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Featured Oral History

Leo Polster

Today is May 2, 1995. I’m interviewing Leo Polster at 6242 Peachtree in
Columbus, Ohio. The interviewer is Art Levy. Leo, the reason some people wanted
you interviewed for the Historical Society is the fact that you’re going
through a second Bar Mitzvah which I think is great. Believe me, I don’t
think I could ever get through it. Now let’s start at the beginning. May I
have the names of your parents?

Polster: My father’s name was Morris Polster and my mother’s name was
Lena Niebling.

Interviewer: And where were they from in Europe?

Polster: My father was from then Austria-Hungary and my mother was from
Russia.

Interviewer: Now before I forget let me say one thing. You won’t have to
worry about a family tree. I’ve seen one that your family is on. I think you’re
related to everybody in Columbus.

Polster: Almost.

Interviewer: Between the Schlezingers and the Polsters and the Wasserstroms
and I don’t know who else. My father-in-law was a Wasserstrom, like I told
you. She is Janet Wasserstrom Goldsmith’s daughter. When did your folks come
to the States?

Polster: Well my father came, I don’t know, 18- something, 1870, around
in that time and my mother came I guess about 10-11 years later.

Interviewer: And where did you say, did I ask you where they were from?

Polster: Yeah.

Interviewer: What brought them to Columbus, do you know?

Polster: Well my dad came from Europe to Newport News and stayed with some
relatives and then he moved, he was only 13 years old, and he came to live with
some other relatives at Circleville and I think he was down there about four or
five years. My mother came from Europe when she was 10 months old to Mt. Vernon,
Ohio and they were there several years and then they moved to Columbus.

Interviewer: What was your father’s occupation?

Polster: Well he was a merchant. He was in the queen’s wear and restaurant
supply business.

Interviewer: In other words you’re closely related to the Polster
restaurant on South High Street?

Polster: Yeah.

Interviewer: Do you have any sisters? How about sisters and brothers?

Polster: I have two sisters and one brother.

Interviewer: There’s Hannah?

Polster: Hannah is the youngest sister and Edythe is my older sister. Then I
have a younger brother Nathaniel.

Interviewer: Not for the record but where is Hannah? Is she around?

Polster: She’s in Pittsburgh.

Interviewer: Yeah. In other words, you were born here in Columbus?

Polster: Right.

Interviewer: Grew up in Columbus?

Polster: Right.

Interviewer: Around what neighborhood?

Polster: Well let’s see. When I was born we lived on Fulton Street.

Interviewer: Where on Fulton?

Polster: Near Washington.

Interviewer: Near Center’s?

Polster: Well it wasn’t Center’s at that time. It was a little bit west
of the shul. And then we moved to 18th Street near Bryden. And
then we moved to Kimball Place and to Bexley.

Interviewer: Didn’t you live on Bryden Road and there’s a . . . . there?

Polster: Well my mother lived there. After I got married, my folks lived
there.

Interviewer: Oh, oh I remember that. I was in that house visiting your
sister. What public schools did you go to?

Polster: Well I went to Douglas for about six months and then I went to Main
Street School and from Main Street I went to Roosevelt for about three or four
months and then I went to Bexley and I graduated from Bexley and I went to Ohio
State.

Interviewer: Uh huh. Went to Ohio State, okay. What was your occupation
through the years?

Polster: Well I graduated with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Pharmacy and I
followed that for several years and then I wandered around from job to job and I
finally landed in the steel business.

Interviewer: Uh huh. Okay. Religious affiliation?

Polster: Well I’ve been at Tifereth Israel all my life and since about 1945
or ’46, I’ve been a member of Agudas Achim also.

Interviewer: You mentioned Tifereth Israel. I think your family started, was
one of the founders of Tifereth Israel.

Polster: My dad was, yeah.

Interviewer: I was with an Orthodox synagogue up until 1979 when I retired
and I’ll tell you, I switched over to Tifereth Israel and I have never been
happier. I think they’ve got such a great crew there, the Rabbi and the Cantor
and all the office help. They’re just fabulous. Let me ask you something. What
prompted you to have a second Bar Mitzvah? Maybe it’ll give me an idea.

