Local historian interviews author William Gralnick at Flatbush’s B’ShERT

August 25, 2020 Editorial Staff
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Barringer Press author William Gralnick was e-interviewed by Brooklyn historian Ron Schweiger on Saturday, in a program produced by Brooklyn’s Beth Shalom v’Emeth Reform Temple (B’ShERT).

Gralnick is the author of the memoir “The War of the Itchy Balls and Other Tales from Brooklyn.” He was born and raised in Brooklyn.

Schweiger is a B’ShERT member and an active historian with a passion for the borough which still has by far the largest Jewish population in New York City.

Gralnick’s parents were members of the formative part of B’ShERT (its original name was Temple Beth Emeth). His brother Jeff, a nationally known powerhouse in television news production, became a bar mitzvah there.

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An interior view of B’ShERT.

The title story of Gralnick’s memoir is about the mini-gang war Gralnick got involved in when he was eight. He and his friends thought they could protect their street, Waldorf Court, by throwing the American Sycamore Tree’s rock-hard seed pods — called “itchy balls” in street lingo.

When ripe, the golf-sized balls became fluffy and the size of baseballs. They blew apart into hundreds of itchy, yellow “parachutes” that were perfect for dropping down someone’s back, hence the name.

The friend group’s opponents were the leather-jacketed, broken-antennae-wielding and chain-waving local gang, “The Slaughter Boys.” The outcome? Gralnick says you have to read the book to find out.

Gralnick is a graduate of PS 217, which was then a grade school, and Midwood High School. He did pre-college studies at Brooklyn College before attending The George Washington University. Gralnick’s book is a walk-through of life in Flatbush, rich in sights, sounds, and humor.

The book is rich in vintage pictures and includes dozens of quotes from the famous and the near-famous who grew up in Brooklyn. It was endorsed by Brian Williams, Lynn Sher, Carl Erskine and Diamond Jim Gentile, among others.

B’ShERT is currently the union of five different Brooklyn houses of worship. The Temple’s name is drawn from letters of the names of each synagogue, and is a Hebrew word that means “meant to be.”

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  1. Thank you for the lovely article! One note: our name (which is an acronym of “Beth Shalom v’Emeth Reform Temple) does not actually include letters from the names of all of our pre-merger congregations, that would be very long!

    Our two immediate predecessor congregations are Progressive Temple Beth Ahavath Sholom (which was on 45th St in Borough Park) and Temple Beth Emeth v’Ohr Progressive Shaari Zedek (based at Church Ave & Marlborough Road, where the congregation founded as Temple Beth Emeth has been at home for more than 100 years).

    You can catch up with our events and High Holy Day schedule at bshert.org.