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Interview with Rae Ruscha, February 20, 1962, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Wisconsin Jewish Archives Oral Histories
Wisconsin Historical Society
summary Bill Marten interviews Rae Ruscha on February 20, 1962 at the Astor Hotel in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Ruscha discusses her childhood in Marinette, Wisconsin and attending the theatre with her mother. Rae also discusses her work as an adult with the Jewish Federated Charities. Rae also mentions the divide between German Jews and other Jews in Milwaukee.
accession number WSA0134
summary Bill Marten interviews Rae Ruscha on February 20, 1962 at the Astor Hotel in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Ruscha discusses her childhood in Marinette, Wisconsin and attending the theatre with her mother. Rae also discusses her work as an adult with the Jewish Federated Charities. Rae also mentions the divide between German Jews and other Jews in Milwaukee.
created 1962-02-20
Interviewee Rae Ruscha
Interviewer Bill Marten
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MARTEN: This is Bill Marten, [inaudible] Society of Wisconsin staff member and I
am in the Astor Hotel making a tape recording with Mrs. Rae Ruscha, Ruscha?
[inaudible] Mrs. Sigmund Ruscha. [inaudible] Okay. And she will give some
background information and some information pertaining, for the Wisconsin Jewish
Archive. The date is Tuesday, February 20th, 1962. [inaudible].
RUSCHA: [inaudible] Ready?
MARTEN: Ready.
RUSCHA: You asked me as to my birthplace, I was born in
Marinette, Wisconsin, on
November the 13, 1881. I spent all but the first five years in Milwaukee for
which I feel a deep affection. When the disreputable Northwestern depot had
enjoyed a face lifting I could not have been more thrilled had it been my own
physiognomy so benefited. Milwaukee Jewry in its overwhelming German population
where the essential language taught in school was German....We were not given
permission as to what particular courses to take, but German was absolutely
necessary. Now here's the early experience with intolerance in my own family.
Grandmother lived with us. Uh,
she felt a cold disdain for my father whose only
crime had been his falling in love with a young girl born in Green Bay,
Wisconsin. Father was a true gentleman, the very essence of kindness, devotion
and refinement. He had come, and now I speak of major catastrophe, from Poland
at the mature age of eleven; gone directly to his brother in Green Bay; and
years later married my mother. Grandmother regarded me as a mongrel, tainted
with mixed blood. To this day the sight of rounded white peppermint candy brings
back the memory of Grandmother hiding this delectable sweet from my longing
sight. [long pause] No obituary could have
brought more comfort to a frigid
grandchild for it meant a wonderful peace and deep love of my parents completely restored.
We were never people of wealth, but the modest comforts of simple living were a
priceless possession. Even an only child, I was taught the value of assuming
responsibility in, in home preparations. A familiar phrase from my mother, "It
is important to become a fine cook. If you marry a wealthy man your servants
will respect you for your competent management. Should you marry a poor man, it
will certainly be necessary." Mother loved the theater and I was with her at all
times. The result was an opportunity to see and hear the great artists which
even the present has
not proven of any finer talent. There was however a
mistaken conception that great sopranos and contraltos in order to give of their
best must have huge girth of chest and bosom. And when these Amazons strode on
the stage to pour forth their volumes of sound, we knew, or felt that we knew,
perfection had been reached. Tetracini, huge in girth, poured forth a Niagara of
liquid gold. The stage crew had a tolerant eye to ever deploy, for calories was
a word practically unknown, or at least not the prevailing subject of interest
it has now become.
I recall the absorbing play of Sappho. The heroine in a tempestuous love scene
is carried up a staircase into what was then assumed to be the worse than death
of the virgin maid. As the hero, gasping for breath, labored under the weight of
the buxom lass, I pondered as to whether it was intense passion- or the fear
that he could not make it with the weight of his beloved. The play Camille was
dear to our hearts and the deathbed scene in the center of the stage left us in
a state of sobbing grief over the woes of the adored Armand. Here too, the
heroine showed definitely an incorrect diagnosis of the attending physician. The
impending demise may have been caused by the fatty excess, near the heart, but
never by consumption.
thoroughly comfortably financed family was without a piano, so that the
dubiously talented daughter would achieve a musical education. And dreary were
some of the social evenings in which bored guests were expected to exude
enthusiasm while their eyes were secretly glued to the hopeful hour when it
would be polite to leave. Books were essentials in homes; they represented
culture, though I hesitantly express my thought and doubt that some of the books
were suspiciously new and with uncut pages. A juvenile delinquent was
incorporated in the Oliver Twist of Dickens. And the love of Robert Browning
plus the devotion of the grave Rochester for Bronte's Jane Eyre is ever with me.
