DISCRIMINATION IS UGLY AND HURTFUL.
I KNOW ABOUT DISCRIMINATION; I SAW IT, FIRST-HAND, IN MY HOMETOWN OF PINE BLUFF, ARKANSAS.
Pine Bluff’s Jewish Community operated most of the successful businesses on Main Street….including such names as Cohen’s Fashions; Baim’s Department Store; Bram’s Jewelers; Rosenzweig’s; Kahn’s Jewelry Store; Selma Schloss Jewelry and Gifts; Henry Marx Men’s Store. There were other Jewish Stores on Main Street that chose not to carry the family-name.
Everyone shopped on Main Street; People of all Faiths worked for the Jewish Merchants and everyone who lived in the Pine Bluff area--- shopped at the highly-success businesses owned by Jews….yet…outside of business, Jews seldom mingled with gentiles. Most shocking of all…. Jews were not allowed to belong to Pine Bluff’s Country Club. I don’t know when Pine Bluff’s wealthy white families decided that Jews were “different” and could not be part of their well-established and highly-selective Country Club. That meant Jews were not allowed to play on their golf course, compete on their Tennis Courts, swim in their private pool, or eat-drink-and-be-merry inside the wealthy white-folks’ elaborate clubhouse.
Growing up in Pine Bluff, none of this affected me until Valentine's Day, 1949, when I received a red, heart-shaped box of Russell Stover Assorted Chocolates from a classmate named Sydney Bilsky.
That Valentine’s Day, every student in Ms. Hinson’s fifth grade class at Gabe Meyer School brought hand-signed paper valentines for each one of our class mates. It was fun receiving so many valentines…and some were even handmade. The valentines had been distributed and the class party had just ended when……Sidney Bilsky suddenly stood up and asked the teacher if he could give his heart to his girlfriend. Immediately, the room became shockingly-silent. The teacher---with a puzzled look on her face--nodded okay to Sidney--a student who hardly-ever spoke one word.
With everyone watching, Sydney pulled a very-large and very-red... heart-shaped box from inside his desk...and walked over to place it on my desk. Sydney then leaned over-- kissed me on the cheek—and loudly-announced “I LOVE YOU, SALLY”---before returning to his desk.
At Recess….no one could talk about anything else! The candy, the kiss, the words---and Sydney---of all people! The entire school was overwhelmed with the shocking news. Of course…days later…. the PTA, the Principal, the Teachers, most all of Pine Bluff….was involved. The Kiss was considered a serious offense for a fifth grader but more-so because it was a little Jewish boy kissing a little Gentile girl. An “example” had to be made and Sydney was temporarily expelled from school. When he returned to class after a three day suspension, Sydney was his usual, quiet, unsmiling self. Occasionally he would look my way and I would “daringly” smile back. Sydney needed to know that--Jewish or not--I appreciated his thoughtfulness. Love isn’t easy for some; Love must be encouraged for all.
I recognized—very early in life---that I couldn’t possibly “love them all” but I could certainly appreciate every kind word, each kind deed, and all-loving gestures received from those of the opposite sex.
DETAILS AND FOLLOW-UP: Sydney lived with his family in Pine Bluff’s more exclusive area known as Linden Circle. In fact, his family’s home was the most-impressive and most-beautiful of all the homes in the Circle. My family lived on Linden Street just one block from the Circle and I often rode my bike there. Homes in the Circle were more expensive, larger, prettier, and most were owned by Jews.
I knew Sydney as an extremely-shy boy who seldom smiled. He was always alone…either walking or riding his bicycle. We were schoolmates from the fifth grade until we graduated high school in 1956. After graduation, I never saw or heard about Sydney again. But I never forgot Sydney’s gesture of love. I always hoped he’d find true love and happiness.
A few years ago…wondering about Sydney, I looked on Google and, sadly, found his obituary.
Sidney M. Bilsky, 76, of Harbour Heights, Florida, passed away May 23, 2014. He was the son of William W. and Sarah R. (nee Bram) Bilsky, born July 10, 1937 in Pine Bluff, AR. Sidney was a builder for many years in Memphis, TN before becoming a wholesale jewelry salesman. He came to this area from Sarasota. Sidney was of the Orthodox Jewish faith. He had a big personality and enjoyed life, and loved to cook gourmet meals. Sidney will be greatly missed by his wife, Dulcinea; sons, Wayne Bilsky and Russell Bilsky; and stepson, Andre Frieden.
The family will receive friends 1:00 to 2:00 p.m. Monday, June 2, 2014, with the service in celebration of Sidney's life following at 2:00 p.m. To express condolences to the family, please sign the online guest book.