Thursday, June 20, 2013

Anonymous. Female. Member of Sephardic Jewish Community

Anonymous Jewish woman shares her history and memories with us today:

Originally the Bikur Cholim Synagogue. Photo by Madeline Crowley

 I had a best friend who was Chinese and friends who were Black. We didn’t know there were differences between people; we just played together. The Depression was a happy time even though everyone was poor because everyone felt they were in it together. People didn’t think about what they didn’t have. It was easier, I think, to get along because there wasn’t such focus on material things as there is today coming from TV and the Internet. We were always happy to be out playing together. We enjoyed being together.
That’s all we needed.

About Anonymous:
Anonymous remembers a time before the blare of TV and the constant roar of cars when the Central Area was a village of small shopkeepers where people gathered together to talk and play as the primary form of shared, joyful entertainment.

Anonymous on the Central Area:

I guess I should start at the beginning. The first Jewish settlers in Seattle were Ashkenazim (Jews of Eastern European or German descent) who arrived in the late 1800s. My family is Sephardic from Turkey (Jews originating from Spain, Portugal or North Africa) my uncles came to Seattle in 1909 and my father joined them in 1911. My mother came after World War One in 1920.

Now, don’t forget it was a different life over in Turkey. When my Dad first came over to America he did shoeshine for a while. A lot of the Turkish men when they first came they did shoe shine and shoe repair. Whatever it took to provide.

The Ashkenazic and Sephardic communities were pretty separate before World War II, we had different synagogues and different traditions and food. There’s a big difference between their practices and ours. After the war, there was intermarriage and we learned their dishes and they learned ours; it was a very rich time.

It was a very Jewish community but we had non-Jewish neighbors that we were very close to and don’t forget there were three churches within a few blocks.  We lived around Irish, Italian, Turkish, German and Russian families in one apartment building. Everyone spoke broken English and we spoke Ladino at home. The children were all first generation Americans.

My father really discouraged us from speaking Ladino, ‘We’re in America, we speak English’ which was a point of contention with my mother.

I was a few years old; I remember that apartment and my crib. It was so crowded in that apartment that the crib was against a mirror. I was looking in it while the neighbor women were over. They got together every day for coffee. I overhead them talking about the ‘bogeyman.’ They said, beware there was a burglar, a bogeyman, in the neighborhood. I remember looking into that mirror and seeing the reflection. I was old enough to know that the bogeyman sounded scary.

When I was about three years old, I remember my Mom sent me down the side stairs to the apartment below with a bowl of melon seeds wanted for a recipe. Kids in those days were very capable, they followed orders and they delivered. If they were asked to do something they could handle it.

We learned from our neighbors. It was a real education for us, it was a benefit to see and appreciate different ways. We understood how different cultures had different ideas. The differences made us happy and appreciative. Once we moved to a house, we loved to go to our neighbors. We loved the smells of the kitchens.  We loved even the Christmas tradition of the Italians.

It was a wonderful neighborhood, very diverse neighborhood; we were surrounded by great neighbors. One neighbor was Swedish, she had lots of cats, too many cats. The lady behind us, her landlord was Chinese, and she had two tenants who were Jewish.

Japanese Neighbors and Internment

We especially loved our Japanese neighbor and her doll collection. They had a beautiful garden, and they were very good to us. They loved us very much. They gifted us with candy bars and once when I was sick she brought me a doll. We stayed in touch with them after they left to the internment camp and after they returned. When they got back they came to the same house, living three generations in the same house.

They had a newborn when they came back, my mother crocheted a baby blanket and delivered it to their wonderful house. The daughter-in-law was crippled with arthritis and she suffered in the camps. There was no heat. She died shortly after coming back.

In the letters I have from the Internment camps, they always talked about how there was no heat. The girls I went to school with wrote about how cold it was and the lack of privacy. It was an ugly time. We had to say goodbye to our friends and we couldn’t understand why.

The Depression

Yet, everybody was in the same boat during the Depression, we felt rich compared to some who didn’t have – they would come to school without socks. It was a sad time, really. But for the most part our parents were very resilient and they worked hard to provide for their children. Work was very tough to find.

It’s hard to roll all this out, there are so many years to cover, and times were so different.

