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In 1898, after Laibel's mother, Dvora, married Ephraim (Frank) Stolarza Silverman, the family moved to Washington. The 4 1/2 Street, SW neighborhood where they settled was home to a small enclave of Jewish immigrants at the turn of the last century, including, most notably, Cantor Moshe Reuben Yoelson, cantor at Talmud Torah Congregation and the father of Al Jolson.
Frank Silverman worked in a tailor shop on 4 1/2 Street, and Dvora opened a grocery store in the basement of the family home. The family rented out rooms with breakfast to local schoolteachers who helped further Laibel's basic education. His stepfather, known as Uncle Frum to the children, taught Laibel to play the zither and imitate bird calls, and he even encouraged the boy to undertake strenuous exercises, ultimately unsuccessful, to help lengthen his short stature.
In 1901, Laibel joined the Navy, giving his name as Arthur L. Welsh. Friends and family called him Al. After serving on the U.S.S. Hancock and U.S.S. Monongohela, he received an honorable discharge as a Seaman and returned to Washington in April 1905.