Memoir of Bath 1886-2009
Memoir of Bath 1886-2009
Recollections of My Family and
The First & Second Generation Jewish Immigrants
by Nathan Cogan
September 13, 2009
Dedicated to the memory of my late wife Sara Glasgow Cogan (1939-2006) whose three bibliographical works on the history of California Jewish Immigrants from 1849 on, published by the Magnes Museum and the Western Jewish History Center, Berkeley, sparked my curiosity about the history of Bath's immigrants decades ago.
In the 1940's we boasted we were Litvaks or Russian Jews or Polish Jews; today in the 21st Century, we talk about ourselves as the diaspora from Bath, Maine.
My mother called me Nehemiah. I was named after my grandfather Nathan Franklin Petlock (1865?-1936) who came to America and Bath in 1904. Upon arrival, his Hebrew name Nehemiah was transformed into Nathan, which was considered "Yankee" and more acceptable. So I am first generation born in America since my mother Dora came over on the boat with the rest of Nathan's family in 1907. My father, Morris, arrived from the "old world" or Lithuania, in 1914 at the outset of WWI. From my birth in 1937 to 1955 I lived in Bath until I left for a year to attend Bowdoin College. In 1956 I moved West to Portland, Oregon; then after military service in Korea (1958-59) I moved on to Berkeley for graduate work in English and, later, in 1974, back to Portland, Oregon where my late wife and I raised our three sons.
As a child of 19th Century European born parents, I grew up the proud son of Morris Cohen the cantor (1890-1946), an influential force in the creation of Beth Israel, the Bath synagogue, or shul. I retain strong impressions of my formative years and a happy sensenthough tinged with the knowledge that comes with maturity—of the Jewish community that once thrived in Bath, but was then getting old and dying. My interest in Bath's history itself was sparked tangentially by the local Rotary Club's 8th grade essay contest—held in 1951—in which I wrote about the burning of the Old South Church in 1854 by a Know Nothing mob. That scene is embodied in two oil paintings, one housed in the Patten Free Library and the other in the Rotary Club itself. And since I grew up in a house built on the site of the church that had burned down, curiosity consumed me and I became increasingly interested in the events and the people who made up the history of Bath.
Over two years ago I discovered the synagogue's charter (1922) on the Internet, and I began to realize what a profound statement it made about the accomplishments and the desires of the immigrants in Bath, especially how blessed they felt being part of the Bath community and about being "American." My response to that event was to write this memoir in order to make sense of my recollections of my elders' generations.
Let me say at the outset that I have revised some of these notes as a talk. My remarks are meant to be suggestive and I would love to open up this discussion to your questions, comments, and participation. I would urge you to consider Beth Israel—or the Patten Free Library—as a repository for these stories, pictures and other family artifacts. I would certainly love to hear from my pre-1960 peers as well as from the eighty families that now comprise the congregation as we review the synagogue life, community experience, and daily rituals of life fifty to one hundred years ago.
This memoir doesn't pretend to be history. I've always been interested in memoir and biography, and in the social history of the Bath Jewish community. Fortunately I have retained a vivid sense of the life of a Jewish community that ate herring and kichele along with schnapps at the shul. I remember that sense of camaraderie shared by my parents and their friends. Yiddish was, of course, the mamaloschen, or mother tongue of that first generation crowd comprised of elders like the Cohens and Petlocks, that is my family, and those families I knew both at shul and as a vital part of the commercial life of Bath. Those families include the Ariks, Browns, Greenblatts, Gedimans, Goldsteins, Levins, Mikelskys, Millers, Poviches, Prawers, Rubins, Singers, Smiths, Ziblatts and my late uncle and aunt David and Anna Cogan who migrated to Oregon in 1948, just two years after my father had died, and with whom my late wife Sara and I had the good fortune of knowing and appreciating in our adult lives well into the early Nineties.
Families and individuals both had come to America before WWI, right off the boat, though some had migrated to Bath from Boston or Portland as late as WWII. Some families or individuals came during the War years and simply left. That would have included Frankie Freeman who kept two stores—one in Bath and one in Portland in the 1940's; or Jack Finklestein, Nathan Press—the manager of the Uptown Theater—who left Bath for Oregon with the Dave Cogans in 1948 and then moved back to New York state; Loren Jaffe of Harmon's Men's Store; and the itinerant Rabbi Einhorn. I have no history of the Ginsburgs, nor families like the Soloviches who had a store on Front Street, but by 1940 or so closed it.
My sense of the 1940's or life sixty plus years ago provides us with a glimpse of how these families fared. That first and second generation's sense of camaraderie was not only shared by my parents and their friends, but it has been illustrated beautifully by Irving Howe in his 1976 publication, The World of Our Fathers. Most important, most of the Jews who came to Bath in that half-century 1886-1935 provided goods and merchandise that would have been more difficult to attain without the convenience of those shops. Bluntly stated, the small shops of the Jews became a vital and necessary component of a town moving from the self-sufficiencies of 19th century independent farming and living and local trading to a 20th century economy, where groceries, for example, could be charged and paid for on pay day. And as one speaker at Beth Israel reminded us in the early Fifties, the Jews in America—because of Samuel Gompers—made a huge contribution by democratizing clothing so that the poor could dress like the rich!
As the son of the cantor, and as the younger son—my brother Ed or "Vemi" was already 17 years old at my birth!—I felt privileged. In the shul I had a front row seat, and in his grocery story I could feast on open boxed cookies. My sister Sylvia (born 1932) remembers the thrill of sitting on the bimah while our Father led services. However, my unique birth as a triplet—with two girls at my side in my first six years—was distracting: do I need to confess that I felt awkward and freakish? David Ziblatt, my old friend, claims the triplets were celebrities, almost like the Dionne quintuplets. If that was the case, I really don't have a memory of it, except in photographs.
More important, my sense of being "different" was simply that my Jewishness and having a sense of my parents as immigrants gave me a special outlook, not unlike the experience of French Catholic kids like the Rouillards who also viewed themselves as "outsiders," especially because of their spoken French. Equally important, this special community of immigrant Jews—albeit foreigners—provided simultaneously a cohesive core of social values partly based on Judaism, but also on the loss of the old world, the challenges of English, their new language, and the customs of a community that was, I'm sure, very alien when they first arrived. They loaned money to each other without interest; indeed, the concept—the Hebrew Free Loan Society—still exists in America. So moving the shul from a rented hall above Hallett's Drug on Front near Center to a building of their own in 1922 was a near epic event. The shul was both a social center and a house of worship. It immediately symbolized the confidence the community felt, especially their newfound citizenship and a level of prosperity that they could never have realized in their European shtetls. At the shul they performed their own minstrel shows; in the 1930's they would aid and abet itinerants seeking a place to stay. The women formed a Ladies Auxiliary to help new immigrants and to fund synagogue projects. Since my house was kosher my parents always used the spare bedroom for new arrivals in Bath, like Kurt and Esther Diamant. (Kurt by the way was not only manager of the Congress Sportwear Company, a small factory on Middle Street, but was a survivor of Nazi Germany.)
In the 1940's somebody donated a nicklelodeon juke box and that was a prize community possession. In 1948 Bessie Greenblatt Singer, who had worked with Frances Smith running the Sunday school program in the 40's, led the singing of Hatikvah when Israel became an independent nation. Rabbis were always scarce; minyans—except for the high holidays—were ad hoc, especially kaddish minyans. Most of the merchants kept their shops open on Shabbat; the only exception might have been Solomon Greenblatt, the tailor.
The McCarthy years in the early Fifties fueled that mindless equation of Jews as communists in the minds of some, though my sechel or sixth sense always told me that the little shops owned by the Jews, the Italians, the Greeks, and the French were characteristically "capitalistic." Arthur Gediman would complain that the BIW did not hire Jews, yet my near uncle Isidore "Pitch" Arik held a job there before he moved to Oregon in 1948; my cousin Ruth Cogan Finnerty also held a summer job as a timekeeper there during the War years. I remember in 1952 attempting to apply for a job in a Front Street printing shop and heard, "we don't want any Jews working here." The anti-unionism of the Bath Iron Works after the War years, perhaps into the early Fifties when unemployment was horrendous, was an edgy topic. Supporting a union at the BIW in the Fifties was equated with being un-American; so too fluoridation!
I personally and quietly accepted the relatively mild anti-Semitism of my youth with a degree of resilience. I did not feel negative in the way my sister Ruth did, twenty years earlier. Still in 1954 after the late Ray Farnham, then principal of Morse High, nominated me for Dirigo Boys State in Orono that summer, the local American Legion post, breaking the old way of doing business by sending one or two boys, collected enough money to send twelve boys to the Orono program! In the McCarthy period there was always my mother's fear of Jews being singled out; the Rosenberg case in 1953 had stuck a dagger into the community. So vermacht der moil—"shut your mouth"—was a Yiddish response for fear of Gentile rejection. It reflected the fear of being associated with communism. Stated another way, my mother's refrain was: "Don't bring shame on the Jewish community," be a conformist; always be polite with the goyim, or non-Jews. When I gave the honors speech at Morse in 1955 on the topic of the 1954 Supreme Court case—Brown versus the School Board—on school segregation, I would hear that ugly defensive tone in the statement, "Why are you talking about segregation when that has nothing to do with us?"
