DONAHUE: It's, uh, May 3rd, 2016, and my name is Arwen Donahue. I'm part of
the interviewing team for the Jewish Fund for Historical Excellence Oral History
Project, and I'm very pleased to welcome Harold Baker today to, uh, be
interviewed for our oral history project. Thank you so much for coming.
BAKER: Thank you.
DONAHUE: What is your full name?
BAKER: Harold Joseph Baker.
DONAHUE: And when--what is your date of birth?
BAKER: April 23rd, 1921.
DONAHUE: Were you born--where were you born?
BAKER: In Lexington, Good Samaritan Hospital.
DONAHUE: Okay. Can you tell me something about your family background? How
did your family come to the Kentucky--to the Bluegrass Region?
BAKER: Well, to go back originally, my father came from Poland, which was then
part of Russia, and uh, he came to this country in nineteen--uh, let's see, he
00:01:00was sixteen. He came in 1906, and uh, my mother's family came from, also what
was part of Russia, Lithuania, and they came to this country in 1900.
DONAHUE: Do you know the names of the towns where they had come from?
DONAHUE: And do you know what brought them to Lexington?
BAKER: I think, uh, that they had either relatives or friends who lived in this
area. My father originally came to Danville, Kentucky, and they settled with
his sister over there. And my mother originally lived in Centralia, Illinois,
and they had family here, so they also moved to Lexington.
DONAHUE: Did your family change its name when they came to the United States?
BAKER: I have no idea what the original name was.
BAKER: I just don't know it.
DONAHUE: Yeah, okay. And what were your--what was your father's name, and your
BAKER: Morris, and Ida.
DONAHUE: Okay. And what was your mother's maiden name?
BAKER: Wides, W-i-d-e-s.
DONAHUE: Okay. And, um, do you have siblings?
BAKER: I had two sisters, uh, both of who have died.
DONAHUE: What were their names?
BAKER: Gloria and Evelyn.
DONAHUE: Were they--what how--what were their ages relative to you?
BAKER: Both were six--I was the middle child, and the others were
six-and-a-half years older, and six-and-a-half years younger.
DONAHUE: Okay. I understand that the Baker family started recycling in 1921?
BAKER: It was called junk business then.
DONAHUE: Junk business.
BAKER: But, uh, uh, my dad, uh, recently had a store in Winchester, I believe,
and then, uh, gave that up and went in with his brother-in-the law, the scrap
business in Lexington, they bought a--uh, an old hemp factory, which was at
Seventh and Limestone. And they started the operation there.
DONAHUE: Was the business in Winchester, was that the--related to the Jake--to
the Joe Green family?
BAKER: Not that I know of.
BAKER: Now where's Joe Green from?
DONAHUE: Well, uh, Sylvia Green, his daughter-in-law, do you know Sylvia Green?
DONAHUE: She--she, um, immigrated after the war--after World War II to
00:04:00Kentucky, and she married Jake Green, and they settled in Winchester, and his
family had a dry goods store in Winchester--Jewish family who was involved with
a--uh, synagogue for a long time. I just was curious--
DONAHUE: --if they were connected with that business.
BAKER: Not that I know of.
DONAHUE: Okay. Um, so the junk business, and it was in an old hemp factory,
uh, did you work with that business as a child? Did you grow up kind of helping
BAKER: Uh, just listening to my mother and father talk, I wasn't involved with
the business in any way at that time, uh.
DONAHUE: What memories do you have of it? What was--what was the atmosphere
BAKER: Well, the, um, business had its ups and downs, and I knew when we were
going through depressed periods, but, uh, besides that, I really had very little
00:05:00contact as a youngster.
DONAHUE: What were your own hopes and dreams as a child?
BAKER: Well, I think the family just assumed, since I was the male, they just
assumed that I would go into the business, so they never had any indication of
going in any other direction. I did graduate from the university, and then went
into the business, although I graduated from university and went into the Army,
and then into the business.
DONAHUE: Um-hm. And, so you always knew when you were growing up that you
would somebody go into the business--
BAKER: Yes, I think so. It was just assumed, yes.
DONAHUE: And when you were studying at--at the university, what--what
university did you attend?
BAKER: I attended University of Kentucky, and I was in the commerce college.
DONAHUE: Um-hm. So you were preparing to take over the family business?
BAKER: Well I don't know if commerce college--
BAKER: --was much preparation, but I was headed in that direction, yeah.
DONAHUE: Okay. Tell me about your experience in the Army, did you--did you enlist?
BAKER: Well I--huh, I came through the university, and in the, um, late
thirties, and early forties, well I graduated in '42, and, uh, I realized that
we were going to war. I know the country didn't realize it, but, it was just
because of our history in '17, '18, and our closeness to England, that I felt
that we were going to war. So, um, I took advanced military, and so I came out
as a lieutenant, and, uh, uh, I eventually came out of the Army as a captain.
I'd been a captain for quite a while.
DONAHUE: Mm. Where did you serve?
