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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida
N: My name is Steven Noll. I am conducting an interview with Mr.
Moe Rhine for the University of Florida Oral History Program.
Good morning, Moe.
R: Good morning, Steve.
N: How are you doing this morning?
R: Fine, thank you.
N: When and where were you born?
R: I was born in Brooklyn, New York City, May 8, 1905. That will
make me 78 years old my next birthday. I am a first generation
American. My father was born on the East Prussian/Lithuanian
border before World War I. That was a contiguous part of the
German empire. Therefore, his background is partially German and
partially Lithuanian. He was born in Lithuania in the first town
you came to as you went across the river between East Prussia and
Lithuania. My father was born in 1870; I don't know the birthday
of my grandfather. My grandfather was named Meyer, or Mayer,
Rhine. He and my father came here in 1886 when my father was
sixteen years old. This is before the big immigration started
from the East European countries. They immigrated between the
German migrations to the United States and those that started
from East European countries on account of the persecution of the
Jews. The Jews were always used as a scapegoat for anything that
happened, or any sort of disturbances that was exciting the
country. However, my grandfather was not what we would call a
one hundred percent involved man in the Jewish tradition. He was
brought up in the Jewish tradition where you went to the syna-
gogue, or the school connected when you were six years old. From
then on you studied the various books of the Jewish commentaries
and religion, and they were discussed, which has made certain
groups rather argumentative. They are always discussing these
things. When he brought up his children, he was a little more
liberal. I believe he sent my father and his brothers, and but
I don't think a sister, out to learn something else in the general
world. I think perhaps foreign languages. My father was somewhat
bilingual. He most likely knew Yiddish, Lithuanian, and German,
as a part of coming from the community in which he lived. It was
a small trading town; it must have been a Jewish ghetto somewhere.
They lived in the ghetto. My father started learning the books
of the Torah or the Old Testament and all the commentaries that
had been built up over the years by Jewish teachers. I do not
know what caused my grandfather to come here. But it seems that
he was realizing that it wasn't a good place to live if he wanted
freedom. It would be if he wanted to develop his family in the
rather narrow Jewish tradition imposed upon them by the other
people who lived in these parts, and who confined them to a
ghetto. He decided that perhaps he ought to try America. Now,
he had three sons and four daughters, who all later came to
America also. He came here in 1886, and I don't know to whom he
was going to see, or what it was. I know that about 1886 my
father and grandfather established themselves here. My grand-
father worked as a teacher, my father just went out to work. In
time, they brought over the entire rest of the family.
N: Where did they settle, Moe?
R: They settled in Brooklyn, New York, around the Williamsburgh
section. That is one of the sections where the Jews congregated
in New York besides the bigger section in lower Manhattan. Wil-
liamsburgh and lower Manhattan were the settlement places. My
grandfather became a teacher of various Jewish subjects. My
father established himself as a cigar-maler. In those days,
cigar-making was a hand-trade. They made the cigars in factories
by hand and distributed them; some of the cigar makers had a lot
of little cigars stores where people did it individually. How-
ever, my father went into this trade and in time, being a sort of
introspective man who had acquired quite a bit of knowledge, was
elected Secretary of Cigar-Makers Union #90. I mention the Cigar
Makers Union because Cigar-Makers Union #144 was headed by Samuel
Gompers. So when it came to the development of the American
Federation of Labor, Samuel Gompers and my father were amongst
the leaders. My father, for many years, went to the conventions
with Gompers. Gompers developed the American Federation of
Labor; my father went back to his trade, the cigar-makers union.
The cigar-makers union is hard to understand nowadays because
from a hand trade, the cigar-making went out of an individual
business, and it became a machine-made cigar business. That put
most of the cigar-makers out of work, and the union disappeared
in time. My grandfather finally established himself in the Wil-
liamsburgh section of Brooklyn as the head of the largest Jewish
parochial school. A parochial school is commonly known as a
"Yeshiva," in the Jewish language. He was well-known as a learned
man, and ran a rather very large school. My father went out into
the trades and worked as a cigar-maker, and became Secretary of
the union. The union had its offices in Manhattan, so later we
moved from Brooklyn to Manhattan. I must have been about ten
years old at the time. I was brought up in the Yorkville section
of Manhattan, till my twenty-first year, when my mother bought a
house in Brooklyn and we moved back to Brooklyn.
N: Where exactly is the Yorkville section of Manhattan?
R: Yorkville section of Manhattan runs from about Eightieth Street,
East side, to about Ninetieth Street or Ninety-sixth Street, from
the river, East River, to Central Park. My father and grand-
father were immigrants. I never knew my grandfather well enough
to ask him why he decided to come here. He came here way ahead
of the others, foreseeing what was going to happen in Europe, and
feeling that there would be more freedom for himself, his family,
and his children here. There was a large, growing Jewish commu-
nity of New York which had been established way back in the colon-
ial times. I think the history of that is under Peter Stuyvesant;
some Jews had come up from Brazil to settle in Manhattan. He
didn't want them, but the Dutch company decided that they must be
allowed to settle there because freedom of religion was allowed.
They are known as the Sephardic Jewish congregation of New York,
and had established their synagogue long before other people came.
A humorous story that my father used to tell us that when people
came in those days, about 1886 and 1888, they knew they had to
learn English to get along here. So they all went to the evening
schools run by New York City, where English was taught to for-
eigners. All the teachers and principals doubled up and had ev-
ening jobs teaching English to foreigners. It was not like today
where they would be taught in two languages, like Spanish and
English. There you learned your English, and you used it to get
along with the populations. You used Yiddish amongst the Jews,
or other languages if you fell into any sort of a literary inca-
pacity. When he came here he went to the evening school right
away, and there was a gentleman who was teaching English to for-
eigners. They had all immigrants who wanted to learn English.
But in this class there was one man named Mr. Gottfried. Mr.
Gottfried would always argue with the teacher. Like many Social-
ists, or people who are politically active, or people who are in-
tellectualls,: they can argue from morn till night, say a lot of
things and say nothing, and just argue. They take exception to
things just for the sake of having a discussion. So, Mr.
Gottfried would start of discussion with the teacher and would
never let the teacher teach; he would always argue with him. So
the teacher got annoyed and threw Mr. Gottfried out. He said,
"Get out of here, I want to teach." My father ended the story
always by saying, "Little did I know that this Mr. Gottfried was
my future father-in-law." My mother came over here from Warsaw,
Poland. She was a sort of an orphan; her mother had died when
she was young. She was brought up by an aunt, and when she was
sixteen years old, about the same time as my father came here,
she came looking for her father, who was in New York. He had
emigrated years before and they had lost contact with each other,
except that she must have had an address, because she found him.
She found that he had remarried; she had a half-sister, who in
our family was the last living person of the generation. She
died within the last year at the age of ninety-three. Now, my
father and grandfather established themselves and sent for the
rest of the family; the family established themselves mostly in
Brooklyn, New York. In that family, of three brothers, only my
father went into the trades as a cigar-maker. His next brother
became a rabbi, a Reform rabbi out of the Cincinnati Rabbinical
School, and established himself in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His
name was Abraham Benedict Rhine. I didn't know him very well; I
met him once or twice. They lived out in the Middle West. The
youngest brother, at the age of seventeen took a scholarship ex-
amination and passed. It wasan examination to enter Cornell
Medical School in New York City. If you passed this examination
at the age of seventeen or eighteen, you went right into medical
school; there was no college requirement or anything like that in
those days. I would say this goes back as far as '86; it must
have been about in the early 1890's, when this uncle was seven-
teen years old. So he became a doctor in New York City special-
izing in the eyes. My mother undoubtedly became a cigar-maker
because she met my father and they got married in 1894; from then
the family lived in Brooklyn. They struggled because the sal-
aries were not high; my father was an intellectual, but no too
practical. I think my mother really was the practical one of the
N: They met on the job, then?
R: Somewhere on the job, or in union meetings, because she was a
N: Now, had she been reunited with her father at this point?
R: Yes, she had been reunited with her father and her new half-sister.
