This interview for the Columbus Jewish Historical Society is being recorded on November 21, 2016 as part of the Columbus Jewish Historical Society Oral History Project. The interview is being recorded at Congregation Beth Tikvah, 6121 Olentangy River Road, Worthington, Ohio. My name is Abbey Goldbaum and I’m interviewing Helena Schlam.
Interviewer: What is your full name?
Schlam: My full name, according to the IRS, is Helena Frenkil Schlam.
Interviewer: What is your Hebrew name and who were you named for?
Schlam: I was named for my father’s mother which is Rivka. I was also named for my mother’s sister, Helen, Chaya. When I went to Israel, I knew I was Rivka. I wasn’t aware of the Chaya, so I took the name Elana which was the closest to Helena and I liked it because it meant a girl tree. I feel in Hebrew that I’m Elana, but on my tombstone I guess I’ll be Rivka Chaya.
Interviewer: How far back can you trace your family?
Schlam: Well, I can trace my family on my father’s side back to 1800 in Palestine. On my mother’s side I can trace my family back to 1854.
Interviewer: What can you tell us about your grandparents?
Schlam: I never knew my grandparents, but I can tell you that my grandfather, Gershon Kraus Frenkil, was brought to Palestine by his grandfather because his father had died and his mother had remarried. While he was in Palestine, he married my grandmother, Rivka Barzel. Her family had come to Palestine in the early 1800s. They took the name Barzel which means steel and it is an acronym for Baneem Shel Rav Zalman Lieb. The family is an old family. My grandfather came to Safed and studied at a Yeshiva and married my grandmother. My father and my uncle Izzie, my father was Mordecai and Izzie was Yisrael, they were born in Safed, and in 1907 it was a very bad year economically. My great-grandfather who I guess was supporting them, in other words my grandmother’s father, told my grandfather you’d better support your family, so he went to America and he ended up in Texas in 1907.
Interviewer: Did he enter Galveston?
Schlam: He did. He did enter in Galveston. I know from my father that he worked on the docks and that he interacted with Rabbi Cohen. The work was too hard. He managed, I guess he had some money to get a horse and wagon and he peddled. He sold groceries, fruits and vegetables, I guess not really groceries. He settled in Hempstead, Texas which is 50 miles northwest of Houston. In those days, in 1907, Houston was not a big city and Hempstead was not a big city. If he had settled with his groceries and opened a grocery store in Houston, it would have been a different story, but he opened a grocery store in Hempstead, Texas. After he died, or even before he died, my father was working in the grocery store with him. As I grew up that was the family business. My father did not marry until both his parents were dead. My mother worked in the grocery store. I’m getting way ahead of the story, but I at least gave you the background of my grandfather. My grandmother, Rivka, who did not manage to come to Texas until 1920, I don’t think ever adjusted as far as I know. She unfortunately ended up in a mental institution in Austin, Texas where she died. Those are my grandparents on my father’s side.
Interviewer: Before they went to Palestine, where did they live?
Schlam: Poland. I have to look up the name because I don’t remember.
Interviewer: Your parents’ names and where were they born?
Schlam: Shall I give you my grandparents on my mother’s side first? My grandparents on my mother’s side, I don’t know if they were born there, but they lived in Demblin, Poland. My grandmother was Rachel Hochman Dua. My grandfather, Julius Leon Dua, came to America in 1914. The story was, in the family, that my grandmother did not want him to go to America. One day he just did not come home from work but went to America where there was family in Charleston, South Carolina. He went there, and it must have been just before the Jewish holidays because he was on his way to California for the Jewish holidays. He stopped in Houston, Texas and he never left there. He left my grandmother, Rachel, with three daughters. There was Helen, after whom I’m named, and Gussie and Bella, my mother. In 1928 he came back to Poland to get my grandmother and Gussie and Bella, my mother. Helen, the oldest daughter, was getting married, which is why he came back. There was a big wedding. She got married to somebody named Yom Tov. They had one daughter and then she died in childbirth with a second child. This was before the war because I was born in 1942, and I am named after her. My grandmother, Rachel, came to America in 1928, not a very good year to come to America, with my mother, Bella, who was born in 1914 so she was about 14 years old, and her sister, Gussie. They went to night school. My mother never graduated from high school. She got a job in Foleys which was the equivalent of Lazarus here. She met my father at a wedding, a Jewish wedding. (My grandmother and grandfather lost almost all of their very large family during the Holocaust. When my mother came to the United States in 1928, she left many aunts, uncles and cousins in Poland. Only one uncle and his son survived the concentration camps. An American soldier sent a postcard to my grandmother on behalf of her brother, my Uncle Hershel, and that connection led to my family being able to bring him and his son Stanley, his wife Rose, and baby Lewis to Texas in 1948. They arrived in time for the Passover Seder, and I will always remember what that meant to my family. It remains imprinted on my Jewish identity even today.)
