Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Suzanne Post, September 16, 2016

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

 

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00:00:00 - Family background

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Partial Transcript: Uh, it's September 16th, 2016. I'm Carol Ely, and I'm here with Suzy Post for an interview for the Kentucky Jewish Oral History Project, sponsored by the Jewish Heritage Fund for Excellence.

Segment Synopsis: Suzy Post was born in Louisville, Kentucky in 1933 in the depths of the Great Depression. Post begins by discussing her family's history, starting with both sets of grandparents who immigrated to the United States from Germany sometime in the nineteen-teens. Her mother's parents ended up in Terre Haute, Indiana and her father's parents settled in Louisville, Kentucky. Post explains that the reason she does not know much about her grandparents' background is because her parents never talked about their roots. She believes that her parents felt that because their parents left their old life behind and were starting a new life in the United States, they didn't feel the need to talk about their roots. She also notes that her mother and father never spoke German in their house. All of her grandparents came from Germany as Reform Jews. Post's mother, Elizabeth Wolff, and father, Morris Kling, were both born in the United States.

Keywords: Elizabeth Wolff; German Jews; Grandparents; Great Depression; History; Morris Kling; Terre Haute (Ind.)

Subjects: Depressions--1929--Kentucky; Emigration and immigration.; Families.; Genealogy; Louisville (Ky.)

GPS: Louisville (Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 38.225333, -85.741667
00:03:50 - Family's religious life and political views

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Partial Transcript: But their parents didn't, uh, bring over particular religious traditions or ethical--

Segment Synopsis: Post's grandparents brought the traditions of Reform Judaism to the United States when they immigrated from Germany. Post's parents, Elizabeth and Morris, were both progressive in their political views but neither belonged to the Socialist party. Whenever she objected to something that was happening in the world, she recalls her father saying, "After the revolution."

Keywords: Jewish tradition; Reform Judaism; Socialism

Subjects: Emigration and immigration.; Families.; Jews--Identity.; Politics and government

00:04:53 - Early family life

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Partial Transcript: So did you have brothers and sisters?

Segment Synopsis: Post had a set of twin younger siblings, a brother and a sister. All of the children in her household were born in the depth of the Great Depression so she describes it being, "really hard times for mom and dad." She recalls people coming to her home for food and her mother fixing them a plate and handing it to them outside. She and her sister always wore hand-me-downs, including designer clothes from a wealthy cousin. Her family lived in Strathmoor Village off of Taylorsville Road in Louisville, Kentucky. It was a new neighborhood and Post recalls playing as a kid in the empty lots around her house. She and her siblings went to a county school until the eighth grade and then moved over to Highland Junior High which was a city school.

Keywords: Family life; Grammar schools; Great Depression; Highland Junior High School; Strathmoor Village; Twins

Subjects: Childhood; Depressions--1929--Kentucky; Education; Families.

GPS: Strathmoor Village (Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 38.2231, -85.6777
00:07:01 - Early Jewish life and traditions

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Partial Transcript: So did you--um, what was the Jewish life like in your family? What was the role of tradition? Did you attend temple?

Segment Synopsis: Growing up, Post's family had Shabbat dinner every Friday and Saturday night, lit candles, and said the blessings over the children. She and her siblings attended Sunday school at a synagogue on Second Street in downtown Louisville. She recalls that the Jewish community was a big part of her Jewish identity. She discusses how she only dated Jewish boys and how she believed intermarriage was a "horror." She states that the first non-Jewish boy she dated was in college at Indiana University. She remembers herself as a "good girl" who never rebelled against any Jewish traditions. Post was a member of two or three clubs at the YMHA with other young girls in the Jewish community.

Keywords: Indiana University; Intermarriage; Jewish communities; Jewish identity; Jewish life; Shabbat (also Shabbos, Sabbath); Sunday school; Temple Shalom (Louisville, synagogue); Young Men's Hebrew Association (YMHA); Youth clubs

Subjects: Childhood; Jews--Identity.; Jews--Kentucky--Louisville.; Religion

GPS: Louisville (Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 38.225333, -85.741667
00:10:28 - Disparities in the Jewish community / thoughts on socialism

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Partial Transcript: So, uh, were you aware of disparities in the community between the people who were leaders and who tended to be wealthier?

Segment Synopsis: Post begins by describing the noticeable difference between the "haves and the have-nots" in the community. She describes children at her school who wore hand-me-downs and some who didn't. She recalls that the differences in social class in her community were largely economic and very noticeable. She then describes her father, Morris Kling's, role in the Jewish community, calling him a "macher" who served as president of their congregation. Her father then became president of the Jewish Federation of the Bluegrass. She states that her uncle, Arthur Kling, was the real leader in the community. Arthur was a socialist and ran for mayor of Louisville on the socialist ticket in 1939 with Norman Thomas. Post remembers singing socialist songs on Passover at his house at the end of Seder. She has used these songs until now. She mentions being warned not to say publicly that she was a Socialist. She recalls that Socialism in her family was more of a "Jewish thing" rather than something separate. Her father would say, "after the revolution."

