This is an interview with Herman M. Katz in Columbus, Ohio, November
Mr. Katz currently resides in North Miami Beach, Florida, although he
was a lifelong resident of Columbus, Ohio. The Interviewer is Renee Levine for the Columbus
Jewish Historical Society
The family of Herman Katz was living on Mound Street in Columbus when he was
born in 1903. In this interview, he details his business and personal
relationships with his brother-in-law, Sam Melton, and some challenges he faced
in executive positions he held during the early growth of the Columbus Jewish
Federation, Heritage House, the Jewish Center, Jewish Family Service, Hillel,
Congregation Tifereth Israel, The Jewish Theological Seminary, The American
Association Jewish Community for Jewish Education, and the National Council of
Jewish Federations and Welfare Funds.
Interviewer: Why don’t we start with your father and mother? Who
was your father?
Katz: My father’s name was Saul Katz. My mother’s name was Rose.
Interviewer: And where was your father born?
Katz: My father was born in Lithuania. My mother was born in Odessa.
Interviewer: And do you know when the came to the United States?
Katz: My father came to the United States in 1980.
Interviewer: 1890, you mean?
Katz: 1890. Hold it. He came to this country in 1880. My mother came
to this country about 1900.
Interviewer: What brought your father to this country? Why did he
decide to immigrate?
Katz: He immigrated because he did not want to serve in the army of
Interviewer: Did everyone have to do that in Lithuania?
Katz: Everyone had to do that, except if a child were an only son. My
father was a student in the yeshiva. He was shomer shabbos, which
means that he observed the sabbath laws completely and he also observed
the dietary laws, eating kosher meat and foods only. If he were inducted
into the armies of the czar, both of these situations could not be
maintained. In order to avoid the service in the army, my father changed
his name. His name originally was Godofsky. He changed his name to Katz
because in adopting the name of Katz he became an only child, I think,
of a widow, and because he was an only child, he escaped army service.
To what extent he wanted to come to the United States because of freedom
in the United States, because of liberty in the United States, I have no
way of knowing.
Interviewer: Do you know what year your father was born?
Katz: He was born in 1860. A very interesting thing that always
intrigued me was the fact that his father saw Napoleon’s army going to
and from Moscow, and in view of the fact that my father was born in
1860, it is very conceivable that his father, who was my grandfather,
was at an early age when he could very well remember Napoleon’s army
traveling to and from Russia.
Interviewer: It would have been 1812.
Katz: 1811, 1812.
Interviewer: When your father came to this country, did he have a
Katz: I’m not sure. He became a kosher butcher, and becoming a
kosher butcher or retaining his occupation as a kosher butcher, it
enabled him to keep the sabbath and to keep the kashruth. There
are very few occupations that permitted a newcomer – an immigrant – to
obtain these objectives.
Interviewer: Did he come to Columbus originally?
Katz: No, I think he came to New York. I know he traveled to San
Francisco, because one of my sisters was born there. He traveled to New
Orleans and from New Orleans, I think a committee from Columbus invited
him to come to Columbus as a kosher butcher, because apparently there
was a need in this community for a kosher butcher.
Interviewer: Why did he go to New Orleans? Is there family there?
Katz: I don’t know why he went to New Orleans. Perhaps he went to
New Orleans for the same reason he came to Columbus. He probably was
invited to come to New Orleans as a kosher butcher.
Interviewer: Did your mother have an occupation? Did she work?
Katz: She came to the United States, to Philadelphia, as a young
widow, and she worked as a seamstress in a clothing factory in one of
the upper floors of a building in Philadelphia. Her life there was very
unpleasant, working as she did, in this type of environment, and when a
man came from Columbus, Ohio, seeking a wife to replace a wife that he
had lost through illness, although the man from Columbus was far older
than she was, she thought enough of him – his looks, his deportment, his
kindness to her that she accepted his invitation to become his wife, and
she moved to Columbus with him, probably in the year 1900 or 1901.
I was the first child of the marriage, and I was born in 1903.
Interviewer: How many children were there from the first marriage?
Katz: There were a total of 13 children. Five by – with my mother,
therefore eight, with his first wife.
Interviewer: She came to take care of eight children, then.
Katz: She came to take care of – to make a home for two or three of
the children that remained home at that time, the elder children already
Interviewer: So you were born then in 1903 in Columbus. That right?
Interviewer: Where did you live. Do you remember your first home?
Katz: I was born in a house on Mound Street off – just west of
Washington Avenue. My early childhood – I remember living in a home on
South Fifth Street, south of Main Street. The address, I think was 314
South Fifth Street. Subsequently, my father moved his business to the
corner of Donaldson and Washington and the family lived in rooms above
Interviewer: Is that near the Agudas Achim Synagogue?
Katz: It was one long block away from Agudas Achim. Agudas Achim,
being on the corner of – did I say we were on the corner of Washington
and Donaldson? No, we were on the corner of Seventh and Donaldson.
Agudas Achim was on the corner of Donaldson and Washington, a long block
It was a neighborhood where many Jewish families lived. Among them I
recall the Glassmans, the Kaufmans, Ziskinds, and as a child I remember
one of the Ziskind boys who later became a doctor, Dr. Jacob Ziskind, on
a dare, trying to jump from one of the upper windows of his home to an
upper window of my home, falling between the two houses and breaking a
Interviewer: Kids haven’t changed much.
Katz: Well, if that persuaded him to become a doctor, I don’t know.
Interviewer: Did you go to school in that area, also?
Katz: The schools that were popular in that area were Fulton Street
School and Fourth Street School and to some extent, Mound Street School.
Fourth Street School was considered the best of the schools from the
standpoint of excellence, and it was really a headquarters for the
Germanic population there, where the children went to that school.
Interviewer: How did they handle the language problem, with the
children who had not learned English yet?
Katz: I don’t know, because I knew English from –
Interviewer: You were born here, but there were some children who had
come with their families