They had established themselves as a Jewish family living in New
York. I don't know what happened to my maternal grandfather. He
must have died before I was born. My paternal grandfather must
have died when I was about sixteen years old. He came to my con-
firmation of "bar mitzvah," as is practiced in the entrance to
Jewish faith. My father and mother established, and naturally as
a result of the marriage there were a certain number of children.
Seven of the mother's and father's children grew up to be twenty-
one years of age or more. There were a few who did not. We had
moved to Yorkville, and we grew up in that section. All of us
went to the various schools and high schools. I am a product of
the New York City school system, pure and simple. I went to an
all-boys elementary school, an all-boys high school, the "High
School of Commerce," and an all-boys college a free university
the College of the City of New York. I am the only one of the
six boys who went straight through school. I trained to become a
school teacher. My other brothers went on to various things. We
are a mixed-up family in a way. My oldest brother quit high
school and went to work because they needed his money to help
support the family. This had happened to the one I haven't men-
tioned, my sister, who was the eldest. When she was fourteen and
got out of school, she went to a business college in Brooklyn at
the age of fifteen. She was working as a stenographer mostly,
and ran the switchboard of a furniture concern known as Karpen
Brothers. That enters later on into the family history. My
oldest brother developed into a salesman of a sort and established
his own kitchen cabinet making business. Although he never got
through high school, he is regarded as the one who made the most
money in our family, or the wealthiest of the family. My next
brother went to Dewitt Clinton High School. His name was
Abraham. He graduated and went out to work. He took a few
courses in college bookkeeping, but he finally established in the
post office and worked for his whole life in the post office in
the financial division of the main post office in New York City.
He was in charge, or worked in the section that made up the pay-
rolls. Then came a third brother named Mendel, or Emanuel. We
called him Mendy. Like all of us, being a rather active young
man and independent in his own way, got thrown out of high school.
He and his brother were in the same Latin class; one of them
would show up and always report "here" for both of them till the
teacher found out. And that was the day that Mendel was not in
class, so they threw him out. In those days you didn't have to
go to school, and they didn't have to keep you in school over the
age of fourteen. I'm the one who got out of elementary school
and went to the High School of Commerce. The High School of
Commerce now is Julliard's School of Music. They torn that
building down; it's right in Lincoln Center. It has moved other
places. However, daily I walked from Eighty-fourth Street, Man-
hattan, across Central Park to Sixty-sixth Street on the west
side of school and back. It was a fifteen, twenty minute walk,
so I am rather familiar with Central Park, and I am familiar with
the Metropolitan Museum of Art because it was about a five minute
walk from where I lived and I was in and out of that building.
Our playground was Central Park. I went to the High School of
Commerce and when I graduated, I knew bookkeeping quite well. So
I decided that I wanted to go to the college. Nobody said, "yes"
in my family, and nobody said, "no." So I went to the City Col-
lege of New York to register. They refused to admit me. I had
gone to the High School of Commerce, and the College of the City
of New York was known as the poor man's college, or the immi-
grants' college. It had about 3,000 students, but it was an aca-
demic school of a very high order. You needed five years of
language, I had only two. I didn't have any sciences to speak of
--like Chemistry, Physics, or General Sciences. So they finally
admitted me to the Business Administration Course because I came
from the High School of Commerce. They had to admit me, as some-
one expressed it, in the back of the room. I had graduated from
a New York City school. Needless to say, I got out of Business
Administration and went to school for four and a half years. I
got conditioned in about forty points and never got any credit to
make up my entrance requirements. I am the person who was an
upper freshman for three years. They wouldn't let me go into an-
other grade unless I finished the entrance requirements. I jumped
from upper freshman to lower senior. Well, by that time I had
decided to become a teacher, and took the education courses, and
graduated from college, and became a teacher in the New York City
school system. I took the examination, the only one given at
that time was elementary school teaching, and I got on the list,
and we waited three years to get an appointment. They forgot
that there were men on the list, and it is a long story how we
got ourselves appointed. I substituted from 1928 to 1931. I was
given an appointment to a school in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. I
became a school and remained in the New York City school system
for forty-three years, retiring in October, 1971. The pension is
considered good enough to get along on, because the union had got-
ten a real pension deal out of New York City. They don't give
that pension any longer, because they felt that it was too high.
And men teachers in the school system, and we were not too many in those
days, took examinations to become assistant principals or princi-
pals. I ended up as an assistant principal of a junior high
school in Gowanus Canal, Brooklyn, an old establishment, poor
neighborhood, I came from Springfield Gardens, Queens, and I
lived nearby in Laurelton, Queens. I ended my career as assistant
principal and acting principal of a junior high school of about
1800 children and 100 teachers. I am now retired and living in
Gainesville near my son Leonard. He is established here as an
associated librarian in the medical division of the University of
Florida. Now as for myself, I lived in Manhattan until I was
twenty-one years old, and went to the College of the City of New
N: Could you describe what it was like growing up in Manhattan?
R: The neighborhood that I came from in Manhattan was a mixture of
all the immigrant groups; there were Irish, and Bohemians (Czechs).
There were Jews from various parts Hungary, from the Eastern
part of Russia usually, and a few other mixed groups. The Ger-
mans had established there also. German activity, even in the
Nazi days, was near Eighty-eighth Street and Lexington Avenue; I
lived around the corner. There were also various centers, like
the Central Jewish Institute. The Center was an offshoot of a
well-established synagogue and became the sort of social building
of the synagogue for the children. They taught Hebrew courses at
their Center of Jewish Culture. I went there for quite a few
years and grew up with that group. There was a mixed group of
practically all types. The dominant language was English, by the
way. Very few of the groups used their native languages, except
in the home. My mother knew three languages: Polish, Yiddish,
and mostly likely, German. She always spoke English in the house.
She was very proud that she knew English. Only when we got her
angry (she had six active boys), would she cuss us out a bit in
Yiddish. So I know all the Yiddish slang words, but I never
learned Yiddish until I had left my mother's home and had gone to
other various places. I don't speak it very well, although I un-
derstand it. As I went through college, I had two or three
brothers, one who went to Stuyvesant High School. He didn't last
there very long; he was a real individualist. He left the school,
or got thrown out. He became an interior decorator and estab-
lished himself fairly well. My youngest brother went to Dewitt
Clinton High School, graduated, worked two years for the Hebrew
Shelter and Guardian Society, and took care of certain court
cases. It was sort of a social worker's job, and then went to
the experimental school at the University of Wisconsin in 1933.
He graduated from the University of Wisconsin and became a labor
N: Which brother is that?
R: That's the youngest; his name was Henry. He is also the first
casualty in the family. He died in an automobile accident when
he was fifty years old. In our family we have a certain back-
ground. Our background is definitely Jewish; I was sent to
Hebrew school on Sunday mornings, and was subjected to Jewish
culture. I grew up with that background until I went off to
college. In college I was in a group with the same background
as myself. I should say that more that half of that college
group were descendants of immigrants, mostly Jewish in this case.
Italians came in later, and they started filling in, as this was
a free school. There were no dormitories. We all went home in
New York City. We went through school; it had rather high stand-
ards. I found that out recently; I never thought about it when I
went to school. However, I became a teacher and after graduating
from City College, I went to Columbia University to take a mas-
ter's degree in history, which is my subject, and continued
teaching right through the rest of my life. Teaching is an occu-
pation which will strike you as a "yes and no" occupation. Some
of us fit it in very well; some of us did not. Those of us who
had a tolerance for children and their ways got along quite well.
