This interview for the Columbus Jewish Historical Society
is being recorded on August 13, 2007 as part of the Columbus Jewish Historical
Societies Oral History Project and for inclusion in the archive collection of
Congregation Beth Tikvah. The interview is being recorded at the Melton
Community Center Building and my name is Rose Luttinger and I am interviewing
Interviewer: How long have you lived, Gerry, how long have you lived in
Columbus and where did you live before moving here and what brought you to
Keller: We had two different rotations in Columbus. The first time we came
my husband, Martin Keller, was this was during, let’s see it was 1953. I
believe the Korean War was on and it was concern about biological warfare. And
so he was sent first to Maryland and then to Columbus, Ohio, to represent this
part of the country to see if there would be any signs of diseases that come up
that were unusual. So we were here to begin with for about, I can’t remember
if it was 1 or 2 years until his tour of duty was over. Originally we both come
from New York City. And then we went back to New York and returned again in
1960, I believe, and we have been living here ever since.
Interviewer: That’s quite a while. You’re practically native
Columbusites. Can you tell, tell us about your family and your Jewish experience
while you were growing up. Who were your parents, your grandparents and where
did they come from?
Keller: My mother came from Austria and came from a small town
but it was on the outskirts of Lemberg which has evolved into L’vov and is now
L’vov which is part of the Ukraine, I believe.
Keller: And she came from a very observant home. And while the home was fairly strict, actually we didn’t
observe the Sabbath. But, in every other way it was very strict. My father came.
Oh my mother came when she was 14. My father came when he was 12 and came from a
much more, came from the Ukraine close to Kiev. From, although his mother was
religious, his father was considered himself more enlightened. And so I always.
He had a Bar Mitzvah but beyond that not a lot of training but I guess what
training he did have was quite intense because he wrote, he didn’t speak
Hebrew, but wrote and could daven very well, even though he was so young when
all that was completed. He came here, he didn’t have any family here and just
aunts and uncles so he was really totally on his own and I don’t know exactly
how he fulfilled his education. My mother came and had a sister, an older
sister, and a brother and was able to go to high school here which she didn’t
complete, but she had had quite a lot of education in Austria. At that time was
Keller: And he was very benevolent to the Jews so I think that
she had an unusual education and experience. So she went to the local schools,
the secular schools and then went to Lemberg and then went to schools there. And
really was fluent in at least 3 or 4 languages. And she was only 14 when she
came. But she did have an incredible knack for languages. Her whole life picked
up on everything. The interesting thing is that when we wanted to know more
about Mom, my brother sent me an article, it was in the New York Times, this
goes back about 50 years, and it was celebrate, it was about, Lemberg which was
700, the city was celebrating its 700th birthday. And it told how it
had changed hands and changed names and my brother said “no wonder Mom
could never find it on the map”. Cause you had to have the right year for
the right name. But I did find her birth certificate on the web. Which I think
is very interesting.
So I, this was a birth certificate I think it came thru
school or a government office which I think tells you a little bit, I mean this
was pretty recently and my mom has been here since1910 so it is pretty amazing
that that record exists. And that’s kind of exciting.. I did not go to Hebrew
, oh I did have a little bit of Hebrew school. It was very unusual at that time
there wasn’ t any real, nothing for girls it was just for training boys see,
the schools had, some schools I can’t remember the name of them now, in New
York City started coming up with a would-be co-ed but I really didn’t have
that, that much of a Hebrew education. I think I have a good feeling for Yiddish
life and the language, as well. And the culture that my parents grew up in. I
don’t know how much more that would help you.
Interviewer: Where did you live growing up?
Keller: In the Bronx. And it was a very Jewish environment. Not a lot of , just really a good, warm atmosphere.
Interviewer: Where did you attend college?
Keller: I attended, first started
St. John’s in Brooklyn because there were a few schools that had a program you
could finish your BA while you were in law school and they were very amenable to
taking in women. I was interested in law I thought at the time. But I decided I
really didn’t want that, and I switched to Hunter College which is part now of
City University of New York and I finished there at Hunter College So then I, Do
you want to know my graduate degrees as well?
Interviewer: What was your major?
Keller: My major in college was speech.
And was being Jewish important to you in those years? Yes,
I belonged to the Hillel organization on campus which was not, I mean, it was a
rabbi came to the campus once a week, or something like that. It was really, the
only advantage to it was that I met other Jewish mostly women because the
school, at that time, was largely a women’s college. I mean the Second World
War was over and they were accepting veterans but I don’t think I knew of any
male that went to Hunter that also participated at Hillel. But I was always
interested, sure, it was very strong.
Interviewer: Did you, I didn’t ask what kind of business did your
Keller: My father was a grocer. Mom would help out when she was younger
but as the family grew she stayed home to take care of the family.
Interviewer: And how many, how big was the family?
Keller: Four children, I’m the youngest. I have 2 older sisters and an older brother.
Interviewer: And are they all still living?
Interviewer: Where do they live?
Keller: One sister lives in Florida, the other sister in New Jersey and my brother lives in New Jersey.
Interviewer: How did you meet your husband? And how long have you been
Keller: Let’s see, we were married in 1953 and we met at a Bar Mitzvah, a
relative’s Bar Mitzvah. I guess he was related on one side of the family and I
was related on the other. But that’s how we met.
Interviewer: Oh, And what kind of a wedding did you have?
