Burt and Phyllis Shiro
Burt Shiro was born in 1923 and grew up in Waterville, Maine. He took Hebrew lessons with Abraham Hains four times a week to prepare for his Bar Mitzvah. He married Phyllis and they raised their children in Waterville and sent them to Sunday school and Hebrew school there. Burt and Phyllis were interviewed by Hasan Bhatti and by Sam Levine.
“In preparing for his bar mitzvah, Burt went to Hebrew school four times a week. He hated it because he didn’t learn anything useful, and thought the rabbi who taught him one-on-one, Abraham Hains, was a drag to be with when he could be outside playing with his friends. He had a bar mitzvah when he was 13, only doing two and a half pages of prayers cumulative.” (Hasan Bhatti)
Burt Shiro: Well, I had a Bar Mitzvah. I could usually daven pretty well. But, you couldn’t get any education for what Israel is…
Phyllis Shiro: Well, you didn’t have a Sunday school. You only went to Hebrew school.
BS: See, the rabbi, he came from Canada. He was a rabbi, and he had great voice. But, when you go to…
BS: …cheder, you have to go to his house, and you would have probably five or six boys there, and each got to learn how to read. But, we didn’t know anything about what we read, because…
PS: Right. You just were learning Hebrew. You didn’t know what it was.
BS: We’d know how to read it.
PS: But our children all went to Sunday school and Hebrew school.
Sam Levine: So would you say your Jewish identity is pretty strong even though your parents weren’t very religious?
BS: Well, the parents were.
PS: In their own way, they really were. They may not have attended the services often, but I would say particularly your father.
PS: Oh, this is important. We had no Sunday school when I came here. They just had the little synagogue that you saw. And, I thought, we’ve got to have a Sunday school here. So, like he said, they learned Hebrew but they didn’t know any of the stories, or they didn’t know any of the history or anything. So, I contacted… I didn’t even know where to begin, so I called a rabbi in New York and he sent me some information and books and stuff and that’s how we started. But, we had no place to go, so we were on the second floor of the YMCA, with our little Sunday school. And some of the other young women at the time helped out teaching.
SL: Was that when you had your own children?
PS: Yeah. No, I was pregnant at the time, come to think of it, because I remember climbing the second floor. So that was in the 50s.
SL: Is that a big reason why you wanted to get that started?
PS: Well, partly, but I just thought it was terrible not to have a Sunday school, because I had gone to a Sunday school and Hebrew school in Massachusetts.