Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Passing of Pumpernickel

Sad news today from Plimmerton, New Zealand.   I woke up to an e-mail from David Weinstein informing me of the passing of Sol Weinstein, less than two weeks after he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  I never met the man, but talked to him multiple times on the phone.  He told jokes, we laughed, he left crank messages for me and he even sang for me.  Just a couple of months after I started the blog, in April of 2011, I received an e-mail from David, Sol's son informing me that Sol was living in New Zealand and would love to reminisce about Old Trenton.  A Skype interview was set for May 15th and here are links to the edited interviews that I posted to the blog later that month.

After talking with Sol, I felt as though I needed to write more about him, based on the interview, materials that he sent me and some Internet reporting.

If you were a consumer of television in the 1970‘s and 1980‘s chances are very good that you laughed at what Sol Weinstein was selling.  This native son of New Jersey’s capital city wrote comedy, and jokes were his product.   One glance at his filmography and a flood of memories pour over you.  Bob Hope Comedy Specials, Dean Martin Roasts, The Love Boat, Three’s Company, The Jeffersons, CPO Sharkey, Chico and the Man, Maude and Barney Miller are among his credits, but there are many, many more.   When you look at the accomplishment of Sol Weinstein you have to wonder.  What kind of accolades might he have earned had he written serious stuff instead of          comedy?  Not that he ever would have, mind you.

The Morton House, in a 1958 Tax Photo -Courtesy Trentonia, Trenton Public Library

     Born in 1928 in the Jewish section of Trenton, young Solon’s first home was in the Morton House, what was rumored to be a house of ill repute on Union Street. 
Sol always looked at the world from a slightly different angle.  It would eventually pay off for him.  

 “I came from a volatile family.  My mother was exceedingly quick and funny and witty and sarcastic.  And if I’m like that at all, it’s strictly due to my mother.  His father ran away from an aristocratic family of lawyers in the Ukraine (“might have lawyered for the Czar”) and found his way to Trenton.  He was serious and “dour”, a totally different animal than his mother, who Sol describes as “a wild jokester and who he credits for his slant on life.

Growing up in Trenton, everyone had a nickname.  Sol earned his, “Pumpernickel” on one of his early birthdays, although he’s not sure which one.   During the Depression, his mother couldn’t afford a cake, “but she had enough money to go over to Kohn’s or Kunis’ Bakery on Market Street, she came back with a round, round pumpernickel, a monstrous thing, a Pechter’s Pumpernickel”(you can actually still buy Pechter’s at Wegman’s--it’s listed on their website).  She cut it all up and schmeared a little butter on it, schmaltz maybe, and all the kids in the neighborhood came around and had their piece of pumpernickel.  So, Sol became Pumpernickel, or Pumpy, Pumpo, Pumper.”  The name stuck.

While in High School, he first worked at Kitty Kelly Shoes and then at National Shoe.   His friend Jack Hodes and his younger brother Dave worked there, too.  Dave recalls that National Shoe had a really high ceiling in the back, with shoes shelved up to the ceiling and a 12 foot ladder.  “You could climb to the top of the ladder and know that Pumpernickel was already there with his jokes printed out on shoe boxes.”  Working for penny commissions, Sol was able to keep the his fellow employees in stitches with descriptions of customers who would ask for a plain shoe, with multiple adornments and want it for just $2.99.

He graduated from shoes to news.  Sol got a job writing for the Trentonian in the late 1950’s.  His first gig was writing obits, which he describes as the prototypical story,”because it has who, what, where, when and why in it.”  That slightly akilter view of the world view poked through again in the newsroom, when Sol would send phony obits to the city editor.  “Luckily none of them got published”, and he was promoted to sports reporter.  The sports editor’s brother, who was already selling jokes to the likes of Jackie Gleason encouraged Sol to try his hand.

Sol and Steve O’Keefe, the Night Editor at the Camden Courier Post, circa 1960’s

His first comedy client was Joe E. Lewis, who’s schtick was playing a drunk.   “Dean (Martin) took the whole spirit of Joe E.‘s act, Joe E. would stand up there weaving at the microphone, with a glass in his hand, except in Joey’s case, the booze was real.”  Sol says that was a major difference between the two, “Dean was using apple juice.  If Dean had ever drunk as much as people said he did, he obviously would have been a basket case.”    One of Lewis’s typical jokes was “I don’t drink any more than the man next to me, and the man next to me is Dean Martin.”  Lewis passed away in 1971, dying of diabetes.  “Diabetics should not fool around with superfluous booze, it’s not good.”, laments Weinstein.  The last thing he wrote after 9 years of working for Lewis was a cover of Frank Sinatra’s hit, My Way.  Sol still remembers it and recently sang it to me.

“At last, my end is near, 
and so I face the final curtain.
Farewell to my career, I’ll leave my broads to Richard Burton.
Oh yes, I drank a lot,
and I threw up on every highway,
I was a souse, and not a louse,
I did it My Way.

For what is a man, without his Scotch,
it’s like Tom Jones, without his crotch,
I shouldn’t drink, the doctor’s say.
My doctor died, just yesterday,
They’re full of bunk, let’s all get drunk
and do it My Way.”

     In the early 1950s, British author Ian Fleming wrote his first James Bond novel, Casino Royale.  Almost a decade later, came the first Bond movie, Dr. No.  In 1964, the third Bond film, Goldfinger was released.  The Bond character was ripe for parody and the mind of Sol went to work and he knew he needed to strike while the iron was hot.

Loxfinger, the first of four parodies of the James Bond series that Sol wrote between 1965 and 1969.   The books gave Sol national exposure and opened doors in literary and Hollywood circles.

