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Ruth F.
Family Life During the Great Depression

Ruth (R.) was interviewed in February 2003 by this museum's founder Steven Lasky (S.).
Also present was Steven's mother Pearl (P.). Here are the highlights of this far-ranging interview.


R: We lived at 520 Williams Avenue, between Riverdale and Livonia Avenue.  And there were three-story apartment houses. Not apartment houses, tenements. And they were all connected, one to the other, until we came to the last house on the block, and it had a courtyard. And I remember my brother and [my uncle] Artie playing up on the roof, and they ran from one roof to the other, going from one corner to the next corner. And one boy that was with them fell down that courtyard and was killed. And he was a redhead, her son fell off the roof. *1

There was a ledge separating each house. And let me tell you, it really was like one long block, until you came to the last house, I believe. And there was a courtyard, and he fell down.

Oh, my father. When it was very, very hot in the summertime -- we did live up on the third floor. I remember my mother never took an apartment lower than the top floor.  She didn’t want anyone over her head. And when it became very hot in the summertime, there was no air-conditioning. All we had was a fan that kicked the hot air around. So we’d take a quilt up on the roof, spread newspapers out. We called it “Tar Beach.” I remember now. It was called “Tar Beach” because they were paved with tar paper. We spread the newspapers out, we put the quilt down, and my father would sleep up there. It was hot, but it cooled off at night.
You put down a quilt though, and he took a pillow, and he slept up there. I remember my mother bringing up a pitcher of lemonade, and the kids had a great time there. We were so many kids in the building. It was a three-story tenement house.
Did the boys bring up the girls to the roof?
We were young. There were no girls at that time. There were no girls. No boys, no girls. There were no boy-girls.

I remember Max [Ruth's brothers were named Max, Hooney and Itzik. Max was also Pearl's second husband.] belonged to a cellar club somewhere in Flatbush. All the cellar clubs were there, and my brother never wanted to take me there. He said only bums went there. (laughs) I remember that. Really, I don’t remember too much … and then he hooked up with Beattie.

S: Did you ever sleep on the balcony?

R: No, no. The only ones that slept on the fire escape, I believe, were the first floor, because then it didn’t have an opening to walk down, something or other. It wasn’t safe. I don’t remember ever sleeping on a fire escape.

S: What do you remember about the neighborhood?

R: It was a very, very nice neighborhood. It was 110% Jewish. There were no Christians.

S: Now we’re talking about maybe the twenties or thirties?

R: Yeah. There were no non-Jews there. None at all. The only ones that were non-Jews were the janitors of the buildings, superintendents, whatever you want to call them. It was -- you know, it was a ghetto. I remember in the heat of the day or night, everybody would take a folding chair, bring it downstairs, sit outside against the building. There was a candy store somewhere down the street. You know, it was like a village.

S: How about a bakery?

R: Oh, we had a bakery on Livonia Avenue, by Alabama Avenue. We had a very nice bakery. But mostly, you know, the people baked themselves. I remember the bakery on Williams Avenue and Livonia, on that corner. No, it was on Alabama, corner of Livonia. Oh, that was different. No. This, I remember, was on Alabama. How do I know? Because there were two gorgeous guys that worked there, and I was about sixteen years old, and I remember, there was one of the fellows that I remember was on Alabama ... You know that we lived on every street? We lived on Sheffield Avenue. No, we started on Georgia Avenue, Sheffield Avenue, Alabama, Williams, then Hinsdale.

S: You moved every year?

R: Every couple of years, yeah.

S: Was it hard moving?

R: In fact, you know what? We moved from Williams Avenue. We moved to Waterbury, Connecticut. Then we moved back, and guess what? The apartment was still vacant. We moved back into the same apartment. Believe it or not, yeah. And I remember, I had a piano, and they used pulleys to bring it up from the moving van, all the way up to the apartment, on the outside of the building. There was no way of bringing it up the other way. It was a very, very nice small town, you can believe it or not. It was like a small village, and everybody knew each other. It was so nice and friendly.

S: Do you think that it was the best time of one’s life?

R: (sighs) We were so poor at the time. You know what? I don’t know if it was the best or not. The children didn’t know too much about being bad times, ‘cause we were outside. But now that I look back, it was bad. It really was. My father was a window cleaner. Four children to support. They didn’t have the means of making a living.

S: And your mother didn’t work?

R: No. Women didn’t work in those days.

S: What happened during the Depression?

R: My mother was a very proud woman. She wouldn’t go on -- today, it’s welfare. In those days, it was called “home relief.” She wouldn’t do that. We struggled along.

S: Did you or your brothers work when you were younger?

R: No. Oh, I went to work when I was sixteen years old. I went to work at a factory on Spring Street in Manhattan. And I remember, I made eight dollars a week. And I gave my mother the eight dollars, and I got back money for carfare and a soda, ‘cause I took a sandwich from home.

S: It was a factory. What kind of factory?

R: They made compacts, ladies’ compacts, and we filled them ...

S: With the powder, and the…

R: The rouge and whatever. That’s what I did. But of course, then I had to go back to school.

S: Do you remember Max’s first job?

R: Max went to Brooklyn College.

S: So he didn’t work before college at all?

R: No. Max didn’t work. There were no jobs. Why would they have a job for Max? There were no jobs. No, he went to Brooklyn College. Then …

S: And that was about what year, more or less?

R: Let’s say I was born in 1920. Let’s say Max was born in 1916 ...

R: There were no jobs. There were no jobs. It was a very, very bad time.

S: So, I suppose the effects of the Depression didn’t really disappear until Roosevelt’s New Deal.

R: It didn’t disappear until the war started in Europe, and they needed things from us, which we manufactured, and we sent there. We built up Germany very well. You think we didn’t? We were selling them all their munitions and everything.

S: What did Max go to college for?

R: Nobody went to college for anything. They went to college.

S: So he went to college.

R: I don’t remember that he had any definite thing. I don’t know what. You know, years ago, everybody went to college to be a teacher. Itzik and him graduated at sixteen years old. They made the rapid advanced classes. Today, they call them challenged classes, whatever. So it’s two years rolled into one. RA and RB. Remember in those years? So he made two years in one. They both graduated [at] sixteen years old.

S: So you’d say Max was a smart kid?

R: Max was a genius.

S: Why was he a genius?

R: He was so smart. He really was smart. I remember he won the Greenberg Medal of French. He went to 109 in Brownsville, somewhere there, and it was called an “annex” I think, and he won the Greenberg Medal of French. He was very, very bright. He really was. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough money to keep him in college ... He got married.

S: So what happened during the war? Did he not get …

R: No. He had a child.

S: So that was exempt.