Mother's affection for Rochester and Jane Eyre was everlasting and the first
snowfall would bring the familiar request, "Rae, tonight is fine for Jane Eyre."
Since I have read it aloud nine consecutive years, I felt distinct resentment
when the family of Jane Eyre was listed without inclusion of my name. Here in
Milwaukee we had a Gaiety Theater on Third Street to which bright young blades
were devilish enough to attend. By this time girls were riding bicycles and had
almost lost their sense of modesty by appearing in bloomers. Rouge and lipstick
were taboo and only the demi-monde made use of these that's
as far as [inaudible].
MARTEN: Huh? [inaudible].
Will you just carry on from there? [inaudible].
RUSCHA: you want to [inaudible]?
RUSCHA: Well now I hadn't written any more.
MARTEN: Well that's okay with me, carry on from there, do you have
approximates date from this theatre activity?
RUSCHA: Well those I would have to look up.
MARTEN: [inaudible].
RUSCHA: Well I didn't know you wanted it to be [inaudible].
MARTEN: No I think we might as well move on, [inaudible]. Just recall some of
the things, along the same lines as we were talking this morning.
RUSCHA: Well, by this time now I know it's not being heard and I don't
want it to be heard. Uh, [laughs] by this time I think I had written some of the
interesting things that took place in my youth. [inaudible]. If this is all that
you wanted I can add some more [inaudible]. You know what [inaudible] is
don't you? Nonsense.
Well, the rest of it doesn't have to be written out.
RUSCHA: Well, I think I could talk to you about the [inaudible]. Now let me see
where did I finish here. The demi-monde made use of these nefarious [long pause]
instrument of the wicked. [long pause].
I've given you just a brief outline of what my youth really meant. It was the,
there was an exciting stage where the streetcars were done away with completely
and the excitement that ensued when this formidable
car, the automobile, came
into existence. We were certain that it would result in wholesale death for all.
But to our utter amazement it became popular in a very short time, and the death
of the horse was eminent. I was always secretly grieving for the birds which not
by this time had begun a definite feast of their rich larder. Now I don't
know whether you want that in cause you know the elimination [inaudible]. You
know the elimination of the horse meant that our birds were always feasting.
[laughter]. Anyone who was alive at that time knows what it meant.
And now you want me to speak in terms of I think American Jewry. Is that what
you'd like?
MARTEN: [inaudible].
RUSCHA: Milwaukee Jewry. Uh huh. Well, let us go into Milwaukee Jewry. I speak of this
because I am so thoroughly familiar with that. Milwaukee has been known as the
Berlin of America. There was a tremendous surging in of German people here to
our community, not necessarily Jewish, non-Jewish as well. And the result was
that all relatives who came to the United States, if
there were any of their
relatives located here in Milwaukee and there usually were, they made it their
business to come here since it brought a bit of nostalgic longing and happy
meeting with some of the relatives. I can truly say that in many cases it was
not always happy for the residents here in Milwaukee. But those who came from
foreign lands did feel a certain comfort in this closeness. [to Marten] You want
to turn this off?
MARTEN: No, I have to keep checking the volume just to make sure that it [inaudible].
RUSCHA: Oh, got it. Now up until the time when this dreadful scourge came to,
from Russia and our Jews were obliged to leave - those who could without having
been caught in this
crucible of horror - there was largely a matter only of
German Jews. Comparatively few of the Eastern Jews thought about Milwaukee as a
homeland to which they would be most comfortable. But after this frightful
slaughter, our Eastern Jew came in fairly large number.
