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Ruth Goldberg Oral History Interview, September 20, 1991

Oregon State University
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Judith Berlowitz: This tape was recorded in Corvallis on Sept 20, 1991. The interviewee is Ruth Goldberg. The interviewer is Judith Berlowitz. I understand that when you came to Corvallis in 1942, there were perhaps five other Jewish families here. I've read that -- well before I ask you that, can you remember who some of those people were?

Ruth Goldberg: Yes, that's the only thing I wrote down. The Fastens, the Friedmans, the Ellisons were all at the college. The Reicharts had a -- I think a cleaning store here, cleaning and dying or whatever, and they had two children 00:01:00that were at the college, taught, and then the Konicks, who had the jewelry store here in Corvallis. And in Albany was Sam Frager, that's the only one we knew, who had the furniture store there.

JB: You mean the only person you knew in Albany?

RG: Yes, the only one we knew of in Albany. And it is now, it's right as you come over the bridge going into Albany, it's McMahan's, it is now McMahan's. But Frager had it there for years and years and years.

JB: I'm a little bit unclear about the people that had two children. Were they of college age did you say or were they --

RG: They taught.

JB: They were teachers at the college, and their children were younger. Young children?

RG: I didn't know them, I only knew -- I knew the girl, Natalie Reichart and her brother, that taught, but I didn't know their families at all.


JB: Do you know where any of these families came from before they were here?

RG: Oh before they were here the Friedmans came from the middle west, I don't know exactly where. And Sarah Konick came from Portland; her husband, I do not know where he came from. He, the husband was European, I don't know where he came from. I don't know where the Fastens came from. And I don't know where the Fragers came from, no, I really don't.

JB: OK, so what brought you to Corvallis?

RG: World War II. My husband felt that we wouldn't win the war unless you were in it. So he volunteered. And he got his orders and he was sent to Camp Adair in 00:03:00Corvallis. And that's how we came here in 1942.

JB: And where did you come from?

RG: Chicago. We were both born, raised and married in Chicago.

JB: Did you have any children at that time?

RG: Yes, I have one daughter, and that was it.

JB: How old was she in 1942?

RG: She was about three or four.

JB: What's her name?

RG: Elaine.

JB: Oh. OK. Were you born in Chicago? And you grew up there too. Where did your husband serve during the war?

RG: Here.

JB: Oh he was here that entire --

RG: Oh no, no. He was here -- we were here for two years. Then he got his orders to go to France. And he was there for two years. And his office was running in 00:04:00Chicago for the entire time. He was a roentgenologist. That was before radiologists.

JB: I see. Did you mean in Chicago. You said his office in Chicago.

RG: Yes, when he came here, when he was sent here to the army, he got another roentgenologist to run his office. So it was running the entire time, it was open the entire time that he was here. And after two years, we were here for two years, and then he was sent overseas to France. And I decided that, I didn't go back to Chicago because I liked the West Coast, and I decided that if I went back to Chicago we would never locate here. And he had a license to practice in California cause he interned at the Los Angeles County Hospital. So he had a 00:05:00license, so we were going to settle in California. So when he came back from overseas, which was over two years, in 1946, we toured the West Coast, and one for the local doctors here made my husband an offer.

JB: He couldn't refuse?

RG: He couldn't refuse. He offered to give him his office space and to loan him an x-ray machine until he could get one. And the price was right, but my husband didn't have license to practice here, and he had to take the, I forget what you call it . . .

JB: Exam? Certification?

RG: I'll think of it. Well anyway, in the meantime, while we were here, we met 00:06:00the Friedmans. He was a professor of chemistry, and he's the one that tutored my husband in chemistry, because my husband had been out for a while, and chemistry was all together different.

JB: For this examination?

RG: Right, right. So Ben took the exam. He said, "I will take the exam here. If I pass it we'll stay. If I don't we'll go to California." Well needless to say, he passed it. And so he opened the first x-ray office in Corvallis, the first doctor. And one of the doctors told him he would never make a go of it here because every doctor had his own x-ray machine. And Ben said, if I can't make it as a roentgenologist, I will go back into general practice. It wasn't easy, but 00:07:00we made it.

JB: In x-ray?

RG: In x-ray. And he had a nurse in Chicago that stayed in Chicago working for the other doctor while he was overseas, and his nurse came out here to be with him, with her mother. And it was very nice.

JB: Did she stay with him for a number of years?

RG: She stayed with him until she got married and left, but she stayed with him for many years. And worked for him for practically nothing, because in the beginning, it wasn't very lucrative.

JB: Yes I understand. And the practice I suppose wasn't very large for a while.

RG: That's right. That's right. But it took time.


JB: It always does.

