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Keywords: childhood home; father; Forverts; gefilte fish; Hebrew language; Jewish cooking; Jewish food; mother; Passover; Pesach; peysekh; pregnancy; schul; seder; Shabbat; Shabbos; shabes; shul; synagogue; The Forward; The Jewish Daily Forward; The Yiddish Daily Forward; Yiddish culture; Yiddish language; Yiddish speakers; Yiddish theater; Yiddish theatre
RHODA WEINER ORAL HISTORY
CHRISTA WHITNEY:All right, so this is Christa Whitney and today is February10th, 2015. I'm here in Boca Raton, Florida with Rhoda Weiner. We're going to record an interview as part of the Yiddish Book Center's Wexler Oral History Project. Rhoda, do I have your permission to record?
CW:Thank you. So, what do you know, first of all, about where your parents andgrandparents came from?
RW:I know very little about my grandparents, because they -- I think -- I'm notsure if it was my grandfather or my grandmother died when I was little, and I do remember being there, because she was in -- he or she was in, I think it was she, was in a big bed. And I was sitting way opposite the bed on a sewing machine, on an old Singer sewing machine, and that's all I remember. But I don't 1:00remember if it was grandmother or grandfather. But my parents made sure that they told us about their early life and what it was like.
CW:And where did they -- where were they born?
RW:They were born in a town that they called Lubin. And they were born in thesame town, so they knew each other from a very young age.
CW:And when and where were you born?
RW:I was born -- well, I was born in the hospital in Brooklyn, but at that time,my parents lived in Jackson Heights, Queens.
CW:And what was Jackson Heights like?
RW:Very interesting, because Jackson Heights was where we lived. We lived overthe store, 'cause my parents had a store. At that time, no Jews could live in apartments in Jackson Heights, when I was little. But they lived over the store. There was no exclusions, 'cause Jackson Heights had some really nice areas, you 2:00know? Some homes, private homes, and some nice apartments. So, we lived over the store, and the train ran overhead, the L. And it looked so big in the eyes of when you're young. There was a huge empty field in back where we played, and that was in the really young years. And it was great.
CW:What were the other ethnic groups in that --
RW:They were mostly Catholic and maybe Protestant. Oh, and there were some Greek-- but we got along. The kids, we got along very well. I never felt anti-Semitism. The only thing I remember is, in school, there were no Jewish teachers that I knew of, and when it was a Jewish holiday and you took off, they managed to give a test. And sometimes they'd let you make it up and sometimes they'd give you a zero. Was very interesting. I think there was one Jewish girl, 3:00and all I kept remembering about her was -- and remember her name, it was Irene. This is in grade school. And her nose was always running. And I didn't want to be associated with her, because I felt that she was not so nice. So, there really weren't any -- I didn't grow up with Jewish people, but we all watched out for each other, so that was good.
CW:And can you describe your home? What was Jewish about your home?
RW:Well, it was interesting because we lived over the store, but there was nokitchen up there. They took out the kitchen because there were four of us. I slept in a twin bed with my sister, so the kitchen was downstairs behind the store. Yeah, behind the store. And, of course, my mother's cooking was Yiddish cooking. You could smell it before you got in the door. And customers would come in the store and they'd go, (sniff) What's that wonderful aroma? Because it'd be 4:00my mother's cooking. She lit the candles. She observed every holiday, but she made up her mind and she said to my father -- 'cause in the early life, I don't think he was that -- he wasn't much of a shul-goer. They belonged to a temple, which was quite far away. Made sure I went to Hebrew. My sister did not, but I did. They sent me to Hebrew school. Don't remember my brothers, 'cause I'm the youngest. There was seven years between my brother and I. But she would bake, she would make her gefilte fish, and it was my job to -- she had this big, high stool and she'd put the grinder, she'd attach it to the stool, and it was my job to sit with my feet so that when she turned the grinder, the stool wouldn't move. And I hated fish and I hated the smell of fish, you know! And I would go like this with my feet. So, that was her Yiddish. She said to my father, "We 5:00have a store! I have to keep it open! You want to go to shul?" This was when I was already much older, that he joined -- I'm saying my teens when he joined the Young Israel. And she'd say, "You go to shul, but I have to keep the store open 'cause Saturday is a really busy day." So, she did that. She didn't like -- I think my mother was a little -- I don't think she was agoraphobic, but maybe a little claustrophobic. She didn't like to go into a big synagogue and sit there. But she had her books, she would do her yisker [commemoration prayer for deceased family members] in her heart and in her way. She was the typical eyshes khayl [Daughter of Israel] that they talk about. In fact, that isn't even good enough to describe how she was. She taught us so much from just her common sense. No book knowledge. She had none.
