THE MUSEUM OF FAMILY HISTORY presents
Jews in Small Towns:
My grandparents on my father's side wandered from the region of southeast Europe, called Bessarabia, until they settled in a small village called Smela. This village was somewhere between Odessa and Kiev. I believe my mother told me her parents were also from Russia.
My father and mother grew up in the little village of Smela. Their families knew each other and were friends. My parents liked each other until they grew up, and then their feelings grew deeper for one another. My father learned his tailoring trade through the help of a cousin of his family at the Palace of the Czar. After my father learned his trade, he traveled about sewing and earning money to send to his family. He tried out for the Russian Opera Company, but because of asthma he did not make it. For that reason he continued with his tailoring and was very good at it. He was the oldest of five children. Families, in those days, for the most part worked for the good of the family unit. This kept my father and mother out of touch with each other for some time.
I was told by my mother that both parents loved the study of Torah. My mother's parents made their living by renting a big building from a Russian landowner. On one side myBubbe Rose sold bread, milk, and cheese that she made. At the end of the village or town, the people would rent stalls to house cows. My Bubbe Rose had three cows. On the other side of the building my Zayde Kasiel sold fabrics. It was called a silk store. Everyone worked and pulled together. On certain days my Zayde Kasiel would teach the children how to read the Siddur, count, and also to read and write Russian. There were no schools, so whoever learned the language would teach the children of the place in which they lived. That way no one would be illiterate.
My father's people were more into music and helped with the kosher foods to help supplement their income. When my father became of age he had to do a tour of service in the Russian Army. He served for three or four years. Then one day the young men of my father's regiment were standing at attention for an inspection and an evaluation for a furlough. It was done by rotation and quality of service to the Czar and Russian Military. One of my father's friends was due for leave. Their officer in charge asked the young man if he wanted to renew his service when he returned from furlough. My father's friend replied he did not wish to return to military service. He explained he wished to study language and math. As I recall these events, I remember very clearly what my father told me. He said almost two months went by, and my father never saw his young friend after that. That experience changed the course of my father's life and was a blessing for me and my family today. The day came when the same officer asked my father the same question. Did he like the military and would he be interested in re-enlisting? His reply was yes. This impressed his officer. One day my father went home on leave. When he arrived at home he gathered all of the family members together and explained his plight. The people in Russia were so oppressed they were organizing a revolt against the formal government. There was terrible hunger and unrest at this time. After discussing the pros and cons, my grandparents came to a decision. They gathered whatever they had to convert into money so my father could come to the United States of America.
There was a friend in Philadelphia who was my father's sponsor. My father wrote a letter to his commanding officer in which he thanked him for the privilege of re-enlisting. He also explained he had an opportunity to come to America, and it all happened in such a manner that he could not come back to tell him in person. He said it was an honor to serve the Czar and his country. The letter was mailed after my father was on a ship to America. It was all legitimate because my father had served his tour in the Russian Army as service to the Czar and his country. He just did not tell his officer what he really thought. My father explained when you did not do what the military wanted they sent you to Siberia to work in the salt mines. This decision brought my father and his parents, two brothers, and two sisters to this country within three years.
My father was so busy working that he did not communicate with my mother. My mother thought he had other interests and was not interested in her anymore. There was another young man in Smela who grew up with my father and mother. They were all friends studying under the watchful eye of my mother's father, Kasiel Plastike.
As time went on this young man spoke with my mother. They would take walks together, and he came to visit my mother for a Shabbas meal, read about our people and their beliefs, sang Sabbath songs. In the meantime, my father was not aware of what was taking place. I remember my father telling me he received this letter from a distant cousin telling him this young man was planning to ask my mother to marry him. I recall so clearly the expressions on my father's face as he was telling me how he felt. His face was full of pain. He looked at me and said "Suralie (Sarah in Yiddish), I thought I would die. I hurriedly wrote your mother a long letter explaining why I had not written, that I always liked her, and when I discovered how I truly felt I made the decision to leave Russia. I did not want to marry her there." The other young man wanted an answer to his proposal. Mother did not know what to do. She did tell me she did not feel the same way for this young man as she did my father. The day my mother was to give the young man her decision, she received the letter my father had written her explaining everything and asking her to be his wife. As I remember, he also told her he had always loved her, and the bond was always there.
