Interviewer: Ok. This interview is for the Columbus Jewish Historical Society, is being recorded on September 15th, 2016, as part of the Columbus Jewish Historical Society’s oral history project. This interview is being recorded at the Hara residence. My name is Rob Cohen and I’m interviewing Hani Hara. So, if we can begin. Tell me a little bit about yourself, your family, your parents.
Hara: Ok. I was born in 1948, to Marc and Rejane Hara in Cairo, Egypt. I have three siblings. Moana, the oldest, is five years older than I am and Claudia is two years younger, and Edward is ten years younger than I. We were all born in Egypt. Ed was the youngest at six months when we left Egypt.
Interviewer: When, when did when, when did you leave Egypt?
Hara: From around the early 50s, in Egypt there was starting some turmoil when Abdel Nassser took over in ’52. By ’56 there was a Suez War, and after ’56 it was, the the Jews were given a choice to leave the country safely, giving up all their belongings and we left in 1958. September ’58 went to Paris, France for nine months. So, from September to June we were in Paris and then from, we left there in June and came to the United States.
Interviewer: Do you remember much about the Jewish community in Cairo?
Hara: I don’t, I do remember the Jewish community, but I remember more my, my family.
Interviewer: Did you, did you have a lot of extended family in Cairo?
Hara: Yes, Yes. My mom had four brothers, so their families, and her parents, my grandparents. My dad had, had also four siblings and their families. Some of them that lived in Alexandria, but for the most part, everyone lived in Cairo or the surrounding area in Heliopolis which is a suburb of Cairo which is where we lived. So…
Interviewer: Did, did the entire extent of the family leave at the same time or, or within a period after the Suez War?
Hara: Yes, we started to leave, my uncles were the first in ’57, and up to ’62 where my cousins left in ’62, which was kind of at the end of the embargo as I like to call it. But, the reason they left so late is because their mom was very sick, diabetic. Just was in terrible shape, not good enough to move. So, they waited until she passed away before they left.
Interviewer: Where, where, where did the whole family come to the United States or did you disperse to a number of other countries?
Hara: Yes, most of our family actually went to Brazil.
Hara: Big, big community in Sao Paulo, Brazil. A lot of Middle Eastern Jews especially Egyptian Jews. We came to the United States, my cousins came to the United States, that had left in ’62. Then we also had cousins in Montreal and in Paris. So, we kind of all dispersed all over the world, but mainly those, those areas.
Interviewer: Do you know why your parents decided to come to the United States? Did they make that choice or did somebody else make that for them?
Hara: Well, that was interesting. In ’57 when my parents decided to, that they they are going to leave, they were looking around, “Where should we go? By that time, my uncles had decided to go to Brazil and my mom, well kind of wanted to go there as well, but my dad was thinking maybe some place else. I don’t know why, but he picked Uruguay of all places. Which was crazy, you know. But, just before really, he was committing to it, the quota opened for the United States. And when we found out the United States quota was open for immigrants, he was probably the first in line. And so, filled out all the paper work, and had to leave Egypt before we were allowed to get into the country of the United States. So, that’s why we went to Paris for about nine months.
Interviewer: So, now did you, did you stay with family in Paris or did you…
Hara: No, we were very fortunate that, I’m sure you know, HIAS is a big, big supporter of immigrants, Jews and of Jews, it’s mostly now Jews. But they sponsored us and set us up in a hotel in Paris. Which, by the way, this Fall, my wife and I went back and actually went to the hotel and to the school that I went to.
Interviewer: You, you didn’t stay in the hotel?
Hara: No, we did not stay in the hotel.
Interviewer: You, you just visited, ok.
Hara: Actually, we stayed at an Airbnb (laughter).
Interviewer: Oh okay, fair enough. And the Airbnb wasn’t available in 1957?
Hara: No, it wasn’t. So, but I also have cousins that stayed there. My uncle passed away that lived in Paris, but his kids were there, and we just had a wonderful reunion there. So, we did stay in a hotel, we had two rooms for the six of us and my younger brother was six months, eight months old at the time, so. But my dad really took advantage of Paris at that time and since we were there for you know, nine ten months he wanted to make the best of it. He, it was almost an adventure for him, you know, let’s have an adventure don’t worry, everything is going to be great, we’re going to get to the United States. While in Paris, we would go to museums and we would go to concerts and all kinds of, of course we would get somebody to come to —
Interviewer: Yeah, I, of course.
Hara: But the valet and all the beautiful sights that are in Paris. So, really it was a wonderful stay there.
(Editor’s Note: outside noise interruption)
Interviewer: We were talking about Paris and some of the things that you did in Paris and, and your father had to do, take advantage of it.
Hara: You know what, it, it, Paris it was, how do you call, it was great for the sights and for the city and for being with my cousins. But the negative part was that the, the school. Even though I was ele.. ten years old, the school system was very tough in the sense that they were very strict, and I had a tea- you know they would make you eat lunches and I just didn’t want to eat. Like, for example, I remember this so clearly that they made me drink, eat onion soup and I hated it and I, they forced me to do it and I threw up all over them. They didn’t force me to do that, but I. And, we had teacher’s that were very antisemitic. They would say things like if the German’s had won the war, you know, you would see order everywhere, and you know that kind of thing. So, when the time came to leave, I was very excited. Just to go back a little bit, just the memory that happened when we were in Egypt; I used to go to, to movies. You know, my dad loved movies so we would go and one time I went with my sister and we saw a movie called “The Girl Can’t Help It” with Jayne Mansfield in it, when there was a lot of rock and roll bands and all kinds of great music and it was really, and I’m thinking, “This is America??” It was just, like I was mesmerized by it, I was probably nine years old, eight years old. And so, when my dad actually came and said we were moving to America I was very, very excited, because the music alone, that early stage made a big impact on me. Which by the way has stayed with me all my life.
