Today is January 10, 2016. I’m Abbey Goldbaum interviewing Andy Shafran, past president of Congregation Beth Tikvah on behalf of the Oral History Projects at both Congregation Beth Tikvah and The Columbus Jewish Historical Society.
Interviewer: Could you please say your full name, Andy?
Shafran: Andrew Bryce Shafran.
Interviewer: Do you have a Hebrew name?
Interviewer: Who were you named for or were you named for anyone in particular?
Shafran: No, I don’t think…. everyone else in my family has a B as the first name. They just didn’t want to call me Bryce and Andrew, so they called me Andrew Bryce. That’s how they picked my name.
Interviewer: How far back can you trace your family?
Shafran: You know, I know, on my father’s side, he had relatives that immigrated from Russia, I think in the late teens, early 20’s. They immigrated to New York, New York City, and then they went to Buffalo. My father had his grandparents living in Buffalo. He was raised in Buffalo and then lived here. On my mother’s side, I can’t really go that far back. I know my mother’s mother was German. My mother’s father was Irish. Both of them were born in the United States but they were first generation from each of their families.
Interviewer: What are your parents’ names?
Shafran: Bob Shafran and Beverly Shafran.
Interviewer: Where were your parents born?
Shafran: My father was born in Buffalo and my mother was born in Bellefontaine, Ohio.
Interviewer: How did they earn a living?
Shafran: My father graduated from Ohio State with a Zoology degree and had a lot of different kind of jobs over the years from selling encyclopedias to … he worked at a big CPA firm called Merchants and Winney, and then he struck on his own. He became a CPA systems IT guy for corporations, with his own business for many years. My mother was a pre-school director after college. Then she stayed at home with the kids for 15 years and then she became a Columbus Public School teacher.
Interviewer: Did she go to Ohio State as well?
Shafran: No, she went to Bowling Green.
Interviewer: How did your parents meet?
Shafran: My parents met…they both, independently happened to be at Cedar Point in Sandusky in the Summer and my father and his friend were basically looking for women. Their technique was to invite women to play Bridge together. So, they spotted my mom and one of her friends and invited them to play Bridge on the first day they were there. I think by the time they left three days later, they had exchanged phone numbers and promised to visit.
Interviewer: That’s very nice.
Shafran: They’re very good Bridge players today. They play a lot of Bridge still.
Interviewer: That’s a wonderful thing. Were your parents involved in the Jewish community here?
Shafran: Yeah, my family was very involved with Temple Israel on the East Side all throughout, since I can remember. My mother was a pre-school teacher at Agudas Achim for about 15 years, a part-time pre-school teacher. At Temple Israel my mom served on the Board for a long time. She was Sisterhood President, Regional Officer of Sisterhood, super involved with that, super involved with the Interfaith Outreach Program as well at Temple Israel. I kind of grew up going to a Hadassah meeting, being toted around to a Hadassah meeting, a Sisterhood meeting, something. I spent a lot of time at Temple Israel.
Interviewer: I had heard, correct me if I’m wrong, that your mother was President of Hadassah at some point.
Shafran: Yes, she might have been President of a Chapter though. Hadassah seems to be multiple chapters. It seems to be one Chapter in Columbus now but, back in the day, there were a couple different chapters. I know she bought my sister, my wife and my daughter life-time Hadassah memberships at some point in the last couple years. I know that it’s still near and dear to her heart.
Interviewer: (Rose) She was President of Temple Israel Sisterhood, wasn’t she?
Shafran: Yes, Temple Israel Sisterhood. She was just really involved. They were members. They were members of Beth Tikvah about 50 years ago, for one or two years.
Interviewer: (Rose) That’s what she said, and I don’t remember that.
Shafran: A long time ago when they lived in this part of the city. Then when they moved out to Gahanna, they joined Temple Israel and very, very involved all growing up. I was a Bar Mitzvah there.
Interviewer: Are they still members?
Shafran: They are no longer members of Temple Israel. They live half the time in Las Vegas and half the time here in Columbus. They are members of a congregation in Las Vegas where a former rabbi at Temple Israel is now head rabbi out there, Sandy Axelrod. When they’re in Columbus, we’re at Beth Tikvah and they often come join us here.
