Interview with Saul Rich, 1982-01-14

Material Information

Interview with Saul Rich, 1982-01-14
Rich, Saul ( Interviewee )
Publication Date:


Subjects / Keywords:
Palm Beach County Oral History Collection ( local )
Spatial Coverage:
Palm Beach (Fla.) -- History.


This text has been transcribed from an audio or video oral history. Digitization was funded by a gift from Caleb J. and Michele B. Grimes.

Record Information

Source Institution:
Samuel Proctor Oral History Program, Department of History, University of Florida
Holding Location:
This interview is part of the 'Palm Beach' collection of interviews held by the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program of the Department of History at the University of Florida
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Made available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial 4.0 International license:
Resource Identifier:
PBC 022 Saul Rich 1-14-1982 ( SPOHP IDENTIFIER )


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INTERVIEWER: Alec Jacobson

DATE: January 14, 1982

K J: Saul, would you tell us where and when you were born?

R: I was born in Ostorpol.

J: What country is that?

R: In Russia, Ukraine. The approximate date, as you know in those
days it wasn't very clear, was August 11, 1898.

J: What year was it that you came to America?

R: In August, 1921.

J: Did you".come by yourself or with your family?

R: My family. My father was here. He was here since 1908 and we
were without him for thirteen years. We actually grew up without
a father being present.

J: How many brothers and sisters did you have?

R: I had one brother and five sisters. I was the third one in the
family. I had two sisters older than I.

J: When you came to America did you find work easily or was it

R: I found it easily because I had family in a famous street called
Prince Street, in Newark, New Jersey. They helped me, recommended
me, because I knew the textile business by then.

J: Did you stay in Newark till you retired?

R: No, I worked for one man for two and a half years. Then I took
over his business.

J: What year did you come to Florida?

R: When we came to Florida, we bought a condominium in 1970. We
commuted for about four years. We spent six months in Florida
and six months in West Orange. Then in 1974 we settled her

J: How did you happen to pick Palm Beach County to settle in?

R: People that we knew were settled here before us.

J: When you came into the community, did you find it difficult or
easy to make new friends?



R: No difficulty at all. We made friends immediately and we
enjoyed life. We are still enjoying it as always.

J: Tell me some of the activities that you have now that keep
you busy.

R: Well, my two outstanding things are choir in TempleBethel and I
also sing with the choral group at the Century Village Clubhouse.
As important are classes at Temple Bethel with the Rabbi and
lectures. Also concerts and plays. The adult education program.

J: Where you lived in Newark, was that a Jewish neighborhood?

R: Where we lived in Newark was not a Jewish area. My business was
not in a Jewish neighborhood, nor did we live in a Jewish
neighborhood. Only during the first two years in America did I
spend time in a Jewish neighborhood.

J: Did you find any unusual problems living in....

R: No, we had many friends among the non Jews, my customers and
neighbors. Life was pleasant as far as that was concerned.

J: What was your reaction to the climate when you came to Florida?
Did it present any problems?

R: No, I enjoyed it. Even the hot weather doesn't bother me.

J: Did you ever go through any of the hurricanes here?

R: No, I don't remember any.

J: In Newark, did you participate in any community life like the
Jewish organizations?

R: Yes, I belonged to the Zionist organization to begin with. Then
I transferred to the labor group called the Labor Zionists. It's
quite active. I did everything I could to help Israel, help the
Jewish community.

J: Since you've come to Palm Beach have you ever had any anti-semitism

R: Not to speak of, no.

J: Anything like that ever happen in Newark?



R: No.

J: When you came to America you were twenty-three years old. Do you
remember the life in Ostropol in so far as it affected the Jewish
community? How many people would you say were in the community

R: The entire community or the Jewish community?

J: Both.

R: Altogether I assume there were about 5000. The Jewish population
was no more than 200 to 250 people.

J: Your father's trade was...

R: Cabinet maker.

J: Cabinet maker. He made furniture?

R: He made furniture.

J: Do you have any idea how he learned that trade?

R: He learned it by working for somebody else as an apprentice.

J: As a young boy.

R: As I mentioned before, he didn't like it. He was left an orphan
at the age of four. And there was nothing in the small town to do
but become a small storekeeper, which was not for a youngster, or
learn a trade.

J: And he made furniture. Was it for the Jews only or did it. .

R: No, he only made furniture for the surrounding rich land owners.

J: I see. So we're talking about aristocracy who came to the Jewish
community to find craftsmen to do things for them that they couldn't
find somewhere else.

