This interview of Helen Lasky was conducted at Heritage House in Columbus
on October 13, 1983 for the Columbus Jewish Historical Society Oral History
Project. The interviewer is Marjorie Loeb.
Mrs. Lasky was a musician who moved to Zanesville, Ohio when her husband
established a medical practice there. She was active in music circles and
the Reform Congregation there. She speaks also of her children and grandchildren.
Interviewer: Would you tell me your name, please?
Lasky: Helen Gottlieb Lasky.
Interviewer: And where were you born?
Lasky: In Buffalo, New York.
Interviewer: And your date of birth?
Interviewer: Could you tell me a little about your family background?
Lasky: I’m one of three children. I have two brothers. My mother was
born – my father was born in New York, my mother came over from Russia. They
lived in Buffalo, New York where my father was in business and they moved to
Erie, Pennsylvania, where I was brought up and my younger brother was born.
Interviewer: And your father was the vice president of what company?
Lasky: The Standard Manufacturing Company.
Interviewer: And what did they manufacture?
Lasky: They made pants.
Interviewer: They made pants. And at what time did you come to Columbus?
Lasky: In 1931.
Interviewer: And you lived here for a long time.
Lasky: Oh, no, for eight months until I was married.
Interviewer: You met your husband in Columbus.
Lasky: My husband was interning at Starling – Loving Hospital. I think it’s…what is it now?
Interviewer: Probably University.
Lasky: I think. He interned there. I met him and we got married and moved
to Zanesville. Zanesville, at the time had two Jewish populations – the
Reform and the Orthodox. I think the Reform, no the Orthodox, probably had a
hundred members and the Reform had between 20 and 50. The Orthodox had a
steady rabbi, but the Reform had – well, Rabbi Tarshish came in I think
about once every two weeks and after he left we had a student from
Cincinnati that came every two weeks.
Interviewer: When you were growing up, did your family observe the
Lasky: Well they observed, but then in a Reform manner, of course, Rosh
Hashana and Yom Kippur. But I certainly didn’t know about all of the
holidays that I’ve learned since I’ve been here.
Interviewer: Did you grow up in a predominately Jewish environment when
you were a youngster?
Lasky: My friends were mostly Jewish children like I was, but, yes, I
think at that time it was predominantly Jewish people. After I got older, of
course, it seemed we just mixed.
Interviewer: When you were going to school, did you have any plan of
going into a profession? I know you’re a musician. Had you planned for a
long time about…tell me about your musical education.
Lasky: Well, of course I studied in Erie. At the time there were two
Frenchmen there who ran a conservatory and then, of course, I went to
Syracuse University to continue. My dad wanted me to go to Eastman, and I
thought maybe I wouldn’t have as many dates at Eastman, so Syracuse
sounded better to me. And then I went back to Erie and was fortunate enough
to find a wonderful teacher there, a man who had been associated with the
New England Conservatory, and I studied with him then, until I came to
Columbus and got married.
Interviewer: What was his name?
Lasky: Frederick Chronis.
Interviewer: After you were married you continued your musical training,
did you not?
Lasky: No, no. After I was married and we moved to Zanesville, where
Lester had his office, he took the office over from Leo Levi, whose father
was one of the owners of Star’s, a department store in Zanesville. Morrie
Hirsch and Levi were partners there.
Interviewer: Was this a department store, you said?
Lasky: After a fashion. A general store. So I was in doctor’s office
for about four years until – I was in his office until I got pregnant and
had a baby, and then, of course, I wasn’t. I did some teaching there, I
did quite a bit of playing.
Interviewer: Did you continue to play throughout your residency in
Lasky: Yes, and at the time we found oh, what shall I say, an awareness
of Jewish or Gentile and I suppose possibly because Doctor, and as a doctor,
and there were very few Jewish doctors but he was well regarded, and our
friends were mostly doctors and wives, or musicians, of…and, of course the
members of the Reform congregation…
Interviewer: You continued, though, to observe the major holidays at
Lasky: Oh, surely! And as I said, the student rabbis came and conducted
services, especially for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
Interviewer: Well, tell me more about your life in Zanesville. I think
you said that you were…had lots of free time, that you were more or less
not – I suppose you had the life of a wife of a professional person, and…
Lasky: That’s right! I had no demands on me, I was a wife, and I ran
my house, and I had two children, and…
Interviewer: Oh, tell me about your children. How were they educated and
what are they doing?
Lasky: Well, David is a lawyer here in Columbus. He’s married to, I
guess Marjorie and they have two boys one of whom was confirmed, and they
belong to Agudas Achim and Joel, the oldest one, has been confirmed two or
three years, he’s fifteen and Ben will be confirmed this fall.
Interviewer: Is that confirmed or Bar Mitzvah?
Lasky: Oh, Bar Mitzvah is right. They both attended Torah Academy until…
I guess it only goes to the eighth grade or seventh grade. Now they’re at
Bexley High. They’re both very bright boys. Very bright.
Interviewer: And your daughter?
Lasky: She’s married to a…she’s a graduate of Smith College and
married to a Brown graduate in Boston and they have three children. One
girl, Mary Ellen, and two boys Richard and Johnnie. And Richard became
interested in archaeology and he’s now in Africa on the dig from which he
gets, of course, college credit from the University of Connecticut. And the
younger boy is a bicyclist, and he just got back from a bicycle trip in
Switzerland with a bicycle and he did go to France. He’s 15, too. And the
girl is a graduate of Brown and is now selling clothes and I understand she’s
well on the way to being a manager of a store.
Interviewer: I think that’s a wonderful family you have.
Lasky: They’re all so active, and involved in…they all have so many
interests which makes them interesting. So Ruth, as I told you, was a
graduate of Smith, and since then she has her Master’s in Library Science
and is librarian of a private boy’s school just outside of Boston.
