London's East End Synagogues, cemeteries and more......

My personal journey through the Jewish East End of London


Lithuanian Letter from America - a family's immigration experience

Helen Kaplan,(Jerry's mother) - photographed in Lithuania circa 1920My mother's maiden name was Elena Nochowitz.  In the US it became Helen.  She was one of 3 children (Meyer  & Bea), my grandmother's name was Etta, she was married to Shmul (Sam) Nochowitz.  Sam was able to leave Lithuania around 1917-18.  Etta was pregnant (with my mother) at the time and wasn't allowed to buy a steamship ticket because they thought the child would be born at sea and have no nationality.  So she stayed behind.  In the mean time the U.S. enacted a quota system on immigration and it took another 12 years before Etta was allowed to join her husband.  By then he had settled in Chicago and was working as a clothing designer.  My mother arrived as a 12 year old just in time for the Great Depression.  At least they got out.  As far as I know all the remaining Lithuanian relatives were exterminated in the Holocaust.
I was born in Chicago in March of `44 to Isadore and Helen Kaplan.  Apparently the Kaplan side of the family arrived in the US when my grandfather David walked out of Russia in order to avoid conscription into the Czar's army.  It was not good to be a Jewish private while they were still conducting pogroms.
My dad became a distributor for Vienna Sausage, a hugely successful kosher style meat manufacturer founded in 1898 (began with a hot dog push cart at the World's Fair) by the Ladany family also from Lithuania.  They also produced a strictly kosher line of meat products that was sold under the "Wilno" brand name.  Wilno was just an Americanized way of saying Vilna.
I grew up on the west side of Chicago where the old world was still very much alive.  I never knew what a small minority we really were until much later in life. Maxwell street was known as Jew Town. There were seltzer bottles delivered to our back porch weekly.  Peddlers and junk collectors would travel through the alleys, often with a sing song chant of "Rags and old Iron"   The old men plaid Clobyosh in the card rooms with great relish.  It seemed every male smoked cigars or cigarettes. I heard more Yiddish than English.  There were small schuls on almost every block, and the cemeteries were owned by the schuls. Around the corner from my house were both the Theodore Herzl College and The Jewish Peoples Institute.  
When I became a little older I would spend summers helping my dad and his workers with deliveries to the hot dog stands, delicatessens, and little mom & pop grocery stores that were common in all the Jewish neighbourhoods around Chicago.  We'd deliver corned beef, briskets, salami, hot dogs, and even tongue by the barrel full. The shopkeepers called me "Little Izzie" and gave me treats galore.  I loved it.  Bar and Bat Mitzvahs became ever more ostentatious as economic prosperity accumulated among evermore Jewish families. It was a great time in America, particularly if you were Jewish.  Especially when you realized what had just happened at the hands of the Nazis

Helen's Lithuanian passport

Inside cover of Helen's Lithuanian pasport showing her 'real' name 'Elena Nochowitz'

Helen's USA visa stamped into her passport and dated 1928

Needless to say, I'm very proud of our Jewish culture.  It's an indelible part of me and while I consider myself an agnostic in my religious beliefs I can only be a Jew

I can share more if you like but that's plenty for now.  Be well, Jerry Kaplan, USA