The following year, Pocket Books published Loxfinger, a Thrilling Adventure of Hebrew Secret Agent Oy-Oy-7, Israel Bond.  Of Fleming, Sol laughs, “I was living in an alternative reality, and so was he.”  Some of Weinstein’s reality was rooted in his early days growing up in Trenton.  A self-proclaimed marble “shark”, who learned how to shoot with the black kids that he hung out with, his prowess with the aggie seeped into Loxfinger, where the hero is attracted to a woman who won’t give herself physically to him unless he can beat her at marbles.  Young Sol could shoot the taw and so could Bond, Israel Bond.   When he finally knuckled down and won his match, he announced, “You’re ready for my kind of love now, because you’ve lost all your marbles.”    Loxfinger would be the first of 4 books in 4 years.   “Matzohball, On the Service of His Majesty, the Queen and You Only Live Until You Die followed, each drawing on Fleming’s spy novels, his own wacky sense of humor and his experiences growing up in Trenton as inspiration.  Of his relationship with Fleming, Sol says, “We drew from each other, let’s put it that way.”   When pressed, he admits, he was the one who drew more.   No movie offers followed, but as Sol says, “It’s been done.  My take is a special take that applies to our (Jewish) humor, our culture.  I knew someone was going to do it, but I was the first to do it, that’s all.”  The Bond books are now available online at:

     The Israel Bond series established Weinstein as a master of parody and opened doors into the literary world.   In the 1960’s, Playboy Magazine built a reputation for publishing the writings of some of the most acclaimed authors of the day.  One of those authors was Ian Fleming, so when the Israel Bond parodies came out, Weinstein’s writing style drew the attention of the Playboy editors.   In May of 1967, the magazine published Sol’s interview with Woody Allen and in November, 1968 his interview with Don Rickles hit the newsstand.

     If you are a Baby Boomer like me, and you look at Weinstein’s filmography at iMDb, you realize that Sol was writing for all of the comedy shows that you probably watched in the mid-70‘s with your parents.  They were filled with double entendre and while they were all family entertainment, some of them probably had a little trouble getting by the network sensors.   They didn’t necessarily push the boundaries, as prudish as they were back then.  They kind of did an end-around and wound up on TV. 

     Today, with outlets like the Comedy Channel serving up laughs 24 hours a day, the landscape has changed.    In the club setting, with an audience that’s been plied with liquor, a sure-fire way to get laughs is to take it to the toilet.  “The comedy today is studied, deliberate outrage.  It’s out there to outrage, to break barriers, to get as dirty as you can.  Barriers need to be broken, to a certain extent, but it can be overdone, it is being overdone. Shock itself is not a substitute for humor.”   Comedy has also become very much a solo act.   In Sol’s day, there were teams and ensembles. “It’s easier to do a stand-up by yourself, because you’re not constricted in anyway.  You don’t have to worry about feeding your partner lines.    And it’s a matter of ego as well.”

     Bob Hope dominated the comedy world of the 20th century, in part because he lived for all but three years of it, dying at age 100 in 2003.  Hope started in vaudeville and when he was 76 years old did an NBC Comedy Special paying tribute to the genre’s mecca, New York’s Palace Theater.  It opened 10 years after Hope was born and had been transformed into a legitimate theater in 1965.   Sol and his writing partner, Howard Albrecht had already worked on a number of Hope specials before and were brought in to work on this oneBob Mills was Hope’s script writer and says that “Sol Weinstein was the most talented song writer I ever worked with.”   

     And this is where you start to wonder.  In the early 1960’s, Weinstein wrote a song called “The Curtain Falls”, which Bobby Darin heard, liked, and added to his repertoire.  At about the same time, Darin started to have health problems.   In 1963, he recorded a live album at The Flamingo hotel.  He closed the show with “The Curtain Falls”.   The album wasn’t released until 37 years later, 27 years after Darin died.    It’s a classic crooner’s song.   Full of gratitude to the audience.   A signature number.  A show ender. It’s serious stuff and an extremely versatile piece.  For that Bob Hope special, Weinstein made some slight revisions to “The Curtain Falls” and Hope closed the show with it.   Various artists have performed it since.  Two generations after Darin recorded it, the 2004 biopic, Beyond the Sea, starring Kevin Spacey, reprised it.   In his late 70’s at the time of the song’s revival, Sol Weinstein had settled in New Zealand to be near his son’s family. “It’s been a Godsend to me in my latter years because at my age, you don’t get work.   So every once in awhile when a residual check comes in, it’s nice, so I can buy my grandchild a pound of New Zealand popcorn.”

     For a man who sees irony in just about everything, isn’t it ironic that, just as the Palace Theater had, later in life, gone legitimate, so it seems did Sol Weinstein.    A song written almost 50 years ago has garnered its author deserved praise.   A man who reveled in delivering lines for those who played the fool, gave birth to words that turned people into sentimental fools.    Half a century later, The Curtain Falls is still being played, being sung, earning royalties.  

     It makes you wonder, but the question is moot.  Sol will have none of the speculation.  He was born to write comedy, parody, and double entendre and he wouldn’t have had it any other way.   When asked whether Weinstein could have written serious literature, Bob Mills says,  “We go toward that which provides the most fun and satisfaction and in those days, TV variety was where it was at.  Jeez, we should have been arrested for having that much fun.”   A  familiar refrain.   Where have I heard that before?

If I had this to do again
I would spend it with you again...
People say I was made for this
Nothing else would I trade for this and just think I get paid for this...

                                                                      Sol Weinstein

                                                                       "The Curtain Falls" (1962)

Sol Weinstein died on Saturday, November 25th, 2012 at the age of  84.   This is the e-mail that I received from his son David.

Hi friends and people who love Sol.

I’m saddened to tell you that my beloved father Sol Weinstein passed away peacefully early this morning attended by family. Daughter Judee and granddaughter Eleanor Rose have been here from California with Sol through his last days.

A Jewish funeral service will be held on Tuesday 27/11 at Temple Sinai in Wellington at 10.30am followed by burial in the Jewish section at Makara Cemetery.

A memorial service for Sol will be held later this week in Plimmerton - Sol’s home of the past 10 years where he has been a well known and loved character. At the Plimmerton service we will be sharing stories about Sol. I would love to hear a few words from you of an experience from his life that you shared with Sol that encapsulates the wonderful, witty human being Sol was and why we loved him. I would love to read some of your stories at this service if you can contribute one. I’d be happy to send along the text of the eulogy if you like.

Thanks to everyone for being friends to Sol over the years and loving him for the special man he was.

If you wish to make a donation in his honour (no flowers please) please direct them to the Temple Sinai Wellington Progressive Jewish Congregation or the Wellington Free Ambulance.

