This interview with Annette Tanenbaum concerning the history of the Jewish Women’s organizations in Columbus, Ohio, is a part of the Oral History
project of the Columbus Jewish Historical Society. The first interview by Art Levy was
conducted in August, 1990. The second part of the interview was done by Bonnie
Schramm on November 2, 1998.
Interviewer: Where were you born?
Tanenbaum: I was born in Wengrow, Poland in a city not too far from Warsaw.
We came to the United States in 1925, to my father, Julius Spiesman, who was established
here. I came with my mother and my sister, Miriam Spiesman, who later married
Harry Mathless, and there is family here in Columbus. Cy Tanenbaum and his
mother came to Sioux City, Iowa, in 1921 or 1922. When the father died, my
mother – in – law decided to live in New York, so she sold the store, came by
here to see us for a while before moving on to New York.
In the meantime, her son, my husband, fell in love with a girl here. He
worked first for the Schiff Shoe Company. Later he became an electrician and
went into business for himself as Tanenbaum Electric Company.
My mother had belonged to Jewish organizations here in Columbus and
wanted me to join some of the organizations. She couldn’t write English
very well at the time, and so I became her secretary. My mother-in-law, however was
opposed to the idea because at the time we were raising a family and she
said, “When you’re through raising a family, that will be the time to start
in organizational work.” But I said, “I’m not going to wait that
long, because by that time I’ll be sitting in doctors’ offices instead of doing work.” So I
started doing some work for myself and joined the Taharath haMischpocha society,
which is the organization that is connected with the bathing ritual of the mikvah.
It is more common now for Jews to observe that ritual than there were in
my day. When I was a young bride about four people attended the mikvah. It
was located on Donaldson Avenue and Seventh Street in Columbus. Unfortunately, it
was also a shvitzbod – a sweat bath. Two men had suffocated there and so
it was closed down, and anyone wishing to partake of the religious ritual had to go
to Dayton, Ohio, which I attended for six months.
In the meantime, my mother got interested in organizing the Taharas
Mischpocha Society and a house was bought at 950 Livingston Avenue and a
mikvah was built there and existed for many years until the City of
Columbus closed it down after there were incidents of misbehavior and a man was killed
nearby. They moved to a different location that was more accessible to the
women. It was built in connection with the Beth Jacob Synagogue where it is
still housed on College Avenue. Where only four women attended in past years,
there are now between fifty and sixty women using the facility. Observant
Jewish women use the ritual bath monthly after menstruation so they can have
intercourse with her husband.
At that time, I was still young, and my mother – in – law thought that I
should attend more to the family rather than take on any organizational work,
but I decided that I’m not going to wait until I’m decrepit, and so I started
working for organizations. One of the first organizations was Mizrachi Women, and
the Mikvah, but they now call themselves Amit Women. Their
headquarters are in New York but it is an organization that helps children in Israel. Quite a
large organization doing a lot of work with children: homes, high schools and so
forth. It is still functioning in Columbus. Not too well, but it still has work done
by the president, Mrs. Shirley Abrams, Dr. Abram’s wife, and I am the
secretary. I have been secretary of Amit Women the last forty-five
years, and it has kept me busy. Its function is to raise money to send to Israel so they
can maintain the homes for the children.
Right now we’re raising a lot of money
and it’s very important because there are a lot of Russian people coming into
Israel need schools and housing for the children, so Mizrachi Women are doing
a lot of work here. One of the functions of Amit Women is the Jewish National Fund. The
Jewish National Fund, if you recall, is the blue box, the pushke,
as we used to call it, and my mother-in-law was one of the women who used to stand at
Jewish functions; weddings and affairs in the city, with her pushkeand
collect money. It was quite a lucrative little job for her and she enjoyed it. The
money was sent directly to Israel.
Interviewer: How much money did they collect in those days?
Tanenbaum: I guess if they collected a couple of hundred dollars in a year it
was a lot of money, but of course now we’re talking in thousands. The pushke as
it was known then, is now a project of Jewish National Fund in Columbus, and if you know
anything about organizations in Columbus, Amit Women is part of The
Jewish National Fund in Columbus, which has its offices at 33 S. James Road.
More people in Columbus are now aware of The Jewish National Fund
as it is right now doing a magnificent job of building homes and schools and
taking care of Russian children and Russian people.
Interviewer: Do you still have Blue Boxes?
Tanenbaum: We still have Blue Boxes. People who have Blue Boxes bring them
into the offices at 33 S. James Road. People who do not bring them in, we have affairs
which are held at the Jewish Center, where they can be collected. There are
notices in the Jewish Chronicle when we have that going on, but
primarily the Jewish National Fund is doing a tremendous job here in Columbus and there is
a dinner coming up shortly at which time we will honor a personality in
Columbus; not necessarily Jewish, who has done a lot of work and who is interested
in Israeli affairs, so we have honored quite a number of people at dinners.
Interviewer: What is your membership?
Tanenbaum: We don’t have a membership. It’s only Board Members, and it
has grown from a small number of people to now we have close to seventy people on the roster.
Each one of the people on the board is assigned some kind of a job to do. We
meet once a month at the Office, and now, because it has grown to such a
number, the lasts few meetings have had to be held at the Jewish Center.
Another faction in the city of Columbus, is belonging to the Sisterhoods.
When we came to Columbus in 1925 there were not many organizations that were
working for Sisterhoods, particularly in shuls it wasn’t very
popular, but later on; I don’t know what prompted the popularity of sisterhoods, but each of the
shuls in the city started having sisterhoods, and it became quite popular. We used to
belong to Agudas Achim Shul.
