Street names map out more than the mere physical locations. They often represent a shared history; the aspirations and values of the city’s inhabitants. For a small town to name a street after one of its own is akin to lighting a memorial candle that will last as long as the town stands. Recently, the New Jersey city of Bayonne did just that in honor of Herschel “Hersch” Silverman, a Beat poet, and iconic candy store owner who died in 2015.
At the ceremony was Bayonne’s mayor, James M. Davis, and many of Silverman’s family members and friends. His children, Elaine Teitcher and Jack Silverman, had the honor of unveiling “Hersch’s Bee Hive Way,” where the eponymous candy store once stood.
When I first met Silverman in 2012, he described reading Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” in the late 1950s as a pivotal, life-changing event. He wrote to Ginsberg, inviting him to visit the candy store, and though the visit did not happen for many decades, a lively correspondence—and friendship—emerged. At Ginsberg’s encouragement, Silverman published and performed his work, eventually becoming the recipient of the New Jersey Council of Arts Fellowship in Poetry. I, too, was lucky to have corresponded with Hersch following our initial encounter—a correspondence that was sadly interrupted with his passing in September 2015.
The candy store, which faced the Bayonne High School, offered a great deal more than sweets to the students. As Silverman’s fellow poet and publisher Danny Shot wrote in a Facebook message, Hersch “served as mentor, confidant, father figure, [and] chill spot for generations of Bayonne teens from the fifties to the eighties. Having a street named for him (and Laura) is an honor well deserved.”
Silverman’s friend, poet Steve Dalachinsky and his wife, poet and artist Yuko Otomo, traveled to the unveiling from New York. In an email, Dalachinsky reflected on the experience:
It was a beautiful perfect day for the candy store man to have a street sign unveiled in his honor. [He was a] poet, hip, kosher vegetarian [and] mensch who gave Bayonne as well as New York and the world warm love, vibes, and poetry. [He was] a generous loving, kind, and honest human being who gave way more than he took and who deserves to be honored remembered and cherished.
He will now live on in the hearts of all those schoolchildren, young and old, who he has touched and who will forever be touched by him. Each day as they leave school, if they look up, there Hersch will be smiling down from that corner where he fed so many people’s hearts souls and minds.
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