"A LARGE NUMBER OF RUSSIANS FROM THE PROVINCE OF LITHUANIA ALSO ARRIVED DURING THESE YEARS......"
by Susan Alpert Drazen, November 1973.
As long as I can remember, I have loved hearing stories. I was lucky; my grandparents are among the best storytellers that I know. The stories that I liked best, though, were the stories about themselves as children, growing up in Russia, and then in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. When I decided to base my paper on the topic of the early days of the Sheboygan Jewish community, my first thought was of the stories that I had grown up with. I thought though, that I needed more sophisticated sources than virtual "bobbe meises" ( grandmother stories ), so I went to research my paper more formally. The results were disappointing. As my reading knowledge of Yiddish is limited to the most basic words in the headlines of the Jewish Daily Forward, I was limited also. The four hundred pages of notes taken at synagogue meetings in the early days did me little good either. They were all in longhand Yiddish. The Wisconsin Jewish Archives provides the "scholar with a good reading knowledge of Yiddish" with ample materials, but the poor uneducated ones like me have nothing to go on. From there I decided to see if there was any documented evidence of the presence of Jews in Sheboygan. Here I was finally rewarded. In the "Sheboygan Homecoming 1909 booklet", there is a report that "A large number of Russians from the province of Lithuania also arrived during these years." (Note added by Joel Alpert: Heaven forbid that they even mention that these "Russians" were Jews!) . I felt somewhat better; at last I had some real information. However, the "real" information that I was to find was in city directories and county histories, and at best may be called skimpy, and by no means first hand. I then realized that the most first-hand that one can get is from someone's mouth; so I turned to my grandparents, my best-known source of information.
Sophie Gollman came with her mother, Sarah Riva, and her two younger sisters to Sheboygan, Wisconsin, in October, 1906. They had left their home in Lepli (Lepel), near Vitebsk in Belorussia, and travelled to Liverpool in England. Sophie was only ten years old, and as her mother had been seasick for most of the crossing, the two younger sisters, Lena and Frieda, were in the "big sister's" care for the trip. They made it safely to Der Goldineh Medineh ( the Golden Land ) despite the horrors of the sea voyage, and landed in New York. From there, they travelled by train to Sheboygan to meet their father.
Mordechai Moshe Gollman, or as he became known in the United States, Max, had come to the new land two years earlier, in 1904. He arrived in New York, with plans to settle there, but the immigrants' conditions in New York soon changed his mind. There was a huge influx of immigrants and little available work. Through the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society ( HIAS ), Max Gollman and a friend of his from Lepli heard of a town in Wisconsin where they had "landsleit" (men from the same town in the old country). Sheboygan was a small town, relatively, but with growing industry, so there were jobs available. As soon as they were able, the two men set out for the Midwest. On their journey, they passed through Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. They stopped at the synagogue there, which was nothing unusual; Jewish travellers, rich or poor, have always found the synagogue to be a place of rest, where they are welcome. There were jobs available in the factories in Pittsburgh, but the two men did not especially want to stay in such a large city. New York had been quite enough for them, and they continued travelling on to Sheboygan.
Max Gollman was lucky. He was able to secure a job at Mattoon's Furniture Factory in Sheboygan. He worked ten hours daily, six days a week, and for this, he received the exorbitant sum of eight dollars and ten cents a week, or a dollar and thirty five cents a day. This was considered good pay. (At one time he was employed as a rail layer for the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad, until a rail dropped on his foot. Note added by William Alpert) Out of this "fortune," Max Gollman somehow managed to support himself, and in addition, he was able to send enough money back to his wife and daughters back in Lepli, so that they were able to join him in Sheboygan in October of 1906. He settled his family in a flat on John Court, which was rented from the Katchkey family for six dollars a month. They were located four blocks away from the synagogue where he prayed, Ahavas Sholem, and two miles away from Jefferson School. Lena was only five, and Frieda was only three years old, but their oldest daughter, Sophie, was then ten, and she started the second grade on November 6, 1906. It wasn't easy for her. She knew no English at all, only Yiddish and Russian, and she was older than all of the other children in the class, but in the spring, she passed into third grade with them. And so, the Gollman family was settled in Sheboygan. They had a place to live, Sophie went to school and the father had a job. Everyday at noon, she carried her father's lunch to him. To call it lunch may be a misnomer; it was unheard of in those days to carry a cold lunch, so around dinner time (noon), either the wife of the worker or a child would take a hot meal to the factory, so that Pa could have a good hot, well cooked dinner.