R: He was exempt. Hooney had a child. He was exempt. My younger brother Irving was not exempt. So my father told him at that time to delay going to action, so to see if he could join the Aviation Cadets. And he did, and he became a pilot.

S: Was Max disappointed that he couldn’t go into the Service?

R: Of course not. So Irving became a pilot. And Hooney stayed home, and Max stayed home. And then Max started ... He became a window cleaner. He had to make a living. And then my father told him to take a test for the post office, and he did it, and that was the best thing he ever did.

S: So he got a job in the post office delivering mail?

R: Yeah. He got a job delivering mail.

S: When did he start off delivering mail?

R: Bush Terminal. Yeah. That I remember.

S: So where did he go to high school?

R: Thomas Jefferson High School. And he was so smart. It was a shame that he had to give up school.

S: So what did he want to do, if he could do anything?

R: I don’t remember. I may … In those years, nobody wanted anything more than to be a teacher. In those years, what did we really want? We wanted security in some form, right? And what security did we have? Where did Jewish people fit in? I remember, my husband’s brother Irving graduated NYU. He was an engineer, and couldn’t find a job because he was a Jew. His name was Irving R. Buchalter, spelled the way I spell mine. Then GE wouldn’t hire him. He was a Jew.

S: Was it hard for Jews to get work back then?

R: Absolutely. And so, even the telephone company did not hire Jews. Con Edison didn’t hire Jews. All these companies did not hire Jews. So what happened to my husband’s brother? He changed his name from Irving Robert Buchalter, to Robert I. Buckalter, with a K, and became Christian, and got a job with GE.

S: So there were jobs, not just jobs for Jews.

R: No jobs for Jews. [How] come the phone company never hired a Jew? Never. And I remember Con Edison never hired a Jew. Jews didn’t work. Brooklyn Union Gas Company never hired Jews.

S: When did it change, after the war?

R: Even after the war, very, very, slowly it started to change, yeah. They were terrible times. I remember ... But it’s true that you can never understand it, Steve, ‘cause you haven’t lived through it. You can read about it, you can talk about it, you can listen to other people talk about it, but if you haven’t been there, you have no idea what a Depression is. I hope we never have to go through that again. I was telling your mother, how does a man feel when he’s got four children to support, and no job, and he knows he’s got to provide for these children? So he would break a scab line to get a days work. There no unions. And to leave two dollars for my mother. Or I remember -- you know, I do remember there was a butcher store on the corner of Livonia Avenue, I think, Alabama or Williams, whatever. I don’t remember. And there were no freezers in those years. If they were left over with chickens on a Friday afternoon, they were closed on the Sabbath. So you had to get rid of the chicken. My mother would wait until three o’clock in the afternoon on a Friday, and buy a chicken for twenty-five cents. I mean that’s how bad things were. If you have four children, you buy a quarter-pound [of] butter. At those times, they sold loose butter ... And you know what? You really can’t begin to understand how a man must feel to know he can’t feed his four children.

R: They used to pluck their own chickens. We used to buy chickens. I used to help my mother pluck the chickens. We did it over the fire to get the rest of the feathers. The “panchus.” My mother told me to go out of the butcher store, because she said I would be covered with lice, when the chicken feathers … [laughs] You know, it’s tragic. It really is tragic. It’s so sad when you think back. But these people had it very difficult. You know that? They really had it difficult.

S: Do you think then, back then, that they appreciated life more, because they had to struggle?

R: No, they had no time to appreciate anything, to be very honest. It was no time to appreciate anything. You did your own laundry. You even cooked your own starch, to starch the shirts or the dress, or the curtains that you hung on the … There is no starch today. You want starch, spray-can starch. Then you washed the clothes in the bathtub. And they had, what do they call that, that board that you rub clothes … A scrub board. You know it’s true, there was no time to appreciate anything. You just got up in the morning. You did your wash. You hung it out on the line. You took it in in the winter. It was stiff as a board. You know, there were no dryers, no washing machines. You hung your clothes on the line. In winter, it would freeze. I mean, think about it. All these things … There were no conveniences. We didn’t have a telephone. The candy store used to call us. They would yell up, and we would give the kid two cents for coming up to ring our bell, or whatever it was. But we didn’t have any conveniences in those days at all. We didn’t have cars, no telephone. We had a radio. That was it. Oh, we had a Victrola. [laughs] It used to wind up. But that’s it. That’s all we had. There was nothing. And you know what? Now that I think about it, when did my mother have a chance to enjoy her life? Or my father? Then the war came along, and things started to get a little better, and that’s about it.

S: So with all the hardships back then, in what way do you think back then, life was better than it is today?

R: No. It’s much better today. Absolutely.

S: Was it better in any way back then?

R: No. Not that I can see -- anything -- nothing. There was really nothing better. You’ll agree with me? (to Pearl)

P: Well, the only thing is that families were closer together at that time.

R: Yes. We ate together, if there was something to eat. We did. We had a family life. We did. Today, some people still have a family life. Some families manage to have a family life. Maybe not like then, but of course, mothers stayed home then. Mothers half the time now are out of the house.

S: Is that better?

R: (sighs) You know, it’s so difficult to know. My daughter-in-law goes to work. I think it was better for the woman to stay home and take care of her family. But you know what? The trouble is, they need so much money today to live. You need two cars, and then the teenager becomes “of age,” and you need three cars, and there’s insurance on three cars, and …

S: But don’t you think people choose what kind of lifestyle they want? They can buy an expensive house, or …

R: They’re not choosing. You know what it is. You’re “keeping up with the Joneses.”

S: You don’t have to keep up with the Joneses.

R: I know, but most people do. Most people do. Those people that don’t keep up with the Joneses are the kind of people that would do home schooling, home baking, home cooking, and it’s rare. You don’t find that. It’s not a common thing. Everybody goes their own way today.

S: What do you think, when you were younger and living together, was the time that family got together? What did your mother cook a lot, or…

R: They didn’t, who -- of course, they cooked. No one ate out.

S: Did they sit together in front of the radio, and listen to…

R: Yeah.

S: “Fibber McGee and Molly?” What was the show you all listened to?

R: [laughs] I don’t -- you know -- Oh, “The Shadow.” Lamont Cranston and the Shadow. I remember that.

P: “Inner Sanctum.”

R: Then we had Jack Benny, “The Inner Sanctum.” Then we had Jack Benny. Remember? Oh, and the “Maxwell House Coffee [Hour]” on Sunday night. I forgot already who was on. Oh, Andre Kostelanetz and his Orchestra. You remember him? He had a lot of nice shows on the radio. But you know, we talked, we spoke to each other. We really spoke, you know. Am I right?

P: No television.