Strangely enough, there was what we termed then an east and west side and the
German Jew, clinging to the east side of Milwaukee, maintained a rather
living there. And the Western Jew, because the rent was cheaper, and the few who
had congregated were on the west side, naturally sought their friends and
neighbors. There was a bridge separating the east from the west side and it was
more than a bridge - it seemed to be a city divided. The German Jew, however,
was ready to come on as the very kind patron. That was the attitude, not as
friend, but grand ladies and patronesses. And so there was this line of
demarcation which was quite
apparent, the German Jew reveling in doing kind
things for the unfortunates. And the unfortunates accepting it, but what was in
their hearts was another matter. Whether there was resentment or not, I know
not. I am strongly suspicious, there must have been. We had a rabbi. Rabbi
Victor Carroll, whose English was so well inundated with German that anything
that he might say would have the rich inflection of a rather badly slaughtered
English. And he made the statement that until the bridges were
torn down there
would never be a real understanding and get-togetherness of the German and the
Eastern Jew.
However as the years went on, it was amazing to see how quickly the Jew of
Polish and Russian extraction assumed leadership, particularly for the charities
that were at a rather low [inaudible] at that time. At a rather low [long pause]
ebb, ebb, at that time.
MARTEN: You said you didn't want to give too many dates. Do you know the
approximate date on..
RUSCHA: No I would have to look these things up because it'd only
be a
guess. But I would be glad to look them up and let you know before this
[inaudible] [long pause].
Marten: [inaudible]. Can you speak of the charitable work?
Ruscha: Oh yes. I can recall quite distinctly that when we would be approached
annually to give to these charities, few of us said no; but five and ten dollars
for those of the middle class and a hundred and two hundred were considered very
nice sensible gifts. I shudder to tell you how many fives filled the notes
there. A man by the name of Nat Stone made his
home here in Milwaukee. He became
the part-owner of the Boston Store here and it was really he who brought us, I
believe, to an understanding of what real giving meant - the really truly, not
the little fives and tens with those of wealth feeling that one and two hundred
was sufficient. But he gave generously and we learned from him. This may be
argued rather bitterly by some of our old residents, but I still am sold on the
great good that Nat Stone brought to our community and the education that he was
capable of giving us in the art of giving to those less fortunate.
MARTEN: So was he a director of the Federated?
RUSCHA: All he became is president.
MARTEN: He was the president?
Yes, of the Federated Jewish Charities. [inaudible].
MARTEN: Um, does it develop in any kind of chronological order to go from the
Federated Jewish Charities [inaudible].
RUSCHA: Up to this time I think it has been, now you want me to go into this
matter of the old home?
MARTEN: Yes, and if you could give us some of your reminisces on Liz Kander?
RUSCHA: Oh yes.
MARTEN: And also [inaudible].
RUSCHA: Yes, yes.
We had what I term a grand lady in the helpfulness of Lizzie Kander. Lizzie
Kander. K-A-N-D-E-R. She was a woman who was very helpful at the time of these
pogroms and while here lent only the kindest help to the women who fled
this horrifying experience. It was she who started this school, this class I
should say, of teaching Americans, the English language, to the newly acquired
Americans who had come and immediately took, as soon as they were able, the
necessary understanding so as to become residents of our community. [inaudible]
[laughter]. No, [inaudible]. [long pause]. [inaudible]. You asked whether there
were waves of our people coming into this community. That was true largely
following the devastating horrifying things which happened in Russia. Then there
would be this crowding into our land in the hope of getting something out of
their stricken
lives. But by and large, until the advent of Hitlerism, we did
not notice any overwhelming groups coming in. However, Mrs. Kander still had,
[spells Kander again], still brought about probably the most feeling for these
people who had come over and who were so utterly away from our American mode of
living. She started these Americanization classes and most of them were
captained by teachers who were in a position to be of some service.
RUSCHA: In attendance upon one of these classes, I was tremendously interested by the
teacher who was trying to give them simple words starting with one syllable and
her word. When she said "fruit" it was immediately identified by an enthusiastic
student as "frucht"as she called it with a gutteral "ch." And then they went on
to "gross" as it was given and then another pupil raising her hand in a great
deal of enthusiasm was able to give us the information that "gross" meant
and that meant everything to her. And then came the stickler which almost
floored the group and that was "wig," another one-syllable word. This brought
about extreme concern. And the brows became furrowed in their intense desire to
acquire the right phrase for it. One woman apparently was able to make the
grade, and wild with enthusiasm, she nodded and placed her-hand gingerly upon
her head and said in a loud and long voice, "Chaipelle." And then there was
another acquired word which
had been completely foreign to them at the time.
