Married over a grocery store, couple to mark 75 years

Isadore and Sarah Rosenthal met over a bicycle 82 years ago. They've been riding tandem ever since.

This year in November, the Rosenthals will mark their 75th wedding anniversary.

Isadore Rosenthal, who turned 97 in June, was born in an apartment over his parents' Washington, D.C., barber shop. Soon after his birth, his family — eventually to include eight brothers and sisters — moved to the southwest corner of the city, "where all the Jews lived," he said.

Isadore's recollection is still sharp. "One of my earliest memories of living in Washington was going on Fridays to Cantor Moses Yoelson's house (entertainer Al Jolson's father) with a basket of three live chickens which my mother gave me. He would slaughter them and we would have Shabbat dinner."

There was an active Eastern European Jewish community in Southwest D.C. during the early part of the century. Isadore's father had come from Germany but his mother was Russian. He remembers growing up with Calvin Cafritz, who would become one of the city's most prominent builders.

He also remembers the 1905 inauguration of President Theodore Roosevelt. "My father wouldn't let me go," he said, because he did not think he could hold young Isadore on his shoulders for several hours. Isadore did get to see President Howard Taft's 1909 inauguration — at least some of it — during a blizzard.

His family attended Talmud Torah Congregation, an Orthodox synagogue.

But the memory Isadore treasures most is the day he first set eyes on the girl who would become his wife. Sarah Seigel was born in Baltimore in 1904. Her family of eight brothers and sisters moved to Washington, where her father opened a grocery story.

Her brother, Louis Seigel, owned a bicycle shop, where he sold cycles to city policemen. There were few police cars in the city at that time and most police patrolled their beats by bike.

Sarah remembers the day in 1915 when Isadore Rosenthal walked into her brother's shop to purchase a bicycle. Isadore soon started working for her brother repairing bicycles.

"She would come by to visit her brother and I began to notice her," said Isadore. "She was a pretty little thing. Soon, she began to notice me and we began to date."

The couple would go to the movies at the Happyland or Alamo theaters, both demolished years ago.

"We seemed to hit it off," said Sarah in a quiet but purposeful voice. "He started asking me for dates."

No chaperones were necessary and they never had a curfew.

"Her parents knew I would take care of their little girl," said Isadore.

They dated for four years and on Nov. 5, 1922, were married over Sarah's mother's grocery store by Rabbi Gedalia Silverstone, spiritual leader of Tifereth Israel Congregation.

The Rosenthals moved into a small apartment in the Northwest district, where many of the city's Jews had relocated. Most, according to Rosenthal, were merchants.

At the time of their marriage and for the next 40 years, until his retirement in 1957, Isadore worked at a Navy yard making torpedoes and rocket launchers.

During his tenure, he worked on several high-level Navy projects. At one point soon after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, he began working on a project that turned out to be research on atomic weapons. No one who was involved with the project was told of its purpose.

During the early years of marriage, Sarah worked at Lansburgh's department store. She also worked at Kann's, another department store with its roots in the Washington area.

After several years of marriage and two daughters, the Rosenthals purchased a home. They lived there for 18 years, then moved to several other addresses until settling on an apartment, and finally, about five years ago, moving to the Charter House, a retirement facility in nearby Silver Spring, Md.

The Rosenthals' daughters have fond memories of growing up in Washington both before and after World War II. "The District of Columbia Jewish Community Center on 16th Street [N.W.] was a central meeting place. Everybody would belong to a club. The center was the social center for the Jewish community]" said daughter Betty Gordin.

"There were dances and meetings. There was no fear of being out at night," said Helen Kamerow, Gordin's sister.

Kamerow remembers that every Sunday, the family would gather at the Rosenthal home for a festive dinner. "My mother was a wonderful cook and a great baker."

When grandchildren started to arrive, Sarah would bake "nana cakes" and Isadore would trim them. "I once decorated a cake with a basketball court on top," he said.

After Isadore retired, he began a second career in real estate management. He worked for several prominent Jewish developers including Morris Pollin, father of Abe Pollin, owner of the Washington Wizards basketball team and the Washington Capitals hockey team.

At age 75, Rosenthal retired a second time and he and his wife traveled for several years.

At the Charter House, the Rosenthals enjoy various activities geared toward seniors. Friday afternoons Shabbat services are held. On Saturdays, a bus takes residents to a synagogue in Chevy Chase, Md., for morning services.

The Rosenthals have five grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren.

"We've had a happy life together," said Isadore. "We've always had our health and our children."