Jewish Studies


Joan Brock, born 1943, grew up on Bryant Avenue between 173 and 174 Streets in the Bronx. The East Bronx was considered poorer than the West Bronx, split by the Grand Concourse. Both of her parents were born and raised in New York, and they met while they were both working in a tea factory. Her father would get into the business of selling vending machines until Brock was 13 and he bought a hardware store. Her mother never worked after marrying except to help her husband with the store.

Brock describes the neighborhood as predominantly Jewish and Italian, though her school was integrated with some Black and Puerto Rican students by the time she started kindergarten. Everyone in the neighborhood lived in five or six storey apartment houses and shared bedrooms with their siblings, so Brock considered it very luxurious when they moved into a three bedroom apartment and she had her own room. She attended PS 50, which she remembers for having a very tough principal, and Herman Ridder, which was renowned for music and art. Al Pacino lived in her building and attended the same school. Many who attended the school went on to be successful in music and art, and Brock says her love began there and that is why she became a speech, drama, and English teacher. She then attended James Monroe High School.

The major shopping area was 174 Street, where Brock describes stores of all kinds. Once she began taking the bus and subway herself at age 11, she and her friends traveled all over the city, including to Coney Island. Brock explains she did not realize she was poor because everyone around her lived the same way, and it was not until seeing single family homes on television that she came to realize people lived differently. Her family was not kosher, and Brock learned to cook at 13 when her mother began to help in the hardware store. Brock remembers reading from the Bible in public school and putting on shows in junior high and high school. She describes feeling safe outside of a few situations in her youth, though everyone was afraid of gangs, like the Fordham Baldies, that they never really interacted with.

Brock taught for three years at James Monroe before she got pregnant and she and her husband moved to Rockland County. She taught there for many years after. She says that she learned her toughness from growing up in the Bronx and to always fight back. Her mother pushed for her to go to college, as her father saw no need because she was going to get married anyway. Yet, she felt that she needed to teach because her other career options were limited. Brock explains that in her day, the smartest women went into teaching, and because there are more opportunities for women today that is not necessarily the case. Brock describes many of her teaching experiences, from being a 20 year old teacher of 18 years olds to participating in the 1967 Teachers Strike.

Brock felt she never left the Bronx, even in moving to Rockland County, because so many people also came from the Bronx. She describes going back to see her old neighborhood and going back to reunions at James Monroe. Brock proudly shares her graduating class had the first non-white president, Tommy Yi, who was Asian.


Bryant Avenue, 174 Street, East Bronx, race, Black, Herman Ridder, James Monroe, poverty, Rockland County, 1967-1968 Teachers Strike, education, teaching