This interview for the Columbus Jewish Historical Society is being recorded on August 26, 2008 as part of the Columbus Jewish Historical Society’s Oral History Project. The interview is being recorded at Congregation Beth Tikvah, 6121 Olentangy River Road, in Worthington, Ohio. My name is Abby Goldbaum and I am interviewing David Binkovitz, a past President of Congregation Beth Tikvah.
(Note: Bold type denotes the interviewer, regular type denotes Binkovitz)
Alright David, what is your full name?
My name is David, middle initial is J, Binkovitz.
Thank you. David, do you have a Jewish name?
My Jewish name, obviously David is easy, it’s the same in every language in the world, it’s David (Hebrew pronunciation) and my father’s David ben Avraham Zusi and I don’t know what that middle name means but that’s something he is going by, David, son of Abraham Zusi and someone who knows Yiddish or Hebrew would be able to translate that one.
Okay, and who were you named for?
I think my parents just liked the name David because there’s… I can’t find anybody in the family with that name.
What was your mother’s full name?
Rose Bell Hefner which means beautiful rose.
Where was she born?
She was born in Cleveland.
What was your father’s full name?
Where was he born?
Also in Cleveland.
Okay, when and where were your parents married?
My parents were married in Cleveland and I think it would be around 1950 or 51. I forgot to check that date.
And do you know where? Were they married at a synagogue or…
Yeah, I’ve seen the photo album. I think back then they might have called it the Heights Jewish Center, but it was a synagogue. They were looking pretty dapper (laughs). I’ve seen the wedding pictures, they’re very nice.
Great, great, and that was in Cleveland Heights?
I can’t remember if they lived in Cleveland or Cleveland Heights at that time. It’s somewhere near.
Sort of curious to know where in Cleveland your parents grew up.
Let’s see, both my parents, their parents, my grandparents, were immigrants. It was what we called back then a mixed marriage. My dad’s family was Russian and my mom’s family was German. What was interesting was that although they were here, came here at the height of the Depression, and they were both poor, my mom’s was an extremely poor family and my dad was only poor. My dad lived in “the nice area,” I think they called it the Eddy Road area of Cleveland. My mom lived, gosh I am trying to remember the answer to that, but it was very,very poor and she said it was difficult when she went to school because they were one of the few Jewish families and they did have problems with kids being violent and stuff and my mom had two brothers and a sister. Her brother, who was older than her, sometimes had to help her go to school safely. I remember her telling me that story.
But I think my parents must have met in high school which was… They both went to Glenville High School which at that time had quite a big Jewish population by that point.
Okay. Where did your family live when you were growing up?
We lived on the east side of Cleveland and it actually went kind of hand in hand seeing your asking about my dad. My dad and my grandfather were in the grocery store business. They had a little grocery store. I can’t say that there are any real, too many real grocery stores any more. They’re either supermarkets nowadays or convenience stores. Now back then, and now, someone might look at it as a convenience store but it wasn’t, it was a grocery store. They catered to a very wealthy clientele in Shaker Heights and my dad had some unusual services where he delivered food to people. I used to go with him and we would deliver, often never make it to the home, we delivered to the carriage home where the butler or maid live. It was a very interesting experience and the reason I bring up the story, I just remembered, it kind of gave me, I think, a very good outlook in life in the sense that my dad was the owner but he was also a working kind of guy. My dad always impressed upon me you know it’s always nothing to be looked down upon, somebody who works physically and, on the other hand, somebody who owns a business, that’s a good thing too. My dad’s clients who were very wealthy, some of the leaders of the Cleveland area, but I learned that they were regular people, people not to envy or sometimes people even get jealous. Actually they were very plain and the reason I tell the story is that I feel very comfortable in life whether I am dealing with somebody who is considered a laborer or somebody who is the president of a bank. Working with my dad, sometimes I learned I had a foot in both worlds.
That’s very interesting. And what was the name of the store?
Well, it was called Shaker Market. It was in Shaker Heights and we lived…. When I was little we lived in a suburb called South Euclid. Around the time my older sister went to elementary school we moved to University Heights which people don’t realize is named after John Carroll University. University Heights was at that time, when I went to school, was again very unusually predominantly Jewish. I remember although school was not officially closed for the Jewish High Holidays, only Donna went to school that day (laughs), one girl, and she was Catholic and eventually she went on to the private school. I think the teacher was there all alone throughout elementary school and then…
What school did you go to?
I went to Northwood Elementary School which I think, if you would check afterwards, I think Rabbi Huber’s wife might have gone there but she may have been a few classes ahead of me. I was there through around fifth grade then we made our third move in the Cleveland area. We moved to Shaker Heights where I went to elementary school at Mercer and then junior high at Byron Junior High. Following up, we… At that point, my dad has always been a smart business person. As I mentioned grocery stores really don’t exist now. My dad was seeing, was able to see the future. Although he had created quite a nice niche with the supermarket-grocery store he had, he realized that they would probably become something of the past and competing with the large chains that were growing. We now take for granted that grocery stores are large, but they weren’t originally at that time. My dad knew that things were going to get more difficult. He started exploring. My grandfather had retired. He was in business with my dad. It gave my dad more options to look around and he looked around different things and we came across this thing called McDonalds which none of us had heard of (laughs). He found a… They were kind of like a new thing and who knows maybe they will do well, maybe not. He looked at some other options and eventually my dad settled on one that turned out to be a good idea, a very good idea. It was in Newark, Ohio. That was 1967 when we decided to move here. But we decided to move to Columbus rather than Newark. The Newark story will come in later on. I’ll get back to that. So for me it would be 9th grade, my older sister would be 11th grade and my younger sister, oh gosh let’s see, maybe 5th or 6th grade I think at that point. We moved to Columbus. It was quite different, (laughs) moving to Columbus. I told you I went to elementary school where only one girl went on the High Holidays and in Columbus all of a sudden not everybody was Jewish (laughs). In the long run it was probably a good thing. It expanded my world, it expanded the people I met.
Now what did your father…What type of business did he settle on?
Well, we ended up buying a McDonalds restaurant in Newark, Ohio, just one at the time. I think when he did retire, I always get confused, at that point he owned three or four. He retired when he was 62. He always liked working but he decided he didn’t want to die on the job. He wanted to be able to enjoy and do other things in life. He made a decision to retire I think when he was 62.
Now you mentioned your siblings, how many siblings did you have? What were their names?
I have an older sister, Lee, who is two years older than me. I’m in the middle and then I have a younger sister Terry who is three years younger and the reason I was trying to figure out her grade was that because of her birthday she was four years behind me in school. But my last year of high school my parents separated, divorced and some time afterwards my dad remarried. When I graduated from high school, I am trying to remember if he was, I think he was engaged and then he married again in the summer. And through his new wife, I never call her stepmom because I always think of Cinderella (laughs). Her name was Joy and she has been like a second mom to me and she had three boys but one, the youngest, it worked out that my dad adopted the youngest and his name is Larry. So I guess in that process I acquired a brother.
Larry has two brothers and that is kind of funny because the oldest is David so Larry could go around and tell people he has two brothers David (laughs) which sounds like something from the Bob Newhart show or something like that. He has a middle brother, Paul. Both of his brothers became very Orthodox and Larry is similar, grew up in the Conservative or Reform movement. My two sisters and my mom are in California now and my dad retired with Joy to Florida. Larry returned to this area. He is actually now in New Albany and he is a doctor with Children’s Hospital.
Very interesting. So when you came to Columbus you moved to the East side?
