By Peter Becker
Adding to any community's heritage is its spiritual dimension. In Hawley this in part has been fulfilled by a rich Jewish component. Families early on, some immigrating from eastern Europe and other areas, settled here and made a lasting mark. Assisting with the observance of their precious traditions in the early to mid 20th Century was Meyer Krawitz. (Pronounced "Myer")
Krawitz, a native of Russia, lived from 1859 to 1951. He and his wife Mary lived at 516 Spring Street in Hawley, Learned in the Law of Moses, he held services on High Holy days and other special occasions for local Jewish families, in his front room.
His son Louis is recalled as the founder and owner of the long-time Krawitz Department Store at 309 Main Avenue, where today we find the Hawley office of The Dime Bank. Later known as the Hawley Department Store, this anchor business was one of several throughout Hawley's history of commerce founded and run by those of the Jewish faith.
Eugene "Art" Glantz, whose parents had a restaurant in the Joseph Skier building and now lives in Stroudsburg, recalled Meyer Krawitz well. He shared much of the information contained here.
The elder Mr. Krawitz and his wife Mary, in addition to Louis, were the parents of Harry and Simon Krawitz. We know that Louis was born at Lenen, Russia in 1888 and left for Scotland in 1897. He then immigrated to the United States in 1905 and five years later settled in Hawley.
Glantz stated that he did not know when Meyer Krawitz arrived in the US, but Louis came first and probably arranged to bring the rest of his family over.
Hawley street directories spelled his name as "Myer" Krawitz. In 1912 he and Mary lived on Church Street, near Academy, and was in the junk business; son Louis was a peddler. The 1925 directory has "Myer" and Mary living at 516 Spring Street. He lived in the downstairs apartment of the Krawitz home.
Glantz related some memories about Krawitz as a junk dealer. A letter from a Mrs. Knorr recorded that Meyer, with a white beard and black felt hat, drove a small horse and buckboard type wagon. He went around the countryside buying bones and old bottles. The bones were used to help make gelatin, for dried soup.
He also would buy a lot of rags. His grandson Gene Krawitz recalled that many times, people who sold
the rags would pack them in burlap bags and try to add to the weight by putting rocks in among the rags.
Services in his home
"He had a full beard and many people thought is was a rabbi," Glantz said. "I don't think this was so, that is, I don't think he was an ordained rabbi, but he was learned in the Jewish religion. It was not unusual for young boys in Europe to be trained in Judaic studies, but not everyone became a rabbi."
Glantz stated that despite his age, Meyer Krawitz was an excellent cantor.
"Despite his age and obvious infirmities, he led the services, read the Torah, and probably fasted on Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement). Anyone familiar with Orthodox Jewish tradition knows well the length those services run," Glantz said.
Bar Mitzvah, for boys when they reached the age of 13, was also observed here.
He said that the services followed the traditional Orthodox prayer services but they had no formal name or organization. He estimated that no more than 10 or 12 people attended any one service.
Glantz further recalled that Joseph Skier, who had a dry goods store downtown, shared in leading the services. Glantz was not sure when Mr. Krawitz was no longer able to lead the High Holy Day services. Mr. Skier died in 1946, and by that time, Glantz said, Mr. Krawitz was much too elderly and feeble to do what he did.
Concerning Hanukkah, Glantz stated that this festival was celebrated in their homes rather than at a special service. He recalled as a child, a special prayer that was added, the playing of the Dreidel top and eating potato pancakes and jelly donuts.
"I first met Mr. Krawitz when I was probably four or five years old and my family was living above my parents' restaurant at 227 Main Avenue. Mr. Krawitz came to our restaurant and began to instruct me in the Hebrew language "A-B-Cs"- the Alef, Beth...."
Art Glantz and his two cousins, Edwin (Itze) and Gene Krawitz were under the elder Mr. Krawitz's tutelage.
"Mr. Krawitz was a very great influence on my life and I'm sure on my two cousins as well," Glantz reflected. "We went to study with him nearly every day, after school."
On Saturdays, he would take the Torah from the Ark and read a portion of the week so Art and his cousins could learn the ritual. This was done despite the rule that a quorum of 10 people needed to be present.
Art and his cousins would often roll cigarettes for Mr. Krawitz. On one occasion, he said they must have put in too much paper and not enough tobacco. "When Itze lit the cigarette for his grandfather, the paper burned right up to Mr. Krawitz's beard and nearly set it on fire," Glantz said.
One day as teenagers- probably in the early 1940's- Art's cousins "went on strike" and skipped Hebrew class and went up the hill to Hawley High School. The elderly Mr. Krawitz, cane in hand, walked up Bellemonte Avenue (Route 6) and marched into the principal's office (Joe Jacobs). Mr. Krawitz apparently convinced Jacobs that the boys should come back to his Hebrew school. Jacobs had one of his sons persuade the two boys to go back to Mr. Krawitz's class.
The three boys went nearly every weekday after regular school to Mr. Krawitz's home for Hebrew class, and had an extended class on Saturday morning. Glantz said they probably didn't go on Friday afternoons since that was a time to prepare for the Sabbath.
Glantz stated that he never knew Meyer's wife Mary, who died in 1932. Meyer Krawitz died in 1951 at age 92 and was buried in Beth Israel cemetery in Honesdale.
Jewish families in Hawley
Art Glantz, who grew up in Hawley in the 1930's and 40's, listed Jewish families that he recalled living in Hawley when he was a boy, number of children and their livelihood.
• Mr. & Mrs. Louis Krawitz, 5 children living away - department store
• Mr. & Mrs. Simon Krawitz, 2 sons at home- Simon worked in the dept. store
• Meyer Krawitz- retired
• Mr. & Mrs. Joseph Skier, 1 son living away- dry goods store
• Mr. & Mrs. Adolph Glantz, 3 children at home- restaurant
• Mr. & Mrs. David Skier, 5 children (see below)- dry goods store
• Abram Skier, lived in Honesdale- insurance
• Ethel Skier - Hawley school teacher
• Myron Skier - in business with Abram
• Isadore Ellis Skier- drug store
• Mr. & Mrs. Sigmund Winter, 1 son at home- tailor
• Ella Wolle & Oscar Wolle (Oscar was not Jewish)- operated Hawley Inn
• Mr. & Mrs. Em Hirsch, 3 sons at home- jeweler & owned Trading Post
• Dora Hames, married to Hank Hames (not Jewish)- homemaker
• Milton Herman and Henry Marcus owned the Hawley Times for a while. Information on their families was not available.