On May 25, I did not want to go shopping, work in my yard or winnow the stack of newspapers and magazines piled atop my desk. It being Memorial Day, I wanted to honor the people who have helped me to live a free and fulfilling life.
Then I thought about a brief encounter that occurred about 25 years ago. After an elderly woman boarded a late afternoon bus at Kennedy Plaza and sat beside me, she remarked, “Are you studying the Spanish-American War Memorial?” Yes, I was admiring that idealized bronze figure of an infantryman holding a rifle, which had been designed by Theo Alice Kitson and manufactured in a large edition by Gorham. Erected by the United Spanish War Veterans, it has adorned the plaza since 1925.
The woman explained, “He reminds me of my father.” Until that moment, I had never considered that children of Spanish-American veterans were still living or that I might meet one. That this stranger would soon identify herself as the daughter of a Jewish veteran further boggled my mind.
Mrs. Solomon Israel Frumson proudly pointed out that perhaps I knew her nephew, Superior Court Judge Richard Israel, who had been Rhode Island’s first Jewish attorney general (from 1971 to 1975). Indeed, we were members of Temple Beth-El. She further explained that her father, Simon Israel, had resided in Millville, Massachusetts, where she was born.
On other occasions, when taking a bus to or from Kennedy Plaza, I bumped into Mrs. Frumson, who lived in the Wayland Manor. I learned eventually that she was a childless widow.
In 2003, when gathering photos for the anthology, “The Jews of Rhode Island,” which I coedited, I asked Richard Israel if he could try to dig up a photo of his great uncle, Simon Israel. He found a wonderful clipping from The Worcester Telegram & Gazette, from about 1930, which showed a Decoration Day parade on Woonsocket’s Main Street. Simon was carrying an American flag, as he and his uniformed unit marched past Harris Fellman’s and Samuel Kameroff’s jewelry stores. The photo was published in the anthology the following year, when, coincidentally, Eva died.
Through the miracle of the Mormon Church’s website, Ancestry.com, I soon found a one-sentence story about Simon Israel in the July 17, 1945, issue of The Lowell Sun, which noted his death, at 73 years of age, in a Woonsocket hospital. He was recognized as “the only surviving Spanish-American war veteran in Millville.” Another Jewish veteran, Simon Greenberg (1878-1947), who spent most of his adult life in Providence, had also probably served with a Massachusetts regiment.
The 1910 federal census shows that Simon, 36 years of age, was living with his family in Millville Village, then actually part of the town of Blackstone. A clothing salesman, he resided at 54 Main St. with his wife, Ethel, 29, and their children: Cyril, 11; Fred (Richard’s father), 7; and Eva, 1, all of whom had been born in Massachusetts.
The 1930 federal census shows that Simon and Ethel’s home at 42 Central St. in Millville was valued at $15,000. He and she had been born in Poland, and their native tongue was “Jewish.” He was still a “merchant” in a clothing store, but their two sons had departed. Eva, 21, a high school teacher, still lived at home. After Ethel died in 1949, she was buried beside her husband in B’nai Israel’s cemetery on Mendon Road in Woonsocket.
As for Simon’s enlistment, he no doubt had been eager to demonstrate his patriotism (more than his hatred of Spain and its empire). He became a private in Company A of Massachusetts’s Second Volunteer Infantry, which consisted of 47 officers and 896 enlisted men. The regiment joined the Fifth (federal) Army at Framingham in May 1898 and arrived in Cuba with its Springfield rifles in mid-June.
Its most notable battle, on July 1, was for the town of El Caney, near Santiago in eastern Cuba. One officer and three enlisted men were killed before the town’s surrender, but four more soldiers of the Second Mass. died of their wounds.
Spain surrendered on Aug. 12, 1898, and the Second Mass. was mustered out in Springfield on Nov. 3. Two other regiments of the Massachusetts Infantry, the Sixth and Eighth, also fought in Cuba, as did more than 1,000 men with the First Rhode Island Infantry. Alas, it cannot be easily determined if any of these volunteers were Jews.
As for my bus friend, Eva Israel Frumson, I later discovered much about her in Brown University’s archives. A graduate of Uxbridge High School, she earned her bachelor’s degree cum laude at Pembroke in 1929. Initially a teacher of English and civics at Woonsocket Junior High (from 1929 to 1939), she taught public speaking and drama at Woonsocket High for three years. In 1942 Eva married Solomon Frumson, a rabbi’s son and a 1932 Tufts Medical School graduate, in a ceremony at her brother Cyril’s home, in Uxbridge. (Cyril became a physician, Fred a lawyer.) Eva became active in B’nai Israel’s sisterhood.
Solomon, who had a general practice in Woonsocket’s Stadium Building, served as a captain in the Army during World War II. For two years he was a surgeon in Italy and North Africa, but later took advanced training and became a psychiatrist. Eva became a member of the Women’s Auxiliary of the Veterans of Foreign Wars based on her father’s service in Cuba, however. She and Solomon lived in suburban Buffalo for much of the 1950s and ’60s before returning to Woonsocket.
Solomon died in 1979, and both are buried in B’nai Israel’s cemetery. An inscription on Eva’s grave identifies her as a “former teacher” at Woonsocket High who was “caring and dedicated.” Perhaps I too should be considered one of her students.
GEORGE GOODWIN is a member of Temple Beth-El.