Were Cy and Rose Kaufman the first Jewish entrepreneurs on Nantucket?

Although Cy’s Green Coffee Pot Bar and Restaurant was an island institution dating back to mid-1930s, the Kaufmans had predecessors.

Mendel Rothenberg, a dry-goods merchant, was living on Nantucket in 1880. At first he resided in the Springfield House Hotel on North Water Street, but by 1893, he had brought family to the island. That year his son Israel was enrolled as a student in the Coffin School.

Beginning in 1914, Henry and Mabel Rosen operated a number of businesses on Main Street, South Water Street, and India Street. In 1920 they opened a housewares store on the corner of Main Street and North Union Street where Murray’s Liquor Store is today. The Rosens moved off-island by 1930.

On the other hand, the Geneskys, members of “a pioneer Jewish family in New Bedford,” became an enduring presence on Nantucket. In 1908 Philip Genesky founded a clothing store on Main Street and put his son Emile in charge as proprietor. In 1916 the old premises on the corner of Main and Fair Streets was replaced by a new building and given the name of the Toggery Shop. Today it is Murray’s Toggery Shop.

Emile Genesky went on to form a partnership with businessmen John Anastos, Orison Hull, and Eugene Perry to build commercial buildings and houses as well as operating the Dreamland Theatre. He was active in Nantucket politics, being elected to the Board of Selectmen and also appointed a Special Justice of the Nantucket District Court.

Beginning in the 1930s, other Jewish families, the Kaplans, Doroffs, Pearlstines, Bilskys, and Levines, operated clothing stores, a shoe store, a dry-cleaning establishment, a tailor shop, a gift shop, and eventually an art gallery.

According to their daughter, Cy and Rose Kaufman had an arranged marriage. Rose Cohen grew up in Sioux City, Iowa, and Simon “Cy” Kaufman grew up in Fairhaven, Massachusetts. Rose’s father advanced the young couple the capital to open their own restaurant, and they moved with their growing family to Nantucket. At first they were located on India Street, but in 1936 they opened the Green Coffee Pot on South Water Street. Cy Kaufman was active in many local organizations, and he and Rose were noted for their philanthropy.

To learn more about the Jewish presence on Nantucket, see Frances Karttunen’s books, The Other Islanders: People Who Pulled Nantucket’s Oars, available from the NHA Museum Shop and from Spinner Publications of New Bedford and Nantucket Places and People 4: Underground, available from the NHA Museum Shop.

The Nantucket Historical Association preserves and interprets the history of Nantucket through its programs, collections, and properties, in order to promote the island’s significance and foster an appreciation of it among all audiences.

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