Interviewee: Ike and Gussie Rudderman
Interviewer: Aaron L. Shor
Date: April 19, 1977
S: I am talking to Ike and Gussie Rudderman in their home in Gainesville, Florida.
I know that you and Mr. Rudderman were originally from Atlanta. If you could,
tell me from where you came.
GR: Ike and I lived in Atlanta as children all of our young lives and married in Atlanta
in 1924. When we left Atlanta, we moved to a small town in south Georgia. We
were determined that some day we would go into business for ourselves, and we
decided that the best experience that we could get would be to work in a small
town where the living expenses were low. We could start at what you call the
bottom of the ladder and work ourselves up to a point where we could maybe go
into business for ourselves.
We moved to Alma, Georgia, and worked there for a year or two. As the years
went along, Ike would get better offers in other small towns, [such as] a little
increase in salary or maybe an assistant manager's job. We moved around in
south Georgia for a few years until we finally decided it was time for us to go into
business for ourselves. We found a location in Monticello, Florida.
We had relatives in Madison, Florida, and we went to visit them. Passing
through Monticello we found a location with very little rent. It was just the year
prior to the big boom. The boom was in 1929; that was the year when
everything was really going great, and the year that we decided to go into
business. By the time we got started and got into the business, the big
depression and the big bust came. Our start was a little bit limited. We had to
go through the real bad depression years while we were in Monticello.
Fortunately, we were able to accomplish a little bit there. After we were there
eight years, we looked to find a better business location because of our children.
We had two children, Mimi and Jerry, and we wanted them to be where we could
have religious activities, have a synagogue, maybe send them to Sunday school
and Hebrew School. Where we were living there were no facilities for any
S: No synagogue?
GR: No. There was nothing there, but we were fortunate to live close to Thomasville,
Georgia and Tallahassee, Florida. During the Jewish holidays we would go over
to one city or the other and attend services and take the children. Sometimes
we would go as far as Valdosta, Georgia where we met a few people.
Sometimes we would go to Quitman, Georgia; we had friends in Quitman. They
did not have a synagogue there, so we would all go to Valdosta together.
During all of those years we did keep our Jewish religion, but it was just very few
times a year that we got to go to services.
We found that there was an opportunity in Gainesville to take over a store that
people were moving out of; a Jewish family was leaving it. We found we could
get it and were really thrilled because we would get into a community where we
could have a synagogue, really have some Jewish life, and meet some Jewish
friends. We came over here in 1936, and even though the depression had been
over, or supposedly it had been over for a few years, things were still very, very
bad during that period of time. We had a lovely, little synagogue, but it was
very difficult for the few people here to support it.
S: Where was it?
GR: The synagogue was on Southwest Second Place and Second Avenue. It was a
nice brick building. It had really lovely wooden benches in it, but we did not have
any heat or air conditioner or screens. It was a really rugged existence for many
years, and the Jewish community had a hard time keeping up the little
synagogue because we had to pay mortgage payments on it. Then the city
paved the sidewalk in front of the synagogue and we had to pay them for the cost
of the sidewalk. I remember we had only between twelve and fifteen, maybe a
few more, members of the synagogue that year.
S: That was out of about how many people in the area?
GR: There were a few more Jewish families here in town, but a number of them were
not members of this synagogue.
S: So the majority of Jewish people in Gainesville belonged to the synagogue?
GR: Yes. The majority belonged, but there were maybe only four or five families that
could afford to help. There had been a lot of dissension in the synagogue
before we came here, and some of them had dropped out and were not involved
by the time we got here. It was a really tough period for the synagogue in those
years, but everybody stuck to it. There was a family here, the Grossman family,
and Mr. Frank Grossman was very brilliant in the Jewish religion. He was our
leader. He would perform services for us every Friday night, and he taught us to
sing the melodies. As only a few families were here, everybody really sang out
and enjoyed the services. We all participated in every holiday that came. And
we brought our children every Friday night. Although it was what I call a poor
synagogue, it was a happy one because people really enjoyed coming to
services and enjoyed our faith. For a few years we all continued to try to pay
and keep the synagogue going.
S: You mentioned Mr. Grossman. How many other people were there in the core
group who might help?
GR: Yes, there were the Grossman and Kopolowitz families.
S: The Kopolowitz and Grossman families were here before you?
GR: They were here before we got here. Maybe a year or two.
IR: Also, Buns.
GR: Well, Buns did not participate in our synagogue. He had his own little
synagogue. There was quite a distinction between them. When they first built
the synagogue, evidently there was a lot of, maybe I would call it jealousy,
between who was given the most honors for performing the building of the
synagogue. The synagogue was about ten years old when we got here. IR:
Another name that comes to mind at this particular point is Dean [Joseph] Weil
[dean emeritus, University of Florida College of Engineering].
GR: He came in a little later, too. He was here in 1936.
IR: I thought he was in, because when I was invited to join it was Dean Weil who
invited me. After becoming a member, it did not take them any time for them to
elect me president.
