Sunday, December 05, 2010

8229: Jackie Robinson’s Holiday Homerun.

From The New York Daily News…

Jackie Robinson’s daughter, Sharon, tells of slugger’s one special Christmas present in new book

By Elizabeth Lazarowitz, Daily News Staff Writer

Everybody knows how Jackie Robinson broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier, but few have heard how he helped ease racial tensions on one Brooklyn block.

The legendary slugger and his family moved to Tilden Ave. in Flatbush in 1948, a year after his historic breakthrough, and received a cold neighborhood welcome, except from the Satlows and their son, Steve, a huge Brooklyn Dodgers fan.

During the Robinsons’ first Christmas, Jackie learned the Satlows didn’t have a tree and decided to make sure the holidays didn’t pass without them having one with all the trimmings. The baseball great headed to the family’s home to spread some Christmas cheer and to surprise the Satlow kids with a tree — but he didn’t realize they didn’t have one because they were Jewish. The Satlows, touched by the gesture, displayed the tree next to their menorah.

That awkward moment became a cherished piece of family lore and the subject of a Christmas story, “Jackie’s Gift,” by Robinson’s daughter, Sharon.

“I wanted the story to talk about friendship and looking past race and religion and getting to know someone who is different than you,” said Sharon Robinson, 60, about the book, illustrated by E.B. Lewis.

The yuletide mishap also created an enduring bond between the then two young mothers — Rachel Robinson and Sarah Satlow.

“I was amused and surprised,” said Sarah, 91, now Sarah Cymrot, of the gift. “The gesture was so genuine.”

In Jackie Robinson’s autobiography, “I Never Had It Made,” he recounted how Sarah stood up to racists and refused to sign a petition to keep the Robinson’s black landlady, Eleanor Palin, from buying the Tilden Ave. house before they moved in.

“Eleanor told me she wasn’t too welcome here,” said neighbor Herbie Greene, 73, who knew Eleanor before she died. “They caught a little hell.”

Rachel Robinson said any differences between her and Sarah were overshadowed by what they had in common — both nurses with young children and a love of the city’s rich cultural attractions. “There was something I liked about her,” said Rachel, 88.

Steve Satlow, 68, recalled going to Ebbets Field with the Robinsons’ eldest son, Jackie Jr. “We were always at their house, and they were always at ours.”

The Robinsons stayed in Brooklyn only about two years, but Rachel and Sarah never lost touch — and still look out for each other. “I kind of watch every move because she’s a few years older than me,” Rachel said. “I’m very protective of her.”

For years, until Sarah’s recent move to Florida, the two lived just blocks away from each other in Manhattan and often went to the theater together. “The relationship kept up and she’s just my dearest friend to this day,” Sarah said. “We bonded and it just went on and on.”

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