Interviewer: Do you have brothers or sisters?
Shafran: I have an older brother who is 10 years older than I am, Brett, and an older sister, Beth, who is 7 years older.
Interviewer: Do they live in town?
Shafran: They do.
Interviewer: Where did you live when you were growing up?
Shafran: I grew up, kind of on a farm, in Gahanna till I was about 11 years old and then I moved to Bexley.
Interviewer: In what ways were you connected to the Jewish community when you were growing up?
Shafran: I really went through religious school and Hebrew school through Temple Israel. In fact, some of those years, it was Kol Ami as the Hebrew school did a combined program. Some of those years it wasn’t. I actually went to Israel with Temple Emmet, a Federation trip or Temple Israel trip, anyway I went with the temple when I was 17 or 18 years old, 17 I think.
Interviewer: What year was that?
Interviewer: Our son went in 1995. It may have been the Discovery Program.
Shafran: That’s right, it was the Discovery Program with Joan Folpe. She went with us. We’re trying to decide if Dora (Sterling) went on that trip with us, or not. I’ll have to find a shoe box to find out if our paths crossed back then. It was definitely the Discovery trip, I remember that.
Interviewer: Did your trip to Israel inform how you would approach the Jewish Community at all? Did it have an effect?
Shafran: Yeah, absolutely, I would say it was a pretty pivotal moment I would think. You see being Jewish in such a different way than you do in, you know, on a farm in Gahanna or even in Bexley, you know, where there are 25% Jews. That’s a lot, but it’s totally different, a different experience. Back then, that trip you were able to go into the West Bank and it was pretty safe to go everywhere around there so you just kind of had a different view of that part of the world than you do today. It was pretty important. I don’t think it was the only moment. Going to Israel at the right time with the right group is pretty important.
Interviewer: Did you ever go to a Jewish camp?
Shafran: Yeah, I went to Gucci, in Indianapolis, for a couple years. I went to Livingston, outside Cincinnati, for a year or two. I went to JCC Camp, here at Hoover, for a couple of years. I never quite found a place at any of them. Some kids become like really into one camp. I really liked the experience of camp but I wasn’t married to one of those camps in one way or the other. They all had their advantages and different kinds of friends went to them.
Interviewer: What were your interests as a teenager and then a young adult?
Shafran: I actually think going to Gucci, by the way, was probably more or equally as pivotal as going to Israel. That was just really a positive experience. It was a reform camp and there was something a little bit unique about it than Livingston or Hoover which were JCC camps, but camps, but a totally different experience. Let’s see, what was my interest when I was a kid? I was on the school newspaper in Bexley. I was always into computers and technology as a hobby and various interests, always a Buckeye fan. My father was one of the guards that seats people, the ushers at the stadium, so I used to go every week and sell Coca Cola, a real Buckeye fan. Then as a young adult I migrated, and I started kind of dabbling with the publishing industry a little bit. That’s ultimately where my career took me.
Interviewer: Did you go to Ohio State?
Interviewer: So, you’re a Buckeye through and through.
Shafran: Yeah, I didn’t really want to go to Ohio State. When I graduated high school I wanted to try to spread my wings and go somewhere else but it’s a great program. You could afford it, my parents could afford it. I was very fortunate that they were willing and able to support going to the university where as not everyone, a lot people from Bexley could, but not everyone I grew up with had the same opportunity. I’m really glad I went to Ohio State. I found my spot. I met my wife there. I really enjoyed it. I got an MBA from Xavier a few years later.
Interviewer: In terms of schools, where did you attend elementary and middle schools?
Shafran: I attended Gahanna Lincoln Elementary school and Gahanna East Middle School for a year and then Bexley Middle School. I transferred when I was in 6th grade. So that was middle school in Gahanna and Maryland Avenue Elementary school in Bexley and then Bexley Junior High and Bexley high school and graduated from Bexley.
Interviewer: What was your major in college?
Shafran: I have a Bachelor’s in Science and Engineering
Interviewer: Please state your wife’s name.
Shafran: Elizabeth Ann Shafran. Her maiden name is Muska.
Interviewer: How did you and your wife meet?