I never met him, but I feel like I've lost a friend.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012


There's nothing like the storm of the century to free up time to write your blog entry.   I hope everyone stays safe and comes through this storm all right.

It's that time of year and we lead off this blog entry with a Golden Oldie from the archives of the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Trenton.   Wendy Nardi, at the Trenton Free Public Library on Academy Street had this beauty waiting for me when I stopped by recently to do some research.   Anybody have any idea when this is from?   Where it was taken?  And who is in it?

Hit the ADD A COMMENT button at the bottom of the blog entry (it's a long one today, so keep scrolling) and let me know.

The purpose of my most recent visit to the library was to do some research for a speech I gave on October 16th to the Trenton chapter of Hadassah  at the Runway Restaurant at the Trenton Mercer County Airport.

During the weeks leading up to the speech I had received a number of phone calls from members who had been at my talks at Adath Israel who were wondering whether I would be covering the same material at the Hadassah meeting.  Of course, now, the pressure was on to freshen up my research, so I wound up at Academy Street.

Wendy, the curator extraordinaire, was waiting for me with two volumes of papers,  pictures, buttons and memorabilia from 79 year history of the local chapter.  

To be honest with you, my prior knowledge of the organization was pretty well limited to Allan Sherman's shout out to the "Ladies of Haddasah" during the multiple repetitions of the chorus of "My Zelda" from his album, "My Son the Folk Singer" album.  He also immortalized them in another song, "Westchester Hadassah", sung to the melody of Winchester Cathedral.  Music is a great way to warm up an audience, so that's where my talk started.  Sherman's song pokes fun at the fundraising prowess of  Hadassah, but as I started my research, I found out that Hadassah was, in fact, something a little different when it started 100 years ago.   Henrietta Szold, the founder, studied at the Jewish Theological Society, at the time under the direction of Solomon Schecter.  She was allowed to study there as long as she agreed not to press for ordination. 

Szold went to pre-Israel Palestine in 1908 and it changed her life for ever.  She founded Hadassah in 1912 and the Women's Zionist Organization dedicated itself to providing health services.   It's first mission was to send two nurses to Palestine with pastuerized milk for infants.  Eventually Hadassah was instrumental in setting up the Israeli Medical service.   But, the organization was different from other American Zionist organizations.   While searching the Internet for background, I came upon a book called Western Jewry and the Zionist Project by Michael Berkowitz.  In addition to positing that had Szold been born a hundred years later, she probably would have been a Rabbi, Berkowitz talks about the tension that Hadassah caused, because it not only raised money to send to Israel, but it made sure to maintain control over how those funds were spent.

Twenty-one years after the organizing of the national organization, a group of women in Trenton started their own chapter.    At their first meeting, on March 15, 1933, Mrs. Robert Szold, who became President of Hadassah in 1929 was in attendance and accepted the charter.   

Three weeks later, at the home of Mrs. Hyman Peretz, the first board meeting was held and the minutes from that meeting can be found at the library.

There was no initial membership drive, in fact, the decision was made that membership was "open to those women who earnestly desired to join."

The first president of the chapter was Dr. Hannah Seitzick-Robbins, an ob-gyn.  At the meeting at which I spoke, one woman proclaimed, "She delivered me!" and another confided that Dr. Seitzick-Robbins was her doctor.  As you can see in the minutes above, the first order of business was to set up committees and chairs.

Dr. Seitzick-Robbins served two years as president and a copy of the letter she wrote upon her resignation is also part of the library's collection.

I can only imagine that Dr. Seitzick-Robbins would have been glad to know that, not just 25 years later, but 77 years later, her role as President of Senior Hadassah was being remembered and celebrated.

Also included in the letter were the names of the 16 women who attended that first meeting in 1933.

The archives has many newspaper articles that trumpet events held through the years for Junior and Senior Hadassah, Young Judea and many of the other intiatives undertaken by the Trentonians.   One that caught my eye, and which I presented at the meeting caused quite a stir.  I selected this picture because this was the contingent that the local chapter sent to the first Hadassah National Convention after the creation of the State of Israel.   Two of the women pictured here are the mothers of two of the current members.   The then-President of Sr. Hadassah was Mrs. Leon Entin, whose daughter, Bonnie Perlman was ecstatic to see the picture.   The current President of the Trenton chapter’s mother, Mrs. Herman Wolfer was also shown.

27 years later, Sayde Entin was still active in the chapter when the Youth Aliyah Dinner featured Marvin Hamlisch.   Hadassah really is a lifetime passion for its members. 

My last Hadassah photo of the evening was published in 1996.   Included in the picture were; Ernestine Urken, who invited me to speak and current member Florence Lipstein.

A wonderful evening.

Also in attendance was Mark Melmed, who has been a frequent contributor to the Trenton Jewish Project’s Facebook page.  Mark has a working theory that everyone from Old Jewish Trenton is related to each other through marriage.  Even though he is not a Trenton native (his wife is), he has amassed a pretty impressive bit of research to, if not totally support his theory, at least makes the premise plausible.  He has been working on a project through and has linked some 400 Trenton names through the web-based genealogy program.   Here is the list.