A lot of people didn't that's all. All of you that are going to
school know how a school is organized; you have ten percent who
are excellent teachers at the top. Eighty percent are good
teachers; they get along. Ten percent never should have been
teachers. Well, the school systems were such that they usually
remained, and you took what you got. You got along in the schools,
and you got along with your teacher, and reacted that way. The
parents of the immigrants were never very active in the school
affairs like today. I don't remember a parent association at any7
of my schools. Now it is different. As a school teacher, I had
a master's degree and I was getting along fairly well with child-
ren of the type that could play ball quite well. Besides teaching
my subject of geography (I was the only available man at one time)
I was the Health Education teacher, or the gym teacher. For
twelve or thirteen years I played softball out in the playground,
which was a tremendous backyard in this school in the Brighton
Beach section on Brooklyn. Even when I meet my old pupils they
all remember me at the ballgames we had. I got married in 1937;
I was thirty-two years of age; my wife was also first generation
of an immigrant family. Her father had left Russia (I think he
came from the Kiev section) to escape being drafted into the
Russian Army. In that case, the drafting was twenty-five years
service, so actually you were retired for life. You had to give
up your Judaism and everything; you had to become part of the
Russian machine. He decided it was not for him. So he and his
brother, who would have been taken if he didn't go, disappeared.
They left to go to America; they got through because they used a
different name. The original name was Chalicoff. However, Papa
Chalicoff had died when these boys were young, and the mother had
remarried a man named Lipkin. So they used the name Lipkin on
their papers while the police were looking for Chalicoff. They
established in England at the beginning, and my father-in-law
learned to be a cobbler, or a shoe repair man. He came to Ameri-
ca some time later, and his other brother came to America also.
My father-in-law established in Jersey City, New Jersey, right
across the river from New York. His brother established in
Milwaukee, Wisconsin. My father-in-law then became a shoe repair
man, finally opening his own shoe store there. He established as
a small tradesman having a very prosperous repair shoe store.
After his death, his son took up the business and expanded it a
N: About what year is this, Moe?
R: I don't know when they came here. All I know is I got married in
1937, my wife then being twenty-three years old. Her family was
there. She had a sister and a brother. The three children were
the products of this union. My mother-in-law and my father-in-
law came from the same town in Russia. She was eight years old
when he left. They met here when the town group formed a sort of
a benevolent society, which all these immigrants did. People of
that section would meet each other and form a society, which
always was a burial society, as well as a sort of Jewish cultural
society. My father was an organizer of the Workman's Circle,
known as the Arbiter Ring. This is the biggest organization of
its kind in the New York City area, teaching Yiddish as a lang-
uage, supporting the Yiddish newspapers, the "Forward," or the
"Daily Forward," and he also organized one of the groups of
people who came from his section.
N: Was this in Jersey City?
R: This is my father, who was in New York. My father-in-law was in
Jersey City. So you have these little organizations which expan-
ded. The Workman's Circle was a very large organization. I had
a sister-in-law who ran (we used to call her Miss Burial) the
cemetery department on the Workman's Circle, which was one of
the biggest things. They had cemeteries and graves and all the
things that go with a benevolent society. Then ran one of the
most successful homes for old folks in New York City.
N: Now is the Workman's Circle associated with the union at all?
R: They're all union people, but they are not associated with any
individual union. I should say most of the members most likely
came out of a garment union. Those are the big unions in New
N: So your father was associated with the Workman's Circle and mem-
bers of the garment making union?
R: That's right. The Workman's Circle was a benevolent society. He
never worked for them. He was secretary of his group and that
was a voluntary sort of thing. In fact, I used to address the en-
velopes for him when we sent out meeting notices, or "dues" no-
tices. My wife went through the Jersey City schools, and then
went to the New Jersey College for Women, which is now part of
the Rutgers University. She graduated in 1933. She graduated
college when she was nineteen years old. She was a brain. We
call my wife and older son the "mathematical brains." They talk
mathematics the way I talk history. However, I got married and
my wife went to work in the Depression as a typist-secretary.
Finally, she worked in New York Department of Welfare in the math-
ematical division. She used to figure out from where people came,
the deaths of people who came from other states and established in
New York to get on relief, or to work here, and went on relief or
something like that. If they got sick, they were allowed to
charge those bills to the state from which they came. She headed
a little unit that did that. She remained working until our first
child was born in 1944. My wife stayed home for the next thirteen
years to take care of three children. My oldest son, Samuel, is
now established in Beaumont, Texas as a computer electronics en-
gineer. My son Leonard is a social librarian here in Gainesville.
He was born in 1947. My daughter Judith, born in 1951, is an
artist. The art ability in my family comes from my wife's side.
She is now a fabric designer, who worked in New York for many
years. She is married and is doing greeting cards in Cincinnati,
Ohio, and waiting for her first child. Her husband is a doctor
and is established there as a cardiologist. My three children
have been scattered and none of us live in New York City. I am a
resident of Gainesville, Florida.
N: Where did you meet your wife, Moe?
R: I met my wife in a camp. When I started teaching, I got a job as
a counselor in a certain camp in New Jersey. The Federation of
Y.M.H.A./Y.W.H.A. was running a camp in the Bear Mountain district
of New York City known as Cedar Lake Camp. It was established on
Lake Tiorati near Bear Mountain. She was in the girls camp which
was about ten miles away over in Central Valley. We met somehow
and it developed from there. We are all first generation, des-
cended from immigrants. My children actually being second gener-
ation. We've established in New York, and if you look at the
family (my father had four sisters), we all did pretty well. We
established our own families, we got along financially, from
wealthy to borderline. We all went to schools, we went out to
work, and all the families are fairly well off. My mother has
thirteen grandchildren, coming from her own seven children. They
are established as teachers, artists, librarians, engineer, and
lawyers. My brother, Mendel, was thrown out of Dewitt Clinton
High School. He realized later as he wandered around and worked
at odd jobs, that he could get into law school if he got a high
school diploma, without going to college for two years. After
that year, you'd have to have two years college entrance. So he
found a school, I think it was Drake, that coached people to get
their high school diplomas. In six months he took all the cour-
ses he needed for the regents examinations, to get a high school
diploma, and got into law school. He has been a lawyer his whole
life and now on the verge of retirement. He's been a lawyer for
about fifty years.
N: Could you give me some idea of the political beliefs and the
value systems that you were inculcated with as you were growing
R: The political beliefs stem from my father. He was secretary of
the union. The Jewish "intelligentsia" of those days were so-
cialists. He was a member of the Socialist Party, and I believe
the only member of that Yorkville district. He would be a
watcher at the polls on election day, and if he objected to some-
body who was voting, or somebody voting twice (there were little
tricks that they would pull), he would protest. The policeman
who was always in that election booth, or in that poll, knew him
quite well, and he would say, "Mr. Rhine, you're disturbing us
again." And he said, "Well, this person should not be voting."
He would go on and on, and he would be arrested for the day, and
kept in the station house until the election day was over and
discharged. It was that sort of background, "intellectual
Judaism"; we were not too involved in socialism. The family de-
veloped politically into various groups. My brother the lawyer
became politically active, and we all voted in all elections.
Socialism was in our background, but the Socialist Party was not
our immediate goal because it was the older group that were the
argumentative people. I believe there's a motion picture nowa-
days known as "Reds," that gives you an idea of the old socialist
group. Though I have not seen it, it was described to me by one
of my friends who is a professor of early childhood education in
University of Miami, and she said go and see it. You'll under-
stand what her parents (she was of German immigrant extraction)
were involved in argumentative ways. So most of us were Democrats
and in various liberal movements. I was also at one time a mem-
ber of an off-shoot of the Democratic Party, the Liberal Party,
which still exists in New York City. But I voted most likely the
Democratic Party ticket, not sticking to the actual Democratic
candidates. Being an independent Democrat, I could leave the
Democratic poll if I thought somebody else was worthy of being
elected. My children have been similar that way, voting for
mostly liveral causes rather then reactionary or conservative
N: Did any of your siblings or offspring get involved in any of the
socialist movements or socialist causes?
R: No. None of the children, or my children were involved in social-
ism. They worked with me and they know the radical movement.
However, two of my brothers did get involved in the movements.
Whether they were members of the Communist Party, I cannot de-
clare. (end of first side of tape) As I was saying, whether
members of the Communist party I cannot really declare, though
their leanings were that way, and they were active in some of the
Communist causes in New York City in those days. Being active
was being vociferous sometimes, or arguing about causes. But in
the end I guess they voted as liberals, and they didn't stick to
any party lines. I'm in the middle of three conservative broth-
ers, and a liberal. My two radical brothers and their children
have developed in similar lines today, mostly voting on the lib-
eral side of all elections or left of center.