RG: Right.

JB: Well I understand that in 1943, which was the year after you got here, I read that Corvallis Jewish families hosted a [tape cuts out]. Do you remember that?

RG: Well we hosted many. Some were at Camp Adair and some were at our house. You see I can't remember what was at our house and what wasn't, but anything Jewish or pertaining to anything that was Jewish was at our house, because my husband instigated everything and anything. We had JA representatives always came to our house. We had Seders at our house. Every Sunday, service men came to our house 00:09:00and we made potato pancakes for them.

JB: Every week?

RG: Every Sunday. One would grate, one would peel. I fried. This was a long time ago.

JB: Yes! Well you had quite an extended family then. Were these servicemen here . . .

RG: There were maybe a half a dozen or so. All the Jewish servicemen, They were at Camp -- there were 95,000 soldiers at Camp Adair in the heyday. It was tremendous.

JB: I've seen the pictures at the Horner Museum, at the museum in Philomath, about Camp Adair in those days. But what I was asking you was, about how long did most of these servicemen stay here in service.

RG: Well until they were activated and then sent overseas, you see. They were 00:10:00all activated here and then they were sent to like Texas or somewhere, that's like my husband was sent to Texas and then on to overseas. I really don't know how long they stayed.

JB: That's OK. But you got to know these servicemen fairly well. Coming to your house every week. So they were here for a period of months?

RG: Yes, yes, maybe months. But then they also had dinners on various occasions at Camp Adair, and that's how I worked with Mrs. Sarah Konick and Sally Friedman. I can't remember if Selma was here, I don't know if she was in school or what. I can't remember her.

JB: When you said they had these affairs, you actually mean you as a group of 00:11:00Jewish people had for the servicemen. This did not stem from the service, it came from this Jewish community.

RG: Ah that I can't tell you, I don’t know. I don't know.

JB: But you were the ones that facilitated --

RG: Right. But we worked out there. We worked out there at the various dinners.

JB: We're talking about the Seder, which is a Passover celebration, and there were others that you're talking about.

RG: Yes, yes. The high holidays. They did have a, they did have a rabbi out there. In fact, I hear from him every year still . . .

JB: What was his name? Is his name, I should say.

RG: My goodness I forgot already. But I do hear from him every year. When you 00:12:00get to be my age you can't remember very well anymore. Kravitz! Rabbi Kravitz.

JB: He must be getting up in years.

RG: Yes, he's retired and he lives in Arizona.

JB: Oh that's wonderful!

RG: And I hear from him every year at the high holidays, he sends a card.

JB: So we talked about these early families, you named them off, and I wanted to ask you how you would describe the approach to Judaism that the various ones took. Were they observant, did they tend to be more orthodox or more reformed or somewhere in the middle, more conservative, would you say?

RG: Oh I don't think too many of them practiced. The only ones I would say were the Konicks, and the Fragers in Albany. But the others I don’t think they 00:13:00did anything Jewish until we came here, really, I don't think they did. Because I don't think they were interested.

JB: Well of course there being no formal organization --

RG: Right, could be, could be . . .

JB: And very little leadership --

RG: During that time, we used to -- Salem had a Jewish community. We went to Salem for the high holidays, that's about it.

JB: I think you've already answered this question, or I could . . . determine what the answer would be from the way you've described some of the activities here, but the question was, how did you feel being a member of such a small 00:14:00religious minority, having come from a large city. I imagine in Chicago, you were part of a very large group.

RG: Yeah, well, I didn't feel out of place at all, because we didn't live, when I was growing up, we never lived in the Jewish community. So we had friends both ways, and we knew we were Jews, and when we came here, that's the first thing we tried to contact. But we had no problems, no problems.

JB: Did any of the other families ever experience or sense prejudice against Jewish people during those early years?

RG: If they did, I don't know. I never felt any prejudices here . Now I know 00:15:00there's been hate mail around but I never got it.

JB: That's of a much later time, and we are really talking here about --

RG: What they said behind my back I don't know. But my husband was very much oriented into community affairs.

JB: I was going to ask you, how familiar did you find non-Jewish people with the basics of Judaism? Did people know what Jewish people did or what they were like, or did they have ideas about them? Non-Jewish people?

RG: Some asked, but not many. But not many. And that's about all I can say. But they all knew that whatever was coming, whoever was coming through, would come to our house. Or whatever, any Jewish holidays or anything like that would 00:16:00always be.

JB: So you're saying the non-Jewish people knew that you were headquarters as well as the Jewish --

RG: Right, right.

JB: Were you ever asked to explain Judaism to any groups or anything like that in a more formal way?