In 1907, Yitzchak Alperovitz and his mother Chai Sarah, came from the area of Karalin, (note added by Joel Alpert--Karen Alpert Entous reports that Karalin is a very small town about 20 km. or 13 miles from Dokshitzy ) in the province of Belorussia, in Russia, to Sheboygan. Nisan (Nathan) Alperovitz had come a year earlier, and was now able to have his wife and son join him. Nisan's two younger brothers, Leib and Reuven, were already in Sheboygan, and had written to their older brother that there were jobs. So, he came to Sheboygan, and got a job in the paint factory. Within a year, he managed to send enough money back to his family for passage to America; a full-fare ticket for his wife, and a half-ticket for Yitzchak. Yitzchak was fourteen, but he wasn't too tall for his age, and it was hoped that he could pass for younger than Bar-Mitzvah age -- thirteen. When Yitzchak was asked where his phylacteries ( put on every day during the morning prayer by Jewish males over the age of thirteen). he was told to answer that he didn't have them yet, because he wasn't old enough. They left from Karalin, and set sail from Bremen. They landed in Baltimore safely, despite Chai Sarah's terrible seasickness, and passed the inspection for the dread trachoma, and set out by train for Sheboygan. They both were very tired from the journey, and fell asleep almost immediately after getting on the train. They woke up some hours later, and Chai Sarah discovered that much to her horror, it was Friday evening, and it was the Sabbath. Not only were they unable to "make Shabbes," but they were travelling on Shabbes. which is definitely forbiddden. Also she didn't buy food on the train because she wasn't aware that paper money had been pinned to her clothing for that purpose. Nevertheless, they arrived safely in Sheboygan, and were taken home to an upstairs flat on Fifteenth Street, where their downstairs neighbors were the Krasnick Family. Yitzchak (or John, as he became later known) started second grade in Jefferson School. Despite the pretense on the journey, John was fourteen years old, and he felt bad being in school with the little children. He dropped out of school and attended night school instead at the Eighth-Ward School on Huron Avenue. He made the acquaintance of the young Jewish people in Sheboygan, especially Sophie Gollman (they were married in 1915).
The town to which Nathan Alperovitz and Max Gollman brought their families, Sheboygan ( or in the vernacular of the Jewish immigrants, "Sapagan"), sits on the shore of Lake Michigan, fifty miles north of Milwaukee. It was a community composed of almost all German and Dutch speaking people. There were industries in Sheboygan: Kohler Company in the neighboring village of Kohler, Mattoon's furniture factory, Vollrath Company and Dillingham Manufacturing, to name just a few. The influx of Jews from Russia was definitely a contrast from the solid German stock that had previously inhabited the city. The Jews kept pretty much to themselves, and I would like to deal with the community within a community that to some extent still exists today (1973), almost eighty years after the first Jews arrived.| ^ | GEELE AVENUE | N | ______________________________________________________ | AHAVAS SHOLEM X| | (The Brick Shul) | | | | CARL AVENUE | | _____________________ | (The Holman Shul)| X| ADAS ISRAEL OHEL MOSHE |X |(The White Shul) ________________________________________________________ | MARIE COURT | | N. 15th |N.13 | Street | St. | |
SHEBOYGAN NORTHSIDE JEWISH NEIGHBORHOOD
On the northwest side of Sheboygan, between North Fifteenth (on the West) and North Thirteenth Streets (on the East) , and from Geele Avenue (on the North) past Carl Avenue and to Bluff Avenue (on the South), the Jewish immigrants formed their own neighborhood. The area was a subdivision which was owned by the Neumeister and Schaetzer families, and these two families encouraged the development of the neighborhood by renting or selling the properties to the Jews as they were able to buy them.
Sheboygan's Jews lived in this neighborhood and were a cohesive unit. Geele Avenue was the hub of the area. Out of all the homes on that block, only three were inhabited by non-Jews. Both Max Gollman and Nathan Alperovitz lived on Geele Avenue by 1908, along with the Golden, Axel, Bassewitz, Kaplun, Levitan, Blackman, Penn, and Petashnick families. One block to the south, Carl (named for Carl Neumeister) Avenue had no non-Jews living on it at all.
Except for the Zion family, who were Sepharadim (Eastern Jews) and the Horowitz family who came from Jerusalem and were known as the "Yerushalayimdicke" (those from Jerusalem), the Jews who settled in Sheboygan and built the community were from the province of Belorussia in northern Russia. They were affectionately (or not so affectionately -- depending on where one was from ) known as Litvaks. In Gustave W. Buchen's book HISTORIC SHEBOYGAN COUNTY, it is noted that: "Sheboygan Jews are noted all over the United States for their strict orthodoxy in matters of religion. There has never been a successful reform Jewish element or movement in the city. Nearly all Jews are deeply religious and cling tenaciously to the old doctrines, forms and practices. Orthodoxy is the tendency of the Russian Jews as contrasted with the reform leanings of the German Jews...."