Interviewer: You say you’ve traveled with Doctor. Was it professional
trips, or just for your…
Lasky: Mostly just for ourselves, I can’t even remember all the places
we’ve been. We’ve been to the West Indies and Europe and Caribbean…you
know…we did quite a bit of traveling, just because we wanted to go. Now we
did go to some medical meetings, like in San Francisco, New York, we were
there for – I think – was that Spain? But, I’m ashamed to say it, but I
don’t know too much about any of it.
I did make notes and had a little book, you know, and since we broke up
our home I don’t know where to keep them. I mean I don’t know where I lost my
stuff. I…and you know, this Aunt Mollie that I told you about, that was a
buyer…a jewelry buyer for Macys…in New York…she sent me, oh, I don’t
know how much costume jewelry and I don’t know just what…you know she
wrote me a note and she said, “These are all real stones,” so I
don’t know what that meant.
Interviewer: Probably semi-precious.
Lasky: That’s it! It wasn’t like any gems that I was familiar with
and I think aesthetically it refers to…because, as I said, we don’t have
any of them here.
Interviewer: You have a very nice scrapbook that you showed me that
certainly indicated that you were very active in the Zanesville community,
particularly in the musical area.
Lasky: Yes, we were very active there when I was I think one time
president of the sisterhood there, and with our Reform Temple, we were
active you know, associated, and, of course, my brother, Harold Gottlieb…
Interviewer: Oh, yes.
Lasky: …came, after he graduated State, he came and he lived with us for
a while, and then went into a lawyers office in Zanesville. Now I
understand he has the biggest law office in Zanesville, and he married a
Springfield girl, Sylvia Klein. I don’t know much about…you know,
Interviewer: And your other brother?
Lasky: My other brother died a year ago and he was…I guess…with the
J. D. C. He was a fund raiser. He was a lawyer, too, but decided to go with
J. D. C. I guess he was a big man with J. D. C.
Interviewer: Where did he go to school?
Lasky: The University of Boston.
Interviewer: And he took his law degree there, at the college?
Lasky: Whatever I put into music, I got back. Much more. It not only gave
me the satisfaction of playing, but I met so many people, so many musicians
that I wouldn’t have known now. For instance, Rosa Ponselle, if you
remember her. I knew her accompanist very well, Stuart Ross. He used to come to me and,
of course, she came once to give a concert. Without music I wouldn’t know
any of these, you know.
And then the Frenchman who came and he sent me a
piano transcription of Kol Nidre when he got back. But he wasn’t a
pianist, and I thought it was horrible, really. I never really learned to
play it because it was so bad. But that is the sort of thing that music did
for me. It kept my interest up in people, and in what they were doing, but
then the one teacher I had in Erie when I was younger, was Henry Vincent,
and he conducted the area symphony.
And did you ever hear of Chatauqua? Well, he was the headmaster at
Chatauqua and I used to go to Chatauqua very often, and we would meet there.
He conducted the choir and the orchestra in Chatauqua. His family founded
Chatauqua, I remember. But anyway, I understand that he was dismissed
because he had been carrying on with a chorus girl.
Interviewer: You should have some tales about Zanesville.
Lasky: Oh, yes. Oh, I don’t. I was a proper married woman in
Zanesville! And Doctor was a hard-working doctor in Zanesville. I really
have no tales. We had a very nice life in Zanesville, and I think we
certainly weren’t aware of any resentment because we were Jewish. Thank
Doctor, I thank the teaching staff at the hospitals really, it was a very
Interviewer: Do you think you would have liked life as an artist?
Lasky: No, I don’t think so. I like the simple life, you know. I liked
having children, and I liked being married to Doctor and I liked what I did
professionally. You saw it kept on to some extent.
Interviewer: I mean as a Bohemian artist, not as an artist, because you
always have been an artist, but you understand what I mean by that.
Lasky: I don’t think I ever was a Bohemian. I think I was brought up
too good, and you know, to be a bohemian…
Interviewer: You were an observer and were surprised.
Lasky: I knew these people were doing things, but it didn’t affect me
in any way. Do you edit this?
Interviewer: No, I just stopped this when you told me that story, because
you didn’t want to mention names. If there’s anything you didn’t want,
tell me, and at that point I just stopped it.
Lasky: You don’t know Harold Gottlieb, my brother, at all?
Interviewer: I’m trying to think. I was in school about that time. I
was at Ohio State from about the Fall of ’28 for the next two school
years, so I left in ’30.
Lasky: I think he was there in the ’30s, maybe in ’28.
Interviewer: Was he a fraternity man?
Lasky: No. She (sister-in-law Sylvia Klein?) was S. D. T. (Sigma Delta
Tau, a sorority of Jewish women). You might have remembered her, but Harold wasn’t a fraternity man.
Interviewer: The name is very familiar, but I don’t remember them.
Lasky: Well, she comes from Springfield. Isn’t this as yet to be? You
know who it was, the poet?
Lasky: That’s right. I’m perfectly willing to grow old. Older. I can’t say it’s the
best. We have quite a few of Lester’s diplomas up in his room. He went to
the University of Alabama, but he got his degree from West Virginia and then
he went to…what is the one in Philadelphia? Jefferson. He got his
medical degree from Jefferson, and then he came here and entered the
Interviewer: You were saying about the diplomas. He has the diplomas in
Lasky: Yeah. Quite a few of them. If you want to go up one, we can go and
take a look at them.
Interviewer: I’d love to.
Lasky: All right.
This concludes the interview of Helen Lasky by Marjorie Loeb for the
Columbus Jewish Historical Society Oral History Project.