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Interview with: Nat Levy
Dates: July 28, 1982
Archive Number: OH 0411
N: 00:22 This is an interview of Nat and Jill Levy of Houston, Texas. It was conducted at 8:15 pm on July 28, 1982, at their residence in Houston. The interview is a part of a three-year study conducted by the Houston Center for the Humanities and Public Policy under a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities on Houston: The Development of an International City. The interviewer is Marjorie Hillman acting as a volunteer from the National Council of Jewish Women, Houston.
(recording stops then restarts)
N: Nat, Jill, whoever wants to answer first, whatever, just start in. Would you like to tell us how and why and when you came to Houston?
NL: We came to Houston in October 1979. How we came? We came by airplane (laughs) from South Africa. We lived in a place called Victoria, which was the capital city in South Africa. We left South Africa basically because of the political climate over there. We felt that in the—that we could not—we were not comfortable with the political climate there and didn’t believe that we could be comfortable with it in the foreseeable future because we felt that things were not going to change. We felt that in the interest of our children, and the generations to come, that we should seek a new home outside of South Africa.
N: Why Houston?
NL: Well, the first question that we had to ask ourselves is where to go to, and the basic choice that we felt we had was between Israel and the United States. We chose not to go to Israel, and I would say basically because we felt that at our stage of life the language barrier may be too great to overcome. And also we thought that it may be somewhat harder to make a new start in Israel than we may find it here in the United States. I was able to acquire citizenship before we got here because my father had been born in the United States in the late 1800s. When he was about 3 years old, his family took him out to South Africa. The family went to South Africa, leaving behind only one small part of the family in the United States, which is still here. When I acquired citizenship in 1979, I petitioned for Jill and the kids to accompany me and to live here, and we arrived here in October, as I said before. Now Houston we chose because we felt that the cities that we were aware of in the United States, that we had looked at, because I had been here on previous occasions on business, and Jill had accompanied me on two occasions—one occasion—and we felt that the opportunities are here in Houston for somebody in that situation. I was an attorney in South Africa, but I was not able to practice law here without first attending university for a couple of years and then writing the bar, ________ (??) bar qualifications. So I couldn’t practice law, so I had to find something else within a reasonable amount of time, I could start feeding my family and housing it and clothing it, etc. Jill also would have needed to work in that situation, which she has been doing, and Houston seemed to be the place of opportunity. We also knew some people here, which made it a little bit easier from that point of view. A number of South Africans are living in Houston, having emigrated from South Africa over the past few years, and so there is a substantial community that we could relate to, if we needed to. And that kind of answers the question, I think, as to why we landed here.
N: 05:29 Going back just a little bit, um, where was your father born in the United States?
NL: Well, we believe he was born in New York, but the possibility exists that he was born in Danbury, Connecticut. They never—his parents never registered his birth.
N: Oh, I see. And you said there were other relatives. Are you in touch with them now or do you know where they are?
NL: Yes, I had to find it.
N: Did they know about you and why you were in South Africa, or—?
NL: They knew that the branch—that a branch of the family was there. I came here on one trip armed with a letter dated, I think, 1927, from a cousin. That was the only connection that I had with the family here, and I made it my business to find that branch of the family. The whole story is a little bit like Alex Haley had in the Roots situation, but I eventually did find this cousin in New York who could remember that my father was born in the United States, remembered the family well, and I was able to prove my identity through the medium of that letter and through dropping the names that she knew in the family. She was able to sign an affidavit confirming that my father was born here and that was a tremendous help in getting him registered as a citizen because he hadn’t been registered as a citizen.
NL: 07:02 And through his registration, getting myself registered.
N: Right. Do you have any sisters or brothers?
NL: I have a younger brother. He’s six years younger than I am, and he’s remained on in South Africa. My parents remained on there, too, and my father died subsequently. My mother is living there, and of course Jill’s par—I just have the one brother. Jill has both her parents in South Africa, and she has two sisters and a brother there, and one of her sisters, her younger sister, is arriving here with her family in September. The movement is starting back. The cycle is starting to get back to the United States.
N: Your brother who is six years younger, since you had mentioned you left when you were three?
NL: No, my father was three when he left.
N: Okay, your father—okay.
NL: My brother is married—
N: Has he ever been to the United States?