Presumably Dr. Joe Smith battled it out with the town fathers when he built his Mexican style home on Washington Street in the late Thirties; it was his way of saying, I serve this town as a physician, I don't need to have the design of my house restricted! And when a kindly Catholic lady informed me that 1938 was the first year Catholic kids could be eligible for Davenport Scholarship loans, I realized early that it takes time to wear down the biases of our elders.
On reflection I wrote this memoir primarily to preserve notes on my family and impressions of sixteen other families who made up the Bath Jewish community of my youth so that a collection of biographical notes—short and long—could be used by the current generation to better understand the story of the first immigrants. Obituaries and wedding notes in The Bath Daily Times and The Portland Press Herald can only go so far. Perhaps the stories of the families I present in this memoir will meaningfully add to a history of these Eastern European pioneers.
Additionally I wrote this memoir because of my life-long interest in the immigrant as a pioneer coming to America, while fleeing often dreadful economic and sometimes political conditions back "home"—whatever home had meant. My interest in "foreigners" in general may have begun with my realizations of how my family got to America in the last century. But many of my personal life experiences dovetail with my parents' status as immigrants or even refugees. For twenty years of my professional life (1983-2004) I directed an international high school student exchange in the Pacific Northwest; I also taught ESL at Berkeley while working on my degree in English. I have always wanted to connect to foreigners, outsiders, and the strangers in our midst. That's why in 2008 I worked in Uganda with American Jewish World Service, or for the past five years have served as the chair of American Friends of Kehilla, a family and child service outreach of the urban kibbutz Tamuz in Beit Shemesh that focuses on new immigrants to Israel, especially Ethiopians. To re-construct life among Bath's first generation in this memoir has, thus, been both engaging and joyful.
Indeed if anyone were to misread this memoir simply as the product of my ethnocentrism (or Judaeo-centrism), I'd like to correct that impression. First, my interest in Bath's Jewish community is one of several interests of mine. Perhaps I just liked people. In my role as a newsboy and my imaginary world as a stamp collector, I delighted in the range—perhaps the variety of Bath's many non-Jewish immigrant families as well. I've always wondered if other landtsmen shared my appreciation for the other immigrants in Bath. Perhaps my interest in collecting foreign stamps had parallels in identifying and relating to "foreigners" in Bath in the Forties. I always thought the stamps, for example, from both Lithuania and Kenya, Uganda, & Tanganyika [one country then] were exotic. So too I was fascinated by names like Sarkis (from Sarkisian), an Armenian-American family; George Sarkis played football with Vemi and Abe Greenblatt back in 1938, or Bagdikian, our shop teacher at Morse. That the Jews of Bath had numerous compatriots from the Mediterranean world especially Greek Americans was a fact of life, and I loved the mix of names and personalities behind them. If these "foreigners" were in the same boat, so to speak, linguistically or in their self-identifications as foreigners, so be it. The Tinneys were Bath's only African-American family, and our family sympathetically related to them. Assuredly they must have felt like outsiders or foreigners, as much as the Jews did. Most important, all of these outsiders had the resilience to gain acceptance and respect in an increasingly pluralistic America where the Puritan virtues of hard work and thrift made their experiences dovetail.
Among Bath's small shop merchants were a number of Greek families—many in the food service world—like Tom Canacaris (Tom's Restaurant}, Charlie Venos, George Poulos, George Liberty (Liberty Bottling), Nick Mihalos (Nick's Shoeshine stand), and John the elderly Greek baker on Center Street adjacent to the Bath Opera House whose name I have forgotten but who wanted me to learn Greek so I could read his Bible! I have positive memories of French Canadians too, like the Rouillards and their cousins the Pouliots—who did not have a shop—but with whom I felt an automatic kinship precisely because we were strangers in a strange land. Lemoine's Market on Center where I bought 5-cent candy bars during the war years was exotic —the idea of French speakers was cosmopolitan in my mind. Ironically my folks, in their need to seem assimilated, avoided Yiddish at home, except for private conversations and eating chicken. My siblings and I could never talk about the parts of a chicken without referring to the pupik and the fligula—the gizzard and the drumstick. And we all knew hazarye and treif—non-kosher food—as a matter of communal survival and values.
In a conversation in 2007 my Morse High classmate George Langbehn admitted that his post WWI immigrant German family's status made him also feel like an outsider in Bath, and so he felt an unspoken and yet shared common bond with me because of that. Anne Amirault, another classmate, wrote me several years ago describing her experience as a French Canadian "Acadian" who felt like an outsider in Bath in the Forties. Who remembers the elderly Heidelbauers—a couple—who lived on Old South Place—in-laws to Rev. David Wilson's son—who were trapped in America during WWII? It is remarkable that the Cohens were totally sympathetic to their status as German-speaking foreigners. The Russian Mike Zoome, who sold both hot dogs and prophylactics at his Front Street stand—the drugstores wouldn't sell them to sailors!—would sing "Oche chanye" with my brother Vemi and jokingly claim that salt would made hot dogs kosher. Some of the Irish Catholics of Bath—even after several generations—still felt like 2nd class citizens, but I was not able as a young man to gauge their immigrant feelings. (Was the bigoted WASP population of Bath too busy hating the Germans in WWII to bother with the Irish.) Bill Bryant—another close life-long friend—was not simply Catholic: his Mother was French Canadian and Indian, and his father had been an agnostic Protestant. This too had a positive influence on his identity or self-image as "different."
The philosopher Jacques Derrida—" Reb" Derrida—often talked about "difference" and I wonder to this day if the Beth Israel diaspora can remember how the kashrut (kosher) laws impacted on their lives. The following story or joke wonderfully reflects a major difference between the immigrant Jewish community and the descendant generation(s) today:
It's about the pre-Columbian Jewish Indians of Oregon, and the Mama Chief is waiting for her husband Head Chief to return from his buffl' (buffalo) hunting trip. Suddenly there is a scream heard from the Cascade Mountains of Oregon to the Pacific Ocean: "Oy avey," she yells, "you have killed the buffl' with the milchika tomahawk'l." (Jay Povich would have loved this joke!)
The Petlocks and the Cohens
A footnote on the Cogan/Cohen family name. When my father arrived in Bath in 1914, he came on a German passport as Moses Kahn. The family's Lithuanian name was Kagan, later changed to Cogan in the United States by my two uncles starting in 1920, but not my father who retained Cohen. The brothers Morris Cohen and David S. Cogan owned stores in Bath for nearly two decades. Today all members of my father's family are Cogan, except for my five sisters who have retained the maiden name Cohen as a middle name. My brother Edward ("Vemi") took Cogan in 1946. I in 1952. Both Cogan and Cohen are identical in Hebrew as "priest."
When Nehemiah Petluckas [sic] arrived in Bath in 1904 from Zesmariya (in Yiddish Zesmer), Lithuania the country was then occupied by the Russians and so Zesmer (in Vilna Geberne-or the Vilna jurisdiction) meant Russia on his national passport. The family's name had been anglicized in Boston to Petlock. The first generation would have referred to Vilna Geberne as their home territory in the Russian empire. Zesmer, a shtetl about 50 kilometers southwest of Vilna, was primarily Jewish before WWII. In Bath, the elder Mrs. Mikelsky suggested to the newly arrived Nehemiah, alone withouit his family—they were to come in 1907— that he adopt a Yankee [sic] name, Nathan Franklin Petlock, that Nehemiah Feivel useful in the synagogue simply was not acceptable in the town. Hence the Bath junkyard, Nathan F. Petlock Junk, Inc., 1904-1964; his son Louis Petlock, a mason by trade, came back from Boston to run it. Using a pony and a wagon all though the mid Thirties, Nathan bought and sold junk, and by 1907 had made enough to send and pay for the passage of his wife Ann (Hannah Leah) Hurwitz Petlock and their four children or kindele: Louis, (my mother) Dora, Marcia, and Morris. All of them grew up in Bath.
In 1907 Hannah Leah Petlock's clandestine arrival in Boston under the family name of Elionsky-later Allen—a cousin from the Hurwitz side, is a classic immigrant story. When I mc'd the Cohen family reunion in the Catskills in New York in 1982 on the occasion of my Mother's 85th birthday, I jokingly told the story how at ten years of age my Mother performed her first acting job as a child of the Elionsky's.
Nathan Petlock, though barely intelligible in English, was viewed as an honest man, and the town's strongest man: he could lift up a barrel of nails, so the myth goes. In the 1960's Evelyn Petlock Merson, then living in LA, recalled her favorite memory, from the Thirties: how her father stayed up half the night at "the House" on 22 Franklin Street arguing in Yiddish with my father Morris Cohen about the weight of a railroad car-Nathan was convinced that a car with four wheels was lighter than one with none!
Comment: During WW II, there were two junkyards run by Louis Petlock (1892-1980c.): one on the southeast corner of Franklin and Granite Street (now the Leeman Highway); the other on the west side of Water Street, halfway between Center and Elm, and abutting the Sears and Roebuck store's parking lot.
The junkyard did yield one family treasure: a 1632 leather-bound Concordance to the Bible, published in Switzerland which Nathan gave to my father (in the Thirties?) and which has been in my library for 54 years.