Right, we lived in what I think is still called the Berwick area of Columbus, not too far from the Jewish Center. I was able to ride in the summertime, ride my bicycle over to the Jewish Center to go swimming. Columbus was very good for me. I think it was interesting. Cleveland I think school-wise was a little more competitive. I think Columbus helped me with my confidence in life because in Cleveland, you know, if I got a B it took a lot of work. In Columbus I just kind of showed up and got A’s all the time and I thought this is a good place to be. I think indirectly it kind of let me know I could do a lot more, you know achieve more. The Jewish population I mentioned was smaller but it was very close-knit and similar to our current congregation, Beth Tikvah, a lot of my friends were from other places just like a lot of Beth Tikvah people are from other places. They were pretty welcoming because they had once been strangers in a strange place and they ran as a nice group of friends.
We had AZA for guys and BBG for girls at the Jewish Center. I was active with that. So, as a Jewish experience, it continued to be very good. In Cleveland we were part of the Conservative movement of Jews. I had my Bar Mitzvah in Cleveland at Park Synagogue. I was taught my Bar Mitzvah by the father of one of our Beth Tikvah congregants. You probably both know Jonathan Levy. Jonathan’s father, we called him the “Reverend Levy” or “Rev Lev” for short. I think his official title in Hebrew was Shamas. He was guardian of the temple. They only brought him out when we were about 121/2. We never got to see him. They brought him out and he had a very nice presence. He seemed very serious. Jonathan tells me his dad is a big yuckster, a funny guy. He was like from the old school. I think he was German born so we kind of respected him as opposed to the other teachers that kind of, not me, but the other kids kind of got… were kind of rowdy, whatever. I learned my part for my Bar Mitzvah through Jonathan Levy’s father. Jonathan I think is the youngest of the boys so I didn’t know him but I did know his brother, one of his brothers.
Okay, and when you came to Columbus did your family join a synagogue or temple?
Right. It’s interesting. We… we…. Because at that point the only Conservative synagogue was Tifereth Israel also it was a nice place, that’s where we joined. It was a matter of continuity probably because that’s what we were familiar with in Cleveland. It was headed by Rabbi Zelizer who had quite a reputation in Columbus and in the nation as a Rabbi. Education was excellent. I remember, I think his name was Saul Wachs who was a very good Jewish educator and it was, you know, a very good program so I had my confirmation with Tifereth Israel and was active over there.
Good, great, and what high school did you go to?
I attended Eastmoor here in Columbus. There was one year, it was called junior high school back then, and then went on to high school in tenth grade. Eastmoor also was an interesting experience. It was different again from Cleveland and in some ways very positive for me but unlike Cleveland area, about one third of the school was Jewish which for me was low but for the Columbus area was high. One third of the students were black because Columbus had a voluntary integration program.
African-American students lived in or near our neighborhood so they could go to Eastmoor but other black children had the option of going to Eastmoor and many of them took advantage and that turned out to be also a very good experience.
And then I said one third were neither Jewish nor black, whatever, and so it was a good mixture. It was a good experience. In high school I was involved with, for example, the yearbook staff. I eventually became yearbook editor and Abby caught a little bit of my yearbook training right before the session when I steered her through doing pictures. I got some good training in high school in journalism. It was probably one of the courses that I probably learned the most that I retain to this day. I would write a news story. I would do pictures and lay them out.
How did that influence your choice of college, if in fact it did. and your choice of career and where did you go to school? Could you tell us about that?
That’s interesting, career and college, I’m not sure… something got in my head once that maybe I thought lawyers were people who argued with people all the time and when I was younger I guess I kind of liked a good argument. I think I’ve changed. I’m probably a little bit better at listening to people and trying to get in different points of view but I thought, well now that sounds like a fun job. You just sit around arguing with people all day. Then in high school I got interested in debate and I thought that was kind of similar too. I sort of liked architecture. I like it from an artistic point of view but I thought I wasn’t as good in math as I was in writing and it wasn’t until thirty years later I realized architects don’t even have to know math.
That’s the engineers who make things work and I wish I would have known that but it doesn’t matter. I sort of had that in mind that I would be interested in doing law and years later I came to realize that being Jewish and study, the Jewish technique of study, is very conducive to law. Questioning, viewing text and context and looking at the sources for authority. The Jewish way of studying is very natural for the legal area. College… I had a friend in high school, Deborah, who went to school in Washington, George Washington University, and I visited there. I said this seems pretty nice and I went there my first year. It was an interesting year because it was a presidential election. It was 1971. I guess Richard Nixon was probably running but all these other candidates came to our school. Hubert Humphrey and, trying to remember, Shirley Chisolm. If you remember her, she was an interesting person.
You know I’m trying to remember if that was 68 or 72. I don’t remember now but it was an interesting year.
It was 72.
It was 72. McCarthy was in 68, McGovern was in 72.
Because I was involved with politics at that time.
You’re right. For me, I’ve never been quite a radical person, I’m probably a little more conservative but I try to keep open on stuff. Most of the protest movement had kind of died off by the time I went to school. Actually I was kind of glad (laughs). Maybe when you went to school it was the height of some of the turmoil. Some of that was necessary in retrospect in this country but I was kind of glad that it was over. Washington was a very interesting place to be but I came to realize that two things; one is that it was very expensive being in private school and second I felt a little bit out of place because it was very much an east coast type of school, people from New York, New Jersey, the other states and I am at roots a Midwestern person and I didn’t quite feel it was my place. My second year I went to Miami University here in Ohio, in southern Ohio, great school, great programs, more affordable as a state university. For me it was better matched. Then after applying to different… In my college years I applied to different colleges and I was accepted. I went to University of Toledo for law school, graduated, was still in the school, maybe 1978.
Okay. So you got your Juris Doctorate in 1978?
And where did you work after college?
It’s interesting, once you graduate from law school, unlike some professions, you’re tied to where your license is at and all of a sudden I looked around and said, “Oh my gosh, the next decision I make is crucial where I end up moving.” I mean not that you can’t get licensed in another state but it’s more difficult. As I mentioned to you I like the Columbus area. My dad was living… at this point after he had remarried, they eventually decided to move back to this area. His businesses were still in Newark and my dad and Joy moved to Granville which is next to Newark. It’s a very pretty community. He was here. My mom and sisters were in California by that point and I liked Columbus so I came back and my dad helped me get my first job. Let me say my first job… As I say my first job, people ask me how long have you worked there and the answer is all my life (laugh). I am probably the last person on the planet who has worked in the same place continuously. At the end of 1978 I was hired with the Industrial Commission of Ohio which is a state agency and I have been there now close to 30 years.
Wonderful, wonderful. In your job did you find that you used your writing skills, your arbitration skills, what types of life skills followed you through?
That was interesting. The Industrial Commission is an agency dealing with workers’ compensation matters. We are similar to a court but we’re not quite as formal. So we get to be… I was called a Hearing Officer which is sort of like a judge and I thought I like this. I don’t have to be for or against somebody. I just listen and make decisions and you have to listen carefully to people. You have to be… You have to restrain yourself, what’s called judicial temperament, and so it doesn’t always come natural but you kind of have to learn it from people. Then part of the job was writing. You have to write decisions so I enjoyed that. There is legal research because there is case law where things change. I did that for a long time and got promoted into my current position which is Litigation Manager. So I get to use my skills and knowledge and do more writing and also now work with the Attorney General’s office for my agency on matters that end up in court. So I can share some of my expertise with them and I also learn from them because they’re involved in the court work and they advise me there so it’s a good learning and working relationship.
Great, great. How did you happen to come to Beth Tikvah?
Interesting story, I mentioned that my father and his wife Joy had moved back to the area and they lived in Granville and next door was Newark, Ohio. Besides belonging in Cleveland to Park Synagogue which is a very large synagogue like Temple Israel in Detroit, it’s very large. Tifereth Israel was also fairly large, especially for Columbus, but in Newark they had a synagogue. Small towns in Ohio and throughout the country usually had a pretty decent sized Jewish population. They might be business people, usually the guy who owned the fur store or the drugstore or something like that. In Newark and Granville they might be university professors at Dennison or they might be researchers, research scientists. I think there was like Dow Chemical or Corning Fiber was out that way. They had a very healthy Jewish community, small, and that was an interesting experience. I had always been part of giant synagogues and all of a sudden I was in a place where Rosh Hashanah was over when we moved the chairs and set up tables. The High Holidays were over and it was time for break the fast after Yom Kippur when we moved the chairs, set up tables, and brought the meal to the sanctuary.