NL: No, he’s never been to the United States and apparently has no inclination to come. He doesn’t enjoy the right that I had to become a citizen. They changed the law in the United States between the time that I was born and six years later when he was born. The law had changed which entitled—the law entitled me when I was born to citizenship, but did not entitle him to claim citizenship.
N: How did you know that? Since the law was changed and that was a long time ago?
NL: I visited the passport office in Washington, DC, and found out what the law was. (laughter) Being a lawyer I could sort of understand it. (laughter)
N: Right. Right. Now, how about your family? Have you any roots back in the United States?
N: Where’s your family from?
JL: 09:01 They’re all from South Africa. They come—I was third generation South Africans. Originally, most of the Jewish in South Africa came from Russia.
NL: You do have a connection to your family in New York. How are they connected to you?
JL: Yes, I do have relations. I do have family, but not close rank. First cousins. ________ (??) I do have family here on my mother’s side.
N: Were there—when you moved to Houston, was it purely economical and rather than going to New York since you have some distant family there?
NL: Yes. Well my family—the family there, not in New York, my family is in—your family is in New York, well, distant relatives.
NL: My family is in Detroit, Michigan. Farmington Hills. But you can’t compare, I think, the opportunity you have here to opportunities in Detroit in this economic climate.
N: Right. That’s true.
NL: And they’re much older than I, so there was no opportunity that they could find for me. Now I’m sure if there was they would have let me know. But this was the place where I found employment and so did Jill. Employment of sorts.
N: That’s real important. (laughter)
(break in recording)
N: Okay, you arrived back in October of ’79. What were your first impressions of Houston?
NL: Okay. We had visited—I had visited Houston on two occasions prior to our coming to live here, and Jill had visited it once with me. My first impressions of Houston were very negative. It had—it was at the height of summer that I visited Houston the first time, and it was at the end of a busy business trip, and I didn’t like the climate. I thought it wasn’t a particularly attractive city. I didn’t find the people particularly friendly at that time, and I was more than happy to leave it. I was visiting friends at the time and took a very, very brief look around. I was here for not more than a couple of days, I think, at that time. Then Jill and I, on a trip, we went to Dallas and thought that we really liked the looks of Dallas, and to please very good friends of ours, we came to Houston just to visit them. We wanted to spend a couple of days here. We ended up spending about a week here and decided against Dallas in favor of Houston and then came to live here. What changed our mind was we realized, as I said earlier, that there was more opportunity here than there was in Dallas, notwithstanding the negative features of the city.
N: 12:50 When you were here on a visit, were you looking at the city as a place to settle or more of a visitor?
NL: Yes. I think that it was more as a potential place to settle, because at that time, I was aware of the fact that we were looking to the United States, and wherever I visited, I looked at it from that sort of angle.
N: And what were your feelings about the Jewish community? Or were you exposed to them at that time?
NL: At that time, not. My feelings about the Jewish community after we started living here was not very favorable. Our initial reaction to the community was somewhat unfavorable, I would say, because we felt that the community was aware of the fact that we were here, was aware of the fact that we may find things a little bit strange as immigrants, and there was no discernable movement on the part of the community to make us feel part of the community in any extent. We felt that because we had been active in our community in South Africa, so it hurt a little bit. Subsequently, we have become involved with the community to some extent, which we can talk about later, but I feel that the Houston Jewish—I’m talking about the Jewish community now as I say community—but I think the comments would apply to the community in general, not just the Jewish community. We particularly looked to the Jewish community for some sort of a, not a welcome so much, but some sort of a feeling that we, you know, that they wanted us to belong. There wasn’t, in our view, too much of that, if anything.
N: There was nothing.
N: So they really didn’t help your adjustment here?
NL: Well, we did get a call from the Orthodox community, through somebody that I work with, who invited me to attend services and a function there, and it was at the other end of town, at Fondren Southwest, so there was something.
JL: Yes, and if I might say so, in order to attend that function, and the gentleman who called us, knew that we were immigrants and had only recently arrived, that we’d been here for a couple of weeks, and in order to attend, we had to pay, which straight away put my back up, because I felt that the gentleman who phoned knew that we were here literally for a couple of weeks, and he didn’t know what we had or what we didn’t have, and I thought that was no way of saying, Join our synagogue, community, or what have you.