R: We sat downstairs in front of the building, and we talked with our neighbors. It was great. It really was. The kids were playing on the sidewalk, and mothers and fathers were talking with their neighbors, with their friends from the building, and the kids were playing out on the sidewalks.

S: Especially when it was a hot summer night.

R: In the warm weather, yeah. We were out on the sidewalk. We had a great time. Oh, you know what else I remember? The fire department would set up a sprinkler.

P: In the summertime.

R: In the street, in the gutter.

P: Summertime.

R: They closed -- that’s right. And they closed off the street. There wasn’t much traffic, ‘cause who had cars? But cars could not come in on either side of the street, and the showers … and the kids would get into their bathing suits, and we had a great time.  Or they would open a hydrant, and the water would spill out, and that was our cooling off for the summertime.

S: Did they play stickball in the street?

R: Did we play stickball?

P: The boys did.

R: The boys did, not the girls.

S: I know.

 R: Yeah, we played jump rope.

S: How about the courtyard, in between the buildings?

R: No. the clotheslines were there, connecting one window to the other window across the court. Am I right?

P: Downstairs we played.

R: Outside.

P: In the street, not the courtyard.

R: Against the building we played. We played ball, hopscotch, jump rope, jacks.

S: So mostly, I mean, you played around the apartment. You didn’t go to the park, or …

R: What park?

S: Was there a park around there?

R: No. The only park I remember was Bessie Head Park, on -- What was it? On Dumont, corner Bradford. Bradford Street Park. We had no parks.

S: Did you go to the Biltmore or the Paramount movie theatres?

R: No. The Biltmore was on Sutter Avenue. No, New Lots.

P: (simultaneously) New Lots.

R: No, we went to the Sutter.

P: Premier.

R: The Premier, right. And we went to the Livonia. That was it. We never traveled very far.

S: Did your family ever do anything together socially?

R: Absolutely. Summertime, on a Sunday afternoon, my mother would make something to eat. We would put it in this big oilcloth shopping basket, and the kids would carry a blanket. We would get on the IRT and go to Prospect Park, because Goldman’s Band -- Remember that? Every Sunday they had free concerts. Spread the blanket out, under a tree. It was beautiful. Plenty to eat because they brought ... We had a jug … I remember that time, one of the boys carried a jug, and the others carried the shopping basket with lunch, and we stayed at that night for Goldman’s Band. It was very, very nice. Do you remember that? (to Pearl) You didn’t do that? And once in a great while, we would put on our bathing suits under our clothing, and go to Coney Island. We couldn’t afford room -- lockers, but we would wear the bathing suits underneath.

S: What do you remember about Coney Island?

R: (laughs) Sand. Oh, God. It was nice. You know, it really was nice. We had a good time. But you know, we really had a good time with nothing. With absolutely nothing. Isn’t that something?

S: But don’t you think sometimes that [when] people have a lot of money, they don’t always enjoy themselves?

R: They didn’t have the good time that we had. Take my word for it. I remember one hot summer night. I had a friend Pearl Goldberg. We went to -- it was a Saturday -- we went to Brighton Beach. And we slept that night on the beach. It was her mother and father, Pearl and myself. We never came home. We stayed there because it was hot. And it was so nice. Everybody -- a lot of people slept out on the beach. And you know, we had no air-conditioning, and like I say, we made do. It was so …

S: Maybe life, in certain ways was better. It was simpler times, and you didn’t have to have a lot of money. You made do.

R: You know, he’s -- you’re right. We made do. We made do. We didn’t know we were making do. There was nothing else. That was it. There was no choice. And you know what? We really had a very nice life. I can’t complain. Am I right, Pearl? Did you find it bad in those years?

P: No.

R: I found it very, very nice. In summer school -- You don’t remember that? They had arts and crafts. And I learned to weave baskets there, and I mad buckram pocketbooks. We did a lot of nice things, and you know, we were occupied all summer long.

S: So, going back to the times …

R: Yeah.

S: …you actually lived on Williams Avenue…Well, I suppose you didn’t have to live on Williams Avenue to go to Thomas Jefferson, but if you say Max went to Thomas Jefferson, he could have lived on any of those streets around the area.

R: We lived -- Everybody went to Thomas Jefferson. Everyone went … that was the only high school.

P: In the area.

R: On the other side of Brownsville, you had Boys High, Girls High, Tilden, Erasmus. But that was far away. Thomas Jefferson was the only school there was. And I remember Dr. Elias Lieberman was the principal there. You know, we had no choice. That was the school. That was it. Period.

S: So did Max go to -- was there a Hebrew school that Max went to?

R: No. We had a Rabbi Lukitch come to the house. He had a long, white beard. I remember now. And he would come and teach my brother whatever he had to know for Hebrew school.

S: Now, where was Max, in the order of children?

R: Max was the oldest. Then came Hooney, then came myself, and then Itzik.

S: Did he act like the oldest child?

R: I’m trying to think. You know, I was never that close with Max. Itzik and I were closer in age.

S: Who was the youngest?

R: Itzik.

S: And you were the second oldest?

R: Yeah. No. I was the second youngest.

S: Second youngest.

R: Itzik and I were closer in age. We were friends. Hooney and Max were friends. And then later on, Hooney and Max sort of grew … No. They were always friends, yeah. Were they? You know, I don’t remember. You know, they got married so young.

S: So, what do you remember about Max's bar mitzvah?

R: Nothing. I really don’t remember anything.

S: You were mentioning before about …

R: I remember vaguely. It was held in a shul, of course. My mother would take a herring, cut it up, and some gefilte fish, and a challah, and some honey cake, and some “schnapps” — what they called in those years. We didn’t have whiskey like we have today. And that was our bar mitzvah. That was it.

S: Where was the shul?

R: It had to be either in Alabama, or … there were only two shuls there. No. You had the New Lots shul, New Lots, corner Pennsylvania, but that was not a ... I think it was either on Georgia Avenue, you had a shul on Alabama Avenue. Or, it didn’t have to be in a shul. You had “storefront.” Remember the little storefront shuls? It could have been in there, in a storefront. It didn’t have to be in the shul. That little neighborhood shul. Oh, you know what else I remember? On the corner of Hegeman and Georgia. I believe -- or Sheffield. You had at that time -- you had the Hasidim, and came Simchas Torah -- maybe you don’t remember that. They had such nice things. They would give out apples on a flag, and “grogas.” You remember that? And we’d sit outside, and they used to dance, sing. Men and women did not dance and sing together. The men danced together. And we had such a good time. So we stayed outside. It was warm. It was like September, October, and you know, it’s true, we made a good time out of nothing. Out of nothing.

