This interview by Benjamin Balshone took place on January 9, 1990 and is part
of the Columbus Jewish Historical Society Oral History Project.

Mr. Mandelkorn served as a gadfly, a pathfinder, and a visionary as he led
the Columbus Jewish Community to develop The Columbus Jewish Federation,
Heritage House, the Jewish Historical Society, Jewish Family Services, The
Columbus Jewish Foundation, The Yassenoff Jewish Center, The Hillel Foundation
and other infrastructure. He served as executive director for some of these
institutions and organizations.

Ben Mandelkorn. Thank you, Ben Balshone for giving me the opportunity
to say a few words about myself, my career, my experience in Columbus in
my various professional capacities. There’ll be a great deal omitted,
but hopefully we can fill in the gaps as we go along on it.

I was born in Paterson, New Jersey September 16, 1914. My parents
were immigrants, Mother coming from Riga, Latvia, my father coming fromf
Russia. I went through regular public schools, elementary and the high
school and I graduated from Rutgers University with an undergraduate
degree in liberal arts, majoring in psychology and sociology.

Prior to graduation I had spent two years in New Jersey law school.
At the end of two years I felt in my own best future interest that Law
was not something I wanted to pursue. I attended the University of North
Carolina graduate school in Social Work and got my master’s degree.
Upon completion of that degree I was drafted into the army for World War
II, spending approximately two years in the United States in the medical
replacement facility in Camp Lee, Virginia, subsequently in Blackstone,
Virginia. When I realized that I was going to be moved for overseas
duties, I applied and was admitted into Officers Candidate School,
Carlisle Barracks, and then got my commission there and was sent
overseas, first to North Africa, where we were part of the invasion in
Oran, then stationed along with other hospital units in North Africa.

Then I was part of the invasion of southern France and we set up our
medical facilities in Marseilles. I spent approximately two and a half
years overseas ending up as a captain in the medical administrative
corps. Coming out of service, I found all the contacts in my field that
I was hoping to enter in social work, were very limited – practically no
contacts, and through a series of contacts I was introduced into the
field of Jewish communal service and my first position was that of the
director of the Jewish social service bureau under the Dallas Jewish
Federation. I served there for two years and then was given an
invitation to go onto the staff of the Detroit Jewish Federation, where
I spent nine years in a very excellent training and learning experience.

After nine years, I had been seeking to have an opportunity to be a
director or associate director in the field of community organizational
Federation work. The first opportunity that did come along offered me
was in Columbus, Ohio, where I succeeded Maurice Bernstein in the Fall
of 1956. Maurice Bernstein was the first trained professional Federation
director that the community had had. It was he who set up the first
basis for a well-organized Federation, and I picked it up from there.
When I came here, I came in several capacities: the director of the
United Jewish Fund, which was the campaign organization; the director of
the Jewish Community Council, which was a delegate body for community
relations to a large extent; the director of the Jewish Family Service,
and also the director of the Columbus Jewish Welfare Foundation, the
latter being the endowment fund program.

I found to a large extent a highly motivated, well – organized
community lacking a high degree of sophistication and development in
various fields of services and Federation structuring and organization.
My experience in Detroit was tremendously helpful to me in beginning the
formulation of a soundly conceived organization to achieve the
Federation purposes. I found in the first few years that what was
essential was the merging of functions then separately conducted, into
various institutions merging into one, to conserve manpower,
administration costs and things of that sort, and we merged The United
Jewish Fund with The Jewish Community Council. That became The United
Jewish Fund and Council, and then we eventually merged The Columbus
Jewish Welfare Foundation, all three into The United Jewish Fund and
Council, including the functions of the Columbus Jewish Welfare
Foundation Endowment under the rubric known as the Columbus Jewish
Federation.

By way of biographical information, I’m married to the former Rose
Goldstein, who grew up in a neighboring town of Paterson, known as
Passaic. She was a nurse in a Jewish hospital close to my home in
Paterson, New Jersey. We got married while I was in service. Our
children – Robert was born in Detroit and our daughter, Judy, was born
also in Detroit. They spent their formative years primarily in Columbus.
Judy got her undergraduate degree in Social Work at Ohio State
University and got her master’s degree in the College of Social Work
at Ohio State being one of a selective number of eight or nine to be in
an experimental program to do a two – year program in one year, which
she was able to do.