NL: 16:09 Yes, it was a function that cost about $25 a head or something—
JL: So we didn’t have any cash.
NL: --and they invited us to attend it. Well, we just, we declined it. I think we would have declined it anyway, maybe. I don’t know.
JL: I felt that that wouldn’t have happened back home. There would have been someone new in the community who would have asked them to join us, irrespective.
N: Did you find that there was a South African group here that was going through the same thing you were going—you went through?
NL: The South African group in Houston, as far as the Jewish South Africans are concerned, have kind of located almost completely in the Fondren Southwest area of Houston. The reason for that, I think, has a lot to do with the community center being there, a variety of temples being there, and synagogues—
NL: --and the fact that, no, the reform is also there.
JL: Yes, but most of them have gone towards the—(unintelligible)
N: And what is your background been?
JL: It’s Orthodox.
N: And yours also?
NL: Yes, the same. The South African community, I think, have almost formed a little ghetto in that area, and we chose not to live in that area for two main reasons. The one reason had to do with the education for the children. We’d heard some really good things about the school district, the Spring Branch school district, and we thought that we’d like our children to be in school in this area, to attend school here. The other reason was that we felt that if we lived in a South African Jewish type of neighborhood, it would take that much longer for us, and the children, to integrate with the American community, and we felt we would rather be in an area where we were almost, preferably isolated from South Africans, so that we could integrate easier and quicker, and it so happened that it has worked out that way. Fortunately.
N: 18:51 You just slightly mentioned you have children. Who are they—?
NL: We have three children.
N: Who are they and how old are they?
NL: We have three children. Our eldest, David, is sixteen. He’s at high school in the eleventh grade. Stratford High School. Kim is just starting high school at Stratford. She is due to be fifteen in September. Michael, aged eleven, has just finished at Nottingham Elementary, and he is about to attend Spring Forest Junior High.
N: These are their present ages?
N: Not when you came here in 1979?
NL: Yes. That’s their present situation. Yes.
N: And I don’t know if whether they’ll be in on the interview, but from your point of view, how did they adjust? What were their feelings when they—when you moved here, uprooting from South Africa and everything that they had known and coming to the United States?
NL: They’ve adjusted extremely well, I think. The one who had the most difficulty was the eldest. He arrived—he had difficulty for a couple of reasons. Shortly after we arrived here, the Iranian—the hostage situation in Iran developed, and he happens to be somewhat dark, and he was at the school, I don’t there were many Jewish kids, and he was mistaken for an Iranian, or they chose to think that he was Iranian, and he came in for a bit of a teasing on that basis. He is a quiet fellow, and it took some time before he decided to stand up for himself, and from that time on, well, that was after the first semester, I think, he had no problem.
N: Do they talk about South Africa and family and friends that they have there?
JL: They teased David in particular about his accent and about our sayings which ________ (??) English, not in American. Even though we all speak English, we tend to have a more ________ (??) vocabulary, which the children didn’t understand, and he found that very difficult, and in order not to be teased and to be accepted, he had to conform, and he had to change his accent, as well as his actual grammar, and the way he speaks. He was the most difficult one.
N: 21:43 How is he three years later?
JL: Three years later he is absolutely fine, but then he has changed. He has changed, and he has conformed to their way of thinking, speaking, and—
N: How do you feel about that?
JL: I don’t mind it at all. I do mind the grammar part with the breakdown in English. I think it’s a shame. But he lives—knows we’re living here. That’s the way it is, ________ (??). The other thing that he was very upset about was the fact that we did not attend, and do not attend, ________ (??), and he is very proud of what he is, and he doesn’t understand where (unintelligible passage), the conservative side. So we have won the battle as well (unintelligible passage) because it’s one of the area’s only ________ (??) Orthodox synagogue in this area, and we were—(phone ringing; unintelligible).
NL: Excuse me.
(break in recording)
NL: Jill has raised an interesting—what we find a rather amusing feature of what has happened to the children, and that is that when they communicate with American children, or Americans, they adopt a different accent to what they use when they’re at home with us. The reason for this initially, and possibly still, is that they find that they are easier under—they’re understood more easily by their peers if they speak that way. But our youngest child, in particular, Michael, in fact has two distinct accents, his American accent and his home accent. (laughter) Jill is correct, and we—I, in fact, found it disturbing that they have adopted the negative type of—the negative side of American speech, the sloppier way of speaking, because any number of Americans speak extremely (phone rings) clearly and well, and they have adopted (phone rings) this very, very sloppy approach to speech, but we are trying to correct that.
