by Jack Segal, to
For some reasons, while you were all
growing up, I did not have the opportunity to tell you about my own
childhood, and growing up in Philadelphia, and more about your great
grandparents, David and Eva Segal. This may be a way to recall many past
memories and to tell you about "our growing up" in Philadelphia.
This will not be an original clear
sequence of thoughts, but rather memories that were meant to be brought
out, "so you would know."
My sister, Mildred, your great Aunt and
my brother, Seymour, your great Uncle, and I were born and raised at 423
South 6th Street, (near 6th and Lombard Sts.) in
Philadelphia, a long, long time ago. Your great grandfather, David, was
a kosher butcher, with his own kosher meat store, at the same address.
The house and store has since been torn down many, many years ago. This area was mainly known as the Jewish
Quarter, for many of the earlier years.
Segal, author of "I Remember..."
Mildred was born on December 4th,
1923. I was born on January 11, 1924 and Seymour was born about ten years
later on January 22nd,1933.
My sister Mildred and I were born during
the "Great Depression years", just before 1929 - although we did not
realize we were in a Depression. As a very young child, I realized there
was a time, a very hard economic time, that we were nearly evicted from
our house, because Dad could not pay the rent that month. Luckily, we
always had food to eat. Many times Dad could not pay his bills to his
suppliers. Dad was always rushing to the bank to get some extended credit, or
to borrow some necessary cash to pay his bills. Our family, somehow,
managed to survive the Depression years.
SEYMOUR SEGAL'S BAR MITZVAH DINNER
From left to right: Sister Mildred,
Jack's father David, Jack's grandmother Pessie,
brother Seymour, and Jack and Seymour's mother Chava (Eva), at
Around the corner, on Lombard Street, was
our magnificent synagogue. B'nai Abraham, "our shul," which we all
attended and in which both Seymour and I had our Bar Mitzvah. It was
very well attended on Friday evenings and Saturday mornings, and of
course, on all Jewish holidays. B'nai Abraham was founded in 1882, and
is the oldest Russian Jewish synagogue in Philadelphia. The present
structure was dedicated in 1910.
Since in the Orthodox synagogues the women
were not allowed to sit with the men on the first floor, there was a
separate balcony seating area for the women and children. After a Bar
Mitzvah ceremony, the women would bring little white bags filled with
raisins, nuts, some candy, some cookies, etc., and throw them
down on the Bar Mitzvah celebrity. My brother and I went through this
shower of white bags after we finished our Bar Mitzvah ceremony.
The services today are the same as they
were then, but then the sermons were in Yiddish, today they are both in
Yiddish and English. There is a real connection with the past. When you
sat in the pews, you knew someone else was sitting there ninety years ago.
You really felt you were a link from the past to the present.
THE SYNAGOGUES OF
Rabbi Bernard Levinthal was our rabbi at
B'nai Abraham. He was also recognized as the dean of the Orthodox
Rabbinate of America. He lived only a few blocks from Dad's meat market
and since he and his family insisted on the finest strictly kosher meats
and poultry, they were regular customers of Dad's kosher meat market.
From the day Rabbi Levinthal came to Philadelphia from Kovno, Russia,
as a young rabbi, no person was better known to Russian Jewry in Philadelphia. He lived at 716 Pine Street, which was the unofficial city
hall of the Jewish Quarter. In the early years of 1900, the Levinthal
home was the center of immigrant Jewish religious life in Philadelphia.
The house was always open to all newcomers. Anyone wishing to eat had but
to come in and seat himself at the large table and a rotund,
good-natured cook would emerge from the kitchen and inquire in Yiddish
what she should serve. A warm invitation "Kumt Essen" (come eat)
greeted all who entered.
In reviewing the synagogues in our old
neighborhood, allow me to present some historical background.
Another important synagogue was in this
neighborhood. On the south side of the 400 block of Lombard Street was
Congregation Kesher Israel. This building had a very interesting
background. The building was built by Universalists in 1796 when
Philadelphia was the capital of the United States. Joseph Priestly, the
famous English scientist spoke there, and Vice President John Adams
regularly came to hear him. After the Civil War, the building fell in
disuse, and in 1887 the Universalists sold it to a congregation of
The congregation thrived for many years,
but in the 1970's, with the older generation dying out and the younger
generation moving elsewhere, the members could hardly raise a minyan,
the ten adult males necessary for communal worship. Real estate
developers sought to buy the building and turn it into housing.
Fortunately they were staved off, and in 1998 there was a rededication
of the building.
Maybe nothing momentous happened here, but
it was to this area, roughly bounded by Spruce Street on the north,
Christian Street on the south, and Second and Sixth on the east and
west, that thousands of Jewish immigrants, mostly from Russia, once
lived and worked and prayed and studied. It was an area of synagogues,
saloons and sweatshops. Today, it is upscale Society Hill plus its
unique shops - both old and new, funky South Street, and midscale Queen
Village. Brick sidewalks and cobblestone streets add a special charm to
the area. South Street is a mix of shops and restaurants. Art galleries
are found slightly north of Society Hill. Antique shops are located on
Pine Street and Spruce Street, west of the old Jewish quarter and in the
city's fastest growing collectibles district around 6th
& South Street. Jewish delis
can still be found on South St.
There were many Russian Jewish synagogues
throughout the old Jewish Quarter - almost one on every corner. When Jews
arrived in what would become the Jewish Quarter, they found no Eastern
European synagogues. If you had "yahrzeit" they had to walk or take a
horse car to a different area of the city of Philadelphia, to a proper
synagogue. In 1881, the only site for prayer in the Jewish Quarter was
the small prayer house of Beth Elohim, 417 Pine Street. Among the
immigrants themselves, a synagogue was called a shul, or a shil,
depending on where they came from in Eastern Europe. An immigrant who
came from Lithuania, White Russia, and parts of Poland was called a
"Litvak" and prayed in a shul. A person who came from Galicia, an area
to the south of Lithuania, was sometimes called a "galitsyaner" and prayed in a
There were eight large synagogues in the
Jewish quarter. B'nai Abraham, Kesher Israel, Roumanian American
Congregation, the Vilna Shul, Anshe Shavelm, B'nai Reuben, the Hungarian
Synagogue and the Neziner Congregation. Plus, there were about
smaller synagogues located on almost every street, from 3rd
St. to 6th St. and from Pine St. to Christian St., during the
period of 1887 to 1921. Most are all gone now.
THE JEWISH QUARTER
The 400 block of Lombard Street was
close to the center of the Jewish Quarter of Philadelphia in the half
century starting in 1881. In that year a wave of anti-Semitic pogroms
in Russia started a
flood of Jewish emigration to the United States. When they arrived in
Philadelphia, many of their co-religious groups gave them food and
shelter and helped them get on their feet. Possibly, others exploited
them in the clothing sweatshops on Monroe, Lombard and South Fourth
Streets. The immigrants worked as tailors, peddlers and shopkeepers;
they were Orthodox and Zionists; rabbis and reformers, scholars and
From Fourth to Fifth and from Lombard to
South was called the Jewish cafe district. Uhr's Romanian restaurant
was located on 5th
Street between Lombard and
South St. This is where your grandmother Dee and I were married. Across
the street was the Colonial restaurant, and at the corner of 5th
& Lombard St. was
Himmelstein's restaurant. This is where all the intellectuals would come
to drink and argue about socialism. At Fifth Street at Pine was a very
famous block a hundred years ago. This was known as Newspaper Corner. At
one time there were three Yiddish newspapers published here. There was
also a Jewish school for immigrants. On one corner was Brown's Book
Store and on the other corner was the Jewish Daily Forward.
Pine and Spruce Streets, a block away from
our house, from 2nd to 23rd Street was almost
entirely professional medical offices. The streets were known as
"Doctor's Row". Just a few blocks further away on Chestnut and Market
Street was Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence was
written and signed by our great national forefathers. Inside the Hall is
the famous original Liberty Bell, with the authentic crack along the
side. The crack was created when it was rung for the very first time. It
was always kept that way. The Bell is now enclosed in a protective glass
case for all visitors to see. The Betsy Ross house on 3rd
and Arch Street, is where the first thirteen star flag was made for George
Washington during the Revolutionary War in 1776.
Now, a little history and background of
the original Philadelphia.
King Charles II of England granted
William Penn a charter which made William Penn proprietor and governor
of Pennsylvania. He first visited the colony in 1682 and set up a
General Assembly at Chester, Pa. Penn named his capitol Philadelphia,
and before allowing settlers into any area, bought the land from the
Indians. On Penn's second visit (16991701), he granted the Charter of
Privileges, which made the legislature independent of the executive and
virtually in control of the colony.
Penn established the colony as a refuge
for those who were persecuted for their religious beliefs. The
persecuted from throughout Europe came, including Quakers from England,
Scotland, Ireland, and Wales; Palatines from the Rhine Valley;
Anabaptists (Mennonites) from Germany and Switzerland; Dunkards (members
of the Church of the Brethren) from Germany in 1721; Roman Catholics
from England in 1732; Moravians via Georgia in 1740; Welsh, Swiss and
Scotch-Irish between 1700 and 1787; and the Pennsylvania Dutch (who were
Germans) around 1740. Indian relations remained peaceable until the
French arrived in 1753 and stirred up the Indians, leading to the French
and Indian War and Pontiac's War which ended in 1764.
Philadelphia played an important role
during the Revolution and in the drafting of the Constitution.
Pennsylvania was among the greatest contributors of men, money and
supplies to the Revolutionary War and was the site of many of the
important battles, such as Washington's crossing of the Delaware River,
the battles of Brandywine and Germantown. Philadelphia served as the
capital of the United States from 1790 to 1800.
Tens of thousands of settlers came in the
early 1800's to work in mines and industry. They came from Italy,
Poland, Russia, Austria, Germany, Czechoslovakia, England, Ireland,
Hungary, Sweden Greece, France, Norway, Denmark and Finland. By 1811,
steamboats began traveling from Pittsburgh to New Orleans. The railroad
canal line extended from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh by 1834. With these
improvements more immigrants came, so that by 1840 there was no longer a
frontier in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania had the first anti-slavery
society in 1775, It is no wonder that the state was so pro-Union. Nearly
400,000 men served for the Union, and the battle of Gettysburg was
fought on Pennsylvania soil.
Statewide registration of births and
deaths began in January 1906. Records prior to 1906 were kept in
individual counties or cities, some as early as 1852.
THE SEGAL HOUSE
Our house was next door to an African
Methodist Episcopal church, separated by a long yard between the church
and our house. The A.M.E. church was one of the largest, wealthiest
black congregations in the area. They had such a grand organ, that on
Sundays, when it was played, the organ music could be heard throughout
the neighborhood. When it snowed very hard, the snow would fall from the
church slanted roof, next to our house, right into our back yard, making
a four or five foot high hill of snow. When that happened, I would take long
barrel staves (sides of large barrels) and tie them to my shoes, like
skis, and slide down the small hill of snow- much like skiing.