My son, Robert, an undergraduate at Ohio State University, got his
medical degree at the University of Louisville. Judith is currently the
director of the volunteer solicitation training Center for The United
Jewish Appeal nationally and my son is an ophthalmologist practicing in
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

I found, when I first came here, that the leadership was very
receptive to new ideas and to developing a high level type of service in
the community. What they needed was someone who would carry them through
a knowledgeable experience process of recognizing and analyzing the
problems and how to resolve them towards common community goals. I found
to a large extent that there was little of a rift or any significant
differences in ideological views among the leadership group. There was a
high sense of community and a willingness to work together. The
population at that time was approximately ten thousand.

Subsequently we did have a population study in 1967, I’m not sure
now, in which the population was estimated to be somewhere around
thirteen – or fourteen thousand.

By and large, the congregational leadership and rabbis wanted to work
in harmony. That didn’t mean that there weren’t differences of
opinion that might be expressed from time to time, and there was a
tendency of wanting to work harmoniously with The Federation. But there
we did have difficulties, largely in the field of Jewish education. Each
of the congregations attempted to maintain and have its own form of
Jewish education although most of them did try to cooperate with one
another.

From a campaign point of view, there were generally good, cooperative

relationships with overlapping of leadership from all of the
congregations. There was no major rift. I found to a large extent, from
my experience, that when you were on top of your job and you could
recognize emerging concerns – not necessarily problems – and brought
them to the attention of the leadership in a very thoughtful process,
there would be a tendency toward seeking to resolve these problems.

I know that in the past there were areas in which one found it
difficult – I was told – difficult to get together, but in each case
where I embarked upon a studied process, I found that when information
was made available in a very thoughtful, analytical fashion and
knowledgeable consultants were brought in, and there was a tendency to
want to work together, there was no serious problem merging The United
Jewish Fund and The Jewish Community Council when it was pointed out the
overlapping of leadership decision – making overhead cost, and that we
could accomplish each other’s purposes working under one roof, there
was no problem.

There was no problem when it came to considering the establishment of
a home for the aged. There was a converted residence having about twelve
elderly residents on Woodland Avenue. Up to that time, several studies
had been conducted, but no resolution was able to take place regarding
having one’s own institution.

We embarked upon a case-finding study and before the study was over
there was general agreement that we needed a home for the aged. There
was no problem whatsoever to bring the leadership together with
consultants from out-of-town and to get agreement that we needed a home
and the money that was raised rather quickly, and the building of that
facility was done with major elements of the community working together
on it.

I found this to be true in many other areas of activities in the
community. In all my years there was no major rift or schism among the
leadership that adversely affected major community matters.

When I first came here, the Federation office of the United Jewish
Fund was located on State Street, in the Grand Theater building. It was
a rackety place. Many rooms had no windows in them. The only staff was
myself, a bookkeeper and a secretary. The budget was extremely modest.
But it didn’t take long when the leadership began to realize that we
could have productivity in the campaign and that it would require more
staff, require more money, as long as it was done modestly and
demonstrably proven to work well.

And that took place over the years. Although the community may not
have been overly generous in administrative costs, they were very
prudent, and they recognized the need to increase the costs modestly. As
long as it was done in that fashion, there was no problem in building up
both the staff as well as the funds. Regarding each of the agencies, I
recognized that one of the major raisons d’etres of the
Federation was to develop, enhance and strengthen the network of local
services. The Federation in a large measure was an arm and a partner to
the institutions and agencies to which these responsibilities were
delegated for performance.

It wasn’t they and you or we and they, it was working
together, recognizing each other’s areas of responsibility and
competency. As far as that was concerned, the campaign belonged to the
entire community. Institutions also belonged to the community.
Federation’s responsibility was not to run the institutions but the
institutions were accountable for the delivery of good services. That
was part of the responsibility of Federation through its budget and
planning process through the year in which agencies were given complete
opportunity to present to the Federation their needs, their problems. It
was the responsibility of the Federation to act in a responsible manner
to help the agencies upgrade and to meet their needs, and it was an
obligation. So where we could work together, recognize each other’s
responsibilities, we were able to achieve much more than if we went our
separate ways.

