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Jewish Heritage: The Oral Histories - Cuba Family Archives

MEMOIRIST:                       ALAN WEIL

INTERVIEWER:                   SANDRA BERMAN

DATE:                                  MARCH 29, 2011

LOCATION:                         MONTGOMERY, ALABAMA

TRANSCRIBER:                  RUTHANNE WARNICK

Transcript (PDF)

Biography

Alan Weil was raised in Montgomery, Alabama, and his family has lived in Montgomery for several generations.  His paternal and maternal grandfathers each owned retail stores in Montgomery.

Alan’s paternal grandfather, Abe Weil, died when Alan’s father, Sigmund Weil, was only nine years old.  As a young adult, Alan’s father worked for Nathan Scheuer, owner of a wholesale dry goods business called Scheuer Brothers.  He later fell in love with and married Edith Scheuer, Nathan’s daughter.  He left Scheuer Brothers and went into business with his brother, Henry Weil, opening a store in downtown Montgomery in 1924.

The store started out carrying a wide range of merchandise, like a small department store, and later became a specialty store with more high fashion clothing catering to men and boys.  Alan came into the business in 1950 and learned a lot about the retail business from his father and uncle.  They took many buying trips to New York, first by train and later by plane.  Alan eventually increased the business to include 13 stores throughout the South.  Alan’s son, a Certified Public Accountant who worked in that field when he graduated from college, later joined Alan in the retail business.

Alan grew up in east Montgomery, in the Cloverdale area.  It was not a Jewish neighborhood, and although he had a few Jewish friends, most of his friends were not Jewish.  He began dating his wife, Nellie Cobb, in his senior year of high school, and they both went to the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa.  He had never experienced antisemitism growing up, until an incident while they were at college.  Nellie, who was not Jewish, pledged for a sorority and was told she could not be accepted as long she was dating Alan, because he was Jewish.  She continued dating Alan and was accepted into the sorority.

During the Civil Rights Era, the situation in Montgomery was uneasy.  The store customers were about 90 percent black, and Alan had a lot of black friends.  Alan felt that his family was color blind, and they treated the blacks the same as they treated the whites.  A black woman hired by Alan ended up working with him until he retired.  She continued to work for Alan’s son, who took over the running of the stores, as a manager of one of the stores. 

Alan is fond of Montgomery and has enjoyed living there.  Montgomery has been good to him, he has been accepted for who he is, and he still has a lot of good friends there.  He misses the smaller community that Montgomery used to be, where everyone seemed to know everyone by first name.  Montgomery has gotten bigger, but the Jewish community has gotten smaller and smaller.  Alan sees the time in the near future when the various denominations will need to join together into one congregation and a cohesive group.    

Alan had several close Jewish friends growing up.  As a young adult, he participated in the courting weekends that were popular in the South, such as Falcon, Jubilee, Ballyhoo, and Holly Days, where Jewish boys and girls would come together to meet, date, and socialize.  As an adult, he was a member of the now-defunct Standard Club, a social organization for Jews where they could congregate and socialize.  When he was growing up and later as an adult with children of his own, the family had Friday night Sabbath dinner at his grandmother’s house.  After her death, Alan’s parents and his aunt and uncle traded off having it at their home. 

The main thing that Alan misses is not knowing everybody in the community.  At the store in Montgomery, his son makes a point of getting to know his customers by first name.  Although Alan enjoys stopping in at the store, he loves retirement.  He is happy to visit his daughters who live in Mississippi and California when he wants and is delighted to be a great grandfather. 

Scope of Interview

Alan discusses some background on his family’s history in Montgomery, Alabama, as far back as his grandparents.  He focuses on the retail store livelihoods of both his paternal and maternal grandfathers.  The interview does not describe how or why his family moved to Montgomery or when they first came to the United States.

Alan talks about the store that his father, Sigmund Weil, opened with his brother, Henry, in 1924 in downtown Montgomery.  He describes how that store increased into a group of 13 stores throughout the South, which are now owned by Alan’s son, Alan Weil, Jr.

Alan describes his childhood growing up in Montgomery, including his neighborhood, where he went to school, dating his future wife, the lack of antisemitism, and the general sense of community.  He talks about the black domestic help he and his wife had in their home and how much a part of the family they came to be. 

Alan describes his experiences during the years of the Civil Rights Movement, the hiring of blacks in his stores, and the high percentage of black customers who frequented the stores.  He was taught to treat others as he would want to be treated himself, and that’s how he treated his customers and his employees.

Alan talks about why he loves Montgomery, although he misses the days when it was smaller and everyone seemed to know everyone by first name.  He fondly describes his experiences at the now-defunct Standard Club, a social club where Jews congregated and socialized.  He also talks about the courting weekends that were common in the South, such as Falcon, Ballyhoo, Jubilee, and Holly Days, where Jewish young adults went to meet, date, and socialize.  His description of his Jewish life includes Friday night Sabbath dinners, going to Temple Beth Or afterward for the Friday night service, Sunday school, and his family’s volunteer involvement with the Temple. 

While the size of Montgomery has grown, the size of the Jewish population has shrunk significantly.  Alan expresses his thoughts on the need for the various denominations – Sephardic, Reform, and Conservative – to combine into a cohesive group, because the Jewish population is too small to support separate congregations.

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