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Jewish Heritage: The Oral Histories - Cuba Family Archives

MEMOIRIST:                       STUART ROYAL (1950-   )

INTERVIEWER:                   SANDRA BERMAN

DATE:                                  JANUARY 27, 2009

LOCATION:                          BIRMINGHAM, ALABAMA

ID#:                                     10590

NUMBER OF PAGES:           22 pages

Transcript (PDF)

EXCERPTS/HIGHLIGHTS:

“My grandfather on [the Friedman] side was very religious.  He was sort of a cantor at times when we didn’t have a cantor.  He was one of the cantors, and he was in the choir.  He was very attached, and my father was bar mitzvahed . . . Back at that stage they had shochets.  They had . . . it wasn’t a ghetto, but it was an internal community that really supported the typical almost shtetl-type of lifestyle that these people, who were first immigrants coming from Europe, would maintain.”   3, 4

“Back when I was young there were two country clubs in Birmingham.  The Hillcrest Club was virtually completely where the Reform Jews spent their time, and the Fairmont Club was virtually where the Conservative Jews spent their time . . . the families . . . where you spent your time, your social time, and there wasn’t much crossover . . . They were exclusively Jewish country clubs at that time.  Eventually it morphed, but back when we were there they were Jewish country clubs.  It was unfortunate for me, at that time when I was young, but especially through the years and looking back on it.  It was unfortunate that it sort of segregated the Conservative and Reform Jews in Birmingham, socially.  I’m talking about the kids.  I don’t think there was a lot of one looking down on the other.  They were just in different social circles.”  6, 7

“ . . . at my parents’ level everybody was married Jewish.  There was no intermarriage that I knew of at that level.  There was no divorce at that level, at my parents’ age.  A little bit younger, it was really in the Sixties, that I first remembered anybody, any Jewish couple divorcing.  It was very unusual. There were five children in my family.  Every one of them married Jewish people.  There was virtually 100 percent in that Jewish sort of thing, and that extends even out to first cousins level.  Since then, at my children’s generation, it’s about 50 percent.  About 50 percent of them currently are marrying Jewish, despite the fact that I was head of the Israel Bonds for our area, been on the board of the Temple, on the board of the JCC [Jewish Community Center], all my kids have been through the Hebrew school, all the Jewish youth groups.  They’ve been to Israel.  They’ve done all that.  With all those experiences, 50 percent of them still are only marrying Jewish in our family.”  7

“ . . . my experience in Birmingham was the Jewish people were bigoted towards black people.  We had a maid . . . a housekeeper.  We had numbers of them.  They were all black, African-American.  They were wonderful people, and we supported them but they were, in my family and virtually all the other Jewish families who had such housekeepers, they were second-class citizens.  They were talked about in my experience in a relatively demeaned way.  They were loved, but they were second-class people.  As a young kid, you know how you are.  You’re seven or eight years old and you’re looking up to your parents, and they’re talking, and they’re using—not my parents specifically, but all that generation—‘nigger,’ that sort of . . . what is the . . . Schwarze [German: black], yes.  It’s been so long since I’ve even used it.  That was not daily, but every hourly sort of word, and I couldn’t even remember it.  That goes to show you how much things have changed.  That was the way that black people were talked about . . . 1960, 1961, 1962.”   10, 11

About the Jewish community during the turmoil in the Civil Rights Era:

“The community was very afraid.  The Jewish community was afraid of what was going on.  There were in the middle of that . . . the early Sixties were a pretty important time relative to the Civil Rights Movement and related to African-Americans . . . but, interspersed in there, there was a fair amount of antisemitic things going on.  I don’t remember . . . these were the little things when you were a grade school kid.  There were, in my elementary school in Mountain Brook, wonderful Mountain Brook, Alabama, in the Fifties, there were fights. We had fights.  The Jewish kids had fights on the playground related to being Jewish, and antisemitic slogans, and things written.  There was this undercurrent of that at that time, but it surfaced in the early Sixties.  You didn’t hear a lot about it, but there was antisemitic acts going on in Birmingham during the early Sixties, also.  The two things together, the antisemitic sort of thing plus the whole violent tone of what was going on, made Jewish people pretty frightened during that period of time.”  13

About discussing civil rights with his parents:

“We talked about it, but I think, in my own estimation, that they were somewhat embarrassed that the Jewish leaders didn’t take a more overt role, a more visible role in the community related to the civil rights issues that were going on.  I’m not comparing this to the Holocaust per se, but when people have very bad experiences, and they didn’t defend themselves or come out in the way they wanted to, it’s sort of an embarrassing thing.  People don’t like to talk about it, and it’s hard to draw that out.  I think that’s probably what we were experiencing.  It was something they didn’t like to admit, talk about, and I’ll tell you, at that stage of the game, you’d have to have lived then.  Of course, I was young and I’m not sure I can really comment, but I can understand people in a different environment where they may be very physically and emotionally threatened to not have the courage to stand up, especially if it wasn’t directly involving you.  It may just be a difficult expression or stand to take.  Some people do, and of course those are our heroes.  We like that to happen, and we need to learn about that.  There weren’t a lot of overt Jewish heroes in Birmingham during the Civil Rights Movement.”  13

