Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with David Shraberg, April 18, 2016

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries

 

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00:00:00 - Family's immigration from Lithuania to Somerset, Kentucky in 1900

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Partial Transcript: Okay, let's just start, um, by--would you just tell me what your full name is, for the record.

Segment Synopsis: David Shraberg describes his family's immigration from Lithuania to Somerset in 1900 and how his grandfather worked as a peddler to bring his bride-to-be over from Lithuania. His family eventually moved to Lexington in order to be part of a larger Jewish community. He also describes how his family name changed through the years due to immigration. Finally, he discusses his grandfather's establishment of a scrapyard on Manchester Street.

Keywords: Bess Smole Shraberg; Dating; David Shraberg; East European immigrants; Ed Munich; Extended family; Family life; Family values; Gentile-Jewish relations; History; Hyman Shraberg; Intermarriage; Jewish communities; Jewish marriage; Kentucky; Lexington (Ky.); Lithuania; Lithuanian immigrants; Max Munich; Moving; Name change; Peddlers; Relatives; Sarah Munich; Scherberg; Schraberg; Shreiberg; Somerset (Ky.); Winnie Katz

Subjects: Emigration and immigration.; Entrepreneurship; Families.; Family histories.; Immigrants--Kentucky; Jewish businesspeople; Jewish families.; Small business--Kentucky; Small business--Ownership

00:12:26 - Helping out in the scrap metal business

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Partial Transcript: So your father was raised here in Lexington.

Segment Synopsis: Shraberg's father took over the family scrap business when his father fell ill with Hodgkin's disease, and helped send his brother and sister to the University of Kentucky. He met his wife, Shraberg's mother, through Ohavay Zion Synagogue's rabbi Winnie Katz, who set them up on a blind date. Shraberg still has his parents' handwritten love letters. Working in the scrapyard as a child gave Shraberg insight into human behavior, eventually leading him to a career in neurology. He describes the business interactions that he saw and explains the healthy competition that exists between the area's scrap metal businesses.

Keywords: Baker family; Bess Smole Shraberg; Chicago (Ill.); Competitors; Courting; Detroit (Mich.); Family values; Henry Clay High School (Lexington, Ky.); History; Hyman Baker; Hyman Shraberg; Izzy Schwartz; Jewish businesses; Jewish marriage; Kentucky Scrap Material Company; Scrap metal; Small businesses; Winnie Katz

Subjects: Childhood; Entrepreneurship; Families.; Jewish businesspeople; Jewish children; Jewish families.; Small business--Kentucky; Small business--Ownership

00:19:54 - Celebrating Jewish identity as a child in the 1950s and 1960s

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Partial Transcript: What were your--uh, you, you said you had one brother and one sister?

Segment Synopsis: When Shraberg's grandmother would visit Lexington during the winter, Shraberg would attend High Holiday services at Ohavay Zion Synagogue. However, his family eventually became members of Temple Adath Israel because the services were more accessible and there were more children. For example, Shraberg remembers a moment from his childhood of a Yom Kippur service at the Synagogue where the men would prostrate themselves, which made him uncomfortable as a child. He also discusses how his sister was not expected to complete a bat mitzvah.

Keywords: Bat mitzvahs; Family life; Gender equality; Gender in Judaism; Generational change; High holidays (Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur); Jewish life; Jewish population; Jewish practices; Jewish tradition; Nancy Ann Shraberg; Religious services; Temple; William Leonard Shraberg

Subjects: Childhood; Fasts and feasts--Judaism.; Holidays.; Jewish children; Religion; Worship (Judaism)

00:27:41 - Difficulties in maintaining a Jewish identity in Lexington in the 1940s and 1950s

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Partial Transcript: Did you--were the Jewish, um, rituals important to you? Did you enjoy them? Did you enjoy going to, going to Temple? What did it mean to you as a child and a young man?

Segment Synopsis: Although he enjoyed attending services at Temple Adath Israel, Shraberg discusses the difficulties that existed while he was growing up in maintaining a Jewish identity in a smaller Jewish community, such as having to miss school to attend High Holiday services. He enjoyed the High Holidays and Passover, but Christmas was difficult for him as a child because he didn't understand why Santa Claus didn't visit his house. At school, kids would pick on him for "killing Jesus." As a result, Shraberg got into a few fistfights.

Keywords: Family life; Gentile-Jewish relations; High holidays (Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur); Jewish communities; Jewish friends; Jewish holidays; Jewish identity; Jewish practices; Reform Judaism; Religious life; Religious practices

Subjects: Childhood; Discrimination.; Fasts and feasts--Judaism.; Holidays.; Jewish children; Jews--Identity.; Jews--Kentucky--Lexington.; Lexington (Ky.); Religion; Worship (Judaism)

00:32:25 - Experiences with anti-Semitism in the 1950s and 1960s

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Partial Transcript: And, um, so did you re, resent at all the-- you mentioned a little while ago that the, the frustration of being told by some of your peers, "Oh you--Why did you kill Jesus?" And did you--and that you were one of the few Jews in a predominantly Christian culture.

