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Special thanks to: Dr. Jeanne Abrams, Director JCRS Collection, Beck Archives, Special Collections, Penrose Library and Center for Judaic Studies, University of Denver Oct. 2008 <>. Rich, Tracey R. "Mourner's Kaddish." Judiasm101. 2005. 2008 <>. Unknown. "Unknown." New York Times Apr. 1919: 1. Elsner, Bj, Editor. Rock Island: Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow. Rock Island History Book Committee: 1988. 247 pgs. Tweet, Roald. The Quad Cities: An American Mosaic. East Hall Press: 1996. 106 pgs. Baskerville Old Face 1757 John Baskerville, Shalom Old Style copyright ©1990-1992 Jonathan Brecher Designer: © 2008 Sean Savitt Author: Leonard Savitt

M. COHN & SON Ninth Str e e t Shoe Stor e

Blessed are you, Lord, our God, sovereign of the universe who has kept us alive, sustained us, and enable us to reach this season: (Amen)


Molih Klm vnyhla H hta Kvr [Nma] :hzh Nmzl vniyghv vnmyqv vnythw

preface T

his is a story composed of two lives.

Morris Cohn was a patient at the Jewish Consumptive Relief Society (JCRS), a free of charge turburculosis sanitarium outside Denver Colorado operation in the early 1900â&#x20AC;&#x2122;s. This book began with a day of ravaging through the patient archives. 10394 written on the left tab of a manilla folder accompanied by JCRS was all Morris Cohn was to me at first. As I read through the documents contained in the folder I realized what Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2DC;d stumbled upon. Morris Young was my great grandfather. Much like Morris Cohn, He immigrated to the United States from Russia. With the help of my grandfather Leonard Savitt, we were able to fill in the details that the archive could not. This story is about what lies behind the red white and blue. It's about a dream.

the Morris Cohn was born in a small town about 40 miles from Kiev, a middle size city in Russia. Whenever we asked him where he came from, he always would reply,

law â&#x20AC;&#x153;I amof

KI-E V , enRUSSIA.â&#x20AC;? But anyone who knew suspected Morris, or Moisha, as he was commonly called, never lived in Kiev. The law during the early 1900 was that a Jew was never allowed to live in a metropolis like that. But rather all Jewish communities existed in small towns around the city.

During this era there were serious anti-semitic movements all over Russia and Poland. The great â&#x20AC;&#x153;Pogromsâ&#x20AC;? of the era were weekly occurrence.

Bands of anti-semitic gangs roamed the small towns, and harassed the Jewish communities.


&THUGS would cause chaos

in what might have been a quiet Jewish community.

Generally life became unbearable, in that a Jew could never get a job in a public or city government, large companies would openly refuse

to hire a Jew and there was little option for Jewish people to make a living. Even schools prohibited attendance by Jewish kids. The Jewish community was forced to fend for itself.

Jewish children were educated but strictly in religious Jewish schools called â&#x20AC;&#x153;chedersâ&#x20AC;? and most Jewish breadwinners provided a living by starting small business enterprises to eke out a living on their own.

It was not uncommon to find a small clothing store, a shoemaker, a bicycle repair store, a bakery all owned by the local Jews in town.

es the risks of a business or enterprise

Main Entry: en·tre·pre·neur n Pronunciation: \,ä -trə-p(r)ə-'n ə r, -'n(y)u̇r Function: noun Etymology: French, from Old French : one who organizes, manages, and assum es the risks of a business or enterprise

Main Entry: en·tre·pre·neur n Pronunciation: \,ä -trə-p(r)ə-'n ə r, -'n(y)u̇r Function: noun Etymology: French, from Old French : one who organizes, manages, and assum es the risks of a business or enterprise

Main Entry: en·tre·pre·neur Pronunciation: \,än-trə-p(r)ə-'n ə r, -'n(y)u̇r Function: noun Etymology: French, from Old French : one who organizes, manages, and assum