CW:And did you -- as a kid, did you have a favorite yontev?
RW:I think I liked Passover because of the seder, and they would always invite a6:00gentile in, because they wanted one of the neighbors to see what it was all about. And one of my best memories is my mother put down the gefilte fish and she gave it to this Walter, who was Irish Catholic, and he said -- everybody called her ma. Everybody. He said, "I like your filthy fish, ma." (laughs) 'Cause he couldn't say that. So, I think that was my favorite holiday. And more or less, that was my favorite.
CW:And what was the seder like? Can you set the scene?
RW:My father ruled it with an iron fist. If it was too crazy, he banged on thetable for everybody to be quiet. And he did that even as we got older and were married. It was the same. He would rule that seder. But as he got older, my daughter would sit next to him. She was excellent in Hebrew. She was really 7:00great. And she would say, "Zeyde [grandfather], you missed a part," or something like that, 'cause his book was in Yiddish, but I don't know what happened to it, his s--.
CW:Did they do the seder in Yiddish?
CW:Yeah. And what languages did you hear when you were growing up?
RW:A lot of Yiddish in the house. My mother would -- Yiddish, and then, ofcourse, she'd throw in English. "Farmakh di vinde [Close the window]" would be close -- but she would say, "Farmakh di tir [Close the door]," but the vinde was a vinde. And I remember saying, "Ma, how do you say thanks in Yiddish?" She said, "Denks." (laughs) But their Yiddish, a "psychiatrist" was a "psyochatist." That was my father. And I have a very interesting story, if you want to hear it, about the psyochatist and stuff like that. They lived together. They celebrated their seventieth anniversary. So, they lived together a very long time. And like all of us, sometimes, 'cause I see it now with me, you bicker a lot as you get 8:00older. So, one day I walked in her house, and on the refrigerator was this big piece of paper with Yiddish writing. And I said, "Ma, what's this?" And she says, "That paper says if you come in here and find me dead, your father killed me." So, I said, "Ma, who's going to be able to read it?" Oh, so, she says, "I never thought of that." (laughs) So, they were quite extraordinary people. My father was the cemetery chairman of his society for a while. And we would get these calls days and night because he had to be the one to make the stamp to open up the graves. And the stamp that he had, I asked him, I said, "Pa, where did you come across this?" Because it actually had the -- not the stamp itself, but the outside part had a swastika on it. And I never could find and he never 9:00could tell me where it came from. I mean, it didn't show on the stamp, but the machine itself. It was like one of these things you'd ben-- that would do any kind of a -- like a notary might have. I could never figure out where that came from, and I thought that was so odd. He says, "No," he said, "It's a good thing, 'cause I go, I fayf [have disdain] on them! I fayf on them!" 'Cause he would bang down on that swastika when he would -- so, I think in his mind's eye, it was a good thing to have, 'cause he was stepping on them, on what they represented, what the symbol represented.
RW:When I was a kid, little bit older, they found relatives. And my father wouldalways look for relatives. And he found someone in Argentina. And before you know it, they were coming to America. And my mother said to him, after he did it, she said, "I didn't like his mother. I didn't like his father. Why are you bringing him here?" (laughs) But she ended up being very good to them. Both my 10:00mother and father were very good to them.
CW:So, what other parts of Yiddish culture did you hear growing up? I understandyou listened to WEVD?
[BREAK IN RECORDING]
RW:Oh, yeah, and my mother would read the "Forward," which was every day. Ofcourse, she called it the Forverts," you know. "Go to the candy store and get me the 'Forverts.'" She would get it. And she would read parts of it to me and she would cry and I would say, "Why are you crying?" And he says, "Well, I'm reading the 'Bintel briv,' it's so sad." And my brother, my oldest brother, had a lot of issues. And she wrote about him one time, but I don't remember. And they put it in the paper, but I don't remember what the answer was. I remember her saying, "They answered my letter." That was kind of interesting. And, of course, I don't know if my sister mentioned, but my mother took in my cousin. He was an orphan. 11:00She took him in. She said, "We have to do this. This is what it means to be a good person, and this is what I have to do." She watched the neighbors' kids -- they were Greek -- after school, because the mother went to work. So she -- growing up, it was almost by example rather than by actual teaching. Everything I know of how to be good and how to care for others was almost by exam-- I would say a lot more by example.