Segment Synopsis: Shraberg discusses the anti-Semitism he experienced while growing up in Lexington. He remembers being called slurs by other children, Jews being barred from membership at the Idle Hour Country Club, and an incident where a neighbor tried to petition the neighborhood to get his family to convert to Christianity or move. He also mentions how it was much more difficult to maintain a Jewish identity in a smaller community such as Lexington.

Keywords: Broth family; Cotillion; Country clubs; Culture; Family life; Family values; Gentile-Jewish relations; Holocaust; Idle Hour Country Club; Jewish identity; Jewish practices; Kennedy family; Martin family; Prejudice

Subjects: Anti-semitism; Antisemitism; Discrimination; Jewish children; Jews--Identity.; Jews--Kentucky--Lexington.

00:44:41 - Witnessing racism as a child in Lexington in the 1950s and 1960s

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Partial Transcript: So where did you attend, uh, school? Elementary and, and junior high and high school?

Segment Synopsis: Shraberg remembers seeing racism against African-Americans in Lexington during the 1950s and 1960s. In particular he discusses the segregation in schools and institutions, such as the Ben Ali Theater where African-Americans could not sit with whites. He laments that he did not realize the discrimination at the time and only became aware of it during the Civil Rights Movement. He also tells a story about a time when his father rehired an African-American worker after he went to jail, which was practically unheard of at the time.

Keywords: Ben Ali Theater (Lexington, Ky.); Education; Employment; Generations; Henry Clay High School (Lexington, Ky.); Jewish businesses; Kentucky Scrap Material Company; Prejudice; Public schools; Relations with African Americans; Small businesses

Subjects: African Americans--Segregation; Childhood; Civil rights movements--United States; Entrepreneurship; Jewish businesspeople; Race discrimination--Kentucky; Racism; Small business--Kentucky; Small business--Ownership

00:51:18 - Attending the University of Kentucky in the 1960s

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Partial Transcript: And then you headed to UK that year. What, what made you decide to go to--to attend UK for college?

Segment Synopsis: While Shraberg was attending the University of Kentucky, he played keyboard in a band called the Magnificent Titans, named after one of the United States' original intercontinental ballistic missiles. They played at proms, cotillions, fraternity parties and had so many gigs that they had to join the AFL-CIO union. While attending the University of Kentucky, there was a tradition where his freshmen class would have to wear a beanie with "69" stitched on the front. Shraberg also remembers that he stood out as a "yokel" among the campus Jewish population because there were more Northern Jews on campus than Southern Jews.

Keywords: "Magnificent Titans"; American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL–CIO); Beanies; Family values; Fraternity; Greek life (fraternities, sororities); Hazing; Intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM); Jewish friends; Jewish life; Jewish networks; Jewish population; Jews in civic/social scene; Music; Northern Jews; Unions

Subjects: College environment; College students--Conduct of life.; College students--Religious life; College students--Social conditions; Jews--Identity.; University of Kentucky

00:57:53 - Anti-Semitism in Greek life at the University of Kentucky

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Partial Transcript: And, uh, I, I had, uh, I think it was in the second year that I decided that maybe I should be more social, so I decided to join a fraternity, and that's when I really became more aware of all the anti-Semitism that was still in the campus.

Segment Synopsis: While attending the University of Kentucky, Shraberg rushed for Zeta Beta Tau (ZBT) and became aware of the rampant anti-Semitism and racism in Greek life on campus. The incidents would range from comments and slurs to refusing Jews into fraternities. Shraberg was not impressed with Greek life and quit after a year. However, when the new medical campus opened up, Jews from around the country moved to Lexington and he made friends with Jews and non-Jews in his pre-medicine program.

Keywords: Culture; Dating; Greek life (fraternities, sororities); Jewish identity; Jewish life; Jewish networks; Jewish organizations; Jewish population; Jewish practices; Jews in civic/social scene; Joe DiMasso; Northern Jews; Population growth; Prejudice; Southern Jews; University of Kentucky Hospital; Zeta Beta Tau (ZBT)

Subjects: Anti-Semitism; Antisemitism; College students--Attitudes.; College students--Conduct of life.; College students--Social conditions; Discrimination.; Greek letter societies.; Jews--Identity.; Racism; University of Kentucky

01:09:12 - Developing a Kentucky identity while at the University of Kentucky

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Partial Transcript: So you mentioned--you very kindly sent me a bio that you'd written about your years in UK which was--

Segment Synopsis: Attending the University of Kentucky instilled in Shraberg a pride in being from Kentucky. It also gave him a unique Jewish experience that was different from Jews in larger cities. This unique perspective of being an outsider influenced Shraberg to pursue an education and career in psychiatry and medicine.

Keywords: Education; Gentile-Jewish relations; Gentiles; Holidays; Jewish communities; Jewish friends; Jewish holidays; Jewish identity; Jewish practices; Jewish tradition; Kentucky; Michael Canarac; Prejudice; Religious practices; Religious services; Small town life; Stereotypes

Subjects: Antisemitism; College students--Attitudes.; College students--Religious life; College students--Social conditions; Discrimination; Jews--Identity.; University of Kentucky

01:20:00 - Demonstrations at the University of Kentucky in the 1960s

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Partial Transcript: Um, you also mentioned in the bio that you sent, um, the political upheaval of the time. And, uh, what impact did that have on you?