Our house was directly in back of a house
in which lived a Negro family with several children. We played together
and visited each other's house - just over the dividing fence. They
played in our house and many times ate meals with us. We never knew of
any racial tensions or discriminations. It was a very safe neighborhood
In hot summers, we used to just sit
outside, until very late, or fall asleep on a wooden bench, outside
until about 2 a.m., because of the cool breezes coming through the long
church yard, next to the store.
Our three-story house with the butcher
shop was an old house. It was heated by a coal heater. These heaters
probably do not exist any more. The coal heater was in the cellar and
Dad and I would have to use a huge coal shovel to shovel the coals into
the furnace. We also had to take out the ashes with the same shovel
every day. About every two or three weeks in the winter, we had to order
more coal. A huge coal truck would pull up to the outside cellar door
which was on the sidewalk in front of the store, and by a long metal
chute from the truck, the driver would shovel the coal into the cellar.
Coal was bought by the ton or half ton. Even with all the coal used, the
house was always cold in the winter. The heat would come up from the
furnace in the cellar, through a duct register in the floor. Many times
we all huddled around the heat register in the floor to keep warm. The
heat rarely got up to the second or third floors in the house, which was even
colder. We always had to wear a sweater or two, or heavy pajamas, when
we went to sleep, with many blankets over us.
And there wasn't much hot water either.
When we took a bath, we had to first heat up a great kettle of hot water
on the kitchen stove and take it upstairs to the bathroom, on the second
floor, and pour it into the bathtub. Needless to say, we had to make
many trips to fill up the tub with hot water, which cooled while we
waited for another kettle of hot water.
We also had a weekly ritual of washing our
hair. Mom would fill up a huge basin with hot water in the kitchen, and we would bend over and Mom would scrub and scrub - while we
yelled that the water was too hot.
Even though we lacked the luxuries as we
know them today - no TV, no modern baths, no microwave ovens, no electric
or gas stoves, no electric blenders, no air conditioners, no washing
machines or clothes dryers, we all managed to get things done.
Our clothes were washed in a big metal tub
with a metal scrubbing board - all by hand - and dried outdoors on a
clothes line. We also did not have a refrigerator. We had an "ice box"
that required a block of ice in the top compartment to keep the food
cold. Many years later, Mom and Dad bought their first early model
refrigerator. That was a real modern convenience. We did not have to
empty the basin of water that collected under the ice box, due to the
We always had something to do, besides
working in the store, delivering orders or helping out in the kitchen,
plus doing our regular homework and learning our Hebrew lessons.
In contrast to today's "buy me everything"
younger generation, as youngsters we made certain moveable toys like
"scooters" and wooden racing wagons. To make a scooter, we would take
scrap pieces of wood, then find some old roller skates. We would take
half of the roller skates for the front wheels and the other half for
the back part of the scooter. It looked almost exactly like the
expensive store bought scooters of today, only made of scrap wood. For
the "soap box derby wagons," we would get an empty apple or orange box
or crate, from the local grocery store, and then look around for some
used baby carriage wheels. Perfect for the front and back wheels. We
would also use a rope-steering method to turn or steer the box wagon. We
created these things because we could not afford the real thing. We also
made our own pirate swords and other play-acting weapons. We even made
our own skate boards, although we did not know they were called skate
Because our Mother and Dad were occupied
all day in the butcher store, we had a negro cook and housecleaner. Her
name was Clara. Clara was one of the best pie and cake makers I can
recall. She would bake the best cherry and apple pies every week. Our
oven was a coal-fired black cast iron stove with an oven door. We always
knew that there would be a fresh pie or layer cake ready to eat whenever
we returned from elementary school, which happened to be located just
across the street from the store.
MOM WAS AN EXCELLENT COOK
And speaking of baking ... Mom was an
excellent cook and "baker." .She would make everything from "scratch"
Nothing pre-prepared or frozen or half-made ready to just cook. She
would make strudel with the lightest, flakiest covers. She would sift
and mix her own flour and knead the dough - let it rise - then knead it
again and again, then make it extra thin by using a rolling pin to roll
it over and over again until the dough was so extremely thin, you could
almost look through it. Then she would prepare all the various fruits,
nuts and raisins and then roll it all up in the very thin flaky dough, until it was
about a three feet long roll. Mom would then separate the long rolls into
smaller portions with the side of her hand. No knife cuts. No one made
delicious fruit filled strudel like Mom did. Not even the Jewish
bakeries - well, maybe some did. Strudel was not the only pastry delight
in which Mom was an expert . She made her own noodle kugels and
"kichels", sponge cakes (with loads of butter and many fresh eggs to get
that fine golden color and great taste), honey cakes, potato latkes, and
the most delicious cheese knishes and cheese blintzes, plus so many
other fabulous tasty treats. (Is it any wonder why we all have high
COMES THE SABBATH
On Friday nights we always had our
traditional ritual Sabbath dinners. Mom would clean the house from top
to bottom, scrubbed all the floors and put newspapers on the floor to
keep it clean. Then she would start preparing the Sabbath meal. Most of
the time it was chicken soup followed by roast chicken and several vegetables, which included mashed
carrots - or "tzimmis". When the appetizer
was gefilte fish, it certainly was not canned or store bought. No sir!
It was home made and hand made. Mom would go the live "fish store" and
pick out the necessary different varieties of live fishes that were best
for gefilte fish. Then the fish store would cut off the fish head and
take off the fish scales. The fish head was kept because it made a
flavorful sauce. Then, at home, we would chop the different varieties of
fresh fish into small pieces and then we would chop all the pieces
together with all the necessary spices, fresh eggs and bread crumbs,
into a fine, smooth mash. I do mean chop, chop, chop, from thick large
pieces of hard fish into a very finely chopped smooth fish mash. This
took hours of hand chopping. Then the small portions were wrapped in the
fish skin and cooked.
This fish chopping on Friday afternoons
were almost a ritual in its preparation. My sister, Mildred, and my
brother Seymour and myself had to do all the hand-chopping. Everything
was put into a large wooden bowl, and with a hand held meat or fish
chopper knife, we chopped for hours until it was ready and acceptable
for the proper flavor and texture.
One of my responsibilities every Friday
afternoon was to go to the local Jewish bakery, called Bogaslofsky's, at
5th and Lombard Street, and buy a large egg or raisin
challah, choice of braided crust or sections. There was nothing more
delicious than a Jewish made challah. I have yet to find fresh challah
like the old fashioned European Jewish bakers made. It must be a secret
art, skill or talent.
SABBATH AND THE JEWISH
After Dad would close the butcher store on Friday
at sundown, he would always go to the synagogue for Sabbath services.
After he would come home from the synagogue, Mom would begin serving
the Sabbath dinner. First she would light the traditional Sabbath
candles in the silver candelabra, say the Sabbath prayer and the prayer
over the covered challah, plus the prayer for a cup of sweet wine. We
never ate until all the prayers were finished. It was a Friday night
ceremony that I will always remember.
As a youngster I certainly remember the
Jewish holidays, especially Passover. In preparation for the Passover
holiday, our house was thoroughly cleaned from top to bottom - especially
the kitchen and dining room, which was in back of the store.
All the regular year-round dishes,
silverware, glasses, pots and pans and other cooking utensils were
washed and each piece individually wrapped in newspaper and then packed
in large boxes or a barrel and stored away in the cellar of the store.
We could not use any of these regular dishes and utensils for Passover. Instead, we
brought up from the cellar other boxes of very special kosher Passover
dishes, that had been packed away carefully the previous year, after the
Passover holiday, and then scrubbed clean again. All foods left over in
the kitchen before the Passover holiday began had to be thrown out.
These non-Passover foods could not "contaminate" the Passover dishes.
Then we had to buy special kosherfor-Pesach foods, approved by a
Rabbinical council, and it had to have the symbol, "kosher for Passover"
on the label, otherwise it was not acceptable to use during Passover.
Above all, we dared not have any bread in
the house at all during Passover. It was "traife" (ask your mother for a
translation). Instead, we bought boxes of "matzos" - the unleavened
"bread" that the ancient Israelites had to hurriedly bake, while making
their exodus from bondage in Egypt several thousands of years ago.
During the rest of the year we always had
two sets of dishes. One set for dairy foods only, and one set for meat
dishes only. We could not eat dairy with meat, according to strict
kosher dietary laws, so we could not mix the dishes either.
After Passover, the joyous holiday of
Rosh Hashanah (New Years) came with all its Hebrew New Year greeting cards.
Dad, of course, closed his store on all holidays, no matter what day it
fell on. Yom Kippur followed Rosh
Hashanah in the late summer or early
Fall, depending on the calendar. Yom Kippur is the most solemn holiday
and its observance of a
"fast day." As the Yom Kippur fast ended, most of us looked forward to a light meal of perhaps bagels, cream
cheese and smoked fish platters.
On Erev Yom Kippur, there was another
orthodox ritual called "Kapporot." Most European Jewish women and very
orthodox Jewish women participated in this ceremony. This was a "ritual
sacrifice" of a chicken as atonement for sins. The chicken or fowl is
passed over the head of a person three times, while reciting the proper
prayer. (See photos)
Dad always provided this service to his
customers almost every year. He would bring in a coop of live chickens
into the store. The customer would pick out a chicken, and then go back
into our kitchen to perform the ceremony. Of course, the chicken did not
stay still while being held and twirled around a person's head. It would
flap its wings wildly with the feathers coming loose and flying all over
the kitchen. Mom would have to clean up all the feathers after each
Following Yom Kippur is
Sukkot, or Sukkos. Now we start collecting branches, palm leaves, nails, hammers,
and paper chains and an assortment of all kinds of fruits, to build the
"sukkah" for the holiday.
I remember as a small boy, Dad for many
years built a sukkah in the yard in back of his store. Dad built it. Mom
decorated it with the customary colorful fruits, grapes, vegetables and
other paper-made designs. I recall that we even had a table inside and
ate several dinners inside the sukkah.
Sukkot is a time of rejoicing and the
recalling of a bountiful harvest. One of the customs of Sukkot is
collecting four species of plants. The "etrog" (citron) is a citrus
fruit that resembles an enlarged lemon. The "lulav" is a palm branch
which is bound together with two willow twigs. (See Photos)
During certain prayers on Sukkot, and when
inside a sukkah, tradition teaches us that we hold the "lulav" and
"etrog" together and shake them in all directions to honor G-d, and to
shake away evil spirits. Dad always brought home the "lulav" and the
"etrog", and we all enjoyed the Sukkot ceremony and the special meals
prepared for this holiday. Sometimes it was the custom to visit other
people's sukkahs, and be invited to share the meal with them. It was a
most happy occasion.