This chain of events brought about serious decisions for my mother and preparations as well. My mother had to decide to leave her eighty-three year-old father, one sister, and eleven brothers, with whom she was very close. My mother's mother had died some years before these events. They were a very close family, and I think at that time only one brother had left Russia and come to the United States. It was a very difficult time for her. My mother told me her father encouraged her to leave Russia and to go with her future mother-in-law to America. Young women did not travel alone in that time period. My father arrived in this country in June 1910, and my mother and grandmother arrived two years later in 1912 with my father's mother. The fact that my mother had lost her mother was a deciding factor to leave Russia and marry my father.
My father worked for different manufacturing factories, and since he did so well, he was given the position as foreman. He left because he could not bear to drive or pressure the young children to sew until they could barely sit at the machines. This fact caused my father to leave Philadelphia and go to Baltimore. My mother had a brother and his wife who lived there. My father got a job doing tailoring. He still did not like living in the city. The housing was too close. He also told me he did not like the way young women were treated by men in the work place and other places. He told my mother he wanted to find a place where the air was clean and not crowded.
A friend of theirs was going to Norfolk, Virginia, to see about opening a tailoring shop. At this particular time it was summer. On one of the weekends he went to the beach with his friend. He decided not to go to Norfolk, as well. There were so many sailors that he thought it was not a good environment for family. He returned to Baltimore and learned of a man by the name of Mr. Cabe who was opening a department store in West Point, Virginia, where he would sell men's and women's clothing. He needed a tailor to do the alterations and hired my father. During that period of living in Philadelphia and Baltimore, my parents had their first child, my sister Rose. This was one of the main factors in my father's decision not to live in a large city. This is how my parents, from a remote village of Smela, (southeast of Kiev, Russia) came to this country to find freedom of worship and the right to earn a living and live a peaceful life of one's choice. Another generation is born. This is how, through my father's wanderings and experiences, we came to settle in the small town of West Point, Virginia.
This period of time was a very troubled one in the world, particularly in Europe, and whatever happens in Europe has a profound effect on the United States and the rest of the world. The war clouds were gathering. My father worked from early morning until late at night. Mr. Cabe's store prospered and things went along like this for some time. I don't know exactly why my father stopped working for Mr. Cabe. I do know my father told me the war broke out in Europe, and things were difficult in this country as well. Life went on, and my sister grew into a beautiful little girl. My father and mother adored her. She was their first, and it was like a miracle, they told me, to have such a blessing in a land where there were no pogroms; where people weren't fearful for their lives and those of their children. My parents worked hard and enjoyed life. The two days that were special were Friday night, which was Erev Shabbos, and Saturday, which was Shabbos. Every Saturday afternoon my father would open the shop so the people who wanted their clothes for Sunday could get them. My father cleaned and pressed the clothes for the townspeople by hand. He did not have the money to buy machinery for that kind of work. Daddy told me life was good. He had work, his beloved wife, and little girl. What more could a man want? However my mother later on in my life told me she longed to be near her own people. The "Lord" was to bless them a second time. My mother learned she was with child again. With all the troubles in the world my mother later told me what a blessing I was to be. On a cold winter's day in December 1917, I made my debut into this world. The physician who delivered me was Alvin Hudson. He later proved to be a wonderful and true friend to my parents.
World War I was all people talked about. My father wanted to enlist to serve because he wanted to defend this country for the sake of freedom, regardless of creed, color, or religion. However the local townspeople told my father, "The gesture is beautiful, Ben, but your wife and children need you more." Life went on, and my sister Rose and I began to grow and be aware of who we were, who our parents were, and life was good.