The Seven Petlock Children
Louis Petlock (1892- c1980), or Luya, the oldest, who was a brick mason by trade, married Dora Rubin, born in Poland, in Bath on December 25, 1923; and that date is important because my Father's brother David S. Cogan's marriage to Anne Arik of Rumford about the same time at the Bath shul, and so for the next 25 years they celebrated their wedding anniversaries together. Louie and Dora came back from Boston in 1936 to run the Nathan Petlock Junk yard, located off the Leeman Highway (built 1947) at Franklin Street. They were socially connected with the Prawers, the Smiths (Joe and Frances), the Kramers, Louis and Ruth Mikels Silverman and the Rubins. Some of these families kept 2nd homes in the Boca Raton area starting in the late Forties. The Petlocks' one daughter, Sylvia (1924-93?), moved from Bath to Boston in 1942, and graduated Lesley College. [Note: my sister Sylvia also graduated Lesley in 1953] Sylvia Petlock married Saul Pearlstein (d. c. 1988) in 1948. Three children: Stephen, Richard (Rickie)-deceased, and Amy.) Stephen and his wife, Quincey, have two children. Amy Pearlstein works for the military in the Washington area.
Dora (Dina Gittel) Petlock, (1897-1983) married Morris Cohen on Nov.10, 1917 in the temporary "shul," a hall above Hallett's Drugstore on Front Street near the towering town clock. (Dora Petlock Cohen-my mother and the 2nd Petlock child—should not be confused with Dora Rubin Petlock, wife of Louis Petlock.) Perhaps the Rev. Charles Arik presided; I don't know. Still it was an ideal immigrant marriage between the oldest and prettiest daughter of a shtetl peddler and this handsome, Yeshiva-trained incipient middle-class Cantor who by the 1920's could buy Rodkinson's 10 volume Talmud in English, a Victrola, and a Buick. In late '17 he was conscripted for two years as an Army chaplain in Mahonoy City, PA. At their wedding the late Rev. Dr. David Wilson (c.1868-1967) of the Congregational Church and prominent Bath citizen attended as the 10th man, at least, that's my Mother's bubemeise [wife's tale]. Rev.Wilson, who loved to practice his Hebrew with my Father, was viewed as a righteous gentile! Dora graduated 8th grade at Central Grammar, studying with Miss Alta Bates [the triplets and I had her in 8th grade in 1950-51 at Central Grammar!] and in 1914 began working as a seamstress for the Singer family—Isadore Singer's parents—in Brunswick. During his illness and after my Father's death, Dora managed the Commercial Market until 1950 when she closed it down during the post WWII recession. She left Bath in 1956.
Marcia Petlock Chandler (1899-1966) married at 40. She and Irving Chandler, a widower and a member of the Chandler (nee Siegel) clan of Portland, Maine, lived in Providence; two daughters: Ann-who is one of my best lifelong friends!—born in Bath in 1941; Nada born 1943. Both retain the Chandler name. Ann, BA from UNH and MPH from Berkeley, retired in 2004 as director of the Alameda County Health Clinic: Ann's two sons, Dr. David Fish (b.'64) a professor at UCLA's medical school. Michael Fish (b. '67), a teacher in California, father of two young sons. Nada [also named after Nathan Petlock] Chandler resides in Houston: two children, Adam Levy and Amelia Levy-Cohen, both graduate students. Nada has an MA in journalism from Columbia and an MA in Jewish Studies, Cincinnati (2004).
Morris Petlock ('02-'86?) (Meshe) inherited the house on 22 Franklin Street after the parents' death in 1935-36, married Mary Rubin of Boston in Boston on July 4, 1943. Morris served stateside during WWII and remained a successful meat cutter and owner of "The Cut Price Market" through retirement in '67. He attended Hebron Academy. Their daughter Donna, b.1944, graduated Wheaton College, Boston '67, married Peter Rubin (Duke '67), son of the late Judge Harold Rubin of Bath and Mrs. Rubin, Portland, ME; and graduated Harvard Law, 1970. Two children: Kara in NYC (also a grad of Duke; U. of Michigan Business School); Joel, a reporter for the LA Times who earned his BA at Columbia and graduated its Journalism School.
Coincidentally, Mary Rubin Petlock and Dora Rubin Petlock were first cousins, both from Boston, though Dora, considerably older, had arrived from Poland, and Mary was born here. Mary's mother Mrs. Rubin, also a Polish immigrant, lived with the Petlocks into the mid-Fifties.
The last three Petlock children were all born in Bath. Jacob Petlock (1908-1946) lived a tragic existence: at the age of twelve just before this bright kid celebrated his Bar Mitzvah in 1919 he contracted encephalitis, the result of the influenza epidemic and became emotionally and physically handicapped, and was disparagingly viewed as a gholem. [This is a Yiddish term for the fictional and mythic monster in the shul, after the 16th C. Prague rabbi.] Jake worked as a helper in Petlock's junk yard, and lived at 22 Franklin Street, the "House" built in c.1798 which Nathan had acquired in the late 1910's, and which was moved to N. Bath and restored in the early '90's as a historic house. [Note: there is an error on Jake's gravestone in the Portland orthodox cemetery: Jake was never married.]
Evelyn Petlock Merson (1910-68). The most endearing aunt to Sylvia Cohen and the triplets-did not have children. Evelyn graduated Morse High (1927)—the first in the family to do so. She worked for John Carey the lawyer as a secretary, married Abe Merson (1910-1959) of Lewiston, and they moved to Los Angeles in '56. Evelyn was best friends with Minnie Brown. She told the story of how in the 40's how she had searched vainly for her Bath birth certificate, only to discover that Nathan Petlock had recorded Naomi, not Evelyn.
Esther Petlock Levine (1912-1990?), Morse '29. The youngest child, married Seymour Levine, a Brooklyn soldier stationed at Fort Baldwin, Popham, in 1943, moved to NY; had two children—Joanne (now Joanne Sacoff) b. 1944 and Kenneth b.1956. Joanne lives in NY, has two sons and is the grandmother of four; Kenneth who resides in Delaware has two children. Comment: of the 1st generation Petlock children, Esther and Evelyn were the only ones to graduate Morse High.
[See Appendix for biographical sketches of my six siblings and me and our offspring, beginning in Bath in 1918. Focus here is on Morris Cohen.]
Morris Harry Cohen was born in Pavandine, Lithuania in 1890 and died in 1946 from colon cancer after a long illness when my two triplet sisters and I were nine years old. Like many Bath residents, he was buried in the Deering or Mt. Sinai cemetery outside of Portland. So I essentially grew up without a father and without the wherewithal of a middle class family. Stories about him are legend: his reactions to first learning he was the papa of triplets; jokes exchanged in the store-typically, "Morris, did you clean the chicken?" "Yes, and we pressed and altered it too" [from my cousin Gerald Cogan, Portland, Oregon]; his taking care of his father in Vorne [Varrniai], Lithuania before World War II-the family moved to Vorne in 1928, an important detail in Eastern European cemetery re-construction. The cars he liked; his record collection, especially the music of Yossele Rosenblatt and Enrico Caruso and the RCA Victrola-these were signs of his fulfillment of the American Dream. His gravestone in the orthodox cemetery mistakenly reports his birth year as 1892: he was born on the 2nd day of Hanukkah, 1890-a typical designation since most birthdates of the first generation were usually assigned in the Hebrew calendar.
Background: Hirshele-Papa Cohen's affectionate name—left Konigsberg in August 1914 when War broke out. In Germany, he had taught Hebrew and took advanced cantorial work. So at the German draft board, he heard: "Go back to Lithuania or join the Army." So he emigrated with thousands of others to America in 1914. Trained at the Shavel yeshiva [Siauliai—close to Riga] for 15? years, he was an educated cantor, Hebrew teacher, shochet or ritual slaughterer of animals, speaker of four languages and incipient business man. He came over with his younger brother, David Solis Cogan (b. 1899) who went directly to Portland, OR, where their brother Louis T. Cogan (b. 1892) had moved in 1911. David moved back to Maine in 1920!
Bath's most educated Jew in the three decades 1914 to 1945, Morris Cohen served both as the first cantor of Beth Israel shul and Bath's spiritual leader for thirty years. Upon arrival, he worked part-time as shochet in south Central Maine 1914-1918, going as far North as Waterville. He ran the Commercial Market which he started in 1914, a meat and grocery store [originally on Commercial St. off Front] and played serious pinochle for thirty years with Morris Povich, Max Kutz, and Sammy Levine. Morris Petlock, his kid brother-in-law by eleven years, apprenticed as a meat cutter with him, 1916-19. My dad also loved to visit Nathan and Ann Petlock, which led, of course, to his marriage to the eldest daughter Dora in November 1917.
In 1920 my parents bought their own house from Mr. White's family (10 White Street; the name changed to Old South Place in 1936). [For a virtual reality tour of the house, it's concurrently on sale August 27, 2009.] In the 1920's he rented a summer place on the New Meadows River in Foster's Point, now West Bath. In 1930 he took my mother and the three oldest kids on a major summer tour of Lithuania to visit his family in Vorne and my Mother's cousins in Zesmer. My aunt Feige Kagan (the heroine of Last Remnants of Lithuanian Jewry, 1995) who survived the War hiding as a pretend Catholic nun, remembered him chanting in the Vorne shul in the summer of 1930; he also left her gelt to do advance voice lessons. She reported this during my 1991 lectureship in Kaunas—when I taught at Vytautas University and re-met her-she had visited Oregon in 1989. I also met her two children, my cousins Juozas and Vanda for the first time. Again in the Fall of 1992 I returned to Lithuania, teaching under a Fulbright lectureship at Vilnius University, and researching the murders of my Father's family in Western Lithuania in 1941. [See Lessons & Legacies, Vol. III, Northwestern University Press (1999) for my chapter on Feige Kagan's survival during WWII, or the documentary Last Remnants.]