CW:Did you ever go to the Yiddish theater?
RW:Very young. I don't remember. But there is a story about when I was in mymother's belly. Would you like to hear that one?
RW:My father took the whole family -- my mother was pregnant. My father took thewhole family to the Yiddish theater. And they came out and my father went over to the car and he put the key in, he turned, he turned, he turned, didn't open. 12:00He says, "What's wrong?" And my father -- "There's something wrong!" He says, "We'll break the window." They knocked out the window, they all got in the car, and my brother said, "Pa, did we get new seat covers?" And he said, "We're in the wrong car." So, the family got out and, of course, my mother was pregnant with me. And as she was running, she was dribbling because, you know, you're pregnant and you're -- she was dribbling, so -- I mean, she told me this story a million times 'cause it was me, but I didn't know it. In those days, the backseat of the car had a band across. Today, I think you've got something if you're making a sharp turn, you can hold on to the side. But this was like a band across. She got in the car, she took off her underwear, rinsed it out, and hung it on that band to dry. (laughs) I mean, these are stories that are 13:00extraordinary that I've passed down to the kids, too. But Yiddish was really, of course, spoken. They spoke to each other. I saw how she cared for my father. I saw how she cared for others, and I think that was more by example than specifically. I mean, she would say, "Don't be jealous of people, don't be" -- and it was wonderful. I never loved living over the store. She used to say to me, "Your sister got married from over the store, you'll get married from living over the store." But the Yiddish was her a lot, 'cause he was in shul a lot as we got older, and that was part of it, too. I mean, we would go -- we was always -- we were holiday. There wasn't a holiday that I didn't go to shul. You don't want to go other times, but you have to go -- 'cause I did go to Hebrew school. But you have to go for holiday, and that was a given. And it became just -- it 14:00was part of my life.
CW:And can you describe the shul?
RW:The shul was big, and the boys were always hit over the hands with the ruler,but I was a good girl. One time, a boy chased me home after Hebrew school, and I came in the house crying. Shlomo -- his name -- we only had to call each other only by our, yeah, Hebrew names. And this fellow's name was Shlomo Nudelberg. Now, would you ever forget that name if you ever heard it in your life? Okay, because there's an anecdote to that. And so, she called up Shlomo's, and Shlomo didn't have a mother. His sister was bringing him up. And so, she called up and when she heard that, she said, "Okay, but please tell him not to chase Rhoda anymore." She had a heart. She had a lot of heart. I asked her why she married my father, 'cause as they got older, she says, "I wanted to make life easier for 15:00my mother. It was one less mouth to feed." That's why she came to America, she said. But fast forward to probably 1984 or 1985, when we bought our condominium in Florida. I invited a friend down to spend some time with us. And we went shopping. She and I went to a shoe store in Boca. And this gentleman is waiting on her. I wasn't interested. And he kept smiling at me, every time he'd go back and forth. And finally, he said, "I think I know you." I said, "I'm not from Florida." He says, "Where are you from?" And I said, "Massachusetts." And he said, "No." So, my friend Carol said, "Well, you know, you lived in New York before that." He goes, "Oh, where you from in New York?" And I said, "Jackson Heights." And he said, "I think -- what's your name?" I said, "Rhoda." And he said, "I went to high school with you." He said, "I'd like to introduce myself." 16:00He said, "My name is Stanley Nudelberg." And I said to him, "Is your Hebrew name Shlomo?" (laughs) And, of course, I called up my kids and said, "You won't guess who I met." And they said, "Ma, he really existed? We thought you made that up." So, that's kind of a cute anecdote. And, of course, I love the fact that he remembered me from high school. (laughs) So, that was kind of cute.
CW:In Jackson Heights, how far away was the shul? Were there Jews in --
RW:It was far, it was far. It was far. I would say, well, far, by standards of-- 'cause I had to walk it myself a lot of times. I would say -- we were on Eightieth, I would say it was about Seventy-third, but a few avenues over. So, it was a good walk.
