The Story of Barbara Jacob
The demographic character of the Cleveland Arab community did not change significantly until after the partition of Palestine in 1948 and the Arab Israeli War of 1967, factors which accounted for the exodus of displaced Palestinians, thousands of whom eventually came to the United States, many settling down in Cleveland.
However, an early Cleveland arrival from Palestine was Atullah Jacob. Even in those days, Ramallah, in the East Palestine district of Jerusalem, was a lush and prosperous city. Its farms and gardens nourished by the waters of many natural springs, Ramallah was fast developing into a resort and tourist attraction.
Atullah Jacob, nevertheless, was not content to remain in his native city, but was determined to come to the America he had learned so much about from the American Presbyterian teachers whose faith he followed.
He arrived in Cleveland in 1902 and died here in 1975 at the age of ninety-five.
"He was very proud of his name," said his widow, Mrs. Barbara Khattar Jacob. "Atullah means 'gift of God' and all his life he said it was his obligation to live up to that."
Barbara Khattar arrived from the Lebanon in 1913 at the age of fifteen, going first to Youngstown to her cousin's home.
"I wanted to earn some money to send home to my family in our village near Batroun, but then the war started in 1914 and communication was cut off. When I came to Cleveland," she said, "I went to work in a cigar
factory at Woodland and East 14th Street with some other Syrian women. We earned $2.00 a day. That was good money then.
"Then some friends I met said that was not an easy job for a young girl, and offered me a job in their restaurant. The owner's name was Khalil Tuma, and I became good friends with his daughter Selima and shared a room with her in their house."
Atullah Jacob was, by that time, a partner with Khalil Tuma in the restaurant. "I didn't pay much attention to him at first," said Mrs. Jacob. "He was much older than I was, and of course, he was one of the bosses.
"One day I got mad at Mr. Tuma because he was angry with something I did, or maybe didn't do, I don't remember. He swore at me, at least I think it was some bad words, and I was very humiliated and so I ran away from the restaurant and from the house. You see, the expression that is used is really a curse on your father, and I couldn't stand for that, could I? After a week, some of the men came to my other friends where I had run away to, and they acted as a delegation to make peace between me and Mr. Tuma. I remember Mr. Orfalie, who owned a linen store at the Arcade. He was very kind, but stern, and he asked me why I was so angry with Mr. Tuma who 'loved me like his own daughter.' I said I didn't think it was nice of him to swear at me, and Mr. Orfalie said, 'So what is that my girl, didn't your own father sometimes swear at you? Come on now, didn't he?'
"Well, I cried, and they made me and Mr. Tuma make up, and Mr. Tuma who was really a good man, well he cried too. And so he hugged me, and
kissed my cheek, and we made it up. Then I went back to work in the restaurant and back to living with Selima at their house, and we all got along very well."
About that time, Atullah Jacob began expressing his intentions toward Barbara Khattar, but at first she was dissuaded by friends.
" 'He is a good man,' they said, 'but he is much too old for you. And more, he is a Protestant and a Palestinian and you are Maronite Catholic and Lebanese. These mixed marriages don't work.'
"But finally I decided it would be all right. I could turn for him and be a Protestant, too, because after all aren't we all under the one God? And what if he was not from my own country, what of that, we were all Arabs anyway.
"We were married in Mr. Tuma's house, and Selima was my bridesmaid and Juryous Hishmeh who was also from Ramallah was Atulla’s best man."
They went to live in a house on Central Avenue and soon started a restaurant of their own.
"Our restaurant was at 656 Bolivar Road. We cooked many things. Ham and eggs, and other American foods but also some Middle Eastern food."
In 1919, their first son was born. "I didn't know much about those things, and I walked from the restaurant to the Maternity Hospital which was on Cedar because I had some pain, but I didn't know the time had come. Well, they knew, the nurses, and they wouldn't let me go home. My boy was born that night."
The birth of a first son was a joyous occasion and everyone coming to the restaurant was treated to "Bahlawa" the rich nut filled, syrup soaked pastry served at Middle East festivities.
Early menus at the restaurant were cheap and filling. "We sold a plate of 'Kibbee’ for 25 cents. Two 'Kousa’ were also 25 cents. Rice was 5 cents and so was a dish of laban (yogurt). Chicken with 'hashwee’ (meat and rice stuffing) was 25 cents, and 'Mishwee' (shish kabob) was 25 or 30 cents, I don't quite remember."
The Jacobs operated their restaurants for thirty years and catered weddings and parties. They provided for the education of their four children from the profits of their business.
"When we lived so close to downtown," Mrs. Jacob remembered, "I would sometimes get so sick for the smell and the feeling of the grass, and the open air that was in my own village, that I had to run away from the sidewalks. I would take my children when they were little, and we would walk to the Erie Street Cemetery, and today they laugh when they remember I let them play in the cemetery under the trees. It was so quiet and pleasant there, and there was nothing frightening about it for us. We just took it for granted that here was another step in life.
"We found out when the memorial ceremonies were held by the Indians who came to visit and pray for their dead who were buried there. They used to tell me that the Indians who helped the first Cleveland settlers were in that cemetery, and I recall that there was once a fight between the city government and the Indians about how the graves were cared for and what would eventually become of them.