Evict Jews From Homes? 'Car 54' Did It Years Ago

Prime Minister Netanyahu is not the first public servant to run into trouble trying to end an occupation and remove Jews from their homes. Way back in 1962, Officers Gunther Toody and Francis Muldoon faced just that problem in their efforts to remove sweet old Mrs. Bronson (played brilliantly by the great Yiddish stage diva Molly Picon) from her apartment in one of the best loved subplots of the classic situation comedy “Car 54, Where Are You?”

The saga of Mrs. Bronson ran over four episodes from October 1961 to August 1962. In the first episode, titled “I Won’t Go,” Mrs. Bronson refuses to move out of her apartment in a tenement slated for demolition to make way for urban renewal. In the final episode, titled “Occupancy” (eerily foreshadowing today’s news) she has stealthily moved into the shell of her new high-rise apartment while the building is still under construction. In art as in life, the settler ends up running rings around the authorities and getting what she wants.

There’s some debate whether the Mrs. Bronson story is based on the construction of the Cross-Bronx Expressway, which caused furious debates during the 1950s and ended up destroying whole neighborhoods (many say it destroyed the Bronx) and dislocated some 60,000 people, perhaps half of them Jews (oddly enough, about equal to the number of Jews who would be forced to move from the West Bank in the event of a final-status peace agreement) — or, alternatively, whether it’s based on the building of Coop City. Given the timing and emotions, I lean toward the former interpretation.

Here’s the final episode, “Occupancy.” It runs through four separate clips, total 22 minutes. You owe it to yourself to watch. Besides being a laugh riot and a zany fun-house mirror on today’s news, it’s a wonderful bit of American Jewish culture. Watch for the scene where she has half the hierarchy of New York City sitting around her kitchen table eating honey cake and singing “Afn Pripetshek.”

Occupancy, Part 1:

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Continue to Parts 2, 3 and 4:

Occupancy, Part 2:

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Occupancy, Part 3:

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Occupancy, Part 4:

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Forward.

Author

J.J. Goldberg

J.J. Goldberg

Jonathan Jeremy “J.J.” Goldberg is editor-at-large of the Forward, where he served as editor in chief for seven years (2000-2007).

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Evict Jews From Homes? 'Car 54' Did It Years Ago

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