“Socially the Jewish kids stayed together.  We didn’t date non-Jewish kids . . . There was sort of like the pack.  The pack would go to, at that time, Shoney’s [Restaurant].  That was a hangout in Birmingham, and that was where we created the little black books.  ‘This is this girl who lives here’ and . . . We would meet these girls.  They would be from different areas, and the classic area in Birmingham was Gardendale.  It happened to be sort of north of Birmingham.  I went out on a date, one of these kind of dates, with this girl, and we went back over to her house, after we went to a movie or something, and she was sort of enamored by me.  She was having a good time, and because of that she said, “I’ve got to show you something.  It’s only because you’re so special I’m going to show you this, so ssshhh.  Be quiet.”  She went into her parents’ bedroom, and she came out with this big white box container, and she took it off and opened it up, and it had the Ku Klux Klan robe in it.”  18, 19

BIOGRAPHY

Stuart’s grandfather, Joseph Barnett Royal, came to Birmingham. Alabama in the early 1900’s because of a job opportunity with the Birmingham News. He was originally from Russia.  Stuart’s father, Arnold Royal, and his three brothers were born in Birmingham, and eventually three of the brothers moved away. Arnold Royal eventually became a pediatrician and practiced for more than 50 years. Stuart and his four siblings were raised in Birmingham. 

Stuart’s grandfather on the Friedman side of the family, ‘Daddy Max’ Friedman, came to Birmingham circa 1915 from Cincinnati, Ohio, where there was a large family contingent.  A friend brought him to Birmingham for a job in the engraving business.

Joseph Royal was very religious and was active at Temple Beth-El, which was founded in 1927.  Later, Stuart’s father and his uncle, Karl Friedman, each became president of Temple Beth-El.  The Royals lived on the Northside and eventually moved to the Southside, where a lot of Jews lived, and then to Mountain Brook.   

Stuart’s father and his brothers each became bar mitzvah, as did Stuart in 1963. Stuart was born in 1950 and went to public school for most of his childhood education.  Later he went to a private high school.  Because he played on sports teams, he had non-Jewish friends, but his social friends were all Jewish. 

After his bar mitzvah, Stuart spent several summers at Camp Blue Star, which had a significant impact on him.  He went to college in Houston and was introduced to his wife, Barbara Butnick Royal, by his sister.  Stuart became a pediatric radiologist.  Stuart and Barbara raised their children, Jeremy (also a radiologist) and Rachael (McDonald) in Birmingham and are active in the general and Jewish communities today.

SCOPE OF INTERVIEW

Stuart recalls his family roots in Birmingham and how his grandparents on both the Stuart and Friedman sides of his family came to Birmingham in the 1910’s.  He describes their early experiences in Birmingham, what Jewish life was like for them in the early years, and their involvement in the Jewish community over time.   He talks about where Jews lived at that time and how the community moved to other areas over time.

Stuart also shared his own personal experience in the Jewish community and at Temple Beth-El, especially as the rabbis changed over time.  He describes his public and private school experiences, his social experiences, and his friendships.  Stuart expresses his concerns about Jewish continuity and rate of intermarriage in general and within his own family.

Stuart recalls his experiences and observations during the Civil Rights era, the simultaneous acts of antisemitism, and the concerns of the Jewish community.  He discusses the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church and the failed bombing of Temple Beth-El.

Stuart recounts how he met his wife, Barbara, and discusses his Jewish camping experience at Camp Blue Star and its positive impact on him.  He talks about how he loved growing up in Birmingham, his love for Birmingham today, and his appreciation of the Jewish community, the non-Jewish cultural activities, and the opportunities for Jews to participate widely in the community.  

KEYWORDS

16th Street Baptist Church Bombing

Antisemitism

Bar mitzvah

Birmingham, Alabama

Birmingham Civil Rights Institute—Birmingham, Alabama

Birmingham Country Club—Birmingham, Alabama

Brown v. Board of Education

Camp Blue Star—Hendersonville, North Carolina

Cantors

Chabad

Chazzan

Cincinnati, Ohio

Civil Rights Movement

Country clubs

Dating

Domestics, black

Fairmont Country Club—Alabama, Birmingham

Friedman family

Friedman, Karl

Friedman, Max

Friedman, Mimi

Glusman, Brian (Rabbi)

Hasidism

High Holy Days

Hillcrest Country Club—Birmingham, Alabama

Hillel

Intermarriage

JDate

Jewish Theological Seminary—New York City, New York

Jewish-Black Relations

Jewish-Christian Relations

Jewish-Jewish Relations

Jews, Eastern European

Jews, German

Judaism, Conservative

Judaism, Humanistic

Judaism, Orthodox

Judaism, Reform

Judaism—Fasts and Feasts

Judaism—Rites and ceremonies

Kashrut

Kennedy, John F. (President)

Kosher

Ku Klux Klan

Levite Jewish Community Center—Birmingham, Alabama

Mesch, Abraham (Rabbi)

Mountain Brook (neighborhood)—Birmingham, Alabama

Northside (neighborhood)—Birmingham, Alabama

Pediatrician

Popkin, Herman

Popkin, Michael

Popkin, Roger

Public schools

Richmond, Virginia

Rosh Ha-Shanah

Royal, Arnold

Royal, Barbara Butnick

Royal, Joseph Barnett

Royal, Stuart

Rubenstein, Micky Friedman

Russia

Sabbath

Shochets

Sophie Newcomb Memorial College—New Orleans, Louisiana

Southside (neighborhood)—Birmingham, Alabama

Temple Beth-El—Birmingham, Alabama

United Way

University of Georgia—Athens, Georgia

Wallach, Morton A. (Rabbi)

Yale University—New Haven, Connecticut

Yom Kippur

 

 

 

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