A play was given. At that play Mrs. Kander invited - to this day I will never
know what brought on that unheard of audience - but she decided that some of our
non-Jewish presidents of various organizations should attend. And one woman was
a Mrs. Holbrook who was one of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Mrs.
Kander asked me to sit next to her since questions might be asked. Our women
were entirely absorbed in making of themselves the Sarah Bernhardts of the stage
and so they brought forth this
tragic story. It might have come from the
Shakespeare Romeo and Juliet for the story was in measure something of the
unhappiness of the unhappy, more than unhappy Romeo and Juliet. And as the rich
Yiddish was poured forth into the completely strange ear of Mrs. Holbrook she
turned to me with her voice in just a tremble with excitement and emotion and
said, "Isn't that a magnificent play?" To this day I wonder what in the world
she could get out of that play since not one word of English was spoken nor
German, but all the rich Yiddish. I'm equally certain that Mrs. Holbrook hadn't
the remotest
idea of what it was all about.
MARTEN: [inaudible].
RUSCHA: To your answer as to whether I was active no I really wasn't. I was
interested tremendously in the cookbook which she practically wrote and rewrote
again and again and it proved to be a tremendous moneymaker for the settlement,
at that time located on the upper west side. From this settlement money - which
we may thank Mrs. Kander for having the thought of this remunerative idea - a
really very substantial sum accrued and was the basis for the purchase of the
large settlement house which later was brought into being on the east side. And
even to this day has now become a place which I am sure you will enjoy seeing.
It is now located just a few blocks from us. It is truly a magnificent
remembrance of the goodness of Mrs. Kander, but it serves quite a different purpose.
Inasmuch as there are not many children coming from Europe at this time, the
entire picture has changed; and their efforts to keep away from the slums no
longer seem necessary. They are largely decent law-abiding citizens and they
come too - those few young people are mostly residents
of the east side where
our present place is housed, our present center is housed. The whole picture has
changed in these last fifteen-twenty years. Now you want me to speak a little
bit about something which has been of intense interest to me. At the terrifying
time of the catastrophe which happened to our co-religionists in Europe when
this beast Hitler came into being, we here, though many of us did not have any
relatives in Europe, were so horrified, so terrified by what had happened to our
people that each city I
believe - I know Milwaukee had a fairly modest amount
appropriated so that those people who came from Germany, from Europe, from
Poland, and oh so many from the different beautiful cities -of Europe where they
had enjoyed only the very finest came here with scarcely more than the clothing
on their backs. It was amazing to see what remarkable people came to our
community and the courage with which they were able to accept the horrors that
had befallen them and take hold of life again.
At that time I was asked to assume the leadership there
because of my knowledge
of German probably and perhaps because those who were with me felt my deep
interest. It was more than deep; it was an interest by which a crushed heart
wanted to be with these men and women. We received, and I was put in charge then
of those who came. We received little brochures telling us of those expected to
arrive, giving us a brief history of the types of people they were. And I would
drive down to the depot and meet them. It was odd how this colorful little
brochure insured my knowledge of those who arrived. I was almost, almost certain
to address the people as they came in. These men and
women, many of them
professional people, people of fine,fine mental stature, would bring their young
folks. At that time I had a very good friend who was interested and was a member
of the Board of Education and I would take my young people to her and it was she
who would suggest into what classes they might fit. The men and women had little
money, almost none, and our own amount was - I must tell you - was deplorably
inadequate to give these people the proper care they should have had, the proper
surroundings they should have had. It was temporary until they could become
self-supporting. It had to be. In many
instances it was too permanent, for it
would last several years and that should not have been. But positions were hard
to acquire, they were inadequate to support them until such time as they could
take care of themselves. And they did a beautiful job of it in many ways.