That gives you the grandparents on my mother’s side but what you also want to know is about my father and how he got to America, which is also a long and involved story but very interesting. Gershon Kraus with his peddling did fine and opened a grocery store in Hempstead, Texas. In those days there was a little synagogue there. By the time I was born there was no synagogue. There were five Jewish families in Hempstead, Texas which formerly was known as Six Shooter Junction. That describes its reputation. My father and his younger brother and my grandmother were on their way to America in 1914 but they did not come straight to America. My grandfather had gotten American citizenship and had sent them the tickets to come over. They first went to Hungary to meet the family which I guess they had never met because they were married in Palestine. 1914 is the year that WWI broke out, so they were stranded in, I think, Vienna. That’s the way my father told the story. He was a young boy, but he was the head of the family. They were in displaced persons camps because Austria-Hungary was the enemy, so they ended up having a hard time, but they survived. I don’t know if they ever met the family of my grandfather, if they made it, or anything about that. My father never knew. I’m guessing they didn’t. They had to go back to Palestine before they could come to America. They did do that, and, by the way, they spoke Yiddish at home. My father had a Bar Mitzvah, but he did not speak Hebrew. This is Ottoman Palestine, not the British Palestine. They came to America and I did mention that my grandmother, Rivka, after whom I’m named, died in a mental institution. I think she never could adjust to living alone in Texas with five Jewish families, away from all her family that she lived with all her life. I don’t know what the story is, and my father never talked about it. All I have are the papers, her death certificate. I think my grandfather adjusted to Texas life, that is on my father’s side. On my mother’s side, he did too but he didn’t do very well. He bought oil leases and no land that he bought struck oil. They had a hard time. They belonged to, I guess it was an Orthodox synagogue that was right next door to my grandmother’s apartment. I remember that very well. My grandfather on my mother’s side died young and I was I think about 18 months old, so I never really knew him either. I knew my grandmother, Rachel, very well and I used to go visit her as a little girl. She made my dresses. She was a good seamstress and she was a great cook. We had a small, but close, family because my mother’s sister, Gussie, who came over, was living in Houston also and she had two daughters and they were really like my sisters.
Interviewer: What were your parents’ names and where were they born?
Schlam: My father was Max, or Mordecai Frenkil and he was born in Tzfat or Safed. My mother was born, not in Demblin she told me, but in Lodz, Poland. You want dates. My mother was born in 1914. There were two different dates, one her passport, and also on the day that she went by, but I go by 1914.
Interviewer: Your father was born in?
Schlam: In 1903, he was 71 when he died.
Interviewer: Where were you born, was it Hempstead?
Schlam: No, I was born in Houston. I grew up in Hempstead, Texas, population about 1500. In my graduating class from high school there were 17.
Interviewer: Were there still the five Jewish families or had it grown at all?
Schlam: No (it hadn’t grown). Yes there were. It’s quite interesting only the women spoke to each other. The men did not speak to each other. I gather that went back to some disagreement with my grandfather, but I’m not certain. There were the Schwartzs who owned, as they called it in Texas, a dry good store, a clothing store and my uncle, my father’s brother, another Frenkil, and there were the Steins who also owned a dry goods store. I said there were five, so I guess there were only really three names.
Interviewer: Your mother’s family?
Schlam: Was in Houston. There were two Steins and also one Schwartz who stayed and I mentioned that there was a synagogue. The Schwartz family had come earlier than my grandfather. Their family was from a Rabbi and he brought a Torah and that Torah was eventually given to Temple Emanuel in Houston, a Reform synagogue. I mention that because I always wondered why it was that my grandfather settled in Hempstead where there were so few Jews. Another interesting historical point is with the Jewish women. My mother belonged to a Jewish Ladies Aid Society. The women from all the little towns around, little towns like 25 or 30 miles away, would come once a month or once every two months, I don’t know, and they were the Jewish Ladies Aid Society. There were about 10 of them. They collected charity and they had a nice get-together. My mother would take out her best dishes and had coffee and dessert or whatever. I do remember that very well, the Jewish Ladies Aid Society.
Interviewer: Are there still Jews in Hempstead?
Schlam: Mrs. Schwartz is still there, and her son runs, it was a dry goods hardware store. That’s all that’s there. There is a Jewish cemetery. It’s called The Hebrew Cemetery and there are tombstones in it that go back to about 1880. When I was going to do my master’s thesis, I’m jumping ahead, I was going to write it on Hempstead because I was advised by the two medieval historians at Ohio State to do something with original sources. When I found out that the history of the Jews in Texas was non-existent, there were three little articles that had been written by this Rabbi Cohen in Galveston in the early 1900s and they weren’t very historically rigorous, I ended up writing on the early Jews of Houston from the beginning of the foundation of Houston, 1836, and I only got to 1860 because it was enough for a Master’s thesis. I did look into the cemetery in Hempstead and there was a cemetery in Brenham, a town about 25 miles away, also an older, a larger Jewish community there. Somebody needs to do that history some day and I hope they will.
Interviewer: That would be good. Do you have any brothers or sisters?
