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Freedom, love and jewelry in Huntington

George and Ruth Reisner in their store, Antiques

George and Ruth Reisner in their store, Antiques & Jewels on Main, in Huntington. (Feb. 15, 2011) Credit: Paul C. Weingarten

Jewelry is in Rutika Reisner’s blood, going back to her grandfather, who was in the business in Budapest before World War II. For her husband, George, a refugee from communist-controlled Hungary, it was a career of convenience.

The couple has melded their work and lives in a partnership spanning over three decades as owners of Antiques & Jewels on Main in Huntington.

From the time he was young, George Reisner remembers his mother, a survivor of Auschwitz, expressing regret that she hadn’t left Hungary.

“As a teenager I told myself, ‘I’m not going to get old in Hungary,’” he said firmly.

In 1977, at age 29, Reisner finally saw his chance for freedom in a rare government-sponsored, multicity tour of the United States.

“That trip was a big deal,” he explained, “because travel was pretty much restricted. . . especially to Western countries.”

He stayed with the group for the entire trip, until the day before the flight home from New York, when they were going on a Circle Line boat tour.

“I said, ‘I have an acquaintance here I’d like to meet. . . I’ll see you later,’ Reisner recalled. “And they said, ‘Fine, no problem.’ ”

He waved goodbye, waited until the bus turned the corner and headed to his hotel room.

“I packed up my stuff and left a note saying, ‘Don’t wait for me. . . I’m not going back.’

Speaking no English, he landed a job with a fellow Hungarian who dealt in antique jewelry.

“I learned English and the business at the same time,” he laughed. “It took me a couple of years to get comfortable with both.”

“In 1980 [an older colleague] asked me, ‘Do you want to get married?’” said Reisner. “And I said, ‘How about if I meet her first?’”

“My grandmother arranged that,” said Rutika, smiling.  “She didn’t like my boyfriends, and she knew this guy through the Hungarian community.”

“So I got her phone number and called,” George continued. “We met, and six months later we were married.”

The daughter of Holocaust survivors from Hungary and Slovakia, Rutika, who is known as Ruth, was born in Israel and raised in New York from the age of 6.

When she took a high school jewelry-making class, she found her passion.

“I loved it,” she recalled. “I had a workbench in my parents’ basement.  . . . I made jewelry and sold it at fairs and art shops.”

After graduating from college, she worked in Manhattan’s diamond district before deciding at age 25 to open her own jewelry store in Huntington.

“When I met George,” she noted, “we had parallel lives. . .  we complemented each other.”

An astrology buff in her spare time, Ruth enjoys getting a reaction from customers by accurately guessing their signs based on personality traits she observes.

“I think I scare people a little sometimes,” she admitted, “but it’s all in good fun.”

Antiques & Jewels on Main (631-427-7674) is located at 293 Main St., Huntington Village.

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