As with all Jewish boys and girls, about
eight or nine years old, we started to go to Hebrew "school" to learn the Hebrew
language and prayers, and to prepare for our
Bar Mitzvah, at the age of
thirteen. This was mandated. No options to refuse. Mildred also went to
Hebrew classes. The Hebrew school was not really a school at all. It
was a set aside empty room in our Rabbi's house, about three blocks from our
house. After our regular school classes, it was compulsory to go to
"chayda" - Hebrew classes. Other young boys and myself sat at a large
wooden table, on a long wooden bench. Whenever we made a mistake in
reading the Hebrew text, or spoke out of turn, the Rabbi had a long
stick and he would hit our hands. We quickly learned to talk only when
called upon to read. Of course we also had Hebrew homework - to read or
to write lessons in Hebrew. I have never forgotten how to read Hebrew.
Besides cooking, baking, cleaning the
house and working in the store with Dad, Mom was an excellent seamstress
and also made Mildred's dresses and simple clothing, embroidered pillow
cases, and quilt and blanket covers on an old foot-pedal operated Singer
sewing machine. Mom also made several "feather beds." These were huge
overstuffed quilt-like comforters stuffed with cleaned goose feathers
and goose down. They were soft and fluffy and exceptionally warm. These
big soft overstuffed comforters were put over our blankets in the winter
and almost covered us completely. It kept us very warm - except when we
had to get up and get out of bed in the cold room.
WE LISTENED TO THE RADIO
After the Friday Sabbath meal, Dad would
relax and read the Jewish newspaper- the "Jewish World." We would sit
around the radio and listen to some Friday night "radio series." You
probably never heard of these programs, "Grand Central Station", "I
Remember Momma", and several other nightly dramatic series.
Since we did not have television in those
early days, the radio or phonograph was the only means of audio
entertainment. We only saw the very earliest television programs by
standing in front of an appliance store window, where an early small
screen television set was displayed, and watched the program that was
on. The early television pictures were very grainy in black and white.
Milton Berle and his comedy show was very popular and one of the very
early pioneers on TV.
So we listened to radio very much. In
Philadelphia at that time, there were several Jewish radio stations and
programs, with Yiddish-speaking actors and actresses. Most of these
Jewish programs were on Saturday and Sunday, with wonderful Jewish
dramas, music and songs. These programs also are gone forever, except
perhaps in greater metropolitan areas with a large Jewish population.
My favorite daily radio programs during
the week were the fifteen-minute episodes which included, "Buck Rogers
in the 25th Century" ,"Flash Gordon", "Bobby Benson and the
H-Bar Ranch", "Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy", "The Shadow", the
"Phantom", "Dick Tracy", and many other exciting radio series, during the
week. These were famous names of old-time radio programs that you may
not have heard of - but radio was a nightly listening habit. Then there
were the famous comedians of radio, and the comedy hours with famous
names of that era, such as Eddie Cantor, George Jessel, Jack Benny,
Burns and Allen, Red Skelton, Fred Allen, Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin, Henny Youngman, and so many more wonderful famous comedy programs that
kept you laughing while you listened to the radio. We would sit around
the radio, in our dining room in back of the store, and listen and laugh
for hours every night. Sound was everything. Radio stimulated your
imagination. From the various sound effects that you heard, you could
almost see or imagine what was going on, such as the sound of opening or
closing the door, footsteps, horses galloping, the roar of a railroad
train, carriages traveling on cobblestone streets, a fog in London, the
particular sounds of someone walking along a waterfront street, the
terror-shriek that made you almost "see" a heroine in distress.
THE JEWISH ENTERTAINERS
While I am on the subject of
entertainment, let me tell you how and where most of our famous
comedians started. You probably may have heard, from your parents, about
the very well known Catskill Mountains Jewish resorts, in New York,
lovingly called the "Borsht Circuit." The famous Jewish hotels in the
Catskills, which catered mostly to New York
Jewish summer vacationers, included such
famous hotels as Grossingers, Concord, Browns, Kutchners, and others.
These were original training "schools" for our early and most successful
comedians, musicians and vaudeville stars. Young aspiring stand-up
comics who are stars even today, would come to these hotels just to
tryout their funny routines. They had several assignments during the
day; they would be waiters, busboys, dance partners for the single women
vacationers, dish washers, camp counselors for the youngsters who came
with their families, game instructors, etc. But at night, they would
have their opportunity to come on stage and become one of the comedy
acts for the evening entertainment program. Many of the old vaudeville
routines came from comedians in the Catskills. Most of "today's famous
comedians came up from the "Borsht Circuit", including Jerry
Lewis, Dean Martin, George Burns, Fred Allen, Jack Benny, Henny
Youngman, George Jessel, Eddie Cantor, Joey Bishop, Jackie Mason, Alan
King, Sid Caesar, Hershel Bernardi, Sid Silver, Mel Brooks and so many
other great comics of their time. Sadly, many of these great names have
passed away, and the laughter they created with them.
These Jewish Catskill Mountain resorts
were open all year around, and were more famous for their never-ending
food serving. By the time you finished a huge breakfast of many courses,
it was almost time for another huge lunch - with a long list of
delightful choices. Dinner with a long list of entree choices was the
gourmet's favorite and the glutton's delight. It seemed the waiters were
continually serving food dishes. The waiters never tired of bringing
second or third or fourth servings. Just mention your special request and the
waiter brought it to your table. These resorts were no place to lose
weight. And of course, every evening was topped off with the "Broadway
Review", with the Jewish comics, Yiddish humor, favorite music for
dancing and more late night snacks, and even some matchmaking
introductions. Your grandmother, Dee, and I went to the Catskills
several times, with Debra and Lauren.
ABOUT JACK'S PARENTS,
DAVID AND EVA
Now to some background history of my
mother and father, Eva and David. My mother, Eva, your great grandmother
was born Eva Brockman, on January 15, 1899. She and her two brothers
Daniel and Benjamin came from Bessarabia, Romania, in eastern Europe.
Her mother's name was Deborah. I have no record of her father's name.
Her parents had a large estate with a large house with many servants,
plus fruit orchards, horses and carriages. My mother would tell us
stories of her childhood and how they rode horse-pulled open sleds in
the high snows of winter.
When she was a young girl, there was a
Russian revolution going on with dangerous "racial" riots in eastern
Europe. All Jewish families were in great danger because of the spread
of anti-Semitism in Romania and Russia and other nearby countries.
Russian elite cavalry soldiers, known as "Cossacks", in their imposing uniforms
and fur skin headwear, would storm into villages on horseback, and waving
their long swords would kill many innocent people, for no rational
reason. About this same time, because of the dangers of the spreading
revolutions, my mother's parents decided to send her and her brother
Daniel to America to live with a relative, Uncle Goldstein, in
My Mother and her brother Daniel, as young
as they were, came to America all by themselves, all alone, on a ship
with hundreds of other families who were escaping from Romania, Russia,
Germany, Ukraine and other parts of Europe, hoping to make a new life in
America, referred by them as the "Land of Milk and Honey." It must have
been a dreadful trip because of the very poor conditions on the boat.
There certainly were no private cabins or dining rooms. They came in
"steerage class", the poorest way. They slept in wooden bunks, probably
stacked three or four levels high, and ate what little food they had brought
with them, or to cook in portable oil stoves, during the many days it
took to cross the Atlantic Ocean.
The other brother, Benjamin, who stayed in
Romania, was drafted into the Romanian army. There is no record of his
survival. I believe the rest of the family that remained in Europe
must have perished in the Holocaust, between the WorId War
years from 1938 to 1945. There was no
further correspondence from them.
When my Mother and her brother Daniel
arrived in Philadelphia, they were greeted by their Uncle Goldstein and
his family, who lived on South 6th
St., in South Philadelphia.
They both lived with the Goldsteins until Mom met and married my
father. Uncle Goldstein had a wholesale banana business around Front and
Spruce Street, in the Philadelphia waterfront warehouse district.
green bananas, imported from South American countries, were kept hanging
in huge bunches in a cold refrigerated room, where they slowly ripened
and were ready to sell by pushcart merchants or delivered to fruit and
produce stores in the area.
Early photo of Jack's parents, David and Eva Segal
Daniel accepted to work with his Uncle
Goldstein and served as a fruit vendor. When he had saved enough, he
decided to move away into his own apartment. He started to buy house
properties and after awhile he was in the real estate business of buying
and selling apartment houses. He married his future wife, Bessie. They
had two children, Mollie and Milton. Mom and Dad visited Uncle Dan very
often, when they lived in Strawberry Mansion - on 33rd St.,
across from a huge reservoir. I remember playing with Mollie and Milton
very often when we visited them. When Milton grew up and was old enough,
he was drafted into the U.S. army, just before World War
started. He was killed in military action
While living with the Goldstein's, my
mother went to work in a blouse factory and did much hand sewing and
embroidering. She became an expert seamstress, working very long hours,
six days a week.
My father, David, your great grandfather,
was born on November 12, 1894, in a village near Kiev, in the Ukraine,
in Eastern Europe. The Ukraine, at that time, was part of all Russia. My
father came to America with his mother, Pessie, your great, great
grandmother, and his three brothers: Sam, Louis, Isador, and a
sister Sarah. My father's father was named Yonkov Mayer. I was named
after my grandfather. Meyer is my middle name, which I never used. (The
name Segal was changed from a European name to Segal). My father's
mother was named Pessie and her maiden name was Abraham. My grandmother
and her four sons and one daughter all came from a very orthodox Jewish
background. When they all arrived in Philadelphia, they all shared the
same house, until all four brothers moved out and established themselves
in their own businesses. Dad's mom, Pessie, continued to live by herself
in the same house for many years, until she passed away on January 22,
1953. She is buried at Har Nebo Cemetery.
As young children, my sister,
Mildred, and I, used
to visit Dad's mother, with our parents very often. They all spoke
either Russian, Hebrew, Yiddish, Polish and even in the Ukrainian
language. Being very young, I did not understand what they were talking
about. Years later, I did begin to understand Yiddish, since it was
always spoken in our house and among the Jewish customers in the butcher
I learned that my father worked for a
furrier in his village in Europe. Several years after Dad came to
America, he went out West and worked as a rancher herding cattle for
several cattle ranchers. Then when he came back to Philadelphia, and
with his cattle ranching background and experience, he worked for a
kosher butcher for some years, and then decided to buy the butcher store
from the owner, who retired. Now Dad was the owner of his own business.
He built the kosher butcher shop into a well-known and very respectable
The expanded neighborhood around the
butcher shop was mostly a mixture of European immigrants, and mostly
Jewish, who observed the kosher dietary laws. They all became loyal
customers of Dad's store for the fine quality of kosher meats and
poultry , and the special personal kind and gracious attention received
Mom and Dad met through Uncle Goldstein,
who acted as a "matchmaker", and after a proper engagement period, they
were married on July 10, 1922, in a Social Hall on 8th
street, between Lombard and South Streets, in Philadelphia. Rabbi Leventhal performed the marriage ceremony, which was a great honor for
Dad and Mom. Mom quickly learned the meat business and worked very
hard alongside Dad, waiting on customers, while at the same time keeping
a strictly kosher household and raising Mildred, Seymour and myself.
