The Storyteller from Albany Park

Syd_Lieberman

Syd Lieberman

As a young kid, there was nothing I enjoyed more than listening to stories. My mother told me about being a child of the Depression and the only Jewish family in a tiny southwestern Pennsylvania coal-mining town. My father told tales of growing up in a provincial Cuban town in a home with chickens, a goat, a white horse and a cast of characters that rivaled the novels of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Our rabbi introduced me to the “Wise Men of Chelm,” old Yiddish stories I loved and wanted to hear again and again.

All these stories magically transported me to different times and places, but also informed me of my heritage. This is where we came from. This is what it was like.

One of this blog’s contributors, Mike Wolstein, urged me to look up a professional storyteller, Syd Lieberman, who was from Albany Park.  I started listening to Syd’s stories online. Right away, I felt the old magic: this is where we came from. This is what it was like.

Syd is an internationally acclaimed storyteller. And he is from Albany Park, and before that, Humboldt Park.  He’s been a teacher, an author, an award-winning storyteller. I’m honored to interview Syd for this blog.

Note: A sad update to this blogpost was the news that Syd Lieberman passed away on May 12, 2015. I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to conduct this interview with him in 2012.

Frances: Where did you grow up? What public schools did you attend?

Syd: When I was born, my parents lived near Division and Campbell. We moved to Leland and Spaulding in Albany Park. I went to Hibbard Elementary School and Roosevelt High School.

Frances:  When did you start drawing on your experiences in Albany Park for your stories?

Syd:  Immediately. Albany Park was a great place to grow up. It was really a neighborhood. Ninety percent of the people were Jewish. There were Jewish delis, bakeries, synagogues. But it wasn’t just religion we had in common. It was the culture. That added a lot to the experience of Albany Park.

Frances:  What would you say were the boundaries of Albany Park at that time?

Syd:  Montrose to Foster, River Park to Pulaski.

Frances: Where did you hang out?

Syd: Maury’s Red Hots (3544 W. Lawrence) was our central spot, and we went there as often as we could. First, it was located on a side street, Monticello, and later he moved to Lawrence.

Maury was a nice guy, so positive about Albany Park. He knew everyone, could tell you what everyone was doing.  He was a philosopher.

Purity_Deli

Lou and Sidney Bernstein in front of Purity Deli. Photograph from the blog, Hello There Cutie

On Friday nights we went to the Terminal  (3315 W. Lawrence). It seemed like 5,000 teenagers were there. We drove the adults crazy. There was a section in the front, on the left-hand side, reserved for necking. After seeing a movie, we’d go to Purity Restaurant for kishkes and Cherry cokes.

We’d also meet at the Albany Park Library. In fact, I met my wife there.

Frances: Were you in a club?

Syd: I was a Condor. I got my jacket at Ned Singer’s Sports. We held our meetings at Max Strauss JCC.

Photograph from The Jews of Chicago: From Shtetl to Suburb by Irving Cutler

Frances: I was going to nursery school at the Max Strauss J during 1960-61, the same years your club was meeting there.

You played on a championship football team for Roosevelt High School. Was it an all-Jewish team?

Syd:  We had nine Jews on offense. We were all about 5 foot, 6 inches tall. A Polish guy played end and a big German was the quarterback. I was on the varsity team for three years. In my sophmore year, we played in the division championship and lost. In my junior year, we tied. We won the city championship 14-13 against Englewood in my senior year, 1961. That was Roosevelt’s first championship.

“Roosevelt, champion of the North-West section Blue Division, is led by half-back Syd Lieberman, who is averaging 7 yards per carry. . . . Lieberman won his division scoring championship with 55 points in five games.”  — Chicago Tribune, November, 17, 1961

I tell the story in “The Englewood Game,” on my AKA Syd Lieberman CD. I felt as if we were playing for the neighborhood, the school, my buddies, my family and the coach. Coach Klein had gone to Roosevelt, and that made our championship extra special. The week before the game we had a pep rally at school. After the rally, the principal let us out of the building so we could dance a conga line around the outside of the school.

Frances:  What are some of your stories that draw on your Albany Park experiences?

Syd: Some of these stories didn’t take place in Albany Park, but are related; “I’m Sean Connery,” “The Old Man,” “A Harvard Man,” and “The Englewood Game.”

 

Do yourself a favor and go listen to Syd. He’s generously shared all his recordings on his website and in other formats. 

 

References: “Roosevelt and Englewood to Battle Today.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963): C3. ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Chicago Tribune (1849-1988). Nov 17 1961. Web. 20 Feb. 2012 .

Photo of Purity Restaurant from the blog Hello There Cutie.

Photo of Max Strauss JCC from The Jews of Chicago: From Shtetl to Suburb, by Irving Cutler.

Read more Albany Park Memories

, ,

19 Responses to The Storyteller from Albany Park

  1. Jerry Pritikin February 20, 2012 at 6:45 pm #

    You did it again… using Jewish Geography! The picture in front of Purity’s is that of a friend’s father I went to Hibbard with in the mid-1940s, Wayne Bernstein. I remember him saying his dad worked there. Wayne moved to L.A. with his family in the early 1950s. I heard he passed away at a young age. Wayne told me his uncle was comedian Morrie Amstrdam.

  2. Frances Archer February 20, 2012 at 7:18 pm #

    Jerry, I’m not going to be surprised anymore. Before I post a story about Albany Park, I will run it by you to get the scoop. The Morrie Amsterdam – Albany Park connection! Who woulda thought?

  3. Bonnie McGrath February 21, 2012 at 1:33 pm #

    i wonder if his father knew elaine’s father??? great story as usual!!!