S: How was it, since the neighborhood was 110% Jewish as you said, what kind of atmosphere was there around the holidays, the Jewish holidays?

R: Oh, beautiful. If you had money, everyone got new shoes. Right? And everyone got new clothes, a new coat, or whatever. It was very … And the kids were sent downstairs, not to get dirty. The boys played with “nuts.” You remember, and I -- you know, it was so nice. It really was very, very nice.

S: So what kind of smells were there?

R: Oh, I remember every house had a smell. The mothers baked coffee cake. They made strudel. They baked challah. You know, it was so nice.

S: So, it’s not so bad thinking about the past?

R: No. And I remember my mother baked such beautiful challas. I’m sure your mother did, too. (to Pearl) She really … My mother was great. She was a very good cook, and she was a great baker. She made challas that were absolutely gorgeous to look at, and they were good also. And she’d make … Oh, I remember -- you know, I remember before the holidays, she would get a carp, a live carp in the fish store, and it would swim in the bathtub. And she would kill it herself, before she would make gefilte fish! (laughs) You know, I remember that. I was just talking to someone about it the other day, and I remembered a carp swimming around in the bathtub. See, whitefish came from Lake Michigan. So you bought that already killed. But a carp, you buy a fresh carp, I remember that. That I do remember. My mother made her own gefilte fish. You had -- I have my mother’s hand-grinder. It’s an antique. You know what, the kind I mean?

S: Like you [used to use] to make chopped liver, to grind the liver?

R: That’s right. I still have my mother’s grinder. I was using it up until two years ago. I don’t use it anymore. I was making “krepelach.” My mother would make her own blintzes. She would make a hundred blintzes. Remember? I know how to do it.

P: I did it.

S: I remember when, at my grandmother’s place, we used to get the dough, and I used to flatten the dough with a roller on a wooden board, and then I used to slice it up, and get the little meat, and put the meat in, and then fold it.

R: That’s krepelach. That’s right. I made, up until two years ago, I used to make krepelach, put ten in a baggie, and throw it in the freezer, filled with meat. And you served that with chicken soup.

S: So you learned how to cook from your mother?

R: Oh, absolutely. I’m a great cook. I can pat myself on my back. I’m a good cook. I don’t cook anymore, but I’m a good -- I was a good cook.

S: Did any of the boys, like Max, learn how to cook anything?

R: Max? Yeah, Max knew how to cook, I think. When he got married.

S: So what did he do before he was nineteen? Did he -- was he a big socializer? Was he into sports?

R: No.

S: Did he go to ballgames?

R: No. We didn’t in those years. What kind of sports? (laughs) Steven, where have you been? What sports? We didn’t even know about anything. We knew a baseball game, Ebbett’s Field in Brooklyn. That’s it.

S: Did Max go to Ebbett’s Field?

R: If you had the money to go to Ebbett’s Field. They were -- it’s not like today. It’s different. All together different.

S: So when he was growing up, and he was a kid, did all the boys sleep together in one room?

R: The boys all slept in one room. I slept on a folding bed in the dining room. (laughs)

S: My mother slept in a cot in the apartment.

RL It was not a cot. It was like a “ufshtalen betel” (sp). Right? My mother had a cretonne cover, that covered it during the day, and at night they opened it up. We didn’t have a living room. We had a dining room, which nobody sat in. We did our homework by the table. That’s all we did. She would open the table pads on the dining room table, and we did our homework there. But the three boys slept in one bedroom, and I slept on a folding bed. I never knew what it was to have a room.

S: So your parents were from Poland?

R: No. My mother was from Russia. My father was from Poland.

S: Do you know what parts?

R: No. My mother used to say near Hadessa, near Odessa. And my father, I know where he came from. Czortkow, Poland.

S: What part?

R: Czortkow. C-z-o-r-t-k-o-w.

S: So they met there, or [did] they meet here?

R: No. Here in this country. Yeah.

S: So Max was bar mitzvahed. Do you consider him to be religious? Or, how did he feel about being a Jew?

R: Max was definitely a Jew. Oh my, yes. 100% Jewish. Right, Pearl? And not religious-wise. I mean, with not driving, or things like that. No, that was not his thing. No, but he liked to be part of a shul. He really did. He liked organized religion, didn’t he? Yeah. He really liked it. He was into it. He was a real bright guy.

TRACK 4 (14’28”):

R: My mother was brought here. You had to have a sponsor. So she had the “tanta.” I remember, not aunt, the tanta, the meema, brought her here, and I remember meeting this tanta. She lived somewhere on Osborne Street in Brownsville. And I remember [that] my mother told me this story. And she stayed with this tanta, and this tanta had two children, Mrs. Roche, who I met later on, and her son. And the son and my mother fell in love with each other. But this tanta found a girl whose father had a millinery business, somewhere on Clinton Street. At that time, it was the millinery section of the Lower East Side. And she didn’t -- my mother was a poor girl. So she broke up that “shidduch,” and he married that girl, and my mother met and married my father. And it’s sad, you know. They worked hard. My mother worked in a shop to make a living, you know?

S: Was Fortunoffs around back then?

R: Yes. On Livonia Avenue. Reminds me now. You talk about Fortunoff … My mother knew Max Fortunoff. They also had Abie, who worked in the store. You remember him? My mother knew them all. Fortunoffs started out on a pushcart, would you believe it, on Livonia Avenue, between Georgia and Alabama, selling whatever he was selling. Then he opened up the store on Livonia Avenue. Then he got Morris to manage the store, and then he moved around the corner, and it was on Georgia, right off Livonia. There was a two-family house, or was it a four-family house? I don’t know if he bought it and moved in there. But my mother always knew Max Fortunoff. And I remember years later, when my mother lived in Long Beach, and I would pick her up, I would take her to Fortunoffs to look around. And Max saw my mother in the store. He would throw his arms around her and kiss her. He remembered her. I remember his daughter Margie and Mrs. Fortunoff.

S: I guess back then in that neighborhood, there weren’t that many restaurants around, because most people were probably staying home …

R: What kind of restaurants?

P: Chinese.

R: What are you talking about, a restaurant? Chinese were on Sutter Avenue. Jewish people didn’t eat out. We didn’t eat out. What did we know? There was A delicatessen on Livonia Avenue. Somewhere under the “el,” remember? That’s it. There were no restaurants. Then there was another, Gorelicks. That was on New Lots, corner New Jersey. Then you had another one on Pennsylvania, corner Livonia, under the el. That was it. But no one ate out. We didn’t go into eat in a restaurant. You would buy a corned beef. You took it home, and you ate it.

S: So what did people do when they were older, when they wanted to go out on a date? What would be the typical thing to do?

