Once upon a time, Brothers of Joseph Synagogue stood on West Main Street on the west side of town, an old wood-frame with stucco exterior and a steel fire escape. Today, the Orthodox Jewish community enjoys their beautiful synagogue on Broad and Washington streets.
In Norwich, the first Jewish settlers passed through the West Side, where later many nationalities would settle in Norwich’s greatest melting pot. The Congregation Brothers of Joseph Synagogue begins way back in 1883, when Jewish immigrants gathered and called themselves the Congregation of Norwich. The name, Brothers of Joseph, was established in 1886 when Kive Lahn was awarded the honor of naming the synagogue. He named it for his son, Joseph, the first born to Russian Jews in Norwich.
Through the years, I have been so blessed with Jewish friends who helped me in so many ways, and some served as mentors. Charlie Simon, who once owned Simon Ford, trained me to become a stockbroker. When he died unexpectedly, I took over his brokerage accounts. As a young man without many clients, Jewish investors stayed with me while I established my business. No one helped me more than the flamboyant attorney, Sam Safenovitz.
Working in my office was a wonderful man, much like a second father to me, a very devout and wise Orthodox Jew, Saul Agranovitch. One Holy Thursday my wife, Peggy, invited Saul and his wife to supper. He was so delighted that we celebrated Holy Thursday as Passover, and we actually had the Seder supper in our home. He cried tears of joy.
The Jewish people in Norwich have done so much for this community that after the high holiday, I think it is appropriate to recall some of the great names worthy of remembrance. Cat Silverman, in my mind, will always be the father of Little League baseball in Norwich. Stan Israelite, more than anyone or anything thing else, put Norwich on a new industrial footing, but he had the help of Milton Jacobson — “Uncle Miltie.”
In the 1950s, there was Sen. Joe Goldberg, who demanded a two-lane highway, know as Interstate 395, through Eastern Connecticut. Joe also had help in Gov. Abe Ribicoff.
List Goes On
There are so many names who, down through the years, have done so much. Rutherford Swatzburg dedicated much to The William W. Backus Hospital, and builder Isadore Berkman created the Loew’s Poli-Sears Roebuck building. There was Dr. Lewis Sears, Norwich Free Academy’s legendary school physician, Judge Harry Schwartz, for whom Schwartz Manor was named, Aldermen Oscar Silverman, Ab Levin and prosecutor Mickey Globerman.
Main Street merchants included the Silbermans, Adelmans, Schwartz Brothers, Feister & Raucher and Mandells. Remember Joe Sadinsky’s Boy Shop, Julie Berk’s Young Folks’ Shop, Trachtenbergs, H.A. Bruckner, Harry Kline, Ben Bruckner and that wonderful fellow, Sam Rabinovitch? Each of these names have memories for the people of Norwich.
There were other names: John Meyer of Norwich, Joe Greenstein, Harry Swatsburg and Bob Welling. There were Norwich’s two corporation counsels, Orrin Carashick, who often served as city manager, and Gurdon Silverberg. Gurdon’s brother, Orrin Silverberg was the best alderman Norwich ever had. He was honest and totally dedicated to his family, his faith and his community. He died a very young man.
Don’t Want to Forget
As I write this story, so many names come to mind. The danger of this type of column is you overlook or forget someone, and for this I apologize. But let me mention a few: The Levys, Slosbergs, Seders and Marshall Meyer, who became a rabbi for all of South America. He was brilliant, and we were all classmates and good friends.
Some time ago, I got a call from a rabbi who many will remember. His name is Mitchell Geller, then a resident of Baltimore. He was in town to perform a wedding, and I was so happy he called. Many years ago, the rabbi was so flattering. At the time I was a state senator, and he wanted me to give the spiritual message. As he introduced me, he didn’t use my title. He said, “Bill Stanley, the only Roman Catholic Jew I have ever known.”
That night I spoke to the congregation and said that the people always get what they deserve in politics and in business, so I said the Congregation Brothers of Joseph deserved their beautiful new temple.
Today, I would like not only to remember the Jewish contributions of the past, but to wish today’s Jewish community, though I am a week late, a happy and healthy new year. Shalom to all of our Jewish friends and neighbors.