It was wonderful then because we were a family. We had the support of both parents, we had meals together, we went to school; we had regular hours. My mother didn’t work. It was very difficult to find a job in those days. My Dad would wait for a phone call to be a helper here or there, there were times when he would earn just a dollar a day.

We lived then in an apartment building on 23rd Avenue. There was a great house next to it, and a house next door. This was the Japanese family’s house. The people on the other side were Italian. They’d never seen or met Jewish people before but they became very good friends. My mother and her became like sisters.  We’ve stayed in touch all these years. Their youngest daughter would get us in trouble, because we were little kids and she put makeup on us. My father thought she was a juvenile delinquent because she’d put make-up on us. He didn’t believe in makeup or anything like that.

It sounds like your father maybe because of language difficulties was picking up work here and there. Was that the case?

He was not lazy, he worked at any job he could get, shipyard, lumber mill; he delivered coal. Anytime they’d raise rent, we’d move. And let me tell you, moving was not fun because you couldn’t afford to replace anything. The linoleum rug wasn’t expensive but you would roll it up and take it to the new house. Any fuel in the shed, like wood or coal, had to be bagged and taken because you couldn’t afford to leave it. 

In about 1939, we moved to our last house in the neighborhood. It was nice house with nice porch; trees and a lot of space had a long driveway and a garage. We had wonderful Italian neighbors who had a garden. We were always talking over the fence. They had boys and we always played together, so it was a very neighborly. It was a nice neighborhood. Everything you needed was pretty close in all these different stores. We would walk to get what we needed. We didn’t have a car.

The Neighborhood House

It was so convenient in the neighborhood, we’d walk to school, and after school we had the Settlement House. It was run by the council of Jewish women.

It is now the Neighborhood House, it was key to our growing up. They had drama, tap dancing, crafts, and summer adventure programs. You’d bring a quarter for the bus and then ride to Seward Park or Lincoln Beach and we’d sing on the bus.

The Settlement House was open all summer and during the school year too. You could walk there, it was safe, kids walked everywhere then. It was open to neighborhood kids, the program itself was not necessarily Jewish. It was driven by the needs of kids. We learned to block print. We learned to decorate ashtrays with shells. There were plays to see. Also, there were Doctors and Dentists who volunteered time there.

The Japanese had a similar program for kids off of Rainier Avenue. We mixed at school. Nobody looked at anybody else and said, he’s Japanese or he’s Chinese. We knew he was Japanese but nobody thought about him or her being yellow or brown or whatever.

Here’s a picture of my 4th grade class; this would be in 1938-39. It’s a big range of happy healthy kids. We used to drink our milk and our cocoa. This was my friend (points to a smiling girl), she was the happiest; she just bubbled. Her family was Japanese. It made you feel good to be her friend, just to get a hello from her. They lived around the corner.

It sounds like among the children there was little sense of difference.

During the Depression everyone was in the same boat, parents were struggling. People were taking night jobs, or day jobs, my father at this point was a security person at the Pike Place Market. He worked there for a while. Then he worked at a shipyard.

We didn’t have a phone. People generally didn’t have phones. If you wanted to get a message to someone, you walked. The first phones were a party line. You would have one ring while someone else had a double ring. If someone had been on the phone for a long time, you’d pick up the phone and hear them talking. They’d say, ‘I’m on the phone now, when I’m done, I’m done.’ You knew exactly whose voice it was because you knew them from the neighborhood.

Back then, there were no cars, no telephones. But now even people on public assistance have their nails done. To each his own. They have cellular phones. I don’t know how they pay for it, even on my simple cell phone I have to pay monthly for it. It’s ridiculous. It’s going to break the bank.

Neighborhood Shops & Businesses

The great thing about the neighborhood then was all the little businesses on Jackson Street. There was a pharmacy on 27th Avenue called Weeds. We used to call him Dr. Weeds because he was so good. He had lineament, Sloan’s lineament. They would display it with a horse and his owner. That meant it was good for the horse, so it was good for you. It was for aches and pains, for arthritis. Mr. Weeds had his own lineament from turpentine and it guaranteed relief. A little turpentine won’t hurt a bit, you’d rub it on aching joints. He could take care of anything. He was the clinic.

There was a Department store that work-clothes, shoes, and oilcloths. At one time, people would put oil-cloth on their table.  You just wipe it clean. You’d change it two or three times a year for the change of seasons. They had wonderful patterns. And people would stand around in the store and try to figure out what pattern they wanted for their table.