Trenton Jewish Genealogy Connected Surnames
Kohn – Urken – Vine – Reichbart - Goldstein
16 Oct 2012 Rev 2
These family trees (Kohn, Urken, Vine, etc.) - which interlock with each other through marriage - also draw in many other Trenton families. In, there are about 2,000 Trenton Jews so far. The surnames (including non-Trenton surnames) are:
Abelow, Abrahamson, Abramsohn, Adler, Albert, Alexander, Allison, Alves, Anderson, Anmuth, Archer, Aroniss, Armony, Aronson, Azarchi, Azorsky
Baches, Bakol, Bar, Barone, Bartoo, Bash, Basile, Baum, Belets, Bellick, Benson, Berger, Bergman, Berkman, Berkowitz, Bernfield, Bernstein, Besselate, Binder, Blaise, Blenheim, Block, Blumberg, Bock, Bojecka, Bolan, Bosses, Bowie, Bowling, Bowton, Brock, Brod, Brody, Brodner, Brooks, Brown, Budik, Bunks, Burke, Burnett, Byer, Bynum
Cantor, Caplan, Chester, Chrysler, Clark, Cohen,
Dana, Danzig, Davidovitz, Davis, DeClerq, Delvanthal, Dershowitz, Derweiler, Desey, Devine, Dobin, Donahue, Downey, Dreyer, Drucker, Dubin, Dutrow
Eckhaus, Edwards, Eisenstadt, Englander, Epstein, Estes
Faber, Fabricant, Falkin, Farber, Feigenbaum, Feldman, Fielding, Fieman, Finn, Fischoff, Frank, Frankel, Frankfort, Fried, Friedlander, Friedman, Fromkin
Gamce, Gansky, Garb, Garfing, Gass, Gelfand, Gellard, Gerber, Geronemus, Gershonowitz, Gilinsky, Gillman, Glasser, Glauser, Gleason, Glick, Gluck, Glickman, Goldberg, Golden, Goldfarb, Goldin, Goldman, Goldsmith, Goldstein, Gorson, Gould, Granite, Green, Greenberg, Grossweiner, Gruber, Gunches, Gurney, Gwertsman,
Haas, Habas, Halperin, Hannah, Haranoff, Herlick, Harnick, Herring, Harris, Herst, Hesselson, Heyman, Hinckley, Hirsch, Hitt, Holender, Holland, Homesy, Horwitz, Hume, Hurowitz
Ingall, Iserson
Jacobs, Jacobson, Jacoby, Jeffreys, Jenkins, Johnson, Jones, Josephson, Jucha
Kadesh, Kahr, Kalapas, Kalfin, Kallen, Kamenetzky, Kaminsky, Kamoroff, Kane, Kaplan, Kasher, Katz, Kaufman, Kazen, Kennedy, Kent, Kessler, Kimmelman, Klempner, Knop, Kody, Koenig, Kohn, Komaroff, Koplin, Koslow, Kritzer, Kronick, Kruger, Kuchka, Kuperberg, Kurtin
Lang, Laster, Lavine, Lefkowitz, Leibowitz, Leonard, Lester, Levene, Leventhal, Levi, Levin, Levine, Levinson, Levy, Lewinter, Lichtenfeld, Lidsky, Liebeskind, Linefsky, Lipkin, Lipkowitz, Lipshutz, Litoff, Litowitz, Litvak, Loeb, London, Lowenstein, Lowman, Luben, Lurie
Mallizia, Manes, Maniewicz, Marcus, Markowitz, Marrow, Marshall, Martindale, Matthews, Medved, Meltzer, Mertz, Meselsohn, Meyer, Michaels, Michal, Miller, Millner, Mittleman, Morowitz, Moshnich
Neiman, Nelson, Newman, Nitzberg, Nochumson, Nusblatt Olden, Ogram, Oreland, Orsborne, Oxhandler
Pace, Palay, Passoff, Patinkin, Patricof, Peitzman, Pepper, Pilus, Plotnik, Podlish, Poffenberger, Pollard, Popkin, Porecca, Press, Price, Pristoop
Rabinowitz, Ragsdale, Randelman, Rappaport, Rauch, Reed, Reichal, Reichbart, Rifkin, Ringler, Ritter, Robinson, Rogowsky, Roitman, Rose, Rosen, Rosenberg, Rosenblum, Rosenthal, Ross, Rosenfield, Rossman, Rounds, Ruttenberg
Sable, Sachsman, Salkofsky, Salway, Samuelson, Sanders, Saperstein, Satterwhite, Saul, Saunders, Sawyer, Scheel, Schenkel, Scherr, Schiff, Schinkel, Schriber, Schultz, Schwartz, Scildhorn , Scott, Selesnick, Selsman, Senderov,
Shafer, Shapiro, Sharlin, Sheehy, Shelton, Sherby, Shevelove, Shields, Sholin, Short, Shupe, Siegel, Siegle, Silverlieb, Silverstein, Simon, Singer, Sklar, Slack, Slotnick, Smith, Smock, Sollod, Solomon, Spence, Spiegel
Stailer, Star, Steinglass, Steinmetz, Stern, Stiefel, Stolar, Stoldolsky, Stone, Studley, Stutzer, Sumholz, Sutnick, Swantko
Tanker, Tanzer, Tercy, Tietjens, Toll, Toltzis, Troll, Tucker, Twist Ullman, Unger, Urken
Vandroff, Veghte, Vegotsky, Vine
Wagner, Wallstein, Walov, Watson, Wedeen, Weihe, Wein, Weinberg, Weinstein, Weisberg, Weiss, Weitz, Weney, Werksman, Weston, Whitman, Wiener, Willner, Wineberg, Winkler, Winnard, Wish, Wishnow, Wollin, Wollner, Wones, Worth, Wray
Zankel, Zimmerman, Zimmett
All of these families are related through marriage.
1. To view or modify the Urken Tree (Shlomo Zalman) (299 people), go to:
2. To view or modify the Kohn Tree (Tzvi Mordechai Kohn) (129 People), go to:
3. To view or modify the Vine/Wein Tree (Orel Wein) (541 People), go to:
4. To view or modify the “Trenton Jewish Community” Project), go to:

I also want to take a moment and let you all know about the work of Arthur Finkle.  In my last blog, I included a chapter of Arthur’s research on “Jewtown”.  Arthur has been very supportive of my initial research and has really spent a lot of time at the library and researching this subject.  His family tree extends back to one of the founders of Isaac Levy, who was the first President of Brothers of Israel.  Art has started a blog and has published his book online.  You can find it at:

Some of you responded with corrections to some of Arthur's information from last week and I want to pass those corrections along.

Shirley Nabutovsky sent this in:

Errors - Dr. Bloom was not a physician. He was a dentist. He was my childhood dentist and I cried every time we passed his building whether I had an appointment or not.  He and his "outdated dental tools" really frightened me.
Max Nabotovsky was actually my great uncle - Morris Nabutovsky who owned an auto parts store and I believe was also a known card shark.
Finally - Memorial Day cemetery Video - I bet you shot the Nabutovsky grave stone thinking that it was my parents. Actually it is for Morris' brother Nathan and wife Esther. My parents have individual grave stones and are to the right past the side walk from Great Uncle Nathan and Great Aunt Esther.  I also have quite a few other Nabutovsky and Bash family members buried throughout that section of the cemetery.