RG: I wasn't but my husband was. He once gave a speech, and I think I still have it, and he would say, "Being a Jew is a challenge, and I accept that challenge." He was quite a man. He's the best thing that ever happened to me!

JB: That's a wonderful statement to make, and while we're at it, I would love to borrow and make a copy of that speech, it belongs --

RG: I'm going to see if I --

JB: In the archives.

RG: Oh it's a beautiful speech. I shall look it up. I think I still, I know I have it, if I can find it.

JB: I'd appreciate it.


RG: He belonged to a . . . this is after we settled here, he belonged to a little group, they were known as the Dirty Dozen. They met, I think once a week, and there was another doctor, a Jewish doctor here, Dr. Krakauer, have you heard of him?

JB: No. Way back in the '40s now, perhaps?

RG: This is back in, no this was later, this was in the '50s. When the town was growing and new doctors came in. And Dr. Krakauer, he was from Harvard, very good doctor. Unfortunately he had a back injury and is not practicing anymore. But he and Ben and a few of the city fathers, the head of the GT [Corvallis Gazette Times] and I can't remember who all was in there, they would get 00:18:00together once a week and discuss the world's problems.

JB: And they were called . . .

RG: They were called the Dirty Dozen.

JB: Why did they pick that name?

RG: I don't know [laughs].

JB: Because they probably told it like it was. Was that informal organization in existence for a number of years?

RG: Yes it was, I think until my husband passed away. I think they met all the time. He was very interested in teaching people about Judaism and he was very well liked here. Very well liked. Besides being a very good doctor.

JB: I'm sure that's true. I've heard that many times. Let's talk a little bit about the religious education for the children. These people and other early 00:19:00settlers we'll call them. Until the establishment of the first Sunday school which was in '64, what happened with the kids?

RG: Now I don't know when the Orzechs came here, but he was instrumental in teaching Hebrew to the children. But the kids went to Salem. Salem -- they didn't have a -- I think in the beginning they didn't have a rabbi, but they had somebody there, I really don't know.

JB: Let's talk about Sunday school per se. Was there any Sunday school here for the kids?

RG: No. There were no Jews here!

JB: Well I'm talking about -- you came with your daughter, and there were these people that you mentioned -- did they have young children?

RG: The Friedmans had children but they were not interested. And the others -- I 00:20:00think the others had -- the Fastens, I think their children were grown, and the Ellisons didn't have any children. And the Fragers were from Albany, they . . .

JB: Do you remember some of the early efforts to educate young children? As the years went by and other people came and there were young children here. And this is before there was any kind of formal organizations.

RG: It think it was Orzech. I can't be sure but I think it was he.

JB: I understand that a Hillel chapter, a Jewish organization for students on campus, was established at OCE [Oregon College of Education, Monmouth] in 1948. What kinds of interaction occurred between Hillel members and this Jewish community?

RG: I can't remember. I can't remember what ever happened. But . . . There was a 00:21:00fellow who was head of Hillel for a long time. I don't know if it was -- I don't know who took on Hillel. I can't remember.

JB: Ellison, I think.

RG: Ellison, yes, that is true.

JB: Then as far as you know --

RG: We had nothing to do with --

JB: Then in those years there was not any close interaction at all with the Jewish students --

RG: No, I think the Ellisons, I think they used to have a few of the Hillel boys to their home. And he possibly used to talk to them at the school. But other than that I can't remember anything about Hillel.

JB: It seems that the Jewish people in Corvallis remained about the same for a number of years, the numbers is what I mean. When did the number of Jewish 00:22:00people begin to increase, do you know? Roughly?

RG: It just sort of creeps up on you, you know? I really don't know. I think the Orzechs and the Schecters and I can't remember, maybe a few more came. Then . . . Mimi Orzech was very instrumental in doing community things. She's the one that, I'm sure it was Mimi, who started a ladies, a women's organization here. And at first we were going to have B'nai B'rith, and I had some friends in Salem who were B'nai B'rithers, and I would have liked B'nai B'rith, but they wouldn't 00:23:00accept us because we didn't have enough, so we took Hadassah. And I can't remember but you must have that, when that --

JB: '64. But we're concerned here with prior to that. Somewhere between this small number of people here in the '40s and possibly a little later. There was an influx, I think, from what I've gathered, and I was just wondering if you remember that and if you know what caused that.

RG: I can't remember . . . it possibly was, school was growing and more Jewish professors, and then . . . well, it was later that the Israelis came, I think 00:24:00that was later. I can't remember, I really can't. I don't know. I don't know. The only thing is that year by year the town grew and more and more doctors came, but I can't remember what the influx of Jews were, when it started. I just don't know.