Shafran: A very good friend of mine who is a year younger than me –when I was a sophomore at Ohio State, this guy I went to high school with, still one of my closest friends today, best man at our wedding, met her on campus and they became friends. The two of them were freshman and they had occasion to stop by my dorms to visit and that’s how I met her.
Interviewer: Do you have children?
Shafran: Yes. I have a son, Max, Maxwell and a daughter, Sylvia.
Interviewer: What are their ages?
Shafran: Max was born in 2001 and he is 14 today and Sylvia is about to turn 11 in a couple weeks. She was born in 2005.
Interviewer: Great, I didn’t ask you, when were you born?
Interviewer: That’s the year we came to Columbus. Getting to Beth Tikvah now. How did you and Liz happen to come to Beth Tikvah? You said you were married at Temple Israel. Were you still living out East?
Shafran: What happened was, in 1996 we graduated in June, we got married at Temple Israel in July, and we moved to Cincinnati in August. I started working at Procter and Gamble and Liz started going to Grad School in August. So, it was a bam, bam, bam Summer. We got married at Temple Israel because that was where I grew up, where my parents were members. We were very close to the Cantor who was there at the time, so it was a really warm experience with the Cantor, Cantor Ax, Vicki Ax. She was the Youth Group Advisor. She is, was a great, nice role model actually for me. We got married and then we moved to Cincinnati. We got very involved with Wise Temple in Cincinnati. My wife was on the Board there. I was the Youth Group Advisor for several years at Temple Israel. In college I did a lot of odd jobs. One of the jobs I did was as Youth Group Advisor to Temple Israel, so I became the Youth Group Advisor at Wise for several years as well. We were just really involved. It’s a big congregation, two sites, two different buildings, a lot of Proctor and Gamble families that we got to know that were Jewish, just a really nice Jewish and nice young adult group. Then we had our own business. I left Proctor and Gamble after a few years and I started my own business and ran that for a few years and then I sold it to this Boston-based publishing company. Then we moved to Boston as a result. We lived there for a few years. We were involved in the synagogue. We had our first son in Cincinnati and our second child, Sylvia, in Boston. We ultimately decided we wanted to move back to Columbus. When we decided to move back to Columbus, the 10 years we were gone, my brother and my sister kind of moved to the Northwest part of the town, my parents had left Bexley. They moved to kind of the Easton area. We were not sure what part of the city to live in. Growing up I was in all the Youth Group stuff. Beth Tikvah was just always a nice place, nice kids, nice place to visit when you’d have community Youth Group events, so I always had a warm feeling about Beth Tikvah and my brother was a member here for many years. His kids’ ceremonies were led by Rabbi Huber. So, we had some experience and we just were impressed that Rabbi Huber had been here for so long because at Temple Israel all the clergy that we knew left and moved on. We weren’t as familiar with it and we just wanted to live closer to our family. We just decided to try out this part of the city and figured we could always move back to Bexley if it didn’t work out, had a home here. So, it wasn’t really a master plan, it just kind of…it’s a warm place. It’s a good congregation.
Interviewer: Right, right. Did you serve on the Beth Tikvah Board before you served as President? If so, what positions?
Shafran: Yes, I served as the Treasurer for three years, under Barbara Mendel and Gregg Russell. Then I served as First Vice President under Patti Price and then I served as President. I was First Vice President for two years, President for two years, and now I’m in the first year as Past President.
Interviewer: I remember meeting you when you got involved in Mitzvah Day and there was a big need for the fence to be painted at the JCC building. I connected you with the Yenkin family, so you got your paint from Majestic.
Shafran: You know, it’s interesting, we moved here and didn’t know anyone. We knew like no one here, actually we had a mutual friend through the Rozen family. They kind of introduced us to Brad and Tara Rozen so we met them. I just got involved with the Social Action Committee just to meet people. I’m really glad I did although that fence painting project was so much work that I have not yet ever volunteered for another fence painting project.
Interviewer: Laughter, I don’t blame you.
Shafran: I had to power wash and clean, oh my God, that was a lot of work.
Interviewer: I remember that. We were quite appreciative. What were the dates you served as President of Beth Tikvah?
Shafran: I think June 1, 2013 through May 31, 2015.