Then there was Masin’s Furniture. It was a little store. Mr. Masin had everything there, he’d pick up salvage from train wrecks or whatever. That was a destination.

 There was also a gas station, a bakery and a movie house called the Mt. Baker Movie house. It’s a church now. A lot of these places now are churches.

At the movies they had a four-hour program. Your parent’s would give you a dime and a bag with a sandwich for your lunch.  Then, you’d sit and watch four hours of movies. Of course, in those days there was nothing risqué in the movies. Still, nothing was censored for children. The Movie Tone News showed the war, it was always stale as far as news goes. Then, there was a cartoon. No one checked on us. Kids were responsible and it was a safe place.

On that block there was Selig’s, a linens store. He was Martin Selig’s father, the son who became a real estate man, a developer.

And then you had Grinspan’s. He had everything from suits and hats to linoleum rugs and paint. He went through phases, he had all kinds of things.

Then, there was a Supermart by an Italian man and a Willner’s that sold shoes and clothes. And then next to that were yard goods. Yards of fabric, bolts of cloth, embroidery materials, dolls. I got a big mama doll from there. People made their own clothes and curtains, people were sewing in those days.

Jackson Street was so great with all those shops. Yesler Way had the library and the fire station that offered boxing for the boys. There were those Queen Anne houses across the street. On Yesler Way there was a Turkish confectionery, he had these big copper bowls, and he’d make this great candy. All those recipes have been lost. On the way home from school all the kids would stop there. He had ‘Lucky Bites.’ If you got a pink one, you could get another one. If you got a white one, you didn’t get another one. 

He made the best yogurt too. People would bring their yogurt culture and he’d make the yogurt. Next door, there was a card room for men playing cards. They’d go in there with their ‘kosquettas,’ playing both cards and middle-eastern board games. They’d be in there smoking and playing cards. Then the wives would send runners there looking for the husbands to get them to come home.

There was a bakery across from the Yesler Library and a butcher. People would bring their chickens, killed ritually, then pluck the feathers and take them to the butcher for the Sabbath. They’d tie the legs of the chicken together and hang them from hooks. On Jefferson Street they had the live chickens in cages and you could pick out the one you wanted.

Family Nights at the Movies
We were very, very lucky to have that community. We went to the theatres on Tuesday night. There was a mass exodus to the Madrona Theatre on family night. Everyone was there but no one robbed our houses. They had Captain Marvel serials for the kids, it was just a different time.

That was before the Television. God help us, after that it changed. We never had a phonograph record so we decided when we were getting a TV we’d get one with a record player. So, we had to go buy records. My mother’s cousin had a Victrola and we thought she was rich.

We also made good use of the Parks. All we had to do was ring up somebody or pass the word, there was a network and everybody knew to meet at the Park in Madrona for a picnic. There were no plastic containers and no paper products, so you’d bring pots and pans tied up with a dishtowel. You’d bring watermelon and put it in the baby buggy and walk it down the park.

We had such food. In our tradition we celebrate the cycles of life so we’d celebrate births and weddings; we’d put on a wonderful party.

Many families gathering and all bringing their own food? That sounds like so much fun.

This happened all the time, all summer long, except for a certain period when the Jews are in mourning because of the destruction of the temple. Then you don’t go to the beaches for that time, for about three weeks. We were mostly celebrating life cycles together from birth to death and that kept everybody busy.

Then there was the war. Everybody pitched in and volunteered for the war effort. The families hung little flags in the windows so you knew who had somebody overseas. When anybody lost a son they put up a gold star. We had three gold stars in a few blocks, two on 24 and one on 26th. We lost four men, Albert, Meyer, Sam & Izzie.

It was a different life, another century. In that one area there was only one Catholic, the rest were all Jewish. Yet, on 25th Avenue there were all kinds, Irish, and one guy who made a living sharpening tools, but he drank so much and didn’t work at that too often. He had pedals for his sharpener, like a bicycle, when he got thirsty he’d work, but his poor wife, she worked. She worked hard. She had to have a job.

It was another life. It is another world now. It was easy flying. When we went downtown to the tearooms we'd wear gloves. Now downtown you see flip-flops and short shorts.

Is it sad to remember how things were and see where they are now?