DAVID SEGAL THE BUTCHER
Dad always worked much too hard. He would
get up about 2 or 3 a.m., several times a week and walk to the "chicken
market" located at Front and Lombard Streets. He would personally pick
out the very best chickens from various chicken coops to serve his
customers. He always wanted the very best quality of meats and chicken
for his customers. The chickens would then go to the slaughter house,
and then delivered to the store. Dad would come back and then open the
store for another long, hardworking day, until 10 or
p.m. every night. Many times Dad would
have to carry the dead chickens in a burlap bag on his shoulders and
walk back to the store - twelve or more blocks each way - in summer heat or
Dad would keep
the store open late very night - except Friday night, the
start of "Shabbes", until Saturday night after sundown, when
he would again open the store to eagerly awaiting customers.
night after sundown, when Dad opened his store, he would put
on a freshly laundered, snow-white clean, heavily starched
cotton wraparound "surgeon's" coat. On top of that he would
wear an immaculately clean white apron. Then he would cut up
the fresh kosher beef carcass that had been delivered
earlier that Saturday afternoon.
The meat was put
into the store's large refrigerator, ready to sell that
night. Dad's regular customers would come and wait outside
the store, until it opened on Saturday night, to be the
first and to get the best cuts of beef.
photo: Jack's father in front of his kosher butcher shop,
located at 423 S. 6th St., Philadelphia.
Dad was always extremely generous and
sympathetic to his customers, who had little money to buy food in those
Depression years, but wanted some meat or chicken to feed their family.
He would always give a half pound more than what the customer ordered or
what the scale weighed, and never charged an additional cost to the
customer. His daily "ledger" with Jewish hand scripted entries, were
mostly with large unpaid balances, yet Dad continued to extend credit.
He knew that certain customers could never repay their debts for the
meats they had bought.
ABOUT KOSHER MEATS
Now, just a little information on "kosher"
Only the forequarter of a steer (not a
cow) is considered kosher - because this is the upper half of the steer,
which is the "clean" part. The bottom half of the steer, or the
hindquarter, is not kosher, because it is the "unclean" half.
When the steer is taken to the slaughter
house, a rabbinical veterinarian trained in this ritual, with a very
sharp huge knife, cuts the throat of the animal, while it is hung by its
rear hoofs. He must only make one cut, which is considered quick and
painless. If he has to make two cuts, it is considered painful, and not
acceptable. Then the steer is thoroughly washed and cleaned out. Then
cut in half, along the spine, and refrigerated. The upper quarter, or
forequarter, is sold to kosher meat markets and kosher hotels, etc.
Certain parts of the insides - from the
upper half - are also sold to kosher meat markets. These include the
heart, the lungs, the pancreas, the brains, the tongue and even the
cheeks on the jaws. These can be prepared and considered a delicacy from
European recipes. The small knee knuckles of a calf is also used to
prepare a dish called "petzah." Most modern housewives of today do not
know how to prepare these foods.
My father bought and sold many of the
above parts, mostly to older Jewish women of European descent, who do
know how to prepare these dishes, considered a staple menu item or even
Dad also made his own "homemade" kosher
salami and even kosher hot dogs. He made a "smokehouse" in the yard back
of the butcher store. He would take certain parts of the steer's
intestines, then thoroughly wash and sterilize the lining. Then with
the best quality beef and different necessary spices, he would put this
beef through the meat grinder into the tube of intestines attached to
the grinder. He would make certain lengths and tie the ends. Then he
would smoke them until they were properly cooked and ready for sale. His
customers loved these homemade salamis knowing they contained only the
best cuts of kosher beef. But after a while, it became too burdensome and
he bought the same type of salamis and kosher hot dogs from a kosher
Years later, while I was in junior high
school, I delivered the orders to customers on a bike. I would load up
the wire basket that was attached to the handle bars, and ride to each
customer's house. I would leave the bike with the remaining orders in
bags on the bike, and go inside the customer's house. I never worried
about someone coming by and taking one of the bags of meats or poultry
from my bike.
JACK'S MOTHER, EVA SEGAL
Mom was the one with the "sense of humor"
in our family. She always had a laugh and a joke to tell or a story to
tell us of her childhood. Most of the jokes were told to her by the
customers coming to the store. Several times a month, Mom would invite
some neighbors, friends or a cousin or two, to play cards. Not merely
card games, but poker with penny bets. I learned to play cards from
Mom. Also, we always had music in our house. We had a player piano, with
a piano roll that automatically played the keys while we pumped the
foot treadles. Mom always loved to hear violin music. So I was chosen to
take violin lessons. My sister, Mildred, was given piano lessons. I
wasn't that great as a violinist, but I did manage to join the
junior high school orchestra.
Mom was the first to become a naturalized
citizen - followed by Dad becoming a citizen. This was every immigrant's
dream ... to become an American citizen. I remember Mom and Dad studying
the various government questions from the manual that the Citizenship
Board would most likely ask. They used every spare moment every night to
memorize the questions and answers. I would help asking the questions
and help them with the answers.
I knew it must have been very difficult
for a stranger in a strange land, studying about their new country's
government. Many of the questions were even difficult for naturalized
American citizens to answer correctly.
Mom and Dad very proudly became American
citizens. Then they gladly offered their knowledge and services in
helping other neighbors prepare for their citizenship test.
Mom was also the first in our family to
learn how to drive an automobile with the gear shift on the floor. Mom
was also the one who wanted to buy our first car. After many auto showroom
visits, Mom finally chose our first car, a new 1937 Chevrolet. I
believe, or recall, that it cost about four hundred dollars. Imagine, a brand new
car for only four hundred dollars. Mom was the chosen driver for all trips. Although
Dad also passed his driving test, he was reluctant to drive. He left
that to Mom. Then, of course, Mom taught Mildred and myself to drive and
we passed our driving test. I still remember the somewhat comical way
Mom taught us to drive with four gears and the shift gear on the floor. She
would say, "You want first gear ... here's first gear! You want second
gear ... here's second gear!" and then would pull the gear into first or
second gear, etc., sometimes forgetting to step on the clutch pedal. Our
first car, the 1937 Chevy, was our pride and joy . We used it mainly to
deliver orders to customers, and to take a pleasure ride on Sundays. We
washed it almost every day, since it was parked outside all the time. We
certainly did not have a garage. After about five years, Mom decided it was
time to trade the 1937 Chevrolet for a newer car. She picked out a real
showpiece. It was a 1942 hard-top Ford Victoria, with a bright yellow
roof and a black bottom. It was recognized anywhere, because of the
outstanding colors and in the newest hard-top model. It did not have
power steering or air conditioning, although it did have white leather
Going backwards in time, let me tell you
about our experiences in going to Atlantic City, New Jersey.
When we were very young, during the summer
months, we all usually went to Atlantic City on the New Jersey coast.
Atlantic City then, in those years, was nothing compared to what it is
today. Definitely no casinos or very modern hotels with Las Vegas shows
and gambling. Secondly, we had to pack a large lunch for four people, in
a large basket or box. Then we had to take a trolley from our home, to
go to Front and
Market Street where the
ferry boats were to take us across the Delaware River to Camden, just
across the river from Philadelphia. The railroad trains going to
Atlantic City were in Camden. Of course, after we got off the ferry, we
had to get from the Camden portside to the train station. This was
another trolley ride, or taxi ride, with all our bundles, including a
battered suitcase with our bathing suits, towels, lotions, sneakers, our
food, etc. Then after buying our train tickets, about a block away from
the actual trains, we had to walk or run to the trains, before they
left, and begin walking through all the cars to find four seats
together. This was only the beginning of our ride. Of course there was no air conditioning, so we had to find a
place where the windows could be opened. Since the trains had to burn
coal or wood to produce the power to move the trains, there was always
very heavy black smoke bellowing from the engine smokestack. Naturally,
the heavy black smoke blew into the open windows and all over the
passengers. It was either suffocate with the windows closed, or be
covered with black soot with the windows open. If we came on the train with clean light
colored clothes, we were sure to get off the train with the black soot
on us and our clothes.
Once we arrived in Atlantic City, then the
real burden was to find a place to stay, either for the one day or
weekend, or for a week. We would all walk, in the very hot summer heat,
up and down the streets nearest to the beach. For Mom, it was a matter
of actually walking up to almost every house that had a sign "Rooms for
Rent", and inquire if they had an empty room to either change our
clothes for the day, or stay for a few days. The rooms were certainly
not first class by any means. They were usually on the top floor,
facing the back of the house and very hot. Old fashioned broken and
rusty window screens tried to keep out the flies and insects. Then we
would take the long walk to the beach and looked for a less crowded area
to set down with our beach blanket, our folding chairs, possibly a sun
umbrella and our basket of food for the day. After some hours on the
beach, and getting a bad case of sunburn, we had to trudge back to our
room and tried to get cleaned up. We all had to share the single shower
on the same floor with other people who also had rented a room for the
day. If we stayed overnight, then we had the evening to walk on the
boardwalk, hopefully with a cool breeze coming off the ocean. This was
always a treat for Mildred and myself. There were many penny arcades
where you could play many kiddie games for only a penny. One of the
early excitements were the "moving picture machine."
You would look into a box-like contraption
with a handle on the side. Upon turning the handle, you would move and
rotate cards with drawings on them, like on a rolodex. Each card had a
slight movement of the character on the card. As you turned the handle,
you turned the cards faster, thus creating a faster movement of the
characters. This is probably how the first animated cartoon was created.
Other treats that we looked forward to
were the frozen custard shops, the chocolate covered frozen bananas and
the cotton candy. Almost everybody walked on the boardwalk with a cone
heaped high with frozen "soft" custard ice cream. We would always stop
to buy "salt water taffy", and to bring a box home. If we had time in
the afternoons, we would go to the Steel Pier which extended out into
the ocean on piers. This was a landmark in Atlantic City. Steel Pier has
been torn down long ago. But inside were hours and hours of things to do
and see, from games to vaudeville shows to thrilling acts of people
diving from high levels into shallow pools of water. You could spend an
entire day on the Pier. You usually brought your own lunch to eat,
overlooking the ocean. At night there were also band concerts on the
boardwalk, although all of us would walk from one end of the boardwalk
to the other end, which may have been two or three miles long. Wealthier
vacationers would ride in the "rolling chairs." These were specially
built open carriage chairs for two or three people, pushed from behind
by a man who also collected the fare.