I bring that up because I find again finding footing in two camps at Beth Tikvah is that we have a lot of the abilities and resources and benefits of a large synagogue but we have a lot of the homey ways of a small, I mean, you know, a home-style or friendly or chip-in type of congregation. It was called Ohav Israel in Newark where things did not happen unless somebody did it and you got involved because people needed you. But then things change, so I was sort of a member when I came back after law school. I realized okay I am an adult now (laughs). No one actually tells you that. I said okay and I just sort of went to my dad’s synagogue for the holidays and other occasions and I knew his friends, they were very nice people. My dad moved (laughs). My dad moved away and all of a sudden I was then faced with an adult decision. I think I probably still was a kid, “Hey you go to dad’s synagogue. Well, dad’s gone. Now what do you do?” I could go back there but I wasn’t living there and it really wasn’t my community and I had to make a decision.
Where were you living?
At that point I was living…. When I first came back I lived on the east side of town. That’s where I was familiar. As you probably know the Jewish community, the established Jewish community was out east; the Eastmoor area, the Bexley area, Reynoldsburg. I was at Wyandotte East which was between Whitehall and Reynoldsburg. I think it was in Columbus. That’s what I knew. That was my past experience. My first inclination was to go to Tifereth Israel because that was what I was familiar with. I did go for holidays and things and at that time it was Rabbi Berman, again excellent rabbi and a beautiful sanctuary. But, and this is not casting aspersions on them, but I didn’t feel any place there. I would go and rarely I would be greeted. Now that I have been involved in a temple I have kind of realized it’s not that people are unfriendly.
I think actually most people are just shy and most people approach people they know. That sometimes gets read as cliquish or snobby but I have actually learned that in most cases it’s not. It’s just they’re shy and they don’t come up to people they don’t know. Regardless I went there and I felt like a little island and I felt like nobody was greeting me. I didn’t quite feel at home. Well coincidentally, I guess maybe as a religious person I shouldn’t believe in coincidence, though there are sometimes reasons why things happen. I think it was in 1992 in the summer I met Michael Schecter and Michael Spalding. I met them at somebody’s house. They were interesting guys and I was talking to them and stuff and then at the end of the night I asked them some question, “Do you belong to a synagogue because I’ve sort of been interested, I’m not sure where I would want to go.” At this time actually, I guess I have to leap ahead, I am not living out east. I lived out east about two years. I take that back. I lived in an apartment, I lived in a condo out East and then when I met my partner or my former partner, John, in 1989, we made a decision to look for a home. John had lived in the Clintonville area. To me this was like going to Africa or the end of the world. I didn’t know where this place was but I came over here and it was like oh this is a very pretty area and found a home sort of south of the Park of Roses and I liked the location. I felt like I was living in the city. It was probably the first suburb of Columbus or suburban type area but it was old enough that it felt like a city but not quite like a city, not new like a development, so I kind of liked it a lot.
Anyways so they mentioned they went to Beth Tikvah and I said, “Oh, you know something? I was there once. They have a wonderful gift shop (laughs).” I just remember this, but the very first person I met at Beth Tikvah is Audrey Glick and she is still my buddy. She is a wonderful person and you never think about this. Sometimes the face of your congregation might be good old Audrey or now Margo in the gift shop. She was wonderful. I needed Jewish ritual objects and she had beautiful things and it was… It worked out very nice. Well they mentioned… Michael and Michael mentioned that they went here and in the summer I came over with them. Things now that I realize that were nice, I mean things seemed nice but I didn’t realize why. Now when I look back the way that the sanctuary is small enough to be …and the roundness of the sanctuary that we see one another, it makes for a very friendly experience. I was sold on Beth Tikvah probably for three reasons. The third reason is in this room. I’ll explain. One is Rabbi Huber, an extremely intelligent, articulate, warm person. I was very impressed with him from the beginning. Second was the music, at that time with Madeline Rivera. I think we currently have a wonderful music program but Madeline, the word spiritual is Madeline. It inspires. Her voice makes for a very spiritual occasion.
I so enjoyed having Madeline and I was so sad on the day she announced that she wanted to retire although she does come back every once in a while and it’s still a treat. The third reason I joined I mentioned is in this room. It’s people like you. Abby and Rose, people who I met at the congregation who were very welcoming and very interested in meeting me and making me feel at home and I mentioned as I learned that there people who were from other places. Besides Audrey, from the past, and Michael and Michael who brought me here, made me feel comfortable, I still remember the very first two people I met and one of them is still here and I am very glad. The one who is always… I am so glad to have met her in the beginning is Dawn Heyman. She was the first person I met and the second was Sonia Kovitz. Both of them have had a big impact on my Judaism to this day and my involvement probably here in the synagogue.
I’ll talk about Sonia for a minute. Sonia I think has moved on, either originally to the Conservative or maybe Orthodox movement. She personally found her niche somewhere else but while she was here she had such an enthusiasm, such you know the word kavanah, finding the spirit within you. She also… she gave classes about making you feel good, about being Jewish even if you didn’t know everything. We were in the this room, this library and she said, “Sometimes people think to be Jewish you had to have read every single book on the shelf and until you have read it…” and Sonia said, “No, you just step along a step at a time and you’ll feel good about it, whether it’s spiritual or some lesson about Judaism.” She said “Each of us is here at a different point. Just get started.” That was Sonia. Dawn, I don’t know describing her is …. I’m going to probably miss something, but a person of patience, a person of understanding, and a person to me of great insight. I’ve always enjoyed my conversations with her and she is fun. She enjoys life and people like that, it always feels good to be around. Two stories about Dawn, I mentioned understanding and patience. When I became involved… probably because of Dawn or my interest, my first involvement with the congregation was with the Ritual Committee. I said “You know, Madeline has this beautiful voice and sometimes we have people doing guitar. I don’t like that. Why are we doing that?” Dawn had such a wonderful answer. She said, “You know that it’s interesting some people like some things and some people like others and you know the skill, the challenges can we find a balance to share a little bit of everything. Maybe you will get to appreciate it, maybe you won’t but other people might.”
She taught me the value of balance as far as what people like and don’t like as far as Judaism. The second thing is…this sounds like a funny question. I asked Dawn once when I was pretty new and I called her up at home and I was very serious and I said, “Dawn, what would it take for me to join the Ritual Committee?”
I told you I’d come from giant synagogues and I thought maybe if somebody’s grandfather’s grandfather recommended me or something like that. She was so patient. I would have given some smart-alec answer like, “You have to say a brocha backwards while standing on your head.” She was very kind and she said, “If you’re interested I can make sure that you can join the committee.” Now it sounds funny that I would ask a question like that but at the time you know it reminds me that not everyone knows how a place is run.
Right, right. What activities did you get involved with at Beth Tikvah besides the ritual committee, and why did you decide to get involved with them? I mean I remember first meeting you in this library at the Torahthon, a long time ago.
Well, as I mentioned Ritual Committee was something I was interested in. I got involved with it. I got involved with a lot of different committees back then but as far as leadership it was Ritual Committee. Then a short time afterwards, Dawn was Ritual Chair at the time, someone asked me to be Ritual Chair. I was really surprised, very honored, flattered, and again to show you how naïve… I said “This sounds like a nice thing.” Then afterwards I found out I also get to be on the Board of Trustees (laughs). I had no idea. “I get to be the ritual guy, that was good enough. You mean I get to be on the Board of Trustees also? Wow!” I actually did not know and I was extremely honored at that point. If I recall Robin Thomas was the congregational President at that time. I was very impressed with the way Robin ran things with different people in the congregation.