GR: I know. I think it was the first meeting that we went to. We joined the
synagogue and they elected you president. Well, after a few years, the women
gave suppers, and we charged the men a monthly fee. We accumulated a little
money, and after a few years I imagine it was around 1938 or 1939 we finally
were able to pay off the mortgage on the synagogue. There was an Elks hall
downtown, and we rented it and threw a big party. We called it the mortgage
burning party. And, of course, we charged everybody for supper and for dances
and drinks and everything like that. The women were always trying to find ways
to raise a little bit of money for the synagogue. We auctioned off the honor for
someone to do the burning of the mortgage, so we raised a little more money
that way. Whoever it was, I cannot remember right now. You might remember.
Was it Mr. Grossman?
IR: I do not recall.
GR: I believe it was Mr. Grossman. I believe he is the one that offered the most, and
we all felt like he should have the honor, anyway. We let him burn the
mortgage. I will never forget it. We had a big wash tub in the hall, and they got
some matches and burned the mortgage over the wash tub and dropped it in the
tub of water. I will never forget the sight of him standing over there burning that
paper. It looked sort of like a ritual. We were all so thrilled and proud that we
had achieved that much. Then, after that, the women started planning to have
Sunday school. Up until then we had not had Sunday school for the children.
S: Until that time was there anyplace to get kosher meat in Gainesville?
GR: Oh, no, there was no place. It was not really difficult [to get it, however,]
because, in the first place, a number of people had cars and drove over to
Jacksonville. And when one family would go, they would take orders for the
other families. Besides that, we had a very good kosher market with friendly
people in Jacksonville. You could call them in the morning, and they would put
our order on dry ice and send it to you by bus, so we would get it that afternoon.
Everybody in Gainesville at that time, with the exception of a few of the families,
did try to keep kosher.
S: That is better than now [inaudible].
IR: We also had Mr. Mazo, who was a shohet.
GR: That is right. Mr. Mazo was, I suppose, ordained. He had received permission
from the rabbinical college to be a shohet. So that made it really nice for us
because we could have our chickens slaughtered in the religious manner, also
turkey and geese. It helped us a great deal to be able to have enough food and
meat because we did not ordinarily order from Jacksonville more than once a
week. And, of course, in those days, we did not even have freezers. We would
just sort of plan our meals to where we could have two or three days of meat and
chicken and fish. It was not very difficult to keep kosher in those days. I do not
know why as time went on it became harder for me to keep kosher. Well, I do
realize one thing that caused me to stop was that I went into business with my
husband. As my children were little, we had to pay for an all-day maid, and it
was just impossible to teach the maid how to take care of it. Every time that I
would come home there would be dishes mixed and she would wash the milk
dishes with the meat ones. You just could not keep straight to save your life.
So, finally I gave up and decided that we would wash all dishes together. So
when you stop one way, then after awhile you think "I am not keeping my dishes
separate, so maybe I do not have to worry so much about my meat," and all that.
So gradually you run into going all the way over the other way. I did not keep
kosher, then, for a good many years.
Then Ike's mother came to live with us, and she was strictly kosher. Then we
koshered the house and we started to try to keep kosher again. But we still had
a very difficult time, because Ike's mother was the one that liked to stay in the
kitchen, and she also used to mix up all my dishes. As long as she had her cup
of tea and her soup, she could manage those. But when it came to doing for us,
she would get everything confused. We had a very difficult time for a number of
years trying, again, to keep kosher. Finally, when she moved away went to live
with Ike's sister, we gave up trying to keep kosher again.
There was a number of families in Gainesville, some even now, that keep a
kosher kitchen. I know that they must get a lot of pleasure out of it, because I
think it is a wonderful thing to have a belief and stick to it. Even though it is a
hardship, I think that maybe the harder it is the more you enjoy it if you do it right.
I sometimes regret that I have given it up, but it would be too difficult for me to
go back to it now.
In those years we gradually began to have an increase in the Jewish population
in Gainesville. Besides that, we began to have a few Jewish professors come in
that were interested in Judaism. That is along the time when Dr. Sam Proctor
came to Gainesville. We had a Dr. [Matt] Drosdoff here who was with the
agriculture department. Then others came in, so we began to have leaders in
the community in the field of education who were also very well adjusted to
Jewish life and Jewish religion. They began helping us in our synagogue, and
on Friday nights we would have one of them give us a sermon. We still had Pop
Grossman perform the services. Often we would have a sermon from a guest
professor who came to visit. We used to have very, very delightful times in our
synagogue. As time went on, we began to get more and more people involved
who came to Gainesville to be with the medical center and University professors.
Very few business people ever came to Gainesville. It would seem like it was
just usually from the University and the medical center that we began to have a
big Jewish population.
S: As sort of the way that they could get in.