N: He was the youngest, and they’re so open to picking up any—(speaking at same time)
NL: Oh, yes.
N: --kind of language.
NL: 24:30 Yes, yes. We don’t—we’re not partial about it or anything, but it’s just a little bit disturbing to us because we feel that they should learn to communicate better. Jill was asking—you were talking earlier about being received in the community here. Yes, we went so far as—I went to speak to the head of the Jewish Community Center here about—
N: It was a community center—
NL: Yes. He is the director of the federation. I went to speak to him about the feasibility of integrating the South African Jewish community into the Houston Jewish community, because I feel that with—that we have a lot to offer this community. The reason why I say that is that the South African Jewish community, in the context of world Jewry, has played a tremendous role, as far as Judaism is concerned, and as far as Israel is concerned, and the people that are here were part of a very, very dynamic Jewish community and a far more integrated and active and dynamic community than the American community has been able to be because it is a more—because it is a community that is less widespread, it’s less scattered. It’s more integrated and more unified than the American community, just by nature of the geographics and the logistics of the community, so I feel that this community from South Africa, the Jews from South Africa, have a tremendous amount of potential, once they get their act together here and start making a good living, and number of them have started that. In other words they don’t have the insecurity of, Can we make ends meet before we get involved in the community? I feel that the Houston community either is not aware of it or feels that it does not need that. I almost feel that the latter reason is the real reason, that there was not a vested interest in this community as there are in many others, not just Jewish communities—
NL: --and that in some ways, this may constitute some sort of affect to the establishment. (laughs) There’s a possibility. I don’t know that, but I suspect it.
N: Do you know many of the South African families that are here? Did you know them in the past, from South Africa?
NL: Yes. The answer to both the questions is yes. There is a South African club or society here in Houston, not just Jewish, but a South African society, and it’s not a very active society, and I happen to be the vice president of that society, and because of that activity I know, I think, the vast majority of the South Africans who are living in Houston.
N: Is this group doing anything to help new arrivees? (laughs)
NL: 28:23 Yes, to some extent. Our connection is the South African consulate. When people report in over there and say that they need any advice or assistance, then we have a system of referral to people who can help them with the specific problem.
N: How many people would you say are here? How many families?
NL: It’s difficult to tell because although the Jewish South Africans have congregated, as I’ve said mainly in the Fondren Southwest area, there is a substantial number of non-Jewish South Africans living in Houston, and they don’t live in Fondren Southwest. But I think there must be at least 200, 250 families in Houston.
JL: I would say the same. Between 250 and 300 families.
NL: Yes, yes.
N: And where are the non-Jews living?
NL: All over. They haven’t—there’s no congregation of non-Jewish South Africans. There is no area where they live in particular.
N: Do you think—well, the Jews were going to one area specifically, the congregations of what the Jewish community had to offer to the—(unintelligible; speaking at same time)
NL: And of course other South Africans—
JL: Once the South Africans were there, they felt it would be quite easy to start off having at least people around them that they knew or their background at least was similar, and they thought it was a good start.
NL: There’s another reason and that is that, and I think it’s important because of this study, and that is that the South African Jewish day school movement is very strong. There are Jewish day schools in the Fondren Southwest area, and that is a feature that I never mentioned earlier, and I think that’s an important feature, because most of the immigrants from South Africa are people with young children. Particularly in Fondren—people say things about the HISD, that it’s not as good as other school districts, and I believe that’s a generalization because I’ve heard subsequently that there are very good schools in the HISD. But word gets around that it’s not up to scratch, and they tended to send their children to the Jewish day schools.
N: Especially if you come from another country and you’re hearing one thing negative about it, you may—
NL: Sure. So that’s another factor that I think is important as to why they—
(break in recording)
N: 31:22 What is your occupation now?
NL: A financial planner.
N: And do you hope to get back to law?
NL: I hope to have the opportunity of attending college and then taking the bar. I think that I probably will not go back to practicing law, but it is possible that I may.
N: Is there—now, as far as your children, what do you look for for them and their occupations? Have they talked about it or what are your aspirations for them?