To show you the great interest I want to quote a professor in one of the great
hospitals came to our midst. His name was known to some of our people who had
studied because he had become one of their fine professors. We at once secured
work for him, but it was of the wrong type of
work, and he suffered and we did.
And then one of our fine doctors - oh, such a fine man - who is still with our
Mount Sinai hospital. Yes, uhm [inaudible], he is now the head of the
[inaudible.] Dr. Norbert Enzer, was deeply interested in this man. I do not know
that he had ever met this Professor Simon before, but he was interested and the
amount of money which apparently the hospital - whether they were able to give
it or whether they were unwilling to give it, I know not - but I do know that
Dr. Enzer who had a very fine physician
there said, "Let me take Dr. Simon with
me. Professor Simon. I will share my salary with him because we will be the
richer for his presence." And this gives you an idea of the feeling of the heart
that went with it. Now it was necessary at that time for Dr. Enzer to give up
his salary but he did so.
[inaudible conversation with other woman]. [long pause].
At this time, Dr. Enzer as he was at that time, the chief pathologist of Mount
Sinai and he felt that in giving up of his salary, part of his salary, he would
be the great gainer by having the privilege of Dr. Simon's great
knowledge which
had been so fearfully disturbed in the cataclysm that had swept over them all,
over all these German people of such wide knowledge. [inaudible conversation]
[laughter] [long pause].
Of the people who came to our community, a New Home
Club was organized. Here
they met, here they discussed their problems, and a Dr. Bointler who was one of
the earlier residents to come to our community was deeply interested and gave of
his services unsparingly, and I needn't say with a minimum financial return. I
have in mind something rather humorous that I think might be of interest to you.
This New Home Club entertained at a banquet and I was given the honor of a
special Invitation to avail myself of the joy of meeting again with these
residents whom I had grown to know and to love. Dr. Bointler was my dinner
companion, and as we sat there many of my friends, as I say whom I had grown to
love deeply came surging toward me. I have not a very good memory and I was very
much embarrassed to think that I could not recall some of their names. And I
turned to, oh, Dr. Bointler turned to me and said with his rich German accent,
"Ah, Mrs. Ruscha, how these people all love you. It is beautiful to see." And I
said, "Well, perhaps they share and understand my deep affection for them. But I
said, "Dr. Bointler, it truly is an embarrassing thing - I do not recall the
names." "Ah yah, well you must do what I did and maybe then you can remember
names. When they come to me, and you know they was all people without money but
that did not make any difference, they were my people. When they come to me they
said 'Ah, Dr. Bointler, [inaudible]' I didn't know the names and I wanted to and
I said, 'All right, now you go in the other room. You take down your shirt and I
will come in and I will listen to your heartbeats, I will use the instruments
and thus I take them up. Now you will tell me. Breathe deeply. Now tell me your
name.' And they put that [inaudible] in the stethoscope. In that
way they came
and they would say their names and I would know that." So from that day forth I
always begrudged the fact that I did not own a stethoscope nor know how to make
use of it. [inaudible] [long pause].
Some of our younger men had had experience as young physicians, had been
attorneys-at-law; truly it was not an ignorant group. I beg you to believe they
were men and women who had lived well, who had studied well, and who would make
a tremendous contribution to our community in every way if but given the chance.
I recall one
man who had been a fairly competent attorney; I imagine so because
he came with such an excellent background. In reading in our brochure, I could
see the man had come from a very fine family. Jobs were becoming less and less
plentiful and there came a time when the effort to secure a position or a job of
any kind was of the most tremendous importance to them. They did not want to
accept our checks which we gave. Many were the bitter tears that were given at
my desk as they were heartbroken in this need to accept that which we gave. And
my only comfort to them
was "How can you feel that we shall not give you when,
were the conditions reversed and we were so placed how wonderful you would be to us."