Schlam: I do have one brother who is 13 years younger than I am. His name is Gerald Lee Frenkil and he’s known as Jerry. He lives in Concord, Massachusetts and he is an electrical engineer.
Interviewer: How did he get to Massachusetts from Texas?
Schlam: He went to the University of Texas and he designs computer elements. He’s a computer designer. His degree is in electrical engineering. I remember I advised him to do what he loved which was theatre. It’s a good thing he didn’t take my advice. He worked for Texas Instruments, I think, no, in Dallas, and then he got a job in the Boston area. I’m not remembering what the first company was and then he just stayed.
Interviewer: What were the occupations of your parents?
Schlam: They both worked in the grocery store six days a week. We did not keep Shabbat. On Sunday they drove me to Houston to go to Sunday School. I did have a Jewish education and belonged to a Conservative synagogue, Beth Yeshurun, which is the largest in the Southwest, still there and growing all the time. That was in Houston.
Interviewer: Do you know how many families they have now at this synagogue?
Schlam: The largest in the Southwest, several thousand, I don’t know exactly.
Interviewer: Do you keep in touch with anyone from Texas?
Schlam: The two cousins that I mentioned still belong there. My mother belonged. I used to go for the High Holy Days and go to the services there. It’s rather interesting, before she could get a ticket for me, they had to write a letter from Agudas Achim saying that I was a member in good standing. She couldn’t get a ticket for me to go to the services on the High Holidays.
Interviewer: Even with the Reform, I always took a letter or sent a letter because a lot of places don’t sell tickets or even open it up like Beth Tikvah. (Rose) I know we didn’t have the letter in England and we had to pay to get in the synagogue.
Schlam: So, it’s not so unusual. My mother died, it was just seven years ago. She died just before Rosh Hashana. I was there for those High Holidays.
Interviewer: Did she die in Hempstead?
Schlam: She did. The Rabbi came and performed her funeral in Hempstead and she’s buried, as all my family is, in Hempstead, in that Jewish cemetery.
Interviewer: You’ve answered the questions about your parents’ affiliation with the synagogue and the Ladies Aid Society, what about the general community, did they have any affiliations with groups?
Schlam: That’s interesting, my mother was part of a, like a book club, with other women. One woman would give a review of a book. She also, I remember, was the President of the Business and Professional Women’s Club. I think she was also the President of the PTA, remember I was the only Jew in the school. My cousins were in Houston. My mother did okay for herself in the community. My father was not social in that way. I would say he didn’t really have men friends that weren’t Jewish the way my mother had woman friends that weren’t Jewish.
Interviewer: What ways were you connected to the Jewish community when you were growing up? I suppose that would be both the Hempstead Jewish community and the Houston Jewish community.
Schlam: I obviously knew all the Jewish women. I knew the Jewish men too, a little bit. I knew who they were.
Interviewer: Did the women have children?
Schlam: They did have children. In fact, it’s interesting, the Steins had a son named James who was my age. His father actually was the President of the School Board, but they sent him off to a military academy. James was a little bit of a problem. The Schwartz’s kids were my brother’s age. My uncle had one daughter and she was ten years older than I and I looked up to her as a sister. In Houston I went to Sunday School but I, of course, was an outsider. We were close with the family and we always spent every Sunday with my grandmother and with my aunt and the two cousins I mentioned. When I got to be a teenager, I did join BBG and get involved socially with the Jewish community. It was a problem because my parents did not want me to date non-Jewish boys.
Interviewer: You described your background and your education. Were you ever confirmed. Did they have confirmation?
Schlam: They did have Confirmation and I was confirmed. I must tell the story because I think it’s an important one. My uncle on my mother’s side, my uncle Isaac, knew his Hebrew very well because he had been in a Yeshiva in Poland. I wasn’t a good Hebrew student. To be confirmed I needed to pass a Hebrew test and I flunked. They said to me you can’t be confirmed unless you promise that you will learn Hebrew. I promised but I had no real intention of doing it. When I went to Israel, which will come up eventually, I didn’t go because I wanted to learn Hebrew or because I was interested in Hebrew, I was interested in the Kibbutz and what Israel represented. Somehow, I got hooked into Hebrew as a language and I guess I feel, as a Hebrew teacher, that I have more empathy than most because I did not excel at learning Hebrew.
Interviewer: Me neither, although I worked at it and finally had a B’nai Mitzvah which is a wonderful thing.
Schlam: It’s a great language, it’s terrific.
Interviewer: Did you ever have a Bat Mitzvah?
Schlam: I had a Bat Mitzvah at Beth Tikvah. That was because of my husband, because of Carl. I did not feel very comfortable and I certainly didn’t feel comfortable reading from the Torah. After I had been teaching for 13 years, he suggested that I have a Bat Mitzvah and so I read from the Torah. I just remember that it was because he cooked that up with Rabbi Huber and so I was sort of trapped. It was a long time ago.
Interviewer: Was it before or after Tanya had her Bat Mitzvah?
