This interview for the Columbus Jewish Historical Society is being recorded
on March 17, 2007 for the Columbus Jewish Historical Society’s Oral History
Project and for inclusion in the archives collection of Congregation Beth Tikvah.
The interview is being recorded at First Community Church Health Care Center,
Upper Arlington, Ohio. Our names are Rhoda Gelles and Rose Luttinger and we are
interviewing Harold Chern.
Gelles: What is your full name?
Chern: How far back do you want to go? Harold Leonard Chern.
Gelles: Do you have a Jewish name?
Chern: Chaim. Go ahead, I will answer what I can, go ahead.
Gelles: Do you know who you were named for?
Chern: I was named for a grandfather whom I never met. He died before I ever met
Gelles: Whose father was he, your mothers or your fathers?
Chern: On my mother’s side.
Gelles: Do you know what your mother’s full name was, her maiden name?
Gelles: Do you know her maiden name?
Chern: The name that her family was known by here was Jamison, but that was after a
bunch of them said we’ll all switch that way. I don’t have one with me, but
there was a picture of her own with her family that was taken after she came
over here. She was just two years old.
Gelles: Where did she come from?
Chern: They came from some town in Russia, It was someplace called “NoviKraka
?” What the actual spelling is I don’t know. Nobody knows what it really
was. The name of Jamison is supposed to have been sprung from “czymushin
?” That goes way back, about 100 years.
Gelles: What year did she come here?
Chern: It was somewhere around 1890 I guess.
Gelles: Where was your father born?
Gelles: In the same town as your mother?
Chern: I have no idea. They never knew each other over there. They didn’t meet
until some place here. I’m not sure exactly where. Who knows whether the Chern
comes from Chernoble, where they had the accident or Chernoblesky which is a name he had
when he came over here. That was the first name they had, Chernoble.
Gelles: Where did your family live when you were growing up?
Chern: Well, a great deal of the time, it was important, when I was advancing in
years. I was born in Philadelphia, lived there for six years. Then I lived in
Atlantic City for my grade school and high school. That was in Atlantic City,
Gelles: How did your parents earn their living?
Chern: Anyway he could. He started out, his family didn’t have anything left when
they got over here and he did some work to help the family when he was 11 years
old, overnight. They did that in those days, like Charlie Chaplin, but not as well.
Gelles: Do you have any brothers or sisters?
Chern: My sister passed away about a year ago, my younger sister, about 8 years
Gelles: What was her name?
Chern: The name we knew her by was Elaine. I think originally the name was Esther
Gelles: Where did she live?
Chern: She lived with us in Atlantic City until she got married. Then she and her
husband lived in a suburb of Washington D.C.
Gelles: You graduated from High School?
Chern: Oh yes, I finished 4 years of college.
Gelles: Where did you go to college?
Chern: I went to Ursinus. It’s an eastern school. I don’t know if you’re
familiar with it.
Gelles: No, where is it located?
Chern: Collegeville, Pennsylvania. Not state college, that is different. State
College is in another town altogether. State College is in about the middle of
the state and Collegeville, PA . was about 60 miles west of Philadelphia. I got there, I
had a basketball scholarship.
Gelles: Did you play basketball in High School?
Chern: Oh yes, of course.
Gelles: So that’s why you are so interested in hearing the basketball game today.
Chern: Oh no, I just like basketball. I like football. I didn’t play football.
Gelles: Were you ever in the military?
Chern: Yes, I was a pilot of a B24 Bomber in 1944. I saw 35 combat missions. I was
the first pilot.
Gelles: Can you tell us any other memories of serving in that war?
Chern: Well, that was a whole other story because back in those days it was the
beginning of the draft and you went in with the idea that you would be in for a
year. It was during Roosevelt’s time. As it turned out we were given a number, we went back
home, they called our number, or we could get started ahead of time. I
volunteered to start my year ahead of time because I knew that Helen was going
to finish college. She met me in the same school where I went. Then came Pearl
Harbor and that was the end of that dream.
Gelles: Did you spend any time in Europe?
Chern: Yes, I flew out of Italy. It’s pretty hard to bomb Europe from the United
States. I was assigned to a B24 after finishing my training. There were a lot of
boys and young men in the same position, never had a foot in an airplane before.
We went through flight training, 3 schools. Then I got my wings and my
commission and went for bomber training in California. When I finished the
training, I was assigned to a combat group and I was given a crew and a B24
which was a liberator. I flew it from California east to southern Florida. When
I went from southern Florida, in various jumps, we went to South America, went
to Foraleza, in Brazil. Then we went across the ocean to Dakar, in Africa. From
Dakar, we went up to Italy and that’s where we were based for most of our
combat missions. We had special risks, different assignments.
In addition to flying combat missions, we were in an unusual position because right after there
was a southern invasion of France. Nobody ever knows about that. All they know
is the big invasion. There was a southern invasion of France and we went from
there, for a short period of time we acted as a group for ferrying ammunition,
bombs and other stuff, from Italy to France. It’s a whole story within itself.
