Jewish Studies


Michael Melasky, born 1957, grew up in the Marble Hill public housing project that was created for veterans of World War Two and their families, until his family moved to Co-op City in 1969. His grandparents immigrated from Poland and started their families on the Lower East Side then the South Bronx, but most of their family was killed in the Holocaust. Quoting Charles Dickens, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” Melasky describes growing up in a cramped and diverse environment in the turbulent 1960s. There were always other kids around to play with, and almost everyone got along with each other because they were bound by a class consciousness that all of their fathers worked in low-income jobs. Gangs existed, but were ethnic in nature and not related to any drugs. There was a sense of some danger and the need for many to fight to survive. Many of his older sister’s friends were sent to Vietnam, but he was too young to be drafted by the time the war ended.

Melasky describes how there was always something to do, whether playing outside, going to local businesses or the movies, or going down to Inwood on the subway. His father worked multiple low paying jobs. Melasky describes his public schooling as getting caught in the racial transition of the Bronx at a time when the schools were poorly equipped to handle the changes in culture and economic status. Attending Evander Childs High School, he found himself at a low level in college compared to those students from affluent communities. Gangs had, by that point, become a serious problem in the schools. As a child, he also attended an Orthodox religious school after public school, which taught him Hebrew and prepared him to teach and lead religious school as an adult.

Once Melasky got married and got a job, he and his wife moved out of the Bronx to Rockland County, NY, deciding they did not want to raise their children in the environment. Becoming an educator and school administrator, he sees the fault in a school system that was unprepared for change. He remembers the Bronx as a wonderful place when he was young, but a hard and isolating place by the time he moved to Co-op City at 13 years old.

Key Words:

Poland, Marble Hill, Co-op City, Public Housing Projects, 1960s, gangs, Vietnam War, class, American Dream, education, Orthodox, adolescence