situation at the time and understand therapies. And so, I
was exposed to a lot of other HIV physicians at the time, not only in the New
York area. Brooklyn, the city, Queens, the Bronx, New Jersey, I went all over
the place, Connecticut. So, I went all over the place and -- and setting up
people with electronic medical record.
And then I then since moved on to doing my own consulting company and doing more
data involvement and specialty in forms in -- in creating electronic medical
record forms in these -- in everybody's medical records because now it's a
requirement. That was able to collect data in a -- in -- in a discreet way,
standardized way so that they can actually do trends.
And of, course now, with the information and portability act, Health Information
[sic] Portability, HIPAA, that has created, through Medicare and everything, the
same sort of situation that we tried to start in 1995 -- and collecting data,
dash-boarding physicians, making sure that they're following certain protocols,
managing the patient's health care and wellbeing. And of, course now -- and HIV
has become more like treating a chronic illness rather than a death sentence,
thank God. And that has helped, you know, tremendously.
It's been very fulfilling for me to work and meet a lot of people, and I -- I
work, a lot of different clients. I had all kinds of clients, all different kind
of specialties. But because of my background as a pharmacist, I had a lot of
ability to speak with physicians, understood their terminology, understand how
to take that and work it within their day-to-day workplace. And -- and not make
it overbearing, let's say, just as a plain IT person would where they would just
"Oh, you want this? We'll just do it this way." It's -- it's more I try to
create more intuitive forms that they feel like they're not, you know, just
writing down information. That they're actually -- it's useful for them. And so,
that's been very rewarding for me. So that's what I've been doing. Eventually,
STRONG: [laughter] You're going to retire or you have already?
SEDOROWITZ: No, I'm not retired yet.
STRONG: Yeah. Did you stay connected with the mosque community all -- all
through this time?
STRONG: Or did you sort of come back in the '90s?
SEDOROWITZ: Well, I think, like I know -- I connected in the social things, not
in the -- I would go to prayers and do and -- and I always try to go to the
social dances and -- and stay connected. But I'm also -- you know, I'm always
connected, in a way, with all the other members of -- my relatives in that -- in
that respect. So, we always talked about it, and so we -- I mean, yeah, I've
been in one way and another. Right now, obviously, since 1997, I got more
formally connected in the operational part and have taken over the -- really the
-- the financial end of things.
STRONG: So, you mentioned a little bit how your -- your career in data and in
medicine, kind of, informed the way that you wanted to contribute to this
community as a board member. Can you tell me a little more about that?
SEDOROWITZ: Well, I guess that, you know, being the fact that the -- the -- the
-- in the 1990s or all along. I mean, as an organization, they were doing what
they can do with the tools they had. But they would just talk about people
leaving and not understanding what their membership was. Then I said, "Well,
maybe I can take all the census cards, and put them in a database, and then take
a look, and analyze where people are geographically, what age they are, whether
their children became members or not. And show you, in a real sense, through
chart -- charting -- you know, the picture is worth a thousand words -- what's
really happening to your organizations so that you can understand it a little
bit better." You know, because you could talk -- talk, but they didn't under--
You know, people like to see the bigger, broader scope. And when you see it in a
pic-- in a graph or a pie chart, then it becomes clearer to you what's going on,
and maybe make better, informed decisions, but --
So, I started with that from the beginning when I first started. I took that to
-- and that was a big task, putting that in a database because they had, not
only -- besides addresses and whatnot, they had date of births, their children,
their children's date of births and whether they -- they were Muslim or not, and
then -- so, I attached it with a -- you know, like their book number or
membership number and then created this database of information. It took a -- a
bit. I have -- I don't recollect how long that -- [coughs] Wow, I'm talking too
much -- but I don't recollect how long that took, but it took a long time.
But I cre-- I did a presentation and then I sent out the presentation out to the
membership. And we had a few discussions on what we could do or not, but I don't
think they were ready to really comprehend, and understand, and do what they
needed to do. So, that took a long time to change their minds and how they did
things. Because, as I said, they were very resolute on what they did, and they
didn't want to change things. But that time has changed, and hopefully, we
could, you know, at least, do as good a job as they did.
STRONG: It's interesting that they were so meticulous in keeping these records
and every little piece of information, and yet resistant to keeping those
records in a new way, in a digital way.