GR: Yes. It took a long time for the University to accept Jewish professors. In those
days there was even a quota on Jewish students that they would accept. But
eventually it seems like, I guess you could say, they began to see the light, and
were hiring Jewish professors and lifting the quota on Jewish students. It
became quite a popular University then for Jewish students, because a lot of
students whose families moved to Miami then came to the University of Florida.
At that time we began to find out that the synagogue was getting too small for the
population we had increased to. The Sunday school was really booming. The
mothers, for the first few years, did all the teaching. There were not too many
teachers that were really advanced in Jewish education. But, all the same, we
bought the books, and the mothers learned along with the children.
Then as we began getting more Jewish students in we began hiring the young
students to be teachers. Of course, they did not make much. There was a time
when they would come to Sunday school and would only get a dollar for the day
to teach. It was really just a token that they came for, but the young kids
enjoyed it. They were educated in Jewish. Most of them came from Miami and
areas like that. They had attended Hebrew School and Sunday school, they
really loved their work. They loved the religion, and they wanted to spread their
knowledge to the children of Gainesville.
We finally worked up to where we had a really good Sunday school. Then we
realized that we just did not have the facilities for all of the children and the new
families moving into town. The first thing that the new families wanted was to
send their children to Sunday school. It was not that they themselves were so
keen on attending religious services, but they wanted their children to have a
religious education. We started planning to see what we could do about having
Sunday school facilities. For a few years we made arrangements with the city or
the county (I do not remember which) to let our children go to the public schools:
they would let us use the public schools on Sunday so that we could have
Sunday school services. They did not charge us anything, but at the end of the
year we would always send a little money to pay for the heating when they had to
turn on the heat during the winter. We would send a donation to the public
S: About what year was this when you started using the public school?
GR: I am sure it was along in the early 1940s that we started using the public school
building [for Sunday school].
S: So you used the public school for about ten years from the time that you got
GR: Yes. Finally we decided we just would have to find some way of building a
facility for Sunday school. It was a time when Sam Proctor was president of our
congregation. With his diligent efforts, and with everybody pitching in, we finally
decided that we would buy a piece of property. Ike, Sam Proctor, and the
Grossman family then started looking for property, and they found this property
out on Northwest Sixteenth Avenue where our center is. The price at that time
was, we thought, very reasonable. Of course, that was a way outside of the city
limits. It was a long way out, and there came the great discussion of its being so
far away that many people could not walk to the services any longer. This was a
troublesome time, because we felt like it was not fair to the people that wanted to
walk. First they had the Sunday school services so far away, and yet there was
nothing closer that we could afford. We had to go a long way out to be able to
afford the land. The people that really felt like it was an imposition on them
finally came around and said they would agree that it would be to the advantage
of the community to buy this piece of property.
Ike and the rest of them made arrangements and they bought the land where we
are now, and between everybody's getting together and making pledges a
thousand dollars here and a thousand dollars there we were able to hire an
architect. We finally put up the building. Of course, we still owe a lot of money
on it, but we are paying it off a little at a time. But it at least is ours. I really do
not know right now what our indebtedness is, but now we are hoping that we are
going to be able to build a new building to add to it so that we can have a
sanctuary adjoining this and additional classes for the Sunday school.
Our Sunday school now is so crowded there is just no space for the students that
we have. I would safely guess now there are more than 150 [Jewish] families in
Gainesville. I do not know that all of them are members of the congregation, but
most of them do want to send their children to Sunday school. I am stunned that
a lot of people now are not too anxious to join the synagogue, but they want their
children to go to Sunday school. I think that the Sunday school committee has
made up a plan whereby a person would have to be a member of the
congregation to be able to send their children to Sunday school, because we
have to be able to afford to run the Sunday school. Of course, the sisterhood is
what has kept the Sunday school going all of these years. They were the ones
that paid the teachers, and they were the ones that bought the supplies. For a
good many years the sisterhood paid the light bills and everything else. Of
course, there were times before the sisterhood could even afford it that just a
couple of people in the community were the ones that took over all of the
problems of the old synagogue. Now, since we have been in the new center,
everybody has shared.
At one time, however, things had gotten so bad that Ike and Sidney Grossman
were the two men that were supporting the old synagogue. There just was not
any money in those days for people to be able to support it. They paid the light
bills and the fuel costs, whatever we had to have in those years. But now things
have worked out a lot better. We have a budget and we have regular income
coming in. Of course, it is never sufficient to run the Sunday school, but at least
we are getting along. I love the center, but I really miss having a synagogue. I
always think that to sit in a synagogue gives you a feeling of sharing your faith so
much more than just sitting in a hall; I think the atmosphere has a lot to do with
the religious feeling that the people have. I am very much in hopes that some
day we will be able to have a synagogue. Right now there are plans being
made, but whether they will materialize or not we do not know. But we are
making the plans. Where the money is going to come from I do not know. In
the meantime, we will all have hope and faith that since we have come this far,
maybe we will go a little bit farther and have what all of us desire. Of course, I
am just really anxious for it, because Ike and I are getting up in years, and I just
would like to see something like that in the community that we could enjoy for a
few years while we are still able to enjoy it. So that is another thing that we are
looking forward to in Gainesville.