Schlam: No, it was before, was Tanya even born? She had to be born. I don’t even remember. I remember the Torah portion was “Choose Life.” I remember that. I remember that I was very, very, very nervous about it. How can I not remember that? I don’t know at what stage that was visa vie Tanya. I’ll have to look it up.
Interviewer: That would help you place when you had it done. We were all at Tanya’s Bat Mitzvah.
Schlam: I don’t think we even invited anybody. It was just a regular Shabbat. We didn’t make a big deal about it. I read from the Torah, that’s all it was. I read from the Torah, so maybe it wasn’t a Bat Mitzvah, I don’t know.
Interviewer: (Rose) That’s what a Bat Mitzvah is.
Schlam: It is the first time I read from the Torah.
Interviewer: Your uncle would be proud.
Schlam: Yes, and he was not alive, I know that. Part of it for me was, I don’t sing well, I don’t carry a tune and I did not learn how to chant. I read it.
Interviewer: Some people still do that.
Schlam: It was important, and it was really a nice thing that Carl did for me. I guess he was trying to get me to be more secure.
Interviewer: Where did you attend elementary and middle school?
Schlam: In this little school in Hempstead, Texas. There was one elementary school. It was all together the elementary, the middle, and the high school.
Interviewer: What was the name of it?
Schlam: It was Hempstead elementary school, Hempstead middle school and Hempstead high school. We were the Hempstead Bobcats. I also was a cheerleader for three years despite the fact that my grandmother said it was not appropriate for a Jewish girl. I did not wear a short skirt. I wore a long skirt. That was the uniform. I don’t know why it wasn’t appropriate for a Jewish girl, but she was unhappy about that.
Interviewer: Besides cheerleading, were you involved in other activities?
Schlam: In School? They had something called Interscholastic League. It was a competition and you did it in the district and in the region, then you went to the state. It was important for me because I went to state in “Ready Writing.” I did not win but I got a scholarship. “Ready Writing,” they gave you five topics, I think, and you could choose one. You had to write for three hours on the topic. I also did “Slide Rule” and I didn’t do quite as well in “Slide Rule.” I don’t remember if I actually got to regional or not. It was important because my school was so little. I did have four years of Math, but I never took Physics, nor did I in college. That is a big hole in my understanding of the world which I have not managed to repair. Also, I took Spanish which was the first year that they offered it. I did take three years of Spanish and, I guess, I was either first or second in my class at graduation and the speech I gave told them that, I remember that very well, they needed to learn Spanish because we lived in Texas, it would solve the border problems. My best friend won the other award. There was a valedictorian and a salutatorian, that was true for middle school too. The truth is we were only two of maybe four serious students. It was not a very rigorous school.
Interviewer: You got a scholarship to the University of Texas, right?
Interviewer: What was that like, going from a small community to the University of Texas which nowadays is very large?
Schlam: It was large then too, but it was only 20,000, today it’s over 40,000. The most important thing for me was to get in the Jewish sorority so I could be among Jews. I did, I was in Alpha Epsilon Phi and, low and behold, they elected me the President of the Pledge Class which was something that shocked me a lot. They did that, I believe, because I was in the Honors Program and they weren’t such serious students and they thought I would raise the grade point average. That’s my theory. I ended up, lots of memories, I ended up, because it was AEPhi’s turn, and they took turns for who was going to be the President of the Pan-Hellenic Council, so I was the President of Pan-Hellenic Council in my senior year, representing all the sororities. By that time, I thought sororities were awful, so it was a problem for me. It was a difficult time, but I did very well in the Jewish community. I managed okay.
Interviewer: Why did you think they were awful? I think I know generally why most people think they’re awful.
Schlam: They were really nice women, nice young women, and I had a good time with them. They weren’t really that interested in studying. It seemed like they were mostly there to get their MRS degree and I flunked that. I was caught up in the Jewish social life. It was very intense. There were three sororities and four fraternities, and they were only Jewish then. I think that’s still the case with AEPhi, not all over the country, but in Texas that is the case. My Honors Program was wonderful. My good, good friends that I made and that I still have were from the Honors Program. It was called “Plan Two” which I’m sure I couldn’t get into today. It’s quite competitive now. It was just starting out and was very early then. When I went to the University of Texas I only took the entrance exam for the University of Texas. I don’t think there were SATS. I don’t know, but I know that was my only option of where to go and I was happy there.
Interviewer: Did you continue the cheerleading?
Schlam: No. I guess I got more interested in my studies. I didn’t get the most I could have out of the university because I was too caught up in the whole social element and too caught up with all that business with the sorority. I certainly must have learned a lot from doing that, interacting with all those non-Jewish sororities and all of that. I was a B student. I could have been better but I just didn’t devote enough time to studying.
Interviewer: You must have kept your scholarship.
Schlam: The scholarship was only for the first year. It was unbelievably cheap. I think it was $100 a semester. That was a big issue though because my father was not eager for me to go to college. He told me I needed to go to Business School so that I would be able to support myself when I was a widow.
Interviewer: What did you major in?
