Education: Heritage Discovery Center

Johnstown Area Heritage Association
Primary Source: Oral History Interviews

Growing up in an Ethnic Community

Two couples stand on a pier looking out to sea, luggage and bundles nearby

Mr. Beerman describes the Jewish community

When you come to the Johnstown Heritage Discovery Center you will see videotaped oral histories of Johnstown residents talking about their immigrant parents and grandparents. The Generations Theater is only able to show brief portions from those interviews. Below are other excerpts from the interview transcripts.

Synagogue life

Grammaphone icon - denotes an audio recording transcriptIn the entertainment, as to what went on in the areas of my parent's home and outside of the home, was that we had a synagogue.  And all the activity from the people in that area would meet at the synagogue on Friday night or Saturday morning.  And if there was a bar mitzvah they all celebrated and the whole town was invited.  And it was-- A good time was had by all. 

... Oh, all the activity that went on took place in the temple, called a synagogue.  And if you didn't belong to the synagogue you were a lost sheep.  I mean, nobody would know you.  But everybody that wanted to know something or be some place came to the synagogue.  And they sat down and gave them all the gossip and made them members.  And, of course, sold them a plot in the cemetery.  And life went on. 

The bar mitzvahs that they had in the synagogue is that the young fellow, thirteen years old, would graduate into manhood.  And he would become a man at that particular time.  He would recite the prayers, bless the Torah, and read from the Torah for his ... (inaudible).  And then make a speech to the entire congregation, thank the rabbi and his family for bringing him here, and giving him a fountain pen, which invariably always leaked.  And you always got ink spots on your shirt. 

Helping Hands

Grammaphone icon - denotes an audio recording transcriptIf you wanted a favor from my father, it was no problem. And he wouldn't say well, no. But he always tried to help somebody. If a newcomer came to town and needed some help, the Jews all got together and they sent a man out and said go over to this person and get some money. And I think my father and the rest of them would give maybe 50 cents or maybe a dollar. If you gave a dollar I think that was big money.

And gather up $5 or $10 and give it to the gentleman and put him on his way. Or put him into business or whatever they had to do. If they had to buy a horse. Lo and behold, supposing one of the peddlers' horses died. And, of course, you had no money to replace it with. That's when they would come around and collecting for this particular Jew. And that's where the-- It seems to be that Jews help themselves. That they don't go out and look for people to help them. Each one helps themselves.

And maybe that's where it all started from. That you don't have to go to see Joe Blow or anybody else. Stay in your own family, we have a Jew that's not working, is sick, and needs some money, and everybody would come running with their checkbook.

When people were in business and, lo and behold, for some reason or other, whether they were too lazy or didn't know what they were doing, and would have to go out of business, go bankrupt. That was a terrible, terrible thing for somebody to go bankrupt. I mean, in the Jewish religion. And what they would try to do would go to see this gentleman and see what his problem was and how could they possibly help him. Did he need cash, did he need advice, or what did he need, so that they could help him. And get back started back on his feet again, put him back on his feet again, or find a job for him in one of the other stores.

"The butcher knew everybody"

Grammaphone icon - denotes an audio recording transcriptBut Jewish people always seem to congregate together. They always want to stay together, where the butcher shop was at. And getting back to the butcher shop, that was the focal point of practically all towns. The butcher man knew everybody and anybody because he serviced all his customers. And if you wanted to know anything you called him on the phone and said what's going on and he would tell you.

And I can remember going out of town for a couple of days and the butcher shop was right across the street from the Pennsylvania Station, which is located where it is now. And I'd go into the butcher shop and I said Mr. Greenberg, which was the man that owned the butcher shop, I'm going to New York and I need a corned beef sandwich. And his remark to me was you're going to New York on one corned beef sandwich.

And then we got on the train, I think we got as far as Harrisburg and the garlic and everything is smelling up the whole train. And you couldn't wait any longer and we ate before we even got to Altoona. We ate it. What smells, what smells. And it's our garlic on the corned beef sandwich.

Oh, he [the butcher] knew everything. Because whenever you went into his store and you would say give me a nice piece of meat for Friday night or Saturday morning. He said what are you going to do. You're going to put it on your piano and display it. These were his comments.

Ethnic Newspapers

Grammaphone icon - denotes an audio recording transcriptIn our family, as to the reading material and the newspapers that we got, my family-- My mother and father got the Jewish paper, called The Forward. And it came out of New York. And they used to have continued stories in this newspaper and God forbid we should lose a newspaper and they didn't know what was going on. It was a calamity. Well, I didn't get Thursday's paper. And my mother would get on the phone and call up some people. Did you get the Forwards of last Thursday. I want to see this article. We don't have it. Can I borrow it from you or will you bring it over. And they were very very interested in that.

And it told about the people coming over to the United States and America, or wherever they were coming to. And they were very interested in looking to see who came over, if they knew any of these people from their own home town. And they were very important to them.

Holiday traditions

Grammaphone icon - denotes an audio recording transcriptAnd my father, one of his biggest entertainments was that he would make wine. He would make fifteen gallons of wine a year and he would go down to the wholesale house and buy the grapes, and these little weed baskets, and bring them home, and we would all go down in the basement, and take the grapes off the vines, off the stems. And then get with our feet and tramp them down, to make sure we crushed them.

And then we'd wait for umpteen weeks and every once in a while my dad would go down and test it and try it out. No, not yet, not yet, not yet. And wait for Passover, until Passover came, then we had wine for Passover. But he gave most of it away. We didn't drink much of it.

Thursday was my mother's day in the home. That was the day we called the bakery. She had her own bakery, she would get up early in the morning and make the bread, challah, for the ... (inaudible). And a loaf, one for her attorney and one for her doctor, and her other people. And that was my job, was to deliver all these packages to these people. We had our attorney, had an office in the US Bank building. And every Thursday, of course, it was my job to get on the elevator and take it up to his building. And he waited for that particular package.

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