Interviewer: I gotta ask about languages. What, what languages did you speak at home and…
Hara: Yea, the, the native language is Arabic in Egypt. But, for the most part the European and the Jewish population would send their kids to the French schools. Though they say, France is a chain of French schools all over the world, and that’s where we went. So, I spoke French at home, spoke a little bit of Arabic not a lot and. So, when my dad announced we were going to the United States in ‘57, ‘57 late, he said, well, you’re going to go to St. George Acadamy, which was a Catholic school. And because that was the only school that taught English, so he thought that would give me a head start on the language. But, then after a year in Paris I kind of forgot about it and had to start all over when I got here.
Interviewer: So, yea obviously you spoke French in Paris.
Hara: Yes, yes.
Interviewer: Did you, did your parents pick English at the time or…
Hara: No, no one spoke English. But when we got here, we started going to school. My parents really stressed that we should speak English at home. A lot of immigrant families like to speak their own languages, their native language at home, and so you tend to not get, the parents especially don’t grasp the language. Well, my parents knew enough that they wanted us to speak in English, so they could speak in English. You know, much better than they would have otherwise.
Interviewer: So, you found yourself sort of teaching your parents English I assume?
Hara: Actually, that’s, you know I didn’t think of it that way but in a sense, yes. Just by correcting them when they were wrong, you know not pronouncing it right, or and things like that. But they were very, you know, up for it. They weren’t living their lives in the old country. They kind of shut the door to that and really embraced America, which made, had a huge effect on the children.
Interviewer: So, when you, when you got here tell me about the, the trip. You landed, I assume you flew from Paris to New York?
Hara: Well, let’s go back a little further.
Hara: When we left Egypt, we took a, a ship and we went to Marseille and from Marseille we went to Paris, but it it was really hard, because when we left Egypt the law was that you could only leave with twenty dollars per person.
Interviewer: Which even for 1957 was not a lot of money.
Hara: Not a lot of money. And so, everything we owned, the apartment, the furniture, the cars, everything had to stay back and confiscated by the government. To the point where, even if you wanted to smuggle a little bit more diamonds and things like that, that were family heirlooms, we had to hide them. And as a matter of fact, Jewish Historical Society is doing a show on immigrants. I gave Toby the pressure cooker that my mom cooked in that my dad put diamonds in the handle and in the little pressure cook thing on top and…
Interviewer: Were, were, were these diamonds were heirlooms or were they diamonds that were to preserve-
Hara: Heirlooms. Yes.
Interviewer: Ok, it wasn’t to an effort to, to transfer whatever wealth you could, it was to…
Hara: It was just what belonged to us.
Interviewer: And you wanted to keep it.
Hara: They were, you know my Grandmother’s and, and my mother’s jewelry, so, they wanted to keep it for the sake of just having it. Now my sisters have it. And my wife, so, it did come down to-
Interviewer: So, you were able to save that?
Hara: Yes, and so that was, and the other story was, when we were at the customs leaving Egypt, my sister, who was two years younger than me at the time 8 years old, had a beautiful doll that one of my uncles had given her. And, they just trashed that doll completely, looking for anything hidden in there. And, to this day it, she still thinks about that.
Hara: It really made her…
Interviewer: So, they trashed the doll, but they didn’t look at the pressure cooker?
Hara: They did nothing, no.
Hara: Leaving France, we took a train to LeHavre in Belgium and from there we took a ship to the United States and we, to, to New York. That was in June of ‘59. We, it was, I think it was a five-, six-day trip. I got sick every day. I was in, in heaven because there was movies on the ship and there was plenty of food, it was luxury liner!! But I remember the day we did the, come into New York Harbor and saw the Statue of Liberty, and to this day I still get chills thinking about it. And, and when we actually docked, my mom was one of the first ones to get off the boat and got on her hands and knees and kissed the ground. As you see in many pictures, she just did it out of emotion. And, so, from there we were taken by a, once we passed through the customs, we were taken by a cab.
Interviewer: Did somebody meet you at the dock?
Hara: Yes, there was somebody that met us, and we had a couple cabs and, you talk about going through the city of New York coming from the desert.
Interviewer: I was just there, I can imagine!!
Hara: Yea, you know not that, that Egypt was, because you know we lived in beautiful places and we really had a wonderful life there, but the buildings were so tall, and as a ten, eleven year old, I just turned eleven that day or two before we left, it was just mesmerizing! And, the, the, to be, just kind of pinch myself, that we were here was quite, quite beautiful.
Interviewer: So, how long were you in New York?
Hara: Maybe, enough time to go from the ship, to Grand Central Station, quick cat trip.
Hara: We got on a train, and overnight came to Columbus.
Interviewer: Why Columbus?
Hara: Well, HIAS, you know when they sponsor you, if everyone had a choice to go anywhere, they would pick New York because that’s probably the only place they know of. You think, United States, you kind of think, New York! Well, that would just be such a burden to take all the immigrants in one area, that they really suggest to spread everybody out. So, they picked Columbus for us, they said to my dad, you have four children, Columbus is a nice, quiet town, wonderful schools, great universities. So you’ll start there, but if you ever want to go anywhere after that, once you, you know you’re taking care of your commitment as far as, because HIAS pays for everything, but you also have to pledge that you are going to pay it back. And my dad was extremely conscious of paying them to the last penny. Once you know, they said that, we said oh okay, we’ll try Columbus! And, Buzzy Cantor and Leah Cantor, sister, met us at the train station which is now underneath the convention center, there is no station but that’s where it used to be.
