We’re going to begin to do an interview with Barbara Creinin, the first woman President of Congregation Beth Tikvah. This is in conjunction with the Columbus Jewish Historical Society. And I have with me Barbara Creinin. And so we have a list of questions, Barbara, that we want to talk about and hear your perspective for the Historical Society. So thanks very much for agreeing to have this interview.
Creinin: You’re welcome.
Interviewer: So the first question is how long did you live in Columbus and where did you live before you moved to Columbus and what brought you here?
Creinin: We lived in Columbus for nine years. We came to Columbus for two reasons. Number one we were living on the east coast in New Jersey and decided that we didn’t share the same values as our neighbors and wanted to come back to the Midwest. And my husband’s, Howard’s work, he got a job at Worthington Foods. That’s what brought us to Columbus.
Interviewer: Okay, very good. Tell us a little bit about your family and your Jewish experience while growing up.
Creinin: I am the youngest and kind of the caboose in the family. My brother and my sister were teenagers when I was born. My mother and father were born in Europe and came over at a very early age to Chicago. I did not know my grandparents and know that they were born in Czechoslovakia and Hungary.
Interviewer: Very good. And where did you live growing up. You were later in New Jersey. But as you grew up I know that you were in Chicago originally.
Creinin: Yes, we grew up in Chicago, in Albany Park and in Palmer Square which are two very Jewish areas. And that’s how I grew up.
Interviewer: Okay, and did you live in Chicago for your whole childhood until you (Indistinct).
Creinin: Yes, I was born in Chicago and met Howard in high school. We got married after college and I lived my whole life in Chicago.
Interviewer: And now you’re back in Chicago. I know that for a while you lived in a number of other places.
Creinin: Right, we lived in New Jersey, New York, Indiana, Cincinnati and now we’re back here.
Interviewer: Wow, you moved around a little bit. So where did you attend college and was being Jewish important to you in those years?
Creinin: I attended Roosevelt University. I finished in three years. Being Jewish was not important at that time.
Interviewer: Where was Roosevelt University?
Creinin: Roosevelt University is in downtown Chicago.
Interviewer: Downtown Chicago, okay. And how did you meet your husband and how long have you guys been married and a little bit about that history? Where did you get married, etc.?
Creinin: I met Howard in high school. He asked me to the Junior Prom and we dated from that time forward. We were married in Chicago.
Interviewer: Okay so we were talking a little bit, you met your husband in high school and how long have you been married and where were you married?
Creinin: We have been married 47 years and we were married in Chicago in a Conservative congregation.
Interviewer: Alright, very good. Tell us about your kids and their Jewish experiences in Columbus and later on in life.
Creinin: We are fortunate to have a wonderful son and daughter, Becky Creinin Fliegel and Dan Creinin. Their Jewish experiences in Columbus were very instrumental in their Judaism because Judaism wasn’t just automatic. You had to make yourself, you had to put yourself out and talk about your Jewish life and stand up for your Jewish rights. The experiences were very, very unusual because we had come from a Jewish area and not been in the minority as we were in Worthington. We had to fight for Jewish holidays and having no tests in school on those days. But more importantly it was just centered around the music of the community. My son who was, and still is, a good pianist was, This is an example. My son who was a good pianist was accompanying the seventh grade music program for the holidays and all the songs were religious. So he got up from his piano bench, said, “I can’t do this. This is religious,” and walked out.
Interviewer: Took a lot of guts.
Creinin: Took a lot of guts, just to give you an example of some of the things that we experienced.
Interviewer: In terms of right now where they are, are they still practicing their Judaism?
Creinin: Yes, my daughter and her family, I’m sure you know the wonderful Fliegels, are, participate in a Reform congregation called Sukkat Shalom. It is a very good congregation for young married couples with children because their programming is just built around the children. They are very, very active. My son is not as active right now. He has a young family but every Friday night there’s Shabbos at his house.
Interviewer: Good, so in terms of a little bit more of the history, tell us about your involvements with the Columbus Jewish community and especially as President of Congregation Beth Tikvah.
Creinin: Well Beth Tikvah is a wonderful congregation and we developed wonderful friendships through the congregation. My involvement as President was only one of my jobs. I had many jobs before that, Membership, Fund Raising and I centered all my Jewish involvement with Beth Tikvah. It was a vibrant place to be at that time, a little goofy but wonderful.
Interviewer: So you really didn’t get involved in a lot of the other Jewish community kinds of things?
Creinin: I was centered around Beth Tikvah.
Interviewer: Tell us a little bit about your working experiences. How did Judaism come to play during your various endeavors?