CW:And were there any Jewish businesses other than your shop?17:00
RW:There was. There was a lot of -- probably a lot more -- there was a kosherdeli, and Saturday night, "Go to the Colony and get me a corned beef sandwich and get what you want." And the waiters were with the towels over the arm and they all wore -- looked like tuxedoes. That was a Jewish deli. There was probably what you would call a Jewish bakery, but not -- you know, you could get a challah there, but you could get a challah at the grocery store. That was not owned by Jews, but the candy store was. And there was a butcher. He was Benny the butcher. And my mother would send me and I would walk in there, and I happened to like the smell of when they put the chicken over the flame. I liked that smell. And my mother would say, "Get me," you know, "a pound of hamburger. Tell him to grind it twice." And if she was short of money, she would say, "Ask Benny if he can give me ten dollars." And Benny said, "Of course." Or, "I'll pay 18:00him next week." Never a problem. Then, when I was thirteen, Benny's wife came one day with a young lady who they had brought over from France. She was Benny's niece. His family had been killed in the Holocaust. And his brother's wife had two children. One was Edith and one was her sister, which I don't remember her name. And so, he asked the wife, "If you're having a hard time, I would be happy -- would you like to -- yeah, I'll bring you all over." And she said, "No." But she sent -- Edith came over. And to this day, Edith and I are still friends. And my mother had a habit of saying -- when Edith came in, she wore these thick cotton stockings and these Oxford shoes. And here I was, thirteen years old and 19:00I'm wearing a sweater and a fancy skirt. And I said to my mother, "You want me to be friends with that?" And my mother's answer always was, "She's an orphan. She just came here." Not an orphan, but she would use it. "She just came here." And we're still friends, and we tell that story. And my mother took in her brother-in-law's son. He's an orphan. You got to feel sorry for him. So, like I said, she sent -- I think that, to me, is more Yiddish than anything else. Well, if you're looking at the Bible, it says that you're supposed to be -- and whatever term you want to use. You're supposed to be good person, and that was her. All the Yiddish that was in the house -- and my father, yeah. He did his thing at shul, and it was very important to him. And always was until the day he 20:00died, it was very important. He never really pushed us that much. But when my brother married my sister-in-law, who was Italian, that was a terrible blow. Terrible. He actually wanted to sit shivah [seven-day mourning period]. And he was a member of the Young Israel then and he was very close with the rabbi. And Rabbi Pollack said, "Julius, if you do that, that's the end. Leave the door open. Don't do it." And, of course, after a while, they got used to my sister-in-law. They were their -- the children were their grandchildren, but not the same as my children or my sister's children, because they were Yiddish through and through. (laughter) And when I was young, I would sometimes fake it and say -- I would add S-K-Y to any name, thinking my parents would believe me they were Jewish. But I didn't get away with it. I was really a good kid. I 21:00really was pretty good. My mother told me no, I listened most of the time. I was a good kid. Of course, you only remember the good things anyway. (laughs)
CW:So, can you tell me a little bit about WEVD? What do you remember from theYiddish program?
RW:I remember, (sings) "Every Sunday morning over WEVD," and she would listenand listen, and I would hear the stories. In fact, I don't know if it was the same store, but the advertisement -- there was Yiddish advertisement, and one of them was for Barney's. Now, Barney's is a high-end store. But I don't know if it's the same Barney's, but in Yiddish they would say, "Breng arayn dayn kind [Bring in your son] for his bar-mitsve. We give him a suit!" And I would listen. 22:00Some of it you just didn't pay attention to, but it was on all the time. Every Sunday morning. I don't think it was on during the week, but she would make it her business to listen. And I would listen, but I would crack up from the song, I knew it was on, and then from the ad for Barney's. And some day, I've got to find out if that's where Barney's originated. I think it was the Lower East Side. And, of course, the Lubiner. My father was driving, and every banquet -- and he would be on the phone and then he would be ordering. He was very involved with that. And then, as they got older, they had friends. 'Cause when they came, they came to the East Side like everybody. Then, they went to Brooklyn, and they were friends with a whole group of Jewish people in Brooklyn where they had an aksi. Have you ever heard of that? An aksi, from what -- I think I'm pronouncing 23:00it right. It was like a little bank. You kept -- you opened up an account. It was, let's say, the Brown family aksi, because they were the Browns, their friends would call the Browns. And everybody would put money in, and if you needed a loan, you could get it from the aksi. And I'm pretty sure that's how you pronounce it, the aksi. And we would go to the Browns, and the Browns, they had a mother, which would be like the grandmother to me, which I didn't have. And so, we would sit and we would listen to the stories and the arguments and the whole thing, and then they would come. Where did my mother entertain? In the back of the store. She had a huge room in the back of the store, and they would come and they would sit and that was fine. My piano was back there, which, by the way, my sister bought me. Her first paycheck, twenty-five dollars for an upright piano. And I would play the Yiddish songs for my folks, and they loved 24:00that. They loved that.