Interviewer: Can you describe how you remember Beth Tikvah at the time of your presidency?
Shafran: There’s a lot I remember. Greg (Russell) and Barb (Mindel) are strong mentors of mine. They always would say things like, “You know you give a lot to Temple, but you get a lot out of it too.” I don’t think I fully understood that sentence until I served in this role. I was a little nervous and apprehensive because I kind of noticed that a lot of people who served as Temple presidents are later in their careers and they don’t have small children at home, competing demands. I had a six-year-old at home and a five-year-old when I agreed to step in as first VP, so I was a little apprehensive about it but I kind of remember it as I feel that the congregation, as long as I’ve been a member, has had very, very strong, competent, caring leadership. I kind of was nervous to fit into that group, people like Barb and Greg and Patti (Price), I mean those people are studs. They really are amazing people in their own different strengths, amazing ways, so I was pretty nervous to follow in some of their footsteps, some of their shoes. I know previous past presidents as well that I never was a member under their presidency. The congregation is fundamentally very strong. It’s quite the responsibility to take something like that, nurture it.
Interviewer: That it is. What would you say were the main issues?
Shafran: Of my presidency? There’s kind of a flow of presidency time so between Patti and myself and Ernie (Mendel), kind of that three to four-year sweep, all of the major senior staff retired. Sally (Stefano) retired, Rabbi Huber retired, Suzanne (Parr) retired so within a very short period of time, this relatively stable group of senior staff members all retired. I think you have to be very careful about how you replace those people, how you recruit the right people, how you train them. That, for me, took up an enormous amount of time. We were successful in recruiting Rabbi Kellner but recruiting the rabbi and having the rabbi feel as welcome as he I think feels, helping him be successful, this is his first job being a senior rabbi in a 400-500 family congregation, same thing with the Executive Director and now the Director of Education. That was a big issue and a lot of work bringing the right people on. I think the other big issue was, we completed the sanctuary addition under Patti’s presidency. Patti and I worked very closely together. I was the chief chair of that project. It took an enormous amount of time to get that done because of our history of having an unsuccessful first couple legs of our building expansion project. It was nice to have a successful leg of that and people felt good about it. During my presidency, the thing that really, really happened, we built the sanctuary but it became totally apparent that we had other needs still as a congregation, an early childhood program, more religious school space, and so it was putting together the right group of people to research what it is we needed and could we do that type of expansion that we were getting ready to start on. I think those things are all related because I couldn’t have been able to focus my presidency on that very strategic issue if we hadn’t had a successful recruitment of Debbie (Vinocur), Rick (Kellner) and Morissa (Freiberg) to kind of run the everyday parts of the Temple. Not everything’s perfect in the universe but we’re very fortunate to have strong staff so that we can afford to be thinking strategically about the governance of the congregation.
Interviewer: What kinds of experiences from your Jewish community involvement as a young person may have informed you on how to deal with the issues that you just spoke to?
Shafran: I feel like I was fortunate to work with a lot of Jewish professionals in a lot of ways whether it was camp directors or different rabbis. For example, Rabbi Kellner’s wife grew up in a congregation outside of Ann Arbor. Their senior rabbi was the assistant rabbi at Temple Israel when I was growing up and I was Rabbi Axelrod, no, Rabbi Apotheker’s, paper boy, at Temple Beth Shalom, for seven years. I got to know Rabbi Apotheker and his wife. Over all, I had a lot of interactions with those guys. I feel like I dealt with a lot of different types and parents’ involvement. I think that has helped me because I think Jewish professionals, these are people who are selected for both a profession and a calling, both at the same time and it’s hard to separate the two. I think it helped me understand how to work with them because it’s not just a profession, it’s not just a job. It’s both a calling and a job. I think that really helped. I actually grew up with a mother who converted. Fundamentally it gave me a different perspective on how to approach life with some of the unique quirks that families face. My wife converted prior to our marriage. Some of the challenge is if you marry another person who is raised Jewish you cannot at all fathom the types of concerns and questions that happen behind closed doors. I think I have that perspective. It makes me more open-minded on policies at temple, on approaches, on not being defensive when they ask questions because I think I understand they don’t have some of the historical background like “Why does the temple have a membership commitment?” For a lot of interfaith families, that’s a horribly difficult question to talk through. When people ask that question, sometimes the person who is asked that question is defensive about it. They say, “We’ve got to fund everything.” I understand the meaning of the question. Usually there is a financial commitment required to keep the place staffed and open. They want to be explained why it’s this way than like the Catholic church. Once they understand, for example, that there isn’t a national organization that provides funding. Every temple is on its own and makes its own governance decisions. They understand that. I think that type of background has given me a unique perspective on those kinds of things.