Keller: Very typical Jewish wedding. At that time, in New York it was, everybody was invited, it was very fancy, fancy
clothes, and you know catered and just everything they did up very, you know
very fine. And then the rabbi, wonderful rabbi, who the interesting thing is my
husband knew a lot of rabbis because he was a yeshiva graduate. And there were
so many rabbis he decided no we’re going to have to take someone we don’t
know because if we ask one person that he knows and the others would be upset,
that they weren’t asked so we just chose someone that [unintelligible] the
congregation more or less in my neighborhood.
Interviewer: Were there any stories in your family that come down like
that were told over and over?
Keller: With mom being home, you know, she was a
storyteller she loved to tell stories I always thought she should have been a
short story writer or a novelist. She was very good at that. But there were a
lot of things that related to being Jewish. Even though it was Austrian had
probably the best situation at that time for Jews the local people were not very
nice and she would report incidents that would occur especially to her brother.
They really didn’t pick on the girls so much.
Two stories. My grandfather was
a dealer who, I guess he was a middleman in cattle. And so he would be away from
say Monday morning to Friday, Friday he came home in time to be home for Shabbos.
He was worried that the water that we would, that they would drink would not be
pure enough, clean enough so very early Monday morning the whole family got up
and went to the place where they would ordinarily be getting their water and
they would bring it back and they would boil it so that there would be, the
water would be clean now. I don’t know how this relates to Pasteur if he ever
heard about Pasteur but actually the family survived a lot of epidemics that the
people around them would succumb to and I’m sure it was because they did that.
And my mother would say that the peasants did not believe that even though they
told them to boil their water, they insisted that the family survived because my
mothers rasp, my grandmothers, raspberry jam was very good and very potent and
so she would have to give them raspberry jam I mean this was this was their way
of dealing with it and she gave it to them but she, you know, told them it would
be a good idea to boil the water. So that’s a famous family story. And it
My mom had that so ingrained in her that she didn’t trust any
water. Any time we left New York City she would boil water. She lived down in
Florida, she boiled water all the time. She wouldn’t trust the water coming
out of the, you know, so she had her special bottled water. She lived to be 89
years old. You come into her house and there’d be a prune juice jar and that
was the jar that had the bottled wa…the boiled water in it. It was in the
refrigerator but she had a very strong sense of the importance of good hygiene,
because of seeing all that around. The other thing that was kind of interesting
that she told me the certain look to the sky, a certain reddish color that
frightened them. They thought it meant that there was a war going on some place
in the distance. They must have thought that that was a fire. And she always
said that to me in the summer when the sky had a certain look. I said, God they
lived with that, you know looking at the sky. My dad, and the one thing I
remember, he started Hebrew school when he was 3 years old. And the snow was so
deep that the older students would carry him on his shoulder. But he started
cheder at 3 years of age and maybe that’s why even though he came at 12 he
really knew a lot about davening. And that’s about I guess what I can
Interviewer: Can you talk about your children and their Jewish experiences
in Columbus and later in life?
Keller: Well Barbara went to Bexley, Bexley school
system. At that time it had a fair number of children, but not as much as it
had, maybe 10 or 15 years before. And basically a good experience however, in
high school there was one bad incident where, I don’t know, they had to do
some paper and she I guess she did it on the holocaust and this was senior high
school and some kid got up and really started screaming “No such thing, it’s
all a lie” and it really caused quite a commotion in the classroom which
the teacher was not good at handling and I think that unfortunately that one
incident stays in your mind you know but other than that I mean she had Jewish
friends. There was at Bexley High School at the time, there were sororities that
I mean I don’t know if they still have anything like that there weren’t
Jewish kids in it but she wouldn’t have been interested in it anyhow. But she
didn’t become active in she wasn’t much in terms of joining organizations ,
but also we spent the summers away usually out of the country so she couldn’t
really partake much of that. But she did go to the Jewish Center Preschool as
all the kids did, went to the Jewish Center Preschool, which I thought was an
incredible experience with Rose Schwartz. Just amazing. I think that set a very
good experience. Elizabeth , did you want to know what they are doing now?
Interviewer: Yes, well, yeah.
Keller: Do you just want to know about their schools?
Interviewer: Well their Jewish experience.
Keller: Barbara’s very active. She’s living in Hattiesburg
Mississippi, is extremely active in this very small Congregation which has 50
members and she’s taught Hebrew school, she’s taught Sunday school she’s
times when they were without a rabbi that she’s she’s been on the board
almost the whole time I think she made a very important contribution really
proud of her intense interest and involvement in that congregation and I think
they feel they’re very, there’s still a lot of local people there that come
from Hattiesburg. Hattiesburg isn’t that old a city. And then, of course,
there are since it is a college town a university town and a big hospital town
there are a lot of Jewish people, not a lot cause but there are people that come
in and it’s a small synagogue, it’s almost like another family. It’s
really they’re all very close and that’s been a really good experience down
Elizabeth, let’s see, she might have been a little bit more active in
one of the Jewish organizations, I can’t remember which one, but basically she
and Jonathan are very close in age and both of them studied privately for their
Hebrew lessons. At that time it the alternative was being bussed around the city
to pick up the kids, take them to Hebrew school where, unfortunately, there wasn’t
the discipline there was in the regular school and I think the kids felt there
was time wasting so we hired a private teacher to teach them and Jonathan was
Bar Mitzvahed at Beth Tikvah.