The Federation’s objective was not to be controversial or to create
confrontation, but to render a community organization, community
process, community cooperative type of process, where all the elements
of a community would be recognized and be given their due place in the
sun and to help them achieve their objective. When the organizations
achieved their objectives, it meant the Federation achieved its
objectives. And also that the agencies and the organizations had the
responsibility to participate in the campaign to raise the funds that
were necessary. Throughout all my efforts, it was important to place
oneself on equal levels and not on higher or lower levels, and to act as
partners with one another in recognizing each other’s concerns and to
work together.

Generally, I think, by maintaining good working relationships, we
were able to strengthen the services and the network of services. That
was well seen because as the years went by, all the agencies grew
significantly and staffs and budgets and services increased, which would
not have happened if they were not working together. And in a community
the size of Columbus, we don’t have the luxury of having too much
money or having an oversupply of leadership, or an oversupply of donors
– many of the leaders would be wearing two or three hats but that was
perfectly all right, as long as they understood the responsibilities in
whatever settings they were working on, whether they were sitting at a
board meeting of Federation, and reflecting concerns of Federation,
while at the same time recognizing concerns of the institution, and
whether they served as board members of an institution, such as The
Center, or The Family Service, they would recognize the importance of
that service, but also its relationship to the Federation.

By and large, the leadership had a sense of community, and community
seemed pretty much the dominant concept of concern that seemed to
prevail in most instances, so that to a large extent, this community was
not confronted with confrontations or dissentions as has happened in
other communities. Also, pretty much the financial base of the community
seemed to be pretty stable, and pretty much was able to conduct growing
campaigns.

Oh, there was a campaign here or there that may not have raised as
much as the year before, but when you look at the over – all trend,
there was generally an upward trend for most of the years. The key
factor, also, that I think was terribly important to the Federation, was
the fact that since Federation does not deliver services directly, as
some of the institutions delivered services, whether it was Family
Service, or Services for the Elderly, or the Jewish Center, one of the
most important services’ needs of the Federation, was leadership
development – the retention of past leadership, while developing the
present leadership, and at the same time recruiting for new leadership.
The guts of the Federation in large measure depended upon the viability,
the stability and the capability of the best leadership one can have.

This, in a large, measure, was the strength of the Federation. Most
campaigns around the country originally started with local services.

Following World War II, overseas needs began to become dominant.
Meeting the refugees that were coming out of the camps, whether going to
Israel or whether they were coming to the United States or other parts
of the world, or whether it was the building – up of the State of Israel
as a homeland for Jews and as a refuge for Jews, it became quite
recognized that you couldn’t have a campaign just for local and a
campaign for overseas. That the Federation is the concept of pooling one’s
funds for all legitimate Jewish needs – local, national, or overseas.

The Federation was a natural instrument with the leadership to be
able to do it. It became quite obvious, therefore, with the urgency and
the high degree of motivation that the major gifts were motivated to
beat the overriding overseas demands on it, which were endless, which
were not limited, which were not defined by budgets. There was never
enough.

You could restrict and define a local budget from beginning to end
and know that you could do your job, but you couldn’t do that with an
overseas budget, there was never enough money. And so, initially, maybe
in communities like Akron, perhaps 70 -75% of the money would be going
to overseas, and people understood that. At the same time, if a refugee
program in Columbus, as it was in other parts of the country, these are
programs which had its origins with United HIAS, to a large extent,
bringing people to the United States, and getting them settled through
family service agencies throughout the country. Columbus played a very
significant role in that, in terms of the cooperation of organizations
and the Jewish Family Service and the Jewish Center and our Jewish
educational institutions. Federation was also responsible in providing
funds locally for this resettlement program, above and beyond the normal
programs that were taking place for the members of the Jewish community.

There was really no pressure. This was an international and a
national problem. National agencies played a terribly important role in
being able to bring to the local communities throughout the country what
the problem was, what the needs were, and to make available their system
and their channeling of resources and information to the communities,
and even their know – how in the resettlement by pooling experiences all
over the country.