During the prime of Sheboygan Jewry, there were three synagogues, or Shules in town: the "Brick" Shul, the "White" Shul, and the "Holman's Shul. The oldest, Ohel Moshe, Tent of Moses, was started in 1890 by the Holman family, one of the earliest families to settle in Sheboygan. Ohel Moshe was originally located on North Eighth Street and Bluff Avenue. The Holman family lived in that area, so it was natural that their place of worship would be there, also. To digress for a bit, members of the Holman family owned small businesses; an overall factory, a tailor shop, and a junk business, but they also boasted Bobbe Freyda, (grandmother Frieda ) who acted as the midwife for the Jewish women. (It is said by some that Bobbe Freyda smoked a corncob pipe, and by some that she smoked cigarettes, only bringing out the pipe when she came to assist at a birth.) Louis Aronin served as the rabbi there, and Ben was his grandson (son of Simon Aronin [note added by Sandy Aronin Silver]), Ben, went on to become one of America's foremost Jewish educators. By 1906, another shule, Ahavas Sholem, Love of Peace (the "Brick" Shul), was located on North Thirteenth Street and Geele Avenue, taking over the building which had once been St. Mary Magdalene Church, which had been moved from North 8th street. Whereas Ohel Moshe had been mostly overtaken by the Holman family, Ahavas Sholem had everyone but. The Alperovitz, Gollman, Krasnick, Wasserman, Stein, Zimmerman, Kaplun and Feldman families were among those who helped in the establishment of Ahavas Sholem. Reb Leib Kaplun ( the title Reb being one of respect to an older learned man, is not the same as that of Rabbi), was everything in Ahavas Sholem, except perhaps the shochet (ritual slaughterer). He served as the chazan (cantor), the shammas (caretaker), and was the melamed (teacher) in the Sheboygan Hebrew School. There is a precept in Judaism of "Talmud Torah Keneged Kulam," "the teaching of the Torah is more important than everything else." The Jews of Sheboygan did not neglect this, and the young boys went to Cheder, (literally "The Room" -- a synonym for Hebrew School) and there they learned Torah, translated from Hebrew to Yiddish. As mentioned before, Sheboygan's Jews were "frum" (religious), and they followed Judaism to the letter. The Shabbath was rigidly observed. On Friday, every Jewish housewife "made Shabbes" for her family. The men came home from work as early as possible to clean up and be ready. The most "frum" (religious) of the men went to the ritual bath at the "shule", the mikveh, to purify themselves for the holy day. Saturday was Shabbes, the day of rest and holiness and was welcomed by the Jews. Everything was observed by Sheboygan's Jews -- every holiday. During the period of Shlichos, forgiveness, the "frum" pray early every morning. Reb Kaplun would go around to the Jewish homes about two or three in the morning, pounding on the porches with a big stick to waken everyone up to daven (pray) Shlichos. The holiday of Succot, huts, was observed, with every household having its own Succah, or sharing a Succah with another householder. There was a shochet (ritual slaughterer) in town in those earlier days by the name of Blumov. The house that he lived in on Geele Avenue is still used by the present (1973) shochet and his family. Sheboygan was still to see another shule being built. The Holman Shule was established on North Fifteenth Street and Marie Court, a few blocks south of Geele Avenue.
Both Max Gollman and Nathan Alperovitz started out working in the factories, as did many of the Jewish men at first. Max Gollman was able to get a job for his brother-in-law, Eliyahu Hoffman, at Mattoon's, but Mr. Hoffman disliked it immensely. He hated inside work, and one day, he decided that he wasn't going to slave for $1.35 for a hard day at work. He set out for Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he had relatives, and went into the apple business there. Meanwhile, back in Sheboygan Nathan Alperovitz and Max Gollman stayed in the factories, but they disliked it. As soon as was possible to do so, they became peddlers. That wasn't much better, but they weren't inside any longer, and they didn't have to work on Shabbes any longer, either. After a while, most of the Jewish men became self-employed. Lazer Mayer Kaplun had a butcher shop (Kosher, of course), Harry Holman had an overall factory ( he employed others), Herman Holman had a junk business, John Balkansky dealt in hides, fur, and seeds, Aaron Zion was a milliner, Michael and Nachsun Holman were tailors, Israel Dubman and Albert Raskin owned shoe repair shops, the Marsack family had a grocery store, there was a Holman and Popkoff secondhand store and a Moeckler overall shop. In these early days, there were no big enterprises, but the men were their own bosses, "free" to work as hard as they wished, and keep the Sabbath. There was no other life for Sheboygan's Jews.
It was a hard life for an newcomer in any place, especially if one doesn't speak the language, and the little community that was carved out on the north side of Sheboygan was not established easily. It is a proud heritage that we of Sheboygan's Jewish community carry, and it is one that we must never lose sight of. We owe them at least that much.
1. Buchen, Gustave William, HISTORIC SHEBOYGAN COUNTY. Resch Publishing company, 1944.
2. SHEBOYGAN HOMECOMING 1909. Democrat Printing Company, 1909, Sheboygan City Directories, 1912-1914.
3. Taped Interview with Mr. and Mrs. John H. Alpert, November 23, 1973.
Copyright © 1996 by Susan Drazen | Created September 10, 1996 | Last modified July 27, 1999
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