N: Were you involved at all in any of the union organizing activi-
ties that your father was involved in?
R: No. I was a member of the teachers, union from my early teaching
days. I was appointed in 1931 and 1932. All the way through,
I've been a member of the teachers union. They became an Ameri-
can Federation of Labor Union, a very powerful union in New York
City. Their head has been mentioned as a successor to the pres-
ident of the American Federation of Labor groups, though he has
never been elected that way. When I became a supervisor, I
joined a supervisor union, which also was the American Federation
of Labor-CIO union. So I feel I have been in the union movement
all my life. In New York City they have gained quite a few
things for the teachers. They still are one of the leading
teachers unions in the United States.
N: When you were growing up living in both Brooklyn and Manhattan, I
assume you were not living in a house,
R: Well, when I got married, I lived in an apartment in Brooklyn.
The first three years we were married--'37 to 1940 or '41--we
lived in a nice section of apartment houses in Brooklyn. It was
the Flatbush section. Then I took a sabbatical leave and went to
South America with my wife for several months in 1941. We came
back and moved into another apartment house over a little further
toward the Coney Island area. It was a lovely, middle class or
partly upper middle class section, made up of business people,
teachers, and other professionals, who had a lot of private
houses, but also had established a lot of apartment houses. They
were six story apartment houses, with very lovely apartments. My
three children were born out of that apartment; they were born in
the hospital nearby. After the third child, our apartment became
too small; it was a two bedroom apartment. It was composed of a
small bedroom for the boys, a large bedroom for us, a big living
room, dining room, and the kitchen. We decided that we better
move, and so we moved to Laurelton, Queens, where my wife had a
cousin; a three bedroom house next door was for sale. It was a
two story, brick construction home. I lived in that house from
1952 to 1973. I had retired from the school system and decided
many years before when I was about twenty-five years old, that
when I retired from the school system around the age of sixty-
after thirty-five years of service, I would move to the
country. Well, I got out about the age of sixty-four. I took
sabbatical leaves and moved towards final retirement, and in 1973
moved to a small town of Tillson, New York, which is about eight
or nine miles south of Kingston, New York, in the Hudson River
Valley, and a few miles inland from the Hudson River, I remained
there until 1982, when we moved here. I moved down to Gaines-
ville simply as my wife had died in 1967 of cancer. Our children
were grown up. Since retirement I was traveling to Europe, having
enough money to live on, enough money to travel, and I kept a
house. My children never really lived with me in that house.
My daughter stayed two months once when she graduated college. I
decided to move to Gainseville for two reasons. I was reaching
the ripe age of 77 and my health was good. I have had practically
no trouble at all except I have always had poor eyes. Being
somewhat inclined towards exercise and athletics, I'm in fairly
good health because during the time that I was camp counselor, I
became a swimming instructor. I became a Red Cross swimming in-
structor. I ran swimming pools during the summer for various
hotels, and a golf club teaching swimming, and running Red Cross
senior life saving courses. For all my life, that was my summer
occupation. Two of my children are Red Cross instructors, two
are Senior Lifesavers, and I have given up active Red Cross
teaching. But I still swim quite a few laps each day in the local
swimming pool connected with my condominium.
N: When you were younger and growing up in the city, where did you
learn to swim?
R: I never learned to swim in New York City because we very seldom
went to Coney Island. I can remember the whole family going to
Coney Island only once.
N: How did you have to get to Coney Island?
R: You took the subway or the elevated in Brooklyn out to Coney
Island. My sister said they used to go on an old railroad. The
fare was five cents. I took my children down there when they
were young, and the five cent fare was still charged. There is a
famous picture in the family with six boys at Coney Island, from
the ages of about seventeen or sixteen down to the age of about
two. We all are sitting in an early automobile prop, and the
photographer took our picture. We looked as if we came out of
the rogue's gallery. That's the famous picture in the family
which we've had of the six boys, which we have had reprinted and
given to everybody. When my father got older, we ran a birthday
party for him all the time. He was in a Workman's Circle home
for quite a few years. It was a very lively place which had a
lot of intellectual life. We ran his birthday party for him,
bringing him to stay at the house. I have a picture of the six
boys all grown up with my father. So you can compare us as
youngsters, children, and as middle aged people. I guess we looked
a little prosperous.
N: Now when he was in the home, did the family speak mostly Yiddish
R: Yiddish. All languages. Yiddish was the basic language there,
because every one of them were Yiddish. Or else they came out of
the German immigrants who didn't use Yiddish. But if you know
Yiddish, you can pick up German, as I did myself. The basic
language is based on German. It's a little different, with dif-
ferent expressions, but you can always get along. I found that
if you understand simple German, more people will speak to me in
German because I knew some Yiddish. I have never been trained in
it, but you can pick it up,
N: Did you speak Yiddish at home when you were growing up?
R: No. We never did. Only English. I never realized that my mother
spoke Polish until she visited some relatives in Mount Carmel,
Pennsylvania, where my father's sister had established. It was a
Polish mining town, with Polish mine workers. My uncle had a shoe
store, or a family store, or a trading store there. She would go
in to help and speak Polish to all the Polish wives. I never knew
she knew Polish. I don't know one word of her language; I'm sorry
she didn't use it around us because we would be slightly bilingual.
My three children grew up, went to the local elementary schools in
a mixed community in Queens and New York where I had moved in 1952.
In Laurelton, Queens, there was a section of small single family
houses. The only apartments were some three story, or as you
would call them, garden apartments. Everything else was just
plain one family houses; some of them were two family, But mostly
one family houses. Middle class groups, I would say, and not too
prosperous but not poor. My children went to the local elementary
schools, and junior high schools, all within walking distance or a
quick bus ride of the house. Two of them went to Andrew Jackson
High School. One went to the new Springfield Gardens High School,
which is across the road from the school in which I was finally
teaching and was assistant principal. Then they finished off
college. The oldest got a scholarship to Cornell University, and
is a graduate of Cornell. The one who is a librarian here, went
to Cornell for one year. He didn't like the labor relations
courses, the section he was in. It was a state school where the
tuition was free at the beginning, but it was $400 later and we
couldn't afford to send him there. He expressed it this way:
If they taught us management, labor relations, and ways of running
a business from a labor viewpoint, it would have been alright.
But they only taught us these things from the business/manufac-
turer's ownership viewpoint. He said in being of the family that
had two labor organizers in it, he just didn't think it was worth-
while. So he transferred to State University of Albany, where he
graduated. Let's not talk about him; he has too many college
degrees. He's now getting his Doctorate in philosophy at the
University of Florida in college management. My daughter went to
State University at Albany and was graduated. She took some art
courses, and a year in fabric design in the School of Fashion and
Design down in New York City. All three are married. I only
have one grandchild.
N: Now when you were growing up, you were imbued with some aspects
of the Judaic tradition. Did you pass them on to your children?
R: Yes. Very definitely. I always was a member of the teachers
union, so any discussions pertaining to that, they would hear.
In later life when we had parent meetings that we had to go to,
the supervising group of my district would meet in my house be-
cause the school where the superintendent had his offices was two
blocks away. So they got mixed up with school politics and school
unions quite a bit. I don't know if my daughter got much of it,
but my sons must have. The academic tradition is a part of our
family. After thirteen years in the house, and taking care of
three children, with the youngest starting kindergarten, my wife
went off to Queens College and took the courses she needed to
become a teacher. She became a teacher of mathematics twenty-
-five years after she had graduated college. She taught mathe-
matics for the rest of her life in a junior high school in Queens.
So we are definitely an academic family, and discussion of things
in the family were about schools. Our friends were mostly school
teachers. My son, Lenny, has a wife who has a teaching license
in Florida to teach Health Education. When she starts telling
stories about school, he just sits and looks at her and says,
"That's enough. I heard my mother and my father tell these same
stories for years. I've heard them all. Cut it out."