Elizabeth is now a professor in law at Boston
College, which is a catholic school. And she is doing, it’s a catholic school
with a very large Jewish population of professors and students. And she is doing
a lot of research and has had publications on a lot of topics like sexual
harassment and she’s interested in that and the Security and Exchange
Commission. So she’s active in the field of law. And very very active in the
synagogue, they have a huge reform congregation. I think that it is the oldest
one in the Boston or maybe the New England area. And she and her children are
very active. Her children, her daughter’s had a Bat Mitzvah there and her son
will have one in 2 years. And Jonathan never finished high school at Bexley because he
really wasn’t very happy with the situation, there was a lot of, I wouldn’t
say anti-Semitism, but civil rights being a big issue at the time and the
culture of some of the teachers was just not the same culture as the home. And
so he ended up going to a Quaker high school finishing his school, starting
school actually was in junior high school I think he wasn’t very happy and he
went to a Quaker high school which was really an incredible experience for him.
Interviewer: Where was this school?
Keller: The school was in eastern Ohio,
the name the town escapes me. Barnesville, Ohio. And there are a series of
Quaker schools across the country. But this one is a very old one and it was a
very amazing experience in fact, the principal of the school at that, time got
so interested in Jonathan and in Judaism that he used to come up to Beth Tikvah
occasionally for services. And then from there Jon went to Kenyon and graduated
in, let’s see he took philosophy, religion actually He was a comparative
religion major. And music minor. And then took, he has a PhD in Higher Education
Administration. And he worked for the state of Wisconsin, in charge of their
involved in their state schools program and is now the Associate Vice Chancellor
of Higher Education for the State of Massachusetts. And he too, is not as
involved with any particular Jewish organization but does attend services with
Elizabeth because they live close to each other they go to the same reform
Interviewer: Okay, tell us about your various involvements in Columbus
Jewish community – especially Beth Tikvah and the Hillel board.
Keller: Well, the Hillel board, that’s right I couldn’t find out exactly, but I’ve been on
the board for many years. And it can be, sometimes, being on a board can be an
interesting experience and I’m not really sure that I was happy with some of
the things that went on and I had a feeling while I was on the board that the
Federation I don’t think enough credit, this is my feeling, enough credit to
the time that people put into the board. They should be given a lot more credit
for attending meetings and doing things of interest. Instead we were always
asked to , unless the people who gave money I think unless you were big dollars
you really didn’t feel that you were getting good recognition. Now I can’t,
I say that’s an outcome of being on the board. But being on the board was an
interesting experience ’cause I went through a traveling…a time where they had
trouble deciding how the board how the board how the organization should really
They had a series of rabbis, they had different administrators and it
was a good experience to a degree but I have a feeling it’s a much better
experience now its been oh probably 15 years since I’ve been on the board but
just from going back for different meetings, I can see that there is a different
feeling about it. Other organizations…I really wanted to be on the board of
the Federation, just was never invited. And then I served Beth Tikvah really not
very much I didn’t do a great deal there. Extremely involved with my work at
that time and the work involved a lot of traveling out of the country or around
within the country that took away from the time I might have been involved. I do
more in Hadassah. I belong to Mizrachi. I’m not sure whether Mizrachi still
exists in an organization [unintelligible] but I was active in that when it existed.
Hadassah I’ve given talks there but I haven’t been on the board.
Interviewer: Was there anything of a special interest when you were on the
Hillel board, anything special that happened?
Keller: Well, [unintelligible] the question was at
that time, you know, what kind of rabbi representing what aspect of Judaism. At
one point the Chabad House was starting up and there was a question of whether
this would cut into what we were doing but I guess that never really became an
issue. Mostly it was very basic like who was going to replace the carpeting or I
mean things that I didn’t feel went much to the real issues at times that
should have gone to and the other thing were the personnel issues. Those were
big issues. How to handle the people that worked for us. And I really don’t
get a good sense of what major things that might have been accomplished.
Interviewer: How long were you on the board?
Keller: A long time. I tried to
find out I couldn’t find in my records unfortunately I didn’t put it on my
CV. I have the community organizations that were not Jewish listed on it but I
would say easily 10 years So I saw a lot of action, one big interesting thing
that happened was one day when Harry Alpert was the rabbi and he was sitting
with alone in an office and [unintelligible] it was during the day I don’t think anyone was
in the office someone came in and attempted to do some sort terrorist act. Maybe
I’m using the term a little bit loosely but he was he might have had a gun.
This was very, very frightening and Harry was just brilliant in how he handled
it, got control of the situation that was very and I don’t know what kind of
security they had after that. But I don’t know that they’ve had much of a
problem but that was just probably a random thing. I mean, on campus you get
really a lot people walking on campus that shouldn’t be there and do some
disturbing acts [unintelligible] at that time that was very dramatic.
Interviewer: What years was that…were those, do you remember?
Keller: I’d say about ’79-’89 roughly around then.
