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March 15, 2013

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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, MARCH 15, 2013 Seeking Kin'. A friend's Holocaust trauma sp00trks a Jewish soul By Hillel Kuttler through my life, I don't know." BALTIMORE (JTA)mRe- calling her childhood friend- ship with the girl across the streetfills Rozanne Dittersdorf with Tmmense sadness but also deep gratitude. More than six decades!ater, the pain her friend evinced still brings Dittersdorfto tears. But by her very existence, the girl also unwittingly helped shape Dittersdorf's Jewish identity. Now 78 and living in Great Neck, N.Y., Dittersdorf hopes to find her friend, whose name was Phyllis Garfunkel (or Gar- tinkle) when the lived during the late 1940s on Montgomery Street in Highland Park, N.J. Dittersdorf resided with her older brother, Arthur, and their parents, Jacob and Lillian Strger, at No. 329. Garfunkel lived directly across the street--possibly on the top floor of a two-family house-- with her childless aunt and uncle, Louis and Esther Glass- man. Garfunkel's uncle owned a leather company, Excel, in nearby New Brunswick. In about 1946, the couple had brought Garfunkel from Poland after she survived the Holocaust, which killed the rest of her family except the girl's older sister. The sister was recuperating in California when Garfunkel and Dittersdorf were friends; she would marry the doctor who treated her. Dittersdorf and Gaffunkel, whose given name was Faige, attended the Hamilton School and were in the same classes. They also went to the movies Courtesy Rozanne Dittersdorf Rozanie DiRersdor, nee Streger, as a young girl. together. One experience stands' out above all in Dittersdorf's memory. She was 11 and in Garfunkel's bedroom. l'ghe said to me, 'You know, Rozanne, my mother--they made a selection and my mother started screaming for me, and a German soldier shot her in the head,'" Dittersdorf recalled. "I buried that in my brain so many years. I'm Obsessed with the Holocaust. I read everything about it. That [experience] made such an impression on me. I could never understand how any- body could do something so cruel. She started crying and buried her head in the pillow, and her aunt came in and said, 'Don't talk about it anymore.' What happened in the room that day "is seared in my brain," Dittersdorf said. "The story she told and the sadness in her made me feel that this girl went through the most horrific period. Why I carried this story Not coincidentally, she said, the experience led her to live a thoroughly Jewish life. Dittersdorf's parents had slowly abandoned Orthodoxy as they worked harder and longer hours at the beverage plant they owned, Hadkins Bottling Company on Suydam Street in New Brunswick. They belonged to the Highland Park Conservative Temple but rarely attended services. The butcher shops and kosher food markets of the Brooklyn neighborhood they'd leftwere absent in High- land Park, where few Jews lived at the time. Now the town is a center of Modern Orthodox life, but Dittersdorf remembers just a handful of Jewish families as neighbors on her street in the late 1940s: the Gopins, who lived next door to Garfunkel, had a boy named Teddy; next to the Stregers lived a Sephardi family with daughters named Rozzie and Dorothy; and the Schreibers, two houses away, had a daughter, Geraldine. Dittersdorfwouid marry an Orthodox man, happily agree- ing to his requirement that they maintain a Sabbath- and kosher-observant home. When her husband, Herbert, died 40 years ago, Dittersdorf contin- ued raising their three sons in an Orthodox environment. All of it, she said, was sparked by knowing Garfun- kel, even though itwas only for three-plus years. With their business prospering, Dittersdorf's parents moved the family to a larger house in Highland Park. Around PAGE IA By Naomi Pfefferman Arts & Entertainment Editor Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles You might only know Alex Karpovsky as Ray Ploshansky, the caustic baristawho fitfully romances the naif Shoshanna on HBO's zeitgeist-y hit, "Girl'L" But while shooting that show, Karpovsky also has man- aged to write, direct and star in two independent films that recently premiered at Lincoln Center in New York: "Red Flag," Boy on 'Girls'is also a 'restl00;ss' filmmaker survivor whom she knew in the late 1940s in New Jersey. that time, Garfunkel left the street, too- to join her sister in California, Dittersdorfthinks. "I had a mission in my life. It was to keep my Jewish identity. I really believe itwas because of the link to Phyllis," Dittersdorf said. "It didn't come because I was raised that way." Reflecting on her life and the turning point that occurred at age 11 has made Dittersdorf eager to see Garfunkel. She does not have a photograph of her friend, but deafly pictures Garfunkel as a pretty girl with dark hair and fair skin, but someone "very foreboding" and unhappy. Even without intending to, her friend Phyllis - she pre- ferred Faige, actually - made a "very, very lasting impression on me," Dittersdorfsaid. That's something she wants to tell Garfunkel face to face. "She made me feel stronger about my Jewish identity. If it is meant to be, I want to say, 'Thank you for making me a strong Jew,' ' she said. Dittersdorf has searched U.S. Census records and town directories for any trace of her childhood friend. She called the Los Angeles-based Shoah Foundation, where someone suggested she contact "Seek- ing Kin," because the column has helped reunite several Holocaust survivorswith long- lost relatives. "I wanted to make this girl smile, and I couldn't make her smile," Dittersdorf said. "It was her war experiences, of course; but also she was unhappy about being with her aunt and uncle. "I hope she found happiness over these years and created a family of her own." Please email Hillel Kuttler at if you know the whereabouts of Phyllis