|All interviews were taped and documented. They are available through the Reference Department of the Teaneck Public Library. The Library is not responsible for the accuracy of the statements nor does it necessarily endorse the opinions expressed.|
|NARRATOR:||Ruth & Sam Rosenblum|
|DATE OF INTERVIEW:||June 22, 1984|
|TRANSCRIBER:||Jackie Kinney (7/24/1984)|
This is an interview with Ruth and Sam Rosenblum on June 22, 1984 at their home at 361 Warwick Avenue for the Teaneck Oral History Project.
(I) Ruth and Sam, how long have you been in Teaneck?
(S) Twenty five years.
(R) Twenty fine, going on twenty six.
(I) And where did you come from and why did you choose Teaneck?
(R) We came from Brooklyn Heights. We chose Teaneck very carefully. We had children three and tour years old. We were looking forward to sending them to school and we search out what we considered the best school system in northern Jersey. Northern Jersey because Sam was working in Manhattan and we wanted easy commuting.
(S) You might add that we are from New Jersey originally. Both of us, Paterson in my case and Paterson in Ruth's case.
(R) And I think additionally we were also interested in having a sizable Jewish community that we could be part of.
(I) So you came to Teaneck and got started very quickly in some civic activities.
(I) What were some of the things that you
(S) Well Ruth got started first in PTAs.
(R) Well before that in the League and the Democratic Club. Joined the Democratic Club immediately because at that time, we were still, we were active in partisan politics prior to coming here and it was natural to look for that and the League. The PTA came the following year when
(I) You were in the Lowell school district then.
(I) So this was the Lowell School PTA. And what did they, where did you serve first?
(R) I served immediately on the board because I had been very open in stating to a neighbor what I thought PTA should be and the kind of things they should do. Rather than buying gifts for schools, they should be initiating programs and leading the way. Buy gifts for schools made for very undemocratic, a very undemocratic way of the schools getting what they needed. This kind of thing should have been equally distributed by US, tax monies via the board of education.
(I) So you promptly got into
(R) I was invited to join the board and do my speaking and working immediately.
(I) In what capacity?
(R) What capacity? What was that first capacity?
(I) Well, what was the second capacity then?
(R) Program Chairman was first. Parent Education.
(I) What were some of the things that you did in parent education? What kind of things?
(R) Well, in parent education, we set up parent workshops with educators so that they would learn about what our Math program was, what our reading program was, whatever it was that we were doing in the schools. We wanted the parents to be able to understand what was being done for their children and if they felt the wanted more, to at least have some basis to get started with.
(I) These would be programs that would not be reached in the regular PTA programs, at regular PTA meetings.
(R) Right. PTA meetings prior to our coming were not concerned too much with that kind of thing. They were more socially oriented.
(I) So you changed the complexion of the
(R) I helped. I was only one of others who also had similar idea. Jean Bookman was president of the PTA at the time and when I had voiced my opinion, she said, 'ah, I need you on the board.'
(I) I know you've had an interest in libraries for a long time.
(R) That was one of the things that we initiated. We did a study for the need of elementary school libraries. We didn't have any at the time and we were instrumental in getting speakers, programs and eventually when Harvey Scribner came, we got started with elementary school libraries.
(I) What were some of the outstanding programs? I can't remember at this point. One of the things we did do, there was a program on academic freedoms: at the time there was push from the right wing in the country, the exact name was either Americans for Freedom First or Freedom Firsters, I don't quite remember the name. They had an office on Cedar Lane and they were making their views known. And we were beginning to feel their impact.
(I) In what way?
(R) I recall there was an incident at the high school level. The students there were protesting something and their form of protest was a very mild form. They wore armbands to school one day in protest and, I don't even recall what the issue was. As I said earlier, Sylvia Woods' daughter was involved and she would probably remember that better. these children were punished for wearing armbands to school and we thought it was time for a program on academic freedom. That this was the kind of thing that should have been handled in the classroom and perhaps lectures or forums. There were no avenues of expression for these children at the time. They couldn't use the school newspaper because, prior to anything going into the newspaper, it would be censured. They couldn't hold a meeting. They were denied that right. So they ended up wearing an armband. And we felt that there should be avenues for expression.