BAKER: Uh, I served in Brazil. We had a national Army airline all over the
world, and we had a base in Brazil, Natal, Brazil, and uh, I went down there
and--uh, let's see, February of '43 and came home in April of '45. I was in
charge of a cargo warehouse. Uh, Natal was a jumping-off place for Africa. At
that time, this airline that the United States had flew from Florida to Brazil
00:08:00to Africa, and then to the Far East, and uh, so Natal was just one stopping
place along the way, although it was a really large base.
DONAHUE: Um-hm. And, did you know at that time what you were going to do after you--
BAKER: I assumed I was going into the, uh, business.
DONAHUE: Yeah. Can you describe returning to Lexington and getting into the business?
BAKER: Um, let's see, I have to think about this now. I got out of the Army in
April. Well, I--I had leave time, so it was stretched out until April. I
actually got out of the Army in January the 26th of '43. I mean, '45. And, uh,
00:09:00I married a week later.
DONAHUE: Wow. (laughs)
BAKER: Uh, I married Anita Roos, and uh, we went on our honeymoon, and uh, I
called home one day, and, "Mother said you better come home, dad's sick." And
so we drove back home, and, uh, I went into the business, since my dad died, I
think, and, uh, about ten days after I got there, March 13th.
DONAHUE: How--how did you meet your wife? Had you been courting her while you
were in the Army--
BAKER: Oh, huh, yeah. We, uh--I knew her from Sunday school. At that time,
00:10:00she was thirteen; I was fifteen. And we started dating on and off until we got married.
DONAHUE: How do you spell her last name? Her maiden name?
BAKER: R-o-o-s, Roos.
BAKER: Anita was--had a beautiful voice.
DONAHUE: You met in her in Sunday school, and you were dating on and off, and
was--was that, um--so when you went off to the Army, had you made a commitment
to one another?
BAKER: No, no. Neither way.
BAKER: When I came home--oh, came back to this country, I was stationed in,
uh--Kansas City, and I had a position in the Army that I had the right to go
00:11:00down to personnel and write my own orders, and I could fly any place I wanted to
in the country. So, uh, for three months, every month, I flew to New York. She
was living in New York in that time, and, uh, on the third trip, we became engaged.
DONAHUE: What was she doing in New York?
BAKER: Uh, she was taking music lessons, um, voice lessons, and then I think
she had a small job but it wasn't much.
DONAHUE: Um-hm. Was she--did she have a career as a musician?
BAKER: Um, after she came back to Lexington, she sang, uh, but, uh, primarily
00:12:00as a--as a wife and mother.
DONAHUE: How important was Judaism in your family growing up, and how did
you--how did you practice Judaism?
BAKER: Well, both mother and dad came from Orthodox backgrounds, and, uh, as
they lived in Lexington, they became less Orthodox, and at--as I was growing up,
they belonged to both the Reform and the temple--temple and the Orthodox
synagogue. And, uh, Anita's background was the temple, so, uh, after we
00:13:00married, it wasn't hard for us to start going to the temple. And actually, the
synagogue at that time did their services in Hebrew. And so, it was a question
of during the service that you went to, what page you were on, because you
couldn't--I couldn't follow the Hebrew, so we were both, uh, comfortable in the temple.
DONAHUE: So, do you know anything about the story of why your parents moved
away from Orthodox Judaism and towards Reform Judaism?
BAKER: Uh, I can't figure it out. They--that was the way they were. Uh, I
think they were more comfortable with less Orthodoxy.
DONAHUE: So you would go--what was your weekly routine as a--as a young person?
Would you go to both--to services at both the temple and the synagogue?
BAKER: Went to services as a youngster at the synagogue. Uh, as I said, I went
to the temple when I was about fourteen, and went to Sunday school at temple.
But, uh, as far as the High Holy Days services was concerned, I went to the synagogue.
DONAHUE: Did you have a bar mitzvah?
BAKER: I had a bar mitzvah, and that was really the turning point because
mother and dad want--wanted me to be a member of the synagogue, a part of the
synagogue family, until I was fourteen, I did. They wanted a bar mitzvah.
DONAHUE: Because at the--at the temple, there--they were not doing bar mitzvahs
at the time.
BAKER: They were not doing bar mitzvahs, that's correct.
DONAHUE: And were you happy to make that change to go to the temple?
BAKER: I went with the tide. Yes, I was very well satisfied.
DONAHUE: Was it--did you enjoy going to--to the temple for services? What did
it mean to you?
BAKER: Well, after Anita and I married, um, she sang in the choir, and, um--so
we usually went on Friday night. She went--and if I didn't, but I usually went
too, and, uh, temple life was very important to me. To us.
DONAHUE: What about friendships? Were most of your friends through--
BAKER: Most friends were Jews, that's right. I had some gentile friends, as
00:16:00Anita had some gentile friends. But the majority of our social life was Jewish.
DONAHUE: Where did you attend school?
