It is Friday, January 15, 2016, I am Abby Goldbaum (assisted by Rose Luttinger) and on behalf of the Columbus Jewish Historical Society I am interviewing Harriet Grail in the Historical Collection at CJHS.
Interviewer: Harriet, would you like to state your full name?
Grail: I am Harriet Grail. I was born Harriet, no middle initial, Galan, actually Galansky, but over the years they got rid of the sky.
Interviewer: What is your Hebrew name and who were you named for, if you were?
Grail: I have a Jewish name. My name is Hendl and I was named after my grandpa whose name was Harry.
Interviewer: How far back can you trace your family?
Grail: My family, I have a father and a mother. My mother came from the Ukraine. I have no idea when they arrived in Golanvenesk in the Ukraine, but that’s where she was born.
Interviewer: How do you spell Golanvenesk.
Grail: I spell it G o l a n v e n e s k. In fact I looked it up after many years and its on the maps but its very tiny, very tiny, I think a shtetl.
Interviewer: And both of your parents came from there?
Grail: My mother came from there. You want the story of my mother’s life?
Interviewer: Whatever you want to do?
Grail: I think its kind of interesting. My mother was the youngest of eight. She lived in this small city. My grandpa had a little business, she tells me, in the house and there were eight children. My mother had to have been born, was born in 1909. There was terrible troubles with the Cossacks and her father was hung by the Cossacks. My grandmother fled with the two youngest children and went from Golanvenesk to Odessa. It was horrible. Some of the children were already in New York City. It was eight in the family. At this point, with grandpa dead, grandma ends up with her mother. All the other children were going in different directions. They landed up in Rumania and had to stay because WWI started so she stayed there. As soon as the war was over, somehow, the family in New York got to them and they got to New York City. I would have no idea how, no money, no phones, but they got to New York. That is my mother’s story and she got to Brooklyn. My father … and she had to be, it was after WWI. She was born in ’09 so I assume that’s about 1918 so she was about nine years old. My dad was born in a small city called Slonim, I think, in Poland but he got to America when he was eight months old. His knowledge of Europe was nil. Grandmother brought him and an older sister to America and two more children were born in the lower east side of New York. Our family on my mother’s side, which were eight, had been so divided since that day that she never saw any of her other brothers and sisters except for one. Fifty-nine years later, she saw one brother. Jewish life was very difficult.
Interviewer: It was remarkable that she was able to locate one of her siblings after all those years.
Grail: Oh, I have to tell you how did she locate the people who took her. That was her sister, her other sister, they all came from that same little shtetl. My uncle, who was a first cousin, was in love with one of her sisters. He brought her (the sister) to America. I don’t know how he ever got there. He was so young. He became president of HIAS, later in life. This uncle, I was so proud of him, he was head of the pocketbook union in New York. He told me, when I was a little girl, never forget the HIAS because without the HIAS we wouldn’t be here in America. Every year I make out the little check for HIAS.
Interviewer: Absolutely, and they remain very helpful today.
Grail: Very helpful. So that’s my mother’s side. My father’s side, he didn’t know anything about Poland, so New York was his home, the lower east side.
Interviewer: What were your parents’ names?
Grail: My mother’s name is Claire Rose Galan, Chiah Razel, Its Galan but we were all Galanskys when she married.
Grail: Sky originally and we are all Galans, those who still have the name, because during the war we got rid of the sky.
Interviewer: Did I ask you, I don’t think I asked you your grandparents’ names?
Grail: On my mother’s side, grandma was Chana. Her name was Weiner. That was her name and then she married a Suris. My mother was Claire Rose Suris and she became a Galan, Galansky. Who else would you like to know about?
Interviewer: Your grandfather.
Grail: My grandfather, my mother’s father, I didn’t know him. I didn’t know any of my grandparents, my male grandparents, because he was killed by the Cossacks.
Interviewer: Oh, that’s right.