Main Entry: en·tre·pre·neur Pronunciation: \,än-trə-p(r)ə-'n ə r, -'n(y)u̇r Function: noun Etymology: French, from Old French : one who organizes, manages, and assu


mes the risks of a business or enterprise L earning to enterprise was a special ability for

Main Entry: en·tre·pre·neur Pronunciation: \,än-trə-p(r)ə-'n ə r, -'n(y)u̇r Function: noun Etymology: French, from Old French : one who organizes, manages, and assu the Jewish population, knowing that they could


never get a job. The future was pretty dismal.

The only hope for most Jewish families was that

if they could get someone to sponsor them in the United States, they would save their money, and

the husband would buy one ticket steerage, mes the risks of a business or inenterprise

Main Entry: en·tre·pre·neur Pronunciation: \,än-trə-p(r)ə-'n ə r, -'n(y)u̇r Function: noun Etymology: French, from Old French : one who organizes, manages, and assu


(the cheapest level in a boat) and leave to the US, with a specific plan that when he saved enough

money, he would send for his wife so they could start to live a better life.

mes the risks of a business or enterprise

And so it was wıth Moisha Cohn, the son of a local rabbı ın the town. Hıs wıfe Ida, whıle very sad on learnıng that Moısha’s uncle Max, ın Chıcago, agreed to send hım some money and accept responsıbılıty for hım, they belıeved and prayed that theır dream would be fulfılled...

And so, at the age of 27, Moısha Cohn left hıs small town and took a traın from Russıa. He kıssed Ida and hıs two ınfant daughters, Ceıl and Rose goodbye, traveled, thru Poland and south to a port cıty ın Yugoslavıa and set saıl to Amerıcan.

Morris arrived in NewYork with only $35 in his pocket, a small black satchel,

a change of clothes, a ticket to Chicago,

and a dream. He arrived in Chicago

where Max was waiting at the station. It was a godsend that a friendly face was there to greet him, although he had never seen him before. Max was Morrisâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s uncleâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s oldest son.

They had come here in 1897 also in an attempt to escape the miserable life they lived. Max lead Morris to a local street corner, caught a streetcar, paid the four cents for each of them, and went home.

Morris had never seen such a maze of humanity,

apartment buildings, stores, traffic with horses, and bicycles filling the streets. â&#x20AC;&#x153;Finally,â&#x20AC;? Morris thought as they got off the streetcar. Max led him three blocks to Morgan Street and up three flights of stairs to a small apartment. Max, his wife Pearl, and their two small daughters lived in this two-bedroom apartment. Max showed Morris to his bed, which was in the living room. They had a small pullout bed, or studio couch as it was known, that opened up at night to a bed.

Although this was nothıng lıke Morrıs had dreamt he would arrıve to, he offıcıally lived hıs fırst day of the Amerıcan lıfestyle.


“Tomo “Tomorrow” Max said, “ I will take

work every day from

you to work with me

8 in the morning until

and try to arrange for

7:30 at night, with only a

a regular job for you.”

half hour off for lunch.

So it was, Morris’

Even Saturday for a half

first job was in a

day. He would receive a

sweatshop. He would

salary of $14. 00 a week.

be taught to cut fabric

Morris set aside $2.50 of

for dresses, he would

it for Pearl,


orrowâ&#x20AC;? Maxâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s wife, who provided dinner for him every night. He also set aside $2.50 a week for Ida, so some day she and her daughters could join him in America. The rest was for transportation and expenses during the week. Although Morris knew, it was not the road to wealth, at least he was independent, making his own way. With a promise of a future.

And so it was that Morris started his new life. That is except that every moment of the day that he could dream, he wished for the day that Ida could join him, and that maybe, maybe he could have a business of his own.