BAKER: I went to, um--Ashland, then to, uh, University High, or what they
called it at the time, um, well--senior high was called University High, uh,
parked--it was, I can't recall the name of it, at that time. And, um--what was
DONAHUE: Where you went to school, did you--did I see something about Henry
Clay High School? Did you go to Henry Clay as well--
BAKER: I went to Henry Clay, yes, then I went to the University of Kentucky.
DONAHUE: Yeah. Yeah, I approached that question a little backwards, because we
talked about the University of Kentucky before we talked about your, uh, earlier education.
BAKER: Well, uh, I did very well at Henry Clay. I was very active in the
school activities. And, uh, I enjoyed Henry Clay. I was more involved in high
school than I was in college. I just went to classes in college. I didn't have
DONAHUE: What activities were you involved in?
BAKER: At Henry Clay? Oh, I was on the, uh--annual, that we put out. I was on
the High Times¸ which was the high school paper. Uh, I was in the, uh--um, in
00:18:00the, uh, what's called, student council. I just had a lot of activities in high school.
DONAHUE: Um-hm. Why do you think you were more involved in high school than
you were when you were in college?
BAKER: That, I can't answer. I don't know. It was just easier doing it in
high school. I wasn't a member of a fraternity, and I think, uh, if you were a
member of a fraternity, you fell into certain positions, or activities, and that
didn't happen with me.
DONAHUE: What was it like as a Jewish boy attending public schools in Lexington?
BAKER: Well I don't know that Jewish boys, made any difference. I think I was
just the average student.
DONAHUE: You didn't experience any anti-Semitism?
BAKER: I don't think so. Not--at that time, there was a certain feeling that
some people were anti-Semitic. And the family used to talk about this person,
or that person being anti-Semitic. But I didn't run into any of that.
DONAHUE: Did you have any kind of sense that you were in a--that you were
different than the--than the majority, and did that matter to you, if so?
BAKER: I don't think it mattered.
DONAHUE: Well, tell me more about the business, then. Go--go--
BAKER: --The scrap business--
DONAHUE: --getting back--getting back to your return from World War II in 1945,
and you discovered that your father had this--------(??)?
BAKER: Well, as a youngster--well I first I have to tell you that we were both
in the gasoline business and scrap business.
BAKER: My father, uh, his brother-in-law had started a, uh, wholesale gasoline
business. They were distributors for city service. So, I think it was always
my intention, or my father's intention, that when I went into the business, I'd
go into the gasoline business rather than the scrap business. So, uh, when he
died, we sold the gasoline business, and, uh, I was to run the scrap business,
see what I could do with it.
DONAHUE: What--what made you decide to sell the gasoline business?
BAKER: Well I--my mother's brothers came into town, and they were looking out
for her interest. And here I was, a youngster who had no business experience,
00:21:00except for over the summer vacation period, so, uh, they decided that it'd be
best for her that they sell the gasoline business and give me a crack at the
scrap business, that they did.
DONAHUE: So, you--your, was--do you think that the family's expectation was
that you'd have a chance after you returned from the war to spend time with your
father learning the ropes?
BAKER: No, I think it was my father's intention that I, uh, run the gasoline
business, that we'd grow that business, and, uh, so, it didn't work out that way.
DONAHUE: And was--just--was the economy better for the scrap business at that
point, or was--
BAKER: Well, the scrap business depended upon the steel mills to buy the scrap.
00:22:00And so, uh, the business cycle in the United States at that time was about
every four years, there'd be demand for scrap. Well, there was always demand
for scrap, but at times, it would drop down, the prices would drop very low, so
there was a cycle there, and so, uh, I--I worked--I figured it out, and I worked
it out, and it worked out fine.
DONAHUE: Did you enjoy the work?
BAKER: I did. Uh, I really enjoyed the business. I did well, and I enjoyed it.
DONAHUE: Can you describe to me what--what it was like, what--what your
day-to-day routine was, where you would get the metal?
BAKER: Well, until 1956, there was very little industry in this area, and so we
bought from the farmers, we bought from the garages. Uh, they would bring it in
to us, and, uh, uh--we would accumulate it, and ship out carloads, or railroad
carloads. After 1956, and IBM [International Business Machines Corporation]
came to town, and Square D came in train, and the whole area developed small
industrial plants, and any industrial plant that had their product metal, uh,
would have scrap, and so our business grew.
DONAHUE: And did you form relationships with--with the people who would--who
00:24:00would bring metal? Were there--were there certain clients who you had who you
would see regularly, or was it different people every day?
BAKER: Well, as far as after 1956, the industrial plants were important
customers because they were reducing the tonnages. But, uh, the, um--regular
truckers, some made a living out of it, that had routes, where they would go out
in certain parts of state and buy and then bring them to us. Uh others, uh,
just did occasionally. But we had certain, uh, customers that, uh, came in
DONAHUE: Now I've--I read, I think, that one person estimated that maybe as
00:25:00many as ninety percent of the owners of scrap metal businesses in the United
States were Jewish.