SEDOROWITZ: Yeah. That's -- I found that interesting too.
SEDOROWITZ: That's because, I think, they were afraid of the new. You know, I
think that's basically it. You know, I know quite a few people, you know, they
were -- they didn't understand, and I said -- so, I said, "But you -- your --
your grandchildren want you to communicate with you, so you need to get a cell
-- a cell phone. You need to get a smart phone." "Oh, no, no, no, no, no, no."
But then, of course, their grandkids deter-- you know, they determined what
they're going to do. And so, next thing you know, they got smartphones and then
they're like, "Okay, well, I just use that for the FaceTime, or, "I know how to
do that. I know how to make a call." I said, "Well, no, now you could text."
"Text?" So, a part of my thing is -- is to, really, try to teach them how to
text, or teach them how to go on a website on their smartphone. It's amazing
that you know -- but it's like that. But once they see that, and they -- I said,
"You know, you realize a smartphone is really a computer." "What?" I said, "Yes.
You're becoming computer literate. It's not a scary thing." "Well, maybe we
should have classes." And I'm like, okay.
SEDOROWITZ: "That's a tough one. You know, I guess, you guys are retired, so
maybe you could take a class with the library." Because the New York [Public]
Library does classes on how to use a computer. And I had a few of them sign up
for them at their local library for classes. So, I feel good about that.
But I know that in -- in the early on, I tried to present to just have a -- a
website, and I was completely turned down. And so, hopefully this year, we're
able to get the website up and going. But we're talking close to 20 years, and
I've been trying to get this website up and going but it's just -- they don't
understand. It's the -- the thing, "We're on Google. We're on Google. We're on
Google! I -- we got -- how can we get off Google?" "No, no, you -- you -- Goo--
it's -- it's -- it's -- it's a public domain, okay. We don't control. We could
-- we could -- if something is wrong, we could say it's wrong, but we can't tell
them not to include us. Okay?" But that -- it's -- it's those things. It's --
it's scary for them because they're a different generation. And -- and you have
to respect that, but we have to move forward.
STRONG: Tell me a little bit about the 100th anniversary, 10 years after you
joined the board and what kind of discoveries you made while you were doing
SEDOROWITZ: You know, I guess, that that's a good point. Thanks for reminding me
about that. Yeah. I -- I guess, I was on the board, and we're talking about
things. In every meeting we go to, we talk about things, we read our, you know,
minutes. And -- and then new business comes up and -- and this was, I guess,
2006. And I'm saying, "You know, 2007, we're going to be 100 years old." "Oh,
yeah, yeah, we should do something." "Yeah, we should do something." And nobody
wanted to take the -- you know, and say, "Okay, I volunteer."
So, I -- I don't know what possessed me. I feel like something from beyond kind
of pushed me just to -- at some -- at some point in 2006, say, "Okay. I -- I --
if you allow me, I'll do it." "Okay." You know, it was right away, "Well, yes."
Because they wanted to do it, but they didn't have any idea how -- what to do.
And I said, "Well, I'd like to make it a weekend celebration, and we'll have --
one day, we'll have a lecture series. We'll have a lecturer talk about how we
came to being and -- and the organization came to being. And we'll have a
traditional dinner here. And the next day, we'll have a dance, a social dance
and with -- with a polka band. And we're going to have Polka Family," which was
a big band at that time. I think they still are, or maybe they retired. I'm not
sure. But it was a big band at that time, and -- and it was a lot of money to go
with that polka band. Five thousand dollars was a lot of money. And they were
like -- we're talking about Depression people -- babies, okay. They're like,
"What?" "No, this is our 100th anniversary. I'm in charge, I'm doing that, and
I'm going to do it." And so, we did.
We -- we had the -- the 100th anniversary. We had the lecture, and we had people
from all over come from all these members that I haven't seen in many years.
Also, the spouses of these members who were non-Muslim came. We had people from
the Turkish mosque come, the Turkish consulate came, a lot of people, like a --
well, the place was full. And we had a beautiful dinner that we -- well, pretty
much I created without thinking about it because I cooked for -- for -- for --
it was really a lot of work, but it was like 2007, and I -- and I was a lot
younger then and --
I had come back from a week in London and Paris with my brother and my husband,
and we were walking, and running all over the place, and so I had all this
energy. It was just what I needed, the boost. So, I just said, "I'm taking the
week off from work, and I'm going to just concentrate on doing this." And I
cooked all these dishes. And I -- I did remember getting -- I must have got
something. I couldn't do it all by myself, so there must have been some help. I
hired people for cleanup, and the serving, and stuff like that, and it was very good.