Mickey Kuzma chimed in:

My memories of "Jew Town where I was born in 1933 and riased till the 60's recall others in your list of "Merchants"
The "Dr. Bloom" you mention, was a dentist, not an MD. Larry Goldman MD for a time had an office in this row along Market St. at the top of the Hill. Larry ultimately moved to another Location just above Broad St. a block before the beloved Dr. Jake Berman MS, who took eggs in lieu of a fee for his service.

The "Jewtown" I recall, began at Market and Broad where Market St. began it's descent into the Valley of the Isrealites" as Harry Berkowitz described it. It extended to the river since many businesses were on Bloomsbury St. From Market St. it extended South to Bridge St. and encompassed all the streets in between; Cooper, Lamberton, Union, Mill, Decature, Fall, New, (no not "Nu") and Water Streets.
Beyond the big Schul where your map stopped, was Steingrob's grocery Store with the huge peanut roaster in the Window. two doors down was Edward's bakery ( who could forget "Fran") directly across Union St. was Frey;s Bakery, and Lavine's Dept. Store run by Sam, who was the consumate merchant. The Short 200 block of Fall St. had yet another fine bakery; Feldman's on the corner of Decature. Directly across was "Sada Hannah's (Mrs. Blank) dry goods and notion store. Other Merchant's on this block were Barney Horowitz butcher, Jules Leahman butcher and often bookmaker, a fruit/produce stand Arthur Finklesteins United Meat market, where Arthur always offered me a fresh hot dog to nosh on when shopping with my Mom. On the corner across from the big Schul ("Worker's of Truth/People of Truth?) was Union meat market run by the Millner's, who along with Jake Dana owned the Delaware Packing Co. just two blocks west on Fall/and Bloomsbury St. across from Scmulkie Berger who you failed to recognize as a "Cattle Dealer" Just beyond Bloomsbury St. at the River Was Sokalner Brother's Hide's and Skins. My dad worked for this wonderful family for 40 years, and they were like family to us. Some of my siblings, including my self were named after members of their family.
Warren St. had "Tomor's Department Store", Bobby Binder's Electrical supply, Urken's hardware, Stan Stern's mish mash shop of drek.
The peddler's you note brings to mind the "Horsenally" situated next to the Princeton Worsted Mills on Bloomsbury St., and running to the River. This is where the peddlers with horse drawn carts would house their mighty steeds each night. We kids would sneak in after dark, take the horses out, and ride lik Gene Autry, and Roy Rogers along the grassy strip besides the Delaware River.
And the most glaring of omissions in your notes was "Ben's Deli" on the corner of Lamberton and Market. This was the reason business bustled in Jewtown. People for miles would travel to our little enclave by the river to enjoy the best corned beef this side of NYC.
Of course this is not what I told Alex Segal of Playhouse 90 fame and whose father had the deli a few doors up Market St. next to Kohn's bakery. During a casting call for a movier made by Alex Segal in Trenton, I yelled out that his father had the best Pastrami in Town.
This got me a two line speaking role in his film "Some most honorable Men" starring Van Heflin, and Peter Fonda.

These are the memories of the little Shabazz Goy.

What wonderful memories of a great neighborhood, and neighbors, where there were never locks on the doors, and all were welcomed!

and he also added...

It was not Bessie Baker who I delivered live Carp for, it was Minnie Binder.
Her "holiday Grocery was in a row house a few doors north of Smitty the Banana Man. There were many other businesses situated beyond Market and Union Sts, and in time we'll talk about them.

To everyone-  The only way that we get the real story of Old Trenton is if you send in what you know.   Please.  This is not a test, there are not right ad wrong answers.  There are facts that we want to get right, but there are also points of view, which will always be open to interpretation.  In preserving the past, we need both.  So, if there are factual errors, please feel free to point them out.  If there are differences in opinions, please feel free to refute them, but do it politely.  

One final announcement.   This one on behalf of my wife, who is on the publicity committee for the Women’s League Comedy Night and Raffle at Adath Israel on Saturday night, November 17th.  3 NYC stand-up comedians, dessert, beverages.  What could be better?   For information, please call Ellen Botwin at the Adath, 609-896-4977.


Every time I go to the library, it seems that Wendy has one picture that she hopes we can identify.  She has a soft spot in her heart for pictures of soldiers, so here goes.   Does anyone know who this is?

Let us know.   Click on the ADD A COMMENT button below.



Thursday, October 4, 2012

"Jewtown" Revisted

We're back.    I didn't have any designs on taking the summer off from this blog, but things just worked out that way.  For those who missed having something to read, I apologize.  In my line of work, the summertime is usually slow, but this year was an exception and no one here is complaining.   Add to that, launching a high school senior into college orbit and that's where the summer went.

One person who didn't take the summer off was Arthur Finkle, who was one of the earliest followers of these pages.  Art was one of the first to come forward when I started writing in early 2011 and has been encouraging all along the way.   Art arranged for me to meet Albert Stark in January of this year and drove us to the Brothers of Israel cemetery, pointing out his ancestors who are buried in the oldest part of the graveyard, which was orignally the Har Sinai cemetery.

Art has been doing research at the Tretnon Public Library and is writing extensively about the Jews of Trenton.  Months ago, he sent me an outline of chapters that he wanted to write about.  In mid-August, he sent me 11 chapters of his manuscript.  In this edition of the blog, I share with you excerpts from the chapter that he named ‘Jewtown’.

‘Jewtown’ was located in South Trenton. It housed most of the recent Eastern European Jewish immigrants. Its rents were inexpensive and its proximity to consumers was perfect. It also provided merchants a site to sell their wares.   This section was an already existing marketplace and had been for some years.

Photo 1860 of Market St. Facing Greene (Broad) St.

Built as a shtetl, all spoke Yiddish. It counted several kosher meat butchers, a Talmud Torah, synagogues and a Mikveh (ritual bath). It also housed the social welfare societies, such as the Free Home Loan Society, Immigrant’s Aid, Sick Society, etc.