NL: Jill? You have more aspirations than I do.
JL: That is a very difficult question to ask. Obviously, the first one that we’re thinking in terms of is that we will have complete trust ________ (??). At the moment, he is thinking in terms of either law or medicine. That is really completely up to him to decide what he wants. At the moment, he wants to go north when he attends college. As far as I, as his mother in particular, am concerned, having traveled so many miles to emigrate, I feel very strongly about the fact that he is thinking in terms of going to college elsewhere, because I feel that colleges here are very good, and at least ________ (??) he would get to come home on the weekends, long weekends, Jewish holidays, that sort of thing, because I feel at the moment all we have are each other. Fortunately or unfortunately, mixing with American children, he’s gotten to know how American children feel, and he has gone into the college situation, and he feels that the best college that he can get into is the college he wants to attend. Also being immigrants and starting all over again, the college situation is totally different to the type of situation we faced at home. First of all, there was no choice. There were only a few major colleges, and you would go to the one in your city, and that would be it. The one and one only. Whereas here, of course, one has a tremendous variety, and of course as immigrants, one immediately has to think in terms of one’s ________ (??) and what one can afford. Because irrespective of the fact that you might be able to get a child into one these special universities, and then I don’t know that the chance is really there, because there are thousands of super-intelligent children who I’m sure are much capabler [sic] than our children. One has to be aware of this because we are now living in a very large community and you’ve got thousands of others going through graduation at the same time. But even working to get into one of these major colleges, one of the top colleges, I wouldn’t have the means to fly him backwards and forwards as others are doing. Having spoken around recently, I think people are changing in this economic situation, as it stands at the moment, and I think people are thinking twice about sending their children to another country. Anyway, we have two years to decide as far as that is concerned. Hopefully there will be loans available by then and there will be scholarships. But at the moment, I don’t know of any, and we will look into it, but I do know that the possibility is very, very small as to getting into any of these programs with scholarships.
N: 35:35 How about your female child?
JL: We’re taking one step at a time. She’s only going to enter high school. I don’t think she has any inclination whatsoever of going outside of the Houston area, but going to college, yes. But it would be something like the university ________ (??).
NL: I think that that we would—the decision would be based on the aptitude of the child, and the desire on the part of the child, and the goals set by the child, for himself or herself, as the case may be. We would like each of our children to be respectable citizens and make a success from whatever they chose to do. (phone rings)
JL: I’m sorry.
NL: We would like each of them to have a qualification that would enable them to earn a reasonable income. But we are not fanatical about them doing anything in particular. (voice in background)
N: Is that true for your sons and your daughter the same? (voice in background)
NL: Yes. Sure. (voice in background)
N: I had some questions for your wife. (laughs) Anyhow—
NL: Do you want to switch over? (voice in background)
NL: Then you can carry on with some of the questions that you have for me.
N: How about any anti-Semitism? Have you experienced any? Have your children? Your wife? (voice in background)
NL: I don’t think that—I don’t think that we’ve experienced anything that has troubled me or Jill. The kids have experienced some anti-Semitism (loud background voice) but not to any extent that has caused any deep concern, either on the part of the children or ourselves. The fact is that the children had a really good basis at a Jewish day school in South Africa, and they were very much aware of their identity before they arrived, even down to the youngest one. And both in terms of the schooling that they had and in terms of the home situation, by the time they arrived here, they were made to believe that they were no better or worse than anybody else, and if people started this anti-Semitic thing, then the problem was on the part of the person trying it than necessarily their problem, our children’s problem. They’ve handled the situation accordingly, and if anyone has become aggressive, at least our sons are able to take care of themselves. So, the short answer is no. There is anti-Semitism here in similar terms to what it exists, how it exists, in South Africa, and probably in most parts of the world, but not to any extent that alarms us. (voice in background)
N: 39:18 Now that you’ve been here three years, do you feel more part of the Houston community, part of the Jewish community in Houston? The two different groups. (voice in background)
NL: Yes. We, I feel, speaking for myself, I really do feel part of the community in Houston. I feel that our children feel very much a part of Houston and at school. We obviously talk about whether it would be a good idea to go back to South Africa. Well not whether it would be a good idea, but how would we feel if we had to go back to South Africa, and we are unanimous in our belief that this is our home, and this is where we want to be, at least in the United States, if not Houston, for the rest of our lives. But as far as Houston, in particular, is concerned, it has been fairly good to us. We’ve had a motor cross stolen, and we’ve had one or two other things go wrong, but that could happen in any large city. We’ve had our problems with the city, which everybody knows about, and—
JL: But we’re entirely happy.
