Hello, my name is Mike Fliegel. I am here with Bruce Chapman, at Beth Tikvah. I am interviewing Bruce as a past President of our Congregation. The interview is for the Columbus Jewish Historical Society. We are recording all of our past Presidents to make sure that we have a good understanding of where we came from and how we’re surviving. So, this is Bruce.
Interviewer: Hi Bruce. How are you?
Chapman: I am very well, thank you. Greetings!
Interviewer: Greetings! How long have you lived in Columbus, Bruce?
Chapman: I’ve been here since 1993, so seventeen years.
Interviewer: What brought you to Columbus?
Chapman: Wendy’s. I had a new job at Wendy’s and moved up here.
Interviewer: Were you making the chili?
Chapman: No, partly, the burgers and fries.
Interviewer: Ah ha, okay, very good. Where were you born and where did you live before you came here?
Chapman: I was born in Oakland, CA. My dad worked for Sears, so we moved frequently. When I was about four we moved down to Los Angeles and I lived there through kindergarten and first grade. Then we moved to Dallas, TX and was there through sixth grade. We moved to Chicago. So I did my junior high and high school in Chicago. Then I went to the University of Iowa in Iowa City. I graduated and moved to Minneapolis. I was in Minneapolis for about seven months.
I got a different job and that started to be in Cleveland. So I was in Cleveland for a year and they said I was doing a good job and they’d like me to help open up a new operation here in Columbus. So I was in Columbus for a year. Then I moved to Detroit for a year and then I moved back to Chicago for about a year and a half. Then they had a promotional opportunity for me, I accepted. It was in Charlotte, NC. So I moved to Charlotte and stayed there for about five years. That company got sold. I found a new position in a little town called Rocky Mount, NC. I was there for eight years. Then that company got sold and I came to Columbus.
Interviewer: And how long have you been here now?
Chapman: I’ve been here since 1993, the longest I’ve been anywhere.
Interviewer: That’s a long, right, given your history, it’s a long time.
Chapman: When someone says, “Where are you from?” I say, “I don’t know.”
Interviewer: I see. Well maybe Columbus can be maybe then your home. We’ll see what happens there. You’ve got a lot of stuff going on.
Chapman: The closest to a home that we have.
Interviewer: I know that you were not born Jewish and that you converted to Judaism. Tell me something about that, like when did that happen and what made you do it.
Chapman: Several things came into play. The neighborhood where I went to elementary school was probably about seventy-five percent Jewish, in Dallas. When High Holy Days came around there were about six people that came to class. The rest of them, everybody was at temple. So I was a little bit familiar with Judaism before. During my teenage years I had what I call the classical questioning of faith. I went to our Minister and explained to him my problems of not believing all of the tenets of Christianity. He said “It’s a problem of the community and the church,” which really didn’t answer my questions at all but it got me to investigate more religions. As luck and or fate would have it, freshman year in college, one of the required courses was Comparative Religion.
So we took I’d say a spoonful of the whole gamut of religions. When we got to the section on Judaism, I said, “Ah ha, that’s it! That’s what I really want to learn more about and get into.” The problem was that Iowa City at that time did not have a Rabbi. The Professor of Hebraic Studies refused to convert anyone. So the closest Rabbi was in the Quad Cities, which was Bettendorf, Moline, Rock Island, about an hour’s drive away. I did find a Rabbi there to work with.
So I would drive on Sundays and study with him and get more homework and study. At that time I was also dating my current wife and her family was Jewish. They said, “Well you’re not going to convert because of us?” I said, “No, definitely not.” They said, “If you want to convert right you need to do it Orthodox.” I said, “OK,” which required some additional study. Then I went to an Orthodox Rabbi in Dayton, OH for the full procedure, one might call it. There I was officially converted Orthodox and they gave me the name Baruch Avraham Elohim and I’ve been Jewish ever since.
Interviewer: Very interesting!
Chapman: It’s a short story
Interviewer: It’s a short story but it answers about four or five of my questions. You pulled them all together so that’s very good. The history of it, knowing how it influenced you, and where you did, and where you went to college and all that kind of stuff. It was an amazing decision to make at an early age. How did you feel doing that? I mean it was like by yourself. Did you have support from your family, or non support?
Chapman: I think the family accepted it but didn’t actually promote anything. I think the family was Christian but not ardent or devout Christian. They would go to Services once a month and they’d go Christmas/Easter. Interestingly at least from my perspective and families being what they are, my brother married a Catholic and is Catholic and my sister is an agnostic so I think we’ve pretty much covered the bases.
Interviewer: Covered all the bases it sounds like. Lois’s family, were they Orthodox or they just said it was better to convert Orthodox? How religious were they?
Chapman: Well, in the early days her father was Orthodox but, and the children were raised Orthodox up through like elementary school. Then they went Conservative and they were Conservative for the rest of their lives.
Interviewer: How long have you been married to Lois?
Chapman: Thirty-eight years.
Interviewer: Thirty-eight years, wow! Tell me about your kids and their Jewish experiences in Columbus and as they are maturing young adults.