Garfunkel/Garfinkle. If you would like "Seeking Kin" to write about your search for long-lost relatives and friends, please include the principal facts and your contact information in a brief email. "Seeking Kin" is spon- sored by Bryna Shuchat and Joshua Landes and family in loving memory of their mother and grandmother, Miriam Shuchat, a lifelong uniter of the Jewish people. a meta-comedy in which he plays a self-absorbed indepen- dent filmmaker named, well, Alex Karpovsky; and "Rubber- neck," a psychological thriller about a scientist who becomes dangerously obsessed with a co-worker. And in December, Kar- povsky will appear as a hopeless square (and wannabe bohe- 'mian) in the Coen brothers' "Inside Llewyn Davis," a folk music saga set in 1961. Why so busy? "I just have a restless drive to keep working," said Karpovsky, who begins shooting the third season of "Girls" this month. He does see a thread connecting the roles, however. "I'm drawn to characters who are lonely, neurotic arid on journeys of self-discovery," he said. "Many ofthemwantto become better people, but the road is often tortuous." Speaking by phone from the apartment he sublets in Brook- lyn, Karpovsky, 33, frankly discussed his own neuroses, which he sometimes draws upon to create his characters. "I have an acute death anxiety," he said." I think about death all the time. It's the root fear that creates a lot of my day-to-day insecurities." Like his character in ""Red Flag," Karpovsky was once dumped by a girlfriend who was fed up by his refusal to pro- pose. "The character feels that if he gets married, his drive and ambition will stagnate, which he sees as a form of death," Karpovsky said. The actor also has had issues with that kind ofcommitmentphobia, which, he said, has even extended beyond relationship.s to hous- ing arrangements. Karpovsky said because of this he tends to sublet apartments, sometimes for short periods of time, and to date has never signed a lease. "I'm hoping to get a place in April, but it's hard because I don't have any credit," he said. No matter that Kar- povsky is among the stars of one of the most talked-about shows on television. "Most of the landlords in my area are Eastern Europeans, and they don't watch HBO, never mind 'Girls,' "he said. The fictional Ray's living situation is even more tenu- ous: On a recent episode of the show created by its lead actress, Lena Dunham, Ray admitted that he has essentially moved in with Shoshanna because he is homeless and living out of his Mitsubishi. "I love the fact that all the characters are very authen- Alex Karpovsky in tic, and the relationships are grounded in naturalism," Kar- povsky said. "Viewers are much more familiar with comedies expressed in broader tones, with beautiful pepple, butwe're doing something much more raw, and, hopefully, reflective of the world we see around us in Brooklyn every day." Karpovsky grew up in Bos- ton, the son of a computer science professor, where the dcor in his childhood home included paintings of shtetls and other images of Jewish life in the Pale of Settlement. His parents are Russian Jews who emmigrated from the former Soviet Union in the late 1970s: "They had endured anti-Semitism and the many limits and quotas the Soviets placed on Jews," Karpovsky said. "They left to create a better life for themselves, and also for me." While in his 20s, Karpovsky assumed he would follow his father's footsteps into aca- demia, but he left his doctoral Jessica Miglio HBO's "Girls.' program in visualethnography at Oxford University when he discovered his penchant for the theater. Back in the United States, he began making his own movies while working at a film editing company, where he was allowed to borrow the in-house equipment to work on his own projects. It was while screening his third movie, "Trust Us, This Is All Made Up," at the South by Southwest film festival several years ago that Karpovsky met Dunham, who promptly cast him as a self-centered beau in her acclaimed, low-budget 2010 film "Tiny Furniture." When Dunham hired Kr- povsky to play Ray in "Girls" the following year, the actor immediately grasped what she wanted from the charac- ter: "Ray is a contrarian who speaks his mind and calls out the other characters on their b.s.," he said. "He's 33, a bit older than everyone else, and he feels this stringe obligation to blurt out his perspective on what others are doing, even if it is misguided and occasionally perverse." This season has revealed that Ray's cynicism "actually comes from asad, lonely place," Karpovsky said; viewers have learned that Ray is an orphan, with plenty of abandonment issues. They've also learned that Ray isn't Jewish: "In a recent episode, someone calls Ray a kike, and he responds by say- ing that he's actually Greek Orthodox," Karposvky said. "That was a surprise for me as an actor, and from I've read on Twitter, itwas also a surprise to some members of the viewing public as well." Wtat's it like for Karpovsky to be a boy on "Girls"? "I feel like a voyeur at times, when I'm hearing three or four of the female characters talk to each other on the show;" he said. "Every man has the secret desire to overhear the conver- sations 0fwomen, and to know what they're really thinking-- and that's incredibly juicy, delicious information to get a hold of." "Girls" will air the final episode of its second season on Sunday, March 17. Naomi Pfefferman is the arts & entertainment editor at The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles. ,d Development Corporation for Israel State of Israel Bonds 12600 South Belcher Road, Suite 101A ISRAEL!BONOSembe,,NRA Largo, Florida 33773 Revo Pearlstein Monica DiGiovanni Assistant Director Registered Representative 727-539-6445 800-622-8017 ' www.isrc] Courtesy Rozanne Dittersdorf Rozanne Dittersdorf hopes that these contemporary piotographs of her childhood home, left, and of her friend's will help her find Phyllis Garfunkel (or GarfinMe), a Holocaust