NL: We’re happy here. It’s our home. We don’t regard South Africa as our—our daughter has just come back from South Africa, as you know.
NL: She was six—she was there for six weeks. When she was there, she felt that Houston was her home. She was going back home to Houston. Although she had a very, very good time there, and she was very well—she was very well treated there, but she regards Houston as her home. Which is significant to us.
NL: 41:20 Because they didn’t ask to be taken here. They were very secure in their lives over there, and now I think they feel very secure in their lives over here.
N: Can you compare the two lives?
JL: Yes. From the children’s point of view, I’d like to mention this that it was—they were coming to a totally opposite lifestyle because, first of all, all three of them attended Jewish day schools, which they did do over here. It was a very small community, and everybody knew everyone. It was a wonderful, wonderful upbringing as far as the children, you understand. Also, they were, let’s face it, being brought up, um, in a higher-than-middle-class environment. And here they were to be totally thrown in with a very mixed society, in huge schools with huge numbers, which they really weren’t used to. I feel the upbringing that they had, and they would have continued to have, was far superior. There was no thought in terms of drugs. Yes, we made them aware of what was going on as far as drugs were concerned worldwide, but none of their friends knew about drugs or were on drugs. Nor were their seniors at school on drugs. This was more than horrific to us when we actually came here and found to what an extent—to what extent they were now going to be exposed to.
N: In the elementary school?
JL: Even in the elementary school, which was shocking. So from a quality-of-upbringing point of view, South Africa, as it is at the moment, would have been, I think, far better, but because we had to throw them into this huge wide world, they have learned to cope with it, to accept it, and to know the difference between right and wrong. Also, they have very few Jewish friends, which is very, very sad. We’ve always, even back home, mixed with everybody. We found coming here the numbers of Jewish children that they have met are very few and far between. So this has been very, very hard. Especially with Kim, having just returned and mixing totally with Jewish children.
N: Is the proportion in the population different there?
JL: It’s also a very small percentage, especially in the city that we came from, but we lived in a very closed community over there and a very secure one. Do you understand what I’m saying?
N: Yes. I do.
NL: Well, there’s—the flip side to that is that, and I agree with what Jill has said, but the negative side to this life that they lived was that it was a sheltered life.
JL: Yes. True.
NL: 44:47 And that they’ve now been exposed to a new dimension to life, which we believe has matured them tremendously within a short space of time, and that was highlighted on Kim’s recent trip to South Africa, where she felt that she had matured or knew more about life than her friends back in South Africa.
JL: Still one was never nervous as far as crime was concerned.
JL: Even as far as the children are concerned.
JL: You can walk around—or who they mixed with. We were truly happy. In fact you were very happy with the types that they were choosing and mixing with. As opposed to over here, we are very careful of their friends or acquaintances.
N: Well, comparing your two cities and seeing Houston as such a transient and city full of newcomers, how does that compare with the city that you were living in?
NL: Chalk and cheese. Absolutely. I mean Victoria was, it was a government administrative type of city, so a lot of government employees, army bases there, and that sort of things.
JL: Plus the language.
NL: And it’s the administrative, yes, plus the language.
JL: Victoria was more, um, at the time speaking than they were—(unintelligible; speaking at same time)
NL: Theirs is sort of a Dutch language, but it’s a more—it was a settled community, almost non-transient, and really few transient neighbor situation people.
JL: And the Jewish community was very well established there, very well.
N: They were old families?
N: You were saying you were third generation?
N: The family—(unintelligible; speaking at same time)
JL: (unintelligible passage)
N: 46:51 Was the Jewish community on a whole a wealthier group?
N: And a little bit more of a range that you’ve see here?
JL: Yes. ________ (??) seen here.
NL: More than what?
N: Than what you see here.
JL: (unintelligible; speaking at same time)
NL: Oh, no.
JL: Because it’s spread.
NL: No, Jill, I don’t agree with that.