CW:Do you have a favorite?
RW:Well, actually, I like "Rozhinkes mit mandlen [Raisins with almonds]" andthat would be my favorite. There was one other one, but I can't remember the name of it. Maybe it's that one. But that was a favorite.
CW:In terms of the Yiddish language, when you became -- when you left home, whendid you speak Yiddish, if ever, and what was your exposure to it?
RW:I really didn't. I really didn't. I would give my kids words here and there,you know. So, "schmutz," you know, tokhes [person's behind], you know, words like that, that they could -- well, they had my folks. So, they had that connection. We were very lucky that they had that connection. And I kept a kosher home for many, many years. And there was no question, I was joining a temple, and my children were going to go to Hebrew school and they were gonna be 25:00bar- and bat mitzvahed. I never had a bat mitzvah, but they were going to be -- 'cause in my day, it was irrelevant. So, I brought that with me, and lit the candles. And, of course, my mother was a great influence. She was really, like I said before -- he was great, but she was the one. She was the one. She was the influence, definitely. So, I brought that with me, and always was interested in Yiddish film festivals and Yiddish music. Growing up, when they had all these banquets, there were Jewish orchestras. You heard maybe a waltz here and there, but you heard a kazatshke [Russian dance], and my father loved to dance. My mother wasn't so much -- but my father, and he would pull my sister and I out on the floor to dance with him. And then, he would do -- they did like a folk-dance 26:00thing, and everybody would get all twisted and he would get so mad that they didn't go through the thing right. And he loved music. He loved music, he loved dancing, and he would play records in the store when we'd go away in the country, in the summer. We had a Victrola, and he would bring his records and we would listen to the records. And, of course, he had his family. My mother really didn't have anybody. She had one cousin [BREAK IN RECORDING] -- the ones that she came to America with. So, that was mostly our Yiddish, was --
CW:Where in the country would you go in the summer?
RW:We went out on the island in New York. My father was a carpenter, and hestarted -- we called it a bungalow. He started the bungalow 'cause someone broke down a garage -- and, of course, long before I was born -- and made it -- my recollection of the bungalow was when they took out the pump and we had running water inside. And they kept that bungalow until right after I got married, maybe 27:00a year or so. And then, we didn't go anymore, so they sold it. But I did go back to see it. Wasn't as nice anymore. They didn't keep it nice the way we did. They would invite everybody. The Browns would come, their -- my sister's friends, she was older, so she had boyfriends, and my brother-in-law, even, when they got married, he would be there, and we would have a ball. Also, no Jewish people, but when my father bought that lot, he made sure that his three sisters bought. So, we had the bungalows, one after the other. My father's family was not particularly a nice family. They were -- I'm not even sure if you'd use the word "prost [simple]," but I would just say they didn't have class like my mother. Any class that my father had, he got from my mother. But they weren't particularly nice to my mother, so I wasn't that close with them. So, we were -- 28:00we had friends. The man who cleaned the windows in the store was Yiddish. And after a while, he loved my mother so much he cleaned the windows for nothing. And I went away and my -- no, my folks went away and I stayed with them and went to high school from there. I mean, when you met my mother, she was -- I don't even know the word anymore. But I've been asked who I've admired most in my life, and it always was her. And you don't think of it, of course, when you're growing up. You think of it as you look back. And when I think of me with the Yiddish and things that I'd say, I feel sad and glad, because I wish they were alive to see it.