And the next day, we had at Plattduetsche Park in Long Island. We had -- and the
place was packed full. And we hired a photographer, and we took -- they took
pictures. And we -- we -- we -- we really celebrated that day, and then we --
like I -- the presentation that I did -- I did a PowerPoint presentation. We
printed it out and mailed it because, you know, a lot of people were computer
not literate, illiterate. And I hate using that word literate -- illiterate, not
literate. So, that, you know, I put that and a CD of all the pictures of the --
of the tables, so photography of every table. It was very, very nice. It was a
huge, huge success, and -- and everybody was very happy. I was happy that it was
over because I was tired, but [laughter] it was -- it was very fulfilling for
me, too, I have to admit, to be able to do that.
And 10 years later, a little less work-wise for me, we had a brunch. And -- and
now, I have Alyssa who is helping with Pete, and they did a lot of the
decorating and stuff. And I did the presentation of this Tatar heritage tour,
which got a nice response from people -- people who wish they could go, but
they're a little bit too old now. And people -- we have people in -- in the
mid-seventies going, you know, because they really are very interested because
they're -- they -- they've already raised their children, and children have
families that they have now the time for their own special things, you know? And
so, now, they're very interested in doing those things, and they --
And like I said before, they remember the good days. "Oh, I remember coming." We
called it -- we don't use the mosque as much, as we call it jamia because that's
the term that Tatar -- not -- so, it's not a Tatar term, but it's a term from
our villages. I wouldn't say it's a Tatar term, jamia. "I remember coming to the
jamia." This, and this, and this. Every time I talk to these people, they bring
out a lot of history from what it was that -- and it's -- it's -- it's --
they're very excited about that, you know, talking about those days. They have
very good memories. They all have very good memories.
And I have their grandchildren emailing me saying that, "Oh, I remember my
parents talking about, or my grandparents about the jamia and the times that
they had." So, they -- those stories are still coming through, and they hear
that. Alyssa gets a lot of context from people that contact her about that.
It's very nice. And it's true. It's -- it's a sense -- they feel a sense of
community when they hear these stories, and they want to know more. So, one of
the way is, like, through the organization Brooklyn Historical Society, that
they can, if they choose, they have another the source of finding this
information once people like myself are not here. So I -- I -- I -- I relish
that idea that they could have that opportunity to find that information.
STRONG: Tell me about how you first began the -- the project of going through
all of these rooms, and -- and finding what needed to be saved, and what needed
to be thrown out, and the kinds of records that you had here.
SEDOROWITZ: Well, I -- I still -- it's an ongoing project.
SEDOROWITZ: I have to say that. Because trying to go through these file cabinets
and other storage cabinets was an experience -- indescribable experience because
it was like history unfolding. Where we have, what they have a baptism, we call
it Azan and it's -- and it's documented. And we have books there documenting my
Azan, so it's still there, and all of my cousins and the people that I know. We
have books of marriages that were done, you know, and that's documented. And so,
it's really interesting that -- that was all kept in. And the more that I looked
into things and went through each cabinet -- there's a room in the kitchen --
behind the kitchen that was -- had cabinets in there. And I'm like, "Oh, jeez, I
don't know. Do I really want to go in here and look?"
SEDOROWITZ: And, of course, Jack goes, "Yes, let's go look," and he opens it up.
And Alyssa, too, was good too, "Oh, yeah, let's go look." And there was
information in these things that I couldn't even expect. Old notes from the
beginning minutes in -- in ledger kind of books, bounded books of meetings that
were in a different language other than English.
And we -- we -- we are -- you know, that we found the original copy or of the
first constitution, you know, and it's in -- it's in English and in Russian.
It's small, but it's -- it is really quite nicely done, and it's -- it's like
everything. If you look at the meeting minutes, everything was done according to
rules, Robert's Rules of Order, you know, and how everything proceeded was very
professionally done with what they had. It's -- it's amazing how well they did
it. And dues, how they kept the dues, the documents, the financial records,
everything inked out, you know, in the -- in the ledger thing. And what -- you
know, this -- how they assessed, how things were done.