(I) Was this in the early 60s when the whole protest movement was beginning or was it even before
(R) It must have been early 60s. Very early 60s. So that we organized a meeting at Lowell School on Academic Freedom. And auditorium was overflowing. Everyone who was anyone came. Every board member came. Every school board member. And Lowell School got itself a reputation what wasn't too good at that time.
(I) According to who? you were troublemakers.
(R) We were troublemakers. right.
(I) Do you recall who some of the member of the panel were?
(R) Rev. Van Oert I remember him very well. I believe Helen Hill, She was principal of the high school at the time.
(I) Do you recall the actual sense that came out of this meeting. Was it in support of what kids had done in the high school?
(R) Yes it was. That was definite. Of course we had many negative feelings and high emotions at the meeting. This seemed to be the beginning of the flowering of the right wing at the time and later this interest and awareness led to other activities on both my husband's and my part.
(I) Such as
(R) Well it led to participating in the formation of Teaneck Citizens for Public Schools and definitely seeing the need for Teaneck Political Assembly which we also were very active in helping to form and worked with through the years.
(I) Before we get on to TPA and TCPS, can we just go back to TPA for a few minutes. I know you were instrumental in setting up the forums between parents and the board of education which became an annual event. Can you tell us just a little bit more about that?
(R) Well after becoming a regular attendant at board of ed meeting, we could see that the communications between the public and the board was poor and that was a constant cry. The need to improve the communications. So we worked to set up meetings on a regular basis with parents, representatives from the PTA, each PTA sent representatives and these meeting were scheduled two and one year I think we had three meetings depending upon what was happening and who the superintendent was. Agendas were prepared, questions were given to the board in advance so that they would know what we were interested in knowing, and I think they were productive. If it served nothing else than airing feelings, it was good but it did serve more than than. Ideas were exchanged and I think there was a lot of constructive things that came of it.
(I) While Ruth was working with the PTA, you were
(S) I guess I was mostly working with the Democratic Club. I had become a committeeman, I don't know exactly what year but I think I have been a committee man about twenty years so take 1984 brings me down to about 64, right?
(R) Yeah, at least there, probably
(S) May be even earlier. When did we move into town, 58? So maybe it was even earlier and you know, I did the usual things. A committeeman and a member of the club. As a committeeman, of course, you know, mainly it is the lowest rung on the political ladder. You'd get out the vote basically. I don't think you do any more that that. Theoretically, you are supposed to keep in tough with the, your district, but you know, in a town like Teaneck, there isn't a hell of a lot of that. It is mostly getting out the vote.
(R) And you were very idealistic. You did a lot of talking to people telling them to register.
(S) Yes, Yes.
(I) As you did too.
(S) As a lot of other people did who weren't committee people, right. But that's right.
(R) And we weren't recruiting for a democrats so much as we were telling people that, you know, whatever you believe, you should be registered and be heard.
(S) And as a member of the club, I did all the routine things that members of the club do. I helped edit the newspaper for a couple of years. No, I edited it for a couple of years. That's right.
(I) Didn't you organize a newspaper for the PTA.
(R) Yes, he did. He organized the first newspaper that Lowell had.
(I) It was a pretty busy household.
(R) Well, you know. You've had a similar household.
(I) Anyway, after we had these early things, your LEAGUE work also.
(R) That was one of the first things I started to do, the League. Even before I was in PTA. That was a natural for me. The first project that I really worked on in the league was KNOW YOUR SCHOOL and my particular little niche was school libraries in that study. I did other studies for the league too. ONE MAN, ONE VOTE was one of them. That was coming up here a New Jersey, they were considering a unicameral legislature. Did you remember that? There was a time they were. The League did a study and came out for bicameral.
