Fratka Levine and Simon Forman

By Levi Clancy for לוי on

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Fratka Lewin was born in Dziewieniszki on October 2nd, 1893 as the youngest child of Meyer Lewin and his wife.

By the time she was six, in 1899, her older brother and sisters had begun immigrating to Leeds. The last of her siblings to leave was David Lewin who emigrated in 1905-6 and was only three years older than Fratka. At that time her father Meyer was still alive; no vital statistics are known of her mother.

Around that time, Fratka was sent to the capital city Vilna where she stayed with a family.

She earned room, board and very little pay by doing house chores for the mother and, in her spare time, helping as a sales girl in the head of household's grocery store. Fratka often spoke of how well the family in Vilna treated her and how the lady taught her how to cook. Around 1910, Fratka returned for a while to Dziewieniszki and then said goodbye to her parent(s) and siblings Pesach and Channa. Then she left for Leeds no later than 1912.

Fanny in Leeds

Fratka arrived alone in Leeds around 1910-1912. Her first name was Anglicized to Fanny and her last name was changed to Levy to match the rest of the family.

We don't know what Fanny did in Leeds but she presumably either worked in her siblings' tailoring businesses or in their households. It is believed that she stayed with her oldest sister Malka.

Fanny in Toronto

Her stay in Leeds could not have been long, because she left for Toronto in 1912.

On the ship she shared a cabin with a Mrs. Snegg who cared for Fannie who was very ill on the voyage. Mrs. Snegg remained a family friend all her life and was extremely close to Itka Lewin and her family. Mrs. Ruth Gottesman, Mrs. Snegg's daughter, still corresponds with Lil Singer and Jean Singer and provided us with a few photographs of Fannie and Itka and some written memories.

Malka was the oldest and Fanny was the youngest of the 9 Lewin siblings. There was some talk that Fanny and Ben might marry, but it was against Jewish law that an aunt should marry a nephew, even if they were approximately the same age -- Fanny was born around 1893 and Ben in 1896. (Family Book § 4)

Simon Forman

Simon Forman was born in Russia on May 1st 1894.

His niece Fanny Ross (in Toronto) believes he was from Porozova (of note, there is a town called Borysowka near Dziewieniszki). Simon was the youngest of five brothers and had a sister. His family may have had the Russian surname Formanski. Simon's niece Belle Sernick believes her arrived in Toronto around 1911, but Hillel surmises it was perhaps around 1906. Some documents indicate that in the 1910-1918 period, Simon worked in tailoring and dealt in second-hand goods. He might also have dealt cigars.

Simon's four older brothers were Herschel, Victor, Samuel (10-15 years older than Simon) and the oldest, Israel; and his sister was Rose Ritte. Herschel had a son Jack living in Detroit. Samuel was a Hebrew teacher in Toronto and had four children, three of whom lived in Toronto and were kept in contact: Belle Sernick, Fanny Ross and Gert Baskin. Their brother Sidney was a science advisor to the Prime Minister of Canada. Israel's children are believed to live in Southern California. Contact has been lost with them. Little is known about Rose Ritte.

Fratka, Simon and Leonard

Fratka and Simon somehow met while both lived in Toronto, and on September 3rd, 1916 they were married at a gala in the back of the Lazarus cleaning-dying shop on Dundas Street. Leonard Jack Forman was born May 27th, 1918.

Move to California

Leonard recalls that the family immigrated to California when he was one -- so about mid-year 1919. It is presumed that the Formans first moved to Fresno where Simon probably worked with or for David and Morris Levi in the junk/second-hand related businesses.

Fratka, Simon and Leonard -- and Joe

By sometime around 1920, the Formans moved to Turlock and opened a junk business with Joseph Lazarus. A year later, the business blossomed into the Turlock Bargain House. Simon Forman and Joseph Lazarus bought the Turlock Bargain House's building and property. Later on, the state cut off the front of the building to widen the street. All went well until Joe married May in 1923. May didn't like the hot weather in Turlock so Joe sold out his interest to Simon and moved away. This happened around the same time that Milton was born.

[According to Yosel "Joe" Paltiel.] When Simon and Fanny Forman and I went into partnership in the Turlock Bargain House, we rented a cannery cottage for $88 per month. I always helped Aunt Fanny and was such a devoted "father" that Leonard Forman called me daddy.

I always helped bathe the baby. I don't remember her name. A recently received birth certificate says Love Eifie Forman, but some relatives think she may have been called Rebecca. Her death certificate states that her name was Sarah R Forman. However, on the fatal day, Aunt Fanny decided to bathe the little girl herself. She gave the baby a can of baby powder to play with and the top came off and the powder went into the infant's throat. The doctor said it was no problem as it would go through her; however, fate didn't play it that way.

Uncle Simon, Aunt Fanny and I watched the child gasping for breath. Unfortunately, or by fate, none of us thought to take the baby to the hospital and, in the wee hours of the morning [January 22nd, 1922], she stopped breathing. The next day, I took her little body in the back of my car to Fresno for [a Jewish] burial. (FB § 4)

Birth of Milton and Move to Petaluma

Around the time that Joe moved away, Milton Lawrence Forman was born in Turlock on June 7th, 1923. In 1925, when Leonard was 6 and Milton was 2, the Formans left Turlock.

They lived and worked in Santa Rosa for only six or seven months, and on May 1st, 1926, the Formans moved to Petaluma where Simon went into partnership with Morris Levi who had moved there from Fresno with his wife Annie and son Myron.

That business was hardware and related items, but the partnership only lasted a year as Morris' asthma was aggravated by the climate and he moved with his family back to Hanford. Simon stayed with the business.

Life in Petaluma

Simon and Fannie remained in Petaluma the rest of their lives.

Fannie raised her two boys and helped Simon with his hardware business. As the boys grew, they also joined the family business. Simon also raised chickens behind the Forman house but it was more for hobby fun than for profit. Simon died on March 23rd, 1976 and Fannie on January 31st, 1982. They will be remembered with much love.

The Formans always remained very close to the Lazarus family and to the Levis and Singers as well. They were a very loving couple who lived a quiet and simple lifestyle. From immigrant beginnings, they left a nice business legacy to their two sons and their families. Simon and Fannie had eight grandchildren who now have produced ten children of their own, perhaps with many more to come. The Forman name will only be continued if one of the two grandsons of Fannie and Simon get busy and have some children. So far, only the girls in the family have had children. FB § 12 by Hillel Don Lazarus


Lazarus, Hillel. 1989. Family Book § 4 Malka Lewin (transcription of a video tape of Yosel Paltiel recorded by Cindy Kirkland, and letters from Yosel)