Grew up in South Providence in the 1920s-1930s
“It was a real community affair.”
[Note: This interview was conducted by phone.]
Harold Bloom: [South Providence] was where I was born. I was there until I got married and moved away. I not only lived on Willard Avenue, but my father had a business with my grandfather, a meat market on Willard Avenue. I got all my training at the Talmud Torah up on Chester Avenue, which was in the block between Taylor Street and Broad Street, on the righthand side.
Willard Avenue mainly, but so many other areas nearby, were populated by people who emigrated from Russia, where they lived in shtetls. Some of the customs and businesses were just like they used to have in the shtetl.
My fraternal grandfather was a butcher in Russia, and when he came here he opened a butcher shop on Willard Avenue. My maternal grandfather built his own wagon and used to peddle fruits and vegetables in the streets of Providence.
My uncle and his wife worked in the Modern Sanitary Bakery. I had a cousin that worked at Greenstein’s grocery store up the street. There was a lot of relatives and close connections among everybody, so that’s what kept the community together.
There were four important businesses on the four corners of Willard Avenue and Prairie Avenue. Rooter’s Spa was on the northeast corner. They sold newspapers and cigars and cigarettes and soda and candy bars. Fred Sugarman had a butcher shop on the southeast corner. On the southwest corner was Saltzer. Mr. Saltzer and his sons sold cases of beverage, mostly sodas but also I think they sold beer. On the northeast corner was Rosenzweig’s Drug Store. I think they probably wrote something like 90% of the prescriptions that were required by people in South Providence.
The Liberty Theatre was up on Broad Street. It was owned by Mr. Bomes. Mr. Bomes was one of the rich Jews in town. It played B level movies and you could have a whole day of entertainment when you went there. You could get in to the Liberty usually for a nickel.
On Saturday night, people came there [to Willard Avenue] from all over.
It was a real community affair. The street would be full of cars already, so most of the people stopped and walked the sidewalk and met people and talked. It was kind of nice. It was a way to keep up with the news of the whole community by just walking around the streets and meeting people. Everybody knew everybody.
When people could afford to move away from Willard Avenue, they still managed to come down, as long as the Avenue was there, come down for groceries and fish and meat and so on. It was always a chance to see people that you knew and liked.
The four synagogues, three on Willard Avenue and one on Robinson Street, all were based on communities where they came from in Europe. So that’s why they nicknamed the synagogue on Robinson Street the Galitzianer [Galician] shul, Tifereth Israel on Willard Avenue was the Litvak shul, the one further down on Willard Avenue was the Russische shul, and then [the one] further down on Willard Avenue, down beyond Staniford Street, they called the “little shul.”
They developed it, it all disappeared. Essentially bulldozed all the houses, all the places of business, the four synagogues.
When the Orthodox synagogues moved into that building on Broad Street they brought all of the artifacts that they had had to that temple building. One of the things that was kept there at the time — each of the Orthodox synagogues on Willard Avenue had maintained a yahrtzeit plaque with the names of all the people that had died and when, and it was quite a large plaque, because they had a lot of generations there.