During the Lithuania trip (1930) Morris gave his sister Sora Mira Kagan (married 1931) a dowry, buying her husband a small motorized wagon, later confiscated by the Soviets when they occupied Lithuania in 1940, though they allowed him to remain the driver. On June 22, 1941 the Nazis rolled into Lithuania and began murdering over two hundred thousand Jews there, including Sora, her husband, and her six children. Not until late 1945 did my parents learn through the Red Cross that the whole family had been murdered by the Nazis; and, may I add for emphasis, the Nazis and their Lithuanian collaborators. (On my first trip to Lithuania we-my late wife Sara, my son David and I—discovered that the murders had taken place in 1941, and we visited the unmarked killing fields near Rainiai.) Equally important, my Mother long after WWII had misguidedly clung to the myth that the Lithuanians in Vilna Geberne were good people.
A good Samaritan by nature, Morris Cohen used Western Union to wire his own father Jakov Kagan (d. 1939) small amounts of money to sustain his family during the depression years; and he also gave cash or goods to bearded beggars, schnorrers as my Mother would call them, who would literally tramp through Bath with their cans, or Tzedakah boxes which frequently read in Hebrew: "Save the starving kids in Palestine."
He also bailed out drunken sailors out of the City jail during the war years, and this often at night since my father rented rooms in the upstairs of the Commercial Market-then 120 Front Street, and now home to Maxwell's restaurant which occupies the space of both the market and McFadden's Drugstore.
[One remarkable story involves my Mother's saving $12 a year for 10 years for life insurance beginning in 1920-at the rate of one quarter a month!-this after they had returned from Pennsylvania and bought our house. Then in 1930, in the height of the Depression, my parents redeemed the policy for the RT boat fare to Hamburg so they and the three oldest Cohen kids could visit family in Lithuania, including my father's father Jakov Kagan, and Morris's maternal grandfather, Jakov Feves, who died at the age of 99 in 1939, and my mother's remaining Petlock cousins in Zesmer.]
1944-1946. Three major and defining events occurred between the terrible hurricane which hit Bath in November 1944-which I remember—and Morris Cohen's hospitalization for cancer in December 1945: one, my brother Vemi got married at the shul in Bath on December 31, 1944; two, Franklin D. Roosevelt died in April 1945, a sad event for Bath Jewry; and, three, on December 3, 1945 Morris Cohen bar mitzvah'd his last two students at Beth Israel shul: my cousin Arnold Cogan (1932-)—Arnold moved to Oregon in 1948—and the late (Dr.) James O. Smith (1932-1987), son of Dr. Joe and Frances. (The "Morris" chair, a red leather chair which my uncle Dave and Dr. Smith gave my father, is still in the Ida Cohen Levin cabin in Popham Beach.)
Between 1946-1956, my mother continued to support herself under the worst of conditions after my father's death, June 25, 1946: Bath was in a recession; her sisters had married and moved; her oldest daughters had started new lives in the Boston area; her friend Eva Povich had died in 1950; and in the summer of 1948 the Dave Cogan family had uprooted and moved to Oregon. That she was isolated is an understatement. She closed up the Commercial Market in 1950, worked at odd jobs including a job at Morris Petlock's Cut Price Market, later moving in 1956 to Milton, MA to stay with Ruth, and continuing her knitting and crocheting. Indeed Dora became the "wandering Jew" (our family's affectionate term) as she began a new 25 year odyssey 1957-1983—staying a month at a time with her children and my father's two brothers David's and Louis Cogan's families in Oregon. At her death in 1983 at the age of 86, her gold bracelet held 16 trinkets symbolic of the 16 grandchildren, and in itself a source of deep pride.
One other anecdote: I describe this with love and devotion to her memory, but my mother hardly wavered in her "immigrant" attitudes on kashrut laws, marrying "Jewish", etc. You might call it bad psychology, but my Mother would remind Sylvia and the triplets all the time [in mit'n drinnit—literally, every other minute]—how both serious study and serious behavior could lead to a bright future, and she would always allude not only to the success of her eldest daughter Ruth, the valedictorian, but also to the pride of the immigrant Jewish community by referencing the Browns and the Greenblatts-especially Ada, Bessie, and Riva—as pure models of learning, and all of this much to the dismay of my other four sisters and my older brother Vemi. How many valedictorians, Phi Beta Kappas, Rhode scholars, or Nobel Prize winners does a family need? Yes, get good grades and doors will open, that was her refrain. [My cousin Edward Sonny Cogan of Haifa offers a wonderful anecdote/ antidote to caricature this practice: he would say he graduated Morse High and Bowdoin College cum tsoris, "with troubles"—a Marx brothers' retort that echoes the fears and desires of the first generation in America. I have always wondered if other Jewish mothers harped so fearfully on their children the way my Mother did!
Bath's First and Second Generation Immigrants
Most were born in the 19th century and most were steadfast breadwinners. A few were quite colorful characters with fabulous Marx Brothers jokes! In addition to the Morris Cohen clan (seven children) and the Petlocks (seven children), I vividly recall the Povich family. That Morris Povich played pinochle with my father, and Eva played bridge with my mother, and their businesses were cattycorner to each other on Front Street was fairly dramatic stuff.
At the shul, they sold aliyahs at auction, a very old custom to raise money to keep the synagogue going. Morris Povich did that-I can still hear his voice: "eyn taler fur shlisi, tsvey taler fur shlisi, drey taler fur shlisi, going once—zum erstemal, zum dreytemal, and sold to our good friend Meyshe Petlock!" Furs were in fashion too, especially at the High Holy days. Seating was always a big deal. People talked and talked, and the ex-pats from Washington-that is the Povich clan—would come, including Shirley Povich from Washington, our shul's town hero, and his two sons David and Maury; Lynn Povich Mensh and her children Nathan and Marcia [from DC]; Bernie Povich [DC], and the Boston sisters Celia and Goldie. My aunt Evelyn had a crush on Bernie-hence his face in various Petlock family pictures from the Twenties and Thirties. [Janice and her daughter Elaine assuredly can flesh out this paragraph!]
And Mr. Solomon Greenblatt, if he was not officially the gabay, he acted like the solemn gabay sitting in the front row on the left hand side and directing aliyah traffic. And fortunately the mehitza, the imaginary line that separated men from women had long disappeared, and the upstairs remained empty all the years of my youth. Re Yom Kippur, especially for the young kids during the post-War years, the World Series always mucked up Yom Kippur services. Arthur Brown would always hang out with us kids on the steps with radio news.
Rabbis were rare. When WWII in Europe ended in June 1945 church bells rang, school closed, and instead of going to the Methodist Church on Washington Street adjacent to the now demolished South Street School for services, I remember skipping into town in my first major leadership role to rouse up the Jewish shopkeepers to hold services. There was little traction, though I remember my father getting involved since he would lead the minyan and rabbis, like Mr. Einhorn who came after the War and played chess with me at the Y, lasted months usually. Bath had no Hebrew teacher in 1949 when I stayed at my brother Vemi's house in Framingham, MA for the seventh grade and heder. And when I was Bar Mitzvahd on April 15, 1950, Irving Chandler [from the Chandler clan, Portland, ME], my Aunt Marcia Petlock's husband from Providence, led services. I have no memory of other Bar Mitzvahs after mine except Stephen Singer's.
By 1950 there were hardly ten families with kids. Most were quite elderly. Who were the kids from the era 55 years ago? The Prawers' Gilbert, Harvey and Marlene; the Rubins' Peter and Adele; the Petlock's Donna; the two Singer kids-Anne and Stephen. It was like the last child of the last families in Bath who graduated in the Fifties: Jimmy Smith ('50), Owen Greenblatt ('51), Rita Gediman ('52), David Ziblatt ('53), the triplets ('55), Harvey Prawer ('57). Others from '55: Iona Prawer's niece Barbara Berenson; Ann Miller, the tailor's daughter, was Protestant, and David Smith (Brunswick '55)- cousin to the Smiths of Bath, was also Christian. [Comment: my Mother always hushed when we mentioned the unmentionable topic of intermarriage.-it was a communal phenomenon, but the resistance to change or intermarriage seemed to be the g-d given charge of these immigrant families.]
Kosher food and Minyans. The few who kept kosher after 1950 had meat shipped in from either Lewiston or Portland by bus, and I would pick it up at the bus stop adjacent to City Hall on Front Street every week. And paradoxically eating lobster at Sam's was a no-no, but many kids and adults did it, and many of the second-generation immigrants who were reform. And I remember Sam's closed when he died in 1951. Minyans were even harder to collect, and I remember my own disillusionment putting a kaddish minyan together after 1950.
The exodus from Bath. Bath's economy after WWII was terrible. That fueled many family emigrations, including that of David Cogan, my uncle (b. '97 in Lithuania) and his wife Anne Arik Cogan, their family of eight, the Ariks-making a family of eleven-and the Nathan Press family which included two daughters—who moved from Bath to Portland, Oregon in 1948! [I have had paternal aunts and uncles in Portland, Oregon-family named Feves- since 1898!] My Mother Dora Cohen closed up the Commercial Market in 1950 the year of my Bar Mitzvah; and by 1956 had sold our home at 10 Old South Place and moved to Boston to live with my eldest sister Ruth Cohen Gamer (Morse 1935). The three younger Cohen sisters moved on to Boston, just like their aunts the Petlock sisters who left Bath during the War years. By 1956, except for Louis and Dora Rubin Petlock and Morris and Mary Petlock , all the Petlocks, Cohens and Cogans, and Ariks had moved elsewhere. So too the Poviches who had moved on en masse to Washington, DC, though not Jay, Donnie and Janice, and Morris who in turn married Golda Povich after Eva had tragically died at a young age. (Parenthetically, my sisters babysat Elaine Povich as well as Richard "Rick" Smith.)