Interviewer: Very interesting. This is a question that I guess is an historical question but has been on our list because it sort of informs some of the development of Beth Tikvah in the early years. What can you tell us about Beth Tikvah’s acquisition of land from Jack Resler? Did you know him by the way?
Shafran: No. I remember one day seeing a plaque for the Resler family on the wall. There are really no plaques in this building, now there’s one. I thought to myself who are these characters, how did this happen. I really didn’t know the story or the history background. What I can say is that the gift of this land, and remember I learned a lot since then, that this wasn’t the original piece of land, actually, there was a different piece of land and the Board at the time didn’t care for that piece of land for one reason or another. The Resler family said ” Okay, fine, I’m giving you this piece of land. You can sell that piece of land and buy a different piece of land.” That’s not exactly how it worked out but they were okay with their gift going to a different piece of land than they originally intended. I think to myself that’s pretty progressive thinking at the time, not only to make such a gift but to trust the people you’re giving it to to do something different than you probably originally intended it for. That’s pretty progressive thinking, I think. I think it set Beth Tikvah up for success. We didn’t have to take a big loan out to build the congregation a big building. We probably could have supported it. I guess the members at the time would have found a way to support it but we didn’t have to. It just created a sense of gratitude that is permanent in the congregation for the Resler family. We have a Resler weekend every year still. Here’s a family I’ve never met.
Interviewer: (Rose) You know they gave Temple Israel their land.
Shafran: No, I didn’t know that.
Interviewer: (Rose) I’m surprised you didn’t know them because they were staunch members of Temple Israel.
Shafran: Maybe I met them growing up. Maybe I heard that name.
Interviewer: You were born in 1973. They could have been people maybe your parents knew but you didn’t.
Shafran: Perhaps, my parents didn’t know everyone. What I find interesting is that name is still in the water and the air here in this congregation. Till you said that, I didn’t know they were members of Temple Israel congregation. I couldn’t have told you that. That’s not to say that their name isn’t known at Temple Israel. I just was never an adult there.
Interviewer: (Rose) He was kind of proud of the fact, Beth Shalom wasn’t around at the time, that he was the father, kind of, of Reform Judaism here in Columbus because he donated the land for both Reform temples.
Shafran: My belief is that he must have been a pretty visionary guy, very generous, must have been a successful business person to have accrued the ability to donate such things to the congregations. We were very fortunate. One thing I learned, you probably know this, but I learned when I was treasurer. At Beth Tikvah we have no one member that provides more than one per cent of our annual operating budget. I believe, actually, we’re the only congregation in the country that is like that, the only one in the country which makes us a really strange bird. Most congregations have a couple key benefactors who, they might not give 20 or 30 per cent, but they give more than one per cent. You think about that. Our annual budget is $800,000. There’s not a single person who, there might have been one this year who gave exactly one per cent. I don’t think they were trying to, they just had a simcha. What that does, it has kind of fundamentally changed the way we think of money and think of investment in this congregation so when someone donated a piece of land to us it was very appropriate that we would have handled it, held that family in reverence, just because of the culture we have here.
Interviewer: Do you think that, on the flip side, the type of setup financially that we’re involved in now where there’s no one big giver has made the congregation more democratic which is maybe an unusual bird in and of itself and do you think it strengthened the congregation or do you think it presented more challenges than a traditional model?
