Interview with a decendent of a Jewish Immigrant: Explaining their life in North Adams, Massachusetts
Joint interview with Bob Bashevkin and Jon Lev (courtesy of Mrs. Rennell's honors history class, Spring 2002)
Bob: I think North Adams was a healthy community to grow up Jewish in. It was a good mix of culture, the only thing I remember having a problem with growing up was in elementary school- if I would stay out for a Jewish holiday, the teachers would not exempt me from taking the tests or doing the homework. When it came to college boards, they were only given on Saturdays. So finally they found a way to give it to a few of us on Sunday.
We had our home Shabbat, it was very important. Then on Saturday afternoons I would go with my non-Jewish friends to the movies, and in North Adams at this time there was the Mohawk Theater, the Paramount Theater, and the Richmond Theater. That was our thing together, it was a ritual. And on the way home our Catholic friends would have to stop because they had to go to confessional. It was interesting.
Jon: Did your parents give you a hard time going out on Saturdays?
Bob: Yeah, it was a stretch. But I think it was because my parents were traditionalists. But even my dad on Sukkot and Shivuot would go to services and then to work. He would take the bus though, which he felt was compensating for something he had to do financially and economically. Me going to the prep school was quite a thing for them to handle too.
Jon: So it wasn't a Jewish prep school?
Bob: No, it wasn't.
Jon: Was it your decision to go there, or...
Bob: It was a mutual decision, family and parents. Easter was ham dinner with pineapple, so it was different. But today I still don't eat pork and certain other foods.
Jon: Did you go to Baptists services then?
Bob: They called it "economical." Then going away to college also lost some religiosity because it didn't have an enriched Jewish community.
Jon: Did any of your brothers or sisters maintain their Jewishness through their later adolescence and young adulthood?
Bob: Today yes, they're all Jewish to different degrees. One is Orthodox- he's ultra religious- and some are conservative.
Jon: I remember coming home from services and I would have lunch with Edith, Willy, and Allen and Michael [Bob's brother is Willy, Edith is Willy's wife, and Allen and Michael are their sons]. That's the only time i had that kind of food, keeping kosher and all. That's the only reason I knew a lot about it. Once we were Bar Mitzvahed, that was 13, I attended services sometimes on Saturdays and on holidays, but otherwise were just normal kids. North Adams has changed a lot since then.
Bob: Yeah, it has changed a lot, it's a different community. There are far fewer Jewish people. When i was growing up we had 250 Jewish families.
Jon: And that [the synagogue] would be full on holidays. It's hard to believe right now, but it was the same when I was growing up.
Bob: The Jewish community, most people were retail merchants. Furniture stores, clothing stores, hardware stores. Very few professionals at that time, and when Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur would come there would be an ad in the paper that the following stores would be closed, and most of downtown would be closed.
Jon: They had a kosher butcher and a kosher baker here.
Bob: Yeah, and the reason our community is so small now is because our parents worked very hard to see that we had an education. Most of my Jewish friends went away to school and many stayed away and didn't come back to live here.
Jon: I feel like I grew up in more Jewish community than my kids did. Growing up in Denver, Colorado, when they were young we were in a very Jewish neighborhood, we had two Orthodox synagogues, within walking distance of where we lived, yet in public schools there wasn't that Jewish population. I really thought that when we moved back here it would be different. I remember the strength of the Jewish community and I have to say I was disappointed coming back I thought there would be more.
Bob: Well, I guess like he said, there's just no Jewish support groups anymore. It was such a healthy environment then.
This page was last updated May 14, 2008.