Interviewer: Tell about your professional work and your career here in
Keller: Okay I, when I first came to Columbus I was awarded a U.S. Public
Health Scholarship which enabled me to take courses at Ohio State in speech and
hearing but the basis of the scholarship was that when I finished I had to put
in at least a year in the community. And I put in, I think it was 2 years,
after I finished the course work as Director of the Speech and Hearing Clinic at
Children’s Hospital. And at that time Children’s Hospital was not as big as
it is today. And the building I was in was just a really basically just a
private home the eye clinic was on the first floor and the second floor had the
hearing clinic. And that was a very interesting experience because we serviced
both central Ohio and a good part of southeastern Ohio so I had people coming to
see me who lived in rather isolated areas, had a child who was deaf but didn’t
realize it the child was deaf until the child was really way past the point
where they should have been speaking and someone finally pointed that out so it
was interesting for me to see the effect of the isolation on child rearing in
young parents who don’t know what to look for. And my job was to check what
the problem was and refer them to the proper facilities. And when we came back a
second time we went to [unintelligigle] in between that we went to Boston, Marty was working
there and I didn’t work.
I did in Boston belong to a Jewish group and a
synagogue there but then we came back here to Columbus I worked for the State
Health Department as a consultant in what they called the Pediatric Audiology
Clinic at that time again, I went actually went to rural areas and tested
children that were referred to me by the school nurse and to see if they had a
hearing or a speech problem and make the proper recommendations either to a
physician, a psychologist or for the teacher and I did that on and off over a
long period of years.
And then, let’s see, I decided to finish a doctorate
that I had started in audiology in New York and the person I spoke to in the
speech department who would have been my advisor talked me out of doing it.
Said, oh, you’ve taken all these courses you should really go into
communications theory. He was a professor of Persuasion Theory and he persuaded
me so I went and took, finished my doctorate in Communication Theory with an
emphasis on persuasion theory. And at that point I got interested in how people
communicate with each other. This is hearing people. I was particularly
interested in how someone would relate to the idea that either they’re very
ill and need emergency care or someone else that they see is in that situation
so I did my dissertation on the calls that came in. It was to the fire
department asking for a squad to come out to the home This was just prior to
911. The thought was coming that we need one number all over the country. And
so, it just happened to be a pretty hot topic at the time and I was able to get
a large amount grant of money from the federal government to do this study and
to present the results of the study. I’d go all over the country and I even
went to Europe talking about it.
And this was the basis for developing
guidelines for 911 for the people who answer the calls of the people that call
in.. At that time in Columbus you had a squad and then you had an EMT a little
higher level of training. And now I think all of the squads are trained to the
same level but at that time they weren’t so, But the man the person had a kind
of get a sense of what was the problem these people were having. Should he send
just a squad or should he send an EMT trained squad and that helped me develop
questions and that’s the basis of a lot of the questionnaires that were being
developed at the time. After that, that study went on for a very long time and I
mean I completed the study and I got the degree but I was asked to continue in
that area for a very long time and then they were concerned, the government was
concerned, about very rural areas and we worried here in Ohio about the Amish
because they don’t use telephones you know they live kind of an isolated
existence so I was able to work with our department we got a grant to study
actually what we did was a training program for kind of advanced first aid so
that they could handle some questions some problems in case things came up
before they could get help.
There are phones in these areas but they’re not in
their homes. They have to go out on roads someplace and they don’t often have
the equipment to do all that? So that was the last thing I did, work with the
Amish and it was a wonderful experience and they were very…it was really
funny I don’t know if my husband would say that, but he knew German and I
understood everything they said because of Yiddish it was so close to it and
they were so impressed that we understood it, what they were talking about that
they asked my husband to read something from their bible which was in which, I
don’t know, it probably wasn’t in the German script it was in the real
script and they told him that he did that better their minister does you know.
But, that was an amazing experience getting in to that culture and really
understanding it very well.
And they were very sweet people. It has since
branched out, I think Ohio State University has some big projects going, not in
the same area that we were involved in but the materials that we taught them
they put together themselves and I understand it is sent all over the country
and even into Canada so that was a good experience it was my swansong but I
ended up doing that long after I had been officially retired because the grant
went on beyond that. I guess that’s about it. Other little things in between,
but I can’t quite…
Interviewer: But didn’t you work with emergency rooms at University
Keller: I was the, in charge of research and education for the emergency,
for the emergency department. And so in that, one of the things we did that I
think was interesting we sat in the emergency room when a patient came in that I
had assisted and we would follow a patient through kind of a quality control
thing…how long does it take for the patient to get the care they needed?
what obstacles were in the way? what did the patient feel about it? what did the
doctor feel about it? That sort of thing. That was just one of the things that
we, we basically anything that involved research though we were involved in and
education. And I also supervised the medical students who went out on emergency
medicine rotations all over the country. I was their supervisor for that; to
help set it up. And I could look at my CV and see what else. Probably a lot of
other things. Oh I was also the editor, one of the co-editors, of the Journal of
Emergency Services. And let’s see well, I have consulting work to, you know,
here and abroad. Can you believe all this?
Interviewer: That’s a long and impressive CV.
Keller: I was also, I don’t know if you’d be interested in this but the American
Public Health Association I was on their governing council and that is actually
an international organization I served on that one for 6 years. And also on the
Communicative Disorders Prevention & Epidemiology Study Group of the
American Speech and Hearing Association. I had built this up actually, probably
…that’s about it
Interviewer: Do you at that time were there a lot of Jewish doctors at
Keller: In that field? Well, no one came
in later, no I’m trying to think of how many Jewish students there were too.