Shafran: I think I could ask you guys the same question and I’d be curious. I think my answer is in 2008, when the financial crisis hit the country, Jewish organizations left and right, were devastated. They had to go into their endowments. They were unable to meet their obligations. Crisis e-mails and calls went out, we can’t make payroll. They’re laying off, the Reform Jewish Movement, nationally, laid off about a third of its rabbinic staff, you know, the kind of regional advisors who can help congregations. I know congregations here in town, really, really, really, 30 to 40% of their budget was gone because people couldn’t afford to. We, and I was Treasurer at this time. I remember the first month I was Treasurer, there was a time when we thought every bank might fail, three to six months period of time like oh my G-d, big banks, and we had all of our cash investments in one bank. I remember, the first month, Ernie (Mendel) was the Treasurer, before me, or Maurey (Levine). We all sat down, we have to federate all of our money so that way its under Federal Deposit Insurance. We had like five different banks, no one bank more than the limit. I mean it was a crisis. I’m sure everybody will remember that for their life. You know what Beth Tikvah did? We had a surplus, that’s what we had, not a huge surplus, an $8 or $10,000 surplus. We had a surplus because we had about 25 or 30 families say we’re in a crisis, we can’t really afford to pay our membership commitment. There were about 30 or 40 families, who at Mishpucha time, that was the first year the Mishpucha campaign came through, with $6 or $8,000. We made that campaign and we said there are families who cannot afford membership here, if you can, and you’re one of those, please consider donating more and a lot of families did. That was the reason, that’s what did it. I think that that source of financial strength has been so really, really incredible. We don’t have an endowment, we do now, but back then we didn’t. It’s not really a sizeable one anyway, that we have now. It’s very powerful, very strong. There are some drawbacks to it, meaning that, if we want to do something construction wise, there’s no one to call to make a quarter-million dollar matching grant or to kind of kick start a campaign. It means that we’re very egalitarian in terms of decision making and sometimes committee decision making is slow, painful and awkward. Sometimes you might wish for one big ‘macher’. This is what they want to do, so that’s the plan. That would be more efficient. I think, by and large, it’s one of the things that makes this place very special and very powerful. If you understand that in a service role, it’s fundamentally a good thing. I don’t think all leaders here over the past have understood that or have levered that strength in the same way, so I was trying to be very thoughtful about understanding that. I’m a young guy. I’m not late in my career, I’m early, mid in my career. What makes people donate, be a member of the temple, I don’t always understand and I’m appreciative of people like Manny and Rose (Luttinger) and many people who have built this place to what it was. While I don’t agree with, for example, limited recognition on the walls, I do appreciate the way we’ve approached this. I think that’s a fundamentally strong basis.
Interviewer: You’ve pretty much in your answer covered a lot of things, events that stood out in your presidency, the services you found that were most needed, issues, even the positive and negative experiences you’ve had at Beth Tikvah. Do you have anything to add to that?
Shafran: One of the things, I’m sure you’ve covered this in previous interviews of presidents, but before I, when Liz and I joined there was this divisive vote that happened. I’m sure this was covered in previous interviews. We had joined about two months before that vote happened. We didn’t show up at that meeting, we didn’t vote. We had no idea what was going on. We had a baby, we just moved from Boston to Columbus. After that vote, I believe 40 or 50 families left the congregation. I’m not sure all the reasons why they left, if they were happy with the vote, if they were unhappy with the vote, unhappy with other things. They all seemed kind of related to the central issue there. I don’t know those families, actually. Maybe I know them, but I don’t know who they are. I think some of them are back, some of them moved. What that schism did I think was create a very difficult environment and leadership at Beth Tikvah, probably the membership itself. I don’t think the schism caused it. I think all the other things that caused the schism also caused this difficult environment. It was a lot of work to try to be more cohesive and to try to bring the congregation together. People like Barb and Greg and Bruce (Chapman), before Barb, those guys did some heavy lifting.
Interviewer: (Rose) He (Bruce) had the worst (most difficult) presidency of anybody.
Interviewer: Bruce (Chapman) was President when the vote was taken.