JL: That’s the only reason why. No, it’s not that our belief was met, what I’m saying is that we’re not meeting them in our area, our children are not meeting them. There are very few Jewish children in their classes.
N: Is there anything that you would like to add, as far as your own point of view as a woman, as a wife, as a mother, or—(unintelligible; speaking at same time)
JL: For me, my top priority was my children. My top priority was the schooling, which I must point out ________ (??). We also arrived at a time when the Jewish day schools ________ (??) had not started the grade our son was going to go into, and this was our major concern. So that is why we looked for accelerated classes. That’s a unique situation which we thought our children would fit into very comfortably. And we have not been disappointed.
N: Is there anything that you would like to add? Any suggestions for newcomers or any area that you would like to add?
NL: No. I don’t think so. I think it’s—what I’d like to add, as far as what we’ve spoken about is concerned, is that we haven’t told you that Jill herself was a successful business person in South Africa, and that she is a highly qualified secretary, and she is qualified in other areas too, but she had to start off here at just a little over $3 an hour.
JL: Because nobody, nobody told me the rate.
NL: 49:32 Nobody told her that she should be—(unintelligible; speaking at the same time)
JL: I was only too happy to find a job because I didn’t know what was going to happen as far as Nat was concerned, and it’s very difficult when you move in, and you’re really happy with the people you work with, to suddenly find you need to move because you’re being unfair to. So that was a very, very big disappointment to me, is that I can’t—I was working for minimum wage, but I had all this experience behind me, and I was really being taken.
N: Have you since changed jobs?
JL: Oh, certainly.
NL: Oh, yes.
JL: I certainly have.
NL: The point I make is that she was taken advantage of.
JL: I was taken advantage of.
NL: And she was misled by people at her—for some reason. Well, I mean, you know, you’re immigrants and people—
JL: Everybody said to us you must learn to eat humble pie, and both of us came ________ (??), and we were quite clear to start on the bottom wherever it was, and so I accepted the first thing that came my way, feeling at least I had something to start with.
JL: And when I think back, it was only three years ago, and I feel that what I started on now is what I should have started on three years ago. I’ve learned and I’ve learned plenty. I’ve learned from the Americans, and I’ve learned that one has to stand up for yourself here. But that is one of the things where, you know, unfortunately I had to go through the process of learning ________ (??).
N: Would you like to continue on what you’re doing?
JL: 51:11 Oh, yes. Certainly I would. I enjoy working, but I also feel that there is a difference between enjoying working and knowing that you have to work. So why not be paid, you’re worth it, and I know what one is worth today.
NL: (laughs) Yes, I think, you know, we’ve talked negative things, but the positive side is that there is no doubt in our mind that America is the freest country in the world, that most freedom over here is abused by people who don’t know how lucky they are to have it, to some extent. But by and large, people learn to abuse their freedom and that Houston has a lot going for it as a city, notwithstanding the negatives, otherwise, we wouldn’t be here, because money isn’t the beginning and end of all existence. That it is a country where people can set their goals and achieve their goals and no one is going to stand in their way, provided they don’t break the law. It is certainly still a land of opportunity, and notwithstanding all the good things that we had in South Africa, nobody told us to come here. We are very happy to be here, notwithstanding the downside. We find that we just have to learn to integrate with the community, whether it be in the non-Jewish or the Jewish community, and we believe that one should integrate with both.
JL: And I must say, as time has gone on, when two people work in a job, everybody ________ (??). When two people who have children to attend to as well, there’s not that much time available for a social life, which is very sad. That quality of life, unfortunately, is not really there, and as time has gone by, we have accumulated so many, many friends and acquaintances that quite frankly we don’t have the time to see them as often as we would like to, and I think that’s a very good thing, because it’s not as though we’re ________ (??). We are never alone. We have never spent a Jewish holiday on our own. Ever. But that’s also the type of people we are. We are not shy. If we want to have people around, it’s quite easy to fill our home, and we always have invitations to go out. So, but it’s been, I think—(unintelligible; phone rings)
NL: Excuse me.
JL: --more so (phone rings) than in particular—(speaking at same time)
NL: Yes. (answering phone)
N: Is there anything else you would like to add?
JL: I think that’s about it.
NL: I think that’s about it.
N: 54:31 Well, thank you.
(End of recording 54:32)