If we stayed a week in one of the
boarding houses, then the kitchen "fun" began. To stay a week or a
weekend, Mom always brought several baskets of meat, chicken or other
foods for all our meals. This food was stored in the kitchen "icebox"
with all the other guest's foods, and merely identified with our name on
the packages. Invariably, each day we would find some food missing. Of
course we could not accuse anyone, but we knew the food did not
disappear by itself. When we ordered glass quarts of milk,
at that time with the cream rising to the top of the glass bottle, these
would also be stored in the "communal kitchen ice-box." When we went to
use the milk the next morning we
always found the cream part missing, and
the glass quart usually filled up with water, which mixed with the
remaining milk. We had to put up with all this, if we wanted to remain
in that house. My Mom always remembered those days. This was the famous
Atlantic City of "those days."
OUR NEIGHBORHOOD IN
Our neighborhood was a mixture of very
friendly nationalities. Many of the early European immigrant
"entrepreneurs" of those days are gone forever. For instance, there were
many pushcart merchants selling their wares and products along the
streets. I'll describe them later in this story. There was even a "Yenta
the Matchmaker" in every neighborhood, offering to match up young men
and women who had no way to meet each other, except by someone who
would introduce them to each other, with each parent's permission .
Our Jewish heritage refrained from taking
any kind of charity. We were all imbued with the tradition of hard work
to help ourselves and to help others. The pushcart merchants would sell
a variety of products from their two-wheel carts, from vegetables,
fruits, pots and pans, and even clothing, pillows, linens, dishes,
silverware and anything else they could buy and sell from their carts.
These hardworking immigrants from Europe and Russia would load up their
carts early in the morning, and from morning to late night, even in the
harshest winter months, they would walk and push their heavy laden carts
from neighborhood to neighborhood, yelling out their wares: "Fresh
watermelon", "Fresh tomatoes", "Fresh fish", or "Knives sharpened", etc.
Their business and entire paltry income was dependant on their two-wheel
We also had our favorite pushcart and
horse and buggy food sellers. One of our favorites was the hot waffle
and ice cream horse-drawn wagon. This was well before the "Good
Humor man" with his white truck, ringing a bell to attract the children, and
selling frozen popsicles and ice cream sandwiches. Here was a horse-drawn wagon with a miniature kitchenlike preparation area in the back
of the wagon, lit by a large oil lantern.
The waffle irons were old fashioned and
heated by a gas fired flame. The waffle mix was made fresh for every
sale. When the hot waffle was done just right, the hot waffle iron lid
would be opened with a long metal rod and then a square slice of ice
cream would be put between the two pieces of hot waffles, making an ice
cream waffle sandwich. It was the best treat we ever had during the hot
summer months - for only five cents. We looked forward to his bell ringing
almost every night, signaling his approach to our street. Then we would
line up outside the wagon, to get our favorite ice cream waffle treat.
Then in the summertime, there was the
"water-ice" man. Usually an older man (as he appeared to us as
children), pushing a cart with a large block of ice on the cart, covered
with a burlap bag to keep it from melting too fast. Alongside the ice
were bottles of different flavored syrups in various colors. The
"water-ice" man would scrape shavings of ice from the large block of ice
with an ice scraper scoop, then put the crushed ice into a cone shaped
paper cup and then pour the colored syrup over the ice. Cherry and grape
were our favorite flavors - for just three cents each.
During the hot months we also ran after
and jumped on the open tailgate of ice delivery trucks when they stopped
or slowed down, just to grab a piece of broken ice and put it into our mouth
to cool us down.
And then there was the "hurdy-gurdy" man·
with his trained monkey. The hurdy-gurdy was a musical instrumental in a
box. The hurdy-gurdy music was started by turning a handle on the side
of the wagon, which looked like a miniature piano on wheels. The music
that came out sounded like a combination of piano, banjo, accordion and
drums. There was always a small trained monkey dressed up with a shirt,
pants and a small cap. When a crowd would gather and surround the
hurdy-gurdy to listen to the music, the small trained monkey would take
off his cap and run into the crowd waiting for someone to put some coins
into his cap. When he had several coins in his cap, he would return to
the hurdy-gurdy player and give him the coins, then
he would rush back into the crowd with his open cap to await more coins.
I never knew why they called it a "hurdy-gurdy."
There was a large playground and ballpark
called "Starr Garden", almost across the street from our house. On
summer nights there were silent movies shown on a huge white sheet,
hanging from the side of a building. People would come from all
neighborhoods with their folding chairs and sit until dusk when the
silent movies would begin. The movies were mostly old silent "westerns"
with cowboys, Indians and cavalry for all the fast action. The silent
conversation, or dialogue, was translated by written captions or
sentences printed on the bottom of the screen, corresponding to the
action on the screen.
Just another block away, at 7th
and Lombard Street, was the Starr Library. The library was actually a
two-story house with an office on the first floor and the library on the
second floor. The library consisted of two rooms with wall shelves
filled with books. I was always there, reading all the favorite books I
could. These included all the "Tarzan of the Apes" books, "Dr. Fu
(exciting Chinese detective stories), mystery books and many books about
airplanes, futuristic space adventures, like "Buck Rogers", "Flash
Gordon", and all the other space adventure heroes. These are names and
books that probably are no longer kept in modern libraries. But they
were wonderful imaginative stories. You could just imagine yourself
right there with the main characters, flying the rocket ships, landing
on outer space planets, etc.
When my mother didn't know where I was,
she always checked the library first. I was always there.
We also had "trolley cars" riding down 6th
Street, in front of our house. These trolleys, about half the size of a
regular bus, had an electrical wheel attached to a long rod from the
roof of the trolley, that rolled on an overhead electric wire. This is
how the trolley got the power to run on the metal tracks in the street.
There was a trolley conductor who started and stopped the car, collected the fares and
announced the upcoming streets on his route. The trolley car traveled on
metal rails imbedded into the cobblestone streets. They were very noisy
- especially at night when you were trying to sleep in front of our
house, facing the street. The trolleys ran in one direction on one
street to the end of the trolley line, like on 6th St., and
then ran in the opposite direction on 7th St. The trolleys
ran north and south, and east and west, almost from one end of the city
to the opposite end. They were similar to the famous
trolleys in San Francisco, only our trolleys were totally enclosed on
both sides - due to all kinds of Philadelphia weather. Woodside Park,
which was an entertainment park near the Philadelphia Zoo, and the area
known as Strawberry Mansion, had open side cars during the summer
season. You could ride all around Strawberry Mansion for only a nickel - and also get a free pass to transfer to another trolley going in the
The area around Front Street to 4th
Street, from South Street to Market Street, became known as Society
Hill. All the old row houses and run down and vacant houses of the past
are now refurbished into very expensive condominiums. Today, brick
sidewalks and cobblestone streets add a special charm to the area. South
Street is a mix of shops and restaurants. Art galleries are found
slightly north of Society Hill. Antique shops are located on Pine Street
and Spruce Street, and in the city's fastest growing collectibles
district around South 6th & Bainbridge St.
In the early days of the "Jewish Quarter"
there were many public bathhouses in the area. On Lombard St. between 3rd
St and 4th St. was Bershad's Russian and Turkish Baths. To
the neighborhood Jewish men who went there almost regularly on Friday
afternoon before sundown, it was known as the "Jewish shvitz." They
came here for the steam rooms, the bay leaf and soap massages, and after
their showers they usually formed a card game with fellow businessmen.
In the earlier years, because there were
very few actual bathrooms and bathtubs in most houses, bathhouses were
established mainly for the poor. For five cents each bather was given a room
or locker to change their clothes, a large towel, fresh soap and plenty
of hot and cold water. As late as 1934 a woman could wash herself, her
children and her clothes for five cents.
THE YIDDISH THEATER OF PHILADELPHIA
This area also had many Yiddish theaters -
with live performances from drama to musicals, with outstanding
well-known Jewish actors and actresses, including the famous Adler
family, Paul Muni, Molly Picon, Maurice Schwartz and other famous
theatrical names. Many famous Jewish actors and actresses started their
acting career in the Yiddish theater and the Jewish summer resorts.
My mother and father loved to attend the
Yiddish theater, with its drama and entertaining music. They took my
sister and myself to the Arch
Street Theater to see the live Yiddish shows almost every Sunday night after dinner. Because of going to the
Jewish or Yiddish theater as a young boy, I acquired an affection for
the theater arts. When I grew older I tried to see as many shows and
plays as financially possible. I especially loved the modern Broadway
The Jewish theater, or Yiddish theater,
was well accepted and very well attended in the original Jewish Quarter
in the late 1800's and early 1900's. This was well before my time. There
were many Jewish theaters throughout this area in the early history of
the Yiddish theater, thus it deserves some background and history.
No matter how difficult life was in the
sweatshops, no matter how little the family earned, money was found for
the Yiddish theater. The language was "mameloshn" (mother tongue ...
Yiddish) and the life portrayed on the stage was followed with great
intensity, the action drawing audible responses and comments from the
audience as if they too were participants. In Philadelphia in the late
1800's, the stars were in alignment in the world of Yiddish theater.
Plays were written in a night. The plots of some plays were stolen in a
night - from the gallery in a competitor's theater. A song that played
well in one show was sung out of context in another because it was a good
song and, was perhaps the actor's favorite. The most loved prayer of the
Jewish people, Kol Nidre (All Vows) was chanted to bring the immigrants
to tears, whatever the plot.
Early Yiddish drama in the late 1800's was
produced at two halls and three theaters in Philadelphia. The two halls
were located within the Jewish Quarter, and the three theaters were
located just outside of the Quarter.
Gallery tickets were fifteen
cents. Seats in the rear of the parquet were twenty-five cents, and the front row seats were
sold for half a dollar. Tickets were printed in English and they were
the only thing English about the place. There was usually a furious rush
for the front seats in the gallery. Nobody talked English. Very few of
the patrons of the theater could talk or understand any English. At the
front of the stairs leading to the parquet was an apple stand lighted by
two tallow candles. There were beer, peanuts, sour balls, apples,
pretzels and other refreshments on sale, which were bought by the
audience between acts.
The flood tide of East European Jewish
immigrants heard much from their American cousins about Yiddish theater
in America, and they wanted to see it themselves. To satisfy an
increasing demand in Philadelphia, in 1909, a famous Jewish producer
relocated his Yiddish theater troupe to the stately Arch Street Theater
where Yiddish shows were soon produced nightly, with two shows on
The Arch Street Theater was the most
famous and most beloved of all the Yiddish theaters in Philadelphia, and
in years to follow it highlighted popular Yiddish drama and vaudeville.
PHILADELPHIA'S TROC THEATER
While the Arch Street Theater on
6th and Arch
Street was the favorite Jewish theater for the general Jewish audience,
just further up on Arch Street was the Troc Theater.
The Troc Theater was a fabulous burlesque
and vaudeville theater.
In "my time" it was also a favorite with
wonderful entertaining vaudeville comedy, featuring great well-known
comedians and famous "exotic dancers" and such famous strippers as Gypsy
Rose Lee, Blaze Starr, Ann Corio, and other headliners in their time.
No, they did not take it "all off' (as they may do these days). These
were "teasers" and left much to the imagination.
Burlesque was where famous old time
comedians played their "shticks" and slapstick routines. This was clean
comedy and very funny. Nothing was foul-mouthed. Nothing was lewd.
