Brownstone Brooklyn loses beloved newswoman and scribe

Brownstone Brooklyn loses beloved newswoman and scribe
Courtesy of Marsha M. Solomon

Former Brooklyn Paper columnist and Jewish Week correspondent Geraldine Gross — the journalist and author whose writing chronicled a resurgence in Jewish life in Brownstone Brooklyn — will be remembered at a memorial service in Cobble Hill on Feb. 27.

Gross died at her Brooklyn Heights home on Jan. 28 from a heart illness. She was 86.

She grew up poor during the Great Depression, the daughter of a Polish bookbinder. Gross didn’t attend college, but honed her writing chops and entrepreneurial skills by age 10.

“I wrote a weekly newspaper for which I charged a penny and a monthly magazine that cost a nickel!” she quipped in a June 2002 interview with The Brooklyn Paper.

Gross landed her first job with a film company while still a teenager.

“I was 16, but I lied and said I was 18,” she said in the interview.

Later, while doing P.R. for Chemical Bank and J.P. Morgan, Gross began a weekly column for The Brooklyn Paper, addressing topics such as “Vanishing ounces and increasing price tags,” and “Ending the cycle of immigrant stereotypes.” She wrote about Jewish life in North Brooklyn for The Jewish Week and other newspapers, and had two of her books published: “The Door Between” in her 20s, and “The Persecution of Tante Chava,” a collection of short stories about impoverished Jews, in her 70s.

Gross’s gentility spoke volumes, too.

“That teeny little exterior hid a huge heart and an immense sweetness,” said Brooklyn Paper publisher Celia Weintrob.

Her kindness also resonates with Lisa Malwitz, who worked with Gross in the early 1990s.

“When my mother was diagnosed with cancer, Gerri gave me a pep talk to help me from falling apart, and when I did, she would sit, listen and let me cry,” Malwitz said.

Gross and her late husband, George, were members of the Kane Street Synagogue in Cobble Hill. The temple, established in 1856, received its landmark status partly because of George Gross.

“George got us a grant from the Landmarks Conservation, and I got a story!” Gross wrote in the temple’s 2001 anniversary journal.

She publicized temple events and profiled the congregation. When Debra Cantor became Kane’s first female rabbi, Gross was the first to report the story. Her first article at The Jewish Week, recalled assistant managing editor Adam Dickter, was about an aspiring actor named Josiah Trager who later starred in a television sitcom.

“Geraldine definitely stood out as somebody who had the energy and enthusiasm of someone half her age,” said Dickter.

After her husband’s death in 2007, Gross broke her hip, precipitating health issues which didn’t dampen her pioneering spirit.

“Gerri was a forthright woman who wasn’t afraid to speak her mind!” said synagogue member Marsha Solomon.

Gross’s prolific body of work is painted broadly with candor and humor: In “Rachel and God,” she tells of a second grader who loses her faith after failing to win three oversized crayons in her teacher’s lottery. “The Last Jew in Holzburg” is the based on the true story of a Holocaust survivor, a cantankerous character who returns to his hometown and becomes its “Jewish problem.”

Gross’s powerful portrayals of people and their lives have recently found immortality in cyberspace where they are attracting new readers.

“She was an incredibly large-hearted, fair-minded, generous spirit who had respect for everybody,” said Rabbi Sam Weintraub, who will officiate her memorial.

Gross is survived by her two step daughters and their children and grandchildren. She is buried at Beth El Cemeteries at Cedar Park in Paramus, New Jersey.

A memorial for Geraldine Gross will be held at the Kane Street Synagogue on Feb. 27 at 7:30 pm [236 Kane St. between Court and Clinton streets in Cobble Hill, (718) 875-1550].

Reach reporter Shavana Abruzzo at [email protected] or by calling (718) 260-2529.