As time went by, the one day that stands out in my mind is Erev Shabbos. My mother was always dressed special with a white lace scarf on her head; my sister and I looking at our mother blessing the Sabbath candles, the beautiful bread she baked, and the whole world was shining; and my father looking at all of us and smiling. After the blessing he would kiss my mother then my sister and then me. I was told I was two years old at the time.
My father lost his job with Mr. Cabe, so my mother and sister and I went to Philadelphia to stay with my grandparents until my father could set up some kind of tailoring business. When I was older, my mother and I were talking, and I used to ask many questions. I turned to my mother during the conversation as she related an experience during the time we were at my grandparents. My Bubbe had made all the goodies that went with the Shabbos meal. There was a huge plate of gefilte fish. My mother had a separate kitchen. I went out of my mother's kitchen and into the dining room of my grandparents. I climbed up on the table and was about to help myself to a piece of fish when out of nowhere I heard a shout. My Zayde was about to spank me, and Bubbe was there in a flash; "Beral," she said, 'Nain, don't you dare touch her she is a baby, and it is Shabbos!" Well it caused a bit of a commotion but not for long. She told me what I had remembered was true.
Shortly after that we moved back to West Point, Virginia. Life went on. I grew and began to be aware of my surroundings. West Point was a very small town with maybe 800 souls. It was a clean town, with three rivers. On the left of the town was the Mattaponi River, on the right was the Pamuneky, and at the foot of West Point was the York River. All of these rivers ran into the Chesapeake Bay. There were two main industries in West Point while I was growing up. At the end of town was an oyster house owned by a man named Captain Bill Marshall. He used to have boats go up and down the York River and Chesapeake Bay where he had oyster beds. In the winter months he would have people shuck the oysters for shipping up north. Above the town on the Pamuneky River was a paper mill; it was started by a man named Olsen who came directly from Sweden. I went to school with the youngest of his three children. His name was Stura. The last I heard, Stura was still an officer of the corporation. The name of the mill is Chesapeake Paper Mill. It is still the main industry of West Point. I remember the air in the town was clean except for days when the wind blew the wrong way. We used to get the awful smell of the sulfuric acid that was used to break down the wood pulp into paper. With that exception it was a quiet little town with clean streets, trees, and places for children to play.
As a little girl I always wished for more friends to play with. Then a wonderful thing took place; my sister Rose and I were elated. God blessed our family with a little sister. Her name was Miriam (Mimi for short). I thought she was the most beautiful thing in the world. I had my sister Rose, then Mimi, and my mother and father. I was content. When the weather was nice we used to take our little sister out in the stroller. You see, our mother helped my father with the sewing when she wasn't cooking and taking care of her family needs. Life was good, and there were many happy outings.
There were no other Jewish people in the town except us. My parents did not mingle with the people of the town because they were busy making a living for their family and did not speak English very well. There was a family named Nance at the corner who owned a grocery store. They lived over the store and had added on in the lot next to the store for extra living quarters. They had a porch and a yard where they could play. Sometimes I would wander up to where they lived. There was a black iron fence between where I stood and the other children. They would be inside their yard, my sister Mimi and I on the outside. I soon learned their names were Janie B. and Barbara. I told them our names. It was so strange. Every time we would wander up to talk to them, their mother called them in. It didn't take long for me to understand we were not wanted. I went home and told my mother. She said, "Don't go near there again." So I didn't for awhile. Being a child, I tried again. When that failed I did not go again. Oh, how I missed people who were like me. I knew no one Jewish except my family.
My mother and father created wonderful experiences for us. Every Friday night everything was beautiful, and Saturday morning she read the Siddur to us. I would sometimes interrupt to ask questions, and she would always reply, "Nu Ah." When she would finish, she would explain what she was davening. Our home was our synagogue. The closest Jewish community was about sixty to seventy miles away. The highways were dirt roads, and the only form of transportation was a train that was too expensive for all of us. When my father bought a Model T Ford, we would go to a synagogue on occasion. We had no friends or family in Richmond, so it was difficult. In spite of all this, I knew who I was. We observed the Sabbath. Our home was kosher, and we observed all the Jewish Holidays.
