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Make a Reservation on Freddie's Magical History Tour

November 3, 2005 By:
Jared Shelly, JE Feature
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Rabbi Fred Kazan enjoys a moment in the sun while guiding a group of men and women down Broad Street, in the old heart of Jewish Philly.
For many Philadelphians, a drive down North Broad Street is simply a way to get to work or travel into the city, but for Rabbi Fred Kazan, 72, it's a glimpse into Philadelphia's Jewish history.

By the time he had his Bar Mitzvah, Kazan had lived in South Philadelphia, Strawberry Mansion and West Oak Lane. Such experiences sparked a current interest in learning about the city's deep Jewish roots.

Armed with his vast knowledge of the city and its history, Kazan led "Philly With Freddie: A Magical History Trolley Tour" on Oct. 27.

About 25 people boarded a Philly Trolley Works vehicle, which started its voyage at Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel in Elkins Park and worked its way down Broad Street and into Center City.

Throughout the trip, Kazan, who for 20 years was the rabbi at Adath Israel in Merion Station, told stories about old-time Philadelphia.

At Broad and Diamond streets, the trolley pulled over while the group stared at a construction site where a McDonald's restaurant was being torn down. Although most travelers wouldn't notice it - let alone stop to take a look - the group reveled at the site because it brought back memories of Congregation Adath Jeshurun, the current Elkins Park institution that stood on the North Philly site from 1911 until 1957.

"What makes it interesting is that the participants in the tour [are] from the Northern suburbs," explained Kazan. "Many of them are members of the congregations that moved from North Philadelphia to Elkins Park."

Other points of interest along Broad Street included a building that took up an entire block near Lehigh Avenue. Kazan told the group that in its prime it belonged to Joseph H. Cohen, "the largest men's clothing manufacturer in the world." Its broken windows and fading green and white paint served as a grim reminder that a place that once employed countless Philadelphians before World War II was now a broken-down relic of the past.

Kazan then showed the group some of Broad Street's original brownstone buildings as the trolley inched its way toward the grand structures of Temple University.

"Who remembers Fisher's?" posed Kazan about the popular seafood restaurant that stood on the east side of Broad Street from the mid-1940s until the 1980s. "How many stood in line on Sundays?"

In Good Shape?
Some members of the tour remembered the Philadelphia of years past, and shook their heads and chatted with one another when something Kazan said made them think about a popular store or eatery.

Others, like Dr. Richard Levine, were surprised at how much Jewish history exists in that part of town.

"Having driven [Route] 611, Old York Road and Broad Street about 500 times in the last 30 years, it has brought together the historical perspective and heritage of the city in a way that I have never understood," said Levine.

When the trolley turned East onto Girard Avenue, Kazan told the group of the countless commercial properties in the area that used to be run by Jews.

"Butchers were Jewish people. Chicken stores were [run by] Jewish people. Dry cleaners were [run by] Jewish people," he said.

On the corner of Girard Avenue and Seventh Street, Kazan pointed to what used to be the Ambassador Dairy Restaurant, a well-known kosher eatery. Now it looks more like a building struggling to remain standing: All the windows are boarded up, and the wood at the entrance looks like it's been rotting for years.

"You can see it's in good shape," the rabbi joked.

The trip - sponsored by the Friends of K.I.'s Temple Judea Museum - also made stops at B'nai Abraham, one of the oldest Orthodox synagogues in the city, and at Congregation Rodeph Shalom, where the group admired the Reform synagogue's newly renovated sanctuary.

Longtime Philadelphian Mimi Grimes enjoyed the tour with Kazan.

"He's got a sense of humor," she said. "He's knowledgeable about Philadelphia and about Jewish Philadelphia, so it's doubly interesting."

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