CW:Yeah, can you tell me about what you're doing now with the Yiddish Club and --
RW:Yeah, I have a neighbor and she said to me, "My brother is moving to KingsPoint, where you live, and he's going to volunteer at the Jewish Community Center. And he's going to teach -- he's going to have a Yiddish Club, and I 29:00think you would like it." I said, "I'm in." So, of course, I joined the Jewish Community Center, which -- I do other things there, on occasion. And I came in. I could -- I never spoke Yiddish. I heard it, but I never spoke it. And he said, "Well, I think, in order for this to really be a good club, all of you that never learned Yiddish, to read it, are going to start learning how to read it." So, in the beginning, there was a few of us. But a lot of the people -- we had Holocaust survivors, people grew up only speaking Yiddish. So, they could read. So I -- but he said, "Come to my house and we'll" -- this is Paul that's coming tonight, 'cause he lives on an angle from where I live. So, he's helped me. And I'm doing better, but it's still -- I should practice it more. But I'm very excited about it. Now we're reading a whole book in Yiddish, by Sholem Asch, and it's called "Motke the Ganef [Motke the Thief]." And we've started out, of 30:00course, with Motke's mother and father, and we're on, now, Motke's about six years old. And it's terrific. And we see Yiddish films, and even though it has the subtitles, I still like to try to read it, so -- and I will talk a little bit more. I have a friend whose mother was a Holocaust survivor who just about a year ago died at one hundred. And, of course, her Yiddish was different, because they lived in Poland, and my Yiddish is different. But we make up things. Last thing we did was we made up a law office of Miskayt [Ugliness], Ligner [Liar], and I forget what the third one was -- Ganef [Crook]. That was the lawyers we were going to do. We joke. We used to play golf and we'd laugh like heck, 'cause we'd sit in the golf cart and make up -- 'cause she's the only one of my friends that I can kibitz in Yiddish with. So, we'll just tell each other words and I'll 31:00go, "I never heard of that word." Or I'll call her, she's like, "Never heard of that word," yeah.
CW:So, what accent did your parents speak?
RW:Well, according to some, they were Galitsyaners [Galician Jews], but theywere not. They were Rusish [Russian Jews]. They came from the Ukraine. And, of course, probably their Yiddish was like kitchen Yiddish. They called it "mame-loshn [mother tongue]," because my interpretation is different than the written word. Like, oh, I'm trying to think of a word. It's pronounced "bruder [brother]," but my mother would say, "Go rif of dayn brider [call in your brother]." That's the way she would say it, so that's my accent with a lot of words. And when we read, other people will try to correct me and he'll say, "No, that's -- it's like if you lived in the East and you lived down South. Your accent is different." But to my father, Galitsyaner was the worst. They were no good. (laughs) So, I know they didn't speak that way. So, that was mostly -- but 32:00my mother would -- most of the way she spoke to us was in Yiddish. She'd throw in English words. But again, the vinde. I'm trying to think. But most of it was in Yiddish, and we understood it. Didn't speak it back. I think probably when Millie was young and my brothers, they probably did, but we did not. I think it was my brother who said that when he went to kindergarten, he only spoke Yiddish, my oldest brother, I think. He said that, so he had to learn English. But ours was just on the receiving end, not on the giving end.
CW:And what do you feel like when you're speaking Yiddish, reading Yiddish?
RW:Well, of course, like I said, I feel sad and glad, because I wish my motherand father were here. But in some ways, I think they know. And I feel that it's 33:00very important, because it's a tie to my past. And when I get it really resolved, I'm going to pass it on to my daughter. My children, unfortunately, don't have any children and there won't be any. And that part, that makes me feel sad. But I do have a lot of nieces, nephews, great and great-great on my husband's side, 'cause he's one of twelve. And I'm not close with all of them, but close with a certain few, so I always tell them the stories. Like "Fiddler on the Roof," yeah, that's almost the way it really was. There was no Anatevka, but that's the way it was. And they look at you like, it was really like that? I go, "Yeah." And sometimes, when you see pictures now, even of what it looks like in these small towns in Poland, still looks the same. (laughs) But that's the part I feel -- that's the sad part. And the glad part is I always want to learn, 34:00even as I'm older. I like to take on new challenges. I do.
CW:What do you think is the future of Yiddish?
RW:Well, I think that the Orthodox are still speaking it. They're probably thefuture. I don't see it as a future from my perspective, because my children and -- I just don't see it unless there is someone that's going to really take an interest. And you'll get that certain someone who might just pick it up and say, "I want to do this." But I see the future of it with the Orthodox. And I'm glad of it. I'm glad of it. I was -- when I went to Israel the first time, I thought, Oh, I'll be okay. I'll speak Yiddish. But they speak Hebrew, mostly, people on the street. But we did see an interesting film about how Yiddish has progressed 35:00there as well. So, that's a good thing, 'cause that's their his-- a lot of it is their history, as well. And history should never be forgotten. We don't always learn from it, but it shouldn't be forgotten.