Segment Synopsis: Reading about the Six Day War and hearing students describe Israelis as "tough" gave Shraberg his first real sense of pride in being Jewish on a global scale. He also discusses the political tensions, ranging from the Civil Rights Movement to demonstrations against the Vietnam War on the University of Kentucky's campus during the 1970s. Although he did experience some discrimination as a Jew, it was mostly confined to anti-Semitism in the Greek system. He also describes a trip to Europe he took with his brother in 1968 to visit his extended family, including a stop in East Berlin before the Wall fell.

Keywords: Berlin Wall; Civil rights; Communism; Europe; Greek life (fraternities, sororities); Holocaust; Immigration; International relations; Israel; Jewish communities; Jewish identity; Jewish networks; Jewish population; Lithuanian immigrants; Political involvement; Politics; Protests; Six Day War; Stereotypes; Vietnam War; Zionism

Subjects: African Americans--Segregation; Anti-Semitism; Antisemitism; Civil rights movements--United States; Discrimination.; Integration; Jews--Identity.; University of Kentucky

GPS: Location of the former Berlin Wall in Berlin, Germany.
Map Coordinates: 52.509, 13.372
01:37:51 - The selling of Kentucky Scrap Material Company / raising children Jewish in Lexington

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Partial Transcript: Um, I did want to loop back and ask a follow-up question about the, um--your parents' business. Did they--what happened to the business, and did they have any hopes that you would--that you or your brother would take it over?

Segment Synopsis: Shraberg's father ran the Kentucky Scrap Material Company until he died at the age of 77, but was never disappointed in his son for not taking over the business because of his medical career. Shraberg also discusses the choice to raise his family in Lexington and the meaning of Judaism and the Jewish community across the generations.

Keywords: Baker family; Building businesses; Child-rearing; Civic involvement; Competitors; Family businesses; Family life; Family values; Generational change; Generations; Gentile-Jewish relations; Gentiles; Intermarriage; Jewish businesses; Jewish education; Jewish friends; Jewish identity; Jewish life; Jewish networks; Jewish tradition; Kentucky Scrap Material Company; Leadership; Membership; Scrap metal; Small businesses; Small town life; Temple; Temple Adath Israel (Lexington, synagogue); University of Kentucky; University of Kentucky Hospital

Subjects: Entrepreneurship; Jewish businesspeople; Jewish children; Jewish families.; Jews--Identity.; Lexington (Ky.); Small business--Kentucky; Small business--Ownership

01:55:37 - Addressing declining Temple membership in the 2000s

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Partial Transcript: And as an adult, um, member of the Jewish community here in Lexington and with your experiences being president of the temple, what kind of observations or insights have you developed about the nature of the Jewish community here?

Segment Synopsis: While a leader at Temple Adath Israel, Shraberg wrestled with the problem of dwindling temple membership due to intermarriage and acculturation, and an aging congregation. He served as Temple president from 2006 to 2008.

Keywords: Decline of Jewish population; Jewish communities; Jewish life; Jewish population; Ohavay Zion Synagogue (Lexington); Religious services; Temple; Temple Adath Israel (Lexington, synagogue)

Subjects: Jewish leadership--Kentucky--Lexington; Jews--Identity.; Religion; Worship (Judaism)

02:01:15 - Opinions about Israel in the Lexington Jewish community

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Partial Transcript: So you mentioned earlier about, um, how--about Zionism and Israel and how that became important to you when you were in college.

Segment Synopsis: Shraberg attributes the persecution of Jews during the Holocaust to his strong belief in Zionism, although he is sympathetic to the Palestinian cause. The issue of human rights in Israel is a contentious issue within the Temple Adath Israel congregation because Reform Judaism tends to be more politically active in social justice issues. As a result, Temple leadership is very careful about how certain events are executed and tend to avoid politics altogether.

Keywords: Holocaust; Jewish communities; Jewish identity; Political involvement; Reform Judaism; Zionism

Subjects: Israel.; Jews--Identity.; Judaism.; Lexington (Ky.); Religion; Religion and politics

02:08:18 - Current relationship to Judaism

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Partial Transcript: What's your experience been of the relationships between the members of Ohavay Zion and Temple Adath Israel?

Segment Synopsis: With the dwindling Jewish population in Lexington, Shraberg thinks that it would be beneficial for the congregations at Temple Adath Israel and Ohavay Zion Synagogue to merge, although he doubts that will happen. He discusses his wife's experience with Hadassah, but he laments that his children were not as involved in Jewish organizations as kids.

Keywords: Child welfare; Child-rearing; Civic clubs; Civic involvement; Community involvement; Congregations; Culture; Decline of Jewish population; Hadassah; Jewish Federation of the Bluegrass; Jewish communities; Jewish friends; Jewish identity; Jewish networks; Jewish organizations; Jewish population; Jews in civic/social scene; Ohavay Zion Synagogue (Lexington); Temple Adath Israel (Lexington, synagogue)

Subjects: Jewish children; Jewish families.; Jews--Identity.; Judaism.; Religion