Unlike her own children, Paramus resident Linda Gould did not grow up in a "traditional" home. Her childhood residence, supervised by a staff of 35 rather than by two parents, accommodated 300 children between the ages of 5 and 18.
Still, said Gould who lived in the Pride of Judea Orphan’s Home (later, Children’s Home) for nearly eight years, starting at age 5 she has many good memories of her childhood, spent in a large building on Dumont Avenue in Brooklyn.
Linda Gould (top left) and friend Renee Fineberg (top right) participate in one of the many shows presented by the Pride of Judea Children’s Home.
Gould’s experiences, together with those of thousands of other alumni of the Pride and other Jewish orphanages, are chronicled in "Cradled in Judea: Jewish Orphanages in New York, 1860-1960," on view at New York City’s Center for Jewish History until Sept. ‘9.
Gould said that after her father left the family, her mother, frequently ill, could not care for her and her sister (four years older) and brother (six years older). The three were brought to the orphanage, which not only took in children without parents but welcomed those from families in distress, whether as a result of divorce, poverty, or illness.
Her mother did visit occasionally, and Gould recalls that when she came, she always brought something good to eat. "I wanted to be in a traditional home," she said, but she did not get her wish until she was 1′, when her mother remarried and Gould left the orphanage to live with her mother and stepfather.
Gould remembers the staff of the Pride as "caring but strict." There were counselors for each group of students, as well as teachers and social workers. While she acknowledges being angry "once or twice," she says the home, which was run by Jewish philanthropies in New York and nurtured some 10,000 children between 1915 and 1959, "helped mold me into the person I am today."
"It exposed me to religion, taught me that you should always share what you have, and gave me a strong moral conscience," she said of the home, which was run under Orthodox auspices. "It also taught me to look at life as a smorgasbord, with the glass half-full, not half-empty."
Gould who has lived in Paramus for 45 years and has been an active member of Temple Sholom in River Edge for almost that long attributes her high level of community involvement and love of sports to her experience in the orphanage.
Renee Fineberg, left, and Linda Gould at a recent gathering of Pride alumni.
She said she realized when she was raising her own children, and taking them to a variety of special events, that she, too, had enjoyed these pursuits while living at the Pride. "We were exposed to many activities," she said. "We were taught dancing and had once-a-week socials, and we went to Radio City, the circus, movies, and ball games."
And, said Gould, there were many opportunities to take part in sports. She developed a passion for tennis, which continues to this day.
While children at the home attended public school, they were given a firm grounding in Jewish tradition. "It was strictly kosher and we always went to Shabbat services," Gould noted. Hebrew school classes were offered twice a week and residents always celebrated the Jewish holidays. Gould recalls the holidays fondly, noting that the children received new clothes donated for the occasion and enjoyed special holiday meals. The entire school went out on parade when Israel was declared a state in 1948.
Gould also has warm memories of her bat mitzvah. "We had a group bat mitzvah," she said. "I was the youngest, only 11 and a half, but I was a good student and they knew I’d be leaving soon. We had it at the St. George Hotel in Brooklyn. They wined and dined the seven of us and gave us pink dresses, gloves, and gold shoes."
The children spent their summers in Long Beach in what Gould described as two "beautiful white buildings like a mansion," donated by a philanthropist. "It was like summer camp," she said.
Leaving the home was not easy for all the youngsters, said Gould, and many underwent a difficult period of adjustment. "Some people had trouble with loneliness," she noted. But, she added, many Pride alumni went on to get married and become successful professionals. The key to her own success was to keep active, she said, a trait she had learned at the Pride.
For several decades Gould has been a leader in American Jewish Congress at both the local and state levels and received the group’s Community Service Award in 1994. She volunteers at the Adler Aphasia Center in Maywood on a regular basis, has helped out at Bergen PAC for 18 years, and has worked actively on UJA’s Mitzvah Day since its inception.
She has also remained close to Pride alumni, who have formed a group that meets twice a year. In June, Gould hosted a picnic in Paramus that drew 40 alumni and their families, with three people coming from Texas. She remains particularly close to former Pride resident Renee Fineberg, whom she has known for 61 years. Gould and Fineberg are featured prominently in the current exhibit.
As the social philosophy of child care changed of the years and the goal of preserving families in crisis became paramount the Pride and sister institutions closed or changed their focus. Today, the Pride is a mental health center, open to all members of the community. Alumni devote part of their annual dues to supporting the institution, now located in Douglaston, N.Y.
For more information about Pride of Judea alumni and other former residents of Jewish orphanages in the United States, visit www.hnoh.com.