BAKER: They probably were, a big percentage.
DONAHUE: What--was that, uh, meaningful to you in any way, that it was a--
BAKER: --It wasn't meaningful, it, uh--I think that, um, when Jews came to this
country, uh, they were learning English, and, uh, they were looking for
businesses to get into, or ways to make a living, and it was easy to start a
scrap business, or what was called a junk business at that time. So, many Jews
were in the business, yes.
DONAHUE: I read that, uh, scrap metal, um, owner--business owner from Alabama
00:26:00would--said that, uh, he would look forward every year--his family would look
forward every year to conventions, scrap mental conventions, because it was like a--
BAKER: --Which is true--
DONAHUE: --big family reunion. (laughs)
BAKER: Well, for me, it was a--a learning experience. Here, I started out the
business without any background in the business. And when I went to the
conventions, and they would have, uh, ways of--of studying, and, uh, I learned
so much. And then, just by sitting down with other dealers, and learning and
hearing their experiences. And many of them were going through the same thing I
was, because at the time that I went into the business, all over the country,
young men were coming home to their family businesses, and coming to conventions
and meetings, learning, just as I was learning. So we had, uh, seminars, and
00:27:00uh, we had workshops, and we learned from each other.
DONAHUE: Were there social, uh, events there as well at the--at the
conventions, where people would--
BAKER: I think there was, um, social, yes.
DONAHUE: And did you--did you make use of those national networks, in your
business in any way?
BAKER: Oh, I think it was very helpful, very helpful. It was a learning
experience after--for me, and I think for many other young men throughout the country.
DONAHUE: Can you recall any--any stories, or particular experiences, or people
that you met that--that have stayed with you?
BAKER: No, I can't recall any stories. Uh, if you want me to tell you a little
00:28:00bit about the scrap business, I can.
DONAHUE: Absolutely, yeah.
BAKER: Um, we were buying scrap metal, both iron, copper, aluminum, and
non-ferrous metals, and uh, the consumers were the steel mills and the
refineries who were providing copper and aluminum, and, um, so it was a question
of--of finding sources, or finding outlets for your material, and, um--and they
would buy as they needed it. They were making new steel, making--refining
copper, the brasses, and, uh--it was quite a large business.
DONAHUE: Would representatives from those refineries go to the conventions as well?
BAKER: Oh, sure.
DONAHUE: And did they--were those businesses, did they tend to be Jewish-owned
BAKER: Um, some were. Some were not. Of the mills, none of--I don't recall
any of the mills being Je--yes, it was a mill, in, uh--near Ashland, Colton (??)
was Jewish-owned. But, uh, they were not--most of them were not involved with Judaism.
DONAHUE: Um-hm. Did you work in any way with, um, other businesses within the
state, other scrap metal businesses? Did you coordinate in any way?
BAKER: Well, we were the largest in the Lexington area. And so, we would buy
00:30:00from the smaller towns, smaller dealers, halfway to Louisville, halfway to
Cincinnati, halfway to Ashland, and to the south, we went quite a ways. And,
uh, so, we would have our regular customers, as they had their regular customers.
DONAHUE: Can you recall the--the names of some of those businesses that you
BAKER: Well, there was Mansbach family in Ashland, Kentucky. And, uh, the
Klempner family in Louisville, Blue (??) family in Louisville. Um, uh, the
Cohen family in Middletown, Ohio.
DONAHUE: And the Cohen family eventually bought your business.
BAKER: You're right, you're correct.
DONAHUE: And what about the other businesses in Lexington, the Gordon family?
BAKER: The Gordon family, and the Munichs (??) had yards. And then, Ian Norn
Wides started up a yard.
DONAHUE: Was there any sense of, uh--of competition among you or--
BAKER: I don't think the competition was, uh, harsh, or bitter. It was
just--it was competition. There was another operation in Lexington called
Frankfort Scrap that Rod Ratliff (??) started.
DONAHUE: And were your relationships with people in the business, um, were they
00:32:00friendships, as well as business relationships?
BAKER: Some were.
DONAHUE: And, I--I have, maybe pushing farther on this, but, was the--
BAKER: --oh yeah, push it--
DONAHUE: --was your--was your sense of, uh--of shared Jewishness at all
important? Did that ever come up in conversation?
BAKER: Uh, I don't think so. I don't think so.
DONAHUE: Just--just the feeling of that you're all--people doing the same kind
BAKER: No, just--it was just competition,
BAKER: Uh, there was no bitterness. There was no great friendship.
DONAHUE: And, uh, so your--then--who were your great friends?
BAKER: Uh, growing up, um, a young man by the name of Marvin Bing was my
00:33:00closest friend. Are you asking that, or as you asking as adults?
DONAHUE: Oh, both.
BAKER: Well, uh, I had a man working for me by the name of Stan Rose. We were
friendly with him. Uh, Charlie Schwartz, who was at the Veterans Hospital. Um--
DONAHUE: You can say something if you want.