(I) Have you stayed active in the League?
(R) No. No, I haven't. You can't do it all. Once I became very active in PTA, I had to drop, not PTA, TPA, Teaneck Political Assembly
(I) Now we can get into TPA
(R) I had to drop almost everything else because that was all consuming.
(I) Well actually, TPA came after TCPS. Why don't you start with TCPS first?
(S) I didn't do very much with TCPS. I really didn't.
(R) He was there by my side and helped.
(S) But I didn't really do any active work. I can't say that I did. For the record, I didn't. The group did it all.
(R) Well, the need for Citizens for Public School followed that meeting on academic freedom very closely. We were concerned that public schools and funding for public schools was in danger. We were getting pushes from the private school area, parochial and private schools. They were pushing for all kinds of funds and we were concerned that when the funds went in that direction, there would be that much less for public schools. That was one of the things that initiated the need. And there were many other people at the same time who were feeling the same way and somebody that we met later on organized a meeting to form TCPS and we were invited.
(I) Do you recall some of the other early people?
(R) Oh sure. Art Stevenson, Jim Donohue who was living in Teaneck and at the time, superintendent of Bogota schools, Orra Davage. Ruth Glick, Ruth and Harold Glick. In fact, they held that first meeting in their home.
(I0 What were some of the things that TCPS did? That is, that you were part of.
(R) Well basically it was decided that TCPS would not be a political organization. They would not support candidates. So when we drew that original charter, we had that stated that we would educate about the schools, the budget and all the issues concerning the schools but we would not take any stands on candidates.
(I) Did you take a stand on the budget itself?
(R) Yes. Yes we definitely took stands. I think TCPS was about the first organization that started in depth studies of the budgets, did all kinds of beautiful presentations to the board, to the public. I don't know, Stanley Gilinsky, do you remember, he did some marvelous presentations on the budget. And we publicized our stand through our newsletter and the newspapers. That I think was the, one of the biggest things that we did. However, we also were attending board meetings and raising questions on issues, all the issues of the day and we had committees that were studying the issues and presenting our views and the board listened and always took our views into consideration. They began to respect the work that was being done.
(I) By the Teaneck Citizens for Public Schools?
(I) But that eventually led to another need, or an organization to support candidates too.
(R) Well, when we, right, when we realized that we were not as effective as we could be and we had limited ourselves to not supporting candidates, we saw that there was a need for another kind of organization that did support candidates and that would be political. A totally different kind of organization.
(S) Yeah. But that was triggered by the integration problem.
(R) Right, but this was a school issue. This was the big issue of the town.
(S) Was it 1965?
(R) Yes that was elections, but the need was seen before then.
(I) And so that was the birth of the Teaneck Political Assembly.
(R) Before that, we had concerned citizens. Let's see. Good Government Committee.
(S) The Good Guys.
(R) No. The Good Guys was through TPA. Good Government Committee which was an ad hoc committee that formed and then following Good Government Committee was the formation of the Teaneck Political Assembly which had a life for about 15 years. Pretty long.
(I) The base was very board of the TPA. You were part of the organizing group.
(S) Yes we were.
(R) They need was seen by many different people and people were talking all over town in their own private little groups. We found out later that we were not the only ones who felt the need. There were many others who felt that same way.
(I) Well, what action did you yourself take?
(R) We went to Matty Feldman.
(S) To be more specific, we were discussing how a marriage could be made between the various diverse groups.
(R) With friends of ours.
(S) Yes. Eph Lewis to be specific. And we decided, everybody decided, that Matty Feldman was the obious guy to make the marriage.
(I) Matty Feldman at the time was mayor?
(R) I don't know if he was mayor or whether, he probably was mayor.
(S) He may have been. He may have been. And I and Ruth really didn't know his that well. We know who he was and I guess he would recognize us if he saw us, but Eph had some closer contact either through himself
(R) Machol. Dick Machol.
