When I arrived in Beverly around 1937 at the age of nine, a great many Jewish residents worked and carried on their professions within the city and the downtown areas. Residences tended to be located away from the two main streets, but mostly within walking distance. Most of the Jewish businessmen and professionals were located on Cabot and Rantoul streets and a few in the adjoining areas. A few were employed by the United Shoe Machinery Corporation and by smaller businesses, but very few worked out of town. A two-car family was a rarity at that time and shopping was mainly downtown.
If we were to take a walk down Rantoul and Cabot Streets in the 1940s and 1950s, we would encounter a plethora of Jewish businesses as well as some Jewish professionals. Starting just beyond the Beverly-Salem Bridge and heading up Rantoul, we would pass Murray Goldfield’s auto cushions shop on our left, and as we looked across the street we would see the large brick building housing the Cantor family’s American Seltzer Bottling Company. Proceeding up to Edwards Street just past the Edwards School, we would find the Gershaw Grocery store on our right.
Proceeding a little farther, we would encounter Marv Rich’s used car lot on our right and would probably see Marv schmoozing with potential customers while smoking his huge cigar. Continuing past the post office and crossing Broadway, we would see Eddie Sterman’s variety store, which soon became Borah Yoffa’s “Borah’s,” which retains the name but not the ownership to the present day. Looking to our left down Broadway, we would see the Sterman Cab Company cars at the train station.
If we could see beyond the tracks to River Street, we would see a large brick building housing the B. Fred Yoffa Wholesale Grocery Company. Crossing Rantoul Street from Borah’s, we would find the Winer Brothers Hardware Store operated by Ben, Jack, and Louis Winer, and Sam Weinberg’s Quality Cleaners. A few doors down would be the Jake Sterman Pawn Shop. A few more steps to Wallis Street and looking to our left, we would see the steam coming out of the large building housing the Saratoga Popcorn Factory owned by the Tolls and the Dollins.
Crossing over to the right side of Rantoul Street again, we proceed to Federal Street, where we cross and come to my father’s National “D” Store owned by Max and Rose Edelstein. If we were to go inside, we would experience an immediate sensory feast: the wonderful smell of the half-sour pickle barrel and the visual charms of corned beef, lox and cream cheese in the glass refrigerated cases, and piles of bagels and bulkies in the bread bin up front. In the Depression years, we would likely have encountered customers ordering a quarter pound of cream cheese, an eighth of a pound of lox, or three or four slices of corned beef. The non-Jewish world, for the most part, had not yet discovered the joys of Jewish deli, bagels, and bulkies, so there would not be many customers who were not Jewish.
On the other side of the National D was the Chinese laundry and upstairs were both Italian and Jewish residents. On one of the mail boxes you would see the name Eddie Duchin, the famous pianist who had apparently resided here in the early ’30s. If we proceeded a few more steps we would come to the Gordon Shoe Store, which unfortunately would be destroyed by fire in a couple of years. Next to Gordon’s we would find Jacob Rubenstein’s machine shop, in which at least a few of his five sons were employed. (This was prior to the large Utility Metal Company they would build on Elliott Street.)
If we were to turn the corner on Pond Street, we would find Willie (Velvel) Liebowitz’s kosher meat market, where Willie’s brother Yossel was the shohet. If we were to enter, we would most likely find Willie in a contentious argument with some housewife who was complaining about the fat on the cut of meat or the poundage provided by Willie’s scale. Willie would be adamantly shouting in a combination of Yiddish and English that God “in Himmel” had made the meat, not him, and that if you question the scale, you come climb up and I’ll weigh you and you will see it is “ricktik” (correct). The customer was never right and would never win the argument. Willie, originally a member of the Beckford Street shul, later became an honored member of Temple B’nai Abraham, and one of the Torah covers memorializes him.
Continuing on Rantoul Street, crossing Pond Street, we would soon come to Seligman Liquor Store operated by “Mr. Seligman” and his two sons. Across the street would be the Collier Woodworking Shop, one of the few businesses operated by a non-Beverly resident. A few doors past Seligman’s we would come to Mac Weinberg’s hardware store. At this point we will cross over and continue on Rantoul Street and come to a gasoline pump right on the sidewalk. For some reason unknown to us, Mr. Chiplowitz, who lived in the house adjoining the sidewalk, was the operator of the lonely pump, and if you found him at home you could fill your tank for a few cents a gallon. (Mr. Chiplowitz’s son, Irving Chipman, would become a well-known court reporter in the ’60s.)
A little farther down, we would come to a real gas station on the corner of Elliott Street that was operated by Bernie Goldberg, who would become a large heating oil dealer and marry Barbara Brandenburg, resulting in a family real estate dynasty.
Just across Elliott Street, we would find the Katz tailor shop and on the corner of Rantoul, the Davis Drug Store, which would much later become the Flaxer Drug Store. You would find this to be a wonderful place for an ice cream soda and also a place where a lot of young men could be found heading to the rear of the store, where Sam Davis would dispense his under-the-counter male supplies.
From Davis Drug, we would proceed to the intersection of Cabot Street and turn left. A short way down, we would find Max Baker’s pub. Across the street we would find Joe Greenstein’s bicycle shop and we would probably find Joe repairing a bike. Continuing on, we would pass Max Barron’s tailor shop, and then crossing Beckford Street we would come to JL Simon’s insurance office. From here, we would pass the Kransberg residence on the right and have to go all the way to North Beverly, where we would find Joe Katz’s pharmacy. Joe was adventurous enough to forego the downtown for the wilds of North Beverly. Joe’s son David would later continue the operation of the pharmacy.
If we were now to go back and begin walking up Cabot Street from the Beverly-Salem Bridge, we would come upon Harry Katz’s shoemaker shop and when we cross over, there would the Berman Liquor store, which years later became Sandy Berman’s famous jazz club. A few doors down would be Bernstein’s grocery store near Fayette Street. Crossing back and continuing past Railroad Avenue, we would come to Barney’s Liquor Store and Alcon’s Department Store. Around the corner from Alcon’s on Washington Street would be Pranikoff Barber Shop.
A little off course there was Doctor Sam Albert on Hale Street and Harold Racow’s pharmacy. At Quincy Park would be sales rep Sid Altshuler, and on Corning Street would be Jack Weisman’s Jules Goudreau lumber mill. Jack would be the leader of the temple building committee on Lothrop Street.
Continuing on Cabot Street, past Washington, we would come to attorney Abe Glovsky’s office above the bank. Two of Abe’s sons, Henry and Bert, would join the firm, and Henry would become a state senator. Across the street from Abe’s office, we would find Maurice Cutler, the dentist, another of the few non-residents. Continuing on down Cabot Street past Federal Street, we would find attorney Ben Lederman’s office over the National Bank. Crossing back we would find Dr. Samuel Margolis’s optometrist’s office and continuing on past Dane Street, we would come to Sam Kransberg’s furniture store. Again crossing back and passing Elliott Street we will come to the offices of Dr. Herman Grush and a few doors down and a few years later, Dr. Brodsky.
In those days, the leaders of the temple were all well-known men in the community; there was little separation between the shul and the Jewish community. The immediate pre-war leaders returned from World War II in the mid ’40s and continued to function in the traditional manner. The turning point was in the early 1960s, when the new temple was built on Lothrop Street.
The younger generations included new Beverlyites from Roxbury, Dorchester, Mattapan, Chelsea, Somerville, Malden, Medford, Everett, and beyond. They became the new leaders and began welcoming women’s participation in ritual and administration. The new Temple B’nai Abraham was the symbol of change and from that time has embodied the modern Beverly Jewish community.