N: What about the Jewish religious traditions that you were versed
in? Has this been passed on to your children?
R: Being liberal, we aren't really conforming Jews particularly. We
are Jewish; our culture, my culture is definitely Jewish. My
children's culture is not too much. But they know the various
things that they picked up from us. I had a rather large library,
and quite a few books of Jewish content. My uncle, a rabbi, was
a translator of the Gretz history of Jews. That was standard
history of Jews from German into English. We had a copy of that.
My father had discussed things, although we didn't discuss things
very much. My mother kept a kosher house. None of us after that
ever kept one, as far as I know. Maybe my sister tried, but I
don't think she continued it. Therefore we are on the liberal
side. My uncle was a rabbi, was a Reformed rabbi. The Orthodox
rabbis don't recognize them as rabbis. So you have divisions
that didn't enter our lives, but the Jewish culture was a back-
ground. Until the time I moved out of New York City, ninety
percent of my friends were Jewish. Our children were mixed in
with Jewish families up to that time. After that time, we moved
into a different neighborhood and fit into the community. They
don't particularly seek out Jewish participants or Jewish fami-
lies here. We have Jewish friends here. I would say the major-
ity of our friends in places like Gainesville...Now Beaumont,
Texas, and in Cincinnati, my daughters friends are not Jewish;
some of them are. We haven't made any exception. It hasn't in-
fluenced our life too much. It does influence my life because
I've lived through two World Wars, and I still regard them as wars
that were uselessly fought. They did nothing to improve the
world. In fact, I think the world is worse off now. The only
exception is World War II. Hitler had to be removed, otherwise
we would have been in trouble and we would still be fighting and
killing each other. I have bad eyes, so I never served in the
army. I was on ration boards during World War II and gave out
all sorts of sugar rarioning and automobile gasoline rationing.
N: Growing up when you were a young man in the thirties, did any of
this international consciousness of what Hitler was doing enter
into your mind?
R: Of course it did. My subject was history. I have two degrees in
history. I taught history and geography; I was very conscious of
what was going on. I couldn't understand why other people didn't
pick up the fact that what Hitler was doing would ruin the world.
It took a long time for the people in the United States to find
out really what Hitler was up to. In fact, I regard the majority
of the people of the United States as somewhat anti-Semitic. The
tenor of the times was to push the Jews and their problems off
into the corners. In fact, even in World War II, you couldn't
convince them what Hitler was doing. They denied it. It was
denied. The governments wouldn't recognize it. Nobody could do
those things. It was only when the armies really entered into
the concentration camps that this thing became known. Then the
world was shocked, really shocked. And the statement, "How did
we...?" The statements of the Jews and most of the liberal peo-
ple were, "How did we ever allow this to happen?" They didn't
regard it as a problem, but as an antagonistic thing which had
grown with American civilization and world civilization. My
children have not really been subjected to what I was subjected
to. I lived through it; they know about it. They are historians.
The one that I named has history degrees. The older one is con-
scious of it, but we never actively sent them to Hebrew school.
Whatever they may know about Judaism came from us.
N: Did you have any or your wife have any relatives who were in
Germany during this time?
F: Yes and no. I have my restlessness from my father; I travel
quite a big. In 1936 he was practically retired. We knew he was
working for a Hebrew publishing company with one of my distant
relatives. For twenty-two years he worked for them, after he
left the cigar-making business, as a translator and carrying on
the foreign correspondence with South Africa. Groups of Jews
were sending for various prayer books and all sorts of Hebrew
publications. In 1936 he decided he was going back to see the
old country. He had come from a village on the Lithuanian-German
border, which was destroyed in World War I. It was the first
village captured by the Germans when they went into Russia. The
city hall was burnt and all records destroyed. When he go there,
(he had to go through Russia because Lithuania and Poland were
arguing over the border, and the border was closed) he found a
distant cousin. It was his second or first cousin; nobody else
of the family was in the town.
N: What country was it at this point?
R: It was Lithuania. Lithuania was an independent country between
World War I and World War II. Now this was before World War II,
in 1936. He found a cousin, the cousin's wife, and they had two
children--a boy and a girl. My father came back, and brought some
Russian friends on the boat who came to visit me. I was a school
teacher and had records I played for them. But about a year later
my father said why don't we bring that boy over here. After all,
that is a paternalistic sort of family, a male-dominated civili-
zation. So he gathered some money from us and sent for the boy.
The boy was about seventeen, I believe. He got on a tug to go to
Sweden from Riga, that's in Latvis, to America. The Germans
turned the tug back, and wouldn't let them go.
N: What year is this?
R: Must have been 1938. The boy made it on the second try. We
picked him up when he got to America. He stayed with us for nine
months. We found he had relatives here; a grandfather, an aunt
and an uncle. They were doctors and all that who never bothered
sending for him. They made a little fuss about him and then
somehow he established himself out in Detroit. He got into a
school to become a tool and die maker, and went to work as a very
highly skilled technician for the Ford Motor Company, and all his
life worked there. He got married, and lo and behold, a couple
of years ago, I got a letter from my son, Lenny. He said there
was a young man down here named David Stirt. Was he a relative
of ours? I had to figure it out. Sure. That was the name of the
boy who my father brought over. This is his son. I thought he
had daughters, but he had two sons. One was a doctor in Califor-
nia, and this boy had come to Gainesville, and is now a publisher
of the Gainesville sports page.
R: Yes, something like that. I gave him the story of how the boy
was brought over, and how the man went to work. I had lost con-
tact with him. He always kept in contact with my lawyer brother.
My lawyer brother was the man who kept in contact with the whole
family. He always kept everything and he knows all about where
we are and what's what. Sure enough, this young man had told my
son that when his father brought him into New York at about
fourteen years old, he always went to visit a lawyer named Rhine.
Their last name was the same as Lenny's. So that established
that they were distant cousins. The tragedy was that his mother,
father, and sister were left there. They never were brought over,
and in 1941 were taken into the woods by the Lithuanian fascists
and the whole Jewish community was shot. That's the tragedy. So
they lost, that's the only... The loss we had, we only know
through the boy we brought over. My wife had aunts and uncles
who were left in Russia and were lost. My father-in-law would
always send money to his mother, who had about seven children and
only two of them were over here. They were half-brothers and
half-sisters. After the war, we would try to send money, but it
came back "Address Unknown." In other words, they were all gone.
So they all disappeared. The family was all missing, although I
never knew them. We never met them, and the only part that we
had, was this young man whom we brought over. We were not per-
ceptive enough to realize we should have brought over the whole
N: Did you experience any anti-Semitism among fellow Americans
either when you were growing up as a youngster or later on?
R: I don't know if I really actually had experiences. Yes and no.
I played with the Irish; I grew up with Irish boys. They used to
kid me along about my name, Rhine. They are Ryan. As I was
brought up, I went to a Jewish community center where we were all
Jewish kids. I still remember only one incident. When I was
about fourteen, I saw an ad in the newspaper. By the way, I'd
been working at odd jobs since I was eleven years old. After
school, I worked jobs after school all through college, earning
enough money to get along and have enough money to give my mother
half of what we earned; we all did this. She saved this money
until she had $2,000. When I was twenty-one years old, I was
coming back from a summer job, and I arrived home in time to help
my mother move to Brooklyn. I always got stuck. I always was
the one home. She had bought a house, a bankrupt bank sale where
$2,000 was put down, and they borrowed enough money to pay the
down payment. Then we moved to Brooklyn. But the only incident
I remember is when I saw an ad in the New York Times, "Messenger
boy wanted for summer job." So at the age of fourteen, I went
down. They interviewed me; it seemed all right; I knew I was the
only applicant. But I never got the job. Although my mannerisms
were that of any New York boy, they must have ascertained that I
was a Jew. That's the only conscious one. Either I haven't
noticed it, or I just haven't paid any attention to it. Ninety
percent of my friends are Jewish. We all had our own sort of
millieu, and were all subjected to the same things. We had dis-
cussions about the Jewish community, and where the people went to
school. Many of them, and even today I'm sure it happens in New
York, use the City College as a means of getting their college
degrees, and go on to be lawyers and doctors and dentists. I
didn't go further, except to become a school teacher. I had a
job one week before I even graduated from college. I went
through the school, and then got a substitute job there when I
had my degree. But I can't say that I was particularly conscious
of it. I was made more conscious of it when I was traveling. I
ran into Jewish communities here and there. But it hasn't been
active in my own life because I always was an independent indi-
vidual doing what I wanted to do.