Time went on, we grew, and my parents worked to make a living. One summer day, when I was about six or seven, a new minister came to West Point to preach at the Baptist Church. He stopped one day to speak with my father and mother. He explained that if they would consider sending us to Sunday school just so we could have social friends with other children, it would be good for us. My parents explained their fears. Minister Ellis promised my parents that the only thing that would be taught to us was the Old Testament. So every Sunday we used to dress up in our best clothing and go to the Baptist Church. I met other children. When we would learn about the Old Testament figures I would say to my teacher, I know that story--my mother taught that. It was a place to go to be with other children.
My sisters and I would come home around noon, and dinner was being prepared by my mother. If the weather was nice, we would all go out and play, or if dinner was finished my father would take us for a ride in the Model T Ford. We had a wonderful time being in each other's company. If it was cold, raining, or snowing my sister Rose would play the piano, and we would all sing, drink tea, eat cookies and, around 6:00 pm, we would eat a wonderful meal together. This was the way we lived for many years.
In West Point, there was a man by the name of William Bell and his wife. I was told by my father this gentleman wanted to adopt me. As the story goes, he tells my father he had the means to give me the best education and advantages in life to be whatever I wanted. My father said to me many years later, "Sura, never would I ever give up one hair of my children's Jewish hair no matter how poor I was. I would find a way to get goods and to clothe each of you." I said "Daddy, why?" My father's answer was "Money could never buy the love of my children; besides I could never give my Jewish blood to a non-Jew." Those words impressed me. As ] grew up, and many years later when I was having a hard time finding out who I was, what I was, those words always came across very clearly to me. I knew and was comfortable in the knowledge of how very much I was loved. Each of us knew how much our father and mother loved us.
I started school, and it was all right, but for some reason I did not like it at first. After I got out of first and second grades I thought learning would be exciting. I don't know why events turned as they did, but it happened and my experience in the third grade affected me for the rest of my life. It was the first day of school, and, as in every town, there are people who belong to the upper class and those of us who are different. The first day I walked into class and took a seat near my teacher's desk, where some of the upper class children sat. We were all talking, as children do before class. Then Miss Hogg called the class to order. She spoke for a few minutes; then she started placing the class as she wanted it. Even a child of seven felt the partiality. That was how old I was at the time. She kept all of the children whose parents were connected with the officers of the paper mill or who were well known for whatever reason in West Point up front. She sent me to the back of the room in the farthest part of the room. I was so hurt, I became angry. At the end of the school day, I learned she also put a little girl who lived across the street from where she lived in back. I remember so well because it was painful. When Betsy asked me how I liked Miss Hogg, I replied, "I do not like her, I think she is mean. She makes me sit in the back of the room with all the children whose parents are not well thought of." I looked up as I finished my sentence, and there she stood. For the next three years, my life was hell until everything came to the surface. I shut my mind and did nothing for two years. My parents always said listen to your teacher. This went on until it all came out. My father and mother and my sister Rose, God rest their souls, righted everything. The principal knew I was not a slow learner; I did not do anything mean. I just closed my mind, heart, and soul, not to feel the pain, and that was my way to get help. After that I made honor roll. It took many years before I ever spoke to my teacher again. I was in high school. It was strange.
When I would see her I would cross the street to avoid speaking to her. A number of years later, I was coming out of the post office, and she was walking up the steps to come in. There wasn't anywhere for me to go. My teacher said, "Sue, can you forgive me?" I remember so well what I answered, "Miss Cornelia, I will try." I did after many years.