From her…. Sometimes you remember what people tell you sometimes. When I became more involved in the congregation I think I called Robin up and I said I hate to ask you this or I hate to remind you but we need to do… and Robin’s answer was so good. She said “Don’t ever apologize. In a volunteer organization like the temple we have to be a mutual nudge society. We have to be willing to get after each other to make sure things are done and don’t feel bad about it.” So, I learned that from Robin. After doing that for a year, which I liked doing, I got a call asking if I wanted to be Vice President of the congregation and I was like, “Oh, I really like being Ritual Chair. I enjoyed that.” But you know someone persuaded me that well there is a need for that. All of a sudden I was moving up to Vice President. I need to tell you a very humbling story from that time period. So that was like, “Oh my gosh, I am a Vice President of the congregation. That’s responsibility, isn’t it? It’s a bit of an honor too.” Marty Seltzer was President and here I am Vice President of a fairly major congregation and my first assignment and I think this was very important for Beth Tikvah. It was very humbling. One weekend we had a Bar Mitzvah and we had a wedding and maybe something else going on in the building and something happened where every janitor that worked for us, and there weren’t too many back then, was gone.
Something happened. They either got sick or had some reason for not showing up and we had to do the building for a Bar Mitzvah and switch over to a wedding and we had a big wedding party. I got a call. Marty was gone out of town so I got the call and all of a sudden we had to put together a secret core of maintenance men (laughs) of which I became one of the maintenance guys. I remember the big question was “Okay, what do I wear when I am the maintenance man?” I had to find keys to put on my belt and stuff like that and also I became like an undercover maintenance man here. My first job as Vice President was to make sure the building was properly maintained. Again, it had to be done so you just did it. You couldn’t sit on your laurels or anything. The funny thing was the next morning… well that worked out fine with the Bar Mitzvah, they hardly noticed us and we didn’t even tell the family. I am not even sure if we told Rabbi Huber right away. But for the wedding, you know the big family affair… These are big occasions for those families and we didn’t want to disappoint them…. And the wedding, all these people looking very nice and I was in the kitchen being there helping, whatever they needed. Then the next day some friends and I went out for brunch in German Village. We were sitting outside. I was back in my civilian clothing. I was done being undercover maintenance man and I saw the parents of, I think, the bride and they looked at me and I said “Hi, remember me from yesterday.” They said “Oh yeah, yeah.” I said, “I am not really a maintenance man. Actually I am an attorney for the State of Ohio (laughs). We needed to make things work for you yesterday.” She was just so surprised because we made everything…. I was glad to say we made everything work. It was a beautiful wedding and everything went smoothly.
Do you think that sort of defines for you some of the spirit of Beth Tikvah, egalitarian, let’s pitch in sort of thing?
I think that’s part of the reason I have done well here. From some of the older members, I don’t mean in age but people who have been here a long time, I picked that up, the egalitarian pitching in, treating people equally with respect. Because of that, which I did pick up from some of the other members, I always kind of gravitated toward some of the older members of our congregation who I always admired and found very interesting. But I also realized that there are some people who aren’t part of that generation who have become members here and I tried to learn what their interests were. So I think I was able to succeed in doing things here as a leader because I did try to listen and I tried to listen to different groups of people. Sometimes you have to try to temper when you make decisions. In that regard I need to pay credit to my friend, Michael Schecter. I learned a lesson, just like what I learned from Robin Thomas, that we have to look after each other here, from Michael, on Ritual Committee I made a change.
I was proposing a change regarding who we extend tickets for the High Holidays and it involved changes regarding family members. It’s what we call children but in fact they were adult members of the family that were children of older members and how would we deal with ticketing. I tried to make too many changes at once and kind of stirred the pot too much. It was interesting, Beth Tikvah at its best. People did not like what I was doing but rather than yell at me, they said “Let’s get together and talk.” And so we did.
And what were you doing? What did you suggest?
I think we were almost like stealing children away. We were suggesting if somebody wasn’t a member, not a member and they were an adult, even if they were related to a member they might not be able to get a ticket. Everyone gets in at Beth Tikvah but not as a priority seat. I listened carefully and I had a lot of good reasons for what I was doing at the time but I also listened very carefully to what people had to say and they also made, as an example of you can be right and be absolutely wrong at the same time. I listened to what people said and I said “You know, you’re bringing up some very good points.” Michael afterwards said “David, I don’t want to give advice unless you want it but in an organization (he said) don’t take giant steps, only take baby steps. People don’t mind changing but they don’t want to change too much.” I think at a conference once a congregational President said “To be a leader, if you are too far ahead nobody’s going to follow.” With Michael I learned that if you want to do something at Beth Tikvah, just do a little bit at a time. In most cases if you explain it, then people will understand. In most cases they’ll agree with you. But if you go too far at once, then it’s jarring, it’s unsettling and it’s better just to wait. Just be patient. I need to probably tell Michael that again. That stuck with me and we modified the policy and we found a real good mid-ground which is the current policy that we have right now and it was a good learning experience.
How did you…You became President. Was there much thought given to the leap between Vice-President and President or was it a pretty natural progression for you?
I understood that when you were asked to be Vice-President and the congregation approved that it was hoped that you could be…go on to stay on as President. Actually for a congregation sometimes it’s a problem that it’s time-consuming. For example, even though our congregation has in the past tried to get more women involved to become President, sometimes the demands didn’t work out for some of the women who did get involved. You know obviously Barb Mindel is currently President but it had been a while since a woman was able to take on that kind of responsibility either because of family or job or a lot of different things going on in life. I understood that so I kind of kept an eye that as Vice-President I might be asked to do that.
I was fortunate to work with somebody like Marty. Marty had a very good sense of what is good and what might be good for the congregation. He knew a lot of people and from Marty I have learned the importance of conferring with people before you make decisions. So I would have to say that it doesn’t always happen in places, but it was a place, it was a situation where there was preparation made. So you know when the time came after two years to be President it seemed like it would be a good match for me and the congregation.
And it was! As President what was your greatest accomplishment or point of pride and why?
When I saw that you were going to ask me that I kind of panicked for two reasons. One is that I was President so long ago, I don’t know if we mentioned it was 1997-1999 for two years and that started off more than ten years ago and ended about ten years ago. So I said “Oh my gosh, I’m not going to remember. I’m not a young man any more. I’m not going to remember what happened.” The other thing was when I did start thinking of some things I couldn’t come up with just one. So, I’m going to answer you this way, in a very Jewish way, I’m going to have to change. There are probably three things that stood out and the third one I’ll do kind of alludes to your next question about “And what were things that did not work out?”
The greatest challenges, right.
Yeah, yeah so let me do it in this order. I think the three things that I can remember that stand out… I think trying to foster a sense of community at the congregation, I’ll talk about that. The second sounds like a business matter but it’s important, dealing with the Rabbi’s salary was also a big challenge when I was President. The third was dealing with the expansion of the building. I’ll do that last because it kind of leads to your next question. As I mentioned, as congregational President I saw my role, as opposed to let’s say the Rabbi’s role, as creating a sense of community. You know the synagogue is a place of prayer, study, and gathering, gathering as a community. I saw that as the niche of the President. What is it I could do to get people to participate? How can I get people to contribute their time? How can I make people feel good about being a member here at Beth Tikvah, and also consulting. I found back then, this sounds funny, that meant before there was e-mail…
I remember those days.
This is a no e-mail, no internet…I think there was something called faxes but we didn’t know what to do with them. The telephone was my most powerful tool, trying to hear people, hear their concerns. And it kind of comes back to being an attorney, how to be persuasive. If eventually you want to do something, I learned you have to bring people on with you so you also use those calls as a way of expressing some of your ideas. If people disagree with you that’s fine but they felt good that they were consulted and, more likely than not, they might join you on a particular issue and that to me was most important.