Schlam: I majored in Humanities which was this “Plan Two” Honors Program but I had enough hours in what they called Government which here is Political Science and a minor in History. When I did my Masters, I did it in History.
Interviewer: Did you do that right away? Did you work right after college?
Schlam: After college, I had my degree in Humanities which I didn’t know what to do with. I took a lot of Spanish. All my friends, but not from the sorority, applied to the which was quite new and went off into the. The Summer of my Junior year I had applied to a Civil Rights Conference that was held at Indiana University, my first time to get out of Texas which was one of my goals, and it was my first time on an airplane. I went to Bloomington. Early on, maybe the second day, we had a picnic and a baseball game. A little skinny black guy from Alabama slid into home plate where I was standing, playing catcher, where I shouldn’t have been standing, and I fell and broke my leg. As a result of that, I had a pretty serious complication because I ended up with a fat embolism and I was in the hospital for six weeks in Bloomington, Indiana. They told me, when I was in such bad shape and they tied my hands down because I was violent, that I called the nurses Nazi pigs, no, Nazi swine. That is important in my life story because I did not get accepted to the because of the injury. I was on crutches my whole senior year in college. They said I couldn’t physically handle it. All my friends went on to the. I was going to try to go to California and teach Spanish and it was 1964, remember my father had family in Israel and I had become interested in the Kibbutz. So, I guess I had sort of moved to the left already. I don’t know if I moved there or I was always there. I decided I wanted to live on a Kibbutz. Friends in Houston, good friends of the family, the Wolfs, were very active Zionists and they got me a ticket to Israel for a year. My father thought that was a great idea. My aunt, who was my grandmother’s half sister, met me when I landed in Israel and I went to a Kibbutz ulpan. That’s where I learned Hebrew.
Interviewer: Where was that?
Schlam: That was Kibbutz Gan Schmuel right outside Hadera. My aunt lived in Hadera which is on the coast between Tel Aviv and Haifa, mid-point.
Interviewer: Is it near Caesarea?
Schlam: Yes, very near. The Kibbutz is just inland. I really liked Israel and I really liked Hebrew. The ulpan was six months. I left after five months because I got myself a job in Jerusalem. I was working for something called Program for Scientific Translations. They were translating for the U. S. government. Remember this is 1965. They were using all these doctors from Hadassah that were from many different countries and they were reading drug digests that have articles published all over the world about toxic side effects of drugs and all kinds of things and getting these doctors at Hadassah to translate them into English and then bring them to the place where I was working. I worked as an editor. We published them for the U. S. Department of Health, I don’t remember which one. All I know is it was a good deal for the American government. It was a lot of expertise. I sort of interfaced with one doctor, in particular, at Hadassah who had lots of contacts.
Interviewer: (Rose) These were Israeli doctors who spoke English?
Schlam: No, they were doctors from Russia and from all over. They translated into English. I know I had to learn the Russian alphabet because of doing the proof reading. Maybe the translators were where I worked. I worked on the last part, getting it into good English form and I guess some of them really didn’t know English that well.
Interviewer: (Rose) Somebody translated it for them and then you got it to kind of go over it, polish it up.
Schlam: My parents, my father in particular, were not very happy when I decided that I wanted to stay another year in Israel. Then I applied with ZOA because my ticket was for only one year and I wanted them to pay for it if I stayed longer. I actually became a temporary resident which gave me certain privileges. I was thinking about making Aliyah. I left after two years. After the second year I gave up my job and I came back to America, to my family in Texas. One of my friends from the sorority had married and was living in New York, in Fort Lee, New Jersey. She said I could come live with her and get a job in New York. That’s what I did. I had wanted to work in publishing and that’s what I did. I got myself a job in New York in 1966. I was working for Oxford University Press, in the paperback department, doing proofreading and editing and back cover copy and that sort of thing. There was somebody else working there who introduced me to Carl. That’s how that happened. He had already accepted a job at Ohio State when I met him. We didn’t know each other a very long time before he asked me to marry him. We got married the next July, in Texas. Today, I probably would have just followed him to Columbus. I wouldn’t have done that in those days. That’s how I ended up in Columbus, in September of 1967. We got married in July. That was his first job and he did not yet have his PhD. That would never happen today of course. He finished in the first year and went to defend his dissertation, very interesting historically because that was 1968 and those were the riots at Columbia. The professors had to climb through the windows for his defense because the students were rioting, not rioting but demonstrating. He just barely got in under the wire.
Interviewer: Did he get it at Columbia or OSU?
Schlam: He was hired to be in the Classics Department at OSU.
Interviewer: Did he finish his PhD at OSU?
Schlam: No, he already had written part of his dissertation.
Interviewer: Where was he coming from?
Interviewer: From Columbia.
Interviewer: Did he grow up in New York?
Schlam: He did.
Interviewer: In the city?
Schlam: He grew up in the beginning in Brooklyn and then his family moved to Stuyvesant Town. I think he was still in Brooklyn when he went to Stuyvesant High School. I think he commuted to Stuyvesant High School. It had to be later because they got into Stuyvesant Town because his brother was in the Korean War.