There were normal pressures to get as many settled as possible – some
communities did better than others, depending on their degree of
receptivity in developing of their resources on it. United Jewish Appeal
played a terribly important role in putting pressures on the community
to conduct highly motivated campaigns for bigger and major gifts, and
one can say, to the credit of the United Jewish Appeal. They played a
major role in increasing levels of giving far beyond the imagination of
most Jews. If left just for local needs, this would never have happened
to a large extent. That pressure to make major gifts a larger motive for
overseas, had a spillover into local needs as well – local services – so
that when overseas needs declined, to a large extent, many of the major
gifts were retained on the same level, and through a budgeting process,
were used for other needs within the Jewish community. In the course of
time, as overseas needs began to decline, then the percentage for
overseas pretty much went down. So that today, by and large, the average
good community provides maybe 50% of its campaign funds for overseas
purposes.

There is always a certain amount of contention with some of the
national agencies but never to a point where communities were placed in
disarray or conflict. And the reason where maybe conflicts did not take
place, was where the professional was experienced enough to understand
the dynamics of conflict and how to handle conflict in a constructive
fashion, recognize needs of national, international and local and
provide the kind of setting where people could express their viewpoints
and reach a consensus on the thing, then most problems were resolved to
a large extent. And though at one time or another there was contention
between national and overseas and local, they never reached points of
breaking up a community, which they never did, particularly where the
community had sophisticated leadership which attended conferences and
understood it, and the professional understood these forces and kept
them working together.

It was a natural development. In the course of communities growing –
their demographics, the development of their institutions and agencies,
that the early immigrants who came were largely from the German and
Reform element to a large extent, and those who succeeded them came out
of the eastern part of Europe, and the Orthodox element, the Russian
part of it came later.

The early leadership – German Jews – to a large extent, became the
leaders and developers of local institutions – they were doing it not
for themselves but for those succeeding them, who were not necessarily
from the eastern part or the western part or the southern part of Europe
or from Spain. That all disappeared to a large extent in terms of who
played leadership roles and were decision – makers in the community. Up
until World War II, it was the old German families, the early immigrants
and so forth that were the decision makers to a large extent, but after
World War II, with the large influx of the non-German Jews, or the
Eastern European Jews to a large extent, they had to participate in the
resettlement and in the fund raising, and they understood, to a large
extent, but at the same time, as long as their money was being sought,
they also wanted part of the action in the leadership part. Room had to
be made for them on it. They naturally came into leadership roles.

So for a relatively short period after World War II, the differences
began to disappear ,and for this community, particularly, it was never a
very serious problem in terms of working together for communal needs.
There were those who bent their religious concerns and needs in their
own congregation whether it was Reform, or Orthodox or Conservative, but
when it came to communal needs, they generally were able to band
together and work together for the community and for the institutions.

And that in the course of time, what appeared to be significant
differences disappeared to a large extent – played no major role in the
development of the community whatsoever. When I first came to Columbus,
there were a limited number of Jews who were active in the general
community, in what is known as the Community Chest, and later the United
Way. There were a limited number, and they were those who were maybe
representative of Temple Israel, or some of the German leadership. They
were involved not representing the Jewish community, but representing,
really, their own civic interests.

And they were sought out, to some extent, in the general community,
but their numbers were relatively small. It was only, I would say, in
the middle seventies or late seventies – it was never made by the
Federation by the director himself to encourage the involvement of
outstanding leaders in the Jewish community, who it was felt could make
a contribution to the general community and represent the interest of
the Jewish community in a very healthy, constructive manner.

And that process began by involving a number of our sophisticated
leaders with the United Way. I don’t want to mention names because I
might omit a few and the numbers did increase, and so before we knew it,
we had people in key leadership roles in the United Way, in the budget
committees, and in other organizations in the general community. It has
rebounded tremendously to the benefit of the Jewish community and now we
find significant numbers of our Jewish leadership very active in the
Jewish community, highly committed to their synagogues, highly committed
to the Jewish community, but also committed to general community
purposes and doing an outstanding job and having a rebound to the
benefit of everybody concerned.

So that’s been to the good of our Jewish community.

Prior to my retirement, which took place in the fall of ’79,
several years before – let me go back, here. The Columbus Jewish Welfare
Foundation, which is the community endowment fund program, was developed
and established in the fall of 1955 by Federation leadership as a
separate corporation to be engaged in acquiring property for the
community and to encourage special types of gifts – not to the annual
campaign, or for wills and bequests and things of that sort – a rather
visionary group who were looking to the future in terms of building a
financial base above and beyond annual campaigns, and that this
instrument would be that device to do it. I was the director of that,
along with others, and although this welfare foundation would meet from
time to time during the year, it was not very active.

