The Original Facebook

My maternal grandfather Poppa George came to this country at ten years old without two nickels to rub together.

George Ginsberg
Gricha or George as he became known in America was a orphan who sadly had to leave his two sisters Kate and Elisabeth in Nikolayev, Russia in 1910 to live with his Uncle Henry in Newark, New Jersey. His uncle was a funny man who made a living as a photographer so Pop picked up a camera (and Uncle Henry’s sense of humor) and never ran out of film until he passed away at almost 97 years old in 1996. 
In our family and among every single person he met, Pop was one of those remarkable individuals no one ever forgot. His penny philanthropy was the stuff of legend as he would collect pennies and nickels and give them away as checks for one or two dollars to hundreds of charities.

Today, some 110 years after his birth, he would not be surprised to find his grandson Jeffrey blogging about him. Okay, the part about blogging would be weird but he would instantly get it and want his own blog. He would have embraced digital photography and The Internet like he embraced color film in 1927 and talking movies in the early 1930’s. I’m convinced if he was alive in the last 10 years he would have invented Facebook. It would have been the perfect platform for him to share his photographs and love for his family.

One of The Books
But back in the old times, before the Internet, we had a saying in the family that still resonates today…“you better save those pictures for The Book”.  It was as if this mystical book had some kind of cosmic lifeforce and had to be fed emotional treasures and family jewels to keep it alive. In fact, that is exactly what The Book represented to us. It contains all of the family memories that could be kept together with Elmer’s Glue and hours of his time.

The Book was the annual photographic albums that Pop made for each of his three grandchildren every year of our childhood. I imagine he spent thousands of hours with these scrapbooks and those little corner holders to protect every photo or scrap of paper that he saved from our past. When each masterpiece was complete he would remove the cover and have it stamped in gold leaf with our name, the edition and the year. Our Grandson Jeffrey Lynn Slater Second Edition September 1960.

I have over 21 books that he made for me and my sister and brother have at least as many. And when his great grandchildren were born starting in 1976, he made The Book for Jaime, Garret, Sarah, Fanny and Harrison. Sadly, he never got to make an album for his namesake, Georgia, my brother Mitchell’s and sister-in-law Leslie's thirteen year old daughter. I feel he is keeping a new spiritual form of The Book for her that she will receive one day in some type of of photographic channeling.  And I can only imagine what he would have created for his great-great grandchild, little Henry Asher Dodd who carries the same name as Pop’s Uncle Henry. How things come full circle.

My shelf of Photo Albums
Each Book is heavy and emits a wonderful smell of musty old paper, fifty year old glue and the slightest hint of photographic fixer that would seal each picture forever. The covers and sides are tattered and occupy a special place in my heart and on my shelf.

My 9th birthday bowling party
When I take one of these treasures off of the shelf, I am instantly transported back to my  seventh birthday in 1961 with me sitting next to my best friend Philip Norulak while I wore a crown made of gold paper. Or there is my ninth birthday Echo Lanes bowling party with the likes of Tommy Sutton, Neil Turen, David Chetkin, Dougy Williams, Daniel Baron, Johnny Jacobs, Wade Cooperman and the two Howies (Fleishman and Levine).

Jeff, Diane and Janie in Washington, DC

Pop captured the trips to Washington, DC where we traveled to see the cherry blossom bloom with my sister Diane and cousin Janie. Photographs of my baseball team (Jayne’s Freight) with my buddy Larry Goldberg and people that only a photograph can bring back like Ross Ackerman or Alan Schlanger. 

Michael Winick, Mark Winick, Lolly Winick and Jeffrey Slater at Camp Winadu. Also featured the Winadu Bugle.
  Then there are the pictures from summer Camp Winadu where I spent every summer as a child with my cousins Michael and Mark, my Uncle Robbie who was Bob at camp, my brother Mitchell and my best friend Jamie Farber.

I like to look at these albums early in the morning as I touch each page almost feeling Pop reaching out to me from behind the pages. He is smiling inside each black and white image that have lasted more than fifty years. These are not just records written in light but evidence of how much he loved and cared for me. And, that he wanted me to learn from him how important and fleeting life is and that we are here to enjoy each moment not to worry about tomorrow but to really be part of each day. He loved to say seize the moment but I had no clue what he meant.

These albums are so funny too. There are photographs of me as Lawrence of Arabia or a picture of a TV showing the perfect game pitched by Jim Bunning of the Phillies on June 21, 1964 against the NY Mets. He kept the little articles from the Springfield Sun from March 26, 1964 telling the world of a basketball game at James Caldwell School that my team, the Lakers won in the small fry league. Although the article put two T’s in my last name (it’s Slater not Slatter), Pop felt it was part of the record and needed to be saved. I might need it 53 years later to write about it in something called a blog.

George, Diane and Jeffrey
To this day, Diane, Mitch and I all take great care in taking a photograph out of The Book and make a silent promise to Pop to put it back just as we found it. For all of us, these books are our most valuable possessions because they represents so many hours of love and attention we were so fortunate to receive as kids. I guess since he never had parents let alone grandparents to take care of him, he never wanted us to feel alone.

Today, some fifty six years later from my inaugural book, I still think to myself when I do something at work that Pop would be proud of or after we return from vacation in Hawaii that I really need to make an extra copy of each picture and to save each little memento since he would want to put it into The Book.

I guess some books have lessons that are everlasting and always adding new chapters.

George Ginsberg and his Grandson Jeffrey Slater

To read more about George Ginsberg, the Penny Philanthropist in The New York Times click on this link:

George's first cousin was the award winning author of Suite Francaise, Irene Nemerovsky. To read about George and Irene click on the link at:

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