There, I don’t really know how many Jewish, occasionally I’d have a Jewish
student, not a lot. They came from all over Ohio [unintelligible]. The other thing we did and
there I had a couple of Jewish students with me, we worked with the engineering
department, bioengineering, and there were a lot of, there were several Jewish
students that were interested in…engineers interested in looking at
the emergency medical system and I worked with them. You know the interesting
thing, getting back to Hillel, we always wondered how many Jewish students there
really are on campus. Well I don’t know how it is now, but at that time they
might have identified themselves, they might not. You know we wanted to know how
to go about getting the students in and they went to some of the sororities,
fraternities or they go to some of the residence hall, but that also was an
issue. They wanted to identify Jewish professors. That wasn’t always easy to
do too. They went by the last names which could be very very misleading.
Those are some of the issues, you know. And then of course, preparing them, hoping
that we prepared them to continue. And I think the students that belonged would
have continued I mean if they had that interest then and, you know, I’ll tell
you one interesting thing, I was telling trying to fill out this questionnaire
on the genealogy and I had to laugh because it goes back further then I think I
am able to go back and I figured, part of it’s my age, part of it is that the
family doesn’t come from Columbus, Ohio but there were Jewish students at
Hillel that were 4th and 5th generation when they came
from Cincinnati or Cleveland and you know their grandmother, their
great-grandmother and, oh my god, you know in New York City…no, you’re lucky
if your mother was American born. Then, wow, you were really a Yankee you know.
So that was one thing that I saw at Hillel that amused me, that opened up my
eyes [unintelligible] middle part of the country. And same thing with my daughter down in
Hattiesburg I mean the fact that there are people Jewish people in Hattiesburg,
that down in the South an awfully long time you know, that go back generations.
And that isn’t true of a city like New York where so many immigrants,
especially now, probably even the people living there are just first generation.
This is part of the cultural interests of living in the Midwest, opened up my
eyes for that kind of thing.
Interviewer: Is there anything outstanding at your time with your time at
Keller: I really it loved it. I loved Roger, he was so open.
Interviewer: That was Roger Klein.
Keller: So open to the kids, so concerned about and interested in
what they had to say, truly went out of his way. I thought, he was the one
actually that the Quaker school had the contact with and that was just a very
good experience. Jonathan had a very good experience with Roger and talking with
some of the kids that were in his class at the time a lot of them have have
really been affected. I think that having Roger as a rabbi I think they followed
thru on a lot of things that were related to that and I think Jonathan’s major
in comparative religion probably stems from that. But Roger was, it was
wonderful how much time he took with the kids. Several incidents occurred where
disciplinary kinds of things that he was able to work through with the kids because
sometimes when you get a kid that’s kind of serious, and Jon was kind of
serious about [unintelligible], get a little disgusted when the kids are obnoxious and
Roger was so good at handling that and talking and convincing the students to
come back and be part of it. And I just found that it was a remarkable
Mark Raphael again. I think what Mark brought was such a
spirituality that I felt that Friday night services kept me a whole week,
definitely. I found all week long I was humming the tunes and I loved it. And, I
think I mean, as the synagogue got larger and we moved to the bigger building I
love the building it is very aesthetic, very beautiful but I think the closeness
they felt in the smaller synagogue I didn’t feel again although I love the
people and the rabbis but it just didn’t have the same feeling for me that the
older congregation had and I think it was partly, really the size I think there
is a size that feels right for me. My daughter goes to a huge synagogue but it
is broken down into various segments that fit the group like a family. There is
a certain size that you have to have that allows you to break up into groups the
way this very large one did and maybe Beth Tikvah had at the time that I
belonged had not really reached that size and yet at some point it was bigger
than I think, I wanted it to be. I didn’t feel the closeness that I felt
Interviewer: Did Liz or Barbara go to Sunday School anywhere?
Keller: Yeah. I remember Barbara went to Agudas Achim which was right around the corner from us
and Liz, Sunday School, yeah at that time it wasn’t Beth Tikvah, but there was
something, Northside Jewish Group. Yeah, I forgot about that.
Interviewer: Did you, I didn’t know that you belonged to that.
Keller: Yes, we did and the kids went there and that
was a very good experience for them. Yeah, they really enjoyed that.
Interviewer: What was that like?
Keller: Well they had, I forgot her name, the woman who did art work and
I really don’t know what they did, except that they enjoyed it. It was a good
experience Yeah, they went there. They always had Sunday School and I’m trying
to think Jonathan, I remember particularly, because the art teacher was sox
impressed with his art work and I don’t remember especially about the kids. I
forgot to tell you that Barbara taught Sunday School at Beth Tikvah.
Interviewer: Oh, she did?
Keller: Yeah, for a long time she taught Sunday School at Beth Tikvah. I forgot
to mention that. I know they all went to that group.
Interviewer: How many children, kids were there in Jonathan’s class confirmation. Did he get confirmed? Or did he
just finish with Hebrew.
Keller: He didn’t get confirmed, none of them got
confirmed. Wait a minute yes…no I don’t know, I haven’t had a confirmation.
Interviewer: Did…how manykids were in his bar mitzvah class? Do you remember?
Keller: Well he had the private lessons for the Bar Mitzvah.
Interviewer: Oh yeah.
Keller: But he was taking it with…I can’t remember her name either, but she was here in town
and she taught Elizabeth and Jon, they’re only 14 months apart so it was good
She came to the house and taught them prepared them.