N: Could you tell about some of the places that you've been in your
R: I always was a restless sort of person. I went to work, became a
teacher, and was a counselor in a camp for five years, I ended
up as the head counselor of the camp, and I vowed that when I
had become a teacher... I didn't become a teacher to work all the
time. I could have become an accountant. That means I would
work fifty out of fifty-two weeks for myself. I could have be-
come a CPA as most of the young men of New York who came out of
City College eventually did. They worked for a corporation. But
that meant I'd be working fifty weeks. I decided I won't be
wealthy, but I can have two months in which to go to school if I
wanted to, go traveling if I wanted to, or work if I needed money,
For the ten years after I left that camp job, and my brother had
explained it to the camp head whom he met a few years later, that
I felt I had had enough. I didn't want to always be working the
summer. I was married and went to Europe twice. My wife and I
went camping at Lake George. We had a camping spot there in the
summer; she worked for the Department of Welfare and only had one
month vacation. So I would go hiking up in the trails for a
month while she went back to work. The camping equipment be-
longed to a friend of ours, and it was stored up there; we went
there for years. When I got married, we went to Europe for two
months. We toured the Scandanavian countries, Belgium, Holland,
and the smaller countries. I told my wife we wouldn't go to
France because there was a French colonial exhibition on. You
couldn't find a room in the city. So I said, "I'll take sabbat-
ical leave and we'll go to Europe later on." I took the sabbati-
cal leave in 1941. The war was on in Europe, so we went to South
America for seven months.
N: Could you describe what that was like?
R: Well, it is difficult to describe. We visited every country in
South America, except Columbia, for some reason or other. Up in
the mountains, we visited people, and talked to Indians. I still
have kodachrome slides from those days. I showed them to people
who've gone to South America since, and they tell me that the
Indians haven't changed. They look exactly the same. The cities
have grown, but the rural areas are just as poverty-stricken as
ever. Then we decided that we'd have children. We did our trav-
eling B.C. (before children). We'll do our traveling A.D. (after
diplomas), which is what has happened. The children were born,
grew up, and went through college. I told them my wife stayed
home for thirteen years, became a teacher, and when I retired...
In between I'd been in Canada hiking the trails very often. I
took the kids camping some of the years that I didn't work when
they were growing up. When I finally went back to work in the
summer as a swimming man. I had told the head of the swimming
counsel a few years back, if I ever come back for camp work, I
want to come back as a swimming man. They had a definite job and
I didn't want children all year. I didn't want them on my head
as a counselor in the.camp. So I managed swimming activities for
hotels. I managed swimming pools on weekends in the summer any-
where from about May 30th until Labor Day. Usually I had about
ten to fifteen people working underneath me; I had to have deck
boys, earning six dollars a day, rain or shine. Later, it became
seven dollars a day. When they became sixteen years old, they had
the senior life saving test and became life guards. Then they got
seven or eight dollars a day. They did that until they were off
in college. Sam hit college in 1961; Lenny hit college in 1965.
I had retired from the summer jobs, and was still teaching. I
taught until 1969; by that time they were out doing their things.
My daughter went to college after I had retired. Lenny went to
college for a while after I retired. But they went to school on
their mother's social security. She had died and they were en-
titled to an allowance. They got from $90 to $140 per month until
they were twenty-two, as long as they went to college. Now when I
retired in '69, I sat home for six months, figuring things out,
and taking it easy. Then I started traveling to Mexico and Europe.
I've been to Europe about ten times since that time. The first
year was that one time that I didn't get to Europe. I've been on
a trip with Australians and to Morocco. I've been on a trip with
Australians to Kathmandu, and fifty days to Russia and the Commu-
nist countries. I am going on a trip on May ninth; I will leave
for Europe and I will see family of friends that live in Wales,
family of friends in Copenhagen, a family of friends in Switzer-
land--whom I've known on travels. The ones from Copenhagen come
from where I went. My son and a young Copenhagen man were coun-
selors in camp. And when they come to America, they stay with me.
When I go, or we go to Copenhagen, we stay with them. In fact,
their daughter is coming visiting this summer. Lenny will take
care of her. So in that way we've been mixed up, but I've always
been on the go. I travel from three months to six months at
Europe. I landed in Egypt once coming back from India. But I've
never been to the interior of Africa or South Africa. I've never
been to Hawaii, South Sea Islands, Australia, or Hong Kong. The
furthest I got in the east is India. I came back to Egypt. This
time I'm going for four months to Europe. Next year I hope to
make Australia; I have Australian friends. Lenny, the one who's
the librarian here, takes to traveling quite a bit, and he has a
month off and goes here and there. My daughter spent nine months
in Denmark in her junior--senior year. I wrote to my Danish
friend, whose daughter is coming here. I said it's okay. I hope
she knows some English well enough to get along because the only
one who speaks any Danish in this family is my daughter. None of
us know any Danish. We never took that language. I've been in
Denmark I don't know how many times. The Danes have been here
two or three times staying with me, or traveling with me--once out
to Texas and once went traveling to visit a friend in Iowa. I
also took them on a trip down south. Next year they want to come.
They would go to Mexico because Danish currency is in good shape,
although it is now not as good as it used to be. Mexico is cheap,
also. So they can fit it in. They're both the very best of
N: Can you compare the style of life in early 1900 New York to 1983
R: We grew up with Jewish families in New York who were just about
getting along as our family was. My father never earned too much
money and we went out to work as boys to start bringing in income.
The two oldest in the family went to work by the time they were
sixteen. We were never told that you must go to school, or you
don't have to go. We did go to school, though we were never told
how long we had to go. My mother simply said that if you left
high school (we were sixteen years of age by that time), we were
to work. She needed the money. That's all there is. Nobody
said no. Nobody said yes. We just went our own way. We are in-
dividualists of a sort; we made decisions. We always went here,
there, everywhere; we were not wealthy. We were not even upper
middle class. We were low middle class. There was always enough
to eat in the house. My mother always would take the clothes
from the older ones and cut them down for the younger ones. So
we had food, we were clothed, and we were sent to school. We had
some books in the house, but not papers and all that. I became a
great book buyer later on. But the public library in New York
City on 79th Street in Yorkville was where I learned about books.
In fact, I am in Gainesville because I moved out of a rather large
house up in Tillson, New York, and I didn't know what to do with
my books. I have donated 7,000 to 8,000 books to the University
of Florida libraries. I'm voluntarily working on getting those
books into circulation. The art books are very, very valuable. I
must have had over 1,000 art books, thousands of books in American
history, and an immense ecology section which we haven't put in
the stacks yet. I am definitely upper-middle class now. I guess
my income now is in the eighty-five and ninety percentile bracket
of the United States. I have a pension, social security money,
and some money in the bank from the sale of the house. I sold my
house up in Laurelton for a good sum. I paid it up fully so it
was mine. Only because I paid up a house and sold it, was I able
to buy and set up a house in Tillson, New York. I paid half the
cost of the house from my pension money. I took out a certain
amount, because I had too much money in the pension. Then I sold
that and I have a condominium down here. I had enough money to
buy it before I even sold the house. So the reason why I am
well-off is that I established a house in a middle-class commu-
nity, and owning a house has enabled me to sell it and move. I
owned a house in Laurelton, I own one in Tillson, and I own the
condominium here. Two of my children have their own homes and
the third one, the doctor's wife, is looking for one now before
she has her child.
N: Did your parents own an automobile while you were a youngster
living in New York?