Nothing was vulgar. Just very funny clean burlesque. Many times we would
sneak in (with the permission of the ushers) and go up to the top
gallery to watch. Of course, we were so far up everything on the stage
seemed so small. But we loved the vaudeville and comedy .. Even this
great era of entertainment is gone ... and so are almost all of the
famous vaudeville stars and the popular burlesque theaters.
Yes, I did see most of the "exotic
dancers" when they appeared at the Troc.
But as funny as the onstage comedians were,
and as entertaining as the strip teasers were, the "fun show" was during
the intermission breaks, when "candy men" sold boxes of candy or
popcorn for ten cents, or
box. To increase the sales of the boxes of popcorn or candy, there was
an MC or "barker" on the stage, declaring that there were very expensive
watches hidden in certain boxes. No one knew which box held these
"expensive watches." This would encourage the audience to buy several
boxes in the hope of finding these "famous expensive watches" inside
their purchased boxes. There were always some "shills" in the audience -
that worked for the theater- that would stand up and raise their hand to
buy a box, then look inside and yell out that he "found the expensive
watch inside his box." Of course, there was never any famous watch or
anything of value in the popcorn or candy boxes. The "shill" would slip
his own watch inside the box while opening it, and then
suddenly "find" the "expensive watch" or
other jewelry. If the sales were still slow, the "barker" would yell
out, "Stop the sales. Stop the sales. Tell you what I'm gonna do!
Instead of you buying just one box, I'm gonna tell my "associates"
selling these packages, to give you one additional box at no extra cost
to you. Absolutely free! But I can only do this for the first twenty
customers who buy right now." Of course this increased the incentive to
buy a box of candy or popcorn, and get another box free, and another
chance to find an expensive watch. No one ever found any watch or
anything else in the boxes.
It was much fun watching this 'scam' go
on, with the audience being encouraged to buy more popcorn and candy,
and finding nothing inside the box.
This was "show business", and I loved it.
But that's another story.
This area would not be complete without
mentioning the "movies." The "Model" moving picture theater -
affectionately called the "movies", on South Street near 5th
Street, within a short distance from our house, cost ten cents admission.
Probably was an original five cents admission. It progressed from silent
films to talkies. At intermission, ice cream cones and cups of soda were
sold for three cents each. It was here during the years of World War II
that the patrons saw the "News of the Day", and learned about the progress of the war. It
was also during this era that the movies began to offer free dishes as
an incentive to come to their theater on "slow days." One week they
would offer a cup, or saucer, or soup plate, etc., until you could
accumulate a full serving set of dishes. Many families accumulated their
first full set of matching dishes in this manner ... going to the
As a youngster growing up, I always loved
to go to the movies, and later to the theater. I usually went to the
"Model" movie theater, just several blocks from our home. Admission was
only ten cents. The movie theaters were not air conditioned, although
some had cooling fans. They were hot and stuffy in the hot summers. Saturday was a special day. Almost every boy and girl of our age went to see the
"serials or chapters." These were always some exciting chapter which
always ended with the hero just about to be killed, or his airplane
crashing into a mountain, or about to be eaten by crocodiles. Just at
the point when you would find out what happened, the movie stopped, and
you were told to "find out next week" what happens to our hero! Of
course, you just had to come back the following Saturday to find out
what really happened to our hero.
Just another couple of blocks away on 8th
& South Street was another
movie theater, called the "Roxy". Most of the time they showed silent
western movies, with the famous western stars of those days, too
numerous to mention, and you would not recognize any names anyway. Lots
of cowboys and Indians - looking very real with their war paint and war
bonnets of feathers. There was background piano music that played
dramatic or exciting music, according to the action on the screen.
THE BIG BANDS COME TO
During these early years, most movie
theaters just had "movies", but in later years several theaters had
"moving pictures" and stage shows.
The most popular combination of
entertainment was in mid-city. At 11th and Market Street was
the Earle Theater, famous for their fabulous stage shows and the
appointed shrine for the Big Bands, such as Benny Goodman, Glen Miller,
Tommy Dorsey, Artie Shaw, Gene Krupa, Stan Kenton, Lionel Hampton,
Count Basie and all the other great orchestra leaders. Big band names
that evoke memories of popular dancing and even (dare I say it?)
The bands would come in on a Friday for
the weekend. On Fridays, most of the schools in Philadelphia had the
greatest absenteeism. The crowds of youngsters, and even parents of all
ages, would crowd the sidewalk at the box office, waiting to get in for
the best seats up front. The lines would go almost around the
block - waiting to get in to see and hear their favorite bands.
When Benny Goodman, the "King of Swing";
came on with his well-known theme song and his magical clarinet, the
finger-snapping and foot tapping never stopped. Couples, aroused by the
great music, would jump out into the aisles and start dancing.
You certainly would leave the theater
singing or humming the melody of your favorite songs as played on stage.
The impressive thing, besides the great
listening music, was the "dress code." Every musician wore similar
bright colored sport jackets and trousers or suits of the same color and
design. Some bands always wore full dress tuxedoes. The female vocalist
always wore a beautiful floor length gown.
This was CLASS all the way.
Nowadays, in sharp and disgusting contrast
are the "rock groups" appearing half-naked on the stage. Most are naked
from the waist up. Most, if not all, look like they had not had a bath
in months, with stringy unkempt, uncombed long hair. Most wear torn
jeans and ragged T-shirts. What they play (in my opinion) is awesome
trash with outrageous ear-splitting volume, and it certainly is not
singable. Most are always jumping all over the stage with the microphone
almost stuck in their mouth.
Can anyone ever leave such an
outrageous rock band, humming or singing any kind of a melody.
What has happened to class entertainment??
What has happened to the pride of a clean appearance before the public?
If famous composers can come back in a
second life .... George and Ira Gershwin, Cole Porter, Richard Rodgers,
Oscar Hammerstein, Lerner
Where are you when we need you?
As memories go ( and they go fast), I
cannot neglect to mention the two very special magnificent movie
theaters on Market Street. No, not the run of the mill average movies
Street to about 17th Street.
Just past there, a few blocks west on
Market Street were the MOTION PICTURE 'PALACES.'
The Mastbaum and the Erlanger Theaters
(Long gone now for many years).
These were "palaces" in almost every sense
of the word. Elaborate and ornate splendors of design, with rich
carpeting, heavy tapestries and marble staircases leading to the
balconies, plus incredibly huge crystal chandeliers in the huge lobby.
They featured both motion pictures and live stage shows. There was a time when
each theater owner and builder tried to outdo the previously built
magnificent monument to entertainment, in almost every major city in the
U.S. It was a dress-up affair to go to these two theaters.
The days of these opulent motion picture
theaters are a thing of the past.
MORE MEMORIES OF SOUTH
South Street also had its own colorful
remember that, as a young boy, farmers used
to come in to South Street twice a week and line up along the curbing
from 2nd to 6th St. They would come in the night
before. About daybreak they would open their wagons and display their
wares. The big day was Saturday. It started about 5 a.m. and lasted
midnight. For many years, New Jersey farmers brought their produce to
sell along the South Street curbstones. I also remember that Mom and Dad
would go shopping at this "farmer's market." We usually brought home
bags of fresh produce - and during the summer months, we carried home
many large watermelons.
While South Street was ever changing, some
things never changed. Men's furnishing stores that were here in number
until well after World War II were the heart of South Street for
many years. Customers were helped into these stores by "pullers-in,"
salesmen deftly trained at whisking an unsuspecting victim into such an establishment from the pavement in front of the store before the
victim could object (other salesmen came by this talent naturally).
Years later, these barkers or "pullers-in", who had been a part of South
Street life for almost a half a century, were still trying to pull in
customers off the street. Many adults today remember in the 1940's and
1950's being pulled into a clothing store on South Street and before
they realized what had happened, they were already wearing a jacket, and
perhaps more. Even a suit that they really did not want.
East European Jewish businessmen took over
South Street and they and their descendants have operated stores to this
THE HORN & HARDART
Did I overlook mentioning the Horn & Hardart
Automat - as notable as the Liberty Bell ? It may have been just
outside the Jewish Quarter, but it was very well attended by Jewish patrons.
The Horn & Hardart Automat on Chestnut
Street, between 8th and 9th St., affectionately
called only by the letters, "H &H", was one of the favorite restaurants
in mid-city. It was perhaps modern before it's time -yet now also of a
It was a much looked forward treat to go
to the Automat. It was also a great gathering place for people to meet
and discuss events over a cup of coffee or hot tea.
As you entered past the counter-service
section, there was the Automat - a long, complete wall with rows of small glass
doors which enclosed a variety of hot and cold dishes.
Each glass door enclosed a small cubicle
of food, wide enough for a platter or dish and about five inches high. It
was unique because you had to put a certain amount of nickels only, in
the coin slot, alongside the glass door, then turn a small knob. When you
did, the glass door would pop open for your choice of foods.
There was a great variety of foods in
these small cubicles - from rolls to sandwiches to desserts. From ten cents (two
nickels) to twenty-five cents (five nickels). The most delicious pies were
the finishing touch to any meal. You had your choice of a wide variety
of fruit pies including favorites as apple pie, cherry, apricot,
blueberry, blackberry, peach, raisin and several others.
But the most favorite of all was the hot
apple pie in a deep dish covered with a rich vanilla cream sauce. The
second favorites included the tempting coconut custard pie and the
custard pumpkin pies. This was not so unusual in itself, except that you
received a large quarter of an entire large pie for only two
nickels. The joy was to be given a handful of nickels and walk up and
down looking through the little glass doors to make your choice
with the limited number of nickels you had. Then inserting the proper
amount of nickels, turning the little knob, watching the little glass
door pop open and reaching in for your food.
Then there was the beverage area - from
coffee to cocoa to fresh milk to hot tea, and even chocolate milk with
pure chocolate syrup. Each cost only two nickels. After you inserted
your two nickels, the coffee, milk or chocolate was dispensed through a
metal spout, resembling the beak of a swan, just enough to fill
your-cup-or glass. As for milk - this was really vitamin-enriched fresh
whole milk - long before cholesterol was a word to alarm you. You put
your glass under the spout and milk poured out just enough right to the
brim of the glass.
If you really wanted to have a full meal
- from rolls to soup to a hot platter with meat, chicken or fish, with
two vegetables and a beverage and perhaps dessert, I don't think you
could spend more than one dollar.
But besides the wonders of the little
glass doors, was the CASHIER.
As you entered the Automat, you were
confronted by the cashier's booth. You first had to get all your nickels
from the cashier to operate the little glass doors. It was an
unforgettable marvel just watching her exchange nickels for any amount
of larger coins or bills given to her. I don't think I ever saw her
actually count the nickels, as she gave them out. She would grab a
handful of nickels from a box loaded with thousands of nickels and she
would just open her hand and the exact number of nickels poured out in
front of you. Whether you wanted change for a quarter, half dollar or a
dollar bill, precisely five nickels, ten nickels or twenty nickels came out of
the palm of her hand. Never missed.