This one young lawyer, found it practically impossible to find any sort of a job
which would help him and his family. And actually I hesitate now to say that one
of the "positions" - I do not dare to call it by the dignity of "position" was
this work of being on a truck to select hides and skins in the country. He,
knowing nothing of that particular type of work. Now he is with us. He has just
written a beautiful letter to me in which I had
written of my grief at hearing
of his father's death. And now he has such a wonderful work in which he is doing
that which he has loved. He has become a very prosperous, an exceedingly
prosperous, insurance man and he ... this is one of the many, oh so many, that I
can point out to you where they have come into their own, but the years of
suffering nevertheless have left a lasting mark; and I marvel at the wonder of
the human family, that such suffering can be endured and so completely
eliminated apparently in the realization that life after all is good and is of
some value.
MARTEN: How did you go about finding jobs for these people? Broadcast public appeals?
I would just call up men I knew who were in the business world,
don't you know, and I would say, "Look, we have a man here who's singularly
gifted. Now do something for me. He is gifted in this respect. He will know
something of this work." You see, so many of them were people who hadn't done
much work. They were educated men and women and they had studied. Now this man's
wife of whom I speak, knew a great deal of the study of chemistry. Now I got
this remarkable job in the Reed concern, which is the second largest concern of
its kind here in the Middle West here. They hadn't branched out as a large
concern has; it's been more or less of a
small firm. But immediately he took
this young woman on because she understood it. Now that brought her into
something she herself loved to do and was a great help to her until her husband
was able to get into his own work [inaudible] at the hospital. But in many
instances, oh they had to take such inferior jobs and don't forget that with the
doctors - my dear, I don't want to make this public, but our doctors very much
objected to their coming into the city; because we had, and you can understand,
we had young men your age who had to come into their own and it was taking
things away from them.
But the help that I had from the businessmen was very fine. Everyone seemed to
want to be of some assistance. There were a few who disliked it and thought that
they were infringing on their
lives, but that was something we could not help.
May I go on? One matter which came to my attention and which brought me
never-ending joy was the fact that we had an old people's home here and I am
ashamed to tell you I knew less than nothing of it. It was still during the time
when the line of demarcation between the German Jew and the Jew of Polish or
Russian background was a matter of more than a little importance, and the more
or less financial assistance which could be given by the
Orthodox Jew was fairly
limited. The time came when we felt that this home was not what it should be in
view of the fact that the funds were limited, that those who felt so deeply for
it were not financially in a position to give a great deal. And it was then that
Benjamin Glassberg, who at that time was the head of the Federated Jewish
Charities came to us and suggested that perhaps we could, by giving a bit more
generously than we had ever done before, be of some service in building a home
which would reflect to the credit of the Milwaukee
Jewry, regardless of its
Orthodoxy or of its Reform attitude. The line of demarcation was so tightly
drawn and they could get no man apparently to head the drive which was essential
in putting up a home of the kind we had in mind.
In sheer desperation they turned to me, not because they felt I was gifted, I
assure you, but because of my willingness to be of some service. And in the
absence of a Jewish leader of the masculine gender, they came to the woman whose
success they rather anticipated with some degree of question. I don't hesitate
to tell you I questioned
that as much as they did. However, in the absence of
the right kind of leadership, I accepted the task. Something happened then which
rarely takes place in a community where there is this line of demarcation. There
seemed to be an upsurge of willingness of the Reformed Jew and the Orthodox Jew
to get together. I do not know what could have caused this tolerant
understanding. I have never been able to understand how it happened, but in some
miraculous manner the Orthodox Jew worked with the Jew of Reformed Judaism with
an affection and a tolerance and an enthusiasm that had
never been manifest in
Milwaukee before. To what it can be attributed I know not. That I was the
magnificent gainer thereby is one of the things which will ever be a source of
tremendous joy and satisfaction to me.
And even now at my eightieth year, I am grateful to the powers that be for
having given me the opportunity of bringing these two factions together at a
time when kosher food, when the observance of the Jewish holidays to the
Orthodox Jew was everything that was important. The so-called German Reform Jew
was looking upon it with dubious belief, yet here we were all
united in one
common effort - the effort to bring about this old home which would prove to be
strictly kosher in its background, strictly kosher in its table, Orthodox in any
way so that it might bring the complete source of comfort to the Jew who was
accustomed to living in that manner, yet tolerant of the point of accepting the
Jew who had but little background of Orthodox Jewry, no background, and not
tormenting each other with a tolerant understanding that here were the aged who
would live together with some degree of comfort.