We are very fortunate now. We have so many people that are educated in the
Jewish religion that can give us leadership. It is really now a pleasure to go to
the services and occasionally to a meeting to have so many knowledgeable
people. We go to services on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and have these
young well-educated doctors and lawyers and professors who read the Torah;
they show us how great it is to be an accomplished person in a profession and
still have their Jewish faith and share it with other people, which I think is really
beautiful. It is a great feeling to me, because living in a small town like this we
have not had that too much. When we have something like that to share with
people, it really gives us a lot of pleasure. I am just hoping that we will have a
nice synagogue where all of us can enjoy it even more.
S: I would like to back up just a little bit. When you first got here and were
established and finally got yourself set in Gainesville, how did you find that, not
only yourself, but the rest of the Jewish community was accepted by the other
people in town? I mean, was there any anti-Semitism? Did you feel like you
were not wanted?
GR: Well, I think that in the early years people were anti-Semitic. Of course, going
even further back when we lived in south Georgia and Florida and different
places, there was always that feeling of anti-Semitism because there was so
much preaching in the churches about the Jews. This was inbred in the people,
and as soon as they found out a person was a Jew, it seemed to me that a
coldness came over them. They either felt like a Jew was a different kind of a
creature or else they right away had an animosity against the person. It took us
a long time to become friends with gentile people. They had to get to know us
for a long while before they would accept us as a plain person and not a person
that had any kind of meaness or any plan to hurt anybody else. It took them a
long time to see that we were normal people just like they were. In the small
towns they had not been around many Jewish people. They had not had
contact with Jews, and all they could see was what they had read and heard
about Jews, so the first Jewish people in small towns really had a difficult time.
When they came in they already had two or three what you would call black balls
against them. You would have to overcome all of this to show people that you
were normal just like they were; you were no different from anybody else.
After a few years I found that people respected us more when they found out that
we had a religious faith that we loved and enjoyed and adhered to. They began
to respect us for having this. They began to see that we were no different than
they were because they enjoyed and had what they preferred to have. They
began to see that there was no reason why somebody else could not have a
different religion and enjoy it, and be a human being just as they were. But it
took us many years.
When I first came here, I wanted to belong to the Gainesville Woman's Club. I
sent in my application, and I was refused membership. I could not understand
why I would be refused. I could pay the dues, and I was an average person. I
did not speak with any accent which might, in those days, cause the gentile
people to have resentment. If they found a Jewish person that spoke with an
accent, right away they would say, "Oh, he is a Jew." That was their opinion.
Anyway, I could not understand why I was not accepted. I found out when one
of the ladies that I knew very well told me that I was turned down because I was
Jewish. At that time, Dean Weil's wife his first wife was living here, and she
and I had gotten to be good friends. She was a member of the woman's club
because he was dean of the University engineering college, and she found out
that they had turned me down. She was friendly with the president at that time
and with several other members, and they called a meeting and tried to get them
to accept me. But they still would not. Then I realized that I had been a
member of the woman's club in Monticello, Florida before moving here. Of
course, I was the only Jew there, but there was no problem there. If I wanted to
become a member, I became a member. When they found out that I was a
member in Monticello, they figured that I could simply transfer my membership
over here. So instead of just accepting me as a member, I was a transfer
member. Well, when I became a member of that club, all of a sudden
everybody became my friend. They all accepted me and they liked what I had to
say and what I had to do. I was just a real good committee worker and I helped
them raise money. I helped them put on shows. I think they finally realized that
it was not such a bad thing for a person to be a Jew. Even to this day, I am still
very active in the [Gainesville] Woman's Club. Even this morning one of those
ladies called me and asked me if I would like to be a delegate to the state
convention for the woman's club. So in all these years I still kept up my
activities. There had never been any discussion since then about not admitting
anybody that was Jewish into that club. I felt like I was sort of a pioneer in that
respect because I did open the doors. There was never any problem after that
where a Jewish member would not be accepted.
In those early years there was a lot of anti-Semitism, just little ugly talks and little
ugly things that happened with the children. My son went to Boy Scouts [of
America], and he had to go to meetings in a Presbyterian annex. When they
would get in a fight, it was always "the little Jewish boy" that got into trouble or
got pushed aside or was not accepted when the other group went to certain
parties and things of that sort. The same [was true] with the little Jewish girls.
But by being lady-like, as I always called it, and being a man, we overcame all of
the little problems, and people began to be nice people.
