The Old Man at the Y

During my stay at the YW/YMHA residence this year, I met an old forward bent man, who seemed not to be one of the students and interns living there.

"I'm part of the building," he said with a hoarse voice, when I one day met him in the corridor.

We shook hands, and he presented himself as Richard. When I later asked for his last name, he said it was Miller. I also learned that he had lived at the Y for over 50 years.

Miller was born in 1932 in New Jersey, where he grew up as the youngest of three siblings. His father was a medical doctor and his mother a housekeeper. After Richard had finished high school, he became an usher at a cinema. His job was to check people's tickets and to show them to their seats. Later, he worked in a closet store, which included duties as a salesman and in the stockroom.

In 1951, Miller moved to New York City where he started working as a fulltime employee for a charity organization called the United Jewish Appeal (UJA). This was also the year when he moved to the YW/YMHA, which houses not only rooms for residents but a concert hall, a gallery, and a Jewish library.

YMHA and YMWA stand for Young Men's and Young Women's Hebraic Organization. A counterpart of the Young Men's Christian Organization (YMCA) in Europe, the first YMHA was founded in Baltimore in 1854. Its purpose was to help youth with jobs and to offer activities for them in their spare time. The organization still promotes health, social activities, recreation, and culture.

As I mentioned, Miller has lived in this house for the past 50 years. He remembers many young people who have stayed at the Y. Most of them have later "moved on to become teachers, lawyers and doctors," Miller says. Harry Connic, Jr. is one former tenant, who now "produces plays and sings". Miller also remembers personal meetings with Eleanor Roosevelt and Golda Meir, who have both, on different occasions, visited the residence. During their stay, he had the opportunity to speak to them at the dinner after the Sabbath.

In the 1970s, Miller started to work for YW/YMHA, and despite being 70 years old, he still lends an occasional hand. Nowadays though, he mostly reads good books or goes to the theaters. He likes musicals and recommends "Phantom of the Opera." "You can see it here in New York," he mumbles with a hidden smile. "It's still going." Many things have changed in New York during the past decades. There are a lot of new buildings and the streetcars are gone. "But people are the same," Miller says. "The young are still wild."

© Torgny Lilja (2002)