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Interview with Margie Goldstein

Goldstein, Margie
Date of Interview: 
anti-Semitism; Jews and Charlotte; Jews and the South; Yom Kippur War; Zionism; volunteerism and Jewish community; Jewish education; Jews and blacks; discrimination; civil rights movement; school desegregation; integration; racism; white supremacy groups
In this interview, Margie Goldstein shares her experiences as a Jew in Charlotte, North Carolina. She was always involved in various Jewish organizations and has recently renewed her volunteering as a result of a trip to Israel. She praises Morris Speizman for his leadership in the Jewish community and encourages young Jews to emulate him. She also touches on her efforts to keep the older Jews involved in the community. She talks about the lack of Jewish education among the young members of the community and says that education will lead to more enthusiasm in their heritage. She feels that stronger rabbinical leadership will encourage this education and revitalize the community. She also discusses the Charlotte Jews' lack of support for blacks during the 1950s and 60s and feels that their neglect was a result of fear of the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacy groups.
South Carolina, prior to 1952; Charlotte,1952-1992
Interview Setting: 
Jewish Community Center, Charlotte, NC
Charlotte Jewish Historical Society Collection
Collection Description: 
Charlotte Jewish Historical Society Collection
Interview Audio: 
IV: Well we'd like to welcome you and thank you for coming today. Please tell us your name and when and why you came to Charlotte?
MG (Margie Goldstein): My name is Margie Goldstein. I came in January of '52. And my husband came here to go to work in a small town in Mt. Holly, which is about twelve miles from here, in his family's business. And we've loved our choice.
IV: What are some of your earliest memories of being here in Charlotte?
MG: Well my first memory of--. [Laughter] Actually I have a little bit of memory from behind that. The way I met my husband was at Temple Israel at a dance. I came here as all Jewish kids did throughout the South. They went to wherever there was a Jewish activity. And I came here and met my husband, never realizing that eventually I would live here. But my first early memories of Charlotte was of a community that if you were willing to work and willing to do things within the community, the arms were opened to you and you were welcomed into doing that. I had been an activist, a Jewish activist, even at a very early age. And so therefore it was a very easy transition for me. And the women made it particularly the women of Hadassah of Temple Israel welcomed me with open arms. Made it very easy.
IV: Were there any other Jewish organizations that you were particularly active in?
MG: No. I was only interested in--my first big interest was Hadassah because I'm a Zionist and then, Temple Israel because I feel very strongly about the synagogue. Those were the ones that I became interested in. And I--, couple of years after I moved here B'nai Brith Women began and I was the founding first vice president. Rosa Weinstein was the president of the first B'nai Brith Women's chapter that was here.
IV: Hadassah is a Zionist organization. Did, did you find many people in Charlotte interested in Zionism when you first came here or talking about it?
MG: Well I think, you know, the 50s were, the early 50s, were not that many years after Israel's independence. And I think the women were very charged up with raising money for Israel even in a very small way. And Hadassah was much more active and viable than it is today. Yes, I think so. I think the core of women were extremely active at that time. And besides, and, and within the Temple also the community was so small that you all, you felt such a part of it. You were not estranged if you didn't want to be.
IV: To what do you attribute the lesser importance Zionism seems to be playing today?
MG: Do you really want my answer? Yeah, you really do? OK. I'll give it to you. I think one of the things that have weakened the feeling for Zionism is intermarriage. I think that the people that are born Jewish and have learned about Zionism and Israel in their homes from birth, naturally have a, a greater feeling for the intensity of a Jewish state. And then I think that, I think the lack of education, a lack of Jewish education in the home for many young people have made them less inclined to give of themselves to, to a cause like Zionism. I think there are other things. When we were young we didn't care so much about jogging, we didn't care about playing tennis, and weren't on the golf course constantly. I, I think we weren't as diverted. And I think that's certainly weakened people's desire to commit themselves wholly to the Jewish cause.
IV: Since you were so active in Zionist activities did you ever encounter any anti-Semitism or any other negative feelings for the community at large, the Christian community?
MG: In the Charlotte, in the--. I don't really think so. I come from a very small town in South Carolina and I've been a victim of anti-Semitism all my life because my, I don't whether I was a victim or whether it was self imposed. But my parents were extremely Orthodox living in a community of only three Jewish families. And we live such a different life that naturally there was a feeling of being so different. I've never minded that difference; I still don't. But actual, an actual act of anti-Semitism, directed toward me? No, I don't think so. I think it's there, but I can't say that one has been directed toward me.
IV: Are there any particular Jewish lay leaders or spiritual leaders who have been particularly important you in your years in Charlotte?
