By now you know Rocky Mount’s Synagogue is for sale. I want you to imagine yourself standing here as candles flicker, a strain of music plays, and the prayers of this holy space are wrapped around us. Know that you have joined a significant chapter in Rocky Mount’s story
On 9/5/17 I wrote a blog about the joy of finding a friend who is a researcher who generously shares his vast genealogy and historical information. From time to time he has been my researcher to support the writing about Main Street. Here is the link to that post on a native of Rocky Mount that I turned to for this historical background surrounding Rocky Mount’s Jewish life. (Another time I will add the genealogy information on the Levy and Rosenbloom families.)
It was not until after the Civil War that a significant number of Jews settled in Tarboro. By the 1870s, a handful of Jews had opened various retail businesses in town. Reflecting the acceptance that these Jewish merchants enjoyed, Henry Morris served several years as mayor of Tarboro in the 1880s.
The Rocky Mount Jewish community remained small, without a congregation, though a traveling rabbi and shochet came to the area periodically to slaughter chickens for kosher tables. In the early 1920s, Rocky Mount Jews, led by a group of women, founded Congregation Beth El. Rebecca Epstein, who had moved to the area from Goldsboro, took the lead in establishing the congregation. At first, the congregation met in a room over Bullock Auto Sales, and, later, in the Masonic Hall. Some of the Jews that were living in Rocky Mount at the time were the Simon Breen family, the Isaac Hoffman family, the Eli Epstein family, the Julius Baker family, the I. Louis Sherman family, the Louis Levin family, the Isaac Levy family, and the Isadore Silverman family. By 1926, Beth El had eight member families, and an annual income of only $400. Eli Epstein, a dry goods store owner, was president while D.J. Edwards was vice president. By 1937, 69 Jews lived in Rocky Mount.
Names that are near and dear to Rocky Mount : The ROSENBLOOM & LEVY families
The Levy and Rosenbloom families operated Rosenbloom-Levy clothing from the 1920s until the 1980s. It was originally at 146 SW Main St. In the 1980s the families split the business, one each in Tarreytown and Golden East Malls. They had completely ceased operation by 2014. I have written about the business on this blog post. Click on: https://mainstreetrockymount.com/tag/rosenbloom-levy-company/
Stepheny Forgue Houghtlin grew up in Evanston, IL. and is a graduate of the University of Kentucky. She is an author of two novels: The Greening of a Heart and Facing East. She lives, writes and gardens in NC. Visit her: Stephenyhoughtlin.com
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