Shafran: I just can’t even imagine having to go through that. During my presidency I was still dealing with a lot of the pieces of that, to be honest, so I have a real appreciation for how valuable and how worthwhile it is to keep it all together, to keep all the wheels on the bus. If you have something controversial and the will of the congregation doesn’t want it, don’t shove it down their throat. I was always very careful about having votes and transparency communication with the members. They never felt like you’d want to proceed with a plan that was close on a vote. You’d only want to proceed with a plan that was an overwhelming majority of the congregation. That really guided me in my experience as Treasurer. I had a lot of unhappy congregants calling me when I was Treasurer about some of the ways money had been spent on that project or trying to get money back. All sorts of issues came up. That really spoke to me quite a bit. That’s one reason I approached these two building projects the way I did. They were meant to be. If you can’t get massive, overwhelming approval in the congregation then something is really too close, probably needs more thinking, more thought. That’s probably the biggest high, low I would say that I experienced. Being Treasurer was heavy lifting, that was pretty tough.
Interviewer: What would you say were the most positive experiences?
Shafran: I met so many great people, so many good families. I know so many people here at Beth Tikvah now as a result of serving on the Board. That’s been great, good for my kids, good for my family, my wife. It’s been great for me. Some people I consider my closest friends now, I’ve met through the Board or through families that I’ve met through my work. That’s been very nice. It’s been nice to see…there’s always been a fair amount of Jewish families in the Northwest part of the city, but they weren’t all affiliated with Beth Tikvah. Because of the distance from other temples, I had this feeling that a lot of families who, if Beth Tikvah had been a vibrant place at one time, would have joined. Because we were going through difficult times, many families probably didn’t raise their kids or live their life as Jewish as they would like to have lived. One of things I find incredibly positive now is walking in, this morning there was a Parent-Tot class. There were about 40 tots running around. So positive, such a high to see that younger families are now co-investing into this site, into this congregation to be here. That’s not my generation anymore. My kids are past that but it’s nice to see that. I’m pretty excited about that.
Interviewer: How do you feel that Beth Tikvah has been in terms of receptive to interfaith couples compared to maybe some of the other institutions, organizations or temples?
Shafran: My wife runs, with Evie (Freeman), the Leadership Development Class here. She told me a stat, a few days ago, they just finished…she told me stats. There are 17 members of this class that just finished, 5 or 6 sessions.
Interviewer: Is it composed of young adults?
Shafran: All different ages, many young adults, but not just young adults. The stat she told me is every single member of the class is interfaith. Every single member of this class is in an interfaith relationship, 100% of the 17 families that are part of our Leadership Development Class is in some way interfaith. Either one of them converted or one of them is not Jewish today. I thought that was an amazing statistic. Our next generation of leaders in this congregation, 100% of them are in an interfaith marriage, or one of them converted. That’s something. That shows that there is a real opportunity in today’s day and age and tomorrow’s day and age. It’s not just all negative. It represents enormous opportunity. There are some people looking for spirituality, for community, and for the Jewish values that Beth Tikvah offers, and we can be attractive to them. I think we are really, really on the forefront of accepting families for where they’re at and not creating a high burden for them to cross, to join or to be an active participant here. I think that’s good. I think also it’s a struggle on how you maintain Jewish identity, so it doesn’t get too watered down. I’ve heard that argument before and I think there is some validity to that like what’s the point of putting up a Succah if nobody even understands what the word Succah means and why you’re doing it this time of the year. So, there’s a real balance. I think this congregation, though, because of its demographic, we get people who live in the Northwest part of the city. That means that they are either schools first, professionals first, Jewish second, usually. By its very nature, we are very, very interfaith friendly.
Interviewer: You mentioned Liz is involved in the Leadership Council here. What other ways is she involved here or in the general Jewish community?
Shafran: She’s on the JCC Board. She served on the Federation Allocations Committee. She was very involved with our Rabbinic Search Committee. She was actually involved with Rabbinic Search Committees in Cincinnati, a couple of them, so she has good experience. She’s involved in the JCC parent PTA type program. We had kids there. We’re both pretty involved. We think there is an obligation to serve, we enjoy it. She does a lot of stuff for the community. This morning she’s at the Maccabbi meeting, for example.
Interviewer: And she plays her violin.
Shafran: She’s a violin player and she plays in the band here.
Interviewer: What do you consider to be your most important contribution to Beth Tikvah?