And it's like a history that, you know, nobody talked about at the meetings
because it was just more. "We read the past meeting. We have the new me--" you
know? And it wasn't really about the history, history because we never went to
that. So, it was a -- an awakening. I mean, they had everything.
But, of course, with that, they also had checks, you know? You know, because in
those days, we -- checks were returned to us. Checks from the '40s, '50s, I'm
like, it's amazing, amazing, amazing. Statements, bank statements from way back
then, from banks that are no longer here.
And it's funny because we still have bank deposit slips from the original bank
that has become Capital One. It said Williamsburg Bank on it. And the -- the --
they said, Capital said -- you know, the bank that I was at, they said, "Oh, no,
you can use it because it's the correct, you know, routing number and -- and --
and checking account number." "Okay." I mean, okay, fine. The other day, I went
in and -- because as the treasurer, and so I do some transaction, you know,
deposits for membership donations, and I'm like -- the -- the young woman goes
to me, "What kind of checking deposit slip? It's Williamsburg Bank? What is
that? Is that a --? That's not our bank." And I said, "Oh, you don't know the
history. Williamsburg Bank was -- is Capital One." "Really? I thought it was
some other --" "Oh, no, that was before that. It was that --" It's like, "Wow."
It's -- people don't really understand. I mean Chemical Bank, and other banks,
you know, the names have changed, but the information is there. And it's just
like a -- very interesting. We have evaluation of the -- you know, New York City
puts up evaluations of the property year after year. Well, we have them all. We
have insurance policies from God only knows how far.
And I'm in the process trying to ca-- categorize this, and put them in some sort
of order, and try to, you know, figure out whether we need this, we don't need
this, and is this of importance or not importance. And it's a -- so it's a big,
big task. But it wouldn't have really started if I didn't do the 2007, the
100th-anniversary celebration. I don't think I would have even done that. Maybe
-- I can't say, the -- I wouldn't have, but I -- it wouldn't -- it wouldn't have
happened when it happened.
STRONG: So, no one was opening these cabinets?
STRONG: They were just here?
SEDOROWITZ: Oh, no. They were, like, nobody even knew what was in the cabinets.
SEDOROWITZ: You know, I'm surprised. I mean, there are stuff we have -- remember
they used to have these stamps? These like -- somebody had -- like has all
these, like, 100 different stamps. I was like, "Well, I guess that was
important" because it was -- it had different things about it. But I remember
that growing up that we had stamps. And we had the date thing with the rolling
thing to put the date, all this old stuff. And if somebody like Alyssa looks and
then go, "Oh, this is neat!" And I'm like, "Oh, this is old."
SEDOROWITZ: It's a perspective of things. That's funny, you know? But you do
need that perspective because you might just think, "Oh, it's old, it's not
necessary." "Oh, no, this is really neat. This is exceptional."
And -- and one of the highlight things for Alyssa was they had a -- a chalkboard
in the other closet. By the lady's entrance up the stairs -- by the stairs,
there's a chalkboard, and it has her grandfather's lesson on it, the last lesson
on -- on the chalkboard, and it's his handwriting, and she said, "Are you sure?"
And -- and, of course, my cousin, her -- her father goes, "No, that's not my
father's handwriting." "Okay, bring a sample of your father's handwriting," and
we looked at it and go, "No, that's his handwriting."
SEDOROWITZ: So I said, "You see that? That's your grandfather's handwriting on
that chalkboard." I mean, they were put away in the closet. I mean old
chalkboards with chalk. You know, where do you find that now? Maybe in New York
City's public school system but --
SEDOROWITZ: -- I don't know.
STRONG: Yeah. So, tell me about your hopes for this community going forward? And
what inspired you to -- to pull together this -- this trip, this tour that
you're working on?
SEDOROWITZ: Well, the trip was inspired by just my personal feeling that it
would be a great undertaking and really nice if we could go there someday. And I
presented that to -- to the -- the board, and they said, "Okay, you know, why
don't we put it out there and see what the membership thinks?"
But to my surprise, there are quite a few people that were -- have the same
thoughts, but they felt that the task of trying to organize a tour was very
daunting for them. And now -- I mean in the last year only, 2017, I believe,
Belarus actually has a visa-free entry for like a five-day trip. Otherwise, you
have to go through the whole visa process. So, it now made it easier to do this trip.
