One day after his 91st birthday, Seymour Pine sat back in the armchair of his bedroom at the Judy and Josh Weston Assisted Living Residences in Whippany and reflected on his life.
He has been a high-ranking New York police officer, a World War II veteran, and now, somewhat of a movie star.
He appears prominently in the film Stonewall Uprising, a documentary about three days of insurrection in New York’s gay community that many call the “Rosa Parks moment” of the modern gay rights movement.
As deputy inspector in the New York Police Department, Pine commanded a team that raided a Greenwich Village gay bar known as the Stonewall Inn on July 28, 1969.
Rather than submit passively to arrest, a crowd fought back with garbage cans, beer bottles, and even an uprooted parking meter.
In the wake of the violence, gay activists demanded an end to laws that criminalized homosexuality.
Pine said he has not yet seen the film, in which he relates how what had been a typical attempt to close down a gay bar spiraled into a bloody confrontation between cops and patrons.
“It was a big night for action,” he told NJ Jewish News. “We raided them and it escalated. I have no regrets.”
In the film, however, Pine questions the ordinances that discriminated against gays.
“You knew they broke the law,” he tells an interviewer, “but what kind of law was that?”
He was born in Manhattan in 1919 and grew up in Queens as the son of Polish immigrants. He led a life filled with action that began on the wrestling team at Queens College. He applied his fighting skills to his early days as a police officer.
He was drafted into the army, and his experiences qualified him for hand-to-hand combat. During the Second World War, Pine fought in Sicily, Italy, and France. Before a battle outside the city of Nancy, a landmine explosion gave him a back injury that still pains him 65 years later.
“A big fight was supposed to be taking place, but I don’t know whether it ever took place because I didn’t make it,” he said.
Back in New York after the war, he returned to the NYPD. He married Judy Andler before going off to the army, and they raised two sons and a daughter. He also began rising through the ranks to sergeant, lieutenant, captain, and deputy inspector.
The department was dominated by Irish Americans. “I didn’t find any anti-Semitism except for some ‘Jew’ name-calling, and it didn’t affect my rise in rank or promotions,” he said.
He retired from the force in 1976, and after his wife died, Pine moved to Israel. There, he lent his expertise to the Israeli police and hunted in vain for help with his wartime back injury.
“I had been going to the doctors there and they weren’t doing very well. So they tried here and it’s been no different.”
Seven years ago he moved into his one-bedroom apartment in the Lester Senior Housing Complex on the Aidekman Family Jewish Community Campus, where he watches the world and is not happy about a lot that he sees.
Although he is a Democrat who voted for President Barack Obama, Pine said “I think that the present administration has made things worse. I think that the Democrats have not produced what we thought they would produce that we’d be more equal.”
As for Israel, he said, “I think that it’s a far more dangerous place right now than it was before. Under the Bush administration, I think it was much better off.”
And yet, he hastened to add, “I don’t think Bush was better than Obama. I’d like to see peace, which I don’t know if we’ll ever get. There’s never been peace in that part of the world.”
Although he describes himself as “not very religious,” Pine attends services at the Lester Housing complex. “It means a lot to me to be Jewish. It makes me part of God’s world and I feel part of the whole picture. And the picture isn’t very clear.”
Stonewall Uprising is being shown in selected theaters and is available on Netflix.