I don’t want to put people to sleep.
Gelles: Did you have any contact with any of the concentration camps at the end of
Chern: No, because by that time, I came back to the United States in December, 1944.
I finished my combat missions.
Luttinger: What did you major in when you were in college?
Chern: Business Administration.
Luttinger: What did you do after you came back from the war?
Chern: After I came back from the war I became involved in the steel industry, heavy
duty weighing equipment. I acted as a salesman and I was a branch manager. I was
a partial owner of a very unsuccessful business.
Luttinger: You met Helen in college?
Chern: I was a sophomore. As I said, I went there on a basketball scholarship. Her
home was in a suburb of Reading, Pennsylvania. She lived in Mount Penn and she
came there as a freshman the following year after I came there as a freshman.
Luttinger: When did you get married?
Chern: We were married in April, 1942, not too long after Pearl Harbor.
Luttinger: How old were you when you got married?
Chern: I was 25 and Helen was 22. Everybody said it wouldn’t last 2 years.
Luttinger: And you fooled them. Why and when did you move to Columbus?
Chern: It was after I got in the scale business and there was a dealer who sold and
installed scales in Columbus. He was a customer of mine at first and then he
asked me to come into partnership with him.
Luttinger: Where did you live before you were here?
Before we were here, I came back from the service and got out in June, 1945.
Actually I would have been out earlier because they had a point system and
fellows like myself, a lot of us got out earlier. But anyway, that’s when I
got out. It was just serendipity really.
Luttinger: Why did you choose the area that you chose to move into in Columbus?
Chern: You mean in Upper Arlington?
Chern: We knew some people here and they
thought it was a good place for our children to go to school. As it turned out,
It was not only good for our children but it was good for our grandchildren
because all of them went to Upper Arlington High School.
Luttinger: We know you joined Beth Tikvah. How did you happen to come to Beth Tikvah?
Chern: Well, I was part of coming to Beth Tikvah, as far as that goes. The 2 guys
who were responsible for setting up Beth Tikvah at first were, I can’t
remember their names. You probably have them listed somewhere. (Richard)
Chern: Yes, Goldgraben was another one.
Luttinger: Dave Brilliant?
Chern: No, he was after. Dave Brilliant became the first
President of the new Beth Tikvah after the 2 originators, just a short time
after, objected to the fact that we became reformed. We were a very small group.
We were trying to decide because when we went to the East side of Columbus for
help, everybody on the East side said we don’t need anymore Jewish
congregations. We have enough. I took a hand in that, I must say, because I
objected to them telling us what we should or shouldn’t do. So then we formed
a congregation and after we formed the congregation we took a vote and decided
that we were going to go reformed.
Luttinger: Can you tell us a little bit about the early history of Beth Tikvah?
Chern: Yes, after the 2 guys who helped start it went away.
Luttinger: One was Richard Goldgraben and I can’t remember the other one.
Chern: Yes, it’s not an unusual name either.
I should be able to remember it. Anyway, we started up
and we had an election of our own. I think we had maybe 15 families who were members at that time. We elected
officers and Dave Brilliant was the first President. The second President, who
followed him, was Vice President at that time, was Dave Guttman. I was the third
President. Dave Brilliant and Dave Guttman passed on so I am the oldest
President because of the fact the other two died.
Gelles: You were president from 1964-1965?
Chern: I’ll take your word for it because I don’t remember it. If it says it, I
believe it. I have no reason to question it because I was the third one.
Gelles: Why don’t you say into the microphone the years that you were President ?
Chern: The years that I was president, you’re going to have to tell me.
Chern: 1964-1965. That really doesn’t come up as it was…because after I got out
you got Morris Ojalvo. He really didn’t want to become President, he was too
busy. So then I volunteered to act as President for that Summer after we elected
him President. I was just temporary President during that one particular Summer
Gelles: Where was Beth Tikvah located then?
Chern: Beth Tikvah started out, it could be anywhere. At first we were using
somebody else’s facility, then we rented a place of our own. It was a house at
the corner of East North Broadway and High Street. It was home for a couple
years and then we ended up buying a building.
Gelles: Was that the one on Indianola?
Chern: Yes, that was later, on Indianola.
Gelles: Who was the Rabbi at that time, do you remember?
Chern: Who was the Rabbi? I should know him well too.
Gelles: Bennett Hermann?
Chern: Yes, Bennett Hermann. At first he was a student at Hebrew Union in Cincinnati and
then we put our necks out and decided to hire him as a full-time Rabbi. That was
it. He became the Rabbi at that point.
Gelles: Did your kids go to Sunday School at Beth Tikvah?
Chern: When it started out, Helen ran it.
Gelles: Did they have the Hebrew School then too?
Chern: We had somebody, again I think it was Bennett Hermann, who came up once or
twice a month and got them started. I think his wife was the Hebrew teacher too, wasn’t she?
She was involved in some manner. Exactly what I don’t recall because I don’t
remember exactly when Manny and Rose (Luttinger) came into the picture. Manny
could tell you better than anybody.