BAKER: What'd you say?
DONAHUE: I heard your son say something. I wondered if you wanted to put something--
BEN: Dave Bollatin (??).
DONAHUE: Dave Bollatin?
BAKER: Dave Bollatin, right.
DONAHUE: Okay, so do you know Jay Bollatin?
DONAHUE: Okay. We're--I'm going to be interviewing him in a few months.
Uh--um, can you give me a sense of what your Jewishness meant to you? Was it--
BAKER: Oh, it was very important. Our lives revolved around the temple.
DONAHUE: Was it a--would you describe it as, um, cultural, or more religious,
or a mix of the two? How did--how--
BAKER: I think it was a mixture of the two.
DONAHUE: Was there anything about--can you come up with any example of how you
expressed or practiced your Judaism that were--that were most meaningful to you?
Was it--was it holidays? Was it--any examples?
BAKER: Well because Anita sang in the choir, I went to temple quite often on
Friday night. And, um, the holidays were very important to us.
DONAHUE: And later on in your life, did you experience any kind of
anti-Semitism? I asked you about your--your experience as a child, but, uh, how
BAKER: I don't recall any specific problem. It's just that, uh, when I was
growing up, and even later on, I think there was a--a feeling that there were
some Christians who did not like Jews, for one reason or another. But I didn't
find any great anti-Semitism.
DONAHUE: You didn't notice--you didn't experience it personally?
BAKER: I didn't.
DONAHUE: You just were aware that there was a cultural--
BAKER: No, it was just a, uh--uh, there was some discussion about, that this
00:36:00person didn't like Jews, or, anti-Semitic but, uh, I personally didn't have any problems.
DONAHUE: What about at the University of Kentucky? Did you--did you experience any--
DONAHUE: --were you involved with any Jewish organizations there?
DONAHUE: There was a Jewish fraternity, I believe.
BAKER: They started after I left.
DONAHUE: I see.
BAKER: They were in the--they were evolving to a fraternity. They had a local
at the time, but, uh, they were just--it was coming about. Thinking about, uh,
anybody being anti-Semitic, I remember, uh, when I was eleven, twelve, thirteen
years old, uh, having a fight, fist fight, uh, somebody called me, uh, a name,
and we had a fight. But that was the only problem I ever had. And that wasn't
00:37:00serious. The next day, we were playing baseball.
DONAHUE: (laughs). What did the person call you?
BAKER: I forgot the exact name.
DONAHUE: But it was some kind of slur?
BAKER: Slur, that's right. It wasn't important; it happened.
DONAHUE: Well I'm--I'm--I'm wondering what it was like for you being in
college, like, I assume you were at UK [University of Kentucky] when World War
II started in 1939, and how much did you know about what was going on in Europe,
the Holocaust, and how did that translate into Jewish life in Lexington?
BAKER: Well my dad read a Jewish paper called The Forward, and so he was
00:38:00somewhat aware of what was going on. The English papers didn't carry much, but
he had relatives there, and he was very much aware, and he didn't talk to the
family about it, though.
DONAHUE: When you went to services at the temple, do you recall talking about
the plight of European Jews as a community?
BAKER: Yes. And, um, men would come around asking for money. Lots of money
was raised for European Jews.
DONAHUE: Did you have cousins that you knew of who were still there?
BAKER: I didn't know--I didn't know any of my relatives in Europe, no.
DONAHUE: And would you have conversations--your dad would read the paper, and
would your family have conversations?
BAKER: Dad didn't talk about it.
DONAHUE: He didn't. Was--were there discussions in any of your class, in a--in
an academic context about what was going on politically?
BAKER: I don't think so. It's hard to remember, but I don't think so. I don't
think any of us realized how bad the situation was. Even Dad who was reading
the Jewish paper didn't realize the extent of it.
DONAHUE: When did you realize the extent of it?
BAKER: It's hard to say. I think so much came out after the war that we didn't
hear about during the war.
DONAHUE: Did that have any impact on you personally, and on your--on your
Jewish identity, learning what had happened to the majority of Jews in Europe?
BAKER: I don't think so.
DONAHUE: Let me just look. So your father was one of the founders of Ohavay
00:41:00Zion, is that right? But he didn't have a sense of deep--did he maintain a
BAKER: Oh, absolutely.
DONAHUE: --both the synagogue and--and the temple?
BAKER: Yes, he--uh, synagogue was his--was the closest of his--of houses of
prayer, but, uh, he did belong to both.
DONAHUE: I've heard that members of Lexington's Jewish community in the early
days, um, used to gather at downtown stores for minions, for prayer. Did
00:42:00you--did you experience anything like that?
BAKER: Well, after dad died, I went to, uh, evening services at the stores
downtown, um, for a while, and, uh, I think that was a continuous situation that
they--continue to have services downtown.
DONAHUE: Do you recall what store--stores you would go to?