R: I’m trying to think. Yes, I met Murray Barco. He had -- his parents had a knitting store on Blake Avenue. You remember that? There was a knitting store on Blake Avenue? The Barco’s knitting store. I went out with Murray Barco. I was sixteen at that time. He was, I think, twenty-three years old. I remember him sitting (laughs) … You know, I was a kid, I was a kid. I remember, he took me to Coney Island. We went on all the rides. Or he took me to Loews’ Pitkin for the first time. I was very impressed.

P: Pitkin and the soda shop.

R: Yeah.

P: Ice cream parlor.

R: And that’s all. We didn’t eat out. Do you remember eating out? Did you eat out?.

P: Ice cream soda.

R: Yeah, ice cream sodas, that’s right. After the movies, we’d go for ice cream soda, she’s right.

P: Or a frappe.

R: Or a frappe, that’s right. Or a banana split. That’s right.

S: Were the men any more polite back then?

R: Yeah. Who knew? Were they polite? No one had a car. We took the bus or a trolley or the subway. Now that I think about it, you know what? I had a boyfriend. His name was Joey Soretsky. He came from Saratoga Avenue to my house. Then we would take the train, the IRT, to go to Manhattan, to go to the Paramount, or whatever.

P: Downtown Brooklyn.

R: The Albee. Remember the Albee?

P: And the Paramount?

R: And the Brooklyn Paramount. And afterwards we went for ice cream sodas. She’s right. We didn’t eat out.

S: So, it must have been very comfortable taking the subway back then.

R: That’s all. We didn’t know any better. That was it. The subway. (laughs)

P: [A] car was a luxury.

R: Do you know how we went to work afterwards? With gloves and a hat. Remember that? We always got dressed with gloves and hat. You know, I’ll tell you, the boys were very, very nice. The boys were not as sophisticated as they are today. Really, you know what? There was no such thing as fresh boys. Really, there weren’t, you know. Today’s a different life all together.

S: Back then, what were women looking for in a man?

R: Who knew what we were looking for? You met a guy, you went, you got married, that was the end of that. What we were looking for? What we were looking for? Did we know what we were looking for? We looked to meet a nice guy that was halfway decent-looking, that made a living, that had a job. (laughs) I don’t know. Today they look for … what do they look for today? Help me out.

S: It’s okay. What happened during the war?

R: Oh my God! I joined the Army.

S: Doing what?

R: You don’t know that?

S: I don’t remember.

P: I don’t think I told you. She was in the Army.

S: Tell me.

R: I was a WAC. I joined the Army. My father was hysterical, didn’t talk to me for six months. I would call home crying on the telephone. I was his pet. I was his only daughter.

S: Who was crying?

R: I was. And he wouldn’t talk to me. “Bums!” That was my father. They never forgave me. I remember they went away to the Catskill Mountains. They went to the Mayfair Hotel in Kaimesha. I remember that. My friend Pearl Goldberg and I decided we’re going to join the Army. She failed the physical, I passed, and I joined the Army. And I’ll never forget. My mother went with me down to Grand Central Palace, ‘cause that’s where I left to go for basic training, and she stood outside, and I had … I remember this “goyisha” lieutenant -- and my mother is crying to her -- she should take care of her daughter.

P: Where were you stationed?

R: We went for basic training to Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia.  Chattanooga, Tennessee was the closest town. Did you know of any Jewish girl that ever left New York? No. We went from home to marriage. Nobody left New York. (laughs)

S: So you probably didn’t know too many non-Jewish people till you went to be a WAC?

R: You’re damn right, I didn’t.

S: So how was the experience?

R: I had no problem with anti-Semitism. I really did not find any of it. I had a good life in the Army. I had a wonderful time.

S: How long were you in the Army for?

R: Two-and-a-half years.

S:  Always in Georgia?

R: No. I took my basic training in Georgia. Then I was sent to administrative school in Georgia. Then from there they shipped me to Atlantic City, New Jersey. I stayed at the President Hotel. I worked in Convention Hall in Statistical Control. I remember that. Then from there they sent me to an all-men’s company in San Antonio, Texas, because I was a Morning Report Clerk. You have to know morning report. Morning report is a thing that lives forever. It still exists in the archives of Washington. you’re accounting for every man on duty that day, no matter where he is. Anyhow, then from there I was going for overseas training to Des Moines, Iowa. And I was getting ready to go to Fort Ord, California, to be shipped to the Philippines. They cancelled the shipment of all WACs overseas. V-Day there was ... and that was the end of that. Meanwhile, I had come home on a furlough. I got married, and went back to the Army. And then I got out about six months later.

S: So it must have been a really great experience.

R: I had a great time. I really had a ball. When I was stationed in San Antonio, Texas, it was safe. We used to stand on the road, like four WACs, and we used to hitchhike to Mexico. We were 154 miles from the border. I had a ball. I really did.

S: So how did your father feel when you finally came back and were discharged?

R: (sighs) My father, he got over it. He survived.

S: Did you write a lot to your family?

R: Listen, I was a very good daughter. You know what? There was a shortage of everything during the war. I went into the post exchange, and I got my father cigarettes, and I got chocolate bars.  And you name it, I used to make up packages and ship it home, because they couldn’t get that stuff.

S: Did you send money home?

R: No. No, I had … We were buying bonds. Money was taken from our salary -- big salary -- twenty-one dollars a month -- and you had to buy savings bonds. That I saved, yeah.

S: Tell me about buying merchandise back then. Was there such a thing as you shouldn’t buy too much merchandise, because that drove the cost of materials up?

R: Who said?

P: They had rationing.

S: It would get to be more expensive.

R: They had rationing. For meat, shoes, remember? Sugar, coffee, butter. There were [a lot of] things that were rationed. When you used up your ration stamps, you couldn’t get any more meat. Yeah. You couldn’t get anymore.

P: You had food stamps.

R: Yeah. You had ration books that had stamps in there. When you went to buy a pair of shoes, you had to tear out the stamp and turn it in. You couldn’t get everything you wanted. But when I was in the Army, I could get anything I wanted.

S: So tell me, back then they didn’t have pools like -- community pools?

R: What kind of pool? Who knew about a pool?

S: So people would go to a beach. There was a subway going to Coney Island that you could take …

R: We’d take the IRT, we had to change to the BMT. IRT did not go to Coney Island. Right? Had to change to the BMT. Got off at Stillwell Avenue. Last stop. And when we got there, there’s was Nathan’s on the corner of Stillwell Avenue. Or, if we went to Brighton Beach, we got off a few stops before. If you had a lot of money, we went to Manhattan Beach.

S: What was in Brighton Beach?

R: It’s like Coney Island, but another section. Now the Russians live there now. It’s a big Russian area.