Chapman: Well I have to go backwards again a little bit. Back to Rocky Mount, NC, a little town of about 50,000 people, about 60 miles east of Raleigh. There was one synagogue there, no Rabbi and we were the only synagogue in a four county area. As such, we tried to haves Services once a month, whether we needed them or not. We had twenty-four families that were members out of the four counties. No one wanted to step up to the plate to keep things organized and run. There’s a very old building, a sanctuary, temple in town that was built in the 1940’s when there had been one hundred families in the area.
So my wife, Lois, and I took over as Co-Presidents. Don’t get me started. We had three classrooms and up to twelve students at our height. We located an Israeli who lived in Raleigh to come and be our religious school teacher. So all the kids were trained by this Israeli teacher. The older kids taught the younger kids. It was like the old one-room schoolhouse where everything got done. Lois and I took care of it. My older daughter was Bat Mitzvahed there. We had to call in a Rabbi who was very surprised that Rachel ran the whole Service because we didn’t know any different about what a Bat Mitzvah should do or not do because we hadn’t had a Bat Mitzvah in years. No one knew what the protocol was. So my older daughter ran the entire Service except for two or three prayers the Rabbi said he had to do. That took care of getting her through religious school at which point we moved up here to Columbus and we became very active in Beth Tikvah.
My older daughter volunteered to be the assistant to the art teacher. My younger daughter went through religious school here at Beth Tikvah. The younger daughter also enjoyed immensely going to camp outside of Indianapolis. She went there for five years and enjoyed every minute of it. Follow up to that, both girls still come over on Friday night and we have Shabbat dinner. A few years ago my mother-in-law moved here to be closer and so we have a full house on Friday night.
Interviewer: Very good
Chapman: Did that answer three or four more of your questions?
Interviewer: (Laughs) It’s fascinating, you know just thinking about where we all come from and what we bring in to institution. You had mentioned that you were pretty active when you got here in Beth Tikvah. But guess what, you got to be President of our Congregation. What were the main issues, what was going on at the time and what do you remember that you would consider significant in the history?
Chapman: I was President in 2005 and 2006. I had the honor and pleasure of following you, sir, in that position. It was a very interesting period of time. It was a time where the Congregation had grown over 500 families and we were making very major decisions on whether to stay here in our current building or build a new much larger facility with assistance in co-ordination of the Federation and with the JCC. All kinds of lively discussions and debates whether it was the best thing for us to do or not. Eventually it came down to a vote and the group that was opposed to our moving won by four votes which meant that the Congregation was not going to build the new building up at Snouffer and Smokey Row. Managing the debate and process were major things that we went through.
Interviewer: It was a busy time. Did you find time and/or what experiences did you have in the larger Jewish community as representative for Beth Tikvah?
Chapman: At that time I got more involved in attending the meetings of the Federation, quarterly meetings, getting a better appreciation of what goes on in the greater
community of Columbus, an appreciation of all/what the Federation does, working with the JCC trying to get a daycare facility in conjunction with the new building at Beth Tikvah. I got to meet, I had the pleasure of meeting and working with a very diverse group of people, with a diverse group background.
Interviewer: Did you serve on any other committees in the community or basically your experiences were with Beth Tikvah and then?
Chapman: Most all of it was Beth Tikvah.
Interviewer: Okay, continuing on a little bit, why don’t you share with me some of the other involvement you have at Beth Tikvah, what are the kind of things you’re involved with and what do you enjoy doing?
Chapman: Since my past presidency, I have been actively involved in Brotherhood, currently the Program Chair. I have been an active member of the Finance Committee, assisting the Treasurer get through the budget process and keep our selves financially healthy.
Interviewer: Good. We hope that maintains and will continue to do that. What other kinds of interests do you have? Do you like to travel, or have you traveled, or do you plan
whether you’re interested? Are you still working?
Chapman: Still working. In my prior employment I traveled extensively, mostly Canada, coast to coast, did get to travel to Europe a couple of times. Now, in the last eight years, I’m pretty much a homebody. I spend most of my time here in Ohio. As far as other things, I enjoy reading, enjoy golf, enjoy staying, working and playing with family. Pretty boring, but it’s nice.
Interviewer: You know of interest, you’ve converted into being Jewish and you continue to celebrate Shabbat and you bring your family together with Shabbat. How important is Judaism in your life?
Chapman: Very, I think that the traditions, the history, the ethics, the way to live a life have been very important to me. It is my whole life. I’m not sure how to explain it beyond that. It’s the cornerstone.
Interviewer: Very philosophical kinds of considerations
Interviewer: And all that stuff
Chapman: It’s the way to live.
Interviewer: Hey, any stories that you want to tell us that might be of interest?
Chapman: No, but thank you for asking
Interviewer: (Laughs) What advice would you have for your children in regard to love and life?
Chapman: Do both, enjoy life. Find a silver lining to the troubles. See if you can find a sense of humor. Maintain a sense of humor through all kinds of tragedies and your joys.
Interviewer: Okay, well unless you have anything else that you’d like to share with us we can wrap this up. This is Mike Fliegel
Chapman: And Bruce Chapman
Interviewer: For the Columbus Historical Society. We appreciate your time. Thank you Bruce.
Chapman: Thank you
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Transcribed by Susan Pomerantz.
Edited by Rose Luttinger