Indeed, a 1908 article in the Times-Advertiser called this section of Trenton a closed community.

"The Russians are very jealous of their own
interests and very unwilling to inform outsiders
of their doings. But then, this Russian colony of
Trenton, in contradiction to the law of economics,
is practically sufficient unto itself. They have
their own factories, their own stores, their own milk
dealers, in fact the whole category of businesses
and trades is represented among them. Those
stores and factories which are located within the
colony employ only Russians and never fail to
observe the Jewish Sabbath, from sunset Friday
to sunset Saturday, and nothing other than a conflicting
city ordinance prevents them from opening Sundays."

This ‘Trenton Colony’ produced several charitable institutions. Among the early ones  were Wanderers’ Help and Miles Rescind, a non-denominational poor fund.

In 1929 (there) were approximately 4,100 Jews; some say 7,100 about 3-5% of Trenton ‘s population. Most of this population resided in the area between South Broad and Warren streets, and Market Street and the Delaware-Raritan Canal (Now the Trenton Freeway).

The area benefited from the infrastructure of a growing industrial Trenton. Providing trolley service along Broad St, having sidewalk, water (1859) and sewerage (beginning in 1903), outdoor lighting. Finally furnished with indoor plumbing with its toilet, bathtub and wash area, all ceramics made in Trenton and electricity, this area brimmed with activity.
Further it had bright electric street lights in 1887 (Its first electric lights made their Trenton appearance in 1881). See Harry J. Podmore, Trenton – Old and New, Trenton Historical society, 1929. See 1903 Trenton Ordinance.

Indeed, The City Railway Company was incorporated under the general law in 1875, with an authorized capital of $50,000. In February 1876, Common Council authorized the construction of a horse-car line through Clinton Street, from the city limits to Perry Street, to Broad, terminating at the Chambersburg borough line. The track was to be a double one.   At this time the borough of Chambersburg authorized the company to extend its tracks from the canal to the southeasterly borough limits, along South Broad Street, bordering what was to become the Hungarian Jewish area.
Further, the City Railway Company extend(ed) its line from Perry Street to Warren and thence to Ferry Street, up Bridge and into Centre Street down as far as Riverview Cemetery (Jewtown)
In October 1885, an ordinance permitted the company to extend its tracks from South Broad Street along Bridge Street, into Centre as far south as Lalor Street, and along Lalor to the canal.
The next year, The City Railway Company again extended its line along Hamilton Avenue. In this year the borough of Chambersburg extended the City Railway Company’s franchise to Jennie Street, Hudson Street, Elmer Street, Chestnut Avenue, Cummings Avenue and Coleman Street, with a spur through Cummings Avenue to Division Street, to the car sheds and stables.
The Trenton Horse Railroad Company passed into the hands of Colonel Lewis Perrine at about this time. In 1891 he acquired control of the City Railway Company and consolidated the two roads on September 30, 1891, under the name of the Trenton Passenger Railway Company. The very next year, Colonel Perrine had the roads electrified and on May 22, 1891, the first experimental trip by electricity was made.
The Jewish area also utilized the Delaware and Raritan Canal for inexpensive portage. And the Pennsylvania railroad was on three blocks away.  The first settlers came to South Trenton because the rents were inexpensive. The area was relatively undeveloped and was not near a major factory.

1881, Jacob Barker came to Trenton with his wife and seven children. In 1888, Joseph Movshovich opened the first bank on Decatur St. There were twelve kosher butchers. In 1895, Harry Alexander opened the first kosher deli. Alex Cohen was a boxing promoter and cut man.
Other early South Trenton residents included Isaac Berman, Solomon Goldstein, David Lavine, Max Feinberg, Harry Haveson, Israel Silverstein, Isaac Levy, Israel Kohn, Gabriel Lavinson, Louis Levy, Solomon Urken, Daniel Levine and Abraham Moskowitz.

Below is a scheme of most of this area with names of occupants and stores.

From the visual map, counted on Market Street were:
3-Deli’s; a Drug Store; a Restaurants; 3-Bakers; a Gas Station, a Physician (Dr. Bloom); 3-Butchers; a Furniture store; a Mikveh (Religious Ritual Bath)
On Union St., were counted: 3-Shuls; a Hotel; a Social Club (Liberty Club); 3- Bakeries; 2-Chicken stores; 2-Fish Markets; 5-Butchers; a Hardware store; 3-Dry Goods Stores; a Tire Store; a Clothing ship; and a Print shop.
The aggregate totals were 6-bakers, 8-butchers, 3 dry goods stores; 3-Deli’s, 3- Dry Goods Stores, 3-shuks, 2 Fish stores, 2-chicken stores. We found one Mikveh (Ritual Bath), Hotel, a saddle shop, a cooperage (barrels) Restaurant, Gas station, Tire Store, Print shop, Hardware store, barber and social club.
Unlike Eastern Europe, these little stores were not monopolized by women. Rather, in fast becoming Americans, they played the role ascribed to them in the ‘new’ country as keepers of the household and their households were large. See Hyman.
Each owner’s family lived atop the store. Another interesting fact was that, although (there) was an enormous presence of potteries (60), rubber manufacturers and wire and cable (Roebling had its plant on more than 35 acres), Jews did not compete with others for these factory jobs.