Polster: Well I don’t know. I was, it was mostly decided by a cousin of
mine, Geri Ellman who thought it was a good idea and she talked to the rabbi and
everybody seemed to jump on it at one time before I did.

Interviewer: Well I hope they don’t jump on me, I’ll tell you. I don’t
think I have the mental capacity right now to do it. Were you ever interested in
sports as you were growing up?

Polster: Well I was active in sports in high school. My most activity was in
football. I did play in other intramural sports at Bexley.

Interviewer: Did you ever play in the Sunday Morning League baseball?

Polster: No I . . . .

Interviewer: Never did?

Polster: never did.

Interviewer: I was never much in the way of a sportsman. Incidentally, I have
seen your family tree, I think they had it on display at Tifereth Israel and it
is just fantastic. It is so big. I started one. I started with ten people, six
here in Columbus and four in Africa was all I had and I think I’ve got over a
thousand names on mine. What do you recall about your childhood, anything that
makes you want to recall it? I mean, happy days, not-so-happy days.

Polster: Well I don’t know. My childhood was more or less normal I guess.
Actually . . . . would count my happiest days as probably high school. I don’t
know, just the normal more or less.

Interviewer: I’ve got two grandchildren over at Cassingham School right
now. When you said you lived on Fulton Street down in the ghetto, do you
remember anything about those days?

Polster: No. The only thing I remember was about three years old, I fell out
of my dad’s truck. He bought a new truck and I fell out of it. I remember
that. It’s like . . . .

Interviewer: I didn’t fall out of my father’s truck but he forgot to tell
me how to crank it and I cranked it and broke a wrist when I was a kid. Did you
ever go to the Hebrew School?

Polster: Oh yeah I started . . . .

Interviewer: On Rich Street.

Polster: No before that Hebrew School I went to Hebrew School with Tifereth
Israel on McAllister . . . .

Interviewer: Parsons?

Polster: and Parsons. I started there when I was about six years old and went
until I was Bar Mitzvah. I didn’t learn anything but went.

Interviewer: How about Schonthal Center? Did you spend any time there?

Polster: A little. Playing a little basketball every now and then but I never
spent a lot of time there.

Interviewer: I have grandchildren that play basketball at the Center and
every time I walk in I think of that court in a carriage house.

Polster: Yeah.

Interviewer: Do you remember there was about a foot around the base line?
They had the walls padded so you didn’t kill yourself. These kids don’t know
how well they have it today. I grew up in the ghetto. I grew up on the street
just north of Fulton Street on Washington right there. And in those days it was
really a ghetto. All the Jewish people, all the kosher butcher shops and
everything, . . . .

Polster: Yeah.

Interviewer: all the synagogues were right there. Things have changed down
there now. Is there anything that you would like to add to this? Anybody that
has made a big impres- sion on, any of the family who has made a big impression
on your life or that you want to be remembered on this tape? The Historical
Society keeps these tapes and some day they will have them transcribed in case
anybody wants to get copies and read them. Where is your older sister, where is
she these days?

Polster: She’s been living in Deming, New Mexico ’cause she’s up in
age. She has an apartment in El Paso, Texas but she only lives there, she owns,
she built a house in Deming and she’s had problems getting rid of it but she
has an apartment in El Paso where she lives about a week or a month and she
comes back for medical reasons to New York City a couple of times a year.

Interviewer: I remember your two sisters now that you mentioned your second
sister. I knew your younger sister fairly well but I didn’t know you had a
brother. Is he here in Columbus?

Polster: He’s in Washington. He’s been in Washington for years and years
and he likes it there. I don’t know why but he does.

Interviewer: Well it’s a fascinating place. My younger boy, the one, my
older boy, the one that’s married to Dave Goldsmith’s daughter, lives there.
He lives in Bethesda which is a suburb . . . .

Polster: Yeah.

Interviewer: of Washington. And he’s fascinated with the place. Anything
else we can add? I ran out of things to ask you real fast.

Polster: I don’t know of anything special. My life’s been more or less
normal.

Interviewer: Who’s training you for your Bar Mitzvah?

Polster: Well it’s not having much training ’cause it’s not going to be
that much of a Bar Mitzvah. It’s just a matter of taking over the
synagogue on Saturday morning and it’s going to be a young people’s Bar
Mitzvah
. My granddaughters will do most of the service. Other young people
will do most of it.