Creinin: When I finished Roosevelt University I had a degree in Primary Education and I taught for a short time in Chicago. I got married and went with my husband to Champaign, Illinois and taught for four years while he was doing his doctorate work. I taught kindergarten, first, second grade and Teaching Reading at the University of Illinois. After that, I stayed home as a stay-at-home mom. When the children got older, myself and a partner opened a catering and restaurant service in downtown Worthington. That is quite interesting because I got to see how people reacted to the Jewish community.
For example, we used to have a Christian breakfast, businessmen’s breakfast every month. Every month they tried to convert me. It was kind of cute. I also encountered some anti-semitism. For example, and this is quite interesting. I was at the cash register in our restaurant and one of the local doctors came up and said, “It’s time to work the Jewish piano,” meaning the cash register. So I said, “Can you tell if someone’s Jewish?” He said, “I can tell immediately.” I said, “You’re wrong because you’re looking at the President of Congregation Beth Tikvah.” I said, “Could you please leave?” So he left and he came back and he was all embarrassed, he apologized.
After Columbus, I opened a mail business in Cincinnati. I opened another mail business when we moved to Indiana. I was considered an expert in the mailing industry. When we came back to Chicago I worked for a business that ordered postage for large corporations. So I’ve done a lot of things. (Being) Jewish after we left Columbus was not an issue. As you go into a bigger community people are used to being with Jewish people.
Interviewer: Alright, so in your term as President of Beth Tikvah, what were the main issues at that time? Do you remember what you would consider, what was significant for the history of Beth Tikvah? What happened during those times?
Creinin: Well I was fortunate because I was President when we received our contribution from Jack Resler. He was very cute. He did not want to give the check to a woman. He really thought that women, at that point, should not do this work. Well, I won him over. So he did give me this check for $750,000 and we started a venture of building a new building in Worthington, Ohio. What I do remember was the interaction and the soures
(troubles) and the good things about opening a congregation in Worthington.
Interviewer: Why in God’s name were you even moving to Worthington? What was going on?
Creinin: Worthington we felt had excellent education for our children. That was the main reason why we moved in any house. We are right now in our ninth house. So we know about moving. The congregation, at that time Beth Tikvah was a wonderful small little congregation in an ugly, ugly building. We just kind of gravitated to that place. Also when we first moved in, it was near Pesach and the Gilberts invited us over and we thought this was wonderful.
Interviewer: So the congregation was growing too so you thought we needed a new or bigger building?
Creinin: We did because how we had a function in the building we were in was amazing. It just was inadequate. We had several shifts of Sunday School. We had to go out of the building for High Holiday Services. It just didn’t meet our needs and the congregation was growing as people moved away from the east side of Columbus.
Interviewer: How did you come up with the design for the building?
Creinin: Well we had a lot of guts. We, the Nestels were instrumental in the development of the congregation. We did not use Jack Resler’s architect. We held our breath because we thought he’d have a fit.
Interviewer: What was that all about?
Creinin: Well he wanted to use his architect and his architect built commercial buildings like strip malls and storage places. We wanted the building to meet our needs and we found an architect that did that, through a lot of work.
Interviewer: And Jack, then he was satisfied with the work you did in building?
Creinin: Jack was satisfied but I think he passed away before the building was done.
He was a very, very kind man. He liked the fact that after Services we got up and swept off and cleaned up the place before we left. He thought this was cool.
Interviewer: Did he visit the congregation often before he gave you the money?
Creinin: No, his friend was Howard Fink. So Howard Fink was the liaison between us and Jack.
Interviewer: Okay, very good. How was it going into the neighborhood, any problems moving in, any problems building the building?
Creinin: Lots of problems building the building because of the neighbors. Moving into the area, I think it was a matter of people did not have any relations with Jewish people. It was a matter of education and giving a little here and giving a little there.
Interviewer: You were able to overcome all those kinds of things. Did you have pretty good relationships finally with the neighbors or were they?
Creinin: The neighbors were wonderful. Where we had problems was with the high school because there was a choir leader that wanted to do religious programming and present the choir in religious Services which is not legal.
So I really fought him along that line and, when he found out I was moving, he said in front of his whole choir, “Thank heavens she’s moving.” But before that, when our children were in elementary school there was a Principal that allowed crosses and religious objects in the school so this is a funny story. One day Rhoda Gilbert and I climbed in the windows of the elementary school to take pictures of the religious objects so we could bring them in front of the (School) Board and that kind of stopped that.
Interviewer: Was that like during school hours or did you break into the school?
Creinin: It was right after school when everybody was leaving so it was open and we just, we didn’t break in, we just kind of went in the side way.
Interviewer: (Laughs). You were able then to see the classes and see the stuff and were able then to go to Administration and talk about they had no place in the school?