Then, all of a sudden, the anti-Semitism disappeared. It was by not fighting
them, but by ignoring them and just going along, doing what you thought in your
heart was the best thing to do, keeping your faith, and not letting anybody keep
you from doing what you wanted to do. If this was your religion and you enjoyed
it, you stick with it and you really made your own way. Besides, as I said before,
they began to respect us when they saw that we made our way. Now I have
numbers and numbers of gentile friends, and when we talk about religion or
school or Sunday School they like to hear what I had to say about the Jewish
faith and about what we do in Sunday school and what we do during the religious
holidays, and about the good food that I cook. All of my neighbors up and down
the street, whenever holidays come around, always want to know if I am going to
make matzah balls, if I am going to make gefilte fish. I always share with them
every time we have a holiday, and I make some nice things that Jewish people
are known for. I just feel like when ugly things come along you have to shrug it
off your shoulders and ignore it. You find out that after awhile it is really going to
S: The Jewish community has really come a long way.
GR: It has come a long, long way, and it is very, very well respected in Gainesville
now. It is a very, very fine community of Jewish people here in Gainesville now.
Here in town, wherever you go, the Jewish people are very well respected. In
fact, I was real honored I do not know if you noticed or not [when] a couple of
months ago the Gainesville Sun did a whole page on Ike and me. They told
about our activities and how long we have lived in Gainesville. They had colored
pictures of us and the house and everything. I feel like we have gained respect
of the community by respecting ourselves and, furthermore, respecting the
community, too. Thank God there has never been an ugly thing about our family
in Gainesville or with very few Jewish people. There has always been very fine
Jewish people here in Gainesville, which, I think, makes us so fortunate.
S: I think that one of the things that is particular about Jewish communities is that if
they have a problem they handle it themselves.
GR: We do not make a fuss about anything. I found out that it is much easier to
handle things in a nice quiet way than it is to raise up and holler and make a
scene. You are going to find out if you do it in an easy, calm way, people are
going to come around and see your point of view and respect you. But, still,
stick to your convictions. That is one thing that we have never changed. We
never really worried about everybody's disrespecting us for wanting to keep our
S: There is one area that I am particularly interested in, just from a personal point
of view. I had asked my parents about it, and I have asked relatives of my
family about their position in New York. I wonder if I could ask you about the
whole situation that occurred in Gainesville during the Second World War when
the news first started coming over about some of the things that the Nazis were
doing. What was the kind of feeling in the Jewish community about that time?
GR: There was resentment. I am an old member of the Gainesville Golf and
Country Club, and I remember on one occasion someone apparently a German
made some nasty remark in reference to the Jews, and I did not even have to
answer him. The other members took the matter up and defended me. I think
it was in a very short time that this fellow who had made some accusations left
the Club. Now, there was a time when some rambling groups threw eggs at the
synagogue. Beyond that, I do not think we had too much activities. Do you
IR: Yes, that was during the time they drew a swastika on the windows and the walls
of the synagogue. We did not feel that it was the community; we felt like it was
either children or some group that was just kind of showing off. We never felt
like it was actually the community that was doing that to us. You know we did
not, in those days, get too much news. There was no TV, and the radios were
not very great. We did have radios during the war years, but we did not get the
news here like you would get in big cities and all over the world. We had just a
small-town newspaper, and it was rare when we really knew actually what was
going on over in Germany. It was a long time after all the holocaust and
everything that we began to hear and to learn about what things had been
happening over there.
Of course, there was a lot of resentment against the Germans everywhere in this
country, as also happened when we went into war with Japan. Everybody
wanted to send the Germans back to Germany, just like they took all these
Japanese people and put them in camps. I do not know what they called them; I
know it was not prisons, but they put them in camps. Of course, I felt that this
was a terrible thing for this country to do. I guess people have to learn from
experience what is the right thing to do. That was a very sad time to me, World
The sad part, I think, for all the Jewish people was knowing what Hitler was
doing. We did not know in the beginning that he was destroying so many Jews.
We knew that he was putting them in prison camps, and that Jews were having a
hard time and a few were escaping. Those were the things that we learned
about a little bit. But we did not really know for a long time how bad it actually
was. I often wonder why we did not know, and why the world did not do
anything about it in those days. It seems to me that it was a long time before
people began to realize that all of this was going on and that the world was just
letting it go on. People in the United States government and in England and in
all the other big countries at that time knew what was going on, and they just let
in go on. How they let them slaughter people like that is just the most amazing
thing in the world. Why did they not just go right into those countries and
destroy those places where they slaughtered people and free them. I cannot
believe that times like now they would ever let a country destroy as many people
as they did in those years. But it seemed to me it was like a dream to the
people in the world; they could not believe that it was happening. Nobody
seemed to be doing anything about it. They were just letting it occur. I think
Hitler had the world scared. I just cannot imagine why the world was afraid of
S: Were a lot of people scared?
S: So other than local news, there was really no big news that reached Gainesville
until much, much later.
IR: [It was] very late, way after the war, when we began to find out what had actually
happened. We had heard about the prisons, and heard about their putting them
in the box cars, and separating families, and going into homes and taking the
Jews out, and making the Jews wear a mark to show that they were a Jew. We
had heard all of those things, but we did not know in the early years that all of
these Jews were being killed. There was a long time after it actually happened.
Maybe I was the one who did not realize it; maybe other people around here
knew it. I know I did not know what actually happened in Germany.