Keywords: Arthur Kling; Congregations; Fathers; Jewish Federation of the Bluegrass; Jewish communities; Jewish tradition; Morris Kling; Norman Thomas; Passover (also Pesach); Seder; Social classes

Subjects: Jewish leadership--Kentucky--Louisville; Jews--Identity.; Louisville (Ky.); Politics and government; Religion; Socialism

GPS: Louisville (Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 38.225333, -85.741667
00:14:19 - Mother's role in the community / first memories of the Holocaust

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Partial Transcript: And, uh, did your mother take a public role in the community?

Segment Synopsis: Post describes her mother's involvement with Hadassah in Louisville. Her mother became the president of Hadassah and "lived, worked, and died Hadassah." She recalls her mother being devoted to helping Jews in Israel. Post recalls feeling that "it seemed perfectly natural" to be in favor of her homeland Israel. Post then transitions into a discussion about one of her first experiences with the Holocaust. She describes being at a "movie house" with her younger siblings and seeing a newsreel of the concentration camps. She describes it as a horrible feeling and the first time it registered with her what was going on and that it was human beings who had caused this to happen. She states that the start of her social justice work was because of the horrible pictures she saw at the movie house that night of what was done to Jews, gypsies, handicapped people and others. Recently she had to leave the Holocaust Museum because of the power of the images there. She says it was a mistake not to have discussed these things at home but they couldn't. It was a private horror of her own. She says that even today people don't do enough to avoid doing this sort of thing. She cites "The Garden of the Finzi-Continis" as an excellent film to show what happens when a protective wall hides what is really going on. She has asked every Federation director to show that film as part of UJA, with no success.

Keywords: Adolf Hitler; Benito Mussolini; Community; Council of Jewish Women (Louisville, Ky.); Elizabeth Wolff; Hadassah; Holocaust; Israel; Jewish communities; Mothers; Movies; The Garden of the Finzi-Continis (Motion picture); United Jewish Appeal (UJA); World War II; Zionism

Subjects: Discrimination.; Jewish leadership--Kentucky--Louisville; Jews--Identity.; Religion; World War, 1939-1945; World War, 1939-1945--Concentration camps

GPS: Louisville (Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 38.225333, -85.741667
00:20:45 - Family's experiences in the Holocaust

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Partial Transcript: Do, do you know anything about your family's experiences in the Holocaust? Your relatives left--

Segment Synopsis: Post recalls that none of her family had direct experiences with the Holocaust except her aunt who was married to a Nazi in Germany. This aunt escaped Germany in 1939 or '40. She describes a tapestry that her aunt took from Germany that was supposed to go on a bench. Post now has the tapestry hanging in her house.

Keywords: Aunts; Family life; Germany; History; Holocaust; Nazism; World War II

Subjects: Discrimination.; Families.; Religion; World War, 1939-1945; World War, 1939-1945--Concentration camps

00:22:27 - Beginning of her social justice work / how she met her husband

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Partial Transcript: So thirteen, learning about the Holocaust, being exposed to these horrors, did it make you feel vulnerable here in America?

Segment Synopsis: Because Post came of age during the rise of the civil rights movement in the late forties and early fifties, she joined the NAACP when she began college at Indiana University. She later joined the NAACP in Louisville and met a man named Lyman T. Johnson who was the grandson of slaves. She recalls an interesting experience she had with Johnson where he sat down and told her children and in-laws about what it was like being the grandson of a slave. Post's in-laws also shared stories with Johnson about what it was like being the children of Russian Jews and to hide under the floorboards from the Cossacks. Post then transitions into how she met her husband. Her husband, Edward Post, was a part of the Jewish community in Louisville and was described as "very smart." Post recalls that they were both co-chairs of the United Jewish Appeal in high school and college which is where they met. They were married very young because of pressure in the 1950s not to get pregnant outside of marriage. She took social justice politics more seriously than he did. His role was to work as a lawyer to feed the family. She did the "let's change the world" stuff. They had five children.

Keywords: Civil rights; Edward Post; Holocaust; Indiana University; Jewish marriage; Lyman T. Johnson; National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP); Passover (also Pesach); United Jewish Appeal (UJA)

Subjects: African Americans--Relations with Jews.; African Americans--Social conditions.; Civil rights movements--United States; Emigration and immigration.; Families.; Immigrants; Race discrimination; Race relations--United States; Racism

GPS: Louisville (Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 38.225333, -85.741667
00:29:12 - Raising children in the Jewish tradition

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Partial Transcript: So, uh, t, tell me about your, your children and their, their child--we'll stay in the childhood phase now. You can tell me how they ended up later.