SHOPPING AND EATING IN
THE JEWISH QUARTER
And, of course, I cannot omit our favorite
"shopping street" ... 4th Street. Fourth Street at South
Street, just known as 4th Street - were the blocks on 4th
Street between South St. and Christian St. It was an old fashioned food
shopping mecca, with streets filled with pushcart merchants and street
vendors selling all sorts of merchandise. The entire street, on both
sides, were lined with pushcarts, many with the same produce and
vegetables and others with a variety of household needs and linens. Each
vendor competing with the others to attract customers. South Street
itself from 2nd St. to about 23rd St. was a retail
shopping area, with every desirable retail store you could think of,
including several movie theaters, men's suit stores, ladies dress shops,
jewelry stores, many shoe stores, drug stores, tobacco shops, furniture
stores, fine fabric shops, candy stores, pawn shops and other fine
South St. from 2nd St. to 6th
St. also had some of our favorite "snack" vendors.
Who could forget the soft pretzels with
mustard smeared on them with a wooden stick; the delicious hot dogs on a
hot roll with sauerkraut and relish on it, along with some orange or
flavored cold drink dispensed from a pump container, also on a portable
cart; or the hot chestnuts roasted over a charcoal stove on top of a
small-wheeled wagon? Pretzels only two cents and the hot dog with
everything on it. .. only five cents. And while mentioning hot dogs, hot
dogs made some businesses famous.
It is impossible for a Jewish
Philadelphian - and for many Italian American, African American, Polish
American and Irish American Philadelphians - born before World War II, to
say the words "Levis Hot Dogs" without thinking of food. These three
words not only bring to mind tastes and smells of another time, they
bring back the clang of the bell of the trolley car on 6th
Street which frequently stopped to let passengers off at Levis' to order
a hot dog and a glass of Champ Cherry Soda, without regard to the
traffic back-up and blowing horns.
Abraham Levis was the founder of this
popular eatery. At age fourteen, he immigrated to Philadelphia in 1885. After
he married Ann Solo, they sold fish cakes and hot dogs from Anna's own
recipe. They then acquired the property at 507 S. 6th St. in
1910. Concerning the origination of the soda fountain, the. story goes
that "Abe Levis was not content to be remembered simply as the
"wizard of the wiener." He went on to develop another specialty of the
house "Champ Cherry Soda." To glorify it, he installed an ornate little
dispensing cabinet, complete with dark wood, mirrors and marble. He
called it the "soda fountain."
Levis developed an early interest in the
movies and acquired several nickelodeons. He built the first theatre on
South Street. In addition, anticipating outdoor movies by several
decades, Levis erected a giant screen on the roof over his store, at 507
S. 6th Street, and he showed free movies that could be seen
from the playground across the street. Although the store was passed on
to his sons and grandchildren during the 1990's, the business was sold.
The Levis family no longer operates the business at 507 S. 6th
If you walked along 4th
St. from South St. to
Bainbridge St., you could not miss the zesty aroma of fresh ground
horseradish and sour pickles ripening in cold brine in a large wooden
barrel, in which shoppers stuck their arms up to their elbows to pick a
" better pickle" from the bottom of the barrel. And then there were the
favorite Jewish delicatessens, on the corner of 4th
Bainbridge Sts., just past South St.,
where the wonderful aroma of hot corned beef, hot pastrami,
fresh cooked roast beef and garlic-loaded Jewish salamis filled the air.
Once you entered these "food emporiums" you could not leave without a
bag full of hot corned beef sandwiches, smoked salmon (lox), or shmaltz
herring - plus a bagful of the warm, freshly baked rye and dark
pumpernickel breads, and the real Jewish wonderfully crusted and crunchy
Then there was the "Saler's Dairy Store."
This was an all white tiled store with white ceramic tiles from floor to
ceiling. It was how the dairy products were sold and how it looked that
was so different from a supermarket dairy department of today.
Butter was sold from a half-barrel size
mold of creamery butter - cut into square pieces to fit the weight that
you ordered, and wrapped in white paper to take home. Margarine was
something no one ever thought of eating. It was like white fat with a
capsule of yellow coloring that you broke open and then mixed it with
the package of margarine to give it the color of butter. That's why we
ate too much of very high fat creamery butter. Cream cheese came in
large five pound square boxes - then cut to weight with a wire knife
cutter. Cottage cheese came in huge ten gallon size metal cans - and
scooped out with a large wooden spoon into paper cartons. Fresh white
and brown eggs were piled high, very carefully, in cardboard containers -
and the customers picked their own selections. The wide variety of cheeses came in
huge "wheels" - Swiss, French, German, soft or hard, in every variety of
flavors from many countries. These had to be cut with a very large
bladed knife, to cut through the thick hard rind covering the entire
wheel of cheese.
On Friday and Saturday afternoons 4th
street was so crowded you could hardly walk without bumping into the
shoppers around you. And it was not unusual to meet your neighbors or
friends on the sidewalk and exchange the latest gossip.
If 4th Street was a Jewish food
shopping area, then the area on South 9th Street from
Fitzwater Street past Washington Avenue was the "Italian Market." This was the heart of South
Philly. Every corner store on both sides of 9th
Street in this area had an
Italian meat store. Inside whole hogs and pigs hung from meat hooks, in
the window display area. Other displayed meats included smoked Italian
salamis and all kinds of Italian sausages, rabbits, deer carcasses and
other edible wild meats. Of course, each side of the street was lined
with similar pushcarts, end to end for five or six blocks, every one laden with all
kinds of produce and vegetables. In season, there were baskets of live
crabs, lobsters and many other kinds of fresh fish, kept fresh with
crushed ice over them. Each side of the street had several Italian
bakeries - with all kinds of various shaped breads and luscious
cream-filled Italian pastries. The Italian market wouldn't be complete
without an Italian cheese store - with shelves and full window displays
of whole cheeses from Provolone and Mozzarella to Bleu cheese plus hard
and soft rind varieties.
But the popular attraction at 9th
& Christian Streets, was "Pat's Philly Steak Sandwiches", with a sign
over the serving area reading, "Pat - King of the Philly Steak Sandwiches." It was an
unusual "store." It really wasn't a restaurant or steak house at all.
There was no inside sitting area or tables. The storefront consisted of a
sliding glass window, and in back was the kitchen with the meat grill.
The outside had waist-high counter tops, just below the glass window.
The meat grill was within sight of the customers on the outside, looking
through the sliding window.
The grill was always piled high with raw
and cooked onions, frying in olive oil. Next to the fried onions were
mounds of sliced beef. (Sometimes there may have been some doubt that
the beef may not have come from a cow or steer.)
Next to the grill were bags and bags of
fresh Italian breads, or huge rolls. When you bought a Philly Steak
Sandwich, in South Philly, you got a whole Italian bread, about a foot
long - very hard crusty on the outside and very chewy inside. The bread
was sliced down the whole side and loaded with grilled "steak", lots of
cooked onions that was simmered in garlic-flavored olive oil and then
doused with salt, pepper, spices, red pepper, and more olive oil. Just outside,
next to the front of the sliding windows, on a long shelf, were huge
glass jars filled with mustard, ketchup, relishes, hot peppers, green
peppers, raw onions, sauerkraut, pepper hash, and assorted green
relishes. You helped yourself and put on your steak sandwich whatever
you desired, or could eat or endure. All this for only thirty-five cents - for
the largest Philly steak sandwich you could eat. Almost a meal in
itself. Of course, this was many years ago. I guess today the price has
gone up and the breads and rolls and the steak sandwiches are smaller.
There may be Philly Steak Sandwich
franchises and fast food stores that claim to make Philly steak
sandwiches, but there is no comparison to the original South Philly
steak sandwich with the real crusty Italian bread. This has been
copied, but never duplicated.
South Philly can also claim some fame to
THE ORIGIN OF THE
HOAGGIE AND SUBMARINE SANDWICHES
Many years ago, sometime after World
War I, there was a
factory making military items and other manufactured items, located on
Hog Island, just outside of Philadelphia. Most of the employees were of
Italian descent who lived in the nearby suburbs. Probably all brought
their lunches with them consisting of Italian foods and sandwiches. Most
of the sandwiches were made with their favorite Italian bread or rolls,
which was a large very crusty bread, and of course filled with many
varieties of sliced Italian meats, cheeses, sliced hardboiled eggs and
vegetables. Soon small luncheonettes adjacent to the factory started
making these favorite sandwiches to sell to the factory employees who
may not have brought their own lunch. These sandwiches soon were called
"hoggies", named after Hog Island. Soon the name was slightly revised to
"hoaggies" for easier ordering. After awhile someone noticed that the
shape of the Italian bread, which was long and came to a point at both
ends, looked like a miniature shaped submarine. So they soon became
known as "submarine" sandwiches. And then the name was shortened to just
"subs." The fillings never changed - they were still filled with many
varieties of Italian style sliced cold cuts, several slices of Italian
cheeses, sliced eggs, onions, tomatoes, lettuce, and lots of
olive oil and spices. Today, you have a choice of a wide variety of
ingredients from tuna, sliced beef, chicken, turkey, and anything else
that can fit in between the sliced bread or rolls.
South Philadelphia was also noted for some
notorious and infamous Mafia families, or the Cosa Nostra. Yes, here in
the heart of South Philly was the beginning of some of the most
notorious and violent gangster and Mafia families. Many of the "most
wanted" Italian Mafia gangsters and racketeers were born and raised in
these streets. Big names of organized crime ruled the area and the
corrupt businesses. Yet, no one would have known what was going on
behind secret meetings of the top "bosses." The Italian members always
put on a show of being a respectable family man - until one or two of his
"family" were gunned down in the streets in mid-afternoon. Then there
would be blood shed in revenge among the different "families." The
street names of these "hit men" almost described their characters.
The movie "The Godfather" could very well
have been filmed in the deep heart of South Philly streets. The
neighborhood, and the Mafia family names, were almost a true reflection
of the movie - about the life and death of an Italian Mafia family.
Even today, the "Costa Nostra", with their
Mafia code of silence, still exists in South Philly. Everyone knows
about it - all the notorious members are well known, but you dare not
discuss it in open conversation.
So much for the great famous and infamous
Yet, despite all of the above, South
Philly also produced very well-known opera singers (Maria Lanza), many
famous pop singers such as Eddie Fisher, Bobbie Daren, Frankie Avalon,
Fabian and Chubby Checkers; famous comedians and actors and
actresses -and perhaps, many honest judges. There are streets where the
fictional Rocky ran, and the streets where the films were made.