Major Bath Families (alphabetized):
Arik. Rev. Charles Arik, an itinerant rabbi who served in Rumford, ME; Laconia; NH; and Charleston, SC, lived in Bath off and on starting in WWI; he died in 1936. His son Isidore (Pitch) Arik graduated with a BA in German from Bates with Edmund Muskie in'35, and worked at the BIW in the Forties before moving to Oregon around 1950. Anne Arik (d. 1993)—who taught Sunday School with Frances Orkin Smith and Bessie Greenblatt Singer in the Thirties and Forties—married David S. Cogan (d. 1987) on December 31, 1923, the first year of the shul! David, my father's younger brother and also owner of a small grocery The Center Street Market, had met the Ariks in Rumford. Mary "Mickie" Arik (d. 1961) and her elderly mother Bessie (d. c. 1962) had moved permanently with the David Cogan family to Portland, OR in 1948; Pitch moved out later. Neither Mary nor Pitch ever married; both are buried in Portland, Oregon. (Pitch, interestingly, thought of my father as a misplaced intellectual.) Aunt Anna and Uncle Dave were like godparents to me when I lived in Oregon in the late Fifties, and were not only wonderful to my three sons when we moved back to Portland in 1974, but they remained close friends of my Mother who visited them in Oregon each year during the two decades before her death in 1983.
The Browns. First off, the Minnie Brown Center is a genuine tribute to the memory of the family. I knew four of the five Brown children: none of the sisters ever got married, and they were all phenomenal conversationalists. Minnie who gave her estate to the shul was indisputably gorgeous and was best friends with my aunt Evelyn Petlock. Minnie, Mary and Bessie always spoiled me with chocolates and stories at their home on Front at North. I always wondered: whatever happened to the journals and writings of Minnie's famed brother David Brown who was a correspondent for Reuters for decades.
David and Anne Arik Cogan. Note the paragraph on the Arik clan. Anna was the only Arik to have children, and so their brood of six also starts with Ruth [named after Morris and David's mother Rachel Feves Kagan who died in Lithuania in 1912]. The Dave Cogans moved to Bath in 1927 and then moved permanently to Oregon in 1948. In addition to owning the Center Street Market adjacent to the Gedimans' store, David and my father raised cattle in West Bath during the War years. David originally played saxophone as a semi-pro musician on arriving in America at the age of 15. Anna was very active in the Sunday school program, along with Bessie Singer and Frances Smith, and finished high school in 1923, the year of her marriage to David.
See Appendix: the six Cogan cousins.
The Gedimans—especially Arthur and Sadie who were always in their Center Street store which merchandized Levis and work shirts, refrigerators, etc. In the Forties Arthur ran for and served as a city alderman (city councilor), and traded "Jews in sports" stories with kids of my generation. While there are many stories to tell, Arthur Gediman (born 1899) was one of the finest raconteurs in town, especially on the topic of Jews in sports. He was also a defender of the dignity of Jews and their rights to be citizens; he served many years as an alderman on the Bath City Council. He also took pride in his left upper cut, once knocking-so he claimed—Lloyd Hooker across Center Street for making an anti-Semitic remark. He and Sadie had three kids: an older daughter, Alvin (Morse '47) a first-string basketball player for the Shipbuilders and Rita ('52) who was a senior when I was a freshman. Arthur's brother Henry, who was married, played a mean guitar but was not affiliated with the shul! Sadie played bridge with my Mother, Eva Povich and Talka Kutz probably once a month, as they traded houses in their "rounds" of playing, and I somehow managed at an early age to get hooked on their bridge treats, mostly chocolate.
Jacob Goldstein with the help of his wife ran the Boston Shoe Store on Center Street near Front-and his son Mo ran the smoke shop on Front quite close to where Mikels' Furniture was located. Around 1951 Mo tragically lost his lovely 10-year-old son to an abrupt medical affliction; I don't know what happened to their daughter Betsey. But the personal tragedy greatly affected Mo's life.
The Greenblatt/Singer family was a major family, extending like mine with children born in the 1910's through the 30's. The Greenblatts' story-with their wedding picture in Kovno in 1905— was run in a special Maine publication-now out of print!—along with pictures of Bessie, Sophie, Ada, Isear, Abe, Riva, and Owen. That's archived at the shul. [Cf. Postal Magazine, "Our Town's Picture History," Vol. 7, #1, 1995.] Sophie moved to Brooklyn and through the years had been in touch with my late Aunt Esther Petlock Levine. I also had a special joking relationship with Izzy Singer who waited patiently for me at his home on Linden Street between 6 and 6:30 AM in the years 1952-55 when I delivered the Portland Press Herald. The Singers of Brunswick were part of the "Bath" landtsmen. Indeed when I went to Bowdoin in 1956, Izzy's sister Golda was working on the campus, and according to Owen Greenblatt (Morse '51) is still alive and well in Brunswick in her 90s! The recent obituary on the late Ada Greenblatt [Times, December 2008] reminds us that Ada—albeit a "character" of sorts—was so accomplished that she beautifully reflects the energy of the 2nd generation in her unique modeling of an American immigrant success story.
In a recent phone call [August '09] Owen mentioned two important facts: that his father Solomon had fought in the Russian Army during the Russo-Japanese War-1904-05, and that Solomon had also put a codicil in his will [circa 1920] because he wanted to be sure the family home on Washington Street could not be sold until all of his children were married. And, lo and behold, Ada—born 1914—dies in 2008 unmarried! And so Owen the youngest Greenblatt is now trekking back to Bath from Bethesda, MD—nearly 90 years after Solomon originally purchased their homestead [emphasis mine] in order to close it down and give all those potentially interesting papers either to Beth Israel or to the Patten Library! The fact that Solomon served in the Czar's army should also remind us that many of the immigrant men had fled Eastern Europe precisely because of the horrors of conscription: if you forcibly conscript young Jewish men from their communities, that community or shtetl would be subject to pogroms, or government sponsored looting and rape-and often murder-in those same villages. [Confer the opening scene of Bernard Malamud's novel, The Fixer which is set in the period 1910-1914. Fiddler on the Roof deals with similar issues of Russian-Jewish conflict.]
Bessie Greenblatt Singer's tragic life also deserves a short note: Stephen's mother was a beloved person, a brilliant student and the lead teacher in the Sunday School program. [In the 1950's Dr. Zimmerman took over that volunteer assignment.] However, Bessie Singer's illness in the 1950's was tragic because she had had bad reactions to cortisone treatment. I have vivid memories of her enthusiasm and excitement when Israel became a sovereign state in 1948 and when she got us to learn Hatikvah.
Abe and Gertie Kramer ran a meat store on Center at Water, and Abe would serve as a fill-in hazan at the shul especially after 1946; their daughter, Lorna Faye, moved to Boston in c. 1943. Abe was one of the last first generation Jews to remain in Bath, evidently into the late Eighties.
[Beth Israel may have their biographies.] Lorna Fay Kramer, a graduate of the U. of Maine, married Al Halpren; and moved to Westborough, MA. Sarah Libby reports this family was related to the Diamonds of Portland.
Max and Talka Kutz, who were prominent at Beth Israel, always maintained a clothing store on Elm St. near Water; later Sylvia Kutz Katz and Larry Katz came back to Bath in the late Forties/ early Fifties to run Max's store. Max, who was a dapper and refined gentleman and haberdasher, was Morris Povich's nephew. They had two daughters, and just a year ago Sylvia Katz, long a Beth Israel member, passed on. Rhoda was her younger sister.
Sammy and Bella Levin(e) who ran the Bath Department Store on Center Street (primarily lady's clothing) were senior among the first generation. Their three sons were all graduates of Bowdoin and Tufts Dental school; Bobby was a WWII veteran; Billy Levin moved to Newton by the '50's. Sarah Libby Silverman adds, "Robert Levin married Eleanor Kleban of Bridgeport, CT...he graduated Tufts Dental and moved to her hometown." Sam, who died in 1948, consciously bought his cemetery plot near my father in the Deering cemetery. And Janice Povich has favorable memories of Dr. Jesse Levin... [Wanted: information on the Levin families]
The Mikelskys. Later Mikels-Bessie in my memory was the most prominent; there was also Lou and Ruth Mikels Silverman whose daughter Sarah Libby (Morse '46) left Bath for Boston to attend college. The Mikels Furniture store sat directly across from Povich and Son's Men's Clothing store on Front Street. Later Ruth opened an antique store around 1950, and that was an entrepreneurial novelty at the time. My Mother would talk about Horatio Mikelsky, a signer of the 1922 shul inauguration, but he had left for San Francisco by the Thirties. [Sarah Libby Silverman might fill in these spaces...] But he was a faceless legend and never part of the antique or furniture store world which the Mikels and Silvermans had introduced into Bath. Note: The locals used the name McCluskey to refer to the Mikelsky clan, not as a parody but because it was easier for them to say that.