Segment Synopsis: Post and her husband had five children together, four sons and an unplanned and joyously welcomed fifth child, a daughter. Post was focused on survival, more than on gender education of her children. Her four sons had bar mitzvahs at Temple Shalom in Louisville, her daughter did not. Post recalls having a debate with herself whether or not she wanted to raise her children in the Jewish tradition but she thought "life is bigger than that." She concluded that she would expose them to Judaism so it would be easier to reject it later if they wanted to. Post then transitions to what has changed for her in her faith, saying that she values things that "help us determine what kinds of choices we make in life" and credits being a Jew during the time of the Holocaust with going into civil rights work. Religion helps people think about good and evil. However, Post does not attribute any Jewish or generally religious values as a motivation for the work she did. She mainly attributes being a minority as a Jew and the history of the Holocaust as her motivation and what made her sensitive to the civil rights movement.

Keywords: Bar mitzvahs; Child-rearing; Childhood; Holocaust; Jewish education; Jewish tradition; Judaism; Temple Shalom (Louisville, synagogue)

Subjects: African Americans--Relations with Jews.; African Americans--Social conditions.; Civil rights movements--United States; Jewish children--Kentucky--Louisville; Jews--Identity.; Jews--Kentucky--Louisville.; Race discrimination; Race relations--United States; Religion

00:35:02 - Relationship between Jewish and African American communities in Louisville, Kentucky and work with the NAACP

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Partial Transcript: Um-hm. What--so what was the relationship between the Jewish community and the African American community like in Louisville--

Segment Synopsis: Post recalls that there was not a relationship between the Black and Jewish communities in Louisville at the time she was doing civil rights work in the late forties. She notes that Jewish households had Black maids as the extent of the relationship. Jewish storekeepers were more likely to serve African American customers, and names Mary Helen Byck, who owned Byck's department stores, as one she remembers. Post transitions into a discussion about her involvement in the NAACP and notes that it was unusual for her as a Jewish person to be involved in the organization. She didn't note support or opposition as significant to her own civil rights activism. Post states that she didn't notice any opposition to her work in the community and when she graduated from Atherton High School she predicted she was going to be collecting money for Louisville for the Urban League in the Fiji Islands.

Keywords: Atherton High School; Byck's Department Stores; Democratic State Central Committee; Department stores; Jewish communities; Jewish stores; Mary Helen Byck; National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP); Relations with African Americans

Subjects: African Americans--Relations with Jews.; African Americans--Social conditions.; Civil rights movements--United States; Louisville (Ky.); Race discrimination; Race relations--United States; Racism

GPS: Louisville (Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 38.225333, -85.741667
00:37:38 - Involvement in the open housing law and school desegregation in Louisville, Kentucky

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Partial Transcript: So who could you partner with to work on these issues of injustice? Is that when the ACLU came into the picture?

Segment Synopsis: Post begins by discussing the NAACP in Louisville and Lyman T. Johnson as its leader. She then turns to the open housing law that divided the city of Louisville in the 1960s. She recalls that there was great opposition to the law but a few Jewish leaders spoke out. Post states that this was an important part of the Jewish and African American communities' relations. She then discusses school desegregation in Louisville in the 1980s, where she was the only white plaintiff with children in the public school at the time which gave her legitimacy on the issue but also cost her a lot of acquaintances. She talks about feeling exposed as a Jew when she has worked in the Black community, and therefore identifying as an American Jewish woman to try to counter expressions of anti-Semitism.

Keywords: American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU); Lyman T. Johnson; National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP); Public schools

Subjects: African Americans--Relations with Jews.; African Americans--Segregation; African Americans--Social conditions.; Civil rights movements--United States; Jewish leadership--Kentucky--Louisville; Louisville (Ky.); Race discrimination; Race relations--United States; Racism; Segregation in education

GPS: Louisville (Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 38.225333, -85.741667
00:40:07 - Jewish identity and experiences with anti-Semitism

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Partial Transcript: Did you, um, feel exposed in a way because you were Jewish? Was that ever used against you by the people who were opposed?

Segment Synopsis: Post begins by describing that she did feel exposed as a Jew when she worked with African Americans in large numbers. She recalls that she made clear as soon as possible that she was Jewish as a way of saying "don't rub my nose in your anti-Semitism; I don't wanna hear about it." She then claims that she didn't encounter any anti-Semitism, although she expected it. She says that she's always had great relations with African Americans outside of the Jewish community and that being Jewish was never an issue.

