Avram Cohen

bar mitzvahed at Temple Beth El, 1946

“This is more than just a building and bricks and stones. It was really one of the centers of Jewish life in Rhode Island.”

Avram Cohen: I grew up on the East Side. It was the only Reform shul in the city. I first started there in kindergarten for Sunday school.

[When] I was probably eight or nine [I] first started going on trolley cars. I would go from home. The line was the Butler Avenue line that basically ran down the center of Blackstone Boulevard. After a change downtown I would go to Broad Street.

Downstairs in the vestry, that’s where the Hebrew school and the Sunday school was. And I can remember that. The Hebrew schoolteachers, the librarian, the [pause] all the other non-services, functions of the temple took place downstairs in the vestry.

The person who really prepared me for my bar mitzvah was a man by the name of Beryl Segal. I would go there twice a week, during the week, after school and we would go over everything for the bar mitzvah and prepare for the Torah reading with a chumash [Torah in printed form].

I remember Rabbi [William] Braude very well. He was a very powerful speaker, and sometimes he could be quite frightening.

Well, actually it was probably where most of the Jewish people lived. Around Broad Street, Sackett Street, Peace Street, Lenox Avenue, those areas. That was really the Jewish neighborhood in Providence.

At that time Broad Street and a couple blocks on either side of it were not really considered South Providence. That was Willard Avenue, Gay Street, so forth. Willard Avenue was really the old Jewish shopping center.

In the group of friends of my parents, they had a pretty strong attachment to it. Well, it was kind of their place. It was, obviously, their synagogue. It was certainly their Jewish social life. And at least among their Jewish friends, they all belonged to the same congregation.

Most of the membership lived on the East Side, so it just made logical sense to be on the East Side.

This is more than just a building and bricks and stones. It was really one of the centers of Jewish life in Rhode Island.

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