Grail: And the other one, I was named after, so I only knew my grandmas.
Interviewer: Where did you grow up?
Grail: Very happily in Brooklyn, New York, in a very wonderful area called Borough Park.
Interviewer: Do you have any brothers and sisters?
Grail: I had a brother. He has passed away. His name was Irwin Galan. He lived here in Columbus and attended Ohio State. He came with my parents. I did not. I was married and did not.
Interviewer: What were the occupations of your parents?
Grail: Well mother never worked, that’s for sure, because my father said if you go to work, I stop working. That was the way. My father had a business on South High Street. He sold automobile seat covers and convertible tops and that’s what brought them to Columbus.
Interviewer: Generally, when did they come to Columbus? Was it after you were grown?
Grail: Oh, I was married and had children and lived elsewhere. Yes. I think that they came, I was born in ’30, I was married in ’50, and I came here by ’60 so my mother was here in the late ’50s.
Interviewer: Were your parents affiliated and involved with the Jewish community?
Grail: Without a doubt, my parents always belonged to a synagogue. My mother was always involved in the Sisterhood, Brotherhoods. My mother would do the minutes in Borough Park in Yiddish. Can you believe that, could not believe that. I was a very, my mother and father insisted, with limited money, they paid that I went every day to Talmud Torah. I went to Talmud Torah from the time I was seven to the time I was about twelve, every single day and Sundays. You never go to Talmud Torah on Saturday, you go to shul, and Sunday you go to Talmud Torah, very involved the Jewish community. My grandmother, who I lived with, who I slept in the same bed as, who taught me my prayers. She had nothing and she would collect money for the rabbis, the (?) rebbetzins, the rabbis in Borough Park and go and take me and go with a nickel and a quarter and a dime. They were unbelievable givers and very Jewish.
Interviewer: Wonderful, and what about in Columbus?
Grail: My parents belonged to Agudas Achim. That was very important because Dorothy Rubenstein’s family lived in my house, in my apartment house. We moved here. I knew her nieces and nephews and family. Of course, you went to see rabbis, you joined Agudas Achim. So they were always part of a Jewish community, which I have continued.
Interviewer: Right. In what ways besides going to Talmud Torah were you connected to the Jewish community when you were growing up?
Grail: Borough Park had a lot of Jewish families. I mean it was predominantly a Jewish area so it enveloped me. I belonged to a Hashomer Hadati. That was a Jewish organization that tried to get people and young people to be interested in going to Palestine. My group was, Hadati was a very Orthodox group. Where other children found different friendships, I had friendships with organizations to promote Israel, besides the fact that I went to Hebrew School. Then when I went to high school, and my high school was certainly mixed, I took three years of Hebrew in high school so it was another kind of Jewish association.
Interviewer: Wonderful. Where did you attend elementary and middle school?
Grail: In Brooklyn I attended PS 169 and it was a little north of where I lived in Borough Park. It was in an area called Bay Ridge and still exists and is very lovely, a very mixed school of Jewish children as well as gentile, but mostly gentile. I went in that direction.
Interviewer: And high school?
Grail: I went to New Utrecht high school which was in Bensonhurst and I graduated at the age of 16, I was out of high school. I was able to talk my way into taking my first language as Hebrew so they gave me some credit for all these years I had gone to Hebrew School. I had Hebrew and I had French and I got a little bit of credit for all the years I went to the Talmud Torah.
Interviewer: Wonderful, that was quite inventive.
Grail: I did try. I got at least a half year’s credit.
Interviewer: Where did you attend college and what did you study?
Grail: I graduated at 16. We had no money, not extra money, so I went to college at night and I went to work. I went to Brooklyn College and I attended Brooklyn College at night and majored in Accounting, Psychology. I was working all day long.
Interviewer: Where did you work?
Grail: In an office, you know that’s the only thing I would do so I worked in an office downtown, got myself a job. My parents never worked in an office. I can recall going, finding a little ad in the paper. At 16 I went to work and I went to school at night. That was not unusual for us.
