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Interview with Marshall and Jeannie Rauch

Rauch, Marshall and Jeannie
Rauch, Jeannie
Klein, Walter J.
Date of Interview: 
Jews and North Carolina; Jews in Charlotte; Jews and South; Jewish burials; religion and mixed marriages; small-town North Carolina; community activism; foster children; Jewish conversion; vacation residences; Jewish traditions; religion; Judaism
Jeannie and Marshall Rauch discuss the Jewish experience in small-town Piedmont North Carolina, mainly in Gastonia and Bessemer City. A native of Gaston County, Mrs. Rauch remembers her parents' civic participation and involvement in building the first synagogue in Gastonia. They address the limitations and challenges small Jewish communities like theirs face, such as proscribed services and the financial strains temple maintenance places on small congregations. Mr. Rauch proposes a closer relationship between the larger temples in Charlotte and smaller ones in surrounding towns. Moreover, Mrs. Rauch talks about prominent Jewish families in early Gastonia, and the couple talks about their own family and its Jewish traditions.
Gastonia, Bessemer City, and Charlotte, NC, 1929-1995
Interview Setting: 
Jewish Community Center, Charlotte
Charlotte Jewish Historical Society Collection
Collection Description: 
Charlotte Jewish Historical Society collection
Interview Audio: 
WK: OK. And you are?
JR: My name is Jeannie Rauch. I was born Jeannie Goldberg, and the name was changed to Girrard at a particular time in history. And I was born in Gastonia and raised in Bessemer City. Met my husband at Duke University. And whatever else you'd like to know. We've had a very happy life living in a small town, much smaller than Charlotte. But I know Charlotte because my mother schlepped me over for dancing lessons, and she went there for kosher foods. There was a kosher butcher in Charlotte. And once in a while, we came over for some kind of happy occasion. We did not go to temple or Shul in Charlotte, but I do remember an old building on the other side of town that was the Shul, going there once or twice. And my mother and father moved here from Columbia, SC, previously from Atlanta, and before that from Riga, Latvia.
WK: You said you came for happy occasions, but there were unhappy occasions?
JR: Yes.
WK: Don't the Gastonia Jews bury their dead in Charlotte?
JR: Oh absolutely. We use the Hebrew cemetery. Not all of the people do, because we have a section of the, of the cemetery in Charlotte that's separated for Jewish people who would like to buried in Gastonia.
WK: OK. To Marshall.
MR: I was born in New York, and I came down here in 1940. Met Jeannie at Duke, and right after the war, I came here. Jeannie's family were instrumental in the, in Temple Emanuel in Gastonia,
JR: Yes.
MR: which still exists, and which we still support strongly. However Jeannie and I have been members of Temple Israel over here about thirty-five years. One of our daughters was married in Temple Israel in Charlotte, and we are primarily members in Gastonia. But Charlotte offers so much. It's not only that Charlotte offers the religious aspect from the temple and the center, but people living in Gastonia depend on Charlotte for many things: the hospitals, the airport. And so I think it's perfectly natural that we also consider ourselves a part of the religious community here, which we do.
WK: Is their any interaction the other direction? Do Charlotte rabbis appear in the pulpit in Gastonia?
MR: Hardly ever. I really cannot remember a Charlotte rabbi appearing in the pulpit in Gastonia. Rabbi Groner comes over to Char--, to Gastonia a good bit, but not in the temple.
WK: Interesting. OK.
MR: I think we ought to say Rabbi Groner of, from Lubavitch of North Carolina so people know who I am talking about. [Clears throat]
WK: Right. Yes, sir. All right. Now the, the periphery is a, is not a phenomenon special to North Carolina, but people have to understand that North Carolina is a decentralized state and that it thrives on its small towns. Now you mentioned Bessemer City. New York is not a small town, but Gastonia is. What can you say for the Jewish people in small-town North Carolina?
