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Jewish Heritage: The Oral Histories - Cuba Family Archives

 

MEMOIRIST:                  PHYLLIS GERSHON ARNOLD

INTERVIEWER:              SANDY LEFF

LOCATION:                    ATLANTA, GA

DATES:                          OCTOBER 6, 1994

                                       DECEMBER 1, 1994

Transcript (PDF)

BIOGRAPHY

Phyllis’s father, Sam Gershon, came to Atlanta from Kobryn, Russia in 1904. He opened a successful chain of dry goods stores that provided him with the means to bring his and his wife’s families from Russia to America. Sam was involved in the Central Relief Committee and the Kobryn Relief Society and helped establish orphanages, vocational schools, and old age homes in Russia. After the death of his first wife in the 1919 flu epidemic, he met Jeanette Gershon on one of his trips back to Russia and eventually brought her to Atlanta as his bride. Phyllis was born in 1934, the youngest of four surviving children.

The family settled in Carrolton, Georgia during the Great Depression to run The Leader, the last remaining of Sam’s dry goods stores. Phyllis’s early years were marked by World War II and the news of Holocaust. She was active in raising money for war bonds and collecting materials for the war drive. They returned to Atlanta when Phyllis was twelve years old and became full participants in the city’s thriving Jewish community. Phyllis’s Jewish life was centered around Ahavath Achim synagogue, the Jewish Education Alliance on Capitol Avenue, and the social club Daughters of Zion. She attended Grady High School, which was a short walk from her home on Vedado Way. As a member of DOZ, Phyllis partook in philanthropy, fundraising, dances, sports, and various teenage social activities. Following her father’s example, Phyllis always dedicated a portion of her time to charity projects both with DOZ and independently.

She attended the University of Georgia for one year before marrying and having two children. After getting divorced at age twenty-four, she attended night school and worked two jobs while raising her two young daughters. As divorce was then highly uncommon, young Jewish women considering divorce sought her out to ask for advice and sympathy. After four years, she married physician Joe Arnold. The two were married at AA Synagogue and had three children together. Phyllis remained active in charity work and at her children’s school. At the time of the interview, she recently reconnected with and visited her mother’s family in Russia.

Scope of Interview:

Phyllis discusses the immigration of her family and their arrival in Atlanta. She describes her father’s business and charity work, as well as Jewish life in Carrolton and Atlanta during the 1940s and 1950s. She recalls the effect of World War II and the Holocaust on her formative years. She details the tight-knit Jewish community in Atlanta during this time and the activities of Jewish youth, including dating, sports, philanthropy, and religious life. Ahavath Achim Synagogue is involved in a large part of her narrative. The interview covers her adulthood and the religious life of her own family. Though she describes her youth as a golden age for Jewish Atlanta, she remains firm in her belief of Atlanta as a haven for Jews.  

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