Abe Miller. A very elderly widower who spoke with a heavy Yiddish accent when I remember him in 1945—ran a run-down mom and pop store with a fabulous pot-bellied stove adjacent to the South Street school (near Washington) in the Forties. [This history needs to be filled in! But kids at school during the War years in a harmless anti-Semitic sing-song would chant, "Abie Miller is a Jew, spits tobacco in his shoe." I was embarrassed by that, but African American references in Bath were far more crude.] Charlie Miller, father to my classmate Ann, was a tailor with a shop adjacent to the Uptown Theater and across from the deteriorating Columbia Hotel, at Commercial and Front; though always friendly, he did not associate at Beth Israel, as far as I know. Louie, a WWII veteran who moved to southern California in the 1950's, where he sired triplets, was friendly with my brother Vemi in the 1960's. The two Miller sisters, Dorice or Dottie (who married Robert Levine and was an uncle to Rick Smith) and Jennie Miller Lait—were contemporary with my aunts Evelyn and Esther Petlock. Alic had moved to Portland.
The Poviches. Once the largest family in town, the Poviches literally represented a tale of three cities: Bar Harbor, Bath and Washington, DC. In the Thirties and Forties, the entire Povich mespochah showed up in Bath for the High Holidays. Note: some still do, making use of their summer house near Pearl on Front Street for nearly a century. Morris and Eva Povich-Eva was Nathan's daughter-were married in Bar Harbor in 1914 and moved imminently to Bath. They were the parents of Albert (Morse '42) and Donald "Donnie" (Morse '45) . After law school Albert stayed in the DC area; Don, after completing his history and government degree at the University of Maine, Orono, remained in Bath, marrying Janice, the elder stateswoman of the Bath shul in 2009. On my sundry visits to Bath over four decades, I would visit with the Petlocks of course, but I would always wind up shmeuzing with Donnie who had in his youth been best friends with my cousin now in Haifa, Sonny Cogan.
Nathan Povich (1876-1930), Eva Povich's father, came to Bath around 1915 and sold used furniture [according to Elaine Povich]; he was both a cousin and father-in-law to Morris Povich, Bath's leading business man for 70 years. Simon Povich, (b.c.1851), Nathan's father and Eva's grandfather, moved to Bath from Bar Harbor around 1916 though he had arrived in Boston around 1886 with young Nathan, then 10 years old, in tow. Eva's brother Jay Povich, a great raconteur and bachelor, was supposedly the first Jew ever admitted into the Bath Country Club. He remained in Bath for decades, while his brothers-Abe, Shirley, Bernie-and sister Doris (Mensh) moved on to D.C. Celia and Golda lived in Boston; Golda later married the widower Morris Povich in the early Fifties. In 1936, the entire Povich family dedicated the synagogue's eternal memorial light to Nathan's memory. That event occurred one year after the synagogue's Bar Mitzvah event in 1935, and the same year both Nathan Petlock and the Rev. Charles Arik had died. From Elaine: "Nathan, Eva's father, moved to Bath a year or so later  because Bath was a boom town due to World War I. He brought his family and opened a used furniture store, but kept his building in Bar Harbor. Simon (Nathan's father), who was still in Boston, came to Bath shortly after Nathan moved to Bath."
Jay Povich, Eva [Povich] Povich's brother, was also another colorful character in my youth. Probably contemporary in age with Evelyn and Esther Petlock, Jay was a golfer, by trade a layer of linoleum, and a raconteur who took pride in telling wild stories like the cowboy on the Maine Central Railroad which ran through Bath just behind the shul. His story went like this: The cowboy with guns drawn would walk from car to car putting fear into everyone when he repeatedly asked, "Are there any Jews on this train?" Finally an elderly Jewish man in the 2nd car pipes out in total fear of a pogrom, and says, "Yes, I'm a Jew" And the cowboy immediately says, "Come quick. We need a minyan." Penetratingly funny, and metaphorically true because the first generation had gotten very old and was dying off.
Sam Povich, Eva's cousin (c.1890-1951), ran "Sam's"—closed 1951—Bath's most famous lobster grill in the South end, which held a regional reputation among New Yorkers who stayed in Old Orchard in the summer time. They would hobnob into Bath just for Sam's lobster rolls. (Parenthetically this parallels my Father's taking me to Portland on Sundays during the War years to buy kosher corn beef on bulkies in the Jewish shop district.) Sam's sign read: "The surroundings ain't so hot, but the food is terrific." Sophie Weinblatt Povich, his ill widow-she constantly mourned her brother's tragic death the result of a truck accident—ate chocolates to death while caring for her elderly father Mr. Weinblatt. Sam can be remembered as an orphan who had joined the navy in WWI, had a tattoo on his arm, dressed like a swabbie in a white tee-shirt in his lobster place, and kept the 1922 inaugural key to the shul in his personal possession until it was re-discovered years later in his possessions and returned to Beth Israel.
Sam & Iona Prawer were prominent in the secular community; Sam had been president of the Lions Club in the Fifties. My parents were very proud of Sam who as a young man had left the area of Romania/Hungary to start a highly successful wholesale fruit and produce business in Bath, arriving in the late 1930's, and later to expand it in the State. The Prawers moved from School Street to North Bath in 1947 when the State built the Leeman Highway. Gilbert the oldest, had returned to the wholesale produce company before I left in 1955. Later Harvey (Morse '57) would join Gil in the business. Marlene's story—I'd love to hear about her journey! Sam's talent for business at the wholesale level moved him to a level of prestige among the smaller grocery store keepers like my father, my paternal uncle David Cogan (Center Street Market) and my maternal uncle Morris Petlock (The Cut Price Market ).
Harold Rubin, an attorney who had moved to Bath from Boston in the late Thirties, became a distinguished judge in Sagadahoc County in the Fifties; their children: Adele Rubin (Morse '57) became a Drexel University theatre professor; Peter Rubin, an attorney with Bernstein Shur, Portland, married my first cousin Donna Petlock Rubin. In the early Fifties I mowed Mr. Rubin's yard on High Street above Union-it was one of my many entrepreneurial feats! His widow, now in Portland, ME, still maintains the family beach house at Popham.
Dr. Joe Smith and Dr. Jake (Jacob) Smith, brothers born in Riga, were sons of a Brunswick merchant, and were very prominent doctors in the wider Bath community. Joe and Frances were parents of Bladen (1927-1955)—who died young—and Dr. James Smith (1932-1987). Frances, in particular, was very involved in Beth Israel's Sunday school programming for decades. Jimmy was the father of Andrew (b. 1962), Columbus, OH; Gary, Edwards, CO; and Gordon, Portland.
Jake and Sarah Smith were the parents of Richard Smith (born c.1951), an attorney in Bernstein Shur law firm, Portland. They lived in a house catty-corner from the Cohens on High at Granite. Jake served in WWII; so too Sarah's brother Robert Levine (from VT?) who had lost a leg presumably in the Battle of the Bulge in WWII, and came back somewhat bitter during the post-War years when he joined his wife Doris Miller as a salesperson in The Mademoiselle Shop.
Maurice (1899-1962) and Rose Filler Ziblatt (1901-2004) moved back to Bath in 1939, after a stint in Bath earlier; they managed Markson Bros. clothiers on Center St. Mrs. "Z" retired to Montreal in the mid-Sixties. Mo was a true personal friend during my years in Bath; I even played chess with him. He was the only non-entrepreneur among the Jewish shop keepers since he managed-not owned—a Boston company. Mrs. Rose Ziblatt claimed my mother and Eva Povich as her best friends! Children: Estelle (Morse '43) moved to Boston after graduation and is the mother to three children and grandmother to seven. David (Morse '53) completed his degrees at Reed and the University of Oregon (Ph.D.), and has served as a college professor since 1964. He and his wife Susan, who have resided in CA since 1968, are the parents of four married children: threes sons-Marc, Peter-who reside in the Bay Area, CA; Daniel, Cambridge, MA, a professor at Harvard—and daughter Shoshana. Daniel is father to Talia (b. 2009), Shoshana mother to Elias (b. 2009), Marc of Mia (b.2006). [Note: David Ziblatt and I—close friends almost like brothers since 1941- served at each other's weddings in 1960 as the best man. David showed up in a suit and tie at my 4th birthday party! Note the photo. ]
Other Bath Families:
Benny Berenson, Iona Prawer's brother and Sam's right hand man at the wholesale produce company for years, attended shul but had married Catholic; his daughter Barbara was a classmate of mine at Morse, 1952-1955. Ann Miller, though not Jewish, was the daughter of the tailor Charlie Miller, son of Abe, who owned the shop near the Uptown Theater.
Kurt Diamant, a refugee from Germany, managed the Congress Shirt Factory on Middle Street, and Esther Diamant, his wife, from Boston; no children. My sister Sylvia worked summers at the shirt factory, 1950-52. He may have arrived as early as 1948. I have no information on him.
Jack Finkelstein [from Portland], managed the Variety Store, Center at Washington, during the War years. His family remained in Portland and he commuted, though his kids managed to get invited to Donna Petlock's first birthday party in 1946.
Frankie Freeman, a jeweler from Portland who maintained a shop on Front St. just North of Hallett's Drugstore. A seemingly prosperous and outspoken individual, I do not know what connection he maintained with Beth Israel. He's the subject of the purchase of Dave Cogan's Popham Beach house in 1948, in Appendix.
The Ginsburgs. Louie (the son) graduated Morse in 1945-and the parents, who worked on the carnival circuit in Florida, would be in Bath for the high holidays. In my naivete and sense of wonder I always thought they had a good thing going, that is, working carnivals. My Mother, as a witness to the awful unemployment in the Thirties in particular, always defended their line of work, arguing if someone made an honest living that was all that was important!