MR: Jewish people in small-town North Carolina. Gastonia, of course, is what I'm familiar with. There's a, a void. Most of our people in Gastonia have come from big cities and have settled there because of business reasons, and there's definitely a void in their life because we don't provide enough for them. We have one temple, which is a Reform temple, and people with Conservative and Orthodox backgrounds have a distinct need that is not being filled. At one time in Gastonia, we had services both Reform and Conservative. For example on Rosh Hashanah, the first day would be Reform and the second day Conservative. But we don't do that anymore, and so there, there is a distinct void. And we do have some Gastonia people who belong to the temples in Gastonia--pardon me--who belong to the temples in Charlotte and not in Gastonia.
WK: Now what you just said, couldn't that have been said for the last 200 years?
MR: Probably.
WK: I mean just about everyone came from a larger city, came here for business, sacrificed and limited their life because of the necessity of small-town life.
MR: Yes. Yes.
WK: But you're really saying it isn't much better is it?
MR: No. And if this film is looked at by people in the future, maybe what I have been suggesting recently will come to fruition and that is that Gastonia use the facilities, the religious facilities in Charlotte much more than we are now. The costs of operating a small temple are about at their limits, and I foresee the future where we will be much more involved in the religious aspects in Charlotte.
WK: Marshall, why couldn't Gastonia be a holy-owned satellite? South Orange, New Jersey, where I grew up is a satellite of B'nai Jeshurun in Newark, so that it's one set of books essentially. And they don't look down their noses at the expenses here and there and transportation and such, because it's, it's one congregation. Isn't that possible?
MR: It is, and I'd like to see it. We have started it, for example, in our Federation, our UJA drive, we now work with Charlotte. And for a while, we didn't think that was going to work, but it appears to be the best for people in Gastonia.
WK: Well, I can remember Gastonia shamed Charlotte for some years with its outstanding per capita fundraising.
JR: Uh-huh.
WK: What you're saying is that's gone. Is that good?
MR: It's not good, but the social structure has changed. We used to have people who were in position to contribute much more than they are now. Now we have a number of people who are employees of large corporations rather than operating their own business.
WK: OK. And other towns, up and down 74 and 29 and such. You have a feeling with your political background of the sensitivities of those Jews, could you talk to that?
MR: Jewish people that are coming to our area come in, and they do not immediately contact the, the temple. We find that after they've been there a while, they find a need for it. Perhaps they just don't know what it's going to be like living in a small town. It's easy for Jewish people to get away from temple if they live in a large city. They aren't sought out and tried to be brought into the formal religious fold. But in Gastonia, we do that, and they do that. I imagine they do that in other towns. But Jeannie would know the history on that better than I would.
JR: Well the--. I think there's a whole community out in Gastonia or Gaston County who don't identify themselves, but usually the non-Jewish community will look at you and say, "What church do you go to?" And they take great pride in the fact that they know a Jewish person who goes to a temple. But the people who, who don't identify themselves lose, lose out on a lot of respect from the non-Jewish community.
WK: But if you shook them all up, wouldn't the Jews precipitate under stress if something serious happened?
JR: I think so. I think so.
WK: Yeah. I think they would.
JR: Yes, they would show. They'd show up.
WK: I think they (say) ( ) when the time comes.
JR: Yes.
WK: But they want their religious privacy as well.
JR: Right.
WK: And they chance not that they do.
JR: I guess it's--.
MR: Yeah.
JR: That's exactly it. And I guess it's sort of like living in the middle of New York City. Who's going to tell so-and-so to go to temple? They do what they want to do, and nobody knows, and nobody cares. We care. I must say that. We do care, and we like to, when a newcomer comes we're very happy and excited. After all it's a, it's like a, a mitzvah when we can get somebody from another town or from, who has been in Gastonia three years and just shows up. And that's happened.
WK: So you two are a membership committee, appointed or otherwise. Is that right?
JR: [Laughter] Exactly. Listen, I was there when the cornerstone was put in.
WK: You were?
JR: Oh yes.
WK: What year was that?
JR: 192--. I tell you, 1929 or 1930. I don't know which.
WK: Small town.
JR: And I was a little thing. [Laughter]
WK: That's wonderful.
JR: Yes.
WK: So you were also in Charlotte, and you were in the community when other cornerstones were laid?