Interviewer: I know, many people have told me similar stories and situations. If there was a teacher who inspired you during school, during your educational years?
Grail: I wish I could tell you there was. I loved my school. I had a good situation in schools. I had many teachers. I was a good student. I can’t remember one teacher any better. In high school I certainly don’t remember. I mean I was out fast. I can’t remember such a thing.
Interviewer: When did you move to Columbus, Ohio and did you move here directly from Brooklyn?
Grail: No, I was married at the age of 18 and had children at 21. I was working, was married, you know, love. My parents moved to Pittsburgh, PA. I lived in New York with my first husband. We traveled and lived in many cities. I moved from New York City to Dayton, Ohio, Los Angeles, Cleveland and finally came to Columbus.
Interviewer: What did he do during this whole time, different types of work?
Grail: He was a talented man, very talented man. Its almost hard for me to remember so many years ago what he did. He did advertising for Roys Jewelers. He did advertising for a shoe company downtown.
Interviewer: Did you come to Columbus because of his advertising?
Grail: (Laughs) I ran away from him and I came to my parents, my poor parents, with my three little children and we lived in this little apartment. My poor brother went downstairs and slept on the couch and I lived upstairs with the three kids. He came and, of course, I went back for many years later. It was the right thing because the children loved their father and you do those things.
Interviewer: Generally, when did you come to Columbus?
Grail: I probably came to Columbus around 1960. Sorry, let me think, yes 1960. My parents came in 1952 and I came in 1960. That was my first marriage.
Interviewer: And the name of your first husband?
Grail: Larry Greene.
Interviewer: Did you meet him in New York?
Grail: Oh yes, at a Hadassah dance. Where was I going to go? I wasn’t going to go to a bar, at a dance.
Interviewer: Right, what are the names and ages of your children?
Grail: I have three children. My oldest child is Jeffrey Greene and he’s 62. My next daughter is Denise Harper, she is 60. My youngest is Leslie Vollman and she’s 59.
Interviewer: Do they live in town?
Grail: All of them live in Central Ohio. Leslie lives in Bexley. Jeffrey lives in the Granville area and Denise lives in Utica. There children live here too.
Interviewer: Great. What are the names of their children?
Grail: Okay, I have children and I have many step grandchildren. The children, Denise has four, Anthony, Matthew, Bradley and Bethany and they are Harpers. Leslie has two and its Michael Vollman and Lindsey Vollman who are now all married. The girls all have different names. My son, Jeffrey, had no children in his marriages until he married Shari and we have some step children that are just wonderful and that’s Allison and Brandon.
Interviewer: You have great grandchildren now, don’t you? We talked about that.
Grail: Oh yes, I have great grandchildren. I have, from that marriage I have twins and I have a new grandson. I have three from that marriage but I’ve had other marriages so I have more children and grandchildren. I have to keep them straight.
Interviewer: Right, we talked about having in common the name Nora.
Grail: I have a Nora as a twin with Owen. That’s the twins who live right here in Gahanna. I’m very lucky that they’re here.
Interviewer: What is your occupation?
Grail: What was my occupation?
Interviewer: Tell us a little bit about your work experiences.
Grail: I didn’t go to work until all my three children could go full time to school. That was a problem, what are you going to do? There was no way that I could possibly go to work while the children were still home. I was very lucky and very thrilled that I was hired by WBNS-TV. Back in 1962 when I didn’t even know much about what was going on in the TV world. I interviewed and they hired me. I became their Traffic Manager. I was their Traffic Manager for many years. I saw, first of all they never paid women enough. Women were paid very little back in the ’60s. I need to make more money. I saw that money was in sales. By G-d I was going to get into sales or get into something as good as that. I became Advertising Director of an advertising agency for Gene Hameroff called Hameroff, Milenthal, Spence. I was the Advertising Director for many, many years. New accounts, go get new accounts, buy time, sell time, whatever it was, what a good, wonderful opportunity before me. I probably worked from the early ’60s all the way till 1996.