Keller: It’s interesting my grandson was living in Hattiesburg when the time his Bar Mitzvah
came and the synagogue, reform synagogue was affiliated with the Union in
Cincinnati and oh they were very bad about sending people. Sometimes they had a
rabbi, sometimes they didn’t. Sometimes this student rabbi came, you know this
is the situation in the schools And so Barbara and my husband worked with Max
preparing him and then a niece of mine who was living in England, her children
were in England and had a very good Jewish education Hebrew education and they
moved here about the time that Jon that Max was preparing for his bar mitzvah
and she spent a summer down in Hattiesburg and she worked with Max so he had a
cousin of his, a young cousin with a heavy British accent preparing him.. His
mom, his cousin and his grandfather and then about maybe six weeks before he was
to be bar mitzvahed a rabbi came. The rabbi was originally from Brazil and, but
had served as an assistant rabbi in North Carolina and then came there. And that
was an interesting experience because I think he, probably more like it used to
being in the old days when a visiting person would come in to prepare you so
that’s the way it was.
Interviewer: In your experience, how has the Columbus community changed ,
Columbus Jewish community?
Keller: It’s probably, I think it’s still very
strong. And I always was impressed with how strong a community it is. I did
forget to mention that, and this is probably very important , that Barbara
worked resettling the Russian immigrants here. So at that point she was very
involved with the Jewish community and she and at that time probably a little
more aware of what was going on Jewish Family Service and Federation. I think
the community probably reflects to some degree what’s happened in the nation
probably more intermarried. But I just have a feeling there still is a certain
hold that just a very few members of the community have on the community. I
still think there is not enough openness and I get that feeling just from what I
read. I just, I think that they offer a lot more in activities. You know there
is a lot going on but I would still like to know a little bit more about
funding. And I don’t know how open that is. And, oh, the big change is more
orthodox in the community, especially in the area that I live in.
Interviewer: Oh definitely.
Keller: Orthodox in the sense that they’re very young people. There is, it’s called
an eruv. Well, if they’ve had that before I think, in a way, that has
been a powerful movement here. And then, of course, the break away the Agudas
Achim and now there is the synagogue on Main Street. And I don’t know about
all that, whether how that is going to effect the community. It’s divisive in
a way, I think. But I asked about BREAD and I was told that the orthodox
congregations were not participating and that is a little disappointing to me. I
think we have to be, work together. There are a lot of needs and I don’t know
whether some of the breakups of all these synagogues was is a making the
community a little bit more divisive. And then of course the movement away from
eastern part of town out to the north and northwestern areas, that’s probably
changed things too.
Interviewer: Especially to New Albany too, that’s changed north eastern areas.
Keller: Yeah, they have a synagogue there which used to meet in a
church right near us, that was kind of unique. I love the new paper that’s
come in, The New Standard and I have a nephew who’s a rabbi in Pennsylvania
and I sent him a copy and he was very impressed with things that I tell him
about the community and he still feels it’s a very good community, and I’m
sure it is. I always feel good about Columbus as a Jewish community. And I feel
good, living in Bexley, being close, kind of, in the center things as a Jewish,
Interviewer: What do you consider as your most significant contributions
to the Columbus Jewish community?
Keller: The Columbus Jewish community; should have
sent me these question before so I could have thought about them. I think well,
then other than Hillel, being on the board of other organizations where I was
the only Jew I feel, at times, that maybe, I hope I am a good example of Jewish
people serving out of the community of Jewish people so maybe I contribute, I
hope I contribute as a person and being active. I just joined the yiddish group
and we’ve already given a program there. I’ve given programs at Hillel and
synagogues and I think I try to be involved and where I can, say what I feel
like point out what I think is good and what I think maybe we should work on. As
a contribution, specifically…(laughter). What was the question again?.
Interviewer: What do you think is your most significant contribution?
Keller: Being an involved Jewish citizen.
Interviewer: What other non-Jewish organizations did you belong to?
Keller: The Northside Child development, child family development. It’s a group let me get
the exact title of it that’s involved in fighting child abuse and also
intervening where kids need help very early on. And it’s called the Northside
child and family development center. It’s a child abuse prevention and
intervention program. And I think that was an interesting and involving kind of
thing. Well, being on the board but you’re talking about just here in this
Interviewer: Well in other communities as well.
Keller: We worked in southeast Ohio
helping set-up emergency medical services there. Basically a lot of work I did
is in rural areas not so much in Columbus. We did work with a group, and I can’t
remember the exact name, with Battelle and this was a community group, Battelle
had this community group that was looking at problems, like at that time the big
problem was what do you do with prisoners when they’re released? And what kind
facility and help do they need and that was, we were on that group and that goes
back many years [unintelligible] I don’t think that group exists anymore but that would be
something that would impact here in the Columbus community. And then again
basically here I worked with the fire department and helped them set guidelines
for answering the questions that people called in about.
Interviewer: Didn’t you work in Africa for a, didn’t you and Marty
Keller: Marty worked in Africa. I worked in Yugoslavia and England and
Portugal. Actually that again had to do with, it’s interesting in Portugal
they want to know how they could improve their emergency, their communication. I
was always interested in the communication end How the public communicates with
the person that’s going to receive the information And so they wanted help in
that. And they called the hotel one day and said that someone was going to pick
me up and take me to the man who was in charge So a cabdriver picks me up and I
don’t speak Portuguese and he doesn’t speak English but he knows where to
take me. I see that I’m going into something that looks like a castle and it
turns out it is a military base because this emergency medical system is run
through the military. This is not unusual, I guess, in some countries. And well
I had a long time discussing with them and then they were invited to certain
lectures that were given And then I was presented with an honorary military
title of some sort. I’ve got at home a plaque with my name and this honorary
Interviewer: How interesting.