We were particularly fortunate in the people selected for the building of this
home. We were particularly fortunate in the selection
when the home was put up
in having wise choice in the men and the women who were at the helm. And I can
tell you now that it is a building - I want to digress here just long enough to
tell you that of course you now receive much aid from the government, a
tremendous amount of aid from the government, the city, the city - no I think
it's the city government - I don't know, it must be, it must be of the Country
because the amount involved is so large. [inaudible]. And that there is a
general feeling that our old home ranks among the finest in the Middle West. Of
that I am deeply proud. I
have learned to know the Jew of Orthodox background.
I've learned to know of the fineness, the tolerance, the understanding, and the
acceptance of Reform and Orthodox Jewry in all its best connotation. [long
pause]. Well, is there anything more that I? I don't think I've omitted any.
MARTEN: You care to describe the home before you started the work there?
RUSCHA: I wouldn't dare. You see, so many of the children are still alive, the
daughters, the sons of these men and women [inaudible].
[inaudible]. It is up to you.
RUSCHA: Mhm Mhm. Perhaps I should speak a bit more fully of the great
understanding of Reform and Orthodox Jewry as it exists here in Milwaukee. I
believe truly that we who did come of the Reform element have grown to know and
love and deeply respect those of Orthodox background. Perhaps our association
together of the home itself, the home for the aged Jew itself, has made us not
only more understanding, but educated us to the knowledge that we Jews are a
family. Right now we have two women's organizations, one composed largely
of those of Orthodox background, one composed of those who knew little of the
more dedicated Jew. When I say more dedicated, I mean the Jew whose life is
completely understanding of that which they regard as valuable. This younger
generation is composed largely of the men and women who so struggled in the
beginning to make of this home something for which we would all be glad to be a part.
I still remember the time when the people who came to us and
thought that we
would not ruin this home because of our lesser knowledge of Orthodoxy. I still,
remember them as coming dedicated with love and tenderness, who would go from
store to store - to the butcher's to ask for donations of chickens, to the
bakers who would promise - and many of them in modestly circumstance - who would
promise to take care of the order for the breads that were essential. When they
promised to take care of the order many of them I assure you had very meager
payment. But it was all done with a spirit of helping to make our aged people a
more comfortable and I do with pride want to say that where I was privileged
to serve on the admissions committee, those who were without funds of any kind,
were given thought and acceptance more readily, more quickly than those who were
able to pay. And those we did exact payment of, because the home was largely, in
fact it was entirely maintained by memberships and those who were considerate
and desirous of helping us in other ways. It was then essential for those who
took us into their homes, to uh took us into our home, took them into our home,
[to Marten] how you gonna do this? [long
pause]. Oh, who took them into our home
to exact payment when they had that with which to give us. Because the sons and
daughters of some of these parents were well able to help us and we did expect it.
But the first consideration, I repeat with great pride, were given those totally
unable to furnish us with anything but their heartfelt desire to enter our home.
I feel at this time that I should tell you that we have had marvelous
cooperation from Mount Sinai hospital. We had always three rooms put aside for
those of our guests, our residents, who felt, who were ill and who really had to
have expert medical care. I do not recall of any time when Mount Sinai Hospital
was not in readiness to accept our more desperately ill cases and gave it the
very best kind of attention. This is something which fills us with an
everlasting feeling of gratitude, deep, deep gratitude for the beautiful help
which was accorded us at all times. The home now, you know, is maintained
largely by the state and we do receive beautiful sums to keep our aged well
cared for both physically and mentally.
There is so much help given. Even a
young group of largely the daughters of those who had been there many years,
came with the offer to start a beauty parlor, giving of their time and
attention. This may seem of very little importance, but to us, we women who are
never-ending in our desire to improve our appearance a bit - sometimes I must
say it does no good but we still aspire to do it. These people have had these
visitors come, these young women come; beautiful care is given them. The hair is
cared for. The skin is cared for. There is so much that is given to make their
lives a success, even a success I mean mentally. Uh, a chiropodist comes every
week so that the feet shall be more comfortable and well cared for. We have a
physician on hand at all times to give attention to our aged folk and altogether
I think if one is prevented for some reason or another from starting a home of
their own, or living with loved ones - and very often that is not at all
feasible - I think our old home should answer the need of those who try so hard
to make them more comfortable and happier.