JR: Yes, but we never came over to see yours. [Laughter] We only came for ours. [Laughter]
WK: I remember that. Talk to me please about the Goldberg family, the greater family and its contribution.
JR: Well it all came from really my mother more than my father. She was a devoutly Jewish--.
WK: And her name was?
JR: (Sadie Parades Goldberg).
WK: And her husband, of course, my father was Frank. And they moved up here from Columbia where they had lived only a few years because they originally came from Atlanta where my father used to sell fabric, rags, from a horse and buggy. And my mother kept a grocery store. And all of the children were born upstairs in the grocery store. I happened to be a sophisticate; I was born in Gastonia. And they were very conscious of being Jewish and doing something for the community. They were always interested in helping other people as far as I can remember, and they had a good reputation for that. They knew quite a few people in Charlotte. For instance, the Madalias and Speizmans and Smiths, and--. You can go through that whole list, you know, of that era.
WK: We have that list, but I'm not sure we know about the Gastonia names.
JR: Well the Gastonia names would have been Lebo, or Lebovitz, and Fromans, and Honegmon, yeah, Harry Froman.
WK: Harry? He's from Gastonia?
JR: Oh yes, oh yes. [Laughter] Do you know him in Florida?
WK: All right. Yes, of course, I know him very well.
JR: And-I'm trying to think of some of the other names of that era. Schneider.
JR: And I think--. I can't remember then right now.
WK: Who would identify as the first family, the oldest Jewish family that you could--?
JR: It was the Lebos that came there first, I think.
WK: ( )
JR: Yeah. My dad and his brothers--.
WK: How many daughters were there?
JR: Six, I think.
WK: Six? All right.
JR: Yeah. And they were very anxious to get them married. [Laughter]
WK: In secret.
JR: In secrets, right. And they were a fine family, and they started--. You know, they were the beginning of the Jewish community, and there were--. We actually--. I have a memory of going into a building upstairs where we had services. And I can still remember, I guess it was laymen's services. I'm not sure. But we did have a, an Orthodox rabbi, Rabbi Fagen, that came to our town at one point.
WK: Remember the first name?
JR: Nope.
JR: I sure don't.
WK: Thank you.
JR: Well I understand he went--.
WK: Again, we're in the 30s.
JR: Yes, yes.
WK: OK, continue.
JR: We did go into this building for services. I remember the selling of aliyahs and that sort of thing there. And that's just a quick [Snaps fingers] memory. I don't know anything else that happened. And then they, of course, built the temple. And they had a big mortgage on it, and I guess my family and a couple of others were responsible for getting all of that done. And--.
WK: Are their remnants of these families still in Gastonia?
JR: Well, I'm a remnant. [Laughter]
MR: The Whittens did everything.
JR: Whitten. The Whittens. Pardon me?
WK: ( )Yeah. Right. And Shirley is down in--.
JR: In South Carolina.
WK: Easley or, or--.
JR: Yeah. Right.
WK: Right. And the Levins are here. There are none left,
JR: That's right.
WK: of that family. But they are in the periphery. But more in Charlotte I guess than anywhere else.
JR: Yes. Yes. I think so.
WK: So the membership of your temple is now what? About fifty families?
JR: It stayed that way for fifty years.
WK: Yes.
JR: Up and down, up and down. But always it sort of levels off, doesn't it, Marshall?
WK: Is it about that?
JR: Yeah.
MR: It was--. I, I came to Gastonia about '48 I guess it was, and we had about sixty-three families. And to date we have about sixty-two families, members.
WK: All right. Now you said '48. What happened to you between '40 and '48? You went to Duke in '40.
MR: Yeah, I went to Duke, and then I was in service.
WK: In the service.
MR: And then I came down to Gastonia, actually to Bessemer City,
WK: That's where you met?
MR: where Jeannie's mother lived.
MR: And were married, and we lived in Bessemer City with Jeannie's mother for about a year.
JR: My brother Herb and his bride lived with us, too.
WK: Four of you in--?
JR: It was very interesting. [Laughter]
MR: Yeah. It was big.
JR: It was a big house and good friendship.
WK: And where is he now?