S: Was there any community reaction to it, or was it just a general horror that
people had when they found out?
GR: Well, we began a lot of United Jewish Appeal drives to try to get people to help
get people out of Germany. That was the big thing that we started doing: we
started to raise money to send off to try to help Jews escape. That was about
the biggest thing that we did, was it not, during that time?
IR: Raise money?
GR: Raise money to try to help them to escape.
IR: Yes. In fact, I was chairman of that group for three years in a row, and the small
group that we had here, considering their financial situation, I think did very well.
It might be interesting to note that when we came here in 1936 the town had a
population of 11,500. Of course, it was shortly after that that they started
drafting, and the student population was down to below 3,000. That must have
been around 1938.
S: Right before the war. You mentioned that you bought your first store that a
Jewish family had moved out of. Could you tell me a little bit about the store?
IR: Yes. There was a Burnstein family that lived in Gainesville, and they had the
store over there on the south side of the square. They had done very well and
they wanted to progress, so they decided they would move to Jacksonville.
They had a lot of family and friends in Jacksonville, and they opened up a great
big store. We found out through a friend of ours that this store here was going
to be available. We were lucky at that time; the rent was a minimum amount,
and we did not have to pay out a lot of money to get the store. We just actually
took the lease from the people, and we bought the little bit of the equipment that
they had. Those were very difficult times because there just was not much
GR: We worked really hard. We opened the store in the morning and we would stay
there until 10:00 at night. Whatever stragglers we would get in and the few
dollars that we would get in really counted towards buying more merchandise for
the next week. That is the way we were running our business in those days.
Whatever you could take in you turned right around and bought more
merchandise for the next weekend. We were very fortunate that we were
progressive people. This town had been sort of a stagnant little country town,
and we came in and started to bring in a few little stylish things into our store.
We began to add more and more new merchandise-type things that had not
been shown in Gainesville. Gainesville had a department store then, but it was
an exclusive store to cater to the fine families that had a little more money to
spend for nicer clothes. But there was not anything much available for
intermediate families or lower income families.
IR: There was Wilsons'.
GR: Wilsons had the big store. Otherwise, there was just a few little small stores that
catered to the townspeople or the country people. We came in with
merchandise that appealed to the country people, to the affluent people, and to
the black trade. Before you knew it, we had really built up a very fine business.
It seemed that the people liked to trade or do their buying at night. On Saturday
night our store would be so full of people you could hardly get through. It was
the most amazing thing; we could never believe that that many customers would
want to come to a store at night. It would just be jammed! You would think you
were giving away stuff. They would come in for probably about two hours. You
did not really have to try to sell them anything. They would buy a three-dollar
hat or a dollar-and-ninety-cent slip or a petticoat. In those days we sold winter
underwear. It was cold weather in Gainesville, just like we had this past winter,
only it was not as cold as this past winter. We never had it that cold before.
We never had snow before.
IR: It seemed like we were in New York.
GR: Yes, but it was colder than we have had in the last number of years. So we
used to sell winter underwear and had heavy jackets and things of that type. It
was just no trouble to sell merchandise when they found out that we had the kind
of things they wanted. We were very fortunate to build up a nice business in a
short length of time. As soon as we would get things going really good, we
decided we needed a little more space, so we remodeled the store and made it a
little bit bigger. Every few years we would remodel and make the store bigger,
until, finally, about ten years ago, we had one of the nicest department stores in
Gainesville. It was really well known and well liked. Even today we have young
people coming to us and they say, "Oh, I remember my mother used to take me
to your store and buy all my clothes." The mothers themselves used to say,
"Oh, we loved to trade at Ruddy's. It was always so nice to come into that
store." We always had a reputation of being friendly people and easygoing and
nice to others, and that reputation just paid off. It is the same way with Ike now
in his little store. He still has people come in that store now that bought
merchandise from us way back, twenty or thirty years back, and they still like to
come to his store. They like to talk to him; they claim they like to trade with him.
It is wonderful feeling to know that you have lived in a town all these years and
had the respect of the people.
S: When you first opened your store and started doing business, did the people who
knew you from the synagogue bring you most of their business?
IR: The Jewish people were inclined to help or encourage other Jewish people.
GR: I think everybody was always helpful. If you had what they wanted, they would
buy it from you, but they did not make it a special point to come and say, "If I
need something, I will go to Rudderman's, and I will get it from them because
they are Jewish." They did not do that. But we were fortunate enough that we
did not have the need for that because we were lucky enough to get started
quickly. Getting started fast was a great thing for young people in a business
like ours. We were also fortunate to know enough how to handle it. Of course,
Ike has always been a really good business man, anyway. He taught me the
business, and I was a good assistant to him, so it worked out really well. We
were fortunate in that respect.
In about 1938 Gainesville was a very small town, and the whole town was
concentrated around the square. There was a big courthouse in the center of
course, it was the old court house then and the stores were around the square.