Gelles: We are going to interview Manny too. I know that Helen was active in the synagogue too.
Chern: She was very active.
Gelles: What kinds of things did she do?
Chern: The reason she became active was because they had a Sisterhood. That was the
time when I was President. They wanted her to act as the President for the
Sisterhood. On first request I told her to forget about it because of the
religion difference, but then they went on to disband the Sisterhood altogether.
She and somebody else, I don’t remember who now, came to me and said look this
is what we are faced with. I said if it was a question of wiping out the
Sisterhood, forget it, just go ahead and you can act as President during that
Gelles: Did Helen convert to Judaism?
Chern: Never, I didn’t ask her and she didn’t volunteer. But she was very active all the time.
Gelles: Who was a Rabbi on the East Side? Folkman?
Chern: Rabbi Folkman once told her she was more Jewish than some of the Jewish women we have here.
Gelles: I’m sure that’s true. Can you remember anything else you’d like to tell us, any interesting or
amusing stories about Beth Tikvah in those days?
Chern: One story I can remember was when we bought this building and we had it and
we decided the High Holidays were coming up and we wanted to redecorate
We decided we wanted to repaint it on the inside and that’s when I first
got to know Manny (Luttinger). He showed up with a paint brush in hand ready to
go to work.
At that time Manny wasn’t sure what his feeling was toward Judaism at that
point or how deeply he wanted to become involved. Anyway, he and I talked it
over and he became a member. He not only became a member but he became a very,
very strong member and that solidified his feeling about Judaism.
Gelles: You moved away from Columbus several years ago after your children were grown
Chern: It was quite a while afterwards, yes. This again could be hazy and I don’t
want to be taken literally. I wanted to go back East where our families were and
that’s why we actually moved back East. My family lived in Atlantic City and
Helen’s family lived in Reading and we wound up in New England. We spent about
4 years in West Hartford, Ct.
Gelles: Where are your grown children settled now?
Chern: Gail is in Columbus. She is a very prominent attorney with a big company, and
has been for some time.
Gelles: What is her married name?
Chern: Ford. Mike, our older
son, our first born, is in Reno, Nevada. He’s in the computer industry. Gail
was next and Gail went to OSU and studied, I can’t think of the exact term of
it, when you work for other people, she was in Social Work. After she got into
social work she had some kind of an assist from the university because of her
efforts. She got something like a scholarship in social work. After she got into
social work, she felt she wanted to provide more for her children and Gail went
on then to advanced social work. She and her husband, Len Ford, talked it over
and Gail said that she was going to go to night school to study to be an
attorney. They talked it over and they decided that one way or another he and
she would pick up the loose corners and she went to night school. She became a
member of Law General. She did very well at Law School and as an attorney. She
became the most prominent or second most prominent attorney.
Gelles: I remember your daughter, Joanne. What is she doing now?
Chern: Joanne lives in Indiana. I used to write letters to her all the time, I don’t
write much any more. She went to work helping out in a coffee shop and
eventually bought the coffee shop. She owns the coffee shop.
Gelles: What about Barry?
Chern: Barry, in some ways he probably had more talent than some of the
others. Barry wanted to be a musician and an artist. He followed that as well as
he could. He continues doing those things.
Luttinger: What were your children’s experiences at Beth Tikvah?
Chern: It just became a part of everyday life. It just came along because I was
active and Helen was active, they became more or less active.
Gelles: When did you move back to Columbus, how many years ago did you move back?
Chern: I think it was 1958. This is when I became associated with the School Board.
Gelles: In Upper Arlington?
Chern: No, Beth Tikvah School Board.
Gelles: You moved away and you moved to Hartford and you came back fairly recently,
Chern: That becomes hazier because of the fact that moving East was just to be with
our family and then I became involved in the scale business with this dealer and
became a part of his business.
Gelles: You came back to Upper Arlington a few years ago to be close to your daughter
and son-in-law and grandchildren?
Chern: Oh no, they came along later after we moved back. I think it was in 1958 but
don’t hold me to that. We bought this house on Wellesley Drive and as a result
of that we wound up right near the High School. Again it was a serendipity
thing. It wasn’t that we did that because of wisdom. The next thing you know,
all of our kids were going to school within shouting distance, very close, right
around the corner practically. We were very lucky we had our kids go to the High
School and our grandchildren.
Gelles: We really appreciate your taking the time to talk to us.
Chern: It isn’t so much taking the time or anything. This past month or so took a
lot out of me. On top of that Helen became demented. At first she was very active with the
Sisterhood. When we moved where we moved in Upper Arlington, we didn’t know it
was going to be a lifetime thing. I was so used to moving because of the Service
and things like that. We just went from pillar to post.
Gelles: I think we are finished now. 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 the Beth Tikvah’s Archives Project.
Chern: Well I wish I could have done a better job.
Gelles: Oh you did a wonderful job and thank you so much.
Chern: It’s nice of you to say that.
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