JB: As you look back on the years when the young Jewish community was very small and maintaining its identity despite the lack of a formal religious organization, what are your fondest memories of those years. Before Hadassah was established, before Beit Am was established.

RG: I think the fondest memories were, because there were so few Jews here at that time, and some of the faculty at the college, there was not too good 00:25:00relationships between them. So we found friction there.

JB: Are you talking about all Jewish people now? Faculty members?

RG: Yes. The Jewish faculty. Some of the Jewish faculty. Some of the names that I gave you. There was friction there. So . . . it was a little difficult. But we were friendly with all of them, but didn't see them too often. And at that time, my husband was establishing a practice, and there weren't too many Jewish people that we had contact with here in Corvallis.

JB: Can you describe if you don't mind, the nature of this friction? What caused 00:26:00this friction?

RG: I don't know. It was that way when we came in '42. This family didn't like this family, and . . .

JB: I just wondered if it was on personal grounds or if it was perhaps on religious grounds.

RG: No, no, I don't think it was religion at all. Because I don't think any of these families were religious. No, I think it was personal, it was personal. But we became very friendly with the Friedmans. They were a lovely, lovely couple. And after he died, and my husband passed away, she and I traveled all over the world for about 10 years straight. It was a very good relationship. And then she passed away.

JB: Sometimes one hears that there's a situation that's described as "town and 00:27:00gown," that the townspeople are one group and the university people or academic people are another group. Now I know there were not many Jewish people here who were not in some way connected with the university, but was there ever any feeling like that, well we're academics and we're over here, we're town people and we're over here?

RG: If there were, I don't know cause I didn't feel it, you see. But I'm sure there must have been. But I don't know. I don't know. We had no problems. There were certain things, certain organizations that didn't invite us, that I know. That I know. But other than that, why we had no problems at all.

JB: And to bring us full circle, we get back to the fact that Corvallis has been 00:28:00an ideal place for you to live. You've been very happy here, you said.

RG: I did a lot of civic work in the beginning. My husband was very --

JB: Tell me what.

RG: Well, Ben was very involved in the old hospital. The hospital that was located on Harrison Street. That used to be where the nursing home is, Heart of the Valley. First of all my husband was involved in changing their entry from one place to another, and that's way before they decided to build the new hospital. In fact when he died, they named a room after my husband, and when he passed away, the GT had a beautiful editorial. I still have it. And then --


JB: We'd like a copy of that too for the archives.

RG: Then --

JB: Excuse me one moment, tell me about this entry. He changed . . . he was instrumental in changing the entry. What was the issue there?

RG: One was on the . . . it was on the back of Harrison Street, the entry, I think. It was either one way or the other. Anyway he was instrumental in changing it from the back of Harrison to the front of Harrison. And my husband was very instrumental -- what's his name at the Episcopal, father . . . the original minister at the Episcopalian Church. See they later took over the 00:30:00hospital. My God I can't . . . Well I'll think of it. Anyway, my husband and he used to go to Portland to see the bishop, and there were many things pertaining to the hospital that my husband helped. Then when they decided to build the new hospital, or when they decided to remodel it, then he came to me and asked me if I would head the women's division. To collect money for the hospital. Isn't that terrible, I can't even think of his name. Well, whatever. So I worked at that for quite a while. Then I worked for the Red Cross for about 10 years. Then 00:31:00after that, why . . . now I'm playing!

JB: You're allowed.

[break in recording]

JB: Can you tell me any anecdotes of all those wonderful experiences you had?

RG: Well I can remember one Sunday when we were having our weekly pancake feed, and there were about six or eight of the enlisted men at our house -- only enlisted men, maybe one or two officers. When the doorbell rang and my husband answered and it was one of the enlisted men. I don't how he came to our house, but whatever, he came to our house and he shows my husband a gun, and he says to 00:32:00my husband, "I'm going to kill myself." Of course I didn't know anything about this, this was at the door. So my husband led him into the bedroom and closed the door and talked to him, and pretty soon the gun was on the bed, and he was in with the rest of us eating pancakes. Now what happened after that I can't remember, or I don't know, but that was quite an incident. I don't remember many like that.

JB: That's a very unusual happening. Not everyone undergoes anything quite like that! Well I understand that in 1947 there was a Jewish women's sewing group who made clothes for Israel. How did this come about?

RG: I can't remember who organized the group. It could have been Sarah Konick 00:33:00but I'm not sure. But we met and we sewed.

JB: Where did you meet?

RG: We met at different people's homes, and we sewed little garments for Israel. And I can't remember how long . . . I think we met once a month, but I'm not sure, and I don't remember how long that lasted, but we did sew little garments for Israel. For young children. Kimonos mostly. Possibly diapers, I'm not sure, but kimonos I remember. That's about it.