                                                          Stores in ‘Jewtown’





                                          Kosher Butchers

Cattle dealer – Isaac Dohen
Wholesale – Myron Cohen
Cow Dealer – Sharky Rosenthal
Hafetz - David Hafetz passed on his store to his son(s) Joseph and Frank Hafetz
Katzeff and Weiner
Morris Stern
Butcher – Kalman
Liberty Meat Mkt



Fish and Produce – Solomon Cohen
Grocer – David Cohen
Meat and Produce – Maurice Finkle

                                        Grocery Stores

George Levie
Jacob Levie
Samuel Levin

                                   Fish (including live carp)

Smitty’s – Sam Smith
Barker’s - Fish Mkt
Balitz Chickens
Feigman’s chickens


United Tires - Irving Cohen
Izzy Richmond

Junk Dealers

Jacob Albert

Phil albert

Harvey Cohen

David and Jack Introlligator

Sam Saperstein


Charles Levie

Benny Hock

CafĂ© – Heifel Cohen


Spiegel’s Furniture

Mercer Paint and Paper Company - Marcus-Nitzburg family, owned
(Milton) Palat’s Furs
Small Department Stores
Normal  Department Store – Swamp Angel (Isaac Finkle)
Finkle’s Dry Good’s – Willow and Spring  (Sam Finkle)

                                           Store Owners
Max Nabotovsky
Sadie Cohen

                              Saga of the Jewish Peddler
Many Jews were peddlers because they could celebrate the Sabbath without business pressures. Others were junkyard dealers for the same reason.
In the early days, in fact, ‘Jewtown’ was silent of the Jewish Sabbath because all the stores were closed. They reopened on Sunday with the wink and the nod of the Police Department because Blue Laws prohibited most commerce on Sunday.
Peddlers earned about five dollars a week and rarely grossed a profit, often depending on the wives and children to peddle alongside of them. The peddler lifestyle marked a profound loss of status for many of the immigrants.    Marcus Ravage, a famous writer during the time, couldn’t believe his eyes when he witnessed a man, “who had been the chairman of the hospital committee in Vaslui and a prominent grain merchant . . .dispensing soda-water and selling lollypops on the corner of Essex Street in New York.”


Along with status issues, newly arrived Jews experienced profound culture shock. The new American workday was no longer circumscribed by meals shared with family, prayer, or Jewish holidays and the Sabbath. They agonized about having to abandon the structured and religious traditions of their homogenous village life.

The Eastern European Jewish immigrants may have been poor, but most possessed skills as merchants from the Russian shtetls. Since the Russian government prevented Jews from owning land or raw materials, Eastern European Jews possessed a skill set different from other immigrants.                                                                                                                                 --Ashley L. Koch.


The five Finkle brothers became door-to door peddlers traversing a weekly route from Trenton to Lambertville, to Flemington, to Somerville back to Trenton for the Sabbath. When one earned sufficient money, he sent for the second brother ad seriatim. Eventually, with enough capital, they settled in Trenton and environs to establish dry goods stores. In Lambertville,  Finkle’s Hardware Store is still operating, more than 100 years later.

Harry Gerofsky also commented on the coming together of Trenton. It received a charter in 1792 (population 1, 2500). In 1837, its population was 4,000. In 1838, it became the county seat of a new county (Mercer). In 1847, it authorized streets and alleys. In 1851, it annexed the Borough of South Trenton, then known as Mill Hill and Bloomburg (3rd and 4th wards which later would house ‘Jewtown’).

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

You Never Know What You'll Find Out About Your Family

Wars have been fought protecting family honor. Stories of valor and tales of adventure have been passed from generation to generation. But many times there is an unknown or unpublicized aspect to these family histories and there is something magical about those moments when you find out, for good or bad, that the true narrative isn't always the way you were told they were.

     In my family, we never really knew why my father's parents moved from the small mining town of Bishop, Pennsylvania (which has long since been absorbed by metropolitan Pittsburgh) to Oklahoma City in the late 1920's. The accepted story was that my paternal grandfather had relatives in California and that was the real destination. My paternal grandmother had family in Oklahoma City and we were told that the reason they stopped in the center of the Dust Bowl was because my grandmother tired of the drive and told my grandpa "No further." A plausible explanation, but no one bothered to explain why they were leaving Pennsylvania in the first place.

     The revelation came at my Uncle's birthday party in St. Louis (75th, I believe). My uncle (8 years my father's senior), Aunt (4 years older) and my Dad were sitting around in the living room and I was videotaping them talking about their lives. Matter-of-factly, my Uncle mentioned that a cross had been burned on my grandfather's front lawn. He had been a successful grocer in the years since he had fled Lithuania, but this was a clear message to leave town. My Dad, who was two at the time never knew the story. My Aunt had vague memories. Whether they had been suppressed or she had been too young to remember, we're not sure. But a new chapter in the Alpern family history had been written.

     So, what does that have to do with Trenton and the Jews of Trenton?  It's a jumping off point for a story that passed through my in-box about a couple of months ago. In the age of the Internet, no skeletons are safe in family closets. We live in an age where the methods of discovery, as well as the depth that you can research these kind of things is almost limitless.

     At the beginning of June, I got an e-mail from Mark London. It was in response to the Memorial Day video of the cemeteries on Cedar Lane.  

"I've been researching my Barker relatives from Trenton the last couple of years, and would be interested in knowing if any of the very old gravestones in the Har Sinai cemetery are still readable.  I.e., there was Wolf Lapinsky who died in 1878 who might be buried there.  There's also an infant Charlie Barker, died in Aug 1884, who definitely was buried there, according to the death certificate.  Just curious."

     I sent Mark back an e-mail letting him know that I had seen a number of old graves that were still readable, but was not sure if any were his relatives. In his follow-up, Mark filled me in on a little family background. He had been researching his Trenton relatives on, which lets you research 320 years of newspapers. What he found was fascinating and scandalous. It turns out that Wolf Lapinsky, whose grave he was looking for, was the brother of a character named James Barker, who was also his grandmother's uncle. He was the President of the South Jersey Crockery Company and he disappeared from his home in November of 1914.

Mark sent the Trenton Times write ups that detail his disappearance and subsequent return to Trenton. One of the articles mentions claims made by Morris Rudner, a liquor dealer who loaned Barker $3500 and held a second mortgage on the Barker Home at 311 Bellevue Avenue. The same article mentions that Rudner and Barker had an interest, along with Jonas Fuld of Fuld Brothers, a shoe dealer, in the Crockery Company.

 Also weighing in on the police report was Israel Kohn of the firm Urken & Kohn, who apparently had been owed $400 and the day before he disappeared, Barker borrowed another $100 for a new suit. He allegedly also took $300 cash from a widow and had obtained a watch and chain from a jeweler and court interpreter, Bernard Cohen before skipping town.

Barker was arrested in Chicago and he returned to Trenton to face the charges of embezzlement and false pretense.