Keller: Don’t know if that’s acceptable in
this country but Portugal, you know, was neutral during the war so there was a
lot, WWII, lot of interesting stories about how they went through the war and
there were sine movies even based on all that. So that was an interesting
experience too learning about that. And they were very interested the man that
was in charge, Dr. DaSilva who was in charge of emergency medical services for
the whole country wonderful, wonderful man who came here for a visit with us
too, and study our system. He was fascinated with the idea that we were Jewish
and he used to say that if you take blood from any Portuguese person it’s
really Jewish blood. And he told me something interesting, his name was DaSilva
which is a common name, Portuguese name he said that any name that is of a tree
or a fruit any last name like that or a mineral like Silva they are really
Jewish people And all the people I met I mean he kept saying that we were
Jewish. He was just so happy about that. They were all telling us about a
great-grandmother who lit candles. You know, they were all sure that they were
Jewish. And they were talking about the Inquisition and the fact that in the
Inquisition and the Jews were sent out of Portugal just like they were in Spain.
He said that’s when the whole country really collapsed and never really
recovered from the fact that they lost their Jews.
In the course of our work
actually we came across a lot of stories like that, lot of people very intrigued
with the fact that we were Jewish. When Marty was in the service and we were
based in the south and we were traveling through different areas where he was
investigating polio outbreaks and one time I wanted to have my hair done. And
the woman said that she had never seen such curly hair How did you get such
curly hair? And I said well, it’s uncommon with people of my religion to have
curly hair and she said oh you’re Jewish, that’s so marvelous and just had
everybody in to see my hair and how it is curly and something else with curly
hair, I’m trying to think. I think one of my kids had an incident like that
too where they have dark, curly hair, oh, you must be Greek or something, then
they find out you’re Jewish, wonderful oh this is amazing? And my grandson
went to the public school in Mississippi and everybody was Baptist and the
teachers would say “we have to be nice to Jonathan, he’s Jewish that’s
very special” And, you know, you have to be good. So You know there are
family stories like that , where being Jewish and going to outlying areas you
get impressions that you are not as aware of. Well maybe a little more in
Columbus than you are in New York, where you grew up basically in a ghetto, a
Interviewer: Have you, do you know if you have any relatives left in the
Keller: I rather doubt it. I think my dad once tried to send, this was
probably during the war tried to send some money to an uncle he thought was
still living and somehow it was intercepted by the American government. They
said don’t even try it will never get to the right party anyhow. My mother had
an interesting experience though. Through HIAS long after the war, my mother was
told that there was someone from her town that survived and would she be
interested in meeting that person. It turned out it was, somehow he was, a very,
very young child but my mother knew the family and he came to our house and he
really didn’t answer my mother’s questions. He says you don’t want to hear
it. He says just forget about it, you don’t want to hear it. And we have tried
to get the information from Israel on whether any of the relatives survived and
we have never been able to find.
We’ve gone on the internet. We can’t find
anything about her or…it was Austria. The interesting thing is, backtracking,
when I found my mother’s papers from Ellis Island and the passenger listed as
Austrian, her parents and baby sister came afterward, after the war, they’re
listed as Polish. They come from the same place, same town, now it is Poland,
then it was Austria, so you know my brother says you have to know what map to
look in what year. What was the question again? (laughter)
Interviewer: What is your full name?
Keller: Geraldine Marilyn Berman Keller.
Interviewer: And do you have a Jewish name?
Keller: I have a Jewish name, I have a Hebrew name. It is
Gitel Masha in Yiddish and Tova Miriam in Hebrew. It was my Hebrew teacher who
told me that would be the translation of Gitel Masha. Gitel being good Tova.
Interviewer: And who were named for?
Keller: I was named for a great aunt.
Interviewer: And what was your mother’s full name?
Keller: My mothers name was, that’s an interesting story.
Her name was Sarah Abbend and then Berman when she got married, but Abbend was
her maiden name. And she came to this country she was 14 years old and the
Polish equivalent to that was Salchick. They spoke Polish, they spoke German
they had, so she said her name was Salchik. Well, what happened was that she had
an older brother, (I think she says “Salcha” but it is not clear) an
older sister and the brother was already in business and very successful. My
mother was 14 and he told her, he gave my mother money and told her to go to the
bank and deposit this money, I want you to have some money in your name.
So she goes to the bank and the manager is talking to her and wants to know what her
name is. She tells him Salchik Abbend and he says “oh, that’s such a
greenhorn name, we’ll have to give you a good American name”. So he gives
her the name Henrietta. What does she know, she is 14 years old. So ever since
then she was Henrietta and she never liked the name and always told us “My
name is Sarah, really. Salcha is what they call me in school but the name is
really Sarah. If any children are named for me their name should be Sarah.”
And there is, there’s a grandchild named Sarah for her.
Interviewer: What was your father’s full name?