Keywords: Antisemitism; Jewish identity; Relations with African Americans

Subjects: African Americans--Relations with Jews.; African Americans--Social conditions.; Louisville (Ky.); Race relations--United States; Racism

00:42:19 - Involvement in the anti-war and feminist movements

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Partial Transcript: You, uh, became involved in a lot of movements, not just, uh--"just"--open housing, school desegregation. You got involved, uh, in opposition to the Vietnam War as well. That must have been, uh, a struggle.

Segment Synopsis: Post begins by describing her involvement in the anti-war movement during the Vietnam War by saying it was "painful." She recalls a time when she had to step away from her son Ben's bar mitzvah to participate in a demonstration after the Cambodian bombings, which she states was the largest demonstration in Louisville's history. She became involved in many social justice movements because everything affects everything else. Her family and the Jewish community were not always supportive of her activism. She then discusses her rabbi, Rabbi Pearly, who was fired for being too involved in the anti-war movement and didn't spend enough time with his congregants. Rabbi Pearly later took a job as the director of the Human Rights Commission and hired Post to work on women's rights. She then became involved in the women's movement as an extension of the ways people were treated inequitably. The Jewish community was particularly upset when she started a support group called the Kentucky Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty which received a lot of opposition.

Keywords: Anti-war; Bar mitzvah; Ben Post; Cambodian bombings; Civil rights; Feminism; Human Rights Commission; Jewish communities; Kentucky Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty; Protests; Rabbi Pearly; Vietnam War; Women's Movement

Subjects: Civil rights movements--United States; Jewish leadership--Kentucky--Louisville; Jews--Kentucky--Louisville.; Louisville (Ky.); Social movements--United States; Vietnam War, 1961-1975

GPS: Louisville (Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 38.225333, -85.741667
00:45:57 - Reflections on Jewish identity and current civil rights involvement

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Partial Transcript: So did you feel you were kind of fighting it within your religious identity, or was it more a political thing in the, in the context of America?

Segment Synopsis: Post claims that she fought the issues she did because of her political interest rather than limited to her religious identity. Her involvement was outside of the Jewish community and synagogue and she didn't think about that during her work. She was on the Human Rights Commission, as was Rabbi Pearly. She is not involved with any major movements recently but she feels that there are people she has mentored that have done great things, although she doesn't mention them. In response to whether she's been involved with the gay rights movement, she responds that all of these things are interconnected like a great loaf of challah. She recalls that she never felt that being Jewish allowed her to speak differently about things and that she didn't consider it a liability to not be able to speak up about things.

Keywords: Gay rights; Human Rights Commission; Jewish communities; Jewish identity; Jewish organizations; Rabbi Pearly

Subjects: Civil rights movements--United States; Jewish leadership--Kentucky--Louisville; Jews--Identity.; Jews--Kentucky--Louisville.; Louisville (Ky.); Religion; Social movements--United States

GPS: Louisville (Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 38.225333, -85.741667
00:48:58 - Children and grandchildren's current lives

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Partial Transcript: So just to turn back to the personal for a minute, um, where are your children and grandchildren and--now, and what kind of lives have they--

Segment Synopsis: Post discusses her children's current lives. Her oldest son is a professor at Penn State. Her son, Steven, is a math professor in Madison, Wisconsin. Her son, Ben, is working in Louisville. Her son, Daniel, is an attorney in California and her only daughter, Rachel, is involved with the homeless coalition in Portland, Oregon. Post says that she doesn't know if they have continued to identify with Judaism. They are too far away to gather for Passover, only when she got lung cancer.

Keywords: Ben; California; Daniel; Family life; Judaism; Louisville (Ky.); Madison (Wis.); Penn State University; Portland (Or.); Rachel; Steven

Subjects: Families.; Jewish children--Kentucky--Louisville; Jews--Identity.; Religion

00:50:44 - Changes within the Jewish community during her lifetime / closing remarks

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Partial Transcript: So, um, just some kind of global questions here. How, how have you seen things change in the Jewish community in your lifetime as far as what people are involved with, what they care about?

Segment Synopsis: Post claims the Jewish community today in Louisville is much more affluent now than it was when she grew up in it. She discusses how some people in the community today can go to Israel every other year, although she has not gone herself. Post believes that one of the biggest issues facing the Jewish community today is maintaining its integrity, especially when finances won't restrict Jews from moving outside of the community. She herself regrets having never traveled to Israel. She closes the interview by letting the audience know that living and working as a Jew in a larger community was very enriching. She states that she not only has had her Jewish heritage to draw from but also a larger, non-Jewish world to draw from.

Keywords: Change; Israel; Jewish communities; Jewish identity

Subjects: Jewish leadership--Kentucky--Louisville; Jews--Identity.; Jews--Kentucky--Louisville.; Louisville (Ky.)

GPS: Louisville (Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 38.225333, -85.741667