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Romance of a People: 1942

August 1942. "New York. Window of a Jewish religious shop on Broome Street." Photo by Marjory Collins for the Office of War Information. View full size.

August 1942. "New York. Window of a Jewish religious shop on Broome Street." Photo by Marjory Collins for the Office of War Information. View full size.


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Col Bo

"The five book boxed sets immediately behind her head read (it appears to me) 'Col Bo' - (roughly, Contains it All,or Everything In It)"

These are Machzorim (plural). A Machzor is a prayer book organized specifically for one holiday. The five Machzorim are:
Pesach (Passover), Succos (Tabernacles), Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), Rosh Hashana (New Year) and Shavuos. These books are still available. See

I wrote the names of the holidays, Succos and Shavuos in their Ashkenaz forms. Most Jews today would say Succot and Shavuot. In that store, though, they were pronounced as I wrote them :)

This is a terrific photo, and just about everything in there, with the exception of the "magic" powder, would be usable and make sense today.

Best. Watermark. Ever.

Nuff said!

Various Objects and Book Titles Identified, Explained

Aenthal, Nobody really used Hebrew in 1942. You prayed in Hebrew, of course, but you spoke and read in Yiddish, and then, in America, in English. The Hebrew revival in Palestine/The Land of Israel was small, obscure and far away from American consciousness at the time.

Immediately below the girl's face is a spice box for havdallah - the end of Shabbat ceremony on Saturday night. (That's probably also a second havdalla spice box just above the bottom of her hair to the right.)

To the left of the spice box is a Sefer Tehilim - Book of Psalms.

I do not recognize the book above and to the left of that, labeled in Hebrew letters "Shas Tehena"

Behind her forehead is a book that may be "Sefer Tikkun Olam" - the Book of Healing the World. (The letters are obscured by a Shabbat candlestick)

Hanging on the line to the right of the "I Citizen" pamphlet is a talit (prayer shawl). In front of it are candle sticks for Shabbat and holidays. More such candlesticks are scattered through the display. There is one 9 candle menorah for Hanukah with a Star of David in the center and two lions on either side of it.

At the top left hangs a fringed cloth that reads "Remember the Shabbat Day and Keep it Holy" and a seven branched menorah and lions and other mythological beasts. It might be intended as a cover for challah (bread) on the Shabbat table, but I'm not sure. The lower left hand corner, in a circle, appears to be an image of "The Tower of David" in Jerusalem, or might just represent Jerusalem more generally.

The five book boxed sets immediately behind her head read (it appears to me) "Col Bo" - (roughly, Contains it All,or Everything In It") I was unable to identify this series of books but the left most volume is labeled "Shavuot" (Festival of Weeks), and the second volume appears to say "Rosh HaShanna" (The New Year). Then comes "Yom Kippur" (Day of Atonement). Then comes Sukot (Festival of Tabernacles). Then comes "Pesach" (Passover.) It is probably a series of books of customs and laws for each of the big holidays.

I didn't know what the "Magic" was but if it is indeed a depilatory chemical the reason for it to be sold in a Jewish store is that traditional/orthodox Jewish men would be prohibited from taking a razor to their beards, but were/are permitted to remove hair by other (albeit painful) means. (These days electric shavers are OK too... for technical reasons to complex to get into here. Maybe they hadn't been invented yet in 1942? I'm not sure.)

In the bottom left corner of the window is a rounded object with a big handle - I wonder if that might be a Purim grogger - a loud rattle to shake and drown out Haman's name every time it read from the Book of Ester on Purim?

Seward Park Campus

The building with the funny roof in the window reflection was Seward Park High School. It is now the NYC school system's Seward Park Campus, housing several small High Schools, located at 350 Grand Street, lower Manhattan.

The unusual roof was for the rooftop gymnasium. It supported netting to keep balls from going off the roof.

Current pictures showing the roof superstructure can be seen here.

The Almanac is the clue

The Hebrew Almanacs in the window bear the imprint of M. Mirsky & Son. The 1940 Manhattan telephone Directory lists M. Mirsky & Son books at 68 Norfolk Street, GR5-8596. This is right at the intersection of Norfolk and Broome.

Jews 1942

I live in Europe (Poland) and I have one and only thought... God bless America... PS. this girl is nice. And watermark is nice, too.

Fast Forward

The book in the window, "The Romance of a People," was authored by the prolific Howard Fast. He also wrote the 1951 bestseller "Spartacus."

Fourth commandment

The Hebrew writing on the shiny piece of fabric with tassels at the top of the photo are the opening words of the fourth commandment: Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. The fabric is the cover for the ceremonial loaf of braided egg bread (challah), part of the ritual table on Friday evening.

We’ve seen this window before:

[Same store, but different windows. - Dave]

Indeed. And the objects in the different windows are way more similar than the buildings reflected in them.

Kozel nailed it

Yep, no doubt about it. If you wind the timeline in Streetview back, you can see the old building, and it's apparent that the odd-looking windows are skylights in the far building. Corner Store and the building to the left are no more.


We used to have a store up the street when I was a kid, the owner always had a Miss Budweiser sign in the window. It seemed like it was there my entire childhood.
One day I walked in to buy a drink and here was his cat sitting on the cutting board he used to cut his meat....

Howard Fast

Thanks to Bill for clarifying that the "Magic" on display is a toiletry and not a remnant of old world superstition.

Howard Fast wrote another history of the Jewish people about forty years after "Romance of a People". Specifically, it was a history of the Jewish people in the movie business. I find it particularly memorable because of its title: MAX

Hebrew and Yiddish

The books are both Hebrew and Yiddish. The book between the Magic Shave boxes is a Book of Psalms from the Hebrew Bible. The pamphlet hanging up by the "God Bless America" banner is entitled "A Citizen" and one would imagine it being a patriotic tract in Yiddish.

Magic shaving powder, by the way, was awful stuff. It contained sodium hydroxide (lye) with other ingredients to remove facial hair. Sort of like Nair or other products women use on their legs.

The "Hebrew" watermark is genius!

Probably the corner of Norfolk & Broome

That is now mostly a parking lot. That building you can see in the reflection where the top floor is open I remember as being on Broome & Essex. The building is surrounded in scaffolding in this street view.

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Corner Store

I tried to ID the location by flipping the image in the glass. There is a store called "Corner Store", which is pretty darn unhelpful, but it does tell us it's at a corner, and there are some distinctive buildings across the street. I looked around but couldn't find them. Maybe someone else will recognize them.

Thought Provoking

While the Jews in Europe were being exterminated by the Nazis those in America were free to practise their faith.

Another Creative Shorpy Watermark Logo

This picture's pseudo Hebrew Shorpy logo is just too funny.
You do a good job with those.

Odds are some, if not all, of the books are in Yiddish, which uses the Hebrew alphabet, rather than Hebrew.

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