DONAHUE: AB Grossman's store was the one that I had heard specific reference to
on Water Street.
BAKER: Uh, there used to be some Jewish stores on Water Street.
DONAHUE: Oh, did your family--you mentioned that they kind of moved away from
00:43:00Orthodoxy. Did they keep kosher through your childhood?
BAKER: Mother kept kosher as long as she lived.
DONAHUE: And your father?
BAKER: My father, uh, was not as kosher as my mother.
DONAHUE: What about you and your own household?
BAKER: Well no, no, no.
DONAHUE: I just came across a quote from The Forward that I wanted to read to
you and see what you have--have to say about it. "Scrap metal is one of the
oldest Jewish businesses in America. As it goes the way of globalization, a
00:44:00particularly Jewish, if mostly unnoticed way of life disappears with it." Do
you have any reaction or thoughts about that?
DONAHUE: I've read that beginning in the 1990s, that many respected,
established names in the scrap metal industry began to kind of fall away as
the--as the businesses consolidated and were--were bought by larger firms.
BAKER: I think the businesses are still primarily Jewish. I've been away from
it for quite a while, but there's all Jewish names still involved.
DONAHUE: What--what did the--do you recall that--that time, you were still in
the business in the 1990s, was there a--um, distinct change in the atmosphere
00:45:00for your business?
BAKER: Well, you had more consumers of scrap, it--it started out that you had
your bigger consumers used a small percentage of scrap, their mix. Then later
on they--built what were called electric furnaces that used one hundred percent
scrap. So there was more demand for scrap.
DONAHUE: More demand for scrap and--and fewer businesses, is that right?
BAKER: Well, there were more businesses consuming scrap, and so the prices were
better in the later years, as demand for scrap went up.
DONAHUE: Um-hm. Were many of the families that you knew selling their--selling
their businesses at that point, because the prices were good, and it was a time
BAKER: Uh, there was some consolidation, but, uh, I've been out of the business
for quite a while, but, uh, I think the same families continue to run the businesses.
DONAHUE: Tell me about your decision to sell the business to the Cohen family
BAKER: Well, uh, my oldest son did not come into the business. My second son
did come into the business, and he was helping to run the business, and he ran
the business, and, um, he had a medical problem and, um, uh, I just thought
00:47:00that, uh--that I didn't want the medical problem to become worse if--the
pressure of the business was bothering him. So I decided to sell.
DONAHUE: Was that a--bittersweet decision for you?
BAKER: Uh, of course, I--I'd been working in the business all my life, and so,
uh, it was a change.
DONAHUE: What did you do after you sold the business?
BAKER: Well I was already up in my years, so, uh, I did then what I do now,
read the paper, read books.
DONAHUE: What subjects interest you as far as your book-reading?
BAKER: I'm sorry?
DONAHUE: What subjects do you like to read about?
BAKER: Well actually, I said books, but it really mostly magazines.
DONAHUE: Keep up with a--wide range of subjects.
BAKER: Right, um-hm.
DONAHUE: What are your children's names, and when they were--when were they born?
BAKER: Michael was born in '47. Ben, who's with me, was born in '50. Gloria
was born in '54, and Bobby was born in '58.
DONAHUE: And how did you and your wife approach your children's Jewish education?
BAKER: Well, we sent them to Sunday school.
DONAHUE: Was it important to you that they--that they maintained--
BAKER: Oh, absolutely.
DONAHUE: --strong Jewish identity?
DONAHUE: Did you find that their practice of Judaism differed from your own in
any significant way?
BAKER: Well, yes, I think so, but we accepted what they wanted to do.
DONAHUE: How--how did it differ?
BAKER: Oh, I don't think they went to services as often as we did. But they
brought their children up to be Jews.
DONAHUE: So all of your grandchildren have--have been raised within--
BAKER: Oh yes, absolutely.
DONAHUE: --the Jewish tradition as well?
DONAHUE: Okay. Tell me about some of the activities that Temple Adath Israel--
BAKER: Well, I was very much involved with temple, because, as I said Anita
00:50:00sang, and I became involved in the administration of the temple. So, uh, I
became an officer, and I was very active.
DONAHUE: What were your particular--what, in particular, were you involved with?
BAKER: Uh, well just the general administration of the temple, the hiring and
firing of the rabbi--the hiring of the rabbis, and, uh, raising money.
Building--the discussion about building a new temple, and then, decision to stay
where we were, and expand that temple, that building.
DONAHUE: What years were you involved, as an officer, with the temple?
BAKER: Well I think, uh, in the--I was president of the temple in '61 to '63,
so, uh, I was very active in the fifties.
DONAHUE: And what were the--what did you see as being the greatest challenges
facing the temple at that time?
BAKER: Well, in the fifties, the temple was growing rapidly, and there was some
discussion that we would build a new building, so, uh, we bought a piece of
property on Mount Tabor road, and then decision was to sell that property and
use the money, plus other monies that we raised to expand the temple structure
we were in.