  4. Frances Archer February 21, 2012 at 2:00 pm #

    Thanks, Bonnie. Elaine said her mother and Syd’s mother were best friends, but I didn’t know that until after I wrote the post.

  5. Elaine Berman Slotnick February 23, 2012 at 7:44 pm #

    Just a minor correction, Maury’s original location was Lawndale Ave. and was there for many years before moving around the corner to Lawrence Ave.

  6. Frances Archer February 24, 2012 at 8:15 am #

    Elaine, thanks for setting us straight. I think I read there were three different addresses in all–two on Lawrence?

  7. Susan Block Goldman March 5, 2012 at 2:07 am #

    His wife, Adrienne Bass, was our babysitter when we lived on Eastwood and Hamlin (off of Jensen Park). Her brother Steve (I think) was in my Haugan 1966 graduating class. Her brother Micheal was in my brother’s Roosevelt class of 1966. I remember her fondly.

  8. Frances Archer March 5, 2012 at 7:15 am #

    Susan, thanks for visiting. Small world.

  9. Eugene Schultz March 12, 2012 at 10:12 pm #

    I began life on the West Side, 13th Place and St. Louis, Lawson School, moved North to Palmer Square, Darwin School, and finally made it to Albaany Park at 11 years old in1954. I loved Albany Park; I lived at Monticello and Lawrence. You could find me 24 hours a day walking along Lawrence Avenue between Lawndale and Kedzie looking for friends to hang with. Everyone seemed to be a friend, and someone was always around to go to Maury’s, Mitch’s, Bonfire, later Smiling Sams Etc, etc. Life was always good, and fun was always had. The Terminal Theatre, Club Laurel, then a trip down to Rush Street or Old town to the many Night Spots like Thumbs up, Rush Up, Mother’s, Second City et al.I served my country from 1963-1966 and then returned to Albany Park until 1970 when I became married to my Diane. We have traveled far and near and lived in other states, but Albany Park will always be the place I call home. It was the BOMB. Life is still good but it will never match the times we had. The Boys of Kimbal and Lawrence will live in infamy well beyond my year.

    Thank you all and thank you Albany Park for all the great times.

  10. Frances Archer March 12, 2012 at 11:25 pm #

    Thanks for visiting and sharing your memories. Don’t you miss all that walking? I do. I still walk alot, but it’s not as interesting as it used to be.

  11. Steve Maciontek June 8, 2012 at 12:15 am #

    Our family were the only Roman Catholics on Troy Street, so I took a lot of grief from my Jewish friends. Worked at Sarah’s Grocery a basement grocery store on Kedzie Avenue delivering groceries with a red wagon. Hung out at River Park and went to Our Lady of Mercy School. There use to be a delicatessen on Kedzie & Lawrence called the Swedish Delicatessen if I am not mistaken and kitty corner was the Bonfire Restaurant, Little Al’s Record Shop and Bresslers Ice Cream were on Lawrence Avenue . A great neighborhood to grow up in.

  12. Frances Archer June 8, 2012 at 7:04 am #

    Hi, Steve.Thanks for stopping by. I’m glad you recalled a couple of the places I hadn’t heard of — the Swedish Delicatessen, Sarah’s Grocery and Bresslers. Also, your story is another reminder of how many jobs were available in the neighborhood, especially for teens.

  13. GARY HOFFMAN May 4, 2013 at 8:17 pm #

    BEFORE IT WAS MAURYS IT WAS AL,S THEN MAURY,S HE THEN MOVED TO THE NORTHWEST CORNER LAWNDALE AND LAWRENCE ,THEN HE MOVED TO THE NORTH SIDE OF LAWRENCE BETWEEN MONTICELLO AND CENTRAL PARK.

  14. Stu omans November 12, 2015 at 10:00 am #

    Just discovered Albany Park cite and yours. Fabo!
    I grew up above my father and uncles Kaplan’s Bakery on Lawrence between Monticello and Lawndale.
    Told stories to buds and cousins on the tar roof behind our apt. So hot in the Summer, the tar bubbled. I remember AL. Pk. As story tellers, kibitzers, poker games, Flukie’s, The Torpedos( my club), The Vagabonds, the scares guys at Jensen after dark.
    I became a drama prof and theater guy( founding Orl. Shakespeare Theater. Convinced that the rich culture of Alb.established my love of story.

  15. Frances Archer November 14, 2015 at 9:50 pm #

    Nice to hear from you Stu. So you’re from one of the many bakery families of Lawrence Avenue! I’ve heard there were at least 7. Thanks for stopping by.

  16. Howard R. Binder April 14, 2016 at 4:24 pm #

    I see that most of the dates listed in this particular series of comments are 2012. I’m sure you must know that Syd passed away a few years ago. He lives on his many stories, many of which were inspired by his life in Albany Park.

  17. Frances Archer April 21, 2016 at 9:46 am #

    Howard, thanks for stopping by. Yes, I feel so fortunate that I had a chance to interview Syd prior to his passing. I think it would be a good idea to add a note at the bottom, so that there’s no confusion. Thanks!

  18. Roger Cohn May 6, 2016 at 10:50 pm #

    Syd Lieberman passed away May 12, 2015.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Haiku Hiking in Albany Park >> CHICAGO PUBLISHES - June 4, 2012

    […] Continuing a neighborhood tradition of storytelling, Syd Lieberman is an Albany Park resident who has made his living as an internationally acclaimed storyteller, author, and award-winning teacher. He curates and runs multiple storytelling programs and workshops that focus on such topics as public speeches, Edgar Allan Poe, historical narratives, Jewish stories, and stories for young listeners. Recordings of his stories can be found on his website, or check out his appearance in Frances O’Cherony’s blog as The Storyteller from Albany Park. […]

Powered by WordPress. Designed by WooThemes