As I mentioned I also liked a lot of the members who had been here for a long time, a very interesting group of people. I learned a lot from them and I also, because I think I became friends or at least temple friends with them, they were willing to listen to me if I had something new to talk about, a new way of looking at things. And so I say creating a sense of community where people consulted, shared, I think that was something I considered an accomplishment. The second thing sounds rather business-like but it’s important. It deals with the Rabbi’s salary. When you’re involved in the temple, one of your biggest obligations is to make sure that we are financially responsible so that our members who are paying their good earnings towards us, that we are using their money in a good way.
Beth Tikvah has a reputation of being very financially sound because frankly we probably have no choice. We have people who do well in the congregation but we don’t have what I call the “high rollers.” If we went over budget, we can’t. We can’t because we have to pay the bills. It’s just that simple. We were I call fiscally conservative. One of the things in running a synagogue is their salaries. Your rabbi, your office staff, that’s some of your biggest expenses. We were fiscally responsible but when we looked at Rabbi Huber’s pay, and I had been on the Board a few years before being President, we might sometimes give him an extra nickel, an extra dollar here and there over the time. I’m exaggerating but it was like little increases. When we looked at his pay compared to other Rabbis in the
Reform movement of a synagogue our size, we were in the bottom third, what we were paying our Rabbi, and we were probably in the bottom of the bottom third. If you’re fiscally responsible you could feel good about that but if you knew Gary Huber as your Rabbi… after a while we didn’t feel good about that in the sense that by this point…I’m going to say Gary because that’s what he wants, I’m from the old school, I slip into Rabbi Huber, I’m used to that. Professionally he had matured quite a bit. He was quite a leader. As a Rabbi he was extremely good in his profession. Professionally he was deserving better. Again, this sounds like a business thing but from a business point of view he was an asset to this congregation. I said when I first came here that the first reason I stayed was because of Rabbi Gary Huber. I’m sure there are others. In that way I’m sure he attracted congregants and people stayed because of his… the way he served as a Rabbi. And the third thing is, and I don’t want to exaggerate anything but professionally he was probably at a crossroads in his life as a profession. You know do you stay where you are or do you look elsewhere. I don’t know for sure but I am sure like anybody… In anybody’s career you ask these questions. We were raising in our own minds could we retain somebody of the caliber of Gary Huber as Rabbi at the salary that we were paying and was it right ultimately to pay somebody like Gary Huber what we were paying at that time.
It wasn’t bad but compared to other Rabbis, it was not good. I convened some of the Executive Committee and some of the Board, I think it was at my house. We had breakfast and I said “This is an issue we have to look at different this year. We are not talking about raising his pay and compensation a few dollars here a few dollars there. Can we make a major adjustment in his salary and still be fiscally responsible to our members?” Like things at Beth Tikvah we took some time but we made a decision. The decision was very Beth Tikvah-like. The answer was yes but not all at once. We decided that we were going to make a leap in his salary but it would be over a two-year period which generally you can’t do because you can’t make a contract too far in advance. But we made a pledge to one another that this year we can agree to do something with his salary but we’re going to make a pledge that next year we are going to continue a significant increase so that at the end of two years Gary Huber will be more on par with other Rabbis of his caliber and his experience. I am proud to say that we did that when I was President. It was important. He is a good person. He is an excellent Rabbi. It was the right thing to do. We survived as a congregation because we did it in two stages there. The third thing, and it’s a bit of a bittersweet memory, is during my term as President is when we began to address the issues involving expanding the facilities, our building here at Beth Tikvah. When I was President we laid the foundation for, just to go back, for expanding this site which was the issue at the time. There had been an expansion of this building of a little bit smaller nature but we were talking about something larger, the congregation had grown. I’d like to take all the credit but I don’t think it would be right but the congregation did grow when Marty was President, when Robin was President, when I was President for various reasons. Well during the time I was President we took the time to study the issue. Actually I think it was an ongoing program. They called it…
Long-range planning, right. I can’t take credit for that…that was started beforehand. But the question is, and this is the thing in organizations, it’s always easier to talk and study. The next step, doing, oh man, that takes quite a leap. What I found was, and this is the success to a lot of what we did at that time period, is that individually none of us could make such a monumental decision to spend great sums of money to expand this building. None of us individually could do that but there was a core of people that collectively we gave strength to one another to be able to make decisions and make proposals to the congregation and then to get people to understand and go along with our project. We reached out to congregants. We hired architects who interviewed us to see what we were like as a congregation. We did something that this congregation found difficult which was to hire a fund-raiser, a professional fund-raiser.
This congregation obviously had done fund-raising before but we said this is something bigger. We don’t know how to do this, to be honest, we don’t have the experience. It’s not easy. We hired an organization we had to pay for but they taught us how we could do this and it’s something that many of us still have now. It’s not easy to ask people for money but if you do it the right way it can be successful if it’s done for the right kind of project. So, during my term, we were able to study and act and present it to the congregation and acquire acceptance. It’s almost like the story of Deuteronomy. Moses is about to enter the Promised Land and God says, “No, you have to go up the mountain and watch and you don’t get in.” I didn’t get… as President I wasn’t there on the next step, to have the building actually expanded, but I was there at the edge where we got acceptance from the congregation and we got through some of the fund-raising already, very good. Now I mentioned bittersweet because obviously in retrospect we know that we ran into problems. We ran into problems expanding the building because of zoning matters. Then after much study we thought of leaving and of course we ran into more problems as to whether there is sufficient will in the congregation to make that kind of move because of financial issues or other issues. We’ve almost probably come full circle in this congregation. I think we ….From what I understand I think we made a decision to stay and to try and renovate the building, where it is appropriate.
I am not sure if all those decisions have been made. To me it is a major accomplishment to make a big decision, to make big changes in the structure of our congregation. It’s disappointing that it didn’t occur when it did as far as expanding this site originally and then not being able to move to a new site with the new design and things. In that regard it’s a disappointment and on the other hand, I came to appreciate how difficult these decisions are and I respect all the people in the congregation who have been involved in this process and I know how hard it is and I respect the difficulty they’ve had to deal with both on the decision to move or the decision to stay. It’s hard and you know we probably made some mistakes or sometimes there were circumstances that were not within our control. I regret that it occurred but I feel good that we’re still here as a congregation and we’re trying to make the best and trying to move forward and we have some very good people now working on those projects.
Now at that time, David, approximately how many member families did we have? It seemed like it was at a high amount where we were straining at the…
The Binkovitz administration was a time of peace and prosperity. It was like the Eisenhower years or something. I think we had more than 550 families. I know we’re not at that level now. For some reason that number sounds, either 550 at the time Marty was President or I was President, that seems to be a number that I remember.
How many sessions of religious school did we have? We had a big religious school. We still do, don’t we?
We were to the limits. I don’t know if it was while I was President or afterwards but we were up to three terms, three sessions with the students, every single classroom being filled. It was a congested situation. It seemed and it looked like that trend was going to continue.
Okay, so that leads to, as you discussed, your greatest challenge which you’ve… do you feel you have pretty much covered that in terms of… that was part and parcel your greatest challenge?
I think my greatest challenge… I kind of debated in my mind if I was going to bring this up but as we are talking history and history should be truthful, probably the biggest challenge for me back then was the decision to involve the JCC, the Jewish Community Center, in our project. I never talked too publicly about this. I personally was against that but as a leader I listened to people and eventually went with the direction that people wanted to go. I was against it not because I was against the Jewish Center. Many of our members are members of the JCC. In theory the concept of two Jewish organizations working hand in hand makes absolute sense and it’s a beautiful concept but I had concern. You two… you are involved in history. I was also a history major in college.