We kept it alive, let the community know it existed, but we really
did not give it the kind of time and attention it needed in terms of
staff, in terms of program, budget and all that went with it.

Several years prior to my retirement I was asked by leadership, that
upon my retirement, would I be willing to take this on part time and try
to energize it. I said okay. So prior to that I started to get myself
ready in terms of bringing in people who were expert in this field to
help train me, to give me the background to expose the leadership of
this organization known as the Columbus Jewish Welfare Foundation, so
that at the time I retired I was able naturally to move right in and
keep things going.

The organization went through various changes. It started out as a
separate 501 (c) (3) incorporated organization from 1955 until after the
merger of the United Jewish Fund and Council and when the Federation
merged, it gave up its corporate identity and became then, a committee
of the Columbus Jewish Federation, but with its own by – laws, its own
officers, its own board, and operated at arm’s length, almost
independently. All it gave up, to a large extent, was its 501 (c) (3)
separate tax exemption. Otherwise it kept all its powers and everything
else.

The only power that the Federation had was that the constituency of
the Foundation which was, essentially, the board of the Federation and
as long as the Foundation operated within the approved by laws, not in
conflict with the policies or the constitution of the Federation, it
could go about its business without having to account to the Federation
for everything, even though we did report. In the Fall of 1979, this
endowment fund program began to become rather dynamic. It had assets of
approximately $750,000 marketable assets. In the course of time, as we
began to set our sights and develop programs and provide staff time
leadership development, committees, marketing devices, a whole variety
of things ,the asset value on it began to go up, as well as the income,
the distributions, and everything else. And we brought together probably
the best of the best leadership of the community to be part of this
thing. And to create the concept of what we call a community legacy – to
do those things financially which the annual campaign could not do and
to which there were no funds to do this sort of things. Not to duplicate
the funding from the campaign, or programs, and also to do funding for
organization institutions which were not affiliated with the Federation.
Jewish or non-Jewish, for that matter, so that as of today, the
organization has marketable assets of approximately $44 million and
expects to have $50 million come the June, 1990 audit.

How did this all come about? It came about in two ways. First, that
people did put money in, and gave it to the Foundation, and did those
things that it felt were needed for the community, but at the same time
provided an opportunity for people to set up funds to meet their
philanthropic interests, whether it was special purpose funds earmarked
for certain kinds of problems, or whether it was to set up in lieu of a
private foundation what is known as a philanthropic fund or a donor –
advised
fund where donors have the privilege of making
recommendations for the distribution of the income and the principal. So
in the course of time, we have now ended up where we have close to 300
different kinds of funds, representing a whole variety of different
kinds of instruments, whether they be special purpose funds,
philanthropic funds, founder funds, child remainder trusts, insurance,
provisions in the wills, et cetera – et cetera. So that we have a whole
series of marketable instruments that we could present to donors in the
community.

We kept stressing that there were two gifts that a Jew in an
organized community had a responsibility to treat seriously. One was the
gift to the annual campaign to maintain the network of services that
built up traditionally and secondly, to make a one-time gift for the
continuance of this community to meet those needs that the annual
campaign did not meet, and to truly help build what we call a community
financial legacy. To do those things that could not otherwise be done.

The record shows overwhelmingly that number one, of the amount of
money that we obtain every year, approximately $5.5 million, we
distribute approximately $3.5 million. We’ve given grants out to
organizations – Jewish and non-Jewish – who would not have otherwise
received these grants. We have done things for individuals or
organizations or institutions which have enhanced their program,
provided risk programs – the chance of failing – scholarship funds –

a whole series of things which have rebounded to the benefit of the
Jewish community.

The whole concept of the Columbus Jewish Foundation is to build a
secure financial base for the future, that this Jewish community should
not have to live from hand to mouth or survive primarily on crisis
situations; that it should be able to build for the future, no matter
what may arise, whether it’s on a crisis basis or on an emergency
basis.

And also, to help reduce multiple appeals that, if there was a major
project that took place that could not be met in the annual campaign,
that this foundation would make a good part of the money available and
say, “You don’t have to go on a campaign, here’s a half million
dollars – here’s a million dollars on it, so the donors don’t have
to be burdened with multiple appeals on this thing, for which they would
be thankful.