JR: He is--, has moved from West Palm Beach up to Rochester, Minnesota. His wife died, and he likes it up there.
WK: OK. Now what's the future of the Gastonia community? And I think we could say the same about other small towns with a Jewish population. Where is it going?
JR: What is in the future?
MR: I see it deriving its strength from Charlotte. We've reached a point over there where we are straining financially to keep our temple going. We are keeping it going, but the increase in costs on a small number of families, and these families don't have the financial resources that it was years ago when we had mill and factory owners as members. Now you have executives, but they aren't in the financial position to do what the former people were able to do. So I see the, the future around Charlotte, with Charlotte perhaps supporting the outside vicinity with leadership, both spiritual leadership in rabbis, cantors, teachers, as well as other financial help.
WK: Do you have a full-time rabbi?
JR: Yeah.
MR: We do. We have a full-time rabbi.
WK: And you've stuck to that through the years, haven't you?
MR: We have. And we're very proud of it. But it--.
WK: Right. Never thought about giving it up?
MR: No. Well, we've discussed it,
WK: Yes.
MR: to part-time rabbis to student rabbis. But I like the idea, which I have discussed previously, of Charlotte supplying perhaps a rabbi of junior status who is based in Charlotte to various communities within fifty miles of Charlotte.
WK: Do you remember the circuit riders at one time?
MR: I do.
WK: And you know that they--, that continued as a single rabbi on a bus visiting communities. And the day he was in that community was Shabbat. It didn't matter--.
JR: What day? [Laughter]
WK: And they went along as best they could.
MR: Yeah.
WK: Could--. Gastonia's too big a community, too old and established, to think about anything about anything but the normal Sabbath, but your idea of a flexible leadership could happen, couldn't it?
MR: It definitely could. On, on Shabbat, people could come to Charlotte. The idea would be to provide the teaching--.
JR: To the religious school.
MR: To the, to the nearby communities. I think that the circuit-riding rabbi who went statewide was a tremendous task. I'm not talking about that. I'm just talking about satellite, coming out of Charlotte in different directions where the base would be Charlotte.
WK: Now North Carolina has a large number of retired and non-pulpit rabbis. Are they not available to you? I know they are available ( )--.
MR: They are. They are. We belong to the conger--. Yeah, I didn't realize that. We belong to three North Carolina congregations: Gastonia, Charlotte, and Boone, North Carolina. Because we have a little place--.
WK: ( ) communities.
MR: We have a little place up at Banner Elk, and we belong to the, the temple up there. They do an excellent job. Great spirit.
JR: Oh it's wonderful.
MR: It's all laymen's services. And I believe they use the Episcopal church, if I'm not--. Is it Episcopal?
JR: It was the--.
MR: We went there. I believe it is. At least they use a church who cooperates very nicely, lets them leave the Torah in a private room and their books and yarmulkes, talaysim. And they have real nice services, and we enjoy it.
JR: Very (well done).
MR: So there are very--, different kinds of services in North Carolina. They would appreciate perhaps a visit once a month from a real professional.
JR: They, they get it from the union. The union--. They are members of the union, and they travel.
JR: Oh that's wonderful.
WK: Rabbi Spitzer comes down from ( )--,
MR: Great.
WK: and we give them prayer books and things like that.
MR: Great.
JR: That's wonderful.
WK: So they're not alone.
MR: Yeah, we've enjoyed being there very much.
WK: The mountain experience is something else. Lots of people, regardless of religion, think they're isolated. Not that they isolated themselves, but they are left out of the mainstream, and they're very sensitive about that. But in fact, they are not. I think that our faith follows them (into the hills).
JR: Oh yes. Oh yes.
WK: Your children, please.
JR: Yes.
WK: Where are they?
JR: We have five children: Ingrid, Mark, Peter, Stephanie, and John. John is rather special. He's a foster son. And all of them are married except Stephanie. All of them live in Gastonia or near by. My son Mark lives in Cramer Mountain. Except Stephanie who lives in Colorado and teaches skiing and tennis. And she's like the last playgirl of the Western world. [Laughter] She loves it there. And she's told us about the way the, the Jews get together there. It's unbelievable. They, they are there, and they participate in the High Holy Days, and they have laymen services in Vail. Vail.