Interviewer: Right, because when I met you, you were working for them.
Grail: Yeah and then I became the National Sales Manager of Kuppenheimer mens’ clothes. I took whatever good opportunities I possibly could. Columbus was wonderful for me. I was able to do an awful lot of things and support myself and help the children and it was a wonderful occupation.
Interviewer: When did you meet Al (Bogart)?
Grail: That’s my second husband. I was divorced. You don’t go to bars, I went to the Jewish Center. Albert was National Sales Manager of Highlights for Children. He’d come in from Cleveland. He also was divorced. His mother said why don’t you go to the Jewish Center and find a nice Jewish Girl? So he found me. That’s how I met Al Bogart. Very happy, he had two children and they were going to and attending, Ohio State. He came, particularly, to Columbus to work because he wanted to be near his children. So that’s how I have two step children. They’re married and I have grandchildren and I have great grandchildren. So I have lots of those.
Interviewer: Are they in the area?
Grail: They’re in Cleveland but the younger children have moved to Chicago, New York. A few of them are still in Cleveland. We’re in constant contact. I still have a very good association with all the Bogarts in my family. They’re my children. So that was my second husband.
Interviewer: How did you meet your third husband, Fred (Grail)?
Grail: After Albert died, he was only 59. Then I was alone. Where do I go? I go to the Jewish Center. I’ve always gone to the Jewish Center. I’m walking into the Jewish Center and there was Fred. I knew Fred, I knew Anita, I knew his wife. He asked me how I was doing, the usual thing, how are you doing? He had just lost Anita, I was sorry to hear that. He asked me, if I call you, Harriet, will you go out with me. I said of course. That’s the beginning of a third marriage and a very beautiful marriage for over twenty years, very beautiful. So I have his children and grandchildren. We just spoke this last week together.
Interviewer: Because of circumstances, you belonged to different synagogues here.
Grail: Oh you know that.
Interviewer: We talked about that. Do you want to tell us about that?
Grail: I came from an Orthodox family and my parents belonged to Agudas Achim. I was very comfortable and I read. My first husband was Jewish and Bar Mitzvahed. His Hebrew was limited and he wasn’t as comfortable at Agudas Achim so we went to Temple Israel. My son was Bar Mitzvahed at Temple Israel, the kids went to school. It was very nice, very good in the days of Rabbi Folkman. It was very good. I remained there as my parents were going to Agudas Achim but they understood. Then when I married Albert Bogart of Cleveland, his father was Bal Koreh of Park Synagogue. He wasn’t accustomed to a reform synagogue. The rabbi was aging and things were different. He said this isn’t for me, Harriet. I said fine, we’ll go back to Agudas Achim. So I returned to Agudas Achim. I’m happy at any shul because I read, I can participate, its fine. Then when I met Fred, Fred was so active at Tifereth Israel. When I got there and I saw Ann Bonowitz up on the Bimah and she was davening and I can daven, not like Ann, but I can daven, I said oh my goodness this is for me. So I got married at Tifereth Israel and I have been active and part of Tifereth Israel from that day and have enjoyed it. I am comfortable in any shul I go to.
Interviewer: Great, that’s quite interesting. There aren’t that many people who can claim that they’ve been to synagogues across the spectrum from Orthodox to Reform and feel comfortable. I’m sort of curious to know, I think we covered the occupations of your first spouse (and second spouse) but we didn’t talk about Fred.
Grail: Fred was brilliant. He was a chemist, worked for 42 years for Chemical Abstracts, a brilliant, brilliant man and a reader and so smart, a choice individual.
Interviewer: Did any of your husbands serve in the military?
Grail: All of them, everybody did. They all did.
Interviewer: Were they involved at all with the Jewish War Veterans?