And, of course, having these connections through the internet allow us to
communicate much easier and to coordinate events, so that we can make
appointments to meet at these mosques or meet people. And I could -- it's not
only just the hotels. I could get transportation. I could get translators. So,
it's like language is not the barrier. It's much easier than it was to organize
a trip of this magnitude years ago, unless you had to pay a lot of money to get
somebody to -- to be your guide and to do all of that. Now, it's a lot easier to
do. So, I think that that -- that's helpful. And I was surprised to see that
there are people, mostly like my age or older, that want to go and do this trip.
Now -- okay. It must be my head being full with sinuses congested that I forgot
what the first part of your question was.
STRONG: What do you hope is the -- the future of the mosque moving forward?
SEDOROWITZ: Well, to -- the -- the understanding is to keep it functioning as
long as it can be functioning. And to make sure that we have it as open and --
and used as much as it can be used. And that has not been the situation before.
I have to take a break. I think I've got to take a nose blow.
SEDOROWITZ: So, to keep -- to not only keep it functioning but to open it up.
And that would be, more or less, more religious activities, more educational
activities so that we could try to ensure that -- and educate the general
public, whoever decides to, you know, visit that, you know, what we are and that
we're -- we all believe in the same thing and -- and in one God. So that's, kind
of, how I would do that. How? I don't know.
We, certainly, can't exist if we don't have new membership. You know, we have
members that have been very -- various ages, but I mean the members 40 and under
are very little. You know, they -- they're really a small group. So, I don't --
I feel that the issue would be we need to have more membership, and we have to
be a little bit more open in how we get that membership. And -- and so, we're --
we're looking into all of that. And that's the only way that we can survive as
an organization for the long run. But to make sure also in the -- the short run,
that we give our membership the benefits and the things that they need when
they're alive. And -- and -- and, you know, unfortunately when they pass away
that their family knows that they'll be taken care of in the correct manner in
which they wanted to be taken care of, you know? And certainly, we're supported
by members who we know won't be buried here, but they just support us because
it's something that they want to do.
And it's -- it's a very difficult thing because the whole path of -- of
immigration is like a closed-door issue. You know, people in -- in these other
countries, they don't need to come to America because they can find their own
way and enjoy a -- a living style there as much as they could here. You know,
it's not -- it's -- it's not like America is the land opportunity like it was in
-- in years gone by. So, I think that -- that's -- there's a whole different
perspective of where the membership is going to come from.
But I see, you know, like with other organization, the -- the younger people
have a different way of thinking about religion and what it means to them. So,
we have those challenges. So, it's very difficult to see more than 20 years from
now. There's no crystal ball, but it's going to be difficult. I could -- I know
that for sure.
STRONG: And you're, kind of, in a place of being a -- a bridge generation where
you understand the perspective of the older generation that you've had your
disagreements, and you understand the perspective of, you know, the younger
generation as well. How do you see your role in -- in helping this transition
SEDOROWITZ: Just so that we try to make the best decisions, and know and
understand, like I said before, what's important to the -- the older generation.
And be there for them. And for the newer generation, try to give experiences,
past experiences to -- to make the best decision going forward.
And I mean we -- we have to judge everything and look at everything, you know. I
mean, we have much more grave plots, for example, than we have members who are
going to be buried. So, what do we do with those extra grave plots? Do we, for
our non-Muslim spouses, offer them grave plots, so they -- they can be with
their loved ones? You know, these are things where they -- they wouldn't
consider these things previously. We have to make decisions that makes sense. Or
do we offer, kind of -- a different kind of membership to the people? Because
there's plenty of Muslims in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. It's just that we get
messages all the time on our machine, but we're not open.
We don't have a full-time imam here. I mean it would be very difficult to afford
a full-time imam here. But certainly, we should be open on Friday, and that's
one -- a goal that I'm trying to do. Also, offer different types of programs,
whatever they maybe. Example, Alyssa brought one that we can do, that a -- a --
a Muslim woman brought to her that maybe we could use our space to do yoga for
women, Muslim women because they can't be with men doing the yoga. That's that,
and I -- I don't understand that. I've done yoga with men -- I'm in yoga, and
that's where my head is at, but if that's the case and they -- whatever. Sure,
why shouldn't we open up, and do that, and help that situation? Why shouldn't we
have different kinds of programs? Why shouldn't we have an Abraham's Table here?