Before his trial in March of 1915, the company that put up his bond decided he wasn't worth the risk and delivered him back to jail, but by that afternoon had secured another bondsman.

 After the whole mess, he wound up being fined $200 and $61 in court costs and was placed on probation.

The outcome of the case was reported in the Times right along with a pair of horse thieves and two men convicted of stealing copper wire from the telephone company. Mark's research showed that he wound up selling the business and he fled the city, but wound up being buried in Trenton. But even more interesting was what happened to his daughter Clara Eunice Barker.  

"More tragic, is his daughter's story, Clara Eunice Barker.  She was a "party girl", and while her father's business was failing, she lured a millionaire away from his wife and family, to live with her in California.  The wife eventually sued my relative for "stealing the love" of her husband, and it became a sensational court case in LA (and of course was heavily written about in the Trenton Times).  Clara had acting lessons, and lied her way through several trials, both of which she won, and she came away with lots of money that the millionaire had given to her as gifts.  I'm sure the details of the actual trial are more lurid than what the newspapers could print back then.  But what they were able to print, is still grand fun to read.

Agreed Mark. Thanks for sharing.

Friday, May 18, 2012

I drove down Clarksville Road yesterday on my way to a baseball game at West Windsor-Plainsboro South and can report that construction on the new JCC is advancing at an impressive clip.   The first phase of the Jewish Community Campus is set to open by the end of this year.  Check out the article in the New Jersey Jewish News about the "Topping Off" celebration at the end of March.

One of the contributing factors to the existence of this blog is that in 1999, I scanned all of the pictures that were yellowing and tattered and on display on the walls at the old JCC .  It led to me doing some research about some of the faces that I had seen in the old photos.   It’s exciting that in just a few months there will be a new Jewish Community Center serving this area.  One thing that the group that is working to open the Center realize is that the old YMHA in Trenton and the old Trenton Jewish Community are direct forebears of what they are doing now.

In that light, I invite all of you with memories of the old YMHA on Stockton Street to send me your memories of the Y and what it meant to you as you were growing up.   If you have pictures, scan them and send them to me (no originals, please).  If you have a video camera, camera on your phone or iPad, record your memories and contact me about uploading them to our blog.  From what I’ve learned, it was a special place and a hub of activity.

Zalman King

Passover has come and gone and once again we hosted Sylvia Schultz for the second Seder.   Four years ago, Sylvia was a guest and during the meal talk turned to my signature brisket and it brought back memories for Sylvia of the smells, sights and sounds of Old Time Trenton.  The excitement with which she spoke of her hometown was really the inspiration for everything that you read on these pages.  Sylvia invited me to the library and showed me the treasure trove of pictures and documents that exist in Trentonia now.  

This year, Sylvia talked to me at length about her friend, Zalman King Lefkowitz, who passed away in February.  Sylvia was best friends with King’s sister and called King her adopted brother.   In this video, she talks about the “House of Tomorrow” that King’s family lived in on Bellevue Avenue, across from Cadwalader Park and how King left for Florida, to work on an excursion boat. That led to acting jobs in commercial, then he landed a role in The Young Lawyers, Gunsmoke, and even The Munsters, before going on to direct a number of films, including 9 1/2 Weeks and Wild Orchid and the Red Shoe Diaries, among others.  

The last time Sylvia saw King was at his mother’s funeral and when Schultz asked him whether he could be in one of his films, his response was, “Sure, if you take your clothes off.”  Sylvia’s comeback line was, that “if she took her clothes off, nobody would come to see the movie”, so the deal was off.

More than once in the interview, Sylvia recalled that despite his fame, King was so humble and such a gentleman and that when he started directing the racier movies, no one cold believe it, because that wasn’t him.   Sylvia mentions Charlie Sheen’s message on his Facebook page the day that King passed.

Here is an obit from a site called the avclub, which includes some clips from King’s acting and directing career.

Arnold Ropeik      

Arnold Ropeik passed away in April at the age of 90.   Although he did not grow up in Trenton, Arnie did marry a Trenton girl, Bertha Levine, and spent almost 70 years in and around Trenton.  Unfortunately, I never met Arnold Ropeik when he was alive.   I saw him a few times at Adath Israel, but never got a chance to speak with him.   Thanks to Sherry Spiezle, I did get a chance to interview Bertha and she told me many stories about him.   By the time we did the interview, Arnie was at Greenwood House and he would have good days and bad days.  Bertha told me that he was better in the late afternoons, but I was never able to sync schedules.   Here are a couple of stories that Bertha told about Arnie .  The first is about Arnie’s first job in Trenton, after graduating from Rider in 1947.  His first job was with The Trentonian, which had started after a strike at the Trenton Times in 1946.  

Here, Bertha talks about how Arnie first met Bertha.

You’ve heard about newspaper wars?   Well,  in 1946 Trenton there was literally a newspaper war between the Times and the upstart Trentonian.   Bertha Ropeik remembers that the old YMHA on Stockton Street was sometimes in the demilitarized zone between the two papers.

For more background information on the beginnings of the Trentonian, here’s an online article.

And finally, Bertha explains how she came to be known as Beloved Spouse in Arnie’s columns.  But there were to be no abbreviations.

I also include a great story that Herb Speigel told that Arnie used to tell about Bertha’s father, Albert Levine.

 And finally, a shameless plug for a college buddy of mine.   Dan Cohen was a year ahead of me at Ithaca College.  He worked for years in local news in Orlando and Washington, D.C..  He developed a love for the space program and has produced a documentary that has been shown at film festivals across the country and around the world.     The film is called "An Article of Hope" and follows the story of a tiny Holocaust Torah that Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon took with him on the the ill-fated Columbia Space Shuttle which disintegrated on re-entry in 2003.   Dan is in the final days of trying to raise $50,000 to have the film broadcast on PBS and has a website on a service called Kickstarter, which  helps get word out about worthy projects. 

As I write this, there are 7 days left on Dan’s drive and $46,000 has been pledged so far.  Please take a look at the trailer and if you see fit, give as little as $1.  If he doesn’t reach his goal, your credit card will not be charged.  See website for more details.

I know I’ve put a lot of material in here, so thanks for reading and please send me your remembrances of the YMHA.