Interviewer: Where was Stuyvesant Town?
Schlam: It’s First Avenue on the East Side.
Interviewer: It’s in New York?
Schlam: It’s in Manhattan but he grew up in Brooklyn.
Interviewer: So, it was one of these school where you took an exam to get in?
Schlam: Stuyvesant High School, yeah.
Interviewer: That was quite selective, probably.
Schlam: Yes. It’s funny about the Ohio connections because he had a scholarship to go to Oberlin and then his father had a heart attack, so he wasn’t able to and he went to Columbia. So (Columbia) was not his first choice.
Interviewer: Did he commute to Columbia?
Schlam: Yes, but he eventually got a place for himself. I hadn’t realized all these Ohio connections. He also, after he finished his Masters, he got a job at Case which was not with Western Reserve then. He was teaching Humanities. Then he went back and finished his PhD at Columbia. It took him a long time. I was 25 when we married, and he was 30.
Interviewer: I want to just backtrack for a moment and ask if there was a teacher who inspired you during school, during your educational experiences, please tell us about it. Was there, at all?
Schlam: I was thinking back to the University mostly. There was one teacher. I took a course in Middle Eastern History and I remember, thinking back to it, I sent him a wedding invitation. I guess I really liked him. The one who probably inspired me, he scared me to death, he was a very famous teacher, John Silber. He was one of the ones that was the head of or organized this Honors Program. I took a Philosophy class and he gave us all incompletes so we all went on scholastic probation. That was in my Sophomore year. He really is just pretty incredible. I guess the best story about Silber that I remember is; we came to class, and he said, “Betty Freidan spoke at the university last night. How many of you were there?” None of us were there. He said, “Why do you think you came to college? Don’t you know? She is important,” this is 1962. So, he said, “I’m not going to teach you,” and he walked off and left us there. We were all in a state of shock.
Interviewer: Did you know who she was?
Interviewer: It sounds like he was living in a bubble.
Schlam: He taught by intimidation. That’s what we decided. He was pretty influential. We still talk about him. I had a 50th Reunion at the University of Texas and I went back and, yes, we still talked about him.
Interviewer: Tell me when you got married and we (already) talked about Carl. Do you have children and what are their names and ages and where do they live?
Schlam: I got married on July 23, 1967 at Congregation Beth Yeshurun in Houston, Texas with Rabbi (Jack Segal). He’s still alive but he couldn’t do my mom’s funeral, I did talk to him there. He’s Rabbi Emeritis, at Beth Yeshurun, a Conservative synagogue. My daughter, Tanya, lives in Madison, Wisconsin. She is a Psychologist. She has an appointment in the Medical School. It’s in the Smoking Cessation Clinic, called CITRI. It’s part of the Medical School and she does research in smoking cessation. She is married. I wrote her name down as Jordan and Tanya Ellenberg. She did not take his name. Her husband’s name is Jordan Ellenberg and he is a Professor of Mathematics at the University of Wisconsin. They have two kids. Caleb is 11 and Anna is 6. Julia will turn 40 on December 22 of this year (2016) and I’m going to Israel to be there. Her name is Julia Schlam Salman. Her husband took her name, so he is now Nissim Schlam Salman, as are all her kids. Tanya’s kids are just Ellenberg. So, that shows you what’s happened between Betty Freidan and now.
Interviewer: She (Julia) has a bunch of children?
Schlam: She (Julia) has four now.
Interviewer: What are their names?
Schlam: There’s Coren, he’s the oldest, he is 7 and Ore, actually Ore Bella, named after my mom, she will be 6 on November 30. There is Omri and in September he was 3. Now there is Shachar and he was born August 12, 2016. Julia’s husband, Nissim Salman, was born in Israel. His family on his father’s side is from Iraq and his family on his mother’s side is from Libya. They all live in Israel now, in Afula. Julia lives in Jerusalem. She got a PhD from the Hebrew University in education and she was teaching at Yad B’Yad. It’s a school that has Israeli Palestinians, Israeli Jews, and a mixture of others. The classes all have a teacher who speaks Arabic and a teacher who speaks Hebrew and Julia teaches English. She teaches English as a third language. She didn’t teach there last year because she’s on a Post Doc and she’s still on it this year. She also works at David Yellin which is a teacher training college. She teaches teachers how to teach English as a third language. She actually has a number of Arab students as well as Jewish.
Interviewer: How did she decide to go to Israel? Did she go on a Kibbutz, an Ulpan?