R: Correct. Workers. Not only cabinet makers but tailors, shoemakers,
hat makers and all others. As far as I can remember there weren't
any craftsmen among the non-Jewish population.

J: What was their main occupation if they weren't craftsmen? What did
they do?



R: Jews were small storekeepers. Non-Jews were farmers.

J: I see. And the storekeepers also had non-Jews as cutsomers?

R: Well, the main income was from non-Jews.

J: I see. Now was there in the Jewish community, in the shtetl, an
unemployment problem at any time? Was there ever a time when
somebody who wanted to work couldn't find work?

R: It depends what one was looking for.

J: Was it such a thing as having a choice if the the young man
needed work? Was he choosey about the kind of work he wanted?

R: There were no choices. There weren't any factories there. There
wasn't any industry. There wasn't anything for a man to attach
to. There were no educational facilities for a man to learn
dentistry or bookkeeping or anything of that sort. There wasn't
any at all. Non-existent.

J: But there was a still a need for bookkeeping services.

R: The only bookkeeper, as far as I can remember, was at a big flour
mill. They had a bookkeeper there who was brought in from out of
0 town.

J: Who were the owners of the flour mill?

R: The big landowners. Non-Jews. The aristrocrats.

,, J: I see. Your father was a cabinet maker. Do you have any idea where
"he obtained his raw material--the wood?

R: We had many forests surrounding our town. There was a lumber mill.

J: They cut the wood for him to use?

R: Yes.

J: So this community didn't have to import too many things. There
were farms to supply food. Did they supply livestock as well?

R: Yes.

J: So there were farms that supplied vegetables and livestock.


p 5
R: Livestock and dairy products.

J: What about a flour mill?

R: Yes, there was one big one as I mentioned before and they had a
bookkeeper. There was also one small flour mill.

J: And they were able to supply enough for the entire community?

R: To supply enough. As a matter of fact, as a youngster I remember
I used to buy the unmilled corn and go down and have it milled there
and bring it on my back home.

J: As far as educational facilities go in the shtetl was there anything
like a yeshiva?

R: No.

J: There was no yeshivas but there were. .

R: Rabbi's.

J: Who taught children?

R: Cheder for beginners, a cheder for Gemorrah, a cheder for that they
dubbed Russian.

J: Was there a feeling in the town that a young man, if he had to
choose between working and studying, would prefer to study?

R: Yes, there was.

J: It seems to me that in Yiddish literature the women were the bread-
winners in some cases. Can you tell us something about that?

R: Yes, it's a good point. Not only in some cases did the women provide
the living for the family but in many cases.

J: What type of occupation did these women find that would give them
enough income to sustain a family?

R: Small storekeepers and also like doing some sewing for the richer

J: When you say richer families are you talking about the Jewish families
or not?



R: Mostly Jewish families.

J: Did any of the non-Jewish ladies come to find a seamstress in the
Yiddish community?

R: There were tailors who catered to the peasants and made clothes
for them. They had none of their own. They had no one that
knew how to make a pair of shoes or sew a garment or anything of
that sort.

J: Was it customary at that time that the children of these storekeepers
and shoemakers and tailors would learn the trade from their parents
and stay in the same line of work?

R: Yes.

J: Were there any other opportunities for young people growing up in
the shtetl?

R: Not;inthe shtetl at all. Some left the shtetl and went to Kiev
or Zitomir or Odessa to take courses. I know a case where one young
lady became a dentist. Again, a young man became a bookkeeper. I
know a case of a man who became a druggist.

J: But in order to achieve these objectives, they had to leave home
and family?

R: Yes, go out of town.

J: Did they ever come back to live in the shtetl?

R: Yes, they did.

J: Came back to their original beginning.

R: They served the community.

J: You mentioned a young lady who became a dentist. What proportion
of the young people growing up amongst the girls took the course
of going away and going to school and becoming something other than
a housewife?

R: Quite a few young ladies went to take courses to become, teachers. Of
course, there weren't any legalized Jewish teachers.

J: You mean accredited.



R: Yes. The government would not permit it. So we did have so-called
illegal schools that they taught.

J: More to the girls?

R: Both the girls and the boys.

J: Are you talking now about the secular education, not the religious

R: I'm talking about secular education.

J: In the cheder, for instance, where the boys went to learn the alphabet,
did anybody ever consider it important enough to teach girls how
to read and write?

R: No, not as I can remember.

J: Did any of the families take it on themselves to teach the girls
how to read and write in their own home?

R: Oh yes, very much so.

J: Then there was movement amongst the people?