As a youngster, I remember the automobiles
having a five or six inch metal bumper - front and rear - that had shock
absorbers behind the bumper, attached to the front of the car and rear
of the car. With any bump into a car, the front bumper "gave in" a
couple of inches and absorbed the shock. This prevented any damage to
the front or rear of the car. In today's cars the front and rear bumpers
are made of hard rubber or vinyl and they are easily dented, if not
crushed, creating sizable damage and expensive repair or replacement
parts. The old cars withstood less damage. They also did not drive so
fast on the streets or highways. All this was well before airbags, air
conditioning, CD players, no key entry and other modern attachments.
I also remember that to start the older
cars, someone had to stand in front of the car and with a metal crank,
would turn the crank as fast as he could to "turn over" or to start the
engine. The driver had to adjust several levers in the middle of the
large steering wheel to adjust the "spark" or the choke, to get the
engine going. Rain, shine or snow, someone had to stand in front of the
car and crank up the engine. In later cars, a starter button was created
on the dashboard, and still later, the ignition key was created to
start the engine. Somehow, the older cars lasted longer than the newer
cars. Best of all, the speedometers never showed more than fifty miles per
hour - so you could not drive it at dangerous accident-prone speeds.
JACK'S EARLY JOBS
After I got my driver's license, Dad
allowed me to drive our first car to the chicken market and pick up the
slaughtered chickens. I would put the dead chickens in a burlap bag and
put them in the trunk of the car then head back to the store. Every night I
would have to wash and clean out the trunk because of the smell and even
some of the fresh blood of the chickens that leaked out of the burlap
bag, and into the trunk. Of course, this was easier than putting the
burlap bag of chickens in the wire basket on the front of my bicycle,
and cycling back to the store. Sometimes the bag of chickens was so heavy on the wire
basket that I had to walk the bicycle back to the store.
One of my first jobs while still in
high school was working as a stock boy, with several of my neighborhood
friends, in one of the more popular men's clothing store ... Sam
Gerson's, at 6th&
Bainbridge Street. Sam Gerson started out as a tailor with his brother,
Irving. After some years they opened their own clothing store. It soon
gained a great reputation as a very upscale men's clothing store for
fine quality suits and attracted a diversified and large clientele. This
was about 1939, just before World War II was declared. Fine quality
suits were only $39.95. You could upgrade to a much finer tailored suit
for only $49.95. Can you imagine one of the finest men's suits made ...
only $49.95? When Gerson's ran their annual sale, it attracted such a
huge crowd that some times the
Manager would have to allow only a certain number of customers in, after the same number of satisfied
customers left the store. The store was always crowded with customers.
I worked twelve hours a
day, from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday, Saturday and Sunday, twelve hours each day, for $15.00 a
day, and was glad to earn my own money. Now young workers may be asking
for $15.00 an hour!
The weather in Philadelphia was not the
kindest to endure. I still remember the winter snowfalls in
Philadelphia. In the worst winters the snows fell heavily, sometimes up
to two feet high and up to four feet high in snow drifts. Sometimes the snows
would blow against the front door of our house, at 6307 Foxhill Road, so
high that you could not open the door. We would have to go out by the
MEMORIES OF PUBLIC
Going to Bartlett Jr. High School at 12th
& Catherine Street, in the
winter storms was a real challenge just to get to school. We walked
every day from 6th
& Lombard S1.
St. every day, high snow or no high snow. This was about fifteen
blocks away. Even though the carfare
was only ten cents, I did not want to spend
the ten cents, so I walked each way, even when it rained heavily. Many
times our shoes and stockings were soaking wet from walking in puddles
and heavy rains. We didn't have school bags as you have today. We tied
all our books with a rope or leather strap, and carried them that way.
We also always brought our lunch from home to save the money that it
would have cost. Mostly we brought a sandwich and a cold drink in a
When I was to going to public school and
junior high school, I remember we always had to wear a clean shirt and
tie. Most of the time we were required to wear a white shirt. Sweat
shirts or T-shirts, or anything other than a white shirt was forbidden
in class. We had to wear leather shoes in school. Sneakers were also
forbidden in class, and only worn in gym classes.
In my early years
in school, we wore "knickers" the knee length pants, with
elastic on the bottom to keep the "knickers" from falling
down. We also wore hi-top stockings that were usually falling
down below the pants. Jeans were absolutely forbidden in
One of the popular school-age
shoes at that time were the hi-top, halfboots that laced up to the mid-calf of
the leg. These were very popular because there was a pocket on the side
of the boot which contained either a small penknife or a pencil or pen.
You would also get a free gift from the shoe store where you bought the
boots or shoes.
When we went out to visit, young boys
always wore a suit and leather shoes. (Sloppy T-shirts weren't even
considered) This certainly is far different from today's students who
wear T-shirts to class, even torn blue jeans at the knees, sneakers and
even open toe sandals. Such clothing would have created a classroom
crisis back when I went to public school. The students would have been
sent home to change, or not be admitted to class.
Graduation was always a dress-up affair
and ceremony - with required white shirt, tie and a new suit. Yes, dress
codes were very important and such good training stayed with us as we
entered the business or professional world.
Segal with violin in knee high knickers
When I graduated Bartlett Jr. High School,
I went to Benjamin Franklin High School, at Broad
Spring Garden Sts. Yes, I even
walked every day to and from high school, good weather and bad weather.
It wasn't a matter of how many blocks ...it was now a matter of how
many miles away. It was approximately twenty-four blocks
While attending high school biology and
anatomy classes, I would bring in real samples of body organs - from a
steer or cow. I would bring in the total brains with all the membranes
and nerves showing. The brain of a cow looks exactly like a human brain.
Or I would bring in the eyes with the optic nerve still attached, or a
small liver, or a set of lungs or a heart, or a length of intestines,
and even the jaw bones with the teeth still in them. This was as close
as the other students would come to seeing a real "live" specimen that
we were studying in anatomy class. It was almost like operating on a
cadaver. Many of the girls in the class would close their eyes, rather
than look at the organs of the animal.
Philadelphia also has several great
museums, such as the Philadelphia Art Museum, Rodin Museum and the
Franklin Institute, which has gigantic displays of scientific
experiments and science displays.
The Philadelphia Orchestra is world
renowned. As a young man I visited all the museums many, many times and
also attended several Philadelphia Orchestra
WORLD WAR II
jump ahead a few years....Just prior to World War II, around 1939 and through the declared War into
1946, America went on the rationing system. During this period most
of the meats, foods, fuels, soaps, gasoline and other critical
materials, as well as certain metals, went to the military, serving in the armed
forces in all the areas of the war. To support the war effort, there was
a shortage of almost everything for the civilians. They had to line up
for government issued ration stamp books. Everything was rationed. You
needed a ration stamp for almost everything you wanted to buy, be it
meats, groceries, sugar, flour, gasoline, tires, etc. Stamps were marked
A, B, C, D. For instance, if you went to buy meat, you were limited or
rationed, to a certain amount of meat with the A stamp. If your family
was larger, you could use the B or C stamp, which allowed you to buy a
larger quantity of meat. If you wanted to buy gasoline for your car, you
had to wait in a long line, just to get to the pump. You were limited to
only four gallons of gasoline a week with the A stamp. So all pleasure
driving was curtailed for the duration of the war. If you needed more
gasoline for a business, you could use a larger designated stamp - one
stamp per week.
And believe it or not, gasoline was only
thirteen cents per gallon during this time. Most gasoline stations were also
rationed in the amount of gasoline they received each week, so many
times they ran out of gasoline during the week, or even the same day.
Because of all the food rationing,
including meat and poultry rationing, Dad was also "rationed" in what he
ordered. With his limited allotted amount of beef, and all of his
customers waiting in line to use their food stamps, he was completely
sold out by early afternoon each day. At least that gave him a chance to
rest the balance of the day. Even cigarettes and cigars were rationed,
since most of the tobacco products went overseas to our troops. Used
aluminum wrap was saved by housewives, and turned in to the local
receiving depots. Even cooking fat was saved and collected for the war
effort. Of course, after the war was over, rationing also ended.
Sad to say, but growing up in America in
the early and mid 1900's was not such an easy acceptable life for the
Jewish people. There was another dark chapter in American history.
During the 1920's and through the 1940's
(and most likely much earlier), there was a very evident anti-Semitic
treatment and discrimination policy throughout America. It was clearly
and obviously evident when Jewish people were deliberately not hired by
major corporations (like Ford Motor Co.), and other local companies.
Jewish people were not accepted in regular "Anglo-Saxon" country clubs
because of their religion. Many real estate people would not sell homes
to Jewish families, especially in gentile neighborhoods. There were
actual signs that said "restricted community." If a Jewish lawyer was
finally admitted to a law firm, it was known that he would never become
a "partner." (An unwritten agreement).
Well known anti-Semitic Catholic priests,
such as " Father Coughlin" spewed out his venomous anti-Semitic speeches
on his nationwide radio program - which had a great influence with the
Many well-known anti-Semitic newspapers
ran cruel headlines falsely blaming the Jewish people for all the ills
and troubles of the times including the Depression of 1929, the stock
market crash of 1929, accusations of manipulating big corporations, etc.
These were obviously false statements and lies - to blame the scapegoats
and shift the blame away from the real industrial gentile culprits.
While I was still a youngster I would take
walks along Market Street, in mid-city Philadelphia. I used to see men
on the sidewalk giving out free newspapers. I recognized the word "JEW"
in the bold headlines, but did not realize what it was all about. The
person giving out the newspapers would be shouting out the headlines,
blaming the Jewish people for many false things. No one tried to stop
him or forbid him from shouting such anti-Semitic false remarks. I knew
I was Jewish, but did not understand why he was saying such things about
the Jewish people.
Even worse was the anti-Semitic policy of
our own U.S. government, in not admitting European Jewish immigrants
trying to escape from Nazi Germany. During this same time there was an
unimaginable and horrendous persecution of Jewish people in Germany and
most of Europe. Visas and passports were denied to them, or delayed for
months, and in many cases for years. All Jewish people in Germany were
ordered to leave their homes and possessions, and herded into crowded
cattle cars and sent to Nazi concentration camps - and to their eventual
deaths, either by firing squads or death in gas chambers!
These were part of the innocent 6,000,000
Jewish people murdered during the Holocaust. I will discuss the Holocaust
later in these memories of the past.
The few lucky Jewish people who finally got
their passports to leave Germany, boarded ships to America. Still they
faced additional obstructions.
The U.S. Customs Department, under orders
from the White House in Washington, denied these ships entry into U.S.
ports. When turned away from U.S. coastal ports, these same ships with the
Jewish immigrants, tried to enter Cuba. The ships were again denied access
to the ports, not allowed to unload their passengers. These same persecuted Jewish
families had to return to Germany, or other anti-Semitic countries, to
face a dismal future of frightful harassment and additional persecution.
Even the White House, with Franklin
Roosevelt as President, refused to believe the very strong evidence of the
massive atrocities in the German Nazi concentration camps. Germany's
unquestioned diabolical intent was to annihilate the entire Jewish race in
Germany and other European countries allied with Germany.