R: No. My parents never had an automobile. The first automobile in
our family was in about 1938, and came from my oldest brother, who
became a lawyer. I never purchased a car until I was maybe forty-
five years old. I had a family to support; I didn't have enough
money to go out and buy a car. Teachers' salaries were fairly
low when I started. They started to increase in time. My wife
had been working a bit, and all the children were born at that
time. I found that I had enough money to buy a car and bought
one in 1951. I had learned to drive my sister-in-law's car
before that, but I never had my own until then. I have a story
about a school down in Gowanus Canal, which is a poverty area.
One day a teacher wasn't in the classroom and I taught the class.
We started talking, and they told me that they wanted television
sets, and that they all wanted automobiles. (tape ends) I said
I have a wife and three children to support, and I was the only
worker. I couldn't afford it. I said, "Now you people are from
poor families." And they learned, and we smiled because you
couldn't find a parking place down in this area. All the fami-
lies had second-hand jalopies. They said, "We'll get them, Mr.
Rhine." We had a few cases where automobiles had been picked up.
But that's what they wanted. Automobiles and homes that they saw
on television. This is a community that was twenty-five percent
black, fifty percent Puerto Rican, and twenty-five percent left
over from Italians and groups that were there before. I grew up
in a middle class neighborhood. We were not wealthy by a long
shot, but lower middle class. As you got older, you went to
work, and we developed ourselves into upper middle class. I'm
talking about economic income. As I explained to the librarian
here, I got along because I have to ship the books down here.
That would cost $800. I get along because I have enough income,
and I have no children to support; they're all independent. I
don't have to aid any of them. I said, so I'm pretty well set.
So we agreed that I would pay $400 and he would pay $400 to get
the books down here.
N: Did the economic problems of the late-1920s and early-1930s af-
fect you at all?
F: It did affect me. I became a teacher in 1931 on a regular salary.
I was taking home fifty dollars a week. That was handsome money.
My sister's husband was out of work. He would say, "If only I
could get fifty dollars a week." She had two children at that
N: Where were you living then?
R: I didn't get married until 1937. I was living in a part of
Brooklyn known as Bay Ridge Borough.
N: Were you on your own?
R: No, I lived at my mother's house. I was the one who remained
there. My brothers scattered and either got married or moved out.
In fact, my mother would never give up that house; she died there.
But that was her entry towards what we would call independence,
or upper class. We had all left by then. Everything was paid
off. New York at that time didn't have the large black population
it has now, and the Puerto Ricans had not moved in. The middle
class had not yet fled to the suburbs. If you went out to Long
Island, the minute you got out of Queens, there were the farms.
Now it's all houses. When you were out on Long Island, you were
out in the country. When we went over to New Jersey, we were in
the country. The suburban areas were just beginning to grow.
Now you can go fifty miles outside of New York City, and you're
still in suburban areas. I think you have enough information for
the class to realize that I am a first generation American, and
that my history is the history of ninety percent of the first
generation Jewish Americans. They all went out for trades; they
all worked; the parents worked. The children went off to school
and they got their education. There were reasons why people came
here. They must have understood that they could get their kids
to school here without costing them anything. Any school in
Europe, you had to start paying, I guess, after elementary school.
The same thing as South America today, up to the time when I
visited there. You had to pay for high school. There's no such
thing as a free high school, or there were a few of them. The
free school system through high school is the thing that was an
attraction to those who wanted an education for their kids. I
never would have gone to college if they wanted four hundred dol-
lars tuition. There was no money in the family. We got along,
but there was no extra money. I have a college degree thanks to
New York City's free college, the College of the City of New York.
They even gave us half our books. Only in the elective courses
did you have to buy books. Otherwise they had a book depository
where you got your books, and returned them after the semester.
I would say that half the students that went to the city college
had extra jobs to live.
N: Were you working while you were going to college?
R: All the time. I worked in a garage across the street where I got
phone calls for the chauffers to take the cars out the their
owners. When I was eleven, my brother "Hilly" gave me a job
working a block away at an advertising agency. I would enter the
ads on the sheets for each newspaper and at about seven or eight
o'clock take them down to the newspapers and Park Row. The next
day I'd come to work about six o'clock and work two or three
hours. From that I went to florist delivery boy. I was a lamp-
lighter. I was twelve and a half years old, and my brother was a
year and a half older than me. Electric lamps were first being
put in New York, and they didn't have them connected to the cen-
tral dynamoor stations. So you had to turn them on and off by
hand. This was in the wealthy section of New York City, which is
now Park Avenue. They hired boys who got up at different times,
and they'd turn them off and on according to a certain schedule.
You had to be fourteen years of age, so I took my brother's birth
certificate. I became Mendel B. Rhine, and I worked, and some-
body else took my certificate later on. I was a delivery boy,
sold newspapers, and did all sorts of little things. I never
realized it, but my mother seemed to have saved the money in or-
der to buy a house. I never lived in a heated apartment until I
was twenty-one years old. We lived in a cold flat with a stove
in the kitchen, and the rest of the place was cold. You got un-
dressed and dressed in the kitchen. My mother used to put on oil
heaters when we went to bed. I used to turn them off; I couldn't
stand the smell of oil, and I still can't stand the smell. I
would open the window.
N: Did these places have electricity?
R: Yes, they had electricity, though some had gas. It was changing
over from gas to electric. I think there was gas in the hall, but
the apartments had electricity. We used coal or gas stoves. If
the coal man was up on the corner, we got the coal delivered. My
mother still remembers when she told the ice man that she now had
a refrigerator, and that she didn't need anymore ice. He was
rather downcast; his livelihood was going.
N: Did you have telephones at this point?
R: I don't think we had telephones until we moved to Brooklyn. I
don't remember. No, we didn't have them. My father's office was
a block and a half away from where we lived in Yorkville. I
could go back and forth. I used to go looking for my brothers.
He gave yearly stories in the family. I used to take my two
youngest brothers along with me when I was nine or ten years old.
They used to sit together, and one day they were playing, and
when I went to get them I found Henry, but I couldn't find Sidney.
I didn't know where Sidney was. He was gone, and must have wan-
dered off. I searched the neighborhood, but couldn't find Sidney.
When my father came home we called the police station to see if
they have a little boy. He called the police and they said we
have a little boy answering the description, but he has brown
eyes, not blue eyes. My mother said all my children have blue
eyes. An hour later, she said go look at that boy, and father
came home with Sidney. She looked at his eyes, and he had brown
eyes. But we all had blue eyes. He was the only one. He may
have changed. So there was the family joke: "Sidney, you don't
belong here!" But I guess mine was a typical New York upbringing
--a boy in a family who was getting along. Off to school you
went and due to necessity, the oldest went to work. The two
oldest went to work before they got out of high school.
N: You said that your mother ran a kosher household. How easy was
it to get kosher food?
R: Very easy in New York. No trouble at all. The meat was a little
more expensive than the average. It had to be a certain way--
chickens and all that. New York was just a big Jewish community.
It had everything in it. My mother was a great baker. She'd
make a big, big pan of cake. She would take it over to the baker
and they'd put it in their oven for ten cents. And you brought
back the cake. When she couldn't find us, the boys said, "Mrs.
Rhine, do you want us to go to the bakery?" Sure. They went and
they would get a big piece of cake.
N: Could you describe a kosher meal for me?
R: Kosher meals are no real mystery, though they are different.
They consist of the same food, except no pork products. You must
also keep milk and meat separate. If you have a milk meal, you
should wait four hours before a meat meal, and vice versa. If
you had a meat meal, you could not have coffee if you were going
to use milk in your coffee. Until we manufactured the type of
cream that's not a dairy product, Jewish restaurants that were
kosher were not selling coffee with a meat meal. It's much easier
nowadays because you can use margarine, which is a vegetable base
and not a milk product. That was if you were kosher or keeping a
kosher house. But it didn't bother us at all. My mother kept it,
and we didn't break any of the rules at home. But outside we just
went the way of everyone else. It made no difference to us par-
ticularly. In fact, my mother used to buy two tickets to the High
Holy Days. That's how the Jewish synagogues raised their money.