No, that’s where it is. It’s not my show. After you turn 80, and you just look at things like ‘That’s their show now, it’s not the way I would want; it’s the way it is.’ What I hate is the greed and the dishonesty from the top down. My mother used to say if my mother is sleeping with the king who do I complain to…

When I go back to the old neighborhood, I feel welcome there even though it’s changed so much. In my mind, it still is what it was, you see? I still feel the street itself even though it has changed. It changed a lot but there’s still something about it.

After your father died… is that why you left the neighborhood?

No, were there for 25 years. We didn’t leave ‘til 1964. In ‘64 the whole community moved, the synagogue moved over to Lakewood.

You have to understand it was the 1960s and things changed. It wasn’t safe. A lot of people who could afford to move had already moved. It was not comfortable; you weren’t comfortable walking (on the street). Also, the younger people who had married, they didn’t buy in the old neighborhood. They bought in other neighborhoods.

The neighborhood was so cohesive during the depression, what changed in the 1960s?

Times change. The area changed, it was not the same neighborhood. Things started to change after the war, after the Second World War a lot of the people who had served in the Armed Forces had been to Europe and so they’d been in the world. When they started to marry, they’d branched out. They didn’t want the old neighborhood. They wanted to be further from the synagogues and so forth.

I’ve been in my new neighborhood for 49 years. I was one of the last to leave the old neighborhood.  

There was a demographic change so it was not safe. Remember Mr. Pratt? He was assassinated; someone shot him at his front door. There was a civil unrest.

We were the last ones here and the businesses that had been here for 40 years were not getting business anymore.

Was this the time when there were a lot of fires set in the neighborhood?

It was just unrest. You had no control over your property. You were afraid to talk to anybody. It was civil unrest and for those of us who were left, it was very uncomfortable. It wasn’t demonstrations on the street, but I was afraid. Whereas before, you could take the bus at night and walk through the Garfield campus to come home.

It was a very unsafe feeling. We weren’t broken into or anything like that. I should back up because we were in the house in 1963 and were celebrating a certain holiday. The family went upstairs with the children and all of the sudden rocks came through the window in the bedroom. The window shade started to spin. The children started to cry. I got on the phone and called the police department. And I had to say, “I don’t want you to ignore this call. You have to come over here now because we feel threated. I don’t know what will happen next.

It was probably night so you have had no idea who’d done it.

It was night, the lights were on next door and the lights were on in the church across the street. I told the police, ‘You have to come now, we are not safe here.’ The police at that time, they’d gotten so that they wouldn’t respond to emergencies. They’d wait for it to die down because they didn’t want to get caught in the cross-fire.

There were shootings?

Yes, there were shootings in the area. They’d wait for things to die down and so I told them, ‘We have no guns. We want you to come and check this out.’ The police came and sat in our chair and said, ‘the only thing we can suggest to you is that you move.’ We’d been there 25 years.

Douglas Chin mentioned in an earlier interview that people were throwing rocks at people on the street from passing cars.

My mother would go to the grocery store two blocks south of where we lived and I called to say, “How’s your day going?” And she said, “I’m done, I’m not going to go to the grocery store anymore because the kids are throwing rocks at me.” And then that this happened (at our house) in September. I moved to my new house in November.

And there was something else going on then, what was called ‘block busting.’ The realtors, real estate companies would come to your house and scare you out of your wits, saying, ‘it’s not safe for you to live here and we suggest you sell while you still can get money for your house.’ Anyone with property was moving.

[Anonymous came to this project via Washington State Jewish Historical Society]

©  Madeline Crowley People of the Central Area 2013   All material is covered by copyright. Express written permission must be given for any copyrighted material on this page. Email to request permission to copy or paste materials. 

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About Me

Seattle, WA, United States
I am not a professional photographer nor a trained journalist. At community meetings, it became clear that many of us don’t know each other. We haven’t heard each other’s stories and don't know each other’s circumstances. This is my attempt to give a few people the chance to tell their story, to talk about our community, to say their piece in peace. As such, comments have been disabled. The views and opinions expressed here are those of each narrator and do not necessarily reflect the position of views of the CentralAreaComm.blogspot blog site itself. The is not responsible for the accuracy of any information supplied by narrators of this project. All interviews have been edited and in places condensed.

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