R: My mother was teaching us, although her knowledge was limited..
Yet she taught us to read until we started school. We were already
well prepared.

J: How did she learn to read and write? Did she get any formal schooling?

R: Self education.

J: Was that an unusual thing amongst the women of the shtetl?

R: Not at all. Our Jewish people were always eager to learn and to
know. It never changed.

J: In the shtetl, do you remember the earliest beginnings of the talk
of a Zionist movement?

R: That was when I was a very young boy.

J: Approximately what year do you recall?

R: In 1910.

J: Was the community unanimous in their feeling toward the idea of



R: There were some objections.

J: Who were the people who objected and why?

R: We had one of the Rabbis, I'm not going to mention his name, who

J: One of the Rabbis objected to the idea of Zionism.

R: The idea of Zionism and the idea of collecting money for Zionism.

J: But was there a movement to collect money for the poor people in
then Palestine; for people who weren't able to support themselves?

R: Yes, Pushkes right and left.

J: Was there any objection to that from this particular Rabbi?

R: No. The only objection he had was to meetings--mass meetings,

J: What did these meetings have as their objective? What was the reason
for calling a meeting?

R: To begin with, to acquaint the people with Zionism, the objectives
of Zionism.

J: We're talking about approximately 1910.

R: Around that.

J: This is when a new idea came along. To the best of your recollection,
how was the objective of Zionism put before a gathering of people
who lived for generations upon generation in a shtetl?

R: The great inspiration was Dr. Herzl. Literature started to come
into town. We had, as a matter of fact let me mention it, we had
a library with thousands of books. And then [Theodor] Herzl's
[1860-1904] theories started to become popular and the young people
and older people became aware of his theory and of his desire for
a Jewish state, that was rather the strong beginning.

J: So the book that Herzl wrote, entitled [Der] Judenstaat [1896], or
The Jewish State, was the basis for the getting together of people
to learn more about it?

R: Yes, the real basis.



J: Was there any movement at that time? We know that in the earlier
years there was a group called Holdevaak Zion, the Lovers of
Zion. Was there anything like that?

R: I believe there was but I think I was too young to remember that.

J: In this library you mentioned, the thousands of books were there,
other than Yiddish books or. .

R: Yes. Yiddish and Russian.

J: .This was a library that was part of the Yiddish community?

R: Yes. Correct.

J: Rather than the overall city. Do you remember any anti-Semitic
outbreaks in Ostropol by the non-Jewish community as an organized

R: No.

J: There wasn't anything like that in Ostropol.

R: No, not an organized one.

J: Did the shtetl know about what was going on in some of the other
Russian towns?

R: Yes, we did.

J: Do you recall any of that?

R: Well, the Kishinev Pogrom [1903], of course, was very well-known
to us.

J: Was anything done in the shtetl when this news came?

R: We were helpless.

J: There wasn't anything that you could do?

R: No.

J: No appeals to the government?

R: It was government-inspired.

J: What was their reason for that, as best you recall?


R: Jewish people were free thinkers. Jewish people always advocated
democracy. Jewish people always spoke 6f democracy and that was
very displeasing to the czar.

J: What you are saying is that amongst the early opponents to the
czarist regime there were people of the Jewish community.

R: I remember, it was round 1910, a worker's union was organized in
the shtetl.

J: Was that the first union?

R: Yes, it was.

J: Who were the organizers?

R: The organizers were workers. For instance, a young man would go
in as an apprentice to a tailor establishment. They gave him, as
I remember, so little in earnings they had to revolt. They had
to do something about it. So they organized in order to get
better working conditions.

J: So the earliest unions were formed against Jewish employers.

R: Yes, against Jewish employers.

J: I see.

R: In the meantime it embraced. .

J: The country, establishment, as a whole.

R: as a whole.

J: Were there any Jewish publications in Ostropol?

R: No.

J: Did you receive any from bigger cities?

R: Yes. From Kiev, we had a Jewish paper.

J: And was there anything similar going on in the bigger cities as
that time with regard to unions?

R: Oh, yes. I was in Odessa. I spent almost a year there in 1916.
I remember that there were a lot of activities as far as union
organizations and at that time they were called revolutionary.


J: They were called revolutionary.

R: Yes.

J: Was this the origin, possibly, of the Bund organization?

R: Yes, I would call it a Bund.

J: Was there an organized group of Bundists in Ostropol?

R: Yes.

J: Did they have any affiliation with the religious aspect of life
in the shtetl?

R: No. As a matter of fact, they were anti-religion. They didn't
know much about it, but they were anti.

J: Was there any activity by these people in the young Zionist movements?
Were the Bundists interested in Zionism?