Grail: Yes, I’m just trying to think how much. I can even recall, not only belonging, Fred told me that all his uniforms that he had after the war went to Israel when Israel was fighting the war. In Brooklyn they took your uniforms and sent them abroad. No, they all were in Service.
Interviewer: You had mentioned that you felt a real connection to what became Israel when you were in a youth group. Do you want to talk about your connection to Israel and where it has led you over the years?
Grail: Well obviously from the family I was raised with, you understand that Israel was an important factor. I don’t even remember how I got into Hashomer Hadati, I mentioned that before. That was a very religious youth organization in the Borough Park area and it was to kind of teach you and train you to go to Palestine, way before there was an Israel. For us and many of the Jewish girls and guys it was a social club. I mean s that’s why we went, met other Jewish boys or other Jewish girls. It was how we did things. I participated in shul. I participated in organizations. It enveloped me. That was my life.
Interviewer: I know you’ve been active in Hadassah here and I remember seeing a picture of you and Merry Lynn Lincove in Israel not too long ago.
Grail: Well, my mother was a Hadassah member so that wasn’t very difficult to join Hadassah but I did join National Council of Jewish Women first because National Council was right here in America and we had to fight for so many things that were important to the young Jewish leaders of our city. Then, of course, I joined Hadassah and I was so lucky to go to the hundredth anniversary of Hadassah in Israel just about three years ago. It was just a joy to be a participant of that.
Interviewer: That’s wonderful. Was that the only time you went or have you been before?
Grail: Three times, I went with my second husband, with Albert, that was my first trip. That was wonderful. I didn’t know too much about, you know, going to Israel but I did, right here from Columbus, Ohio. I went with a Jewish organization here and then I went again with Fred and we looked up family by this time, we had family there. Fred and I went. Then I went again when I went to the hundredth anniversary of Hadassah. It was wonderful.
Interviewer: That is because quite a few of us in Hadassah had talked about going and then you and Merry Lynn were the only ones who actually acted on that.
Grail: Merry Lynn said I need someone to go with. I said aha here I am. So she and I…. and she met my family in Israel. I met her family in Israel. We slept with her family, wonderful, just wonderful.
Interviewer: I wanted to ask, you mentioned you had these affiliations with National Council of Jewish Women and also Hadassah. What have been the highlights of your involvement with these groups?
Grail: Just those two you mean or all the other groups?
Interviewer: First the Jewish groups and then some of the others, too, because I know you’ve been involved in the arts and music.
Grail: Well it was always important for me to be part of Jewish organizations. That was one part of my life. Of course, I have many others but that was important. I was brought up that way. When my mother was young, she was the head of her Sisterhood. I remember, even though she came from Europe, English speaking, she wrote her minutes in Yiddish. My mother was an inspiration. Anyway belonging to Hadassah and belonging to National Council, that was my Jewish part of my interests but I had many others.
Interviewer: Tell about your others.
Grail: Now, part of my life that is so busy is my being a docent at the Columbus Museum of Art. It is almost 20 years. This year is my 20th anniversary. I can hardly believe it. I’m not an artist. I never took a class in high school or college in art. My first husband was an artist. My sister-in-law was a graduate of Cooper Union. I lived among people who knew art when I didn’t even know what they were talking about so it enveloped my life. When I retired, I retired to become a docent of the Columbus Museum of Art. I’m so proud of it, what they have accomplished and what I’ve learned. That’s just one of the things I have participated in. My mother, my husband unfortunately passed away at Wexner Heritage but I have been an officer and president of Wexner Heritage. I am currently on the Board so that’s a big part. I have been a member of the Jewish Center for 50 years. It’s always very important for me too. I have been involved in Columbus Symphony. I was treasurer for about eight years for WACSA, Women Associated With the Columbus Symphony (Association). I’ve been a member for the last 30 years of Chamber Music of Columbus.
Interviewer: You mentioned to me your activity at Tifereth Israel and that continues, doesn’t it?