Interviewer: Union Station on High Street?
Hara: That’s right, that’s right. So, and took us to a hotel right on High Street
Interviewer: Buzzy’s not that much older than you, is he?
Hara: Buzzy’s got to be in his eighties, I bet.
Hara: He lives right down the street, I see him all the time!
Interviewer: Oh yea, I see him occasionally.
Hara: Yeah, and I see Leah once and a while, so we really have a beautiful connection. But we stayed in a hotel for maybe a week or two
Interviewer: Do you remember what hotel it was?
Hara: It’s no, I forget the name of it. It was where the Franklin County court is. But that block, right there, before the freeway was there, was used to have all kinds of stores, and that was, there was a hotel there and again going back to music and so on, I got into the room for the first time, there was a tv. Of course, it didn’t work very well. But I got, you know I played with it until we finally got the and what was on, but American Dance Stand and I knew I was in the right place
Interviewer: That, that was your first memory of Columbus?
Hara: Trust me, I remember that vividly, you know
Interviewer: That’s amazing
Hara: Yeah, my sisters actually make fun of me that you, you can’t fix anything but, boy give me a TV and I’ll get it working right now.
Interviewer: So, where, where did they, where did you, where did you move to?
Hara: Again, once we got here then the Jewish community and the Jewish Family Services took over, they found a house on Fulton and Kelton. And, ultimately, the greatest thing was, the address was 1492 East Fulton Street. Well, 1492 is the year that Columbus found America. So, it was kind of, like, in the theme of an immigrant, that’s where we lived. It was owned by a man, Mr. Kirkle, who was Jewish, and it was a double, we lived on one side of it. And we stayed in there from ‘59 till’ ‘63? ‘62, maybe.
Interviewer: Ok, where did you guys go? You went to Eastwood?
Hara: No, I went to Main Street School which is right on Main Street, which was just a block or two from my house, for the fifth and the sixth grade. Well, when I started school, they actually put me in the third grade. And, even though I didn’t know the language very well, I knew I was in the wrong room. All I had to do was look around and see that, this is not my age group! And in my broken English, I went up to the teacher and I said, excuse me, but why am I here? And they said, don’t worry, we’re just giving you a little time to grasp the, the, the sound of the language. Not even the meaning, but the sound. And, about three weeks later, they put me into fifth grade. So, I was always a year behind in school. I, for my age group I should
Interviewer: You, you would have been in the sixth grade?
Hara: I would have been in the sixth grade, but I was in fifth. And so, it was, but that worked out great because somehow the universe figures it out and it was a great fit, made a lot of great friends from those classes over the years. But fifth and sixth was main street, seventh grade was Roosevelt, eighth grade we find out that my, we find out that the school system switched the area from one side of the street to the other, so now I had to go to Franklin Jr. High in the eighth grade. And then to make matters even worse, in April my dad says, we’re moving!! And I go, Dad. I’ve gone to two Jr. Highs and you want me to go to three in two years?? He says, we’re moving. So, that’s when I went to Johnson Park.
Interviewer: When, what, where did you move to?
Hara: We moved to Eastmoreland Drive and it was a double, and we rented there for many, many years. My parents lived there for probably fifteen, twenty years easy. Until they ended up buying a house, after all the kids were gone. I was like, so now you buy a house?
Interviewer: That’s the way it works out sometimes.
Hara: It really does. So,
Interviewer: So, you went to Johnson Park?
Hara: Johnson Park, you know what, even when we lived on Fulton, the first thing my mom asked our neighbors, Helen and Jerry Rosen, where is the closest temple? You know, it was Beth Jacob which I still belong to and it was on Bulen Avenue at the time. And that’s where we started to go, and every Saturday we went to temple and we had wonderful neighbors, to this day that I am still in touch with
Interviewer: So, you became part of the Jewish community right away?
Hara: Right away, right away. I mean, a week later we were in temple, in shul
Interviewer: So, what year did you graduate from Eastmoor?
Hara: I graduated in 1967.
Interviewer: And, and we talked earlier, Claudia graduated in ‘69?
Hara: ‘69, my sister graduated in ‘63 my older sister, also Eastmoor.
Interviewer: Where, she graduated at Eastmoor?
Hara: Even though we were living on Fulton, my dad knew enough that he wanted to get her at Eastmoor, because it was a better school. And so, I don’t know how he did it, but my dad was great at talking people into doing things that they should
Hara: So, but they did get her into that school, and in those days, it wasn’t like today where you know everything is just so strict. There was a lot of leeway, and she graduated from there, ended up going to Ohio State and meeting her husband at Ohio State. And so, she’s got two children and she lives in Berkley, California. Her husband has since passed away, but her kids live near her as well, and the grand children.
Interviewer: And your brother also graduated from Eastmoor?
Hara: He graduated from Eastmoor as well and went to Ohio State for a couple of years and lives in Columbus as well.
Interviewer: Tell me what your father did, what he, what he…
Hara: In Egypt, he was in the pharmaceutical business. He, actually before that, him and his brother, my uncle Josef, owned a language school. And back in the early- late forties and early fifties befo- and some of the kids that went to that school were the sons and daughters of the princesses and the cabinets of King Farrukh. So, he taught them French and English and whatever other languages there were, you know through their teachers. And after that, for the last five years he worked for a Swiss company, pharmaceutical company as one of the directors there. We had a beautiful life, really. We had maids and servants and my uncles, you know did very well, they were affiliated with the international harvester in Egypt. So, they traveled back and forth to America, and so they kind of knew America a little more than we did. So, then and then when he came here, he tried, he, raw slabs because of his pharmaceutical background. That worked okay for a couple years, until his back went out, he couldn’t be in sales any longer. He ended up teaching himself to become a draftsman. Kind of an engineer draftsman and worked for Mel Rackoff who had an office on James Road behind our house. And he, he, he would walk to work every day, and he did that until he retired.