CW:Yeah. How does the Yiddish come into play in your broader Jewish identity?What --
RW:Very strong. The fact that I became a guardian was because the Bible says youhave to do good. Not that I didn't want to, but I feel that's very important. I feel my cooking, in some ways. I make certain things that my mother made. Of course, she never had a recipe, 'cause everything was shit arayn a bisl [throw in a little] of this and you shit arayn a bisl of that. So, of course, I don't know it. But I feel kasha and varnishkes [kasha and noodles], and I'm not kosher 36:00anymore but when I make chicken soup, it has to be a kosher chicken. It has to be. Friday nights is just the way it was in my house, with the challah, with the candles. That's very important to me. It's very important, and I even have my mother's fatsheyle [shawl] that she used. She gave it to my sister who gave it to me when I light the candles. And remember, when I first got married -- oh, no, it was probably later, and I was lighting the candles. I was near a window and I looked like this, and I said, "Oh, there's my mother." And I realized how I've gotten older, I look so much like her. My sister's more like my father. I look more like my mother. So, it's kind of funny. But that's the way I carry on. I joined the temple because when I moved to Florida, first it was the Jewish holiday. I have to go. I can't -- it would be like I'd be a goy if I didn't go 37:00to temple on the Jewish holiday. So, I found -- my husband was from a very poor family. He was brought up during the Depression, and if they didn't have a quarter, they couldn't go to Hebrew school. And there were seven boys. Well, a quarter -- and they were all like a year apart. A quarter was a lot of money during the Depression. He was born in 1928. And so, he was never -- never really learned how to read Hebrew, which I did. So -- at least the prayer books, anyway. So, I realized, one year, I remember when we first came down, I joined a temple because the price of the ticket was reasonable. I didn't join. Excuse me, I went just for the holidays. And I didn't like it, because I felt like an outsider, and I didn't like that. Here in Florida, if you don't belong, they're not putting you in the big temple. They're putting you in a little room on the 38:00side. It's very different. So, and then for yisker, you can't come into the yisker service in a lot of these temples. They'll have a separate yisker service, I guess 'cause there are so many Jews in southern Florida. Well, I didn't like that idea. So, I looked one -- a couple years later, I looked in the paper and I said, Now, this one looks reasonable, and it's not Orthodox. So, I was brought up that Reform was like being Catholic. (laughs) But I thought, I have to make my husband comfortable, as well. And we went, and he was comfortable, 'cause so much of it was in English. And what I liked about it was the children. Everything was geared for the children. And the rabbi and the cantor, who happened to be married, said, The children are our future. And they would call all the children up. And then, there was a woman sitting next to me who said, "If it wasn't for them -- I'm a single parent. They take my kid for 39:00Hebrew. I can't afford it." I said, This is a temple I'd like to belong to. So, we joined this temple and it's very small. They meet in the rabbi's house. They have a Hebrew school, though. In fact, we just had a Tu b'shvat in my house, Saturday, and there were twelve of us. And the cantor, she's extremely spiritual. The rabbi is Israeli born, very knowledgeable. And so, I've kept up with that, and then I decided I wanted to be bat mitzvahed. My challenge a few -- four years ago. And the Hebrew came back just like that. So, I was the big shot. There were three of us. We got bat mitzvahed together. And then, was it last year? Yeah, I think it was last year, I said to my husband, "You know what? You never had a bar mitzvah. How would you like" -- and the rabbi actually kept saying to him -- 'cause he would say to the rabbi, "I was poor, I never had" -- 40:00so, the rabbi says, "Leo, we got to do something about that." And, of course, he didn't -- my husband has some dementia, so he couldn't -- I went for a year and a half, but he couldn't. So, he invited us to the house. He had him light -- showed him to lay the tfillin, and my son and my son-in-law and my daughter and I -- and he bar mitzvahed him. He had a little section that he gave him to read. He practiced it, and he was bar mitzvahed. I said, "How does it feel? You know, you're --" And then, I had a party for him in the house. I had friends over. And to this day, the rabbi calls him "bar mitzvah boy." So, I just -- I wanted it -- maybe I wanted it more for myself than for him, but he liked it. He liked the idea. He did. He liked the idea. And then, we went on a cruise. We went on a cruise after my bat mitzvah, so we went on a cruise after his, with the kids. So, it was nice. It was nice. So, Yiddish is a very strong part of my life. It's 41:00not just lighting the candles, but it's in thought and in deeds that I do. And I think that's important. And I read my prayers every morning. I do the Shema, and I do a Mi Shaber, (laughs) 'cause there's always something going on for somebody. And so that's -- and I go to the services. We have them not just on the holiday. And we, at our yisker service, we actually read every name out loud. We're not a big temple, but there are pages, and that's my job. I read from maybe S to -- and they have been like an extended family, because Leo and I happen to be the oldest ongoing members. And the younger ones treat us so 42:00beautifully, and it's so important. "Hi, mamale [mommy]." And that's a wonderful term that somebody could say to me. And I like that. That's a very strong identity for me. In the beginning, it was just me. And then, my husband got really hooked, for want of a better term. He got hooked and he loves it, and they treat us with such love and respect. And so, that's what it means for me.