Also, to provide opportunities for donors to do those things which
they can’t do through the annual campaign. When you give your gift to
the annual campaign, you’re part of a pool of funds and the community.

I want to perpetuate the memory of a dear and beloved one, or to
honor someone for many years to come, or I want this particular need to
be met for the years to come, whether it’s in Jewish education, in
youth, or in resettlement or the elderly – you name it. It gives a
family an opportunity to identify in perpetuity with a particular
interest, and it’s a special kind of a contribution and it reflects
that person’s philanthropic interest in that kind of way instead of
having to set up his own private foundation to administer it with all
the costs involved, and to have the assurance that a stable, thoughtful,
well – organized instrument in the community will assure him that his
concerns will best be met.

We’ve come a long way – a remarkable achievement, in my book. Of
approximately 135 to 150 endowment fund programs under Federation
auspices, the Columbus Jewish Foundation is reputed to be about the
eleventh in the country in terms of marketable assets as well as its
organizations.

So we must be doing something right. If we hadn’t been doing any of
this, these things would not have happened. Benefits would not have
taken place, and we would not be having close to $50 million. It has
been overwhelmingly demonstrated that it has not adversely affected any
other interest in the community. It’s been plus money! If
someone said to us, “Look, it’s going to affect the annual
campaign – it’s going to affect your Temple giving, it’s going to
affect this,” we’d have to say we wouldn’t do it.

So a bunch of brave people came along and said, “give us a
chance and try,” and said, “we’ll guarantee you that in
eleven years we’re going to have not just $50 million, but we’ll
also be distributing in that time another $50 million,” he said,
“You’re out of your cotton – pickin’ mind.” It didn’t
happen.

The proof was in the pudding. The record is there. It’s been done,
and at the same time, we have a strong leadership group supporting this.
And if we can do this now, in the formative state, just imagine what we
can do in the next ten, fifteen, twenty years!

My brief, concluding remarks would be: I found the Columbus Jewish
community a good community when I came here – open and ripe for the
development of a better community to achieve their purposes. I think in
a large measure, that trust has not been found wanting. I think they
gave me an opportunity to take some of their dreams, whether they
understood them clearly or not, and help build for them a strong
community to meet their ongoing needs while at the same time to plan a
stronger community for the future.

That, I think, is a legacy that we have left this community. I see
this community going even farther ahead in planning its concerns, in
planning its needs for the future on it, and there is, in terms of
outstanding local institutions, outstanding leadership involvement,
generosity in many directions and not in any one direction,
participation by many different elements of the community working
together for projects, some of which they may not completely believe in,
but they think it’s important, so they participate.

So I believe that I leave the community in as good, if not better
shape, than I found it when I first came here in 1956, and it’s a
credit to all concerned.

Upon my retirement I recognized that there was something missing in
this community, and that was the development, the establishment and a
collective memory that had not existed in this community. People, like
in many other communities, live on a day – by- day basis and take for
granted the past, but do not have that past recorded accurately,
honestly, clearly, to be able to be used in a constructive manner in
building for the future.

It was with that thought in mind that several of us got together and
encouraged the idea of establishing the Columbus Jewish Historical
Society for Columbus and the surrounding area in Central Ohio. To start
the elementary process of gathering basis data about the community, its
past and to not let the present become too far of the past without
collecting and organizing this and it’s come quite far and rather
well, compared to other such societies around the country, and so I
think if we persevere in making sure that the mission of the Columbus
Jewish Historical Society is not forgotten and that it is maintained and
pushed –hard- that we will have brought to the surface and in an
organized fashion, the information of our Jewish community and the
personalities that have been involved in the decision – making that has
taken place, so that it can become alive rather than dust – gathering
information, which will help us become a much more complete community
than heretofore, so I think we’re on the right track. First, because
there is no other organization in town that has as a primary
responsibility – they may have it as a secondary responsibility – but
very few institutions, even in their secondary responsibility are doing
very much to gather this material, organize it, exhibit it promote it
and so forth and so I hope that the Columbus Jewish Historical Society,
though small and modest in its beginnings, will be recognized as an
essential function and instrument of this community to really build up
its memory and its sense of responsibility.

This concludes the presentation by Ben Mandelkorn for the Columbus
Jewish Historical Society Oral History Project.