Interviewer: You gave up a really comfortable life in Cairo, simply because they were expelling the Jews.
Interviewer: I mean, otherwise there wouldn’t have been a reason to leave.
Hara: We had a beautiful life. The, you know, for and the more I checked, after I get on you know, there’s history that I didn’t know because I was living, and I didn’t think about it!
Interviewer: Yeah, and knowing that, you know, you were a little kid!
Hara: Exactly. And so, when you look back, the Jews lived beautifully in Egypt. And, and really in all the Middle Eastern countries for the most part. You know, from the early 1900’s until the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, Jews in Egypt, Syria and Iran, I mean all over the place iving beautifully! And then, when the Abdel Nasser came in and wanted to make the country nat- more nationalized, he kicked out the European, which was a strong, strong presence of the French, Italian, very strong, and the Jews. So those, the Europeans and the Jews left starting in the mid 50’s. Well, there was a lot of brain power that left. And really when you look at the history of Egypt’s instant, it struggled because the brain power left. Not just the Jews but the Europeans as well.
Interviewer: If I can digress for a moment, you gave me a, sort of a world view of where your family went. Did anybody consider going to Israel? Was that something, was that an option?
Hara: It was always an option. But there is a difference with other Middle Eastern countries with, you know with the Jewish population, then Egypt. For some reason, Egyptian Jews were very educated, were used to wonderful life, and to go to Israel in the early fifties would have been finer. And so, some did, some did, you know, but for the most part everyone else really did not. Because, they wanted to keep going with their professions either in doctors, lawyers, wonderful merchants really and good brain for that. So, that’s why they looked for.
Interviewer: Came, came over. Ok. Ok so, I got to look at the time. I don’t know from what time we started but it goes for ninety minutes.
Hara: Oh yea, we’ll be done.
Interviewer: Ok. So, one of the questions that I wanted to ask was, was what kind of challenged did your family have? What, what were some significant problems that you encountered as, as immigrants? You remember anything significant?
Hara: Not really.
Interviewer: Your description sounds like it was a pretty smooth transition.
Hara: Extremely smooth. And I’ll tell you why, I think, because I read other, description of other immigrants, you know. A lot of times, immigrants tend to hold onto their history and the country they come from and speak that language and really stay with that small unplay of that community. In our case, what made it so easy is that my parents really pushed for us to become Americanized. To speak the language, to go out and, and enjoy what America had to offer! Which was unbelievable! I mean, you know compared to what we had before, even though we had a good life. But America, there’s nothing like it, you know. The schools, the temples, the social lives. And at that time, what also made it a little bit easier for us was that the community, at the time, there were some other Egyptian Jews that came the Douek, the Markakis, the Greeks were coming around that same time, the Baruchs. Max Baruch is a good friend of mine, the Kambellas’. I don’t know if that rings a bell?
Interviewer: That, that doesn’t ring a bell to me bu…t
Hara: The Negrins, Mike Negrin, Maurice Negrin you know all these families. And so, they, they really formed a nice bond. So, they would have parties and they would go out and. The Levy’s were from Egypt, so they become very, very good friends, Albert Levy who ended up running Wining Hallow, the old one you know. So, that really made it very easy, and the kids. Both my sister and myself, my
younger sister, and not so much my brother because he really was an American all the way. But we, really were very social, we weren’t bad, you know like afraid of, we actually looked forward to meeting new people and I, thank g-d I made a lot of wonderful friends over the years.
Interviewer: You must have learned English right away
Hara: Very quickly, you know, very quickly
Hara: You know, television helps, speaking English at home helps, and then also the friends you know. Sure, I got made fun of, but so what. You know, I made fun of them for something else!
Interviewer: You, you don’t have an accent
Hara: And that’s because we spoke English right away
Interviewer: Ok, I’ve heard people say that the average is 14 if you, if you, if you learn a new language after 14, you’ll retain an accent.
Hara: And my sister was 16 and she doesn’t have one either
Interviewer: She has no accent either?
Hara: mm hmm. You know it’s funny, I always think of Kissinger because he came here when he was three and he has an accent
Interviewer: He still has an accent
Hara: So, because
Interviewer: Probably because of the parents spoke German
Hara: All the time
Hara: All the time, yeah
Interviewer: Yeah. Ok so, we’ve talked about the, we’ve talked about this. When you graduated from high school, tell me what came next.
Hara: I was always in the arts, I was always a very, you know pretty decent artist in school and had wonderful teachers there that really encouraged me. So, after high school I went to Ohio State in the Fine Arts Department. So, what happened then is after one year of really enjoying it and doing very well, my dad from the old country said you can’t make a living being an artist why don’t you think about switching schools, how about Mechanical Drawing? Well, Mechanical Drawing and Fine Arts are like Left Brain, Right Brain you know.
Interviewer: Yeah, they are not the same.
Hara: As soon as I did that, two quarters later I flunked out. Because, I just couldn’t even think in those terms. And instead of going back, I kind of looked at it as a, yeah, you’re not good enough to make it into Fine Arts so you have to switch. And that’s, as a kid, that’s kind of what you think. So, for many, many years I never, I didn’t pick up a brush or do anything in the arts. So, I ended up going to New York. My cousins who left late in the 60s had gone to New York and started a company and they were doing very well, they offered me a position there. So, from 1971 to 1978 we were, I had gotten married in ‘71 with Donna Hara, a young woman I had met at Ohio State.
Interviewer: Her maiden name wasn’t Hara I’m sure.