R: No, they were two separate groups. Completely divided.

J: So what was the objective of the Bundist organization?

R: To help the working man by organizing unions.

J.: Were there any strikes that you remember?

R: Yes.

J: Now we are talking about the small shtetl of Ostropol with approximately
250 Jewish people and there were strikes by Jewish workers against
Jewish bosses. Will you give us details on that?

R: Yes. When they came in, let's say, to Yitzhak The Schneider, and
they said "Yitzhak, you are not paying enough to your poor workers."
And he refused to deal with them and reason with them. Then they
called out their workers to be on strike.

J: So when we say there was a strike against Yitzhak the tailor, we're
talking about four workers.

R: You're talking about four workers, maybe six workers, but no more
than that.

J: These bosses, like Yitzhak, were they wealthy people?

R: Middle class.


J: They were middle class.

R: Considering the circumstances in those days. Of course, they lived
much nicer, much better. .

J: Than their workers. I see. With the workers having such difficulty
to earn enough to make a comfortable living, was there much of
a movement to go live in another country? Was there immigration
to America?

R: Oh, yes. The shining star, the United States of America. There
was the wish, the hope and the desire to find a way to get to

J: What were some of the ways that families found to get to America?

R: As far as I know, one payed the way and it broadened from there;
it took off from there. A cousin brought in another cousin and
a husband brought in, after a while, his family, and so on and so

J: In your case, who in your family came to America first?

R: My father came to America in 1908 and we didn't come until 1921.

J: So your family managed to stay in Ostropol without your father's

R: I was practically a bread earner.

J: You went to work at a young age, I assume.

R: Yes, I did--thirteen or fourteen.

J: In 1921 did all of the family come or just one or two?

R: All of the family.

J: All at one time. And during the time that you waited, was your
father able to send any money home?

R: Yes. He sent money home only up to 1918, then he couldn't any more.

J: When he came to America in 1908, did he go to work in his trade?

R: Yes, he did.



J: He became a cabinet maker in America. When your family came
to America in 1921, how did all of you manage to fit into the
American scene? Was there any schooling for some of the children?

R: Yes, we went to night school. I worked in a textile store from
eight in the morning till ten at night. The only evenings I had
off was on Friday night. I got acquainted with a schoolteacher
and she gave me lessons in English for about an hour, and an
hour and a half every Friday evening.

J: Did any of the younger children enter school on a full-time basis?

R: Yes, my youngest sister went to public school. Then she made high
school in two years with the help of some of the teachers. They
liked her so much because she was a very good student. After
graduation my sister worked as a librarian in Newark. Then she
became acquainted with some people and she met her husband who was
about to graduate from the seminary as a rabbi and they were married.

J: Where did they go to live?

R: They started off in Waterbury, Connecticut as a rabbi and lived
there twelve or thirteen years. Then people from Indianapolis
asked them to come and to become their rabbi and so he did. He
died in 1960.

J: Now, did your children manage to get their educational needs?'

R: As you and I know, education comes before anything else in Jewish
life and I had a desire, the greatest desire, to have my children
educated. My eldest son, who is fifty-six now, is a civil engineer.
His name is Herman. My middle son is Aaron, he's a CPA. My youngest
son is a professor in Monclair State College in New Jersey.

J: What is his field?

R: English.

J: And his name is?

R: Morton.

J: So you go often up to visit the family?

R: Couple of times a year.

J: And grandchildren? How many?



R: I have two married grandchildren, both college graduates. The
girls that the boys married are college graduates also. My middle
son, Aaron, his oldest son,, just graduated from Princeton and is in
Columbia Law School and the second son,is in his second year in
Cornell. My third son, Morton, only has one boy. He is in his
last year of high school.

J: Do you often get visits from some of the family up north?

R: Yes, my eldest son, Herman, was here a month ago and he and
his wife bought a condominium in Royal Palm.

J: That's nice. How do you find living in Century Village with regard
to the domestic politics, one might say, of so many people and
having so many diversified interests?

R: I have my own interests and I'll let them have their own. It doesn't
inconvenience me at all.

J: I want to thank you, Saul, for this interview. It's very enlightening
and I'm sure it will make a valuable contribution.

R: Oh, you're welcome. It's a star in my cap. As I said to Rabbi
Bar Zev two or three years ago when I delivered that paper "Growing
Up Jewish in Ostropol" at Temple Bethel, you're making a star out of

J: Well, I'm sure that all of your achievements and your sons' and
grandchildren's are achievements to be envied by many people.

R: I hope so.