The years went along, life was good, and I knew what I was, and so did my sisters. We had sad days and happy days. The sad days were when we had to make up school time because of Jewish holidays. We did, and we did well anyway. I loved all of the Jewish holidays. One was difficult, Pesach, in which we could not get kosher dairy products, so food became a bore before the eight days were over. I used to say to my sister Rose and Min that an ice cream cone will taste good after, so let's not worry. Except for a few minor things, I loved being Jewish and still do; more so now. Since I have grown and studied and read, Judaism as I know and understand it is the most sensible belief in the world if we live by the belief as it is written. During this period of time my father continued with his tailoring, but his tailoring was not enough to support us. There were two events that continue to give me strength in being Jewish and all that it taught.
One night my father came home around 9:00 p.m. He had started going out in the hinterlands of Virginia, buying up fur pelts so he could take them to New York to sell to the fur manufacturing companies. This particular night was different. On week days my mother always gave us our supper before Daddy came home. On Shabbos it was different. We never ate until my father was home which was always before sundown. The night I am talking about now was not a week day, it was Shabbos. When my father came in the house, my mother cried out "Baruch, vos, utt ge trafen?" "All right," she said, "wash up, let's eat, and then you will tell us." When my father showed us his coat, a new navy Melton coat, it was very torn. We were all very worried. My father told us he went to this farm house to which he had gone many times before and done business with the man. They had a young son about fifteen years old who was retarded in some way. My father drove up into the yard. He saw the boy and asked him where his father was. He said his daddy was not home. My father asked if there were any fur pelts. He answered yes. With that he led my father to a shed where he had always gone. The boy told my father, "Mr. Laden, I will go get daddy, he is down in the field. You go into the shed" and the boy slammed the door and left. I remember how all of us were watching my father's face as he told us of his experience. Shortly after this boy shut the door, my father said he heard a low growl. He realized it was a brown bear but not full grown. He was big enough to attack and cause damage. My father said he looked around frantically for something to protect and defend himself with. He spied a baseball bat and grabbed it. He somehow got the bear in th corner and pushed the bat under the bear's throat until he died. During the struggle, the Melton coat my grandfather had sent saved my father from harm. Because of this incident my father got the name of Bear Killer. It was as if it were a warning to anyone who might want to do us harm. Don't bother Ben Laden; he will do what he must do to survive. Afte Daddy told us about this experience, I remember that my mother and sisters and myself hugged and kissed my father and told him how much we loved him. He remarked, "I had to come home to my girls." This experience stayed with us for very long time. My parents examined the coat, opened it up, turned it over on the inside of the cloth, cleaned and pressed it by hand. There was enough to make a coat for one of us girls. I needed a warm coat for the winter. The one I outgrew went to my youngest sister, and I was elated to wear this one. After it was completed with white pearl buttons, I felt very good in it. We never wasted and always turned a trying experience into a positive one. I wore that coat for several years.
My mother was with child again. They were happy, and so were my sisters and I. We, as a family, looked forward to this gift with which we were to be blessed. Not so, there were complications, and it was either my mother's or the little boy's life. Only one could be saved. My poor father had to assist Dr. Hudson and make the heartbreaking choice as to which one to save. My saddest memory about this loss is that there were no other Jewish people in this town to share our grief. My sisters and I were devastated. My beloved father had to build a little box, tenderly put his infant son's dress and cap on, line the box with white cloth, and put a pillow inside on which he laid his only infant son's little body. I have never seen such tears, and I pray to God I will never see such overwhelming sorrow again. My father was a strong and brave man. He drove all those miles to Richmond after making a phone call to the people who took care of these matters. He had to leave my mother and my sisters and myself. We had no family or friends to help us. Mayor William Bell's wife brought food. Dr. Hudson got a black midwife to help take care of my mother. There was another black lady who came from Baltimore to work at the oyster house for the winter. She came and helped cook for us. Between my sisters and myself telling her how to do things we survived until my father completed his heartbreaking duty. When I was allowed to see my mother, I remember putting my head on her chest and just cried as if my heart would break. May the "Lord" rest her beautiful soul. She put her arms around me and said, "It is all right to cry, Sura. God understands." This is the most anguished time I had as a child growing up in a small non-Jewish town. We all grieved, but time heals broken hearts. I must say, going back and remembering all about this I have cried heartbreaking tears. Life does go on, and when we allow ourselves to grieve, we heal.
