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Middle Schoolers to Reunite in Lunchroom 60 Years After Graduating JHS 50

By Meredith Hoffman | February 11, 2013 7:22am

WILLIAMSBURG — The baseball players, drama club members, "class beauty" and eighth-grade treasurer will soon pack J.H.S. 50's lunchroom to munch, gossip and toss around a pink rubber ball.

It will be just another afternoon at the South Williamsburg middle school — but the "kids" will all be 74 and 75 years old.

"The class of 1953 is going back to school," said Mel Zweifler, a retired executive living in Paris who helped organize the 60-year reunion. "You can take us out of Williamsburg, but you can't take it out of us."

Zweifler and more than 55 other alumni have RSVPed for the class reunion this April, which will be in the same cafeteria where the group completed eighth-grade — in a neighborhood that now seems like a different world, he said.

"The school is very recognizable. We remembered going up the stairs from the entrance," said Zweifler of the group's past reunion, which was also held at the school. "But this is even more exciting because it's right in the lunchroom."

The reunion, which will kick off April 20 at the school and then continue at an alumnus' home in New Jersey the following day, brings together a cohort of J.H.S. 50 graduates who have become accomplished doctors, engineers, professional musicians, professors and athletes, the alumni said. 

But when they come together they feel like a bunch of kids.

"We regain our youth," said Zweifler.

And the group reunites in the old neighborhood because, he "read on the Internet is now the third hippest place in the country." 

"It wasn't hip when we lived there," he said.

Zweifler and his classmates first came together for their 50-year reunion after he connected with another alumni through an online search, he said.

"I was doing consulting work on the Internet...and I stumbled upon the name Dave Goldenberg, who I knew as a child," said Zweifler, who then called the old friend and spent two hours chatting with him on the phone. "I said, 'I want to go back to Williamsburg because I've been away some 45 or 50 years, and I want to get the kids we grew up with together.

"He said, 'You gotta be crazy!'" he added.

But Zweidler's dream quickly materialized, and more than 75 of the 235 middle school graduates came together in 2003, alumni said.

And that was only the beginning.

"This is our fourth time to meet," boasted Dan Weissman, 74, an alumnus who now lives in Pennsylvania and teaches journalism at Rutgers University. "We are just who we were, the same group of 14-year-olds. Absolutely no change."

But Williamsburg has changed so completely that Weissman said he was shocked to walk on the streets years later. 

"We were street kids. We never knew we were poor until we met people who weren't," said Weissman of the working class neighborhood where he and his friends lived in tenements. "There was this incredible closeness. What we had in common was Williamsburg. And boy, was it a place to live — our parents had all just dragged themselves out of the depression."

And whether playing softball at P.S. 19 down the street from his South Third Street apartment or walking to McCarren Park for softball, Weissman said his childhood was richer than he could hope to give future generations.

"I was standing in our backyard one day and I said I have to apologize to you," he recalled telling his children in suburban Pennsylvania. "You didn’t have [a childhood] like I did. I lived in the street and if I wanted companionship all I had to do was walk a block or two. It was an incredible childhood."

The reunion also stirs emotions over all those who have passed away, Zweifler said.

"What is sad is that we take a minute to announce those that have parted and then we have a minute of silence," he said. 

Then they turn to "joy and reminiscence," Zweifler added.

"We were playing ball, we were dating girls," he said. "We learned to read and write together."