Interviewer: Is that at the Agudas Achim?

Polster: No it’s going to be at Tifereth Israel.

Interviewer: I’ll probably be there. I’m there every Saturday. The thing
that I always think is so wonderful these days, they didn’t have tape
recorders when I was Bar Mitzvahed the first time. And now the Cantor
chants the thing . . . .

Polster: Yeah.

Interviewer: and they play it back over and over until they can memorize it.
I just think it’s . . . .

Polster: Well they’ve got methods now where, over East you can dial in your
birthday and up comes the maftir and on your computer will come up the
Hebrew and a trans- literation.

Interviewer: I had no idea. When you say “east,” New York?

Polster: Yeah New York, around New York. . . . magazines . . . . read about
it.

Interviewer: My granddaughter was Bat Mitzvah in Washington at
Bethesda in October and my son didn’t say anything but he studied up and he
read portions of the Torah.

Polster: Uh huh.

Interviewer: When he got up and read it I almost fell off my seat. I didn’t
know he could do it.

Polster: Well my granddaughters are very fluent in reading the Torah and they’ll
read the Torah and Haftorah when I’m Bar Mitzvahed.

Interviewer: That’s the thing I admire about Tifereth Israel. They involve
all the younger people.

Polster: Yes they do.

Interviewer: And on the anniversaries of their Bar Mitzvah or Bat
Mitzvah
they get up and they give them a portion of the Torah to read. I
think it’s fantastic. Leo, next about your friends. Married, widowed?

Polster: I’m married.

Interviewer: How long?

Polster: Forty-eight and a half years.

Interviewer: You couldn’t run as, I couldn’t run as fast as you could. I’ve
got 45 coming up next week. How many children?

Polster: I have four children.

Interviewer: Four? And grandchildren?

Polster: I have seven.

Interviewer: And I think you mentioned great-grandchildren.

Polster: Yeah I have four.

Interviewer: Do you know, I tell people the love I have for my boys is
fabulous. But it doesn’t hold a candle compared to the grandchildren. Of
course I don’t have any great-grandchildren yet. I was in my son’s office
this morning and I mentioned I was coming over here. Did one of your sons just
have a child or grandchild? I mentioned the name “Polster” and . . . .

Polster: Oh no. That was Gene Polster’s son Jeff . . . .

Interviewer: Oh, uh huh.

Polster: just had a little boy, his wife just had a little boy.

Interviewer: Do you know my, I think I asked you if you knew my son Mark . .
. .

Polster: I don’t think I do. I don’t know.

Interviewer: You probably know my brother-in-law. He’s a contemporary of
yours, Al Rosen.

Polster: Oh yeah.

Interviewer: The painter over at Heritage House.

Polster: Yeah.

Interviewer: Are your children local?

Polster: I have one son here in town. I have one son in Springfield, a son in
Utah and a daughter in Cleveland.

Interviewer: Oh. That’s unfortunate. My furthest away is 400 miles in
Washington. And let’s see, I asked you children, grandchildren. What are your
children’s, boy’s names here in Columbus, your children’s names?

Polster: My oldest son is Ian and my next is Ronald. My daughter’s name is
Beva and my youngest son is Steve.

Interviewer: Let me ask you one question. When you go to call them, do you
have to run through all the names before you get the right one? That’s a
problem I have.

Polster: (Laughs)

Interviewer: I have six grandchildren and it takes about five of them before
I hit the right name. And let’s see, you say great-grandchildren. How about
the grandchildren? Are they here, local?

Polster: Yeah they are now. I have my oldest granddaughter just moved to
Columbus in the last few months and she’s married and has three children, two
boys and a girl. The next is my grandson who lives here who has a daughter and I
have a granddaughter that lives in Chicago that’s married. I have a grandson
and a granddaughter that live here in town and I have two granddaughters who
live in Cleveland.

Interviewer: Let me ask you this, do you have trouble keeping track of all of
them?

Polster: No.

Interviewer: I’ve only got two sons and four grandchildren. I have trouble
keeping them straight.

(Tape ends – rest of tape is blank.)

Transcribed by Honey Abramson

Proofread by Marvin Bonowitz

Corrected by Marc Polster

Edited by Peggy Kaplan