One for herself and one for her husband. My father never went to
the ceremony; I think my father was an atheist at the age of
twenty, at least in terms of attending synagogue. He never both-
ered about it. We used to go and say hello to her, and she would
go to the services. We all were "bar mitzvahed." My grandfather
came from Brooklyn on Friday and stayed over Saturday, because he
wouldn't travel on the Sabbath to go to my bar mitzvah. He died
a few years after that. We were separate from the Brooklyn
branch of the family.
N: Would you say that your father was heavily influenced by the
Jewish cultural tradition?
R: He was not against it; in fact, the Jewish cultural tradition was
his whole background. He would discuss things once in a while
with us. He used to have a great deal of fun when we lived in
Brooklyn. Around the corner there lived a Jewish man who had con-
verted to Catholicism. He had a little office in a little store
that he would proselytize for his new religion. My father used to
go around and argue with him. He would return and humorously tell
us of things that they said. It was a laugh to me because I was
around the house more than any of the others. I was still going
to school. But in general, my father got along with everybody.
In fact, my mother was regarded by her non-Jewish neighbors as a
person who knew how to handle kids and knew how to help. Anytime
something was the matter, my mother was there. In one tragedy,
the woman said, "If Mrs. Rhine had been here, it would not have
N: Does Lenny know that story about your father? Isn't he having the
same problem with his neighbor who converted from Judaism?
R: That was in the neighborhood. This was around the corner. No, he
doesn't know about it. I never told him about it.
N: You should tell him that.
R: He was Jewish. You can understand because you came out of a half
Jewish milieu. You're not Jewish, but you lived amongst Jews on
Long Island. You could understand some of these things which
would be difficult for them. A lot of things would be very, very
strange for people who did not grow up near a Jewish community.
We definitely have scattered. Brighton Beach, where I taught for
twenty-five years, was in a depression enclave. The kids got mar-
ried, and I had their children in class. By the time I was in
there, I was getting grandchildren. The kids got married and
there was no place to live. They didn't have any money, so they
stayed with the parents.
N: So Brighton Beach was a Jewish neighborhood?
R: Definitely. Ninety-five percent. The school was ninety-five
percent Jewish. The average IQ was 120. They were bright. You
didn't have to teach students; you had a lot of fun. Time would
come when I'd given them the books, and I was talking about the
subject. I would teach maps and all sorts of things before they
opened the book. Then we'd open the books and go through pic-
tures. You can teach more from a picture sometimes than from the
text in the book, especially in geography. I'd also say "Well, I
think we better read the book." or say, "I'll give you an assign-
ment in the book." And they would say, "Ah, you don't have to,
Mr. Rhine." I'd say, "What do you mean, 'I don't have to?' You've
got a book, you've got to read it." "We read it already'" That's
what they would tell me. They'd go home and they'd read these
things. The Jewish homes were a cultural setting. They would be
out in the school yard and play ball in the afternoon. There was
a mixture of everything. However, it's difficult for people who
have never been in this type of mixture to understand. They
would definitely regard it as foreign. Actually there was a mix-
ture of foreigners and older generations, the Americans who were
born here. I went to school with Irish boys; one of my best
friends was Hungarian; I went to school with a lot of Bohemian
boys who went to work; Germans went to work the minute they got
out of elementary school--they never went to high school. They
went to work at the age of fourteen. I think of the graduating
class in my elementary school, which was over near the East River,
now York Avenue. It's a very fancy neighborhood now. Out of the
eighty boys who graduated, three went to high school. That was a
working class community.. They had to go to work. It's changed
entirely now. My children were brought up in a middle class
neighborhood. As parents they became much better off. They had
a much higher income. The schools have progressed. The schools
had many more things in them. I went to one of the three high
schools in Manhattan. One brother went to Stuyvesant. I went to
high school in Commerce. Two or three went to Dewitt Clinton.
Those were the three academic schools. There must have been vo-
cational schools. Stuyvesant was the school for the real bright
kids. The others were for normal kids. New York City has so many
other schools that you can't count them. If there's anything
taught in the United States, it has been taught in New York City.
Many experiments have been tried in New York City. All the time
from our country, people come to New York City; they want to try
this thing out, they want to try that thing out, and New York
City says go ahead. You've got every type of child from the
handicapped and mentally retarded, through the bright genius
types. There must be a million school children. In my day, of
course, it was many fewer than that. I'd say it was half that
many. The school system has changed. The white middle class has
moved to the suburbs, so the school system now is more than fifty
percent black/Puerto Rican. You can still get a very fine edu-
cation in New York City because you will be put in the grade where
you fit. Children are placed by reading grades now instead of IQ.
It's not heterogeneous, but a homogeneous arrangement. If you
are a student, and always have good marks, you'll be going to the
high school at Stuyvesant High School, or the Bronx High School of
Science. The Brooklyn technical schools were for the kids who
read way above the grade level. When I got out of elementary
school I was reading on a high school twelfth grade level.
N: Did your parents help you, or did you basically do it on your
R: Basically we did everything on our own. My father would always
answer us; after all, he was intellectually alert, but he didn't
have the American training. We figured things out ourselves. I
don't remember asking a brother helping with homework--you just
did it. Nobody told us to do it. There was no argument about
those things. We were off to the library. When Carnegie sold
out to U.S. Steel he took the money and put it in libraries all
around the United States. These were all Carnegie libraries.
And you thank them for it because that's where I learned how to
really read, and found the things I wanted to read.
N: I'd like to thank you very much for this very helpful interview.
I've got a few more questions for you. Please give the name of
your father and mother?
R: My father's name is Jacob Rhine, and my mother was Lena Gottfried
N: What happened to your paternal grandmother?
R: She was deceased I think before I was born.
N: Did she come over with your father and your grandfather?
R: No, she came over later. I'm not too sure of that point, but my
impression is that she was in America.
N: Do you know the name of the town that your father and grandfather
R: It's a peculiar town. It was the first town destroyed by the
Germans in 1914 when they went over the river into Lithuania.
Schavil is what my father used to say. That's a Yiddish same.
But I am not too certain of it. It's near the capitol of
N: Can you give me the names of your father's brothers?
R: My father, Jacob, was the oldest. I don't know the order of age,
but there was Abraham Benedict Rhine, then Bernard Rhine. Bernard
spells his last name R-E-I-N.
N: Is that the one who became a doctor?
N: How come he spelled his name differently?
R: When my father and grandfather came here in 1886, they were asked
by the immigration authorities, "What is your name?" They said,
"Rhine." Well, if you were an immigration official in America,
you would spell Rhine, R-Y-A-N. That's an Irish name. So the
family entered with the name of Myer or Mayer Ryan, and Jacob
Ryan. In fact my grandfather ran the biggest Yeshiva, or paro-
chial school, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Mayer Ryan. They
thought he was an Irish Jew. However, by 1905, when I was born,
they'd realized it was the wrong spelling for a Jewish family.
So by court order, they changed the name to R-H-I-N-E, which is
the German or Anglicized way of putting it. Now an aunt of mine
told me that when they gave the Jews second names in the early
1800s, they picked the oldest living person in the family. Her
name was Reina. Ryan and Rhine are similar in pronunciation but
not in meaning. New York had a census in 1906. My brother, the
lawyer, had to look up the family records and he found me listed
as Baby Ryan, born May 8, 1905. So we lived under a false spel-
ling, at least I did, until the family realized they'd rather
have the German way of spelling that name, since we were not
Irish. In fact, when I tell people my name now, I spell it.
N: Could you give me the names and the birth order of your siblings?
R: Those who lived to be twenty-one or more were the oldest, Esther,
then Hillard, Abraham, Mendel, then I come (Moses), then Sidney,
and the youngest one was Henry. Now Sidney's original name was
Israel. We all have Biblical names except the youngest. But my
sister didn't like Israel. She changed her name to Sidney.
N: Anything more you have to add?
N: Thanks again, Moe.