(S) Right. dick Machol. He went to Dick Machol who definitely know him well and brought the suggestion of the marriage to Matty through Dick Machol, right. And thereafter, you know, the groups were drawn together.
(I) You better explain who - this marriage took place. Which groups got married?
(S) Well I guess one of the groups you might call the 'middle of the road liberals' you know, civil right people, etc. with interest that way, good government, etc. and I suppose they were basically people who never voted down a budget. Good or bad, they never voted down a budget. Some of them maybe should have been voted down. That group plus, of course, a group of blacks. Some blacks.
(R) We already know there were parents who had voluntarily brought their children to Lowell School because, and enrolled them there when we had open enrollment, which was one of the first steps toward integration although it didn't attract too many people but it was one of the first things that was done.
(S) And then there was another view that is typified by someone life Frank Hall but there were others, John Dunnican, Ed Orr, who felt very strongly about civil rights but were of a different orientation in other aspects of political life.
(R) A little more conservative.
(S) Well maybe not even conservative. Maybe they were republicans some of them and we just didn't have rapport with them. I don't like to use the word conservative
(R) Right. You are right.
(S) People resent it. Sometimes they're right.
(R) Johnny Rodriguez. Why can't I remember that name?
(S) They just felt differently about a lot of issues but on an issue like civil rights and integration, they felt that same way, and good government, you know, and good school system, they were similarly inclined and so the groups were brought together.
(R) The black community was represented by the Lacey, Tom Boyd, Adolf Holmes, the McMillans.
(S) Was Orra a part of it, or
(I) Orra Davage.
(R) No. I don't think she ever became a member of TPA. She was active in Citizens for Public Schools but I don't think she was ever active in
(S) I can remember seeing her at meetings.
(S) You know, I can just see her face.
(R) I don't recall for sure.
(S) I can see her face. I know she was there. I never saw her husband but I saw her.
(R) And then there was Bernie Confer, Frank Hall, did you mention him?
(S) Oh Yeah, sure.
(I) And this was the Nucleus that started the assembly and they supported all of the same things that the public schools group did?
(S) Oh no, no.
(R) Well no.
(S) They were not successors. I wouldn't say they were successors.
(R) No. But they were all feeling the need for a second organization in town. That's why.
(R) Right. That would field candidates and of course the actual candidates then had to be screened, we had to look, search, we had a search committee, we had a screening committee, a nominating committee. I became a very involved and time consuming process. And I think we did a pretty good job.
(I) Did you elaborate on the screening on the screening committee a little bit?
(R) Before I do that, I would just like to say that one of the big impetuses for that getting together was the fact that there was big issue facing our schools and that was integration. And there was this common bond in the TPA, the people who did come together felt that this was a need and that we wanted a peaceful kind of integration and basically we were looking for candidates who would support that idea. That was our first election, a school board election 1965 was it, it was for the Good Guys.
(S) Coffee, Sather and Greenstone.
(I) There are still some pencils around with their names.
(R) We did a town-wide canvas, door to door.
(S) I think you ought to mention the name because there was one man, very politically astute and experienced, who ran the show - issued a handbook, told us what to do.
(R) How to do it, had workshops
(S) Do you know how he was?
(I) Oh sure. For the record. You gotta mention his name for the record.
(S) Leo Gamow. He taught everybody
(R) More than teaching, he was a very dynamic personality and he made his point so clearly. We had meetings all over town with Leo Gamow training people in what to do.
(S) He was good. He made that election possible, to win it and win it big.
(R) Through the League. I was doing that at the same time. I just remembered that.
(I) Doing what through the League.
(R) Hold cottage meetings on integration of the schools. We were having meeting with parents in each of the schools all over town.
(I) There was a lot of door to door and telephoning
(S) Oh Yeah.
(R) The TPA, we did a townwide door to door canvas. That year, we counted 800 people who were active.