WK: Good to know.
JR: Yeah.
WK: Can't picture it, but I believe you.
JR: No. And we have seven grandchildren. We have three sons from our foster son and two girls and a boy from our son Pete. And our son Mark just, and his wife Elaine Lyerly, just adopted a little boy from Paraguay, who is now a year old and who is the love of our lives right now. [Laughter] Very exciting.
WK: Are you fortunate enough to call all of those grandchildren Jewish or hopefully--?
JR: Oh yes. There are two daughters-in-law who were converted, and they are Jewish. And that's it. Now John is not. He's married to a Catholic girl. John thinks he's Jewish sometimes, but he's not. [Laughter]
WK: Well that's his choice, isn't it?
JR: Right, right.
WK: OK. How did the foster child happen?
JR: Oh, Marshall, you'll have to tell that.
MR: Well, I guess--. Let's see, well Johnnie is now fifty-five. When he was--. And we've been married forty-eight years.
JR: [Laughter] Forty-nine.
MR: Forty-nine? Oh, We've been married forty-nine years, and John is fifty-five. When John was about fourteen we got to know him. And he was in a boys club I had, and making a real long story short, he just moved into our--. We moved him into our home when he was in high school. He did not have a--. He lived with an aunt.
JR: He was a ( ).
MR: He did not have parents. And we moved him into our home, and he lived in our home. And he went to Camp Blue Star with the other kids. He went to temple with all the kids. And he married. He went to college. Was graduated from Catawba. We sent him through school, and he married a local girl who was not Jewish. But John really was not Jewish, either, although he lived in our home and he basically, as Jeannie said, thought he was. But they married. They have three children. They are as much a part of our family as all the other children. We just never formally adopted him. And today he is an executive with a, a brokerage firm. He lives in Gastonia, one block from us, and he's just like all the other kids.
WK: And you never pressed him to become Jewish.
JR: Oh no.
MR: No, we never did. In fact, he wanted to become Jewish, and several times I told him to wait and see when he was getting ready to get married what he would do. And since he married a non-Jewish girl,
JR: It was better.
MR: It worked out best.
JR: I'd like to mention my daughters-in-laws' names, the in-laws' names.
WK: Please. Please.
JR: Mark is married to Elaine Lyerly. Pete is married to Victoria; Ingrid is married to Laurence Sterm. And who else is there? Who did I miss?
MR: That's all.
JR: And John is married to Joanne. [Laugher]
WK: Sounds as if you've done everything right by
JR: Well--.
WK: ( ) fact of our lives and it's really to be admired.
JR: Thank you.
WK: You have brothers and sisters?
MR: I have a sister who lives in Florida. Her name is Jacqueline Gottlieb, married to Newt Gottlieb, and they have children and grandchildren. And my brother-in-law, Newt, retired down there. He's younger than I am. I'm still working. He's been retired for about seven years in Florida.
JR: [Laughter]
WK: No one, as far as I can remember, has ever addressed the Charlotte, extended Charlotte community in Florida. You've just touched on it. Isn't it really an accepted verity of our life here that sooner or later we have relatives in Florida? And that we move in on them a couple times a year. [Laughter]
MR: Yeah. It's a good procedure. [Laughter] It's a good procedure.
JR: [Laughter] I think it can happen. [Clears throat]
WK: But is that always going to be or are there other destinations? You mentioned Vail. You're out there from time to time seeing your daughter, your family.
MR: Well we, we took at test.
JR: We did.
MR: We went to Florida for a month and really didn't--.
JR: Didn't like it.
MR: Didn't like it. So we took another test. We went up in the mountains.
JR: To Grandfather Mountain.
MR: Grandfather Mountain for a month and liked that very much, and so we bought a home at the Elk River Club in Banner Elk, and we do like that very much.
JR: We do.
WK: Do you know Arnold (Murray) Rosen up there?
JR: No. I think he lives in--. We haven't met everybody yet, really. It's so new.