DONAHUE: On Ashland?
BAKER: On Ashland Avenue, right.
DONAHUE: Um-hm. And, so the mem--the membership was expanding. What was due
BAKER: Well I think originally, the temple was started by the original Jews in
Lexington, the German Jews, and the synagogue was started by the, uh, Russian
Jews, and, um, the synagogue services were held in Hebrew. And so, it made it
difficult for the--the younger families coming in who didn't speak Hebrew to
participate in the synagogue services. So many of them started to join the
temple, and the temple was growing rapidly. And there was some discussion that
we would have to bu--build a larger temple, and we bought a piece of property on
00:53:00Mount Tabor Road, and then decided to tell that and use the money for the
expansion of the old structure.
DONAHUE: Can you describe what the relationship was, in your experience,
between the synagogue and the temple?
BAKER: It was always fine; no problem.
DONAHUE: Were there many families that overlapped as you did between them?
BAKER: Yes, there were--families belonged to both, as we did for a long time.
DONAHUE: And you--you ment--you mentioned something about not learning Hebrew
yourself. Did you learn enough to do your bar mitzvah, and no more than that?
BAKER: Well, uh, for a young man, until he was thirteen, he studied for the bar
mitzvah. But that was just to learn to sp--read Hebrew. He didn't learn to
00:54:00speak the language. So, uh, the synagogue for a long time had their services
strictly in Hebrew. There was times they eventually had, uh, English and
Hebrew, where the temple was more open to the English prayers.
DONAHUE: Did your parents speak English together? Did they speak any other
language in the home?
BAKER: They would talk about something they didn't want me to understand, they
spoke in Yiddish. (laughs).
DONAHUE: Okay. Well you didn't learn any Yiddish?
BAKER: Uh, a few words. I really, uh, did not learn the language.
DONAHUE: Is there anything else that you can tell me about, uh, your experience
00:55:00with the temple?
BAKER: Well, as you understand, the, uh--original Jews came to this land,
uh--came from Orth--came from both German and Orthodox, or Russian background.
The German Jews came early. Uh, they started coming here--well I think there
were families here as early as the Civil War, maybe even earlier. Well, the
Gratz family was even earlier. Uh, there were not enough to organize a temple
00:56:00until 1903. And we celebrated our hundredth anniversary in 2003. Um, the
Russian Jews who came later were primarily Orthodox. But, uh, it was time, they
became comfortable in the temple, with more Reform.
DONAHUE: How do you feel about where the temple stands today? Do you feel that
it's thriving, doing well, compared with when you were its president?
BAKER: Well I'm not that close to it any longer, but as far as I know, they're
doing fine, as is the synagogue.
DONAHUE: And how do you feel about the Jewish community in Lexington overall,
00:57:00as far as how--how well it's doing; how vital it is?
BAKER: Uh, I think there's a lot of activity. As far as I know, they're doing fine.
DONAHUE: Are you involved with other Jewish organizations?
BAKER: Uh, no, not today.
DONAHUE: Have you been?
BAKER: Yes, I was, uh, involved with, what was called B'nai B'rith, and, uh, I
guess that's primarily it.
DONAHUE: Um-hm. What was your involvement with B'nai B'rith?
BAKER: Well, uh, I used to go to all the meetings, and if they had, uh,
activities, I would try to be active.
DONAHUE: What kind of focus was there in--in those meetings? What--what were
00:58:00they trying to accomplish?
BAKER: Well, I think it was, um, a question of bringing Jews together who
wanted to be together, and, uh, that was primarily it.
DONAHUE: Um-hm. You mentioned your grandchildren. Would you tell me their names?
BAKER: Yes, um, my oldest son--son is, um--I had a loss of memory for a minute.
DONAHUE: You want to--that's fine. You want to just come back to it?
00:59:00It'll--it'll--it'll probably come back to you.
BAKER: Dan (??), spinning room (??) Help me with the first name.
BAKER: Sam, Molly, and Joshua, and Steph, and uh, Andrew were the first
child--first children of the--first child. And then Ben and--or, Ben's children
are, uh, Greg and Roo--
BAKER: Uh, Greg and Aaron. And, uh, the third girl, the first girl, third
child, is, uh--Max and Abby. And, uh, Abby's, uh, husband's name is Sam too.
01:00:00And their children are, uh, Henry, Clara, and Lucy. And then the seventh
grandchild, or great-grandchild is, um--is there a child, Moe?
BEN: No, Leo was the most recent.
BAKER: Leo, Leo. Okay.
DONAHUE: So how many great--great-grandchildren?
BAKER: I have seven great-grandchildren.
DONAHUE: Seven great-grandchildren. Uh-huh.
BAKER: Thank you, Ben.
BEN: You left out Bobby's daughter, Anna.
BAKER: Well, Bobby's, uh, child is Anna.
DONAHUE: Anna. Um, what--what are holidays like in your home?
