The Strong Will of a Jewish Immigrant Woman

Submitted by Olivia Brown

Clara Kligerman Baker. Image courtesy of Larraine Lourie Moses

Clara Kligerman Baker. Image courtesy of Larraine Lourie Moses

How Clara Baker Served the Ward One Community Through Her Grocery Store

In 1912, Clara Kligerman and her younger sister, Esther, boarded a ship to New York City; the girls—who were seventeen and twelve years old, respectively—set sail for America, leaving behind their parents and nine other siblings in Nikolaev, Ukraine. While living with an aunt and uncle in New York, Clara met Frank Baker after a benefit show in the city. He lived with his father and brother in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, where he convinced Clara and Esther to visit (1). By 1917, the young couple had married and moved to Estill, South Carolina. It was after the Bakers relocated to Columbia that they opened an all-purpose grocery store at 931 Gates Street in 1926, right in the heart of the city’s African American community, a neighborhood known as Ward One (2).

Baker's Grocery, painted by Kathryn Baker Lotzoff. Image courtesy of Larraine Lourie Moses

Baker's Grocery, painted by Kathryn Baker Lotzoff. Image courtesy of Larraine Lourie Moses

As Jews in the South, the Bakers, like others in their community, had to decide to what extent they would embrace their Jewish culture and customs. Clara’s engagement with her Jewish heritage did not always align with her role as a business owner and operator in Columbia. The Bakers did not settle close to the synagogue or in a neighborhood with other Jewish immigrants. In fact, Clara and Frank Baker were one of very few non-black families on their block. By 1967, when Clara Baker sold the store to Oscar Shealy, a long-time employee, Baker’s Grocery had become a respected and valued part of its surrounding community. 

Though Baker’s Grocery is listed under Frank Baker’s ownership, Clara truly ran the business on a daily basis. Her steadfast dedication to the store is remembered most by family and friends. John Bell, a long-time customer at Baker’s and close family friend, described Clara Baker as “one of the hardest working women you’ve ever seen in your life,” working 12 to 15 hour days at the grocery.(3) She opened the store early and closed it late so as to better serve the needs of her customers. 

It was the relationships Clara built with her clientele that made her a well-known figure in Ward One. Though she was a white, Jewish woman serving an almost exclusively African American customer base, she was neither marginalized nor taken advantage of. Through 41 years of reliable service, relationship building, and the generous lending of credit to those in need, she became a protected and respected member of her community.  

A quick look around Baker’s Grocery and a customer might see a section of fresh produce with onions, collards, and turnip greens; milk and butter, along with eggs bought from an elderly woman in the neighborhood; dry goods, like tobacco, medicine, and assorted clothing items; and, a meat counter—the most important factor in discerning who may or may not purchasing from Baker’s—which advertised a slew of non-kosher meats, including ham hocks, pig ears, and pickled pigs’ feet. Though Clara Baker’s grocery was not selling kashrut (kosher) food or ingredients commonly used in Jewish dishes, the Baker family was still very familiar with old world food traditions, often making borscht, strudel, and homemade dill pickles at home for her family. (4)

Clara Baker at the home of her daughter, Toby Baker Lourie, in the 1960s. Image courtesy of Larraine Lourie Moses

Clara Baker at the home of her daughter, Toby Baker Lourie, in the 1960s. Image courtesy of Larraine Lourie Moses

The hard-working attitude of Clara Baker shows the commitment many Jewish immigrants had to the businesses they established and the opportunities they had been given upon arrival in the United States. Though Clara did not push her family to eat and serve kosher food, she was still cooking traditional dishes from her eastern European background and expressing her Jewish cultural heritage at home, while asserting her entrepreneurial dedication at the store.

Notes:

1. Hyman Baker (or Chaim Becker), Frank Baker’s father, came to America from Zabludow, Poland, which was roughly 17 miles from Bialystock, in 1883. The family settled in New York originally, but in 1887 moved to Charleston where they had relatives and knew others from Bialystock, including the Firetag, Krawcheck, Sharnoff, and Pearlstine families. This information came from family Kligman/Baker family members Lyssa Kligman Harvey and Susan Brill. 

2.Laurie Baker Walden, “A March Through Time: Baker and Kligman Family Roots,” September 1999. This source is a collection of family memories compiled over a number of years, though the timeframe is unknown. It is believed that these memories were collected as an informal family oral history, but after putting them together Walden sent the document to Historic Columbia’s Jewish Heritage Initiative for use in their research. 

3. Walden, “A March Through Time: Baker and Kligman Family Roots.” 

4. Ellen Henderson, “Clara Kligerman Baker: Personal Remembrances of Her Life,” December 21, 1974. 

Olivia Brown is a Master’s student in Public History at the University of South Carolina. 