We lived each day as it came. My mother grew stronger, and soon she was helping Daddy run the tailor shop and buying fur pelts in the winter. We survived. Many times my father bought the muskrats before they were skinned; then he would have to skin them. The poorer black people would eat the meat. I would take the meat, put them in a basket, and go from house to house near the river selling the meats from the animals for twenty-five cents apiece. When it started to get dark, I would sell them two for thirty-five cents. One day I honestly don't remember what I did. My mother was preparing the evening meal for us. When I came in, her first words were, "Thank God, you are home." "Sura," she said to me, "wash up and help set the table. We will sit down to eat in a few minutes." "Mama, are you going to count the money?" " Later", she answered me. After our evening meal, my sisters, my father, and I watched our mother count. When she finished she exclaimed, "You have way over five dollars. How did you do that at the price I told you to sell them for?" "Mama, I don't honestly know," was my answer.
These were grave financial times. My father had to give up his tailoring and devote all of his time to making a living as best he could. In the winter he bought and sold furs of all kinds found and trapped in our state of Virginia. In warm weather he bought and sold junk metal of all kinds. He worked hard, and things began to pick up. I remember the headlines in the Richmond News Leader. The stock market crashed, then in Richmond the Morris bank closed. There were headlines of important people committing suicide. It was awful. My father lost most of what he had put together to move from West Point to Richmond. My parents agreed it was time. They wanted us to have friends among our own people. When this happened, it crushed my father's heart. He never really recovered. He and my mother were in their early fifties.
Things were very bad for us at this time. My sister Rose (who was the oldest) had just finished business school. She stayed with a Jewish lady by the name of Mrs. Moore. She and my parents became friendly when they came to Richmond to buy kosher meats. Once when they were at the kosher butcher shop they started to converse and from that time became friendly. While my sister went to school, she stayed with Mrs. Moore and came home by bus on the weekend. When this terrible financial loss happened, my parents contacted their friend, and my sister got a job with the W.P.A.
In the meantime, our landlord, Mr. Scott Broudds, started pressing my father for the rent, which we did not have. We tried to keep up but sometimes were quite late. There were some drinking men in West Point who were anti-Semitic. They were pressuring Mr. Broudds to evict us. We got the notice. My father was going to go to court to ask for some time so we could make the move. We don't know what really happened. The poor man died before my father and he had to be in court. The day they were to appear in court was the day this man was going to be buried. My father was not going to go to his funeral. My mother was so nice, "Ben," she said, "we have lived in this man's building for so many years. If you stay away, the people who are anti-Semitic towards us will have reason to hate and harm us." "No," she said. "We are both going and offer our sympathy."
We finally made the move. We moved into a flat in a primary Jewish neighborhood. Many of the Jewish people had been leaving the old section into other areas. Many Jewish people still lived over their place of business. We made our move, but the flat was in very poor shape. One day I got up enough nerve to ask our landlord to paint and clean up the place. When he saw the place he said "What is wrong with it?" I turned to this man and said, "Mr. Mundie, would you be happy if your daughter had to live this way?" Okay," he answered me, turned to my father and said, "Ben, your daughter is quite a diplomat." Our flat was painted and papered, the floors cleaned and freshly done. We bought a new sofa, curtains, and cleaned up the fire grate. We had the flat cozy and comfortable.
My sister Miriam and I continued with our schooling. After school I worked on the N.RA. program and took another job working on weekends in one of the stores on Main Street. We all put what we earned together. My father took a job in a man's tailoring shop and worked until he became ill; then he couldn't work anymore. These were hard times but good times as well. I remember the Jewish holidays, going to school, meeting other children; I did not feel so out of place.
