A New York Story: Morris Abramowitz and Roberta Seltzer

Categories: Alumni, JCCA Spotlight

In the first half of the last century, Morris Abramowitz was a NYC police officer patrolling a beat in the Bronx. Born in Russia in 1905, and the second of six children, he was six months old when his parents immigrated to the US. In his teens, his mother became sick with tuberculosis and later died. During her illness, it wasn’t possible for his father and oldest sister to care for all six children, so Morris and his younger brother, William, were sent to Pleasantville Cottage School for a time, a not uncommon practice in those days.

As an adult, Morris spoke very little about his past or his work to his family. They had not even been aware that he was inducted into the New York City police department’s Honor Legion as a result of his brave intervention in a robbery, a fact that came to light only after his death. However, he did tell his family that his experiences at PCS were wonderful. His daughter, Roberta Seltzer, a music education teacher in New Jersey, was kind enough to talk with us about her father and his time in Pleasantville.

JCCA: Can you tell us a little about your father’s experiences at Pleasantville Cottage School?

RS: My father was a quiet man and didn’t share a lot with us.  He rarely spoke about specifics, so I don’t even know how long he was at Pleasantville, but when he did talk to us, he had only positive things to say about it. I believe he was there as a teenager sometime in the 1920s. He loved it so much! When I was a young child, we used to pack a lunch and go to the Cottage School grounds for a picnic every year. He had positive memories and feelings about his time there and my sense was that it was a very warm and nurturing environment.

JCCA: What was your impression of what he learned there?

I think he got a lot of love there. There must have been such extraordinary people who helped him through this difficult time. I think the cottage mothers were instrumental in his development. He learned a lot about cleanliness and domestic life, about organizing and taking care of a home. Of course, he was a tough guy—he had to be as a police officer—but unlike so many men of his generation, he loved to shop and cook. My mother worked in the city, and he prepared meals for us a lot. So many of the men at that time never touched anything domestic (women did everything), but not my dad. He loved bringing tons of groceries to our relatives when we would visit. And he always had beautiful penmanship, which I think he must have learned in Pleasantville. Even though he didn’t tell us a lot, we all felt the love he had for the Cottage School. Maybe those experiences helped him decide to become a policeman.

My father was also very Jewish in a police force that had very few Jews, and he imparted that to his family. Later, I became a Jewish educator–it’s all so interesting!

A story about Morris Abramowitz and his family was recently published in the New Jersey Jewish Standard.