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Jewesses with Attitude

Meet Alma, JWA Summer Intern

As a summer intern with the Jewish Women’s Archive, I am delighted to join Jewesses with Attitude. This is only my second day at JWA, and I have already learned quite a bit from the people around me and the web content. Three different people have shown me where the coffee machine and the bathroom are located…I appreciate the warm welcome I have received and look forward to sharing what I can.

I am a twenty-something nomad, originally from Chicago, IL but moved to the East Coast for college; I graduated from Wellesley College in 2009 with a BA in Middle Eastern Studies and French. After graduation, I shipped off to Morocco for nine months researching Jewish history and culture there on a Fulbright grant. Since my return to Boston in May 2010, I taught Arabic through June and July and now, in August, I get to explore existing materials and create new materials for the JWA and this blog. In September I am moving to Los Angeles where I will start a Ph.D. program in Middle Eastern and Jewish History at UCLA.

Since the JWA is dedicated to recording the deeds and tales of remarkable Jewish American women, I will share with you a family story about a rust-belt bakery and a pair of immigrant sisters from Poland.

In May, just a week after I returned to the US from Morocco via Paris, my mother and I went on a road trip from Chicago to Youngstown, OH. As we drove through an endlessly redundant Midwestern landscape of flat green patches of land, factories and billboards, I photographed trucks, McDonald’s rest stop franchises, and strange, icy beverages flavored with something altogether unnatural known as “blue raspberry.” I drank in the world though the photographic eye of a foreigner, fascinated by my cultural surroundings.

The destination was Youngstown, OH, an old rust-belt town in the US and home to Schwebel’s bakery, and the occasion was the Goldberg family reunion. Schwebel’s bakery was founded by Joseph and Dora Schwebel in 1906. Joseph died in 1928, leaving Dora (maiden name Goldberg), as president and sole proprietor of the enterprise. Schwebel’s bakery widened its net of distribution, and ultimately became the successful family business that it was and remains today.

While Dora was a successful businesswoman, she had a certain male relative who was far less so. My great-grandfather, Jo Goldberg, is famous for maintaining at least two wives on two sides of the Atlantic: one was my great-grandmother in Buchach, Poland, and the other was from Chicago. With his wife in Poland, Jo fathered two children, my grandmother, Feiga, and her older sister.

It was Dora, not Jo, who generously paid for my grandmother’s and her sister’s tickets on a boat to Ellis Island out of Schwebel’s profits. Feiga, renamed Sandra upon arrival to the US in the early 1930s, and her sister bopped from relative to relative until they wound up in Youngstown under the care of Dora Schwebel. Their sojourn in Youngstown did not last long; ultimately, my grandmother and her sister moved west to Los Angeles where they established families and roots.

The Goldberg reunion in Youngstown brought together people descended from the Goldbergs and Schwebels who had the bakery and Dora in common. This year marked the first time that a significant cohort came from the Jo Goldberg branch, the notoriously irresponsible father whose ill deeds were remedied by the notoriously responsible Dora. Over the weekend, we saw a family tree that stretched the length of three picnic tables in a barn house, toured the factory that started it all, found the graves of Jo Goldberg and the Schwebels, and met the current generation of kind and generous Youngstown Schwebels. We traded stories and took a blinding array of commemorative photographs.

On the drive back to Chicago, there was much to think about. Dora Schwebel is a Jewish American woman worthy of note on this site, as are my grandmother, her sister, my mother, and the other women whose lives were made possible by a Jewish business woman’s generosity in Youngstown, OH.

Thank you for having me and I look forward to writing more!

Alma Heckman
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Alma Heckman, JWA Summer Intern 2010
Sandra Pettler (born Feiga Goldberg)
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Sandra Pettler, (born Feiga Goldberg) is Alma Heckman's grandmother. Photo courtesy of Alma Heckman.

How to cite this page

Heckman, Alma. "Meet Alma, JWA Summer Intern." 9 August 2010. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on September 1, 2014) <http://jwa.org/blog/meet-alma>.

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