That is all there was to Gainesville then. All the grocery stores were on the
different corners of the downtown section. There was not anything like
supermarkets; it was all grocery stores. We had a couple of nice grocery stores.
A & P [Atlantic & Pacific] was here, and we had a Piggly Wiggly store, but they
were still small stores. They were not anything like the supermarkets that we
have now. Everything was right around on the square.
On the corner of University Avenue and Main Street there was a hardware store
there, Thomas House. One night the paint and some combustible materials or
something caused a fire in the back of the hardware store, and it became a really
tremendous fire. It started, I think, about 7:00 in the evening. By the time we
heard about it was 9:00. We ran downtown, and the whole corner was in flames
already. The fire was going in two directions: down University Avenue, and
down Main Street. Of course, the buildings in those days were really old
wooden buildings. There was not much to keep them from burning as soon as
the fire got started.
S: Did it touch your store?
GR: No, we were a block away on the opposite side of the street. Everybody in town
turned out. They all tried to go into the remaining stores that were left to try to
move the merchandise out to help save some of the goods that were in the store.
But this fire burned until 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning. The whole two blocks
were completely destroyed. Cox's furniture store and several small stores were
on that side of Main Street, and all down University Avenue were groups of little
individual stores, and they were all completely destroyed. There were two-story
buildings with offices and storerooms upstairs and stores on the street, but the
whole building collapsed. The section burned completely! That just left
downtown with three streets after the fire. There were only three different
corners of downtown Gainesville left, because that fire destroyed the whole block
of Main Street and the whole block going down University Avenue. It was really
a bad time for Gainesville.
I want to tell you the people really rallied to the merchants. There was, in those
days, a number of merchants who did credit business with the community, and
they were terribly worried because all of their records were destroyed, as well as
their merchandise. The people in town that owed bills to these merchants came
to their rescue. Well, I would not say rescue, because there was not really
enough to rescue them from having everything destroyed, but they came across.
Everybody sent their money in for the bill that they knew that they owed. They
did not wait for them to bill them or tell them they did not know how much they
owed him. The money just kept coming in. Everybody said, "I owe you such
and such, and I am sending it to you right now," which I thought was one of the
greatest things for a community to do for their business people. I know this for a
fact, because my sister at that time was married to a Gainesville merchant. She
lived here, and they were the ones that had a real exclusive shop, the Fashion
Shop, and people paid them 100% of what was due to them. Even before the
time that their bills were due, they sent them their money for the merchandise.
So Gainesville has always been a good town. I have always been proud of
being a resident of Gainesville.
S: That is something. I do not know many places that would do such a thing.
IR: Every merchant told us the same thing. In fact, we just heard last week about
these fires that Buddy Thomas had at the oil refinery here later on. He is a good
friend of ours and of our son. The first thing that you heard people say was, "I
will have to see if I owe them a bill and send in my money." I heard so many
people say that right away. It really makes you feel good to know that you live in
a community where you know people have hearts. I am just really proud of the
people in Gainesville.
S: Let me go back to one last thing that I skipped concerning the synagogue.
When was the first time that the synagogue got a rabbi?
GR: I meant to tell you about that. It was during World War II that so many soldiers,
officers particularly, were living in Gainesville. They were stationed at a big
camp not far from here, Camp Blanding, near Starke. A lot of Jewish boys were
stationed there. Officers could not find housing in Starke, so they came to
Gainesville to live. They rented houses because the officers were able to bring
their families down, so we had quite a community of Jewish officers and their
families living in Gainesville.
Along that time we had gotten in communication with Hillel. The Hillel
organization wanted to get started in Gainesville, working through the Unversity.
It was a little difficult for them to get started because there was no community
house. There was not anything that they could use, so they started working with
the local Jewish community to try to help get Hillel started. We, of course, were
very anxious to have Hillel here at the University because we had a lot of
students. A lot of times we did not have room in our synagogue for all of the
Jewish students because the synagogue was small. If it were a holiday
everybody would want to come. At that time we had already started having
quite a little community, so we did not have room for everybody. We were really
thrilled that Hillel wanted to come to Gainesville.
Hillel sent a rabbi down here, and the women in the community helped get things
going for him. We found a really nice house where he and his family could live,
and still have a big parlor and a big dining room that they could use for Hillel
functions. The first rabbi they sent was Rabbi Emerand Prero. He is still a
rabbi in Texas, but he has been very prominent in Jewish activities, especially in
youth work, for many years. They paid his salary, and we helped pay for the
rent on the house. While paying the rent on the house, we helped entertain
when we would have special services at the house, or we would have suppers
for the University students. At that time we did not have any girls at the
University; it was all boys. We would help do all those things for the Jewish
Hillel said that if we wanted to share the rabbi at the synagogue, we could use
him every other Friday night for services if we would pay half of his salary or part
of it. Friday nights in-between we had services in the house. Gradually it came
around to where we had the services every Friday night at the synagogue.