When we moved from our former residence
to closer to Ahavas Sholom, we became members of Ahavas Sholom
Congregation when we moved to Lockbourne Avenue. And when Ahavas Sholom moved
to East Broad Street, we moved from Lockbourne to our present address,
190 South Stanwood Road. I became the president there shortly thereafter, and
I was president of Ahavas Sholom Sisterhood for nine years. Not because
I was that good – don’t misunderstand – there were just not that many people who
were interested in that kind of work at that time.
Later on it developed into a very nice organization. Ahavas Sholom is
growing. It has almost changed completely from an older organization to
almost all young people, who are more or less of the frumer, more
religious, or more orthodox. There are very people who belong to our shul who drive
on the sabbath. It’s mostly people who live close to the shul and are able
to walk with their little children. Has v’sholom, God forbid, there should be a
break in the eruv, which is a wire which circumscribes Bexley and vicinity, within
which an observant Jew may carry an object on the sabbath. A handkerchief
even is not permitted to be carried. And if it is to be carried, it has to be either tied
to the arm or hidden somewhere.
Children are not able to come when the eruv was broken. We have had
occasions when the eruv was broken, either by wind or by some other
actual happening in the city, so we were not aware of it. Had we been aware of it
before the sabbath started on Friday, then everybody interested would have had to be
called and women with carriages and Taylor Tots would not come to shul because
that’s carrying, or pushing, something one is not permitted
to do on the sabbath if the eruv is not connected.
Recently we found that there was a place out east which was near the
water, which had to transfer a wire entanglement which would carry across the
river and that was broken and this was not known to the people who were
actually watching this. The integrity of the eruv must be
observed before the beginning of the sabbath each Friday before licht bentshen, before we
light the sabbath candles and before our men go to shul.
Right now it is being rectified. We have a man coming in from New York
who knows quite a bit about that kind of arrangement, and he checks it. We’ve
had the man come in several times and now it’s okay. We hope. If a strong
wind comes along or something unusual happens and the integrity of the eruv is disrupted, then we are told.
The eruv encompasses quite an area through Bexley, through the Beth
Jacob area but not too far west on Broad Street that would take in Congregation
Tifereth Israel, but it does take in the shuls of the orthodox
standing. The sisterhood of Ahavas Sholom has about seventy members.
We have affairs that bring in money; we usually have a big dinner once
a year. The Sisterhood has Shabbas kiddush.
Interviewer: What do you do with the money?
Tanenbaum: Our money which we charge and collect, hopefully, for these
affairs, are used to make our kitchen more up to date, and we are right now in the process of
working out a system that will be more accessible to the shul, so
mostly it’s to supplement the shul’s income.
The Ezras Noshimsociety was an organization primarily of young
people coming in to get help during the depression years. It was quite a
large organization headed by Mrs. Abraham Goldberg for forty years until the
depression was over. The Goldberg sons were Ike, Arthur and Harry.
This ends Mrs. Tanenbaum’s interview with Art Levy. Her interview with
Bonnie Schramm continues on the following page.
INTERVIEW WITH ANNETTE TANENBAUM PART 2
This interview with Annette Tanenbaum for the Columbus Jewish Historical
Society Oral History Project was recorded on November 21, 1998 at 973 S.
Cassingham Avenue by Bonnie Schramm.
Interviewer: We’re going to talk about the beginning of the Mikvah in Columbus.
Tanenbaum: My mother, Mrs. Julius Spiesman was the organizer of the Taharath
haMishpocha Society. There had always been a mikvah in Columbus.
When I moved here it was on Donaldson Street. When it was closed down, the closest
mikvah was in Dayton and it was necessary to send a post card to let
them know when you would plan to use it. I had to get up early in the morning for the
trip. My mother-in-law lived with me and she stayed with the children while I
went to Dayton by myself.
Interviewer: What would happen if they didn’t get your card?
Tanenbaum: It could happen. So she would have to heat the water in a
Interviewer: How old were you when you were married?
Tanenbaum: I was twenty.
Son: Then there was another mikvah in Columbus at 950 East Livingston,
in Mrs. Simon’s house.
Tanenbaum: The Simons were a German family who came over here and she needed
a job. So she settled into running the mikvah. She was the sweetest person.
The mikvah was on the main floor and the family lived upstairs. There was
a shower, dressing rooms. I know of one woman who went to Dayton with me once. After
that she just disappeared. It was longer than a year that we had to go to
Dayton. Congregation Beth Jacob built a new synagogue on College Avenue which
incorporated a mikvah in the back. Mrs. Pearson Press took over the
management. My mother began to help at the home for the aged on Woodland Avenue near
Long Street. She helped with care and changed bedding. It was Columbus’s
first facility for the care of elderly Jews.
Interviewer: Ruth Stavsky or Thea Press can fill us in on that history. Was
there ever anything interesting or funny that happened to you in the mikvah?
Tanenbaum: Not that I remember.
Interviewer: Did you drive to Dayton?
Tanenbaum: I didn’t drive. My husband drove me.
Interviewer: Do you remember that Mrs. Applebaum was in charge of the mikvah
at one time?
Tanenbaum: She didn’t go to mikvah any more. I don’t know if she
Interviewer: Thea said that when she took responsibility for the mikvah in
1970 she took it over from Mrs. Applebaum.
Son: Mrs. Applebaum, Mrs. Pastor, and Mrs. Simon weren’t able to take it over
Tanenbaum: I don’t remember any more.
Interviewer: Was the Dayton Jewish Community larger, is that why they had a mikvah?
Or was it that the one in Columbus just closed down because of problems in the
Tanenbaum: There were problems in the neighborhood. I don’t remember any
This ends the interview of Annette Tanenbaum by Art Levy and Bonnie Schramm
for the Columbus Jewish Historical Society.
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