After two and a half years. Morris had accumulated enough to buy the cheapest ticket for Ida and the two girls and went about arranging for them to come here. At the same time he heard about a little town, Rock Island, about two hours south of Chicago that he could rent a small store, pay only $65 a month rent, and open up his own business. Morris spent every moment of every day, waiting for Ida to arrive, and for them to go to Rock Island to see the small vacant store.

Praised be You, Eternal our God, Ruler of the universe, who has kept us alive, sustained us and permitted us to reach this day.


Molih Klm vnyhla H hta Kvr [Nma] :hzh Nmzl vniyghv vnmyqv vnychw

Fınally I have reached fulfıllment of my dreams. Only four years ın thıs wonderful Amerıca and I am a busıness owner. No more a prısoner of a despotıc polıtıc system or the slave to a mıserable, heartless boss. Now I can realıze my own dreams, be my own person, and provıde the lıfe I have always dreamt of for my famıly.

With a $1500 loan from Uncle Max, a $1000 loan from the local bank in Rock Island and only a signature to seal a three year lease for 613 9th street, Rock Island, Morris opened up his small shoe store and upstairs he rented the two bedroom apartment so he could live and work at the same place: avoid any unnecessary expense. Two or three manufacturers and a couple of small jobbers were willing to extend limited credit to the newly established Cohn Shoes.

As Morris unpacked the first few cartons of shoes and stacked the shelves, he enjoyed moments of absolute delirium at the prospects of his new life. “ Who would believe that this day would finally come? “ My wife Ida was behind the counter, with $25.00 of small change for making sales and I, with my apron to look like the ‘successful entrepreneur’.

When the first customer came in, looked around and picked a pair of shoes for $2.59 I felt like jumping into the sky, and after that a lady with a small child, then another and a man for a pair of sturdy work shoes. When the day was over, I walked over to Ida and asked, “So how did we do?” Ida, with a smile across her face, “Well, we started with $25.00 in cash and now I count $61.80. A net gain of $36.80. Not bad, huh, Morris.”

And so it was that Morris reached the

would stop by the local synagogue when

beginning of his dream. The following year

at least ten men would meet and say their

they were blessed with their third child,

daily prayers. “In the back of my mind,

Howard. Rock Island was good for Morris

I knew, that without Hashem’s help,

and Ida. Not only did they work hard and

I would never reach this day” After a

develop a loyal trade, but also little by little

short service Morris would have his daily

they made friends in town. Germans, Irish,

libation, say L’Chaim (to life) and start his

Jews and African-Americans, all settled in

regular routine. “My business is growing

distinct neighborhoods. Morris met a few

by leaps and bounds,” he boasted. Only

more Jewish families who lived near by and

one other shoe shop in town, and he is a

they decided to start a small synagogue

far-shloffener (asleep at the wheel) so

in a vacant storefront. It was not long

I can run promotions, give a coupon

before Morris knew that “he belonged.”

once in a while, make a donation to

His friends came to him for advice. He

local organizations including the local

walked into the bank and said Hello to the

churches, and continue to grow my

president, and marched up and down 9th

business.” It wasn’t long before Morris

street looking straightforward like a man of

was able to reach $50,000 of sales volume

“importance” Within a few years, Morris

in one year. “For that I am proud, but

even had a small savings account. “A man

not half as proud as I am of my family.

needs to save for the future, doesn’t he?”

After Ceil and Rose, then Howard, my

He remarked to his Ida one day. “I have

first American born child, and finally my

been blessed,” said Morris, each and every

Abie. A growing business, a beautiful wife

day that he got up to work, every day he

and family, what else could I ask for?”