Schlam: No. Her sister had applied after college and became a Dorot Fellow which meant spending a year in Israel. Her sister tried to get her to apply but Julia majored in religious education and she also went through a period of thinking she wanted to be a rabbi. The Dorot Fellowship is for young Jewish professionals to be leaders in the Jewish community in America and she didn’t think that she qualified. After college, she worked in Boston in something called The Jewish Organizing Initiative which was a kind of social work. She was very interested in social work, so she finally applied to Dorot and got accepted. The program is studying but it also involves doing a internship of some kind of activity in your field of interest and hers was in social work but then she met this Israeli and she decided to marry him. She started studying at Hebrew University, in the Melton Program, actually. It’s there at Hebrew University. She ended up doing a paper at this school, Yad B’ Yad, and working with a professor that she liked a lot. She worked with him and she eventually did her PhD in the Education Department but what she really wanted was social work. They didn’t accept her degree from America. She would have had to have gotten another bachelor’s degree in social work.
Interviewer: Where did she go to college?
Schlam: She went to Grinnell in Iowa.
Interviewer: Where did Tanya go?
Schlam: Tanya went to Yale and she got her PhD from Rutgers.
Interviewer: Tanya, as I recall, was quite a good actress.
Schlam: Tanya also got an MA in Theatre Education from NYU. She also did theatre. She was the theatre educator at the Heschel School in New York. That was after she got back from Israel because she did a Dorot Fellowship after she graduated from college. She ended up spending two years and Dorot allowed her to do that because she was there when Carl got sick and she came home. She came home when he was really ill. She came home in October and he died in December, 1993 and then she went back to Israel. She was there for two years with Dorot. She did theatre in Israel. Julia did social work but she (Tanya) did theatre. She worked with somebody named Joyce Kline and they did some interesting things. There’s interesting theatre in Israel.
Interviewer: What is your occupation and tell about your work experiences.
Schlam: I’m laughing, my occupation is an educator. I am still teaching Hebrew because I like to teach and to work with kids. As I said earlier, I always thought I wanted to work in publishing. Somebody said to me later in my life, “Why didn’t you ever think you could write your own books? Why did you want to edit somebody else’s books?” I never thought I could write my own books and I suppose that’s a generational thing, too. Maybe, maybe not. I was really excited and happy to have my job at Oxford University Press. I guess I had mixed feelings when I came to Columbus. My plan was to get another job in publishing. I knew about the Kenyon Review. In those days I also interviewed at Merrill Publishing and they offered me a job, but I also went and talked to the new Professor in Jewish History at Ohio State, Zvi Ankori. It was his second year, the second year of the Jewish History Program at Ohio State. That was a lot more exciting to me than the publishing job. They also, since Carl was a new faculty member, managed to give me the tuition waiver, not the waiver, but in-state tuition because we had just moved here. I also had just taken the GRE, so I had GRE scores. I got in like the same day I interviewed for the other job, but I started OSU and all I did was Jewish History and it took me a long time. I think it took me four years to get my Masters, I dragged it out. I also was in the first Hebrew class at OSU, no, no, the first Advanced Hebrew class.
Interviewer: Who taught that?
Schlam: That was Yacov Masheach. In that class there were about six or seven of us. We all had learned Hebrew orally first and we had a hard time reading. It was a tough class for us because we had lots of reading. I remember that very well. I took a lot of Hebrew at OSU.
Interviewer: Now, you worked for the Melton Center?
Schlam: The sequence is, the second year that I was at OSU I started teaching Hebrew for the Columbus Hebrew School. I was teaching only at Beth Tikvah which was up on Indianola. I taught there two days a week. We lived a block away, on Indianola. Then, after I got my Masters, Tanya was born, and I continued to teach Hebrew.
Interviewer: You lived on Indianola?
Schlam: Yes, in an apartment. When Tanya was born we bought the house on Erie. It (the apartment) was one block away from the old synagogue.
Interviewer: Was it (the apartment) near Walhalla?
Schlam: Yes, exactly, a one-bedroom apartment.
Interviewer: When did you join Beth Tikvah?
Schlam: That’s really interesting because I wasn’t a member of Beth Tikvah. We used to go to the High Holiday Services at Hillel when we went. Carl hated Yom Kippur, so we didn’t always go. Let me see, I’m trying to piece it together. I still had this idea about making Aliyah. Carl had never been to Israel. We went after we were married one year. We went and spent six weeks there. So, then we made some contacts and he got a job teaching at the University of Haifa when he had a Sabbatical in 1975-76. Tanya was four years old. We were not members of the synagogue. I was teaching Hebrew, but we were not members of the synagogue. When we came back Tanya was five years old and I had Julia. Maybe we were members before because I remember Carl marched when I was pregnant with Julia. He carried the Torahs from (Indianola to Olentangy River Rd. location), and I didn’t because I was pregnant. I don’t remember when we joined Beth Tikvah.
Interviewer: You were there before us. We joined in 1977.
Schlam: I thought we joined when we came back from Israel. After that year in Israel, I knew I didn’t want to live in Israel and it wasn’t going to work out. It wasn’t going to be okay. Carl knew that it wasn’t going to be okay either. So, I think we joined and I started teaching Hebrew on the East Side too. I was teaching Hebrew four days a week, not two days a week. Julia was born so I had baby sitters in the afternoon. I was teaching then until I became Principal of Kol Ami, 1985 to 1994. In 1983, I was the Principal of the Religious School here at Beth Tikvah, alone, just the Religious School. In 1984, when I became Principal of Kol Ami, I did both, the Religious School and Kol Ami. Then I was told that I couldn’t do both and they were right, but I didn’t recognize it. I started working in the Melton Center the Summer of 1994 because I left Kol Ami.