The Jaffees. [from David Ziblatt and Sarah Libby Silverman Smyth] Loren worked at Harmon Men's Store; "his wife Alice was an artist. [They were] New Yorkers who moved from Lambert Park back to Stamford, CT. Two sons, Steven and Bobbie and this time I was the baby sitter. Both went on to Princeton and MIT, I believe, for their doctorates in engineering." [Sarah Libby]
Jack Patashnik—not married—ran the cigar and news store on Center Street adjacent to the Center Street Market, which David Cogan ran off and on from 1929-1948. Patashnik is buried in the Deering orthodox cemetery. Jack, a Brooklyn-sounding, Damon Runyon type, was overheard during the 1948 election telling some of his Center Street cigar and newspaper store customers he was supporting Truman; and others he was supporting Dewey. Confronted by his hypocrisy, Jack protested he was supporting his friends.
Nathan Press who ran the Uptown Theater left town in 1948 for Oregon with the Dave Cogan family. His wife and two daughters whose pictures show up in Donna Petlock's 1946 birthdasy party went with him; they stayed in Oregon for just weeks then returned to New York State.
Louie Sherman the tailor-perhaps a widower?—ran the tiniest of shops close to the Bath Dept. Store on Center St. in the Fifties and was quite elderly and frail—I have no memory of his having a family, when he came to Bath or what happened to him.
The Werners and their daughter Joyce lived in Bath during the war years... moved to St Louis and Joyce graduated Emerson College Class of '48. [reported by Sara Libby Silverman Smyth.]
Dr. Benjamin Zimmerman, an optometrist and Sunday school teacher, married came to Bath in the late Forties. No data on him or his family.
Abraham Shooker lived in Bath, may have been married, and though he identified himself as Jewish, was a loner who did not join the shul.
Notes on the 1922 Charter: the Signature Page that Created the Shul
The signature page is a remarkable document for it marks an epiphany or a turning point in my father's role as a macher or doer in Bath. He was just 31 years old and the proud father of two adorable redheaded kids, Rachele and Vromila. Indeed the building of the shul was a fascinating and important moment, and the communal document inaugurating the shul reflects the desire of these new immigrants to have both their own house of worship and a community hall downstairs. Was there social status connected with its creation? I don't know, but the shul (Yiddish for synagogue) represented a break-through in religious status: not only as a source of pride, stability, and certainly continuity, but also communal acceptance by friends like the Rev. David Wilson. As a thankful and religiously conservative people, these immigrants felt blessed being in America and having a place of worship of their own. Many spoke with accents; some could not speak or write English or not very well, like the elder Petlocks or Mrs. Bessie Arik, David Cogan's mother-in-law, or "bubie" as we called her in the Forties. The Bath immigrant generation -many who could recall or knew about the horrible pogroms of Eastern Europe under the Czar—experienced the joy of the new shul and the freedom of religion symbolized by its very existence.
When the shul was created, they no longer used pushcarts as they did in the 00's and 10's, and they no longer needed to rent Front Street social halls for a minyan or a wedding. Morris Cohen, among others, eagerly played a leading role, along with the Poviches-both Morris Povich and Nathan Povich—in organizing and forming the shul-and my Mother proudly boasted of his dual instrumental role, financially and spiritually. If one notes the signature of my namesake grandfather Nathan [Franklin] Petlock on the inaugural signature page, one will see a curious thing: Nathan signed his name with an X, and, evidently my late uncle Morris (Meysh) Petlock had to write his father's name in for him!
Re "history" I know that my memoir is not professional "history" per se but it would be a valuable resource for a historian like Susan Cummings-Lawrence who is in charge of a state wide effort to preserve Jewish historical documents throughout the state. More important, it ought to be available as a live document for all Bath emigres wherever they have migrated in the great diaspora, including Cleveland, Edwards, Portland, etc.
The recent anecdote of "two sons" of Bath emigres meeting is a wonderful story. Ann Cohen Wheeler Orkin's son Morris Wheeler of Shaker Heights, Ohio recently and accidentally met the late Jimmy Smith's son Gary Smith aka Delling Zing in Edwards, Colorado. Both men are sons, grandsons and great-grandsons of Bath immigrants and their families. It illustrates the wondrous journey of two families—the Smiths and the Petlocks/Cohens—who not only settled in Bath over one hundred years ago, but whose offspring are historically connected or linked to their grandparents' unheralded courage uprooting themselves from the pogroms and economic hardships of Eastern Europe to find jobs, land and houses, and opportunities in Bath.
This reunion in Bath on September 13, 2009 poses a big why. Many reasons, but foremost the last of the Thirties and Forties' generation should still have a vivid recall or better, a historical consciousness of the elders, that is the last of Bath's 1st and 2nd generations. One perspective: my four elder siblings who have to deal with old age, illness, or dementia unfortunately can no longer participate in this conversation. Yet we need to capture those years now because its colorful history could be lost. Some of us like Andrew Smith and his brothers may realize Joe Smith was a wunderkind by Bath Jewish standards for breaking the "color" barrier as the first Jew allowed to practice medicine in the Bath hospital. And they may also know Joe played a mean game of football at Bowdoin in the mid-Twenties, thus breaking the image of Jew as a physical weakling.
But does the community have that significant information? Do they understand that when you arrive in a foreign country fresh off the boat, say in 1904, like my grandfather Nathan Petlock—without the language, without the wherewithal-that is, you're poor and without a job!-you have to have survival skills. So you turn to fellow landtsmen with shops in Boston, and they tell you to go to Portland, and in Portland, they tell you, go up the road. And there they might say, "I'll give you a meal for the night, but you've got to go to Brunswick to see Mr. Singer, or you have go to Bath and talk to the Mikelskys, or if that doesn't work out, go on to Rockland and talk to Mr. Goldsmith, or go on to Bar Harbor and talk to Mr. Nathan Povich and they'll let you know if any more Yiddin [Jews] have a place to hang a shingle or open a shop. Always talk to Yiddin; don't be a shnorrer [a beggar] among the goyim [Christians] because that will give us a bad reputation."
Can you imagine what it was like when Morris Petlock attended Hebron Academy in 1916-17 (?) and mixed with Yankees at a private school? Morris probably broke the quotas on Jews before WWI at a time when graduation from 8th grade was the norm in Bath in the 1910's. [Even when I graduated in 1955, 50% of our class from grade 8 had already dropped out! And when I started Bowdoin in 1955, the unspoken quota on Jews was 8%] And what was it like for Joe Smith to apply for medical school back in the Twenties?
In another vein, when Shirley Povich, the young aspiring sports writer who moved to Washington, D.C. to be numero uno in sports writing nationally he became a part of the great American immigrant dream of success. But there may also be a story waiting to be written about Minnie Brown's brother David Brown who graduated Morse c. 1929 and wrote for Reuters in the period 1930-1965(?). [Earlier I asked if anyone had ever located his work?]
Last, but not least, in the signatories of the 1922 shul charter there is a powerful story of growing immigrant success. Not least, many had by 1935-1965 sent their children off to college and the university, and I'm sure in numbers that compare with Boston and other major cities. Many did become professionals-the Smiths, the Levines, the Greenblatts, the Poviches, etc. Many did not.
We don't need to make judgments about the destinies of families, but we have an obligation to understand how the immigrants of Bath 1886-1960 succeeded with an optimism and a determination that said, "Yes, you can" to their children. And despite a period marred by two world wars, the Depression, the recession in Bath during the post WWII years, these Eastern European pioneers forged ahead in America. They learned English, they learned how to succeed, and they left us not only with a unique culture of Jewish values but also a wondrous legacy of quiet strength in the face of adversity.
The Seven Children of Morris and Dora Petlock Cohen, and their Descendants
Ruth Etta Cohen Gamer, b. 1918 in Mahonoy City , PA where Morris Cohen was chaplain with the US Army. Ruth graduated Morse High in 1935 as valedictorian, a family and a Jewish community honor. She graduated Simmons College cum laude in 1939. Ruth-the oldest of the Petlock 3rd generation—celebrated her 91st birthday in 2009 in Canton, MA. [Hebrew name: Rochel, but used the diminutive Rochele after her paternal grandmother, Rachel Feves Kagan who d.1912 in Lithuania.]
Edward Barrett "Vemi" Cogan—(from Vromila Baruch) Cogan, b. 1920. My older brother Edward aka Vemi moved to Laconia, NH to study with Rabbi Charles Arik for his Bar Mitzvah in 1933. [Charles Arik was an itinerant Rabbi who lived in Bath, Rumford, Laconia NH, and Charlestown, S.C. where Anne Arik Cogan met Harry Golden.] Vemi claimed at one point to be the only Boy Scout in America to earn a merit badge with Yiddish as his 2nd language!
Vemi left home in 1938, joined the US Army in 1939, and while stationed at Hickam Field, Hawaii, was the subject of my parents' angst as they listened to radio and awaited news from the Red Cross in the week following the Japanese invasion of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. A consummate salesman most of his life, he served in WWII as a glider pilot and warrant officer. Married in Bath December 31, 1944, Ed and Annette Lebewohl Cogan ran the (wholesale) Cogan Books company, La Mirada, CA, 1964-2002. Two daughters-Barbara (b. 1950) married to the lawyer John Neidig, and reside in Portland; two children, Harper born 1993 and Cecile, 1995. Nancy (b.1952) and her 2nd husband Roni Akmon—an Israeli—live in San Anselmo, CA with twin daughters born 2001. Nancy's older daughter Wendy Toyoda (born 1981) completed her MFA at the Pasadena Art Inst.. Ed, now in poor health, and Annette moved to Portland, OR in 2006.