Creinin: Yes, actually the Principal either left or got fired. There were other problems too.
Interviewer: Any other funny stories that you’ve got, or serious stories, in regard to the property?
Creinin: Well the property, when we were negotiating it, I was on the Human Relations Commission in Worthington and I got kicked out because it was a conflict of interest.
Interviewer: You couldn’t negotiate with yourself in regards to what you guys wanted to do with the building in the city?
Creinin: Yes, people realized that my partner was Chairman of the, my business partner was Chairman of the Human Relations Commission so things worked out.
Interviewer: So there was a little bit of politics involved in that and we were able to build the building without very much of a hassle?
Creinin: There was a big hassle but Howard Fink and his cronies took care of it.
Interviewer: What kind of hassle?
Creinin: They didn’t want us in the neighborhood because we would have too much traffic and too much in and out and it would ruin their neighborhood and their property values.
Interviewer: Did that ever happen?
Interviewer: Any other stories that you’d like to tell us, any other things in the history of Beth Tikvah that you were involved with?
Creinin: Well before that I was involved with fund raising. I have a knack for fund raising and we developed Art Auctions that were really, at that time were very lucrative to the congregation. Another funny story which is very cute, the Pearlman’s who lived across the street from us at that time had a first grader named Andy and he was asked to be Jesus in the Christmas play. And the teacher didn’t realize what was wrong with this. She told him that he should stay home instead of coming to school. Well I kind of opened up a beehive of things. This was a matter of, it was kind of cute, but it was an example of what kinds of things that people just didn’t realize what it was to be Jewish.
Interviewer: So they had very little experience with the Jewish population and then you had to smooth some stuff out as you were moving into the community?
Creinin: Right, and then the same thing happened in Cincinnati when the children were much older, in high school, with special exams on Rosh Hashonah, etc., etc. They just had no clue. I was very, very fortunate to be a part of Beth Tikvah because it was an unusual and wonderful congregation. I’m sure it still is.
Interviewer: It is. And so how did it feel? What was the politics involved with you becoming President? You were a woman and you know Jack had a little difficulty handing you his check, any other difficulties in terms of the congregation with you being a woman?
Creinin: No, I was kind of asked to do it so I said, “Okay.”
Interviewer: Okay, so they came searching you out?
Creinin: Right, and one of the biggest supporters was Bob Mayer who has passed away.
Interviewer: Very good. Okay, anything else that you’d like to share with us, or the Jewish Historical Society?
Creinin: Well since you know all the cast of characters, it was funny when at Passover Carol Folkerth and I were plugging in crock pots for chicken soup all around the small congregation and we blew all the fuses.
Interviewer: Everything, absolutely, that didn’t have a lot of electric there, did it? So you were able to get some chicken soup in for the holiday?
Creinin: We did it. I think the best part being at Beth Tikvah at that time is you had to be flexible. You never knew what was going to happen the next day or the next, you just didn’t know. That was the fun part of it, just figuring it out. And the friends we made at that point are still friends with us.
Interviewer: What was it like going to the Unitarian Church for High Holidays?
Creinin: It was good because the Unitarians were very, very friendly and eager to please. So we brought our gefilte fish and all that stuff and set it up. It was fun because at that time Roger, Rabbi Roger Klein, would have an open house at his house and the kids would play basketball with him. And I thought that was probably one of his strengths, was working with the kids and knowing how to relate to them. My son had his Bar Mitzvah with Roger. And Dan rode his bicycle two times a week to Indianola to meet with him and did the whole Service by himself. And it was one of the last Services before moving into the building.
Interviewer: Into the new building?
Interviewer: What kind of role did you play in that, other than, I know you had the check from Jack, other specific things that you got involved with in regard to the building and the move?
Creinin: No because I helped but Bob (Mayer) followed me and he was so good that I had some involvement, but not a lot.
Interviewer: You had a committee that was watching the building at the building to make sure they did things right?
Creinin: Judith Nestel was at the building every day.
Interviewer: Very good. Okay, any last words you have before we shut this down?
Creinin: Well it was my pleasure to do this and I hope this will be part of the history.
Interviewer: You are a big part of the history and you were President at a very important time in the congregation’s history, moving out of a tiny place, going into a bigger place. You guys made it happen.
Creinin: We did. I don’t know if I could ever do that again but we did it.
Interviewer: It takes an awful lot of energy and that’s why we need to let the young people do some of this stuff.
Creinin: Absolutely, it’s their turn.
Interviewer: Okay, Barbara Creinin thank you very much, first woman President at Congregation Beth Tikvah and another one of our great leaders. Thank you so much.