Then, whatever he wanted to do with the young people they did on Saturday
mornings at the house, because they did not have a Torah at the house. It was
really just like getting a meeting together to say the prayers. We had him every
Friday night for the several years he stayed here. That was a really happy time
for our Gainesville community. He was a wonderful rabbi, and he gave beautiful
ceremonies and taught us so much about the Jewish religion.
It happened with us that we were raised by poor families in the South, and we did
not get a lot of good Jewish education. Ike went to Hebrew school to be bar
mitzvahed. I never did go to Hebrew school; I guess my parents could not afford
to send me. I went to only the last two years of Sunday School; I was already
fourteen years old. Even then you had to spend two or three dollars on Sunday
to pay for the cost of keeping the teacher. It was difficult for poor families in the
South to get much Jewish education. When we had this rabbi come here, and
he was so cultured and so well educated, he really taught us a lot about the
religion and the pleasures that we could get out of Jewish life. We really
enjoyed the Prero family here for a number of years.
Then Hillel decided that they would build a building, and we tried to find the
property for them for a building. We were able to find the location where they
are now. Previously, we had planned on the location in front of where they are
now on University Avenue. There was an old house there and we tried to get
them to take that, but they did not want to take an old house and tear it down.
There was nothing on the property where they bought, so they decided they
would rather buy that property. We all worked and pitched in to get it and did
everything we could to help Hillel build that building. We were all on committees
to raise money. Some of us were on the building committee to help plan the
building, and some of us helped furnish the building. We gave supper parties
there to raise money after the building was built so we could buy furniture for it.
We did a lot for Hillel in those early years. We enjoyed it because it was another
Jewish activity for us to participate in. But then, afterwards, they began
changing rabbis every year. One or two times they had rabbis that were so
strictly orthodox it was really difficult for our conservative community to get along
with [them]. You can be over-critical of people, and they would be really critical
of our way of doing things. We never had really gotten down to being really
orthodox because so few of us were raised that way. We just did not know the
orthodox procedures. Mr. Grossman did, but he did not try to enforce it. He
just felt like letting everybody go along as they wanted to. That made us a little
bit estranged from Hillel, then, when they did not like what we were doing and
some of the things that they disapproved of. When they started criticizing, we
kind of drifted away. It has been awhile since we have seen a lot of
communication between Hillel and the community. That is really sad, because I
think there should be more of a communion between the two organizations. The
young people have a way of really wanting to do it their own way, anyway, so the
community decided that if that is the way they want to do it, that is the way we
will have it. We have our hands full trying to take care of what we have. I know
they have their hands full doing what they are doing, too. We did have some
very fine rabbis come for a few years after Prero left. Do you remember the
name of the rabbi that we thought was so marvelous?
IR: Would it have been Rabbi Cravitch?
GR: Yes. We followed his career after he left here, and he really became very
prominent in the rabbinical schools. He received a very high degree in the
rabbinical college. He was a very, very fine rabbi, and he gave beautiful
sermons. Our biggest thrill here in Gainesville was to have someone who could
give really good sermons. You have to really make yourself get into the spirit of
your religious feelings when you go to the services now. When we had a rabbi
who could give us a good sermon, give us a good feeling of being with God and
sharing with God and sharing with people, it was really a worthwhile thing. We
were fortunate we had a number of rabbis like that. Of course, occasionally we
got one who did not quite hit the spot that we would have liked him to, which is
unfortunate, but there is always hope that sometime somebody will come along
that will raise our spirits again.
S: A lot of communities are like that. A rabbi who is a good teacher may not be
right for this situation. Now, I would just like to thank you and Mr. Rudderman
for letting me come in and talk with you and to thank you for sharing all of this.
GR: Oh, I enjoyed it. I hope we have accomplished just a little.
IR: I am sorry that I could not offer more, but she seemed to be covering the ground
pretty well. In fact, she has a better memory along those lines than I do. I just
happened to think of an additional family that you did not even mention we had
here: the Silvermans.
GR: Very fine family. They have been active in Jewish community affairs ever since
we have been here. They came here before we did.
IR: I might remember quite a few things after you are gone, but at the present time I
cannot think of anything else that would be interesting to you as far as the Jewish
background here in Gainesville is concerned.
S: I cannot think of anything that I could have asked that you did not offer
somewhere. I appreciate all of your time.
GR: Well, I really enjoyed it. It was nice. We have had very good years in
Gainesville, I mean, the community has. We are very fortunate that we have
had fine, happy families living in Gainesville. We are more fortunate now that
we have such a wonderful community of Jewish people.
IR: I have enough foresight that I saw to it that both of my children live and remain
here in Gainesville. We have our children, our grandchildren, and our
great-grandchildren living here in Gainesville because we think so much of the
community four generations living here!
S: Gainesville is a good community.
GR: I really love this town. I just would not want to live anywhere else in the world
than right here in Gainesville. Well, anytime we can do anything for you in your
other work or any of your endeavors, just call on us.
[End of the interview]