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Manny Singer (1920-2014): His Quest is Complete

08/08/2014 09:56 am 09:56:18 | Updated Oct 08, 2014

Manny Singer of 95 Pitt Street on the Lower East Side, 1400 Jesup Avenue in the Bronx, Co-op City, and Century Village in Deerfield Beach, Florida died in his sleep early Tuesday morning August 5, 2014. He was ninety-four years old. On official papers his name was Mandel. His parents and siblings called him Mendel. His friends and the rest of his family called him Manny. He was my father but as he got older he enjoyed that I also called him Mendel.

Manny was ready to go. He lived longer than his immigrant parents Solomon and Fannie and outlived his sister Kate and brothers Abie and Bernie as well as his beloved wives Mildred and Fay and Florida friends. He had two sons, three step-sons, two step-daughters, and more grandchildren and great-grand children than he could remember.

When Manny was six he had experimental surgery on his eyes that left both corneas badly scarred and him legally blind. As a result he attended and graduated from a program for the visually handicapped at Straubenmuller Textile High School in Chelsea and although he volunteered, he was not allowed to serve in the army during World War II. He was never able to drive and always had difficulty reading.

In 1945 he married his sweetheart, Mildred Nechamkin. His best friend Abe Werner married Millie's sister Gert so they became a foursome. Manny and Millie moved to the Bronx where he opened a combination candy store/luncheonette with Joseph Zahn on Boscobel Avenue, now Edward L. Grant Highway. For the next forty or so years, at different locations, Manny was at work at six in the morning making eggs, toast, and coffee, and then he worked the sandwich board for the lunch-time rush.

Manny and Millie had two sons but tragedy soon struck. At the age of 31 Mildred developed breast cancer. She died three years later. Manny did the best he could for his boys but times were hard. The construction of the Cross Bronx Expressway rerouted traffic and destroyed his small shop. He and Joe had to open another one in Astoria, Queens. The subway trip added an hour each way to a long hard day.

Manny was lucky to find a new life partner, Fay Jacobi Jackson. Fay was a widow with five children who lived in the same apartment building in the Bronx. As her oldest children married, moved out, and left space in her apartment, Manny and Fay decided to merge their families.

From the age of fourteen until nineteen I was the Saturday short-order cook at my father's luncheonette. He and I used to walk together from the subway to the store early in the morning. All winter he complained, "It is too cold. I can't stand the cold. At least in the summer it is warm." All summer he complained "It is to hot. I can't stand the heat. At least in the winter its not hot." Once I asked him if he realized what he said every winter and summer. He looked at me puzzled and said "Can't a workingman complain."

Manny, as were many other New York Jews of his generation, was scared into political silence by the trial, conviction and 1953 execution of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg. In 1967 he forbad me from participating in anti-Vietnam War activities so I used to sneak out of the apartment before he woke to go to work. However by 1971 he was marching side-by-side with me to protest U.S. involvement in this unjust war.

In 1973 Manny and Fay moved from Jesup Avenue to a new apartment in the Co-Op City complex in the northeast Bronx. It was a lucky break. Manny gave up his store in Queens and got jobs at the Brooklyn College cafeteria and then managing the lunch stand at the Atomic Energy commission building in Manhattan. At Co-op City Manny became active in co-op politics including a massive rent strike in 1975 designed to force the state to maintain the property. Manny considered his role to be the gadfly - pestering local politicians at community meetings and with a deluge of postcards. Meanwhile Fay retired from her job as a legal secretary and started to volunteer in the Co-op City Senior Center. This led to another lucky break when Manny went to work there managing the lunch program.

By 1990 Manny and Fay were both retired and could no longer stand the harsh winters in the Bronx. They bought an apartment in Century Village at Deerfield Beach, Florida, but Fay was diagnosed with cancer and never made it. Manny finally moved down there without her.

As a boy, Manny and his brother Abie sang in the schul (synagogue). Manny also liked to sing show tunes and in Florida he had his chance. For the next twenty years he was a member of a series of choral groups that performed at local senior centers. He also sang at family functions when he came north for visits.

Manny's two favorite songs were "Old Man River" and "The Impossible Dream." Once he complained that I did not understand that he was getting older. "Mendel," I said, "I'm getting older. You are already old." But like Old Man River, he just kept rolling along.

I learned about The Quest from my father Manny. I learned to "dream the impossible dream, to fight the unbeatable foe, to bear with unbearable sorrow," and "to run where the brave dare not go." I learned "to right the unrightable wrong" even when "your arms are too weary" and to "fight for the right without question or pause."

"The world will be better for this," that Manny Singer, sometimes "scorned and covered with scars, still strove with his last ounce of courage to reach the unreachable star." Manny Singer remained true to his "glorious quest," and his "heart will lie peaceful and calm" now that he is "laid" to his "rest."

Manny was a proud, caring, generous, and thoughtful man who played the cards he was dealt. My step-brother Raymond wrote: "His memory is truly a blessing to everyone who knew him."