I loved it because I did not have to fight because we were different. In West Point I fought like a tigress for my sisters and myself. I did not care how big or ugly the other people were in West Point. I stood my ground. It didn't make me hate all Christians. I learned at an early age there is good and evil, or rather ignorance, in all peoples and places. I was happy we were out of West Point. I am grateful my family and I moved to a city such as Richmond where there was a large Jewish population.
The Holocaust was horrible in itself. I am grateful I was not living in West Point. Thank God I did not have to know what it was like being Jewish with all that hatred going on. It was bad enough in Richmond, where we had other Jewish people to talk with and to express our feelings. By that time I had made friends. I also joined junior Hadassah and became involved in Jewish affairs. It made it easier to cope with anti-Semitic slurs that were being tossed about.
In the spring of 1940, everyone was busy trying to raise money for the war effort. Our young men were being drafted. My sister Mimi and I had finished high school, and we were all working. Our parents were not well, so we had to pitch in and stick together; we held our own.
One day that spring I remember so well. We had a wonderful lady living across the street by the name of Glick. We all called her Nina Glick. She was a widow with three sons and two daughters, Gooty and Beverly. My sister Mimi and I were friendly with the girls. This was a beautiful Sunday. I had been walking with a friend. As I approached my house, Gooty called out to me. We had not put a phone in, and her mother allowed me to get calls at her house so I could have contact with the friends I had made. Gooty called me across the street on the pretext of giving me a phone number to call. When I crossed the street she told me there was a young man she wanted me to meet. I was about to say no because I wasn't sure who he was or what he was. In the door way stood a tall, very handsome young man. He was a soldier. He seemed friendly enough, but I wasn't sure just what to do. My friend introduced us, and then we started talking. It seems he had come into town on Saturday and had spent most of his monthly check. These young service men would hitch a ride back and forth from their camp to Richmond to see the U.S.O. shows. The Jewish people used to give them a meal and shelter. I told this young man I was pleased to meet him and said that I must go home. He asked for my address and permission to write and perhaps see me. I said I would talk it over with my parents. I left. When I went home, I told my father and mother. "Mama and Daddy, he has to be back in camp by twelve tonight. I'm sure he and his friends will be hungry." We decided to fix sandwiches.
I went downstairs, and I saw the younger man whose name was Sidney. "Sidney, would you like a meal before you leave for camp?" He said, "I would love one." We fixed sandwiches and soda and packed a snack to take with him. He thanked my parents for their kindness and asked if he could call on me again. They said it would be all right with them if it was with me.
That was the beginning of my friendship with the person who would become my husband. Only at that time I did not know that. We went together for a year and a half, and on a beautiful autumn day in 1942 we were married (October 11, 1942 , to be exact).
Like all young brides, I followed my husband. Then something shattered our home; my mother had a severe heart attack, and we almost lost her. Somehow, God was good to us, and she survived. As soon as my mother was better, I followed my Sidney again. Then I had to stay home for a while. My father wasn't well. Rose and Mimi were the main support at that time, and I stayed home and cared for my sisters and parents. That way we all did our best to keep our family together.
Whenever Sidney could get leave he would come home and visit. Everyone was so happy to see him. He loved my family, and I loved him. We had real good times when he could get home. Always, he would manage to be in for Shabbos. The candles were burning brightly. The table was covered with a white tablecloth and a fresh challah from the little Jewish bakery.
I was with Sid when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, and that was one of the worst Sundays I ever spent. We had men stationed at Fort Hancock, New Jersey, at that time, and my husband was sent and transferred to many camps on the east coast of the United States until he was sent overseas.
So I came home and stayed with my parents and sisters. Mother could not do anything and my father very little. So I kept house for all of us and took care of my mother, who was in bed a great deal. In the spring of 1945, Sidney was sent to Fort Jackson, South Carolina. I went to see him and stayed until he was shipped overseas. It took almost sixty days before I heard from him. He was on one of the islands in the Pacific.
