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  • Sarah Nerenberg

A Stroll Down South Bend’s Western Avenue in the 1950s

Pictured right - Ruth and Irving Rosenbaum behind the counter at their store on Western Avenue, circa 1950s

Zonenberg’s or Sofan’s? Which did you prefer? While talking with Sally and Jerry Brumer, I quickly learned that there really wasn’t a difference between the two kosher meat markets that were across the street from each other. “You went where you family went unless you got angry with one of them!” Sally said.

What I thought would be a visit down memory lane along Western Avenue quickly became a study of characters and aromas. Although I was interested in the Zonenberg and Sofan families, I soon learned that Rabbi Bergman -- the Sons of Israel Rabbi, shochet, mohel, cemetery manager, and diamond merchant -- was the behind the scenes character. Obviously given his occupations, he was good with the knife but apparently he also packed a gun – not your typical small town Rabbi!

Pictured right - Rosenbaum's Clothiers - 730 W. Western, circa 1950s - courtesy of The History Museum

While each butcher had chicken, turkey and beef, they also made their own hot dogs and would have basic deli slices available. As was typical at the time, a customer would keep a tab and would need to pay the balance within 30 days. Bonus items could be a feather to look for chametz before Passover or a live chicken for Kapparot before Yom Kippur. Both Jerry and Sally smiled as they remembered one of Zonenberg’s delivery truck drivers who always showed up tipsy.

Further down Western Avenue was the Progressive Bakery owned by Ina (Cohen) Rosenberg’s family. Because they did not live close enough to walk, Jerry’s mother, Lena Brumer, would put in her order and the delivery truck would show up in the afternoon complete with chocolate babka, rye bread, challah, or apple slices (click here to get a copy of the recipe). Sally’s eyes lit up “My sister would come from Lima, Ohio and would bring a dozen home because they were the best apple slices around.”

Pictured right - Cooperman's Bakery - 503 S. Chapin, circa 1950s - courtesy of The History Museum

The Jewish community around Western Avenue, like many Jewish neighborhoods that once flourished in small cities, disappeared as business owners passed away and their children moved to other parts of town. The neighborhood, which at one time was the home to many immigrant communities, declined after World War II. But with the increase in development around Four Winds Field and other small businesses emerging, there are hopes for a revival of the area.

Obviously there were many more business establishments and religious institutions on the corridor. Which aromas and characters do you recall? What do you remember about the Rabbis of the era?

Share your Western Avenue neighborhood memories in the comments below.

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