One of our great Presidents, probably for different reasons, was our first President, George Washington. He was known as the father of the country, great general, but he was kind of over-shadowed because of people like Jefferson as far as their writing and intellect. George Washington was a very brilliant person and sometimes people don’t realize that. Two things he wrote that always stuck in my mind, one for the Jewish community which is not the point I am making. The letter he once wrote to the Jewish community I believe in Providence, Rhode Island where he talked about the kindness that he extended to the Jewish community and the concept of tolerance, that no bigotry would be harbored against any group that was part of American culture. That was a very progressive… I was very impressed. It was a very short letter but it’s been… It showed his character that people don’t know about. And the other thing that he said when he said goodbye as President was “Beware of entangling alliances.” What that meant to me was as an organization we have our interests and the Jewish Community Center had their interests and some of them overlap but some of them are different. I was concerned that our involvement with the Jewish Center might cause problems for us. Now I don’t want to sound like a prophet. I didn’t foresee this but in the long… in retrospect I think it was part of the problem that we experienced. I think we might have been able to expand on this site had we not had another entity, another partner, that what the neighbors and Worthington saw as a new giant entity coming onto the site. It concerned them. It scared them and I think it was perhaps one of the major causes of opposition against our project here.
Had we not had the Jewish Center, I am just speculating, it’s more likely we may have had our project approved by the city and less resistance by the neighbors. It troubled me. It was one of the things that I felt disappointed that I…On that issue “I didn’t get my way.” If it was up to me we would have liked to have done what we could with the Jewish Center but not proceed together. I know that doesn’t sound like a progressive thing to do but it didn’t seem in the long run it would serve Beth Tikvah’s interest but other people saw it differently, that it would be a good harmonious relationship to have different aspects of the Jewish community together. I would agree that the concept is beautiful. It was a disappointment not to get that but once there was consensus here at Beth Tikvah that that was what we were going to do, then I got behind it. I said “Now how can I make it work? This is difficult, I don’t want to give myself too much credit. I came up with a plan, my legal career came in. We have a word “sever.” If you have a contract, if one part of the contract is good and one is not can you sever and separate that part of the contract. I said, “Could you design this building so that if something went wrong we could separate part of the plan dealing with the Jewish Center but in the meantime could we keep it together?” So we did proceed in that way, we came up with that notion. As I said I think it scared the city. It scared some of the neighbors that the project would get extremely large, enormous for the site and it eventually did not work for us. But, like I said, it was a disappointment but I think one of the credits for me as a leader is that if there is a direction of the congregation, if there is a certain will, then you need to respect that and get behind it and support it and that’s what I did. I realized okay most people think this is a good idea then it probably is and let’s see if we can make it work. Unfortunately in the long run it did not. That probably was my disappointment. Had I pushed it more I don’t know what would have happened. It’s hard to say. I couldn’t see the future but some of us now wonder what would have happened if…
The many what ifs… I don’t often do this as an interviewer but in thinking of your term as President the impact that it had on me went in a different area. I admired your help on developing Mitzvah Day. We had our first Mitzvah Day in 1997 and we had three following that, 99, 2001, 2003. Then we took a big hiatus from that and now we are having another one in the fall of 2008. We had some difficulty getting the Religious School on board for that and Larry Singer and Linda Rubin and I came to you because of your position but also because of your disposition and your legal training. If you don’t mind, could you chat a little about that?
I’m not sure if I remember all the details but I mean one of the things I try to do is, if I see people not agreeing, sort of like a mediation style where you ask somebody what is it that we can do that would work for you. You have empowered somebody. I don’t know if that’s what happened.
You approach the religious school, you say “You have some problems with this but how could it work for you? You let people help make the decision. I don’t know if that’s what happened but that’s sort of the way I usually try to do it when things work out.
That’s what I recall happened and for me it was just such a point of pride that you were able to help the Social Action committee and Mitzvah Day come along as it did and bring the Religious School on board. So to me that was a great point of pride under your presidency that that took place and it was 10 years ago, 12 years ago actually. But as you say, we seem to be coming full circle as a congregation and after all of the challenges of considering property and sale of property and moving, not moving, working with the Center, not working with the Center, now we’re back to what do we do as Beth Tikvah and we’re also back to Mitvah Day. So I think it’s come full circle and I thank you for that. Thank you. Now some other developments, how did the Beth Tikvah Brotherhood develop and what was your role in that development?
Interesting, making full circle now, it was actually Michael Schecter’s father who came up with the idea and in my mind it’s Michael’s father, Ed Schecter, who is the founder of the Brotherhood. Ed called me one day and said, “You know we have a Sisterhood and I understand we’ve had one for a long time. We don’t have a brotherhood. Why?” I didn’t know the answer but I called people like Manny Luttinger and I said, “Manny, why don’t we have a brotherhood? You’ve been here a long time.” Manny had an answer like “Well, a lot of us originally we either worked at Battelle or Chemical Abstracts or OSU. In the beginning we all knew each other from work.” So I think his answer was “Why do we need a brotherhood? We see each other during the day and we’re friends and we get together in synagogue.” And I think that was Manny’s answer. But Ed expressed to me… he said, “I’ve been a member of different congregations and I’m a member here. I find that I don’t know too many people and maybe Brotherhood would be a way of getting to know people better.” But he said, “I don’t know whether people want that.” And Ed, from an organizational point of view, developed a very good plan which was before we…let’s find out if there is a need. Let’s call some people, see what they think, get together one day and talk it out. Well it turned out that Ed had really tapped into something that we didn’t realize was out there and we had our first meeting four or five years ago, I forgot to check my dates on this. We had 35 people show up. Now at the height of Beth Tikvah we had no place to be because the building was too crowded. It’s kind of funny, that the men ended up meeting in the kitchen which in the old days the kitchen was for women, I’m just kidding, but the men met in the kitchen. We had nowhere else to meet. Then we had a series of meetings that Ed put together. What do we want?
Do we want a Brotherhood and why? How would we go about it? And the listening was so important.
I remember comments like, “Now that I’m at this age, I don’t have too many close friends,” people said. Or “If I do meet people it’s through my wife. They’re my wife’s friends or friends where my wife initiated the friendship but I don’t quite have that.” And “I’d like a situation where men could get to know one another.” And that became a key statement which obviously whenever we have a Brotherhood meeting we say the main objective is to get congregants, in this case men, to get to know one another. If we plan a program that has to be the goal. We have to plan it in such a way that people get to know one another and, if we lose site of that and start doing other stuff, then we’re not serving our purpose. So, I liked the idea. At that time I was kind of entering my semi-retirement at Beth Tikvah. You know I had been involved I mentioned in ritual, Vice President, President, past President, the building project. I was involved in various stages of that trying to help with design and fund-raising and all different things that went with that. That was starting to taper off. I was kind of involved in Adult Education, a little bit, although the committee I was involved with was Membership, encouraging people to join in this congregation but that was kind of tapering off. It was good timing and those of us at that time, Ed Schecter, Bob Fisher, and some others, guys who liked to do this, we’d done temple service before, on the Board. We don’t want to be “burdened” even though we enjoyed it at the time it can be a bit of a burden.
We’ll do it only if it’s fun, if we want to and the answer to your question is that Ed started the idea. He continued with getting us organized until we got our official organization going. I got involved in the communication aspect, people say sometimes the glue that keeps us together. Again, what can you do to get others to get involved and keep everyone together. I think for me the secret plan is how can I make it? I’m doing my old mission as President but I am under cover again. How do you make people feel good about being at Beth Tikvah and part of it is that they have to know each other. Again I am quoting from Rose’s husband, Manny, “Oh, when we were smaller everyone knew each other and we didn’t have …” I tell Manny, “We’re not small. Now we have to go out of our way to be natural, to be friendly, and we have to create, opportunities.” Sure, it’s nice when you’re small like when my dad belonged to the temple in Newark, Ohio, we knew each other. It’s probably what Beth Tikvah was like 25 years ago but we’re not there. People like Manny and Rose, I keep on saying they have been part of our past but they realize that this is where we are now so what do we do now to make things the way they would continue to be good for the congregation. The Brotherhood seems to do that. It brings a core of people who previously had not been involved. We didn’t know one another and for that I enjoy it. I enjoy the group I’m working with. As you know, the person listening might not know, Ed very tragically died of cancer just this past December in 2007.