MR: We just went up there. Yeah.
WK: They're, they're people to meet, very nice. Good friends. Now you have certain relatives in Florida.
JR: Well, I did. My brother Herb was the one that was in Florida.
WK: Yes.
JR: And recently, last--.
WK: But he's not there. I see.
JR: No. His daughter is there, Susan.
WK: Interesting. OK.
JR: And he's moved to Rochester, because he went to Mayo Clinic and loved it. My brother Cy died about ten years ago.
WK: Yes.
JR: And my sister Ethel had her eighty-sixth birthday last Wednesday. And my brother Sam--.
WK: In Florida--?
JR: No. In New York. No Florida relatives.
WK: Oh, OK.
JR: Herb has moved, and the only relative we have is his sister.
WK: So you have kin in New York?
MR: I do. Yeah.
JR: He does.
MR: I was brought up, up there.
WK: And, all right. So your vacations with family are therefore wherever the kids are?
MR: Yeah. Well, we're not big travelers. [Laughter] We are going to Florida for a short stay, but we're not big travelers. We like North Carolina. We like Gastonia. We like the mountains and Banner Elk.
WK: Where do you spend your Seders?
MR: We have Seder at home.
JR: Forever [Laughter].
MR: Jeannie'll tell you. We have them all.
JR: We have--. We have all the children, all the grandchildren. That includes John and his wife and the three boys.
WK: Seven? Did you say? How many grandchildren did you say?
JR: Seven.
WK: Seven?
JR: Yeah. They come, and we usually have a non-Jewish couple come. And we end up having about twenty to twenty-one for a Seder. And I've done this for so long [Laughter] I don't know what to do about it. But it's a traditional thing. My mother did it always.
WK: Did she? OK. Are there other things that you want to speak of or were thinking of that would come up today that you'd like to express that we haven't touched on?
JR: What could we think of for that? Well, the only thing is we've lived on the out--, the fringes of Charlotte for so long. I personally have felt that it's very comfortable living in Gastonia and participating in whatever I feel like doing. We do not really socialize the way I always thought we would. It becomes a, a very difficult thing, as you say. The, the distance of Charlotte to Gastonia. Well the distance from Gastonia to Charlotte, unless it's something very special becomes a lon--, a big distance after a while. So what we've done is just socialize mostly in Gastonia.
WK: That you feel is something of a compromise that you've grown to accept?
JR: Yes, yes.
MR: And I, I'd like to mention something. Our temple in Gastonia, well though I said about sixty-two families, has sixteen unconverted spouses. And that would have created a problem with our cemetery. We have a section of the Park, which is a cemetery in Gastonia. So just about three years ago, we were able to get some additional land next to the Jewish section , and we have dedicated that section where we will permit family who is not Jewish to be buried and still be under the auspices of the entire section that is the Jewish cemetery. We have this section marked off with a path, and that's where the--.
JR: Mixed marriages.
MR: The mixed marriages can be buried in the Jewish cemetery. I thought that was a very important thing for us to do. It would have created real problems. And I understand Charlotte had something like that.
WK: We did that a number of years ago. It took forty years of effort to do it.
JR: Oh. [Laughter]
MR: We were fortunate, and want to give credit to Duke Power because they had the land that we needed.
JR: Yes, I want you to. Yes.
MR: There was just one piece of land that could possibly used, and I contacted Bill Lee and I told him what I wanted. And I said, "Do you think you can help?" He said, "Marshall, if it's like you say it is, we'll give you the land." And it was just that simple.
JR: And that's what he did.
MR: So I want to give them credit for that.
JR: Oh yes.
WK: You want to give Bill Lee credit.
MR: Bill Lee credit.
JR: Absolutely. Absolutely.
WK: He's that type of person.
MR: Yeah.
JR: Absolutely.
WK: Yeah. That's wonderful.
JR: Yeah.
WK: I'm glad that came out. Thank you. Well done. You did wonderfully well.
MR: Thank you.
JR: Thank you. Thank you.
WK: And we appreciate what you've done today.
JR: Sure.
MR: Thank you.
JR: Thank you for thinking of us.