Comment: there's a plaque in the Bath shul with the names of all those who served in WWII.
Ida Cohen Levin, b. 1923, started the nursing program in Beth Israel Hospital, Boston, and wound up in the Waves in 1944 in Norfolk. In 1947 she married Abraham "Hammie" Levin (1920-2000), a Coast Guardsman at Popham from Providence and a respected fire and rescue specialist in Uxbridge. Ida's retired in Hopedale, MA. Three children: Lauren Levin (b. 1949), an artist in Hawaii; Jacqueline Levin Plummer (b. 1952) married Reed Plummer, Cotuit, MA.; a daughter Dara Plummer, born 1983. Marty Levin (b. 1957), who is a school counselor, N. Adams , MA, maintains the family cottage at Popham Beach.
Sylvia Cohen Brown, b. 1932; graduated Lesley C. Married Morris Brown, Harvard Law '55 and a senior partner with the Wilentz firm. They live in Ocean, NJ. Two sons in NJ: David (b. 1957), Yale Ph.D. in American Studies; Alan (b. 1959), MA from the Pratt Institute and is a professional portrait artist married to Annie Smith Brown.
Ann Cohen Wheeler Orkin, b. 1937, the 2nd triplet, graduated Emerson C. 1959; resides in Worcester, MA with 2nd husband Arthur Orkin. Three children: Morris Wheeler (b. 1962) Yale Law, married to Joanne Cohen, Shaker Heights, Ohio; two sons, Noah (b. 1997) and Zach (b. 1999). Susan Wheeler Rollet, Berkeley Hts., NJ, with Stefan Rollet: Emily (b. 1998) and Luc (2001). Andrew Wheeler, b. 1967, NJ: Jack (b. 1999) and Jennifer (1997).
Janet Cohen Grafton, b. 1937, the 3rd triplet, retired Deerfield Beach, FL. Three children: Jodi Benal, b. 1957, Irvine, CA; Jodi is the mother of Bijan Mazarji (b. 1984). Marcy Grafton, b. 1967, lives in FL; Michael Grafton, federal service, Phoenix, AZ, b. 1965, married to Lenore; children: David (b. 1996) and Mark (b. 1994)
Nathan Franklin Cogan, b. 1937, Bath, ME. Resides in Portland, OR. Professor emeritus, English Literature, Portland State University. Wife, Sara Glasgow Cogan, died in 2006. Three married sons: David Morris Cogan, b. 1967. BA, UCSC; a business investigations specialist, married to Nicole Plein, Capetown,; reside in Santa Monica, CA. Jonathan Glasgow Cogan, b. 1970, BA, UW; MPA, PSU. Married to Wendy Sandell, BA, UW; two children: Kathryn, b. May 1999 and Maya b. May 2002. Sales manager, Web Trends; resides in Portland. Daniel Louis Cogan, b. 1973, BA, UCSC; MA, PSU. Specialist teacher K-5, PPS; married to Danielle Smith Cogan, BA, UCSC: one child: Lee Solomon Cogan (b. 2008); reside in Portland.
The Six Children of David and Anne Cogan:
Ruth Cogan Finnerty, born in 1923 in Rumford, moved to San Francisco and the Bay Area in 1946; graduated Morse in 1942 as salutatorian; from Boston University in 1946 with a degree in journalism; also, an MFA (SFSC) and her Ph.D., Education (UC, Berkeley). Son: the jazz musician Barry Finnerty. Ruth's retired in Oakland. Ruth became a close friend while I was doing doctorate work at Berkeley in the 1960's; later she moved from Daly City to begin graduate studies at UCB.
Edward "Sonny"Cogan, born March 16, 1927 in Rumford, shares a birthday with his triplet cousins. A WWII veteran, he earned his BA from Bowdoin in chemistry in 1953; with four children he and his wife Rose made aliyah to Haifa in 1968 from Oregon. Sonny started the Haifa English Theater. Both are retired; two sons-both engineers—live in San Jose; a son and daughter in Israel; 7 grandchildren.
Gerald Cogan, born 1929, Bath, Morse (1946), two years at Bowdoin, before moving to Portland, OR to become a dentist; he and his late wife Zadell had 4 children, 2 grandchildren, all on the West Coast. Gerald is also retired.
Arnold Cogan, born 1932, Bath, a land use planner/ civil engineer, has three children, and six grandchildren; also resides in Portland, and continues to co-work with his wife Elaine.
Carol Cogan Koranda, born 1939, Bath, worked in hospital administration in Portland, OR before retirement. Holds her BA from Portland State University. No children.
Judith Cogan Ross, born 1943, Bath; also moved to Portland, OR in 1948; office administrator LA, two children and two grandchildren.
Summary of history of the two brothers: The 80 descendants of Morris Cohen (43) and David Cogan (37). The 2rd generation migrated initially to Boston, New York, and Portland, Oregon. Today, including spouses, there are about 100 living descendants of the two brothers: 35 in Portland, OR; 27 others on the West Coast; 30 on the East Coast, and 8 in Israel-all the children/grandchildren/ and great grandchildren of the brothers Morris Cohen and David Cogan.
Remembering the Dead. For Ashkenazics, there is a legacy of naming of deceased parents/grandparents carried on in Hebrew and often with English initials as well as Hebrew names during the traditional bris or circumcision ceremony. So for Morris Harry Cohen (Moishe Hirsh in Yiddish), there are no less than 5 grandchildren among the 3rd generation in my family who retain his name: David Hilary Brown, David Morris Cogan, Michael Hershel Grafton, Martin Harold Levin, Morris Wheeler.
Bath Story from 1948-Told by Arnold Cogan 9-07-07
Hi Barbara [Cogan Neidig-daughter to Vemi Cogan],
A few weeks ago we had a brief telephone conversation about your trip this summer to [Popham Beach,] Maine where you had an opportunity to talk with cousins, Lauren and Marty [Levin—Ida's children], about the old cottage at Popham Beach my folks used to own. Apparently, you heard that our father, David Cogan, lost the family's cottage to Frankie Freeman in a card game. Freeman was identified as a jeweler [who owned a store next to our dad's Center Street Meat Market.—see correction below.]
I have sent this story to my siblings and, after receiving numerous statements of remembered experiences, we agree that the following is a reasonably accurate account of what really happened:
In the early '40s, Dave and Anne Cogan purchased the Popham Beach cottage for about $2500. Our father loved to play cards, mostly pinochle, but occasionally poker, with many of his Bath friends. One of those friends was Frankie Freeman, whose jewelry store was about two blocks away from our family's Center Street Meat Market. [actually on Front St. near Hallett's.] Immediately next door to the Market was a variety store on one side and, on the other side, Abe Kramer's grocery. Early in 1948, when the major part of my family was preparing to leave Bath to settle in Portland, Oregon, they sold the store to Freeman. There was little or no profit as the price was close to what was originally paid. Several of my siblings and I distinctly recall the considerable happiness exhibited by our parents when they talked about this sale as it was a relief to get one more detail out of the way before moving. We believe the terms and other matters related to the deal to purchase the cottage may have been made with Freeman at one or more of their card games because he was one of the regular players. There was definitely cash involved in the sale.
Happy New Year [Sept. 2009] to all, Arnold
Glossary of Terms
aliyah—literally from Hebrew, "going up" to the bimah [raised altar area] and blessing the Torah portion reading—before and after—for that Shabbat morning service; it also means moving to Israel, symbolically going up to Jerusalem or Mount Zion.
diaspora—the Greek term used to describe the Jews who had left Jerusalem or Palestine because of exile; it now references migrants from Bath to the rest of the country.
cana hora—"may the evil eye not get you"; akin to the sign of the cross; used so frequently regarding the bad things that did happen, like for a woman "cursed" with several miscarriages, for example; "cana hora, you should have a good pregnancy."
geberne—the legal or military jurisdiction in Russian occupied Eastern Europe: my Mother came from Vilna geberne and my father from Kovno geberne [today Vilnius and Kaunas]l
gribinis—the salty curls from rendered chicken fat; it's a code word from that generation, as when in Portland, OR in May 2008, the folksinger Debbie Friedman asked an audience of 350 if they knew gribinis! [She was checking out how many first and second generation folk knew that Old World greasy delight.]
kaddish minyan—a prayer service for yahrzeit (year time) memorialization for dead parents
kichele-a small semi-sweet cookie
landtsman—a fellow Jew from the old country
Litvak—a Lithuanian Jew and the name of a major Yiddish dialect (Jewish language spoken in the Baltics and Belarus)
minyan—the minimum of 10 required to pray and say Kaddish in a shul; today it's 10 people; in Bath, ME in 1950 it would have been 10 men, since women weren't counted.
mitzvah—a good deed
pastrami—spiced beef, and very important in the Eastern European world; Morris Cohen and Morris Petlock revolutionized restaurant eating when they made it for Sam's in the 40's.
shul—the vernacular word for the synagogue. If a larger place of worship, it's the word temple.
Torah—the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible; it's a precious hand-scripted parchment scroll in pure Hebrew letters (no vowels) with its own beautiful cloth cover, used on Shabbat morning and on holy days
Yiddish—the main language of the Bath immigrants: it's 80% medieval German; 18% Hebrew; It has been the lingua franca of Jews in Europe since the 15th century.