Jerry Baum

Story was recorded at the Covenant House on May 20, 2008, by Michael Naclerio.

I grew up in St. Louis, and my father was one of the men who built Beth Israel.  He also helped bring in Rabbi Eichenstein, the Head Rabbi of St. Louis at that time. We had a fight, the Rabbi and I. When I was growing up, I’d go out with my friends, and I worked with my father in the butcher shop. So one day, the phone rings, and it’s the rabbi. He says to my father, “What is Jerome doing in the saloon?” And my father turns around and says to me, “The Rabbi wants to know what you’re doing in the saloon.” I said, “If the Zodiac Bar on top of the Chase is the saloon he’s talking about, yeah I go there, because I like the entertainment and my friends all go there.” We just didn’t see eye to eye, me and the Rabbi.

So I went through High School at Soldan, and when the war broke out, I was 17, and I wanted to join the Navy.  I said to my dad, “I’m going to join the Navy.” And he said “Why?” and I replied, “I don’t like sleeping on the ground. I don’t like sleeping on a cot. I want a mattress. I want a pillow, and I want to be comfortable.” On my boat, there was this one sailor who came from Pittsburg. He used to tease me about being Jewish, so I would throw things at him. He would call me “Kyke” or “Jew-boy,” and I used to get so mad at him that I would throw things at him. I would throw pots, pans, knives, and one day, I even threw a cleaver at him! I never hit him, but I got so mad at him. He was the only one who was allowed to do it. If anybody would say anything he would be right there, and he would get mad. Only he could aggravate me.

When I joined the Navy, I left behind Geraldine Barg, the most wonderful person in the world, who was my high school sweetheart. I proposed to her when I was 18 or 19, and she was maybe a year younger. She said, “Why don’t we wait a little longer.” After I came home from the Navy, she got married to Eugene and I got married to my first wife, Gloria Polsky. Gloria and I had a son together, but after a while, we didn’t hit it off so well anymore.  We got a divorce, but our son caught polio. We both had to take care of him, so we got back together.

I was still in the Navy, so I had to do a lot of work on the West Coast. Gloria was so angry, and she demanded that I come back to St. Louis. I asked her to come over to the West Coast, because I had a house and everything. She said to me, “You come back home right now or we’re getting a divorce.” So I came back home just long enough to get the divorce. By that time, Geraldine and Eugene had split, so I married the true love of my life, Gerladine Barg.

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