It’s that time of year again. Just when Southerners are celebrating football and the waning summer heat, the holiday shopping season descends upon us. Since I’m sure all of you have been under a barrage of flashy ads for early bird deals and cyber discounts, I thought I’d give your consumerist minds a break and share a few images from a simpler shopping era.
Before big box stores or online shopping, a customer would walk into a local store and be taken care of by a member of the family that owned the business. And if you were doing your shopping in the South, you would very likely visit a shop owned by Jews. Shopping is a Southern Jewish tradition. Most immigrants started as peddlers and later built retail stores, establishing network of merchants across the region. While Jewish shop keepers did not observe the religious aspects of Christmas, the season of gift-giving was something to celebrate.
I envy the clients of the Alligator Store in Alligator, MS and Schwartz Store in Bay City, TX. You can tell by the looks on the owners faces their customers got great service.
Like today, the holidays were a big money maker, so stores were quick to cater to their clientele. Below is a shop in Laredo, Texas, decked out for Christmas.
Before you get too nostalgic, fear not! Not all of these shops are memories of the past. La Perla in Laredo is still run by members of the Norton Family today. So take a break from Amazon once in a while and venture out, after Black Friday of course, into the world for a personal experience and encourage these great traditional businesses to stick around.
Where have you been shopping lately? What are some of your favorite local family businesses?
Since the 1940s, the Jews of Seminole, Ada, Nowata, and Shawnee, Oklahoma, have met at the Seminole Hebrew Center for religious services and social events. In the clip below, which is featured on our Online Encyclopedia article for Ada/Seminole, lifelong Ada resident Henry Katz talks about the origins of the Hebrew Center.
I love this excerpt for a number of reasons. Katz, who descends from German-speaking immigrants who arrived in the United States after the Civil War, alludes to the distinction between his decidedly Reform family and the newer arrivals, who were more observant. Then, as evidence of his family’s assimilation, he uses the word “phylacteries” to describe what most traditional Jews would call “tefillin.” As a professor once told me, “no one who wears phylacteries says “phylacteries.”
The story also illustrates the influence of economics on Jewish (and general) migration patterns. In this case, the arrival of recent immigrants to the booming towns above the Seminole oil field influenced the development of the local Jewish community.
Apparently, people used to play a lot of cards. Bridge, canasta, all types of poker—nearly everyone I speak with reports that they or their parents participated in regular card games, inside or outside the Jewish community. Katz attributes the men’s gambling habits to the oil business, which is a clever connection to make. I would also point out that many of these men were also immigrants from Eastern Europe; it was a gamble, or a series of them, that had brought them to Oklahoma in the first place.
Finally, Katz has a great voice and tells his story with real style. Reviewing his interview and putting together this clip brought back memories of a pleasant morning spent in Ada at the end of a successful research trip to Oklahoma.
I’d like to thank Henry Katz for sharing his story with us. Credit is also due to summer oral history intern Jonayah Jackson for the quality of the video.
The most common answer is that someone (a grandparent or great-grandparent) had a cousin or sibling who was already in the area. Many families have amusing, likely fictionalized tales of a newly arrived forebear getting off of a train at the wrong stop or landing in a small town by some other sort of accident.
In July, I interviewed Michael Korenblit, of Edmond, Oklahoma. He shared the story of his parents, Meyer and Manya Kornblit (the last name is spelled differently due to clerical discrepancies) and their immigration to the United States. There is much to say about Meyer and Manya, childhood sweethearts and Holocaust survivors who were reunited after World War II. They were married shortly after the war, and their oldest son, Sam, was born while the family was living in Eggenfeld, Germany. In the interview clip below, Michael tells how his family ended up in the small Jewish community of Ponca City, Oklahoma.
The clip is also available through the Ponca City article in our Encyclopedia of Southern Jewish Communities. The rest of Meyer and Manya’s story is recounted in Until We Meet Again, which Michael coauthored.
How did your family get to where they live today? Where did they come from originally?