Hara: No, no, no her name was Balding.
Hara: So, it was found to be amusing because “Balding” and “Hara”
Interviewer: Two sides of the same quite
Interviewer: She probably has the hair and you, not so much?
Hara: There you go. That’s how it turned out. She grew up in Newark, Ohio, and I met her at Ohio State and. I’ll tell you a funny story, she, when we decided to get married, she wanted to convert. And so, she went to see Rabbi Folkman at Temple Israel. And, when she walked in, he says, why are you here? And, she says well, I’d like to convert, and he goes why? Why would you want to convert? Like dramatic, you know. She goes, well my husband’s Jewish an I wanted to convert to Judaism so we could raise the kids Jewish. And he goes, ugh I’m so sorry you look so Jewish, I shouldn’t say that, but I thought you were converting to the other side. It was so funny, she goes no, no, no I want to convert to Judaism, and he goes ok. And, which was so funny, we were married 45 years ago on the 12th which was three days ago.
Interviewer: Mazel Tov!
Hara: Thank you
Interviewer: Mazel Tov
Hara: We have two kids and two grandkids. It’s been a wonderful marriage.
Interviewer: So, so your first, your 7 years so your 45 years takes you back to 1971
Hara: 71, which was when we moved to New York
Hara: My cousins had the import/export business. I really credit them for my education. It wasn’t school, but it was the streets of New York. Let me tell you something, you know you hear that if you can make it in New York you can make it anywhere.
Interviewer: Yeah, I guess so. I’ve heard that before.
Hara: I’m a believer.
Interviewer: There is a song about that.
Hara: Ask Frank Sinatra. So, it really was. You know we had nothing Rob. I mean we, we had no money. Even though I was working with my cousins, but little by little you kind of make a life there and my cousins were wonderful. They gave me a great opportunity, I worked with wonderful people. We ended up, both my sons were born there. Joshua, the oldest one was born in 1973, Jessie in ‘75. And, it got to the point where they were getting older and I looked around and I said, you know as much as we love New York I just don’t want to raise my kids here. And I, I, between you and I, I love, love Columbus, Ohio. I just always have. I thought, you know, from day one I had a whole community here of friends and of course my brother was in town. But and I just wanted to raise my kids here. I’d find it to be a wonderful city for them
Interviewer: So, you came back in ‘79?
Interviewer: ‘78. Ok
Hara: Which was perfect because it was ni- it was like getting my PhD. So, I came back here, worked with Marci Enterprises which was a company owned by Art Meizlish.
Hara: He gave me an opportunity there, I worked there for about 5/6 years. Then I worked for Ludlow Sales. Mike Talis and I were partners for 27 years. And then, in 19- in 2005, I left Ludlow and look a position, I sold my share, and took a position with Buckeye Industrial, also owned by the Meizlish family, another side of it. So, I was like, I started with the Meizlish’s, I’m going to end with the Meizlish’s. And, Buckeye has been a wonderful experience to be able to finish out my career there has been–
Interviewer: Are, are you still working there?
Hara: I’m still working, I love, love what I do. I represent energy saving lighting companies you know, LED lighting, fluorescents, things like that that makes a, you know a company more energy efficient. So, that’s been great. I’ve become a lighting expert in the last 11/12 years and…
Interviewer: So, you, you, you’ve learned each of the different.
Interviewer: Industries as you go?
Hara: I, I would always adapt very well. And going back to Marci, when Art hired me as an operations manager because that’s kind of what I did in New York, after about a month or two you get a, “Hara. You’ve got a big mouth on you, I think you need to be in sales.” And so, that’s when I started in sales and I’ve never looked back, it’s been wonderful. So, I always give him the credit for notic- you know recognizing that talent that I, you know, was lucky enough to be born with.
Interviewer: And developed
Hara: And developed, yeah.
Interviewer: So, tell me about art, because you cut back the art.
Hara: Yes, when I turned 40 after not picking up a brush, I started painting again. I took a class at Jeffry Mansion with Lindsay Alexander, I’m sure a good friend of yours or somebody you know.
Hara: Lindsay Stout? Anyways, she offered a class and she said, “Hani, I don’t know why you’re taking this class. You’ve got talent.” And, but it’s exactly what I needed to get me going, and since then I’ve had many shows, many galleries that show my work, I’ve sold my pieces in places all over the country and the world, actually
Interviewer: Where do you paint? Do you paint here?
Hara: I used to paint at the Buggy Works, had my own studio.
Interviewer: Oh, ok
Both: Kyle Katz’s place.
Hara: Until one day came over, he said, “Hani, you can stay here but it’s going to cost you about 600,000 instead of the 150 that you pay now” So, I said okay no problem. At the same time, we were moving to Eastmoor, back to Eastmoor from Bexley and to this house that we are at now as we speak. And the downstairs was finished, with good lighting so that’s become my studio.
Interviewer: That’s your studio?
Hara: Yeah, yeah
Hara: And so, you know I’ve been on the board of the Ohio Art League I’ve been on the board of the Decorative Arts Center of Lancaster which is their museum which I’m on the board of as we speak also. You know the ACPA school which is in the Arts. I’ve always–
Interviewer: That, that’s the charter school we were talking about?
Hara: Yes, a wonderful school that gives opportunities to young kids, students from the ninth grade to the twelfth grade that want an opportunity to not be bullied because they are either gay or have purple hair or they’re an artist and they just don’t fit the right mold for most schools. So, this was a school that was set up by some wonderful people to be a safe haven for them to come and learn.
Interviewer: How did you get involved with them?