I learned in that time period that I was with child. I had not felt very well the last few weeks we were together but said nothing. I did not want to worry him. After going to my doctor when I got home, he told me I might be, but we can't be sure. When it was confirmed that I was pregnant, I was told to be very careful. As it turned out, I almost lost our child. I went to bed and stayed a month.
With the help of the good Lord, Sidney got home two weeks before our beautiful daughter was born. We lived our lives. We all found a house and moved in. Then my parents could get outside and have fresh air.
My sister Rose came home one night to tell us the good news. Her young man had asked her to marry him. We began looking for another place to live because we had a child, and it would be easier for us to move than my parents and sisters. Rose and Herbert were married on a beautiful June day. We were all happy, and she looked lovely.
We found another place to live. We were being blessed with another child, due in December of 1949. The years passed quickly, and our little family grew. We had three children--our daughter, who was the oldest, and two sons. We would visit with my parents and sisters; we took them to temple. Life was good. We enjoyed one another. Then sadness struck our family. My beloved father passed away.
My mother took it a lot better then my sisters and myself. Although my mother suffered with heart disease, and all those years she showed such courage and strength for her children. I was devastated. My father was a wonderful friend and confidante. I knew I would miss him, and I do until this day. We all grieved for my father. Our courage and strength to go on came from believing in the teachings of Judaism.
Then something wonderful was going to happen. My sister Rose gave the family the happiness and joy we all needed. She blessed our family with a beautiful little girl. Her name is Brenda Lisa. She was named after my mother's only sister and my father. Brenda Lisa and her cousins enjoyed one another. We had family get togethers, and life was good. Then my husband and I were blessed with yet another child, three years after my father passed away. Our youngest child was a little boy. Yes, I named him after my father, whose name was Benjamin. In Hebrew it was Baruch. My niece was given the English name Brenda, but in Hebrew it is Brocha, and my son's English name is Brian. We had many years of happiness.
Our children grew up and married. Three of our children intermarried. My oldest son has a daughter, and he lives in Columbus, Ohio. My daughter and her husband live in Green Bay, Wisconsin, and are involved in the Jewish Community. My second son and his wife have a beautifullittle boy and live in Melbourne Beach, Florida. Our youngest and his wife live in Coral Gables, Florida. They are both practicing attorneys. My niece and her husband live in Sarasota, Florida. She works very closely with him in his medical practice. My sister's child and my children communicate with one another. They live in different towns but are all a part of their Jewish Community.
As I go back in memory to all of the years of my life, my thoughts on my upbringing were sound and firm. How proud I am to have been born into a culture that has sustained the Jewish people so many thousands of years, through all kinds of persecutions. How blessed I am to have lived among non-Jewish people to learn about others and to teach them through example. Because I was a Jew I was chosen to live a life of compassion for all people. I have friends among many different kinds of people. I learned about being Jewish from my father and mother. I do have a way of life to be proud of without being pompous or obnoxious.
The golden thread throughout this paper is: to be born into
the Jewish faith, I have to live the life. I am my brother's keeper. That is my
honor and my heritage. There are duties and love of man I must perform. I knew
if I lived long enough, growing up in a town where there were no Jewish people
except for my family, the experience would never hurt me. After living in
Richmond from 1937 to 1986, my husband and I decided to leave. My beloved
parents and sisters and brothers-in-law were gone. Our children moved away. My
husband was sick, and the winters were harsh. We came to Florida for the winter
and decided to move here. I finally found my dream. We belong to a small but
caring congregation--Beth Shalom. Rabbi Paul Grob and his lovely wife Dorothy are
very caring people and make us feel important. Through all of my life's
experiences, the best of all was watching our children and my niece grow into
beautiful people. My father and mother taught me that with caring and love,
there will be peace in the world.
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