S: And Manhattan Beach was the same?

R: Manhattan Beach was sort of a private beach. And then you had Seagate. It was the end of Coney Island, where people who had money, went in there. It was nice …

S: Back then, were there zoos that you went to? Was there a Brooklyn Zoo?

R: Yeah. Prospect Park had a zoo. We had Botanical Gardens on Eastern Parkway. We had the Brooklyn Museum there. Yes, we had…

P: And the zoo.

R: Then we had the Bronx Zoo in the Bronx, and the Bronx Botanical Gardens.

S: Which was nicer?

R: The Bronx…

P: The Bronx Zoo was bigger.

R: Yeah, it was bigger.

TRACK 5 (40’21”)

R: My father had it so hard. He really did, you know? He was a hard-working man, and I felt bad that he died in 1960. He didn’t even have enough years to enjoy anything.

P: So my father also worked in a shop, and there was no such thing as unions.

R: No.

P: And they also worked long hours.

R: They worked a whole year, and they took two weeks at the Mayfair Hotel in Kaimesha. That was it. That was it. And yet …

P: And the shops were all seasonal. They only worked a season …

R: Yeah.

S: So, tell me back in Brooklyn, were there “shvitzes”?

R: My father would go to a shvitz …        

P: Yeah. A Turkish bath.

R: Yeah, down in the Lower East Side.

P: Pitkin Avenue they had…

R: Pitkin Avenue. Right?

P: Pitkin Avenue had a Turkish bath.

R: Yes. That was the only one there. Or you went downtown.

P: I don’t know about downtown, but I know there was one on Pitkin Avenue.

R:  On Pitkin Avenue. Yeah. Yeah.

S: I guess women didn’t go to shvitzes back then.

R. and P.: (simultaneously) No.

P: Only the men.

S: So what was the reason that men went to shvitzes?

R: It was a carryover when they didn’t have baths, bathtubs. Places to bath in Europe. Oh, no, [in] the Lower East Side, there were no baths …

P: In Brownsville also, they didn’t have a bath…

R: Bath…

P: They had their bathtub in the kitchen.

R: In the kitchen. That’s right. It had a metal thing. But I do remember…

P: We always had a bathroom and a bathtub.

R: We did too. But you know what I remember?

P: In Brownsville, they didn’t have it.

R: My father had a cousin. We call him the “greener.” He got an apartment. They came over in the thirties before Hitler closed the doors. And they got an apartment on Avenue C in Manhattan, the Lower East Side. And my father and mother took me, I remember, on the BMT would go there. We went there, and the bathroom was in the hallway.

P: Oh yeah. The East Side had that too.

R: Yeah. The East Side. This was on the East Side.

P: Oh, yeah. You had the…

R: On Avenue C.

P: If you had to use the toilet, you had to go in the hall.

R: And that hall bathroom was used by all the people on the floor. And it’s true. And the bathtub was in the kitchen.

S: Was the shvitz more of a social thing?

R. and P.: (simultaneously) No.

R: No. It was a carryover when they came over from the other side, and there was no bathtub, they would go to the shvitz once a week, and take along a change of underwear with them, and …

P: Bring a towel.

R: And they took a bath there.

S: Do you remember your first refrigerator?

R: Yes.

P: I remember.

R: It was a G.E., and I remember. You know what? It was white porcelain on the outside. Not like this, it was like metal porcelain.

P: Well, I got mine right after the war. When they started making them again.

R: This evidently was it, because I remember it was on New Jersey Avenue. We were living at 621 New Jersey Avenue …

P: You couldn’t get any during wartime …

R: And you know, it was like a double one. One side had a long door, and one side had two small doors. I remember it. Yeah. I’m trying to think. That was on New Jersey Avenue.

P: I remember I got my own apartment then.

R: It was on New Jersey Avenue. Yeah, but I remember the first refrigerator.

P:  Refrigerators just started coming out again.

S: Where did people buy furniture? Fortunoff didn’t sell furniture?

R: No. But you had Mayrock on Rockaway Avenue. Mayrock was owned by Fortunoff. No … Margie [Fortunoff] married Mayrock.

S: Were there any supermarkets back then …

R: No…

S:  Just little mom and pop stores?

R: No. Mom and pop stores. The A and P.

P: The A and P.

R: We had an A and P around. Only goyim went to an A and P. Jews did not go to an A and P.

P: That’s all they had was an A and P.

S: So your house was kosher?

R: New Lots Avenue, had a … I was not kosher, no.

S: The house wasn’t kosher.

R: No. New Lots had an A and P on New Lots Avenue. But we didn’t have any supermarkets.

P: No. Just the A and P.

R: And only goyim went there.

P: We had the grocery store on the corner.

R: On the corner.

S: So you didn’t go to a kosher butcher.

R: Yes. Not me. My mother went ...

P: I went to a kosher butcher.

R: On Riverdale Avenue, near Alabama Avenue. You had Kadin’s butcher, and everyone went to Kadin.mHe was the only kosher butcher around.

S: How about a fish store?

R: On Livonia Avenue you had a fish store. On Livonia Avenue, corner…

P: Strictly a fish store.

R: It was on Georgia, or Williams, or Alabama. On the corner of Livonia Avenue, there was a fish store. strictly a fish store.

R: You had stores on the corner. Always on the corner…

S: On the corners, right. On Williams Avenue and Riverdale.

R: There was a drugstore on one corner …

S: There was always something. The candy store …

R: And you had Goldfarb’s grocery store on one corner, and a drugstore on another corner. You had a tailor store on Riverdale Avenue, and had a tailor.

S: And there was a candy store across the street.

R: There was a candy store. On New Jersey Avenue, there was a candy store on New Jersey. But everything else was residential.

S: Yeah I know, well, of course, the barbershop was there, and if you’re looking out of the building …

P: Across the street.

S: Across the street, there’s a barbershop right across Williams Avenue.

P: A barbershop.

R: I remember on Livonia Avenue, they had a fruit stand. His name was Manny.

P: Oh yeah.

R: Manny was running after me! He was like an albino. He was very, very light blond. I couldn’t stand him! He used to come over the house, and he would bring me his big, fat chocolate bars, like the one-pound chocolate bars. My father thought it was a good shidduch, because he was making [a] good living. He had a nice fruit stand over there.

P: He had a real fruit stand.

R: He had a … He owned a two-family house with his mother and father, somewhere on Georgia Avenue. Oh, my God. I was sixteen years old. They were talking me a shidduch already. All of sixteen years old.

S: But how old were you when you got married?

R: Twenty-six. I was an old maid. I was old in those days. I waited four years to have my first child. I had to save money. I went to work. I saved money, we bought a house.