Shafran: I suspect as years go by the single most important thing I was able to help Beth Tikvah do was get a pre-school here. I’ve never worked on any hairier, more complicated project in my professional, personal life ever than the last three years. This wasn’t about raising money. This wasn’t about convincing the congregation. We had to convince the JCC to work with us. They had to convince us to work with them. It really commits our Board to work with them. It really commits every neighbor individually.
We had to regroup the whole city of Worthington, not just the City Council members, but the City Council, the Board of Zoning Appeals, the Municipal Planning Commission, all three bodies, the city employees. I probably had thousands and thousands of hours of meetings with all of these different constituents to get them all on board. Last Thursday night, we had our final Board of Zoning appeal meeting at the city and every final last detail related to our pre-school was approved. The big stuff had been approved already, even the little things like our signage in the front, putting the fence up. That is now all fully approved. I’m really proud of that because I feel like I gained some unique experience when I was Treasurer, I understood the financials of this congregation very well. I gained unique experience as Vice-President running the sanctuary addition project and I gained some unique experience as President working with the JCC. Lisa Newmark was terrific and was President of the JCC at the time. I’m most proud of that. I think at the end of the day I was in a unique position with unique knowledge to help make that happen. I’m really proud of that.
Interviewer: And we are too. What other involvements have you had with the Columbus Jewish Community?
Shafran: I was Youth Group Advisor at Temple Israel. When I was in college I served on the Hillel Board here at Ohio State. I also founded a Jewish student organization at Ohio State as well, very involved in college. I went to Israel. In high school I was a camp counselor at the JCC camp out east. I feel like I’ve grown up in the community. This is my community. I’ve grown up here. I’ve done not everything, but a lot of things. I know a lot of people here too. I feel pretty connected, actually, to many parts of the community. It’s funny, I was at a Bat Mitzvah at Temple Beth Shalom about a year ago. It just so happened that that week the Beth Shalom Torah was being repaired so they borrowed one of our Torahs. How do you borrow a Torah, you might ask? Well, carefully. You drive a team over with the Torah. It just so happened that week I was invited to a Bat Mitzvah of the daughter of a friend of ours. In the end of the Torah reading you raise the Torah up, you turn it around and you show it, show it was just read. That person dropped it, our Torah, the Beth Tikvah Torah, I happened to be the sitting Beth Tikvah President and I was sitting there. It kind of wavered, somebody who probably shouldn’t have been doing it, it was not even, one side was really heavy and thank goodness the Rabbi caught it, Rabbi Benji, at Beth Shalom. I was joking with him afterwards. The Torah is okay. Can I walk you through it? That was a hairy moment for me. I said you know I continue to get more involved with Beth Shalom, so I had a couple good experiences as well. It’s a nice congregation, a nice community.
Interviewer: Where do you work?
Shafran: I work at Highlights for Children. I run our international business and our digital business. I travel internationally a lot. I think I put on a quarter million air miles while I was President.
Interviewer: Wow. What kinds of life messages do you give to your children?
Shafran: Use your brain, not just today but tomorrow as well, so you always have to think about the consequences of your actions and activities and to be very resilient. Life very rarely goes according to some plan that you might hatch around your table. You have to be very resilient, use your brain all the time.
Interviewer: Is there anything else you’d like to say that hasn’t been asked?
Shafran: There’s one other moment that really sticks out for me when I was President. When we built the sanctuary we walked the Torah, this gorgeous day, from our Indianola sight to this sight, 50 or 100 of us, we walked the Olentangy River Road. That was a beautiful day. There’s this moment where you like feel goofy. You know, 50 or 100 of you out in public, like a cult, carrying a Torah. Once you get past that, it was a great experience. It was so unique. I will remember that for my whole life, that experience of being able to do that, march the Torah from one location to the other. I really felt a sense of community. I think the thing that I became very appreciative of is a long time ago a group of families got together and invented this place and Liz and I are thankful every day they did that because it allowed us to find a home here. I hope we can do the same. I hope we can persevere, keep it going. I never had a full appreciation for that till I was President. I didn’t understand just how hard it really was to start this place and to keep it going. I’m very appreciative of that.
Interviewer: Thank you very much, Andy. That concludes the interview. On behalf of Beth Tikvah and the Columbus Jewish Historical Society.
Shafran: I thank you for your hard work and your time doing this interview as well.