“In 1919, America was struck with a world war.” Morris was terrified what the future would bring, “ I hope I don’t have to go to the army. After all I am already 41 years old. I have a business, a growing family, a mortgage on my house, and a bundle on my plate. Thank God, I was not called but Rock Island was not the same after that. Many of our young boys were called to fight, many of the factories that were producing consumer goods were required to retool and make items for the war. A shoe factory stopped manufacturing shoes, and made marching boots for the army. The local clothing factory was making uniforms. A tool and die shop in town was making parts for weapons. Much of the merchandise I need was just not available. My customers were coming into the store, asking for simple items, but I had to tell them they were not available. Who would have believed that I had the customers, but did not have the merchandise!“

For Morris, it was heartbreaking, not only for his business, but for his love of the country; that they should be so overwhelmed with a world war. â&#x20AC;&#x153;I thought I escaped from these problems. But I guess they follow you wherever you go. But, of course, why should I complain, look where I was and look where I am now.â&#x20AC;?

The war came to an end in four years. Life in Rock Island started to come back. In fact with the return of the soldiers, and the return of the factories to normal production, business was experiencing a post-war boom. “The town was burgeoning with new business, the factories were over loaded with orders, and money was available to spend” A pair of boots that were $1.59 were now up 40% to $2.19. And Morris’ sales volume was growing, as was his savings. Morris was now able to treat his family to their own car, a 1921 4 door Packard, green with matching seats inside.

I remember when I drove that new car home the first time, I pulled up in front of the house, honked the horn, Ida looked out the window, and shrieked. She came running out followed by Ceil, Rose, Howard, and even Little Abie. Everyone wanted to get in the car and go for a ride. I got back behind the wheel. Put on my driving glasses, my over coat, and started up the car. Everyone screamed with joy. I drove them from my house, right through town, down 9th street, past my store, and right over to Freilich’s Ice Cream Emporium. The choice

is yours,” Morris proudly shouted, “pick whatever you want and don't look at the price.” It was a moment I shall never forget. The sheer happiness of my whole family, and the pride that I felt." The next few years were the greatest prosperity this country has every seen. From the end of the war, 1923, to 1929, everything went right. The price of homes and property were skyrocketing. People knew a new investment, the New York Stock Exchange. I remember buying General electric stock. I paid $9.70 in 1924 and two years later it was over $14.00, an increase of over 30%.”

I learned the American Way, invest your money, and let your money make money.

Morris watched his business, but in every spare moment, Morris watched the stock market.â&#x20AC;? He never stopped talking about the companies heâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;d be watching.

Their share cost, and their prospects. “We have to be aware of what is going on around us, “ Morris said, “because America has gold on the streets for the taking, and I want to be a part of that prosperity” “because America has gold on the streets for the taking, and I want to be a part of that prosperity”

That was until that prosperity was totally overblown, abused, and came to a screaming halt. In 1929, the market experienced Black Monday.

A catastrophic crash in the New York Stock Market. Overnight stocks lost 40% to 60% of their value. People who had bought real estate at over valued prices, with hardly no money down, and stocks on margin, were wiped out overnight. The lost of stock market value and the ownerâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s inability to come up with the margin requirement lost all, and with the turn in the economy, everyone across the country was affected.

“I never saw anything like it,” Mor ris muttered, “Union men out of work, long lines ever y morning hoping for just a days wages, people’s homes foreclosed on. Even debtors unable to pay, it was like a curse hit the American economy.

“ Of course, now I had the merchandise, I had the business, but the customers didn’t have the money.

In order to keep my business, I had to give shoes to my customers on credit. A dollar down, and 25 cents a week. My cash flow went down to nothing, my debts were rising, and my stock market holdings vanished. Who would have believed that it could happen? And as a result of this chaos and sanitar y conditions, my health was no longer perfect.”

Nishtu gedacht First my doctor told me that I had a high sugar

count, with signs of Diabetes. Then the worry and

fears started to affect my sleeping; I was obsessed with the future. Worst thing of all, I started to get pains in my chest. Nishtu

gedacht, God forbid. It

wasnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t long until I rose every morning with a dozen pills to remediate the health problems.