MG: I think so. I think when I first came here, like I said, Rosalie Ashendorf and Rosa Weinstein saw in me a possibility of a worker and someone who maybe had certain talents to bring to the organizations, and they encouraged me greatly. They were my mentors. And then Morris Speizman took a great interest in me and encouraged me in many ways to become involved in the, in the Temple. Then, Richard Rockin was a, a quite an inspiration to me spiritually and he, he made a great difference in my life. Yes, I, I think those people did.
IV: Did you ever become involved in local politics?
MG: I've never really become involved local politics. I'm very politically active and aware, but I've never been able to--. I work full time and I decided many years ago that whatever free time that I had would have to be given, I'd have to set my priorities very keenly with having two children, and having a business to run, that my priority would be to work within Jewish organizations. Whatever free time I have, that's where it goes. I still feel that way today.
IV: Relationships between Jews and blacks in Charlotte, particularly in the 50s and 60s.
MG: I don't think there was a relationship between Jews and blacks really in the, in the 50s and the 60s. Speaking from my--. Of course, I didn't have a business downtown. I think perhaps the people that had retail establishments downtown maybe had more of a relationship with the black community. I had very little relationship with the black community. The only real political--. I was very vocal and somewhat involved in the segregation issue and integration of the school system. There perhaps I did come in contact with some black people, but that, that's really the only, only opportunity I had.
IV: Was the Jewish community as a whole very involved in that, in that issue?
MG: They were not supportive at all.
IV: Of the integration?
MG: Absolutely not. They were disinterested and afraid to speak out, in my opinion. I don't think, I truly think--. I almost think before the '67 war in Israel, I think Jews kept their heads in the sand a great deal. They didn't want to bring any sort of adverse publicity to their plight or to their so-called plight.
IV: Do you think the Jewish community has changed significantly then over the years if--? Do you think that we would still have the same feelings about (being in the background)?
MG: Yes, I think that the Jewish community has changed, not for the better. I think the Jewish community is basically less directed, less productive in a, in a way that will really make a difference in our lives. I think it's much harder to get people to contribute money. I'm talking, I'm not talking about the very wealthy. I'm talking about the mainstream. I think it's, I think they're more interested in playing basketball than they are in supporting the state of Israel or a education program, or coming to shul or whatever is Jewish I think, I, I think that perhaps. I think there is a difference, but I don't think it's a good one.
IV: You mentioned before that perhaps Jews in the 50s and 60s were afraid.
MG: Yes.
IV: What were they afraid of do you think and do you think that fear still exists today?
MG: I'm not so sure that I think that, I think that, I don't think the fear exists so much today as it did then. After all it was a very, integration was a very hot issue in the 50s and the 60s. And I think it would have jeopardized their businesses, their financial circumstances. They didn't want to jeopardize their children. They didn't, they were afraid of the Ku Klux Klan. They were afraid of white supremacy organizations. I think they were afraid of many of those things. And today do I think people are as afraid? No. I don't think so. I think they're uncaring. I don't think they're as afraid. I think they don't put themselves--. A lot of the Jewish communities become so complacent that I don't think they think them--. I think in Charlotte, I'm not so sure they think of themselves as really a, a minority. That's what I really think. I think of myself as a minority, but I'm not so sure that I think the majority of the people do.
IV: Well in keeping with the, with these feelings, what would you say to younger Jews about the importance of our religion and cultural heritage? And, and what would you tell them so we could pass on a strong Jewish community?
MG: I think that, I think it really has to--. I'm not so sure what I could pass onto the children, but I think I would like to pass on to the young parents to certainly teach their children about who they are and what they are. To somehow inflict upon them, not a burden, but the privilege of truly being Jewish. I think that the strength of, of Judaism, to me, has to come basically come out of the synagogue and out of Jewish education. Because I think that if we don't have Jews that are educated and really care, that they won't continue to support Hadassah or B'nai Brith or the Jewish Community Center or anything else. I think the less they know about Judaism and the less feel about Judaism, the less they will be willing to perpetuate Judaism.
IV: The fact that, that Jews don't see themselves as a minority in Charlotte has apparently affected them not always positively, because you grew up in such a small minority and somehow that made you feel very strongly.