They had it in -- in -- in other places -- in -- in Long Island, in other Muslim
places, why can't we have one here, you know? So, I want to be able to be more
open about all of that.
STRONG: So, those are all the questions that I have.
SEDOROWITZ: Oh, okay.
STRONG: Is there anything that I -- that I should have asked you that you want
to make sure that you -- you get on the record for future generations to hear?
SEDOROWITZ: Oh, I think I've said it throughout the whole talk that we had. That
basically, the most important thing is for people to understand that this Tatar
community was a very, very tight community. And the people really worked very
hard to accomplish what they accomplished in -- in creating an organization
that, not was only religiously based, but also based in terms of helping one
another. You know, as a -- coming to a new country, you don't know the language.
You don't understand how things are done. But to be able to have somebody of
your faith and of -- coming from your area helping you, and helping you in the
good times and in the bad times is very comforting. And to have that feeling
that -- that -- that organization did that for many, many hundreds of families.
And those families, relatives today, they're the -- the children and
grandchildren, hopefully, can respect that and -- and feel good about that,
especially when they look at their 23andMe or ances-- AncestryDNA, whatever
those programs. When they test their DNA, that they could realize and feel, "Oh,
gee, not that -- oh, my grandparents or my great-grandparents were Muslim.", But
no, they were Tatars who believed in Islam, and -- and lived it, and practiced
it the way that they thought was a way that honored who they were and their
ancestors. And I think that's the most important thing. It's -- it's your way of
life and how they honor that, and that's, hopefully, what I hope that people
understand when they go look into the history of -- of their relatives.
STRONG: Thank you so much for your time, and --
STRONG: -- so sharing your stories for this interview. And, yeah, I look forward
to the next steps and working with you. Thank you so much.
SEDOROWITZ: Oh, thanks, Liz.
Oral History Interview with Marion Sedorowitz
Marion Sedorowitz was born in 1954 in Brooklyn and was raised in Hauppauge, New York. As a child, she attended the Brooklyn Moslem Mosque in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, which had been founded by her Tatar community following their immigration from Eastern Europe throughout the early 1900s. She briefly worked as a pharmacist after earning a bachelor and a master's degree in pharmacy from St. John's University in Queens, and then went on to become a consultant for the creation and management of electronic medical records. As an adult, she also became involved in the management of the Brooklyn Moslem Mosque, including serving as treasurer on the board with her niece, Alyssa Haughwout (interviewed for this collection on April 25, 2018) and planning the mosque's centennial celebration.
In this interview, Marion Sedorowitz discusses her family, especially regarding their traditional Tatar cooking, immigration to the United States, religious traditions, and involvement with the Brooklyn Moslem Mosque in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn. She expands on her own experiences with the mosque, including her successful efforts to remove the curtain preventing women from seeing the imam during prayers, her organization of the centennial celebration, and generational friction within the board about modernized outreach and records-keeping. In addition, she talks about her childhood experiences in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn, work in the medical field, and concerns about Islamophobia.
This collection includes oral histories conducted and arranged by Brooklyn Historical Society in 2018. The interviews reflect varying approaches to religious observance among Muslim Brooklynites in relation to a wide range of communities and traditions within Islam, including Sunni, Shi'i, Sufi, Nation of Islam, W. D. Mohammed community, Five Percent, Dar ul Islam, and Ansaarullah. Collectively, there is particular focus on cultural and religious customs, practices, and gender roles within these communities; education and the arts; immigration from South Asia and the Middle East; the Nation of Islam; Islamophobia in the wake of the 1993 and 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center as well as after the 2016 presidential election; political activism and engagement; and community relations with law enforcement and government officials.
CitationSedorowitz, Marion, Oral history interview conducted by Liz H. Strong, April 11, 2018, Muslims in Brooklyn oral histories, 2018.006.13; Brooklyn Historical Society.
- American Mohammedan Society (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)
- Brooklyn Moslem Mosque (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)
- Haughwout, Alyssa
- Sedorowitz, Marion
- Cooking, Tatar
- Cultural pluralism
- Special events
- Technology and older people
- Women in community organization
- Women in Islam
- Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)
- Bushwick (New York, N.Y.)
- Williamsburg (New York, N.Y.)
Finding AidMuslims in Brooklyn oral histories