(S0 And it was door to door.
(S) The purpose was to locate what is known as the 'plus vote' and
(R) Plus vote meaning they would support candidates who would support integration.
(I) And get them out to vote.
(S) And then after you'd located, those were the ones you'd call election night or the night before.
(R) You'd call them, you'd offer them rides
(I) And babysat.
(R) You babysat. You watched the polls. You counted each person Checked off their names and if they didn't show, called to find out what was happening and got out the vote. And it was an overwhelming support for integration. We won. That was a beautiful day for Teaneck.
(I) That was the beginning of many and I know you were active in many campaigns. Very active. And some of that led to your... well let's get to your civic activities.
(S) Well as far as the TPA goes, you know, I just did whatever they, mostly I participated in the election activities. I don't think, I never sat on any of the candidate selection committees. Mostly I was part of the campaign day committee. You know, running districts
(R) You moderated campaign cottage meetings. You did a lot of that.
(S) My activity was mostly on the election. I moderated, yes, forums etc. like that and, but mostly I would say that my activity was it was usually necessary to have a committee run the election and I was always, almost always, part of that committee. Either running my own district and a couple of others, sometimes I ran three or four districts depending on what they needed, you know. But others did that too, you know. I wasn't the only one. It would all depend on how much, how many people you had participating. The more people you had participating, the less you had to do.
(I) But you also took a personal interest in the candidates. You went around with them door to door, street corners
(S) Yes, yes. I did that on the partisan side and I did that for the TPA too. I did it for both.
(I) But you did more that just work on the election day committee because you actually became a co-chairman.
(S) Yes. Well I don't think that I
(R) Everything. You name it , he did it. He ran a campaign. The last campaign was fun from this dining room. The entire campaign. I devoted twenty four hours a day to it.
(S) That was TPA.
(R) That was the TPA.
(S) But before that, I also was president of the club. That was 1970. The Democratic Club. And for them, I really did everything, you know, like a lot of other people. I am not the only one, you know.
(I) Editing the newspaper and whatever else.
(S) Editing the newspaper, you helped run campaigns.
(END OF SIDE 1 - BEGIN SIDE 2)
(I) We were talking about participating in the campaigns. You had been chairman of the Democratic Club.
(I) President and chairing TPA with Jacqueline Kates. Was it both years. Was it one year or were you
(S) For TPA, I can't remember if it was one or two years.
(R) We were chairman two years.
(S) Was it two years? It was either one or two, I don't remember. I really don't remember. I know I was president of the Democratic Club for two years, that I know.
(R) You were chairman to two years. What I want to say is all of this activity, first of all became practically our entire social life. All the involvement in the various organizations and within the town. We made many, many, many, many friends. And the countless meetings in our home.
(S) And other homes.
(R) And other homes. Whether it was Sunday breakfast or committee meetings in the evening, it was constant. We loved it. We enjoyed it. The more we did, the more we loved the town. We did it because we liked being here and we wanted this town to be absolutely perfect.
(I) Well there are still one or two things that need doing.
(R) Oh, of course, but I am talking about the motivation and we cared about everything that happened here. And, as I said, the more we did, the more we became part of it, involved in every aspect of what happens in the town became ours.
(I) The same impetus isn't there now as it was in those early days.
(R) For us or do you mean for other people? For us?
(I) Well, I'm asking. I'm asking.
(R) I am working full time now. I don't have the same energy available or the time.
(S) Well, as far as I am concerned, I am not doing as many things as I did in each activity, but I have mainly maintained the activity. I am still a committeeman. I am not in the club any more. I'm not active in the Democratic Club. Mostly because there was a split and a fight and I was sort of a moderator there and I've, you know, they are younger people coming up and maybe they have the right to runt he thing now so let them run it. But I am still a committeeman and I am still helping the Democratic Party in my district plus other things like in the Mondale campaign that just ended. I am still a member of the Board of Adjustment.