MG: Yes, I think that's true. I think that's very true. I, I, I, you know, I think if you feel somewhat, I don't like to use a harsh word but I'll use it anyway, I think if you feel somewhat threatened then you're more likely to do something about it. I'll use an analogy. It's like the Yom Kippur War. When Israel was attacked at the Yom Kippur War, Jews came out of the woodwork that never donated to anything, because they felt threatened. And so they, they came out. They, they wrote their checks and they cared. And, but as soon as the crisis was over they went back to the same old world. And I, I think that is, I, it's, I think that's what happened. I, I, I don't, I do believe the interest in Jewish activities, not only Zionist ones, but all Jewish activities is weaning. It frightens me. It, it really frightens me.
IV: Do you have any suggestions [Clears throat] as to what we can do about it, particularly here in Charlotte?
MG: Well what I said before. I think it has to come out of the synagogues. I think that's one place. Of course I think, I do think the J has been a wonderful force within the community, trying to bring the Jewish community back together again. I'm a little disappointed perhaps that it hasn't reached out more. I think we've done a better job on a social level than we have on an educational level. But nevertheless I, I, I think it's a wonderful achievement. The two synagogues here it's very exciting to me, and I think we need better rabbinical leadership. I think that's, I think if we, I think we do not, I don't know whether you want to put this one on video or not, I don't think we have strong rabbinical leadership within the community. And I think we're very, I think it's hurt us very deeply. And I, I, I think what I think one thing very strongly, is that people of my age-I'm sixty this month--so I'm a little, thinking about is this all there is, as the Peggy Lee song goes. I think if people, my age, who now have the time and still, certainly not old people, I think if they would become more active once again. I don't know how to get those people back into the mainstream of activity, but they have the youth still and the good health still to be, but that's not their attitude. The attitude is let the young ones do it. And I think that's what's happened here in the city of Charlotte. As I think that the people that should have been the leaders at this age in their life are no longer. I think it's hurt us very deeply.
IV: Has there been any leader in Charlotte in all your time here who you feel has been a strong leader and perhaps we should try to emulate?
MG: Yes, I think Morris Speizman was a very strong leader. I do. I, I, I think he was the heart, to me, he was the heart of this community. In many ways he was the conscious of the community. He is a very bright man, an articulate man and very wise. And yes, I, I, I--. If I had to pick one that would be my one. That would be my one.
IV: What can the congregations do to improve the situation in the synagogues to attract this good rabbinical leadership that you speak of?
MG: Well I think one thing, I think to reach out to people today, I think you need rabbinical leadership that's somewhat creative and perhaps a little with charisma. I don't think it's enough to talk from the--know the Torah. I don't think it's enough to be a, a fairly decent teacher and come dominion and have services on Friday night and services on Saturday morning because on Friday night there's almost no one there. And on Saturday morning the same 120 people will be in shul no matter who is the rabbi because that is their custom, to come to services Shabbos morning. I, I think we need a different type of person. I think we need someone who can excite the community once again. I think we've had some unfortunate rabbinical circumstances over the last few years and, and, and I think it's, I think it's been sore, been really sorely felt. I, I, if I had to make a suggestion I would say let's not put a cap on that salary. Let's get the best young man that we can get. We've got this wonderful new facility, that these two synagogues that we're building and this facility. I mean we've got really something fantastic here. And I'm proud of what I, in my very small way, did to make this happen. And my children are very, very active in the community. And both of them, both of my children are. And I'm very proud of that. I think we managed to instill that same sense of community involvement that I feel myself, but the leadership has to come from somewhere. It just doesn't pop up. It's got to come from somebody. And I don't see it coming from the lay leadership of the community. So I'd like to see a little something else coming out of the rabbinic.
IV: Is there anything else that you'd like to add?
MG: Anything I'd like to add, let me think. I think I'd like to say that I think that Charlotte has grown to be, even with the things that I don't like about the Jewish community, the weaning of this interest, the difficulty in getting people to attend meetings or lectures or whatever, I still think it's a, a, a exciting Jewish community to live in. I think there's all kinds of opportunity here. I think we're well becoming to anyone who wants to participate. And I at sixty, I, I went to Israel a year and a half ago, and I'd sort of, not stopped working in the community, but I had really sort of, and I was tired, and I'd go to work six days a week and I use that an excuse to just take a minimal job in the community. But I made up my mind when I was in Israel that I would come back and work diligently once again. And so far in the last year and a half within the time limits that I have, I have done that. I'm very proud of, of that commitment. That at sixty I'm not willing to say let you young ones do it.
IV: Well thank you very, very much.
MG: Thank you for the opportunity.
IV: Thank you for your leadership. And I don't feel comfortable because I don't think some of their groundings are strong enough, in the religious aspects.
MG: Well, I, I think that, that maybe you're right. It's a very interesting thing, ( ). I'm very involved with Federation and naturally I would be. You've heard me speak you know, that would--.