Solomon Milgrome

[ Age 104 ] Southwest Baltimore grocer emigrated from Poland and brought his Old World heritage to Baltimore.

April 20, 2007|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN REPORTER

Solomon Milgrome, a retired Southwest Baltimore grocer who led services at the Shaarei Tfiloh Congregation and lived independently until his death at 104, died at the Gilchrist Center for Hospice Care on April 13. Family members said he never recovered after recently catching a cold. Born in 1903 in a Polish shtetl known as Sokolow, he received religious instruction as a young man and never relinquished his Old World spiritual heritage.

"I decided that it was absolutely healthy for a person to be sensibly religious - not fanatical," Mr. Milgrome said in a 1994 Sun interview. "It's healthy for people to love, and that's what Yom Kippur teaches - to love by reaching out to forgive. ... We don't live long enough to hate."

Because of anti-Semitism he encountered in Poland, Mr. Milgrome moved to what was then Palestine, but had a hard time finding steady employment. In 1928, he married Taube Mendelson, a Lithuanian woman who had cousins in Baltimore.

They immigrated to Baltimore and set up a grocery store at 601 Archer St. off Washington Boulevard in Southwest Baltimore. For a while he owned a 1937 Chevrolet - but drove it only in the summer months and only on Sundays for short family outings.

"He spoke no English at first," said his daughter, Barbara Cohen, "but he soon was `Mr. Sol' and was a friend to the whole neighborhood."

He preferred to walk and paid his gas and electric bill on foot at the utility's Lexington Street headquarters. Along the way, he would greet people, she said.

"He loved the city," his daughter said. "He loved the people in the city."

In more than 40 years as a merchant, Mr. Milgrome was shot by a robber once and stabbed once.

When he was shot in 1960, Mr. Milgrome defended himself by heaving a jar of pickles at his assailant, whom he later identified to police. At the trial, the robber testified that he shot in self-defense, and Mr. Milgrome stood and called the man a liar. The judge fined Mr. Milgrome for contempt of court, but the robber was found guilty.

Mr. Milgrome's first wife died in 1943 and he then married Gertrude Flax, who died in 1985. He gave up the store in the late 1960s - it was not damaged during the 1968 riots - and moved to the Sutton Place apartments at the northern edge of downtown Baltimore. In his free time, he played the violin.

He then became a financial document courier, or runner, for the old Alex. Brown & Sons. The job meant he walked throughout downtown, spending his "days turning strangers into friends" according to the 1994 story about the man described as a "charming Jewish leprechaun with clear blue eyes and a great head of white hair." He retired again at 80.

Mr. Milgrome was a lay leader for many years at Shaarei Tfiloh Congregation near Druid Hill Park.

"He was a virtual one-man show at Shaarei Tfiloh," said Fred Shoken, a close friend. "He read the Torah, led the prayers and gave a sermon." Friends said Mr. Milgrome never prepared his talks in advance. "When it's time to talk, I just look up and He tells me what to say," he said.

More recently, he was a member of B'nai Israel Congregation on Lloyd Street. This month, Mr. Milgrome recited the four traditional Passover seder questions. He spoke at the seder in Yiddish, Hebrew and English that night, and became sick two days later.

"I have lived so long, and people are still fighting. How sad," he recently told his daughter.

Graveside services were held Sunday in Rosedale.

In addition to his daughter, survivors include a son, David Milgrome of Pinole, Calif.; two sisters, Chana Wolsky of Miami and Elisheva Kronigsberg of Rehovot, Israel; six grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren.

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