(I) Tell us a little about that.
(S) Okay. I guess I was selected not because there aren't a hell of a lot of other people just as capable of doing it but mostly because once you do something, you come to the notice of the people who do the selecting and that's how I got selected I suppose. The Board of Adjustment, of course as you know, hears zoning appeals. If you want to do something that isn't allowed by the zoning code, you have to come to the zoning, the Board of Adjustments, and get a variance. And I guess I've been a member about fifteen years. Just about fifteen years.
(I) What have been some of the most
(S) All right. You know, most of the cases, I must say, while vital to the people who are making their application, are minor things. You know, someone wants to build an addition to his house and it violates the sideline setback, so he's got to come to the Board of Adjustments for the variance. Some of the things are very important. I would say, for instance, a heliport application now from the Glenwood section was very important. The people want to put in a heliport with helicopters coming down for landings and taking off at the Glenwood section, the hotel there, and it is a very important application. Previous once, I would say that are more than just localized, you know for the immediate neighborhood, would be for instance the McDonald's application which you may or may not have heard about and there have been various applications for a synagogue in town which, because of the amount of people involved, I would say do more than just effect immediate little neighborhoods. And Senior Citizen applications.
(S) Housing. Housing applications. The one now that is way down on Cedar Lane which exists but there have been others. There was an application a Holy, not a Holy Name, at the St. Anastasia's.
(I) Yeah, did anything happen to that?
(S) Which was granted but I think they had some financial problems.
(R) Funding problems. I think they were looking for federal monies and for some reasons, that didn't
(S) And then of course there was an application for Palisade Avenue just off Cedar Lane which the board turned down. There was another application on River Road which also the board turned down but which was appealed to the council and was reversed and they are now in the middle of building.
(I) Is that the Luther College
(S) Yes. Right. They are building with application and everything else.
(I) Isn't that going to be a rather expensive development?
(S) Well it never was, if you mean expensive, you mean expensive to buy into it?
(S) Yes. It never was, in my estimation, low cost although at one time, there was a certain percentage that was supposed to be
(S) Yeah. 10% was supposed to be for a lower income. Not low but lower.
(R) And that was waived.
(S) The present project, I think, makes no provision for that. The reason being, I think there were certain financial problems in allowing that but you know
(R) But that provision was changed by the council, not by the Board of Adjustment.
(S) The Board of Adjustment turned the whole project down.
(I) Well there was another high rise one on the corner, the intersection of Route 4 and River Road.
(S) Route 4 and River Road? I don't remember that.
(I) Wasn't that senior citizens or was that just luxury housing? It involved high rise in an area of town.
(R) I don't thing that every came before the board.
(S) We never got that.
(R) I think there was talk about it but it never actually materialized. Then there was the Public Service application.
(S) There was the Public Service to put in a power plant of some kind on Windsor Road I guess it was near the border between us and Bergenfield. Those were applications I say which have more than just neighborhood effect. And there may have been some more but I just can't remember without checking my records.
(R) You know, one of the things that we did not mention in the activities of TPA although it started with being active in for school board candidates, it was, the need was seeing that we had to be active in council elections and so the TPA kept itself local in its interests and searched for school board candidates and council candidates and then went out and actively worked for them every four years when they found candidates and we had our elections. So the TPA was a very strong force in town for about fifteen years.
(I) Are there any other areas of your activities that we haven't covered yet?
(R) I can recall one other very enjoyable period when jointly with Ruth Cowen we organized and sold cards for UNICEF. We started out doing this at the post office and later moved to the Oritani Bank and each year would sell these Christmas cards, birthday cards and note cardsraising money for UNICEF. We got to know many people - Mr. Gass of the Oritani Bank was an absolute doll. And it was a very enjoyable experience.
(I) I guess that just about covers everything. I want to thank you both, Ruth and Sam.
(S) Yeas and thank you for giving up the opportunity.
(R) And taking all your time this way.