BAKER: Well, originally, uh, they were--it was a big occasion, but I'm by
01:01:00myself now, being----------(??) here. But it's nothing like it was.
DONAHUE: Would you have friends, neighbors over for--for Passover, for--
BAKER: Well, we used to have this--what was called Seder, and that was a big
occasion. We still have it, but it's not as important and big as it was years ago.
DONAHUE: Um-hm. What supports and challenges were there to raising your own
children in Lexington, as far as, um, you--I know you mentioned they were raised
in the temple. Did you--was it challenging to find the resources you need to
01:02:00give them the Jewish education that you wanted them to have?
BAKER: No, I think we were satisfied with what the temple was doing.
DONAHUE: What has been the role of Israel and Zionism in your life?
BAKER: Well, I think that, uh, the country of Israel was important, uh, as I
was maturing, uh, they were working towards their independence, and so, they
would send representatives over to raise money, and, uh, they would have
meetings, and it was more important than it is today. Uh, I've been to Israel
twice, and, uh, I have a connection with Israel, but, uh, it's not as important
01:03:00as it was years ago.
DONAHUE: And why--why is that?
BAKER: Well I think, that they were working towards their independence. Once
they got their independence, uh, they--they didn't rely on American Jews as much
as they had.
DONAHUE: Do you think that the concern within Lexington's Jewish community for
what happens in Israel has diminished significantly?
BAKER: You don't get much discussion of it, you know. I guess there is
concern, but you don't hear discussion.
DONAHUE: Is it something that you personally give much thought to anymore?
BAKER: No, I don't give it a lot of thought.
BAKER: I'm glad they're prospering.
DONAHUE: Is there anything else you'd like to say about how things have changed
01:04:00within Lexington's Jewish community since you've been--in the course of your life?
BAKER: Well I think, uh, our temple activities were more important in my
younger years, than they are today. Um, those Jews who want to be active, and
involved, are. And those who want to step back, away from it, do that too.
DONAHUE: Why do you think they--those activities were more important in the
past than they are today?
BAKER: What was the question?
DONAHUE: Why do you think that those activities were more important in the past
than they are today?
BAKER: Well I think going back to when Israel was trying to get its
independence, there was something to work towards. So that was more important, yes.
DONAHUE: So many of the activities of the temple were focused on what was
happening in Israel?
BAKER: At that time, I think there was a lot of focus, and there's not as much today.
DONAHUE: Are you talking about the period from 1948 to--
BAKER: I'm saying before '48, there was more interest in their independence. I
don't know the--that the Jews in Lexington as--as close to Israel as they were
DONAHUE: Um-hm. And do you think that that has changed the character of
Lexington's Jewish community?
BAKER: I don't know if it's changed the character, but it has changed.
DONAHUE: You have the sense that, um, Jewishness is less important to the community?
BAKER: I can't speak for others. It's important to me.
DONAHUE: Um-hm. Are there any other leadership roles that you've played in the
Jewish community here in Lexington that we haven't talked about?
BAKER: Well, I guess I was an officer of the temple, worked through the roles,
worked through the different offices. I was, um, a President of an organization
called B'nai B'rith at one time. Uh, when you're younger, you're more active;
you're more involved than you are when you get older.
DONAHUE: So you were president of the local chapter of B'nai B'rith?
BAKER: Yes, local chapter, right.
DONAHUE: When was that?
BAKER: Oh, that was in the fifties, sixties. I'm not sure when.
DONAHUE: Um-hm. What--what else haven't I asked you about that--that I--that
you'd like to talk about?
BAKER: What--did we go over the history of the temple, of the move, or the
discussion of the move, uh--back in the--when the temple was growing rapidly,
um, we bought a piece of property on Mount Tabor Road. Did we discuss that?
DONAHUE: Yeah, yeah.
BAKER: And so that money was used to build the--what became a Sunday School addition--
DONAHUE: The expansion.
BAKER: --president of the building.
DONAHUE: And did that have an impact on--on your life, and on your--
BAKER: No, no.
DONAHUE: --your practice?
DONAHUE: Did it, um--
BAKER: It was important to Lexington, though, that we do that.
DONAHUE: What change did you notice that that brought to the community afterwards?
BAKER: I don't know that it changed the community, but it, uh, allowed space
for Sunday school, where before we were meeting on the stage in--uh, in the
small rooms that they had in the original building.
DONAHUE: Do you think that that allowed the membership to increase, that more
people were--found it appealing to send their children to Sunday School as a result?
BAKER: Well you had just so many Jews in the area who were interested in
sending their children, so that didn't necessarily mean that they did send, or
didn't send their children. If they were interested, they sent their children.
DONAHUE: Anything else?
BAKER: Well, thank you very much for your--for your time.
DONAHUE: Well, I enjoyed talking to you.
BAKER: I appreciated it.
DONAHUE: I hope I gave you some information.
BAKER: Yeah, you definitely gave us a lot of information.
DONAHUE: Well good.
BAKER: Thank you very much.
[End of interview.]