It was very sudden and we all miss him. He was a wonderful kind-hearted person but this congregation…. the Brotherhood which I think is having an impact on the congregation is due to his efforts and I said people like me and Bob and others who continue to be involved with it to keep it going and we try and get other people involved, keep on bringing new people on board.
It seems that the Brotherhood is spanning the generations. It has attracted some of our younger members too. The people who used to drop their kids off to Sunday School and not come in, now they’re coming in and staying. Do you want to talk about the breakfasts and some of the things you do?
Actually the idea kind of goes back to the building project and I think it was originally Bob Fisher’s idea a long, long time ago. Why not have people come in the building on Sunday and stay and get to know one another and Bob said, “We can set up Café Tikvah,” he said. That was a long time ago and then all of a sudden the Brotherhood said “Well, I guess we could do that.” We saw particularly parents bringing their children to the building and then going back to the parking lot, reading the newspaper by themselves and we thought wouldn’t it be nice if they met one another, but nothing drew them into the building. So that was kind of our plan was to try to draw people into the building. Mike Fliegel has been very involved with that. So we got going, bagels and doughnuts, and it was nice. Some of the younger guys who do have school age children also liked to cook, I guess. They started doing once a month a big breakfast. Again, they enjoy it. They want to be involved. They want to try and get other people into the building to get to know one another and just to be part of the community here.
You have a big event in the Brotherhood, the Souper Bowl event to benefit the Campership Fund.
Right, The Jewish Camp Scholarship Fund, Sisterhood has always helped out on that. I am told that Jewish children who go to Jewish summer camp come back with a greater sense of Judaism than those children who don’t go, in general, and that it’s a good experience for them as far as their Jewish life has impact into the future. So in that regard the Brotherhood, like the Sisterhood, is convinced that if we could encourage families to send their children to Jewish camps, it’s good for them, it’s good for our Jewish community. Camping, I didn’t realize, is quite an expensive endeavor whether it’s Jewish camp or not. The Jewish camps have their cost involved and so if we can raise funds to encourage people to make the decision to send their children to one of the Jewish summer camps, we thought that was a good thing. I don’t want to take credit for this because it’s the immediate past President of the Brotherhood, Jeff Wasserstrom.
It was something that he took the lead in creating, what we call a “Chicken Soup Cook-off” in the winter with either restaurants and congregants and people in the community coming together, sampling their soup, having a good time, having some music, and raising money for the camp.
The raising money and organizing was mostly Jeff, also very much Ed Schecter. It was the two of them who were the pillars of getting that project. Two years, I think we’ve had it two years now. We surprised ourselves. We were very successful; Jeff, Ed, and others who came along helping them, it worked out very well for the congregation. We had… We also came to realize that if we’re raising this money then we need to encourage the children to go so I think it wasn’t our project but we kind of helped out the Religious School to teach the children and their parents about summer camps, Jewish summer camps. I think we had a pretty good response this year.
That’s wonderful. There’s another area that you’ve become active in post President and that is Adult Education. I know you became the leader of the Saturday afternoon Torah Study Group after Arthur Ksienski moved and I was interested in why you did that and what is the most satisfying part of that?
Yeah, I talked about different things. In the congregation I’ve been involved in ritual, I’ve been in some leadership and try to help out with social action, but probably another fond area for me is adult education. whether it’s learning from Rabbi Huber or some of the discussion groups. That’s where I met some of our older members in some of the Sunday evening discussion groups. I got involved in Torah Study, actually I think going back to when Sonia Kovitz was a member. I’m not sure someone once said she came up with the idea of having a Torah study group, that we could do it even if the Rabbi wasn’t available, congregants. Then Arthur got involved and Arthur is very learned, being raised traditionally in Poland as a young boy and learning Hebrew in Israel before he came to this country. So he was a tremendous resource and interesting personality as was his wife, Frida, who was very sweet and very learned too.
Actually when I became involved in temple leadership that happened to be one of the areas I drew back from, which was some of the adult ed. There’s only so much time in my life. I stopped going to some of the Sunday night groups which I missed. I actually stopped going to Torah study because I had too much going on with the temple. But when I stopped becoming involved in leadership I returned to adult ed study and I returned to the Torah group, mostly under Arthur at that point. It was a very good experience but it was also a good core of people who came every Saturday. Obviously it changed every week. When Arthur and Frida decided to move to be closer to their grandchildren and their daughter, of course we wished them the best and knew that was important, but of course we missed them. I had just been a regular attender and it meant a lot to me.
Also attending were people like Ruth Abrams, Herb Mirels, and some others who I enjoyed getting together with. What I say is I guess the example where the Reform Jew in me comes out, even if it’s not all day that I’m observing Sabbath, when I came to Torah study for one hour I felt that it was a moment of holiness. I felt it was a moment that we could try to understand what God wanted from us and, talk about community, get to know one another, create a small group of community here. So Torah study was important to me. When Arthur moved away and Frida moved, we wanted to keep things going. I said, “Yes.” I think Joel Cohen, I think he might have been Adult Education Chair. I said I’ll take responsibility, try and keep the group together. It was kind of hard without Arthur because he had knowledge but he also had a lot of personality. If you knew him well enough, he had a sense of humor and it was enjoyable. It took me a while. Arthur, probably people didn’t know, he had an extra set of Encyclopedia Judaica. He had one and he gave me his extra set. He kind of like endowed me with some of his knowledge and resources and I kept the group going. We’ve lost a lot of members. People I think enjoyed Arthur, it’s understandable. For a while there I wasn’t sure if the group was going to stay together but I kind of got more involved and tried to do what Arthur might try to do. We’ve actually now made full circle. We’ve just experimented with the technology. It finally came around to me that well maybe there is a way to bring Arthur and Frida back here while they’re in Maryland.
This is very interesting about the technology. I like this. Could we talk about that, how you developed this technology so you can see Arthur and talk back and forth with him?
Now with the new technology it finally clicked on me there might be a way to involve Arthur once again. About a year ago I got a new computer, an Apple, an Imac computer and they have a program called Ichat. Now there’s other programs out there but Ichat application is so that you… On your screen you see somebody full-screen and they see you. You talk, they hear you, you hear them. The sound is better than cell phone, almost as good as a telephone. The picture is excellent. And it hit me, why can’t we try that for Torah study. Well, it turned out that Arthur also had an Apple computer. He had the same program and the challenge came… I don’t have a laptop, finding an Apple laptop computer. I’ve been able to find it, I’m not sure, so we’ve now… three times we were able to bring both Arthur and Frida into our Torah study again with them on the screen and we could hear them, they could hear us. It’s worked out pretty well. A lot of people really enjoy having Arthur and Frida back. As a group the only thing we have to work on is to be sure that we continue having conversations with one another because with the Torah study it’s not just reading the Torah. All of us could do that at home by ourselves, but it’s the interaction that we have with one another that makes the group special and that’s the part we have…You know it’s wonderful having Arthur and Frida but we have to be sure that we talk with one another and that we share those experiences in Torah study.
That’s very interesting. What would you say has been your favorite leadership activity at Beth Tikvah? You’ve done a lot of different things obviously in many different areas.
Or is that hard to…
Boy, that’s excellent questions (Laughs). I’m drawing a blank because I know there were certain things when you do something the right way you think boy that feels right. I know I’ve had some of those events and either I’m drawing a blank or whatever. I did have some other things I wanted to talk about.
Yeah, and I’ve probably been here too long but I talked to…You had a question about different people here at the congregation and I think that kinda ties this together. People here at the congregation…
Who influenced you the most?
