Bess Fishman

b. 1909

Born in 1909 in East Baltimore, Bess Fishman's life has been shaped by family businesses, working first in her parents' grocery store and later with her husband. Steeped in her father's Zionism, Bess attended Hebrew school five days a week and had to complete her secular studies in night classes at Baltimore's City College after she left Eastern High School to care for her ailing father. After a whirlwind courtship in 1932, Bess married Al Fishman, a widower nine years her senior who had a young daughter, Eleanor. Bess and Al had two sons, Nelson and David, and their home became a center for festive family and holiday gatherings. Bess worked with Al in their sewing thread business, originally located on the first floor of their East Baltimore Street home. The business expanded and prospered through the years, adapting to the needs of the consumer and the times. After Al's death, Bess married Sam Savitz in 1983. On the board of Beth Tfiloh Congregation for over 50 years, Bess has served in a variety of leadership positions and acted as volunteer historian and archivist for its 60th anniversary celebration.

Scope and Content Note

Bess shares memories of the Baltimore neighborhood where she grew up, the synagogue she attended, and her family's apartment above their family grocery store.  She traces her family's history and her parents' and siblings' immigration to the United States.  Bess talks about her brother's involvement in the Jewish Legion during World War II, her father's illness and its impact on the family, and switching to night school because of her father's illness.  Her parents spoke Yiddish in the home, while the children spoke English.  After her father died, Bess helped her mother run the grocery store.  Bess discusses her Jewish observance, economic situation, attitude towards marriage, and various family influences, and how those things have changed throughout her life.  During the Great Depression, Bess met and married her first husband, Al Fishman, an older widower with a young daughter.  Bess describes her married life, living on Baltimore Street, starting a family, and juggling her commitments to work, family, and volunteering at the synagogue.  She reflects on her involvement in various Jewish organizations and the Zionist movement, sending her sons to Hebrew School, volunteering with Gordonia and Hadassah, being involved with the Beth T’filoh Sisterhood, visiting Israel, and celebrating the High Holidays.  

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How to cite this page

Oral History of Bess Fishman. Interviewed by Elaine Eff. 30 May 2001, 8 June 2001. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on May 20, 2024) <http://jwa.org/oralhistories/fishman-bess>.

Oral History of Bess Fishman by the Jewish Women's Archive is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at https://jwa.org/contact/OralHistory.