It is a little difficult for the young to become enthusiastic
about a home for
the aged. It seems so terribly remote; and good it is, that that is true. There
is nothing particularly fascinating about the home for the aged. It is the
matter of seeing the fine, many times good minds grow into a partial senility,
into the sadness of watching the human stature becoming little more than a
bedridden tragic piece of human lying there. There is nothing that has no
element of romance in it, nothing that can attract the
young, and I tell you
very frankly were I a young person I think I would definitely be a bit harassed
by the thought of becoming a part of that which is so distant from my life. As
it is, I am all sympathy and all understanding; however, I could weep for the
fact that youth is such a part of the past, and that I can only sit and drool
with joy when I note the happiness and the delight of young people. [inaudible].
MARTEN: Why don't I hold the microphone and you just talk to me?
You're talking in the microphone I haven't seen you all afternoon.
RUSCHA: Well my dear, I'm
known to be thrilling. You ready?
RUSCHA: The Federated Jewish charities which represented the complete giving at
that time to all organizations in need of funds had a rather interesting
experience, had many interesting experiences. I recall distinctly one event
which might be of interest to those who knew Dr., uhm, Rabbi Schoenfeld
intimately. He was one of our very fine Orthodox rabbis, held in tremendous
esteem by all who-knew him. He had written many books. He was a patriarch in
every sense of the
word and even those of us who knew little of Orthodox Jewry
were convinced and esteemed and deeply devoted to this man of God. He was a
member of the Board of the Federated Jewish Charities which I served for many
years, and I recall one instance which has always seemed to me to be the very
gist of the art of giving and the appreciation thereof. One of our deeply
respected residents had passed on to the great beyond. He was a man of some
means, not according to present day understanding of wealth, but at that time we
felt that he was a very reputable citizen, one deeply respected and whose
opinion meant
much. In his passing he left what was termed even, in those days,
an extremely modest sum to our Federated Jewish Charities.
And shortly, and when he died several of our members of our board who had loved
this man and respected him for his knowledge and his education felt that a great
deal of attention should be paid his passing, all the affection which many of us
felt for the departed should be voiced. At that time one of our members got up
and he was a natural born speaker and he was carried away by the loss of this
man. And he said, "We must take into full account the passing of so and so and I
feel that all the attention in the world should be given. I suggest that we
place his name surrounded by this black frame, this dark frame, in our brochure
which gives to all an understanding of what is being given by our people." Up to
this time Rabbi Schoenfeld had taken no part in this enthusiasm which we all
seemed to share. He had a little habit, a blessed little German habit of
prefacing his sentences by "Well" with an inflection quite high. He would say
again "Well, well" and then go on with the point that, he was about to bring
forth. He arose and said, "Well, what was the amount given by the departed?"And
an extremely modest sum was given at the time, whereupon Rabbi Schoenfeld again
standing, as this fine patriarch always brought so much respect whenever he
stood up, said, "Well, well that amount of money is so very small,
well, if we
give that publicity - well, it will hurt so that the people will say, well, well
if so and so gives this much then well let us not give anything at all and
everything will be spoiled. I think, Mr. President - well, well, it would be
very much better if we said nothing at all about it." Is that alright?
MARTEN: Yes, that's very good.
RUSCHA: Well, that's all there is of that. If you want me just give a little
finale to it I would say that
MARTEN: Sure, that's fine with me then I think.
RUSCHA: It gave us a more complete understanding of how extremely important for
those who were
able to donate to our charities and gave rather gingerly, it gave
us a different understanding of the word charity. I believe we all profited by it.
MARTEN: Do you run into the cases where the person who's originally received
charity now gets [inaudible].
RUSCHA: Yes, in a number of instances in reply to your question, I can tell you,
my dear, that some of our present leaders, not many, but a few of our present
leaders have risen to such affluence, and good it is that I can say that, and
have become magnificent donors, their names enshrined in some of our
institutions so that it will not be forgotten, and have more than repaid the
pathetically small amount given at that time.
MARTEN: [inaudible].