Yeah, who influenced me. They influenced me for different… but ultimately they sort of became in my mind extended family and that’s something we talk about here in the congregation. I have family in California and Florida or whatever. I have brothers and sisters and mom but in my mind I would adopt people. Laughs. Sitting across from me, Rose Luttinger who would sometimes be my congregational mother as would Ruth Abrams, people who are wise and kindly. Now they didn’t know this but, you know, to me that’s how they came across. But people for example, I thought about this and I also realized that I might leave people’s names out so I run the risk of doing that but I didn’t want to gloss over the people at this congregation. Bob Fisher has been very influential. He was a Vice President with me and he was always willing to chip in. He had a good sense of how things are done. He had difficult challenges as a President and he has been an excellent leader of this congregation and I see him sometimes as an older brother. We confer with one another. Lauren Engler also served with me on the Board as a Vice President. Lauren had a wonderful sense. Bob was always very good with business and Lauren was always very good with understanding people, personality, personnel issues at the temple. She also did things with style and flair. She was one of my older sisters here. I mentioned Michael Schecter, so he has always been very influential and also he was our Ritual Chair for three years and did a very good job. Someone who’s not here I really kind of miss is Jerry Tinianow who left the congregation. Jerry was very wise, saw things differently. I wish he would have decided to stay with us because I always thought he was an asset. Laurie Kaps-Keller had a very kindly heart, very bright person. Lois Winnick Chapman is just somebody who always makes me feel good, very wise, always has good spirits and stuff. I mentioned Ruth Abrams, very kindly, very intelligent person. To me she represents some of the finest of a Beth Tikvah member. She’s concerned about this place and she…her heart is in it.
I mentioned Arthur and Frida, Herb Mirels, Marty Seltzer. Someone I didn’t mention, Bill Slabodnick. Again Bill is ….I don’t know how old Bill is but he has such a young heart, someone I always feel good when he is around and he’s very dedicated to this congregation. Diane Saks, such a hard worker, such an organized person, such a thoughtful person, such a funny person, such a great cook, as was Lauren Engler…
(both laugh)…and Rose Luttinger. I mentioned Jeff Wasserstrom. I kind of picked on ones or helped pick him to be Vice President of the Brotherhood and then he became President, did a wonderful job, had a great sense. Jeff was great in involving some of the younger members of our congregation. That was helpful. I was so afraid of leaving peoples’ names off. Gordon Hecker, when he was here, did so much for this congregation and I always appreciated that but I don’t know… The building project it was tremendous and things didn’t quite work out, but because of that two people who I’m not sure got enough recognition. This would be so un-Beth Tikvah like but if I was to build a statue in the courtyard dedicated like a public grounds I would have one of Bobbie Garber and Andrew Smith. You know Bobbie who did so many things for this congregation to try and make things work with the building and was involved in other ways; Andrew Smith who put hours and hours of work and very thoughtful, very good to work with. I hope some day that people appreciate the efforts that Andrew, I call Andy and Bobbie, did. I’m so afraid I’ve left people out like the Goldbaums who are my friends and stuff and you know so many people have done good things, but without thinking too hard, those are the names that came and I wanted to make sure that I said that.
A few closing….I want to make some closing remarks.
What is your vision for Beth Tikvah?
Let me end with that. I’ll tell you a good reason. Let me say why I ultimately continue to be involved and got involved originally and what this has done for me and my vision is the same way, kind of fits that theme. Part of the reason I originally got involved and continue is part of the Beth Tikvah character and personality of its members is the fact that one, people can contribute their efforts to the congregation. It’s not something based upon family rank or money, something we haven’t talked about here or something along that line. Anybody who has a willingness to contribute can and second that goes hand in hand, people appreciate it. In general I think people very much appreciate when someone comes forward to contribute their efforts to this congregation and you need that. You know if you make a contribution but people just take you for granted you might walk away, but here it’s appreciated. The other thing I wanted to mention is what Beth Tikvah has done for me. It’s I guess I have been spending so much time on things I have done. It’s, it’s…there’s a pay-off.
I’ve always tried to say that the congregation brought out in my personality something that was kind of under the surface which was bringing out a little bit of grace in how you do things. I work as an attorney. We’re not usually known for being graceful people. We have to be a little bit tougher or whatever. I came here, I can bring out another side of my personality and I enjoy that and I think it also… I got reminded of this just last Friday. Somebody who was new to Judaism, I think he’s in the conversion process. He said, “Gosh, David, how do you do it? You just talk to people and you know out here” and his name’s Michael and I said, “You know Michael? I wasn’t like that. I learned that from this congregation. I learned that I could reach out to people.” People…We go through life thinking we have some impediment, an impairment that prevents us, like a broken leg, from talking to people and I learned… I learned that and then I learned that I could do that away from here. You can go up to people and say, “Hello,” and you know nine out of ten times it’s wonderful. One out of ten you meet a really weird person you wish you’d never said hello, but then you realize it’s not a big deal and maybe you made them feel good, or whatever, but most of the time it’s a good experience. So it brought up another side… it made me more willing…
As I mentioned in the beginning, I was a shy person. I would only talk to people I know. There’s probably still part of that in me but this place gave me the confidence. My vision I think is pretty simple. It’s not even that overly profound. I think something as a congregation that we need to do a little bit different and the Brotherhood is going to attempt to do that this year and actually part of what… Actually I give credit to you and Rose and whoever is involved in this project. You’re also part of this and that is I think it’s important to pay tribute to people who have been involved in the life of this congregation. What I learned was that because of the egalitarian nature of this congregation people didn’t want too much attention. They certainly didn’t want money to become the reason why people got attention but it’s also been my observation, it’s the old cliché of throwing the baby out with the bathwater, sometimes things go all the way in one direction and I’ve also learned that part of Judaism, this goes hand in hand. is that when people do things you appreciate you have to be grateful. That’s a Jewish virtue, is gratitude. Last week’s Torah portion, not only do you say a blessing before the meal but last week we learned in the Torah you say a blessing after the meal. Why? To show gratitude to God and it’s important. Whatever we do with God is what we should do with people. We should show gratitude. Unfortunately we haven’t quite institutionalized that here. And, again, it’s not something that we hold people special but a way of showing appreciation, creating a sense of history, and letting others know that things happen here because people did things and if you don’t tell their stories, which you and Rose think are important, if you don’t tell their stories, they’ll get lost and people will just think that things just happened here at Beth Tikvah.
I don’t need to get involved because well so it just happens. What people need to learn is they just don’t happen. It’s people who come forward, help get others to make it happen, and to teach that you sometimes have to show appreciation and tribute. It could be history, it could be through pictures and the Brotherhood this year is going to have set up a recognition in memory of Ed Schecter and also to award somebody…. We’re going to call it Ed Schecter’s Founders Award. He founded the Brotherhood. So that we remember that the Brotherhood just didn’t appear overnight, it took somebody like Ed, and Ed, by the way, stayed active in brotherhood throughout our existence and just two weeks until he died, he was involved. We want people to remember that it was a person like Ed who made this good organization come about and to the founders of the world we want to show appreciation to somebody who has made any kind of contribution of their efforts to this congregation…just a way of saying, “Thanks, we appreciate what you’re doing” and to encourage others maybe to come forward. We don’t want to make a big thing out of it, will probably be done at an Oneg Shabbat. The person will feel good, get a little bit of recognition from their peers and I think the vision is, to me, is for us to continue to get people involved, to make sure that we show appropriate tribute to them, and do what we do best, which is in our nature of doing things as a congregation but also be willing to change a bit when it’s necessary, see that circumstances change, maybe we need to change a little bit and how do we do that and still be a house of hope and a community that we have here. So, that’s my vision for the congregation, something that we need to do, something I see is beginning to happen, so I feel good about it.
Well, that’s wonderful and, on behalf of the Columbus Jewish Historical Society and Congregation Beth Tikvah, I want to thank you so much for contributing to the oral history project and this concludes the interview. Thank you so much, David.
Thank you, Abby and Rose.
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