Instagram: @_oliviabrown, Twitter: @_ombrown

Rivkin’s Grocery & Delicatessen

Submitted by Olivia Brown

 

Smoked Salmon, Corned Beef, Kosher Dills:  An Introduction to the Food and Tradition of Rivkin’s Grocery & Delicatessen

Jacob Rivkin and his wife, Tama, arrived in Columbia, South Carolina in 1906 with three children in tow—Raphael, Sarah and Caba. As Russian immigrants, Jacob and Tama came to the United States for the same reasons as many others: to escape persecution and to embrace opportunity. By 1912, the Rivkins had a fourth child, Lewis, and Jacob had started his own business. Rivkin’s Grocery opened at 1012 Lady Street, with the family living in an apartment built above the store. They served the surrounding community—a diverse mixture of Jews, immigrants of other faiths and African Americans.[1]

Jacob Rivkin took out his first advertisement in Columbia’s The State newspaper in 1921; it showed prices for fresh country eggs, flour, and sugar, and boasted, “We make a specialty of chickens. Give us a try and be convinced.” People were convinced, and by 1926, Rivkin’s Grocery was operating at three locations, each run by one of Jacob’s three sons: the original Lady Street location by Caba, a new location on Gates (Park) Street by Lewis, and a third location on Calhoun Street by Raphael.[2] Jacob’s ability to sustain three groceries around Columbia, and to put them in the hands of his children, proved that economic sustainability was both achievable and sustainable.

A 1929 advertisement for Rivkin’s lists imported foods that were favored by central and eastern European Jewish immigrants and have sincebecome associated with Jewish food culture. An advertisement from 1932 goes one step further, and explicitly advertises “Kosher Imported Delicatessens.”[3] By importing kosher food, Rivkin’s was providing a very specific service to the Jewish community designed to draw in Jewish clientele with promises of food products reminiscent of the old country that would meet their dietary requirements.

Treyf food did not make an appearance in Rivkin’s advertisements until Caba opened a deli location in Five Points in 1939. In a full-page advertisement for the grand opening, however, potential customers learned that in addition to kashrut favorites, they could now have southern favorites as well.[4] At Rivkin’s, a Jewish customer could order smoked whitefish on rye with a dill pickle, while his non-Jewish neighbor could select a barbecue ham sandwich with a cold Budweiser on the side.

When Jacob ran the family business there was more emphasis on serving the Jewish community and adhering to traditional foods that followed the rules of kashrut. His son, Caba’s, status as a second-generation immigrant instead allowed him to balance the cultures of the old with the new. By 1948, both locations of Rivkin’s Delicatessen had been sold to Harold “Groucho” Miller, who would grow his business into a southern deli franchise that continues into the present with 32 locations spanning both North and South Carolina. The legacy of the Southern Jewish deli lives on, even if Rivkin’s does not. 

 1.  “Columbia City Directories” (Columbia, SC, 1888 1927), vol. 1910, Richland Library Historical Collections; “Columbia City Directories,” vol. 1917.

2.   “Advertisement, Rivkin’s Grocery,” State, September 2, 1921; “Advertisement, Rivkin’s Grocery,” State, July 31, 1926. The Gates (Park) Street location of Rivkin’s Grocery sits only one block from Baker’s Grocery in Columbia’s Ward One neighborhood.

3.   “Advertisement, Rivkin’s Delicatessen,” State, December 7, 1929; “Advertisement, Rivkin’s Delicatessen,” State, January 17, 1932.

4.   “Advertisement, Rivkin’s Delicatessen,” State, February 16, 1939.

Olivia Brown is a graduate student in Public History at the University of South Carolina. She can be reached at Instagram: @_oliviabrown, Twitter: @_ombrown

Image Credits:

Rivkin Wedding 1920: Members of the Rivkin family wedding party, posed for an unidentified photographer in 1920. Front row, L to R: Lewis Rivkin (1907 - 2002), his father, Jacob (1876 - 1962), and grandfather Avram (1853 - 1920); bride Rachel Winter (1902 - 1984). Back row, L to R: Tamara Rivkin (1874 - 1938) and daughter, Sarah (1910 - 1994); Caba Earle Rivkin, flanked by twins, Bessie (1893 - 1971) and Celia (1893 - 1978); groom, Raphael Rivkin (1899 - 1987). The entire family immigrated from Russia more than a decade earlier, with the exception of Lewis, who was born in the United States after the family's arrival in 1907. Image courtesy of Special Collections, College of Charleston

Rivkin’s 1921: Advertisement for Jacob Rivkin’s Grocery, DATE. Reprinted from The State, September 2, 1921

Rivkin’s ad 1929: By 1929, Rivkin’s was advertising its “Kosher Imported Delicatessens.” Reprinted from The State, December 7, 1929

Rivkin’s ad 1932: Rivkin’s second deli opened at 619 Harden Street in 1932. In 1941, Harold “Groucho” Miller purchased the deli, and it became the first Groucho’s Deli location in Five Points. Reprinted from The State, January 17, 1932

Rivkin Family: Members of the Rivkin family, including Caba and his wife, Katie Roth Rivkin (second from left), pose in front of Rivkin’s Grocery & Deli on Lady Street, circa 1935. This location was also sold to Harold “Groucho” Miller. Image courtesy of Special Collections, College of Charleston

Rivkin store exterior: Marquee sign for Rivkin’s Delicatessen, 619 Harden Street. Image courtesy of Special Collections, College of Charleston

Rivkin store interior: Caba Rivkin photographed inside Rivkin’s Deli, 619 Harden Street, sometime in the 1930s. Image courtesy of Special Collections, College of Charleston