S: What were you doing?

R: Working in [an] office. I was a skilled clerk-typist. I was a crackerjack typist. I really was. But, I remember that, gee whiz, I was a good …

R: I was really in the Army, I was a 405, that’s an MOS. Uh…

S: What’s an MOS [Military Occupational Specialties]?

R: Occupational something or other. I forgot already. I was a 405. They sent me to administrative school. I had to learn morning report work. You cannot make a mistake on the morning report. If you do make a mistake, you cannot erase, you cannot rub out. You have to type it over again. ‘Cause it lives forever. There can be no error. That’s how perfect you have to be. Now according to what you have on your morning report, rations are figured from that. Let’s say you have three hundred people reporting for duty, so we pick up three hundred rations. If ten people go the next day on furlough, we lose ten rations. If somebody got sick, and went to the hospital, we lose a ration to the hospital. When they come back, we pick up a ration. That was called “statistical control.” That was my job.

S: By the way, the WACs. Is that Army?

R: Yeah. Women’s Army Corps.

R: In those years, you had Air Force. Now you have the Navy, you have the Army, you have the Air Force. In those years it was all one. 

P: The Navy had the Waves.

R: Yeah. You know you talk about that. When my brother went -- when Itzik went to aviation school, in Sumter, South Carolina, who never saw a Jew in their lives. He was having problems. It was so difficult. You had to learn to be a gentleman, an officer and a gentleman, plus learn how to fly a plane, which is very, very difficult. You have to sit with one hand on your lap, and eat with one hand. You know, they wanted certain things … And I remember, he was having such a problem. He wrote to my mother, my father. So my mother thought she’D go down, she’ll cheer him up with her accent. (laughs) I was never there, but I can just picture my mother, with her Jewish accent. So she shlepped herself. You couldn’t get a train, ‘cause it was all taken over by the Army. So she took a bus from New York to Washington, and she had to change buses along the way. She had to change again here, and change again there. A little old Jewish lady who comes down to South Carolina, who never saw segregation in her life, and gets on a bus. But the blacks had to stand, even though there were seats, because the back seats were taken, and my mother never saw that in her life. And she shlepped herself to Sumter, South Carolina, and she got off the bus, and some … And they directed her to a lady who took in like bed-and-breakfast. She managed! With her Jewish accent, with her everything. She managed; she was there for a week. And you know what? The woman loved her. She was a nice Christian lady, and when she left, she wrote to my mother. It was really wonderful. But there was a little old Jewish lady going to Sumter, South Carolina, into the heart of…

P: Your mother wrote English?

R: No. No. She spoke some English. You know that. But she never wrote English, no.

S: Did you and your siblings speak Yiddish around the house?

R: Yeah.

S: So you and your brothers all knew Yiddish well?

R: My father -- yeah, we all knew Yiddish. My father spoke English. My mother spoke English, but fractured English, you know. And we spoke to her in English. She answered us in Yiddish.  We managed.

S: So during, like Passover, did you have seders in your house?

R: Yeah. It was very nice.

S: And the girls didn’t say anything. It was the boys that did all the…

R: It was a boy’s world. What can I tell you?

S: They took turns with “The Four Questions”?

R: Yeah. Yeah. It was very, very nice. You remember that?

P: The Four Questions were always said by the youngest.

R: The youngest. Yeah. It was nice. Do you remember the seder? I remember it, yeah. I remember holidays very well. I remember Purim. My God. My mother would stand there and bake “humentaschen.” It was really ….

P: Every holiday had something special.

R: Right.

S: Did Max enjoy a good meal?
R: (laughs)
S: Did he have a favorite food that he loved his mother to cook? You don’t remember?

R: I don’t remember that. We ate anything. We had no favorites. My mother didn’t cook two different kinds of meals. You sat down. This was what was served for dinner. This is what you ate. We didn’t know that you can have a choice. There was no choice. Am I right, Pearl?

P: You didn’t have any choices.

R: There were no choices.

P: They made. That’s what you ate.

R: Now when I go to my son’s house. They’re making them spaghetti because they don’t eat this, they don’t eat that, and I’m cooking three different kinds of meal, and forget it. It’s a pain in the neck.

S: Do you miss not having people to cook Jewish for?

R: Yes. I really do. I used to buy -- you know, up until about two years ago. I had the women here for Rosh Hashanah sometimes. I would buy “heldzlekh”, the skin, you know from the necks, and I’d make heldzlekh, and I’d make a big pot of fricassee. My friends loved it. I’d make krepelach, chicken soup. I don’t do that anymore.

S: So, what would be your ideal Jewish meal to serve somebody? What would you start off with?

R: (laughs) Chicken soup, of course. I mean, really, you know, Jewish people, what did we have? We had either pot roast or chicken. What else did we eat?

S: Flanken.

R: Flanken and soup. Yeah. You don’t eat that, do we? I like flanken and soup. Then there was matzo ball soup. Oh, mandelen, that’s chicken soup for Pesach, you had mandelen.

P: Passover.

R: I remember, came Pesach, if you had money, you bought a half a crate of eggs.  We used so many eggs for Passover. My God!

P: Because you made sponge cake, and you needed a lot of eggs.

R: And Matzoh Breis, and kuegels. Everything took eggs.

P: Everything was with eggs.

R: No one knew about cholesterol. We’d drop dead at age fifty …

S: Those were the days.

R: (laughs) But we didn’t know about cholesterol. Think about it.

P: Everything was eggs.

R: Everything was eggs, and butter, and sour cream. Am I right? Everything ... And whole milk. We didn’t know. There was no skim milk. We didn’t know even know such things.

P: No two percent. Just milk.

R: No two percent. Just regular whole milk.

S: Did you make “knadelach”?

R: My mother made it, sure. Now you buy the mix, which I hate. But, it’s true, everything -- my God. Everything is butter, sour cream, whole cream cheese. Now we buy the fat-free, or you buy the light …

S: Remember the potato pancakes? Or the matzo meal pancakes?

R: Oh, I make matzo meal pancakes. You know what? I remember how we used to come home from school for lunch. I would make him soup and matzo meal pancakes. He used to love them.

S: Who was he?

R: My son, my oldest son. He used to like that, yeah. Oh, potato pancakes for Chanukah. God, we used to grate potatoes and…

R: Chicken fat. Oh God. Before a holiday, my mother would start saving up chicken fat. Jars and jars of chicken fat. I made my own . But you know, we had to render it down, because everything was made with chicken fat. Before a holiday, you had to have a lot of chicken fat. You fried in chicken fat. Everything was with chicken fat. To make chopped liver, you needed chicken fat. It tasted good. It smelled good. It was really good. When you fried in chicken fat, the house had a beautiful aroma. It was really good. But like I said, people died at fifty. (laughs) If I want to stuff necks, instead of using chicken fat, like my mother used to, use oil. That’s it.