Hara: Well a friend of mine, Nancy Nathans, —
Interviewer: Oh, okay
Hara: You know the head of Pro Education, she said, Hani you know you are a business man, you are also an artist. And that’s not a common combination, really. So, she says, I think you need to come over and take a look at our school. Which I did and fell in love with the concept and the whole idea. And they asked me to be on the board and that’s been about four five years ago now. Yeah, and it’s been really a wonderful experience. That- you know Rob, ever since I was a kid, I was always you know, in high school, ACA was always very big for us as you will remember I’m sure.
Interviewer: I remember
Hara: I was very active in Harvard, Ohio ACA to the point where I was one of these guys that never liked the life lines. I was never president, I was always Vice President I was always the guy that made sure everything worked and got done and you know, responsible for many committees and things. So, when I became a- graduated high school I was chosen as Jewish Boy of the year. And a lot of my friends that were competitors to this award were, “Hara how did you get it?? You were never president!” I go, “That’s because I never liked to speak in front of a crowd, and I knew I was going to have to speak in front of crowds when I was president.” I tried to do my work behind the scenes. But, even at that age, there was always something in me that wanted to return to giving back for the great opportunities that you know, were given to me and my family in America. And that was my way of doing it so, I was on the board of the Jewish Center, temple, the you know, all these different organizations in the area.
Interviewer: So, let’s talk for a moment about the center. Because I think, and I remember when we were kids and we spent a lot of time there. And, I don’t think that has changed in the last forty years. Am I right?
Hara: You, you know I’m glad you brought it up because, the first, when we were staying at that hotel, when we first got off the train. This was three days, before we even moved into the house, we took a cab to the Jewish Center and my mom had me- it was the middle of June, very hot, she made me wear my wool suit because she wanted us to look respectable and I’m there, sweating. That was the first place that we went to, and, I became a resident at the Jewish Center. When we moved, my dad would drop me off in the beginning of the day and pick me up, especially in the summer, my first job was working as the cabana boy at the pool.
Interviewer: At the pool
Hara: At the pool. The cook–
Interviewer: Did you know Peggy Pierce?
Hara: Peggy Pierce was my boss, that was one of my first jobs. So, the JCC, especially in the Phys Ed. Department, which you know sits down up there, I was chairman of the department for many years you know at the JCC. But, going back to that time, it was such a great place to be. Because, first of all, you’re on your own. Your parents are working they are out. So, I was always helping out the Phys Ed. director. Whatever he needed I was his Schlep guy. You know, go get this, go get that, I was part of that scene. So, the center, and then the AZA groups and the, the social aspect of it and the community service aspect of it, it was just you know, right up my alley. It felt so natural for me. Really, it brings back memories.
Interviewer: So, you, okay, so you spent a lot of time there how long–
Hara: Since I was a senior! As far as you know, spending my days there I mean I was a senior and I was still working there. And when I came back from New York in ‘78, the first thing I did is my wife and I, Donna, went to the JCC and took and became members that, I’m telling you that first day maybe the second day. My kids, Donna ended up working there she was there, she was in the Early Childhood Department and then eventually became the membership director there for many, many years. So that-
Interviewer: So, that was, when you moved back that was about the time they started the new building.
Hara: It was maybe–
Interviewer: A year or two later
Hara: Maybe five, six years later? Something, wasn’t it the early eighties?
Interviewer: I think it was opened in, I believe, my son Josh was born in ‘83 and I think it opened about the time he was born
Hara: Yes, ‘83 which was around the time my dad died. So, and to this day I remember the greatest party ever was when they closed down the old center, they had a big partyy.
Hara: It was great, it was great
Interviewer: I remember the opening of the new building but not the closing of the old building.
Hara: The closing was great, yeah. But it was, at the time the opening of the new one yeah. But the center has always been part of me, to this day! I mean, I’ll get a call from Carol who’s just the Phys Ed.– the Visual Arts chairman for many years until about two years ago when I decided to let the young people take over. Stacy Leeman took over. But, to this day I get calls you know, Hani I need this, can you help us with this, and I was there. You know just, payback.
Interviewer: It’s good, you said you belong to Beth Jacob since you moved. Talk about that for a minute
Hara: Well, we moved in ‘59, became members and Rabbi Stavsky at the time was just an amazing, amazing leader of our temple. And him and I really connected very strongly. Just, and I’m not really religious. You know, but there was something about going there that for the activities opposed to the Saturdays, which I went on Saturdays because my mother would’ve killed me if I didn’t go. Bar Mitzvah there. Not married there because the Rabbi kind of took it personally when I married a non- Jew, you know, even though she converted. But–
Interviewer: Was the conversion before or after the wedding?
Hara: Before the wedding.
Hara: It was still, but just be fair, when we came back from New York, the rabbi embraced Donna. I mean really, you know you realize that she was here to stay. He was trying to—
Interviewer: Wasn’t sure his–
Hara: He was trying to protect me, you know.
Hara: But when he realized that she was the real thing, he really did embrace her and until he died, he was a real mentor and advisor and a great, great person. And so, and then the new rabbi and I get along very nice. I like him a lot. And not that I go every month- every week, I don’t. But, you know, once you’re a Beth Jacob boy you’re always going to be a Beth Jacob boy.
Interviewer: Ok, I, so, you, you celebrated your Bar Mitzvah there, did, did you attend synagogue on a regular basis in Cairo?
Hara: Yes, we would go–
Interviewer: I mean, was that a natural
Hara: Yeah, it was really, not that I remember a lot of it, but we did go, a lot. And, the temples there were beautiful. No longer there any, you know after the Jews left for the most part, they were all-
Interviewer: They disappeared
Hara: Yeah, destroyed, except for the old synagogue that actually my munities had attended and there’s some wonderful artifact. And, and, and it’s come back a little bit because of American money and–
Interviewer: And it’s a tourist attraction.