Keller: Jacob Meyer Berman
Interviewer: And they were born in Lemberg or in a small town outside of
Keller: My mother was born in a town called Brezezin and my dad was born
in, I think it’s called, Lanowitz in the Ukraine.
Interviewer: You don’t know the spelling of those?
Keller:Of Brezezin, B-R-E-Z-E-Z-I-N. It is just like, you remember Brezezinski who was before
Kissinger, well, take off the “ski” and that’s it. He probably comes
from the same area Brezezin and that’s where she comes from Brezezin. B-R-E-Z-E-Z-I-N,
and Lanowitz is probably L-A-N-O-W-I-T-Z, something like that, probably
Interviewer: How did they happen to come here, I mean what decided them?
Keller: My dad was 12. I think it was to get away from the Russians and maybe it was I
don’t think he was old enough to be taken into the army but probably. He was
the oldest son. It would have come up if it hadn’t already so that’s why
they sent him. He had an aunt here and my mother because she had a sister and
brother doing very well and, I guess, the family eventually did want to come.
When she came in 1910 I think things weren’t looking good already. My dad’s
father just waited too long to come and ended up going to Argentina and
eventually came, well actually went back to Russia and came here from Russia. My
brother, I think, has his papers from Ellis Island but he went to Russia I mean
to Argentina and spent some time there.
We do, we did, have family in Argentina
as well who at that time also left Russia and went to Argentina. Because there
was a time when they weren’t taking in people, the government, the American
government wasn’t taking in people from eastern Europe, but I guess he didn’t
like Argentina. He told me about Argentina. I remember I was in elementary
school and he would tell me about how he didn’t like the food there and you
had to drink a certain kind of tea otherwise the food wouldn’t be digestible
and so he would always tell me these stories of Argentinean life. And we even
owned property down there. Which, many, many years later cousins tried to find for
us, but it was of course confiscated.
Interviewer: And your parents were married in Lemberg?
Keller: Oh no, here, here.
Interviewer: Oh, that’s right they were too young when they came here. They were married here?
Keller: My mother was 19 and my father, they were married in 1915
and my father was 20. They were married here.
Interviewer: And they lived in the Bronx?
Keller: After they were married they lived in Manhattan for a long time, the Bronx was much
Interviewer: I guess that just about covers, is there anything else you
can think of that you would want to say?
Keller: There’s probably a million things. As we talked so many things come up but, my mother and dad loved coming
here to Columbus, they loved it. They would spend often a good part of the
summer here and my father just loved working on the lawn, doing things he never
had a chance to do. In ice cold Russia or the streets of New York and you know
we belonged to Agudas Achim at the time and on Saturdays people would walk by
and stop and visit and my mother just, oh, she loved Columbus. She just thought
it was the greatest city in America.
Interviewer: So you didn’t feel…you moved here right after your wedding?
Keller: No, first we were in Georgia, in Atlanta for the CDC. Marty was with the CDC And
the epidemic intelligence services ,at that point was, I don’t know exactly
how it worked but it was part of the Coast Guard, that is the history of it. So
we lived there for a while in Atlanta. And we did go to services, I remember,
and I just couldn’t get over especially Rosh Hashanah, I just couldn’t get
over the whole thing being done with a southern accent.
Hearing the Hebrew with a heavy southern accent was WOW. You know this was interesting. And then I only
knew cuts of meat by their Jewish names , Jewish kosher names and having to go
into a store to order something and not knowing how to say it in English was
very funny for me. I realized, Boy I was living in a dream world in New York
where everyone understood even if they weren’t Jewish, that is so funny. Well
I don’t want to put this in I will tell you after and you can decide.
Interviewer: Did you live…so it wasn’t it a culture shock coming to
Keller: No, a little bit. I think what, what surprised me was how many
Republicans there were among the Jews. Cause in New York, New York’s more
liberal. That was the culture shock. That they didn’t have the same liberal
feelings or, not just liberal but everybody was involved, everybody knew
politics and not that they belonged to organizations necessarily but they’re
really very politically oriented [unintelligible] little more laid back orientation in that
and that sort of surprised me.
Interviewer: So you’ve lived in Columbus a lot of years so is that?
Keller: It’s my home. I mean yeah, I feel as if I’m a Buckeye. It’s hard to say that I’m
from New York anymore because when I go back, New York has changed so much.
Manhattan is probably, in many ways, more exciting and better but where I grew
up, it’s very bad. The buildings I lived in, and they were wonderful the last
building before I got married was art deco that was just beautiful and it was
arson hit and everyone said “don’t go back to your old neighborhood you’ll
be depressed.” And it was very depressing. So that’s not good. Although
people tell me that, when I talk to old timers here in Columbus they say that’s
true of their neighborhoods, they’ve changed, and it isn’t as nice and
it’s gone downhill, so things change. I wish Columbus did a better job in
building up their downtown. Speaking to my nephew in Pittsburg, and he says it
still has a very active downtown and I wish, I think the fact that everything is
so spread out. I think that is one of the problems with Beth Tikvah for us, is
that it’s just too far and they had intended, I don’t know if they still do,
to move even farther and you just don’t want to be in a car that much. Friday
night you just don’t feel like picking up and going.
Interviewer: No. Well, on behalf of the Columbus Jewish Historical Society
and Congregation Beth Tikvah we want to thank you for contributing to the Oral
History Project and to Beth Tikvah’s Archives Project.
And this concludes our interview