Grail: Well I’m on the Board of Sisterhood and I’m the Welfare Chairman. I’m the one who sends out to everybody congratulatory notes or sometimes sympathy notes. A little job, but it keeps me involved with Sisterhood, which I like.
Interviewer: Absolutely. You’ve been on the Bima?
Grail: I’ve been on the Bima ever since I belonged to Tifereth and I have celebrated many birthdays by davening Torah. I have to study hard. You know girls didn’t do that when I was growing up. I do know how to read but I never did Torah. Now I work hard at doing Torah. I’ve done it at many major birthdays. Hopefully this year, my big 85, I’m going to do Torah again.
Interviewer: Your hobbies and interests have they evolved mainly around the organizations?
Grail: Music, art, dance, besides children, grandchildren and all my step children and grandchildren, that’s primarily my interest. Then you know when you belong you do a little bit, a book club here, a book club there, but basically its the music and the arts that are my interest.
Interviewer: Do you see a difference in the sense of community when and where you grew up compared to the Columbus community during your life here, or not?
Grail: Columbus is a wonderful place to live and I love living here. I loved being Jewish here. I loved our synagogue. I told you I belonged to many. I loved the community and the JCC. Its been a great place for me but I had a wonderful life in Borough Park so I can’t even say which is better or which is worse. They were all very good for me.
Interviewer: Good, well you sound like somebody that would be happy just about anywhere. You have a zest for life.
Grail: Thank you.
Interviewer: What kinds of life messages and wisdom would you give to your children, grandchildren and great grandchildren?
Grail: Well that’s a hard one. For me its believe in G-d. No one had to teach me. I never even thought anybody didn’t believe in G-d. I believed in G-d. Its comforting to me. Things have not always been easy. Things have not always been good. I always pray that things would get better and they do. I always pray that tomorrow will be sunny and shinier and they do. You take some of the disadvantages that come but you have hopes and desires. I hope that I can really pass that on to my children and grandchildren. Keep learning. Enjoy music. I have children in theatre. They work hard at those things. Interest in what’s happening in the world. Hope maybe they got a little bit of that from me. I don’t know. Those are the things that interest me. I listen to a lot of PBS. Without them I wouldn’t know what to do. It keeps me into the world, into what’s happening in the way of arts. You’ve got to support them, its wonderful.
Interviewer: I agree. Is there anything else that you would like to say that hasn’t been asked?
Grail: I want to tell you how did I get involved in music. I want to tell you that we lived in a little apartment in New York. That means five of us. Grandmamma slept in the same bed. My brother slept in the bed after us. I always liked music. We didn’t have a piano, didn’t have money for such a thing. The next-door neighbor, when I must have been about seven, liked me and she said to me would you like to learn how to play piano. I said yes, I don’t have a piano. She said you can come to me every single day and I will teach you how to play piano. So every day I went next door, knocked on her door, and played, I think it was the little red book or something that we had at the time, and I learned how to play piano. After a few months she informed me that she was pregnant and that she no longer could do that. I was mad at her. Today I am no longer mad at her. I thank her because I could read music and I can play, I don’t mean well because I never had good lessons. One of the first things I bought for my children was a second-hand piano. They didn’t know how badly I played and I taught my children, my two girls, how to play. My son could play by ear and he could play. He had a clarinet. My two girls could play piano and they have since bought pianos for their children. That was something that I remember this lady all my life who gave me this opportunity to read music.
Interviewer: That’s a great story. Do you have any historical records or mementoes that you would consider giving to the Columbus Jewish Historical Society?
Grail: A little bit later, I do have some things. They’re still on my wall, maybe at some point I would.
Interviewer: I want to thank you so much.
Grail: I want to thank you, too, for giving me the opportunity to even think about my good life here in Columbus and with all my wonderful friends and participants in my life.
Interviewer: That is wonderful and this concludes my interview. Thank you.
Transcribed by Rose Luttinger