Hara: And it’s a tourist attraction.
Interviewer: As a tourist who actually went there I…
Hara: Yeah, you’ve seen, you’ve seen it
Interviewer: Yes, I’ve been there
Hara: That old man was there for many, many years until and took care of that place I think since he died a few years ago.
Interviewer: He was there when I was there
Hara: He was there when you were there. Because I went back in ‘92, ‘91, ‘92, I went with my sister. My older sister, Mona. We went for a celebration of my cousin’s wedding, his son’s wedding. And, he married an Israeli girl. So, we went to Israel, so we are sitting and having a great time in Israel seeing all the beautiful places there and at one point I looked at my sister and I said, Mona, we’re like next door, what do you think should we go? And we had a couple days where we could do anything, we wanted to, so she says, let’s do it! So, we ri—you know it was last minute arrangements, but we flew into Cairo and it turned out that one of my cousins from Montreal on the other side of his family, we’re really not related to them, had cousins that had stayed there. He, my cousins had married a Catholic family and they had stayed there, and they owned a hotel by the pyramids. So, we called them, and we booked a room and they picked us up by limo and we went to the old neighborhood in ‘92. You know, our old house and we actually met somebody on the street that knew the neighbors that were still there even though they weren’t there at the time. And, we spent a couple days in Egypt and. Between you and I, it had changed so much that if I never go back, I’m never going to miss it. I’m not going to miss it. You know, it was like an event that was almost foreign that we lived there, because so much had gone on since.
Interviewer: Did, did you go back to the school where you had attended?
Hara: I went back to the school. We went to many beautiful places and, and, and the Egyptian people in general are beautiful people. Are very big-hearted, you know, they are poem poets and that, they’re thinking as heart and head not so much head. And, the stay for the two days was beautiful and we hired a driver, and the driver insisted that we have to come to his house, his wife prepared a meal for us. I mean, it was like crazy I mean who does that you know? But that’s the Egyptian people they are very sweet people. They tend to follow the wrong people but that’s–
Interviewer: More of a political issue
Hara: Yes, that’s a very political, that’s a Middle Eastern issue
Interviewer: Okay, so, tell me about other organizations that you, you’ve been involved with. We’ve talked about the school, we talked about the center, we talked about the Arts organizations.
Hara: The Arts organizations, you know it’s, the, the temple.
Interviewer: You served on the board at Beth Jacob?
Hara: Yes, yeah, for a bunch of years. And, you know there’s always an organization that I’m part of even though at this age in my life I’m starting to think that, right now I’m on the board of the Lancaster the Decorative Arts Center of Ohio which is in Lancaster and the school. And, at this stage in my life I’m starting to kind of like, I want to start thinking about retiring and doing Art as a full-time gig. So, that will be nice.
Interviewer: Tell me a little bit about your, your, your family, your kids? Your two sons
Hara: We were married to ‘71, in ‘75, in ’73 Josh was born. When we came back, he went to Torah Academy for a few years and then we moved to Bexley so he graduated from Bexley High School. He also is a wonderful, wonderful artist. I mean, extremely talented, not just with a pen but also with a pen and word. So, he is very poli—not political but student. And when he does a cartoon, it’s got s meaning to it, and over the year—he went to grad school and graduated from Bexley, got a beautiful scholarship from the Columbus College of Art and Design, graduated from CCAD, got into marketing and graphics and those kind of things with SOS productions which we know Joe Steinman.
Hara: Ronnie Shkolnik at the time, they gave us, his first break. And since then, he went on his own as a free- lance and then he did some work for Resources, which is a big, big marketing advertising company in the United States, based in Columbus. And, they hired him about five years ago as their social network guru and he is now the creative director. But he is the kind of kid that came up with doing cartoons on coffee cups and so, he, his coffee cups have been all over the world, as far as through the internet. Because, it is so funny and so he has been written up in Paris Magazines and Japanese Magazines and all over the world, all over the internet and he’s got like a hundred thousand followers that follow his twitter. And so, he, he was like, I was telling him, you know Josh, you’re pretty funny but not in person. No, he really is. And then my other son–
Interviewer: He’s got two kids?
Hara: He married Halle Butler from Cleveland, and they had known each other since they were kids. Halle and my niece, Amy, my sister Claudia’s daughter, were very good friends. And so, he ended up, she would hang out with us when we would go to Cleveland when they lived there and so we got to know her and over the years she became an attorney and they kept breaking off and getting together, you know how it is when your in Law School you don’t have time for anything else.
Hara: And then, after she graduated, she was working and they reconnected somehow through J- Date and so, she recognized his post before they even had a picture of him, it just had the first name and she said, this has to be Josh Hara and that was about, maybe, thirteen, fourteen years ago. And, they have been married around twelve years or so and have two beautiful, beautiful kids. Jonah and Izzy, who go to Bexley Jonah is eleven in 2016, just as a reference, and Izzy’s nine. And, they are just a hoot, just a fabulous-
Interviewer: And your other son, Jesse, is out of the U.S.?
Hara: Jesse, went to, he, he went to Ohio State, he went to Cincinnati first and then Ohio State. And then went, in 2000— well, his, my niece, his cousin, same one that introduced Halle to Josh, said to him, you need to be out in LA, that is where, you know we talked about Hollywood when we were kids, the two of them, and we all their lives that’s all they ever talked about. She said you need to come out here. And so, I said, when do you want to go and he gave me an approximation which I cut into two weeks, I said, that you are going in two weeks, this is what I know is best for you. And the day we picked for him to leave was September 11, 2001 can you imagine that?