Chap nit

“Chap nit, you have to let up a little, “ Ida hollered. “Money is not everything in life.” Morris knew that she was right but it was not easy to let all that he had built go by the wayside. Ida came to the store in the afternoon so Morris could go home a little earlier and take a rest. All of the kids came in after school so that they could help. It is not my business,” Morris would say, “it is our business. It is what makes our life comfortable. And after I am gone, you kids can take over the business, with Hashem’s will, it will provide for you and your family, like it provides for mine, it is our [Golden Cow].”

President Roosevelt was elected in 1932 after three years of the worst economic problems in recent history. Everyone looked to him with a dream for a better life, and a change from what had happened. He promised change, people believed in him, and when election time came he was elected.

As Morris hoped, the economy did start to pick up as a result of many of Rooseveltâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s programs, but Morrisâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s health did not improve. His symptoms become more common and were appropriately diagnosed as the White Death. In fact, in the next few months, Morris was required to let go of many of his responsibilities. Doctors told him emphatically that he must relocate to a sanitarium at once.

It was as though someone pulled the rug out from under me. Ida and I often stayed up late into the night discussing how we would afford such treatment.

A good friend of mine from the Jewish National Workerâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Alliance, Mr. Louis Segal, mentioned that there was a free of charge sanitarium in Colorado, and that his father had planed on going there. His father had passed the night before last, merely a statistic of the times.

He told me his father was to go to a Sanıtarıum ın Lıberty, New York, through the Workmen’s Allıance called Workmen’s Cırcle Sanıtarıum. It was paıd for already and they wouldn’t know the dıfference.

He was offering me his fatherâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s place.

I was astonished.

A flash back of the humanity I had experienced my first day in America rushed back to me. I spoke with Ida that night and we decided it was best.

I arrived at the sanitarium on March 25th 1935 with a short-term lease. Working with the Workmenâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Alliance Branch 66 of Rock Island Morris was able to migrate with a few fellow patients to Colorado to the Jewish Consumptive Relief Society. They checked out on June 35, 1936 and set out on their journey.

Morris and his companions checked into the JCRS on July 8th, but the travels were hard on his frail body. Morris was now losing the will to fight as he once had, and often found himself grasping onto his faith as tightly as the dye to his fingers from the shoes he not so long ago fashioned. The summer was dry with most harsh weather seeming to split south of the property. Time crept ever so slowly, no hustle and bustle of a rich commerce and city but rather cattle lazily grazing the fields, the chewing and rechewing of its cud, and the occasional vehicle heading west along Colfax Ave.

“Summer came and went as the afternoon rains would. I remember being warned of the winter. People telling me, “I better get a coat and boots,” they said, “When it snowed the west becomes a wall of ice reaching to the heavens.”

When winter came it became very apparent they hadnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t been to Chicago. Though it snowed quite a bit that winter and the next, days were still, and clear.

The sun would burn my skin when I stayed out too long but they said that was the medicine. The sun, believe that, even the air. If you ask me, it lacked substance but I’m grateful for my friends, and the secretary who delivers my correspondences. I don’t regret coming here, but I often wonder what will become of Rock Island, my home, my family, and my dream.

May the great name of God be exalted and sanctified, throughout the world, which he has created according to his will. May his Kingship be established in your lifetime and in your days, and in the lifetime of the entire household of Israel, swiftly and in the near future; and say, Amen. May his great name be blessed, forever and ever. Blessed, praised, glorified, exalted, extolled, honored elevated and lauded be the Name of the holy one, Blessed is he above and beyond any blessings and hymns, Praises and consolations which are uttered in the world; and say Amen. May there be abundant peace from Heaven, and life, upon us and upon all Israel; and say, Amen. He who makes peace in his high holy places, may he bring peace upon us, and upon all Israel; and say Amen.


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M. Cohn and Son  

This is a story composed of two lives. Morris Cohn was a patient at the Jewish Consumptive Relief Society (JCRS), a free of charge turburcul...