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Jewish Heritage: The Oral Histories - Cuba Family Archives

MEMOIRIST:           JANET REAGAN

INTERVIEWER:       SANDRA BERMAN                        

DATE:                      JANUARY 28, 2009

LOCATION:              BIRMINGHAM, ALABAMA

TRANSCRIBER:       RUTHANNE WARNICK

Transcript (PDF)

Biography

Janet’s grandfather came from Lithuania to New York in the 1880’s and became a peddler.  After he and Janet’s grandmother had one or two children, they moved south because of better economic opportunities.  After living in Knoxville, Tennessee, they moved to Birmingham, Alabama, again due to better economic opportunities.  Her grandfather’s three brothers later followed and settled in Birmingham.  His sister stayed in the New York area.  The brothers started a range of businesses, including a pawn shop that grew into a sporting goods store, a jewelry store, a clothing store, and a pharmacy. 

Janet’s father, Saul Goldstein, was born in Birmingham in 1906.  He was the youngest of five children, that included a brother as the oldest and three sisters.  Her mother was from Michigan.  Saul was an English major at Columbia University in New York and ultimately became a Certified Public Accountant.  Her mother was an active volunteer in Hadassah and worked professionally as a copywriter for several companies.  Janet also was an English major, and later in life she returned to school to complete her bachelor’s degree and earn a master’s degree in accounting. 

Throughout Janet’s youth, she was active in Jewish life, through Hebrew school and Sunday school, the synagogue and community youth groups, and activities at the Jewish Community Center.  In addition to their religious life, they were a strong Zionist family. 

Although segregation was accepted, Janet’s family members set examples of how to treat black people fairly and kindly on a personal level.  They considered their black domestic help to be part of their family. 

Janet’s fondest memories of growing up in Birminham are two-fold.  In their home, her fondest memories are of the family dinner table, because they laughed all the time.  Outside the home, her fondest memories are from the synagogue, Temple Beth-Or. 

Scope of Interview

Janet describes how her paternal grandparents ended up in Birmingham, Alabama, followed by her grandfather’s three brothers.  She recalls the various businesses that they started, including a pawn shop that grew into a sporting goods stores, a jewelry store, a clothing store, and a pharmacy. 

Janet recounts her parents’ professions.  Her father earned a master’s degree in English but ultimately became a Certified Public Accountant.  Her mother was a copywriter and was also very active as a volunteer with Jewish organizations, including Hadassah and B’nai B’rith. 

Janet speaks about some of her experiences during the Civil Rights Movement.  While segregation had been commonly accepted as the way it was, her parents and other family members participated in the movement by setting examples of to how to treat and respect blacks both publicly and privately.  Janet recalls that they had black domestic help, which they considered to be part of the family.

Janet described how important her synagogue and Jewish life was growing up.  She had a strong Jewish background, and her activities revolved around Hebrew school and Sunday school, Shabbat services, Jewish youth groups, and social activities at the synagogue and Jewish Community Center. 

Although Janet lived away from Birmingham for a short time when she was in college and for a few years that, she was happy to return to the Birmingham.  She fondly recalls what it was like to live in a community where she not only had family but where she could frequently run into people she knew, including people she grew up with.  She reflects on her family life growing up and the important role that the synagogue played in her formative years.

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