CW:When you think about your great-grand-nieces and nephews, do you have aneytse [piece of advice] for them?
RW:Never thought about it. The only thing I will do is if there's -- Mi Shaberis the thing. Explain eytse, what you mean, in English.
CW:A piece of advice.
RW:Oh, well. Now, that's another word I don't know! (laughter) See, now I know43:00it. Yes, they will want to know how I stayed married to their uncle for fifty-five years. (laughs) They adore their uncle. Great-uncle, great-great-uncle. My husband is a very -- also very giving, from a very hard life. Mother had too many children. They -- all the children grew up very needy, because I don't think she had time. And a lot of love, and the father was struggling through the Depression. I mean, we didn't have a lot of money growing up, but I never felt that -- for want for anything. They probably had it much tougher before I was born, but I never felt -- I never -- if I asked my mother, "Why do I have to have a second-hand bicycle?" She's, "What's the difference? It's got two wheels and it go--" I says, "You're right. Why can't I have a fancy doll carriage like the girl around the corner?" "Well, you know, this doll carriage is good enough for you." "Okay, ma." It was given. But I have given 44:00them advice, not in Yiddishkayt, but just general advice. My niece called me up. She's my great-niece, and now she has -- so, that's my great-great -- a little girl. And when my niece was little, she had an Easy-Bake Oven. Did you ever hear of those? (laughs) She had an Easy-Bake Oven, and when we went to her house, she and I would get up early and we would make something in the Easy-Bake Oven. So, now she has a daughter and she wants me to bake cookies with her daughter like she did with me. I said, "But yours was the Easy-Bake Oven, Rachel. I never bake!" I said, "Can I get chocolate chip cookies that you just cut up?" She says, "Auntie Rhoda!" (laughter) But my husband is Uncle Mendel and I'm Auntie Rhoda or Rhoda, 'cause some of my nieces are only, like, ten years younger than I am. There's ten years between my husband and I, and he was next to the youngest of twelve. So, I have nieces that are seventy. My nephew -- I say, 45:00Thank God, 'cause I'm gonna be seventy-eight. There's somebody in their seventies. But so, I've given them advice like that. And I've actually also shown them by example, because I feel that my husband and I have been, even before the sisters and brothers were gone, we were the ones that held that family together. We had a pool, we invited everybody every summer in the pool. We started a family circle. And so, that was the eytse that I think I've showed them. And to this day, I mean, their children and their children's children feel the same way, because obviously they talk about us, in a good way. So, we're close. So, that's nice. 46:00
CW:L'dor v'dor [From generation to generation], right?
RW:Yeah. (laughter) Yeah.
CW:Well, a hartsikn dank [thank you very much].
RW:Thank you, thank you.
CW:Thank you very much.
RW:I thought, Well this -- do they really want to talk to me? I don't haveanything exciting, but --
CW:Oh, you have a lot to share. You definitely do, and I'm looking forward toour next session --
CW:-- with both of you together. (laughs)
CW:So, a hartsikn dank.
RW:Thank you so much, too. Ikh dank dir [I thank you].
RW:Tsvey sheyne meydelekh, eyn sheyne zin [Two beautiful girls, one beautifulboy]. (laughter)
[END OF INTERVIEW]47:00