Hara: So, I know he has been out there fifteen years and–
Interviewer: Fifteen years and four days
Hara: And, to this day, you know, he now is, owns an entertainment company that manages writers, he’s a producer of a TV show on Turne Broadcast as we speak, he has got a, his, his cousin is now merged with his company. So, she’s part of it, you know those two kids when I tell you, Rob we were we would be on vacation at the Bethany Beach they would talk about Hollywood, we are going to do this, we are going to do that well, guess what?
Hara: They’re doing it.
Hara: So, we have been very, very blessed in the sense that both my boys, we gave them a lot of freedom. You know, I did not tell them what to do I just kind of told them do whatever you love. If you love something, and you are working at it, it won’t seem like work. And they, you know, one actually became an artist which is his first love and the other one is in Hollywood which is his first love. And, by the way, Amy, my niece, introduced Jessie in LA, to her then roommate, but we had met her even before then in Columbus and then they got married. So, really Amy introduced both the wives to both my sons.
Interviewer: That’s quite an accomplishment.
Hani: She is a forcer
Interviewer: That, that, that’s an accomplishment.
Hara: Yeah, she is amazing. And her sister is amazing as well. They, really all our family has been very successful, you know what I mean? You look at families, I’m sure your family, you know, if you go back three generations, two generations you know, they came from some place.
Hara: And you see each generation just do much better than the last one. And so, I considered them the first generation of Americans, because I was born in Egypt. And so, thank g-d I did okay but they’re doing much better than I have and, can you ask for anything more than your kids to do better?
Interviewer: That, that, that’s what the American dream is. It was all about–
Hara: Absolutely, and it was always about being better than them so.
Interviewer: Yep. Okay, we’ve covered everything. The only, two questions, I just need two questions. Or, one question before I ask you for any final thoughts, I think I missed, I’m interested in other families that maybe followed you from Egypt and settled in Columbus, you mentioned a couple of others.
Interviewer: I remember the Doueks
Hara: Yes, the Doueks were very, very close to my parents you know. The Doueks had kids around the same age as myself, my sister.
Interviewer: I mean, probably around Eddy’s age too.
Hara: Exactly, the other one, that’s right
Hara: And Maurice was my age
Hara: And I just reconnected with him on Facebook, I’m a big Facebook guy because you know, I’m in touch with my cousins in Brazil and Paris and Montreal I mean, that’s how we stay connected. But the Doueks claim to fame was that their grandfather was the chief rabbi
Interviewer: Right, of Egypt
Hara: Right, and so, so you know they came here and then the Levy’s, Albert Levy came here, The Negrins I think were Egyptians I don’t know, they could have been Greek. I think they were Jewish. There were about four or five families, you know,
Interviewer: You were the first one, the first.
Hara: No, I think the Negrins and the Mustachis were first
Interviewer: Oh, okay
Hara: The Mustachis, Betty Mustachis–
Interviewer: I remember there Mustachis
Interviewer: Not as well, I think because they were much older.
Hara: They moved, they moved you know what, they stayed here for a while, he worked for Younkin Majestics
Hara: For many years. Just a gentleman, really, great people. And my parents were very close with them. So then–
Interviewer: Did you know any of them? In Cairo you met everybody when they moved here
Hara: Right, yeah
Hara: You know we came with people that we knew, no I don’t even think we knew them in Egypt, on the ship from France to here. There were some Egyptian families as well, the Manzanos and it turns out that the Manzanos were a big family in Egypt and one of the relatives ended up working for the New York Times and wrote a book called The Man–
Interviewer: In the Shirt Skin Shoot
Hara: Exactly. Which was a history of her family escape—leaving Egypt. And it was different than ours because it was her father never wanted to let go of Egypt. Where my father couldn’t wait to grab America’s hand you know. And, and you could see, after listening to what your listening to today and if you go back and read that book, you’ll see that–
Interviewer: I’ve read the book, it’s very it’s a very different story
Hara: It’s different
Interviewer: It’s a very different story
Hara: But we were on the ship with her cousins and we have, there was a picture in the book that she wrote, that we have a similar picture about the boat that we have on our when we came here. So, and they moved to Detroit which had a big Egyptian community up there. You know, Detroit is Middle Eastern very Middle Eastern
Interviewer: Yeah, right
Hara: So, so we really didn’t have anyone we knew. It was kind of like you make connections through the JCC through the tools. Through the, you know, there is another family that came just before you and I went to a funeral, just a month ago, for the Cambella’s mother which was a lovely lady and she, you know they had all moved out of town. But, when I went to the funeral it was like a homecoming, oh my g-d, you know you haven’t seen each other for so many years and they were just so sweet. So, there is still that connection. There is still that connection. But, overall, you know as a final thought, we hit the jackpot, we really did. When you look around at the world and, we could’ve gone I’m sure to Brazil, we could’ve gone to Canada, we could have stayed in Paris
Interviewer: Or Uruguay
Hara: Or Uruguay g-d forbid.
Interviewer: Have you ever been to Uruguay?
Hara: No, but my dad, which I’m sure is beautiful you know, but the lady said to my dad, she says, Mr. Hara why would you go from one dictatorship to another
Hara: But, so when it opened up that we were able to come here, it was like g-d just said like, you guys lucked out you guys get to go there and, never go back and always appreciate you know it’s not what is perfect but boy you look around, this is as perfect as it is going to get.
Hara: Even with this year’s election.
Interviewer: That will be over in 60 days
Hara: Thank g-d. So,
Hara: There is a lot of blessings, really and I’m sure you hear that from everybody you, you know there’s just, it’s a gift
Interviewer: I have heard that, I appreciate it. I thank you very much for, for your time and, and for your thoughts today
Hara: Thank you so much.