Shalom, Y’all

Ahavath Rayim Synagogue

“There were a lot of Jewish people in the neighborhood, probably because the Synagogue was located on Market Street. The last block of George Street toward the river had mostly Jewish people living there. Every year when they would be observing the Jewish holidays they would walk past our house in large groups. All of the little boys would be dressed in suits and wore hats. I was always envious of them for having two religious holidays every fall.

The Irving Hotel, now the Alluvian. Photo courtesy of Donny Whitehead, aboutgreenwoodms.com

“When we were growing up, Greenwood had a pretty large Jewish population but through the years this has steadily declined. Many of the stores were owned by them such as Stein’s Jewelry Store, Weiler’s Jewelry Store, Stein’s Grocery,

Kantor's, "Outfitters to Mankind," now Russell's Antiques. Courtesy of Donny Whitehead.

Kantor’s Men’s Store, Kornfeld’s, Orlansky’s, the Fashion Shop, Arenson’s Shoe Store, Diamond’s, and a number of smaller stores, also the Irving Hotel, Reiman Hotel (which later became the Greenwood Leflore Hotel) and a hotel where Russell’s Antiques is now [1990] which was the Weiner Hotel. Many had come from ‘the old country’ to America and had gone in business. Some could not even speak English when they came but quickly learned and the kids were some of the smartest in school.

Interior of Weiler's Jewelers, "The Musical Forest," now Port Eliot. Courtesy of Donny Whitehead.

“I had an English and Latin teacher in the ninth grade named Regina Fuhrer. Her father was a rabbi and they had not been in the country too many years. She was a brilliant person and taught me more about English literature and grammar than any teacher I ever had. She chose me to go to the literary field meet held each year where students competed with others from other schools in the district. For three weeks she kept me after school every afternoon and drilled me until I thought I knew all there was to know. I think I came in third in the competition. She later left Greenwood and was living in Chicago when she fell from a window and was killed. She was never really given proper recognition for her ability because of prejudice against Jews.

“We were brought up in an era when there was an awful lot of prejudice against blacks, Jews, foreigners and Catholics. In fact Mama was pretty much prejudiced against anyone who wasn’t a Baptist. Nevertheless she had some very good friends in all categories. She just wanted to be sure that when we decided to get serious about somebody that they be Protestant and preferably a Baptist, even though she had married the son of a Methodist preacher.”

Greenwood’s Jewish population has dwindled to a shadow of its peak, even since I was growing up, and it is a poorer community for their loss. Sara filled our childhood with tales of all her friends, but two in particular stand out in my mind. Jerome Bennett lived two doors down on Walthall, and Sara considered him one of her most enduring and remarkable friends, someone who she felt had carried the best of Greenwood out into a wider world than she could imagine. Jerome dropped by Greenwood just a few months ago, along with his sons, and surprised Tricia with a visit. I hope that will happen again very soon, as I would love to walk the old streets of downtown Greenwood with this man that my mother adored.

Sara’s other close buddy was Toodles Kantor, a teenage companion who wound up living a few doors down from us on East Adams. Toodles defined elegance and class in everything she did, and I believe Sara was a bit in awe of her. When she and Sol sold Kantor’s and left for California, a bit of the light went out for Sara. They talked frequently by phone, less so as Toodles’ mind began to drift, but Sara always held out the hope that they would have more time together. Perhaps she got that wish in another life.

Ed. note: The Hotel Irving was opened in March, 1917 by Joe Stein on the lot where the old Warner Wells home once stood. That house was moved to the corner of Main and Church Streets and later housed the Morning Star newspaper. Mr. Stein was a Chicago native who had moved to Greenwood around 1900 and first opened the Kitchell Hotel on Carrollton (later the Weiner Hotel and then the Midway). He eventually bought up all of the block where the Alluvian Hotel now operates and also owned Stein Jewelry company (later owned by Frances Ball Russell and her son, Jim Russell, and now located in Madison). Joe and Lillie Stein lived in a second-floor suite with their son, Irving, and their apartment was a sort of Jewish community center in the 1910s and 1920s. In 1941, Mr. Stein sold the hotel, jewelry store and adjoining building (which housed DeLoach’s) to Max Williams; the family returned to Chicago. Williams died the next year and his son, Sam Williams, owned and operated the hotel through the 40s and 50s. In 1961, the Antoon family bought the hotel, which gradually lost business to highway motels and deteriorated before finally closing in the 1970s. It was bought and rejuvenated as the Alluvian by Fred Carl of Viking Range in the 1990s. [An interesting sidelight: Max Williams seems to have purchased the bungalow at 1212 Strong Avenue from Howard Evans in 1929].

The Kantor family arrived in Greenwood around 1897 as the Kantrovitz brothers. Their first store was on Market Street; in 1915, they legally shortened their name to “Kantor” and soon afterwards J. Kantor purchased a lot across the alley from the Ray Building and began work on an enameled brick storefront. His daughter, Adeline, laid the first brick in March, 1917, and the building is still named “The Adeline.” It opened for business in 1917 and remained Greenwood’s premier men’s store for some 70 years. Sol and Toodles Kantor left Greenwood in the late 1980s or early 1990s, which left Sara, their neighbor on East Adams, bereft.

Weiler’s Jewelry Palace opened in the 200 block of Howard Street in 1900, and A. Weiler claimed that it was the largest jewelry store south of the Ohio River. He eventually created a “musical forest” in the rear where Victrolas and record discs were displayed. The upper level of the building burned in the 1930s and again as the building was being renovated a few years ago for Port Eliot. For many years, Fisher’s Stationery was in business there.

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About sec040121

Hello....I'm in possession of a priceless collection of memoirs and memorabilia left by my mother, Sara Evans Criss. She was a native and lifelong (88 years!) devotee of our small town, who covered this peculiar and volatile corner of the world for 30 years as the Memphis Commercial Appeal's Greenwood bureau chief, a job that started out with debutantes and high school football and wound up spang in the midst of one of the twentieth century's most enduring social upheavals. This blog is dedicated to her memory and the legacy she left behind, both for her family and her community.
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