Nathan Rosenstein

Name: Rosenstein, Nathan 3/05/1877-12/27/1935

Family: Wife, Mary, children, Ricky, Florence, Eva, and Abe. A fifth child died at an early age and was buried in an unmarked grave.

Nathan and his wife, Mary both came from Zuromin, Poland, and settled in New York. Both had the same last name; Robert, their grandson, says that perhaps they were cousins of some kind, but again they arenít sure.

Nathan was in a public school in Poland, his father ran an inn. Another family paid more money to get their child in the school and Nathan got kicked out. So Nathanís dad had family in England and they gave him money to go to England, and he stayed there a while and then went to New York, according to Robert. He doesnít know Maryís route; doesnít know whether they were married in the U.S. or abroad.

In New York he tried several jobs in New York City, but moved to Durham in 1904, after he was told that with his gift of gab he could sell glasses. He became an optometrist with an office was on Main Street. But his larger role was as a spokesman for the Jewish community.

Though English was his second language, he spoke without an accent and developed excellent relationships with Jewish and non-Jewish community leaders, according to Jewish historian Leonard Rogoff. One year after arriving in Durham he founded the Society for the Relief of Strangers.

In addition to running his practice and investing in land and homes (he bought 43 plots of land between 1911 and 1935), Rosenstein served on many community and professional boards. He was president of the Optical Society of North Carolina and a director and stockholder in Carrís First National Bank. This was especially significant as Jewish merchants often found it hard to obtain a loan.

Rosenstein was very dedicated to the Jewish community. He was the first president of the earliest Bínai Bírith lodge which is now called the Nathan Rosenstein Lodge. During World War I, he led efforts to raise money for European Jews suffering from the effects of the war.

But he may be best remembered for raising money for the new, 5,000-square-foot limestone and textured brick synagogue at the corner of Queen and Holloway streets. Rosenstein solicited large donations from among his wealthier Christian friends. When the new Beth El Synagogue opened in 1921, Rosenstein became its president.

He also represented the Jewish community to the city. Rosenstein was one of the co-chairs of a synagogue committee that helped raise funds for a new Watts Hospital. He also helped Jews confront anti-Semitism. When a Baptist preacher delivered anti-Semitic sermons, Rosenstein talked to a non-Jewish friend and the two approached the preacher and convinced him to tone down his rhetoric. He also persuaded the publisher of The Durham Morning Herald to end its practice of identifying lawbreakers as Jews.

Rosenstein lost much of his money in the Depression. He invested his lifeís savings in First National Bank stock and when the bank failed, he was wiped out. His daughter, Ricky Rosenstein Lewin, remembered her father coming home from a bank meeting, sitting on the steps and sobbing, ďEverything I have is gone except my friends.Ē

Nevertheless, he remained active. In 1935 he formed a menís chapter of Mizrachi, an orthodox Zionist organization.

Rosenstein was strict in his observance. Following one first night of Passover, he woke up in the middle of the night, realizing he had made a mistake in the Seder and immediately called everyone together to redo the Seder from that point forward.

It was a horrible winter when Nathan died, and the casket were put in the library of the home on Cleveland Street because the ground was frozen. They had to have a city bus with chains to pick people up to go to the funeral. Abe told the gravediggers to pour kerosense on the ground and light it so they could thaw out the ground and dig the grave.

All his children were strong minded and devoted. His son Abe was engaged for seven years to a non Jew but would not marry until his parents died.

There is a further testimony of the devotion of succeeding generations to the patriarch of this family. The practice that Nathan started in Durham in 1904 is still thriving and now is in its fourth generation. (Robert, his grandson, notes that Nathanís license was No. 4; Abeís was 90; Robertís was 888 and Robertís son Aaronís is 2,248.. The practice is now located on Duke Street but Robert saved and installed the old wooden door from 323 W. Main St., where his dadís office was originslly.