Interviewer: The Melton Center, you worked there until when?
Schlam: I worked there until May 2005, so I was there for 11 years.
Interviewer: That’s a long time. (Rose) Did Lori Fireman take your place?
Schlam: One year after me. They abolished my position and then they hired her and she is essentially doing a variation of what my position was. I was hired at that position, an interesting point, in terms of Columbus Jewish history. Sam Melton, just before he died, made an important contribution to the Melton Center at Ohio State, the Melton Center at the Jewish Theological Seminary, and the Melton Center at Hebrew University. There are three Melton Centers. That contribution was designated for the ‘Melton Coalition for Creative Interaction.’ That’s what it was called. The purpose of it was for the three Melton Centers to coordinate and work on programs together. That’s why I was hired because they needed a person to do that coordination. That had just happened then.
Interviewer: You were sort of on the ground floor.
Schlam: Of the Coalition. I don’t know what’s happened to it now. It was complicated as it is with big institutions. Ohio State is secular, Jewish Theological is not secular. Hebrew University is national. There were a lot of possibilities but a lot of complications.
Interviewer: The Melton Center, it’s called the Melton Center, there’s a program of two years that was given at the JCC.
Schlam: That is the Florence Melton Mini School. That is completely different. That was funded by Florence Melton, the widow of Sam Melton. Sam Melton was her second husband. She was an independent business woman and had her own money and her own ideas, very much so. Interestingly enough, I did some teaching in the Florence Melton Mini School for adult education and I liked that a lot. There haven’t been any classes for two years because it is not funded anymore here. It is still going on in other places in the United States. The funding got problematic. I’m sad because the courses that I was teaching, and it is interesting, were developed at the Hebrew University Melton Center. These curricula and a two-year course that you took, Rose, were all supported by Florence. What happened was that Florence, because the mini school had been so successful, got them to also develop new curricula at the Melton Center at Hebrew University. I taught one on American Jewish History and a couple of others. They called them graduate courses.
Interviewer: What was the occupation of your spouse?
Schlam: Carl was a Professor of Classics at Ohio State. He taught Greek and Latin but his specialty was Latin. He wrote about the second century author, Apuleius. His expertise was on the Metamorphosis of Apuleius, or the Golden Ass.
Interviewer: Did he serve in the military or Vista?
Interviewer: What has been your volunteer involvement and affiliations with the Jewish community?
Schlam: The Columbus Jewish Historical Society. With the Jewish community what else did I volunteer doing, (I acted in) Gallery Players. Yes, I didn’t consider that a volunteer thing but yes. I auditioned for it, they didn’t take me (without an audition). I also was on the Book Fair Committee for a while, J Street Board. When Carl’s mother was in Heritage House, I used to go over on Fridays. I didn’t have an official position. I used to go over and do a Friday afternoon story for them. I am leading a book group at Agudas Achim, a book club.
Interviewer: When did you move over to Agudas Achim?
Schlam: The year after Carl died. He died December 25, 1993. I grew up in a Conservative synagogue. It was Rabbi Ciner really, Rabbi Ciner was a big comfort to me.
Interviewer: He was quite a nice person as I recall. Your hobbies and interests?
Schlam: The theatre is a hobby or interest. I guess my main hobby is my grandkids. It seems that that’s my focus. I always wanted to be a writer, but I don’t write so easily so Dora Sterling has gotten me to do now some articles for Tikvah Topics. I’ve written two of them already for the “Elders of the Tribe.” I liked working at the Melton Center and doing some writing. I did some writing for the Chronicle and for the New Standard. I guess writing is a hobby.
Interviewer: What kinds of life messages or wisdom do you wish to give to your children and grandchildren?
Schlam: Oh my. “Above all to thy own self be true.”
Interviewer: Is there anything else you would like to say that hasn’t been asked?
Schlam: This is a very vibrant Jewish community and it has been a good place to live. My kids said to me after Carl died, you don’t have to live in Columbus anymore. Why don’t you move? I thought about it and I realized that Columbus is my home and I’ve lived in Columbus longer than I lived in Texas.
Interviewer: Do you possess any historical records or items that you would consider donating to the Columbus Jewish Historical Society?
Schlam: Yes, I have lots of things left over from Kol Ami that are still in my house so I will get them to the Historical Society. You know, class lists, teachers’ lists, etc.
Interviewer: Do you know that someone from the Historical Society will come to your house and help you.
Schlam: That would be nice.
Interviewer: I want to thank you so much for doing this interview and for contributing to the Oral History Project. On behalf of the Columbus Jewish Historical Society, thank you, and this concludes our interview.
(Words in parenthesis) Addendum by Helena Schlam