S: What kind of stuffed necks? Necks of what?  

R: It comes out like … I buy the chicken necks, and it’s got the skin … which you sew up the bottom part, leaving the top part open.

P: You fill it.

R: That’s a big job. Then you take matzo meal and flour, and grate an onion, paprika, pepper, salt, and instead of chicken fat, you put in oil. And you stuff the necks, and you sew up the end.

P: You have to sew it up.

R: And you make a fricassee, with “pupicks,” that’s gizzards, little meatballs, little chicken wings. Make a big pot of fricassee. And you know what, that’s good eating. With a half a challah to dunk up the gravy. You know, that was good eating, but you know what? It’s not good for you. It was good though. You know what? It really, I must say -- you know what else I remember? My mother would render the chicken fat. It had such a good aroma. And she would give us a piece of matzo. We would rub some of the chicken fat on it.

S: So how are values now different than they used to be?

R: Our values are better, I think, than theirs are. Absolutely.

S: So again, life was better.

R: In many ways I think it was. Well, yes and no. I mean, you can’t equate one with the other. It’s different times, different people, different everything. The world is different. The world was different. You didn’t have a telephone -- an airplane in those years. Life is altogether different. You can’t go back. And you can’t change. When you went to a supermarket, it was either Rice Krispies or Corn Flakes. Now, you walk up and down an aisle … Remember Corn Flakes and Rice Krispies? That was it. Snap, Crackle and Pop. That was it. There was no choice. Today, you can go … Cookies? I know my mother would make her own cookies. Today, you go down an aisle. This is ridiculous, and you know it. How many kinds of cookies do you need? There must have been about two hundred different brands of cookies. Go down the aisle, you’ll see it.

S: The companies that don’t make it won’t survive.

R: And candies also. We had Hershey’s. Remember Hershey Kisses? Or a Hershey bar? That’s all there was. Was there anything else?

P: Goobers, I think we had. Didn’t we? Nuts and raisins.

R: The choices—you know—choices. What do you need all the cereals for? What do you need all that “chazerei” for?  You go down the bread aisle. White bread was the goyische bread. We would buy pumpernickel or a rye bread, right? Or rolls in a bakery, whatever. Go down the aisle …

P: We never bought white bread.

R: No. Goyim bought white bread. Jews—there was no white bread. Who knew about white bread? You go down the …

P: Rolls.

R: The supermarket. All the different kinds of bread. You know, seven-grain, four-grain, ten-grain. This is crazy. What do you need it for?

S: You always have to realize you [that] you’re living in an assimilated society, with everybody not in your own little area.

R: I know, but nevertheless, what do you need all those breads for? My God, there’s Arnolds and Pepperidge Farm. And a hot dog roll and a hamburger roll was a hamburger roll and a hot dog roll. Now you have the top-split, side-split, potato roll, this roll -- this is “meshuge.” It’s a crazy world. It really is. It’s too much already. It became a very complicated world.

S: It’s all money, isn’t it?

R: Yeah. And people are throwing it away. They’re literally throwing their money away. It’s nonsense, you know that?

R: A man got a job, he stayed in that job, you know? Now they downsize and throw out and throw in. You know what? It’s a very -- you know what? It’s not a happy world. It isn’t. I don’t think anybody’s really happy.

P: I think it’s a very dangerous world today. And it’s a scary world ... When we were girls, and we got a vacation, where did we go? I remember once …

P: The Catskills.

R: We went to the Wellington Hotel, and the Morningside Hotel in the Catskill Mountains for a week.

P: That’s the only place we went, was the Catskills.

R: That’s all [the places] we went. That’s it. We were very limited. Where could we go? Girls did not leave home. We didn’t get our own apartment. We didn’t move out of town. We went [from] house to marriage.

P: That’s right. You lived in the house until you got married.

S: So for the same reason, divorce wasn’t as easy, so that you didn’t think whether you would leave your husband or not.

P: Nobody thought of divorce.

R: It’s not that divorce wasn’t easy.

P: Nobody even thought…

R: We didn’t even think divorce. Our minds didn’t even go that way.

S: But at least you concentrated on your marriage. You know you weren’t going to go anywhere.

P: I never knew of anybody that got divorced.

R: Me neither.

P: You never…

R: I never knew anyone that got a divorce.

P: You never thought of divorce.

S: But maybe there were people that probably should be divorced back then.

R: Oh, absolutely!

P: Of course.

R: Are you kidding? So many. So many unhappy marriages.

P: Fifty percent of the marriages were lousy.

R: Were lousy marriages, but they stayed put.

P: But they stayed. You make the best of it.

S: Was that good or not?

P: That’s what it was. That was the times.

S: But is it better, in retrospect, to be in a marriage you [are] totally unhappy about?

R: You know what? If you stayed, nine times out of ten, it became better, if you stayed put.

S: Nine times out of ten?

P: Well—because you had the good and bad.

R: Yeah, now they don’t want to put up with it.

R: Jewish men did not drink.

P: Only when -- for a holiday, or something like that.

R: That’s right.

S: So what was the…

P: They never went -- no such things as bars.

S: What was the biggest problem between the Jewish man and the Jewish woman back then, around wartime, during the 1920s and 30s, that would cause them not to have a happy marriage?

R: We had no problems. Nobody cheated on anybody. There was no cheating. Was there? No.

P: That doesn’t mean they were happily married.

R: You managed. You stayed put. They didn’t know about happy. You had children. You stayed for the children. I don’t know. I didn’t know of anyone that got a divorce. That was it. Today they throw in the towel. They throw in the towel.  In those days, you had to get married. That was it.

S: Do you think women were more innocent back then?

R: Definitely. (laughs) Without even -- definitely.

P: Of course.

R: Definitely. A hundred percent yes.

P: They were homebodies.

R: We didn’t know any different.

P: You didn’t know anything about the outside world.

R: And boys didn’t expect anything of girls. They really didn’t.

S: Well, there must have been the girls that were loose back then.

R: Yes, yes. Max told me in the backroom of the clubhouse they had a room, in back of the cellar club. Max told me that. That’s where they took the bad girls, there. They were around, a few, but we never knew them.

S: So I guess at that point, your mothers talked to you about the birds and the bees?

R: My mother never talked to me about anything! Are you kidding? I found out from my friends.

P: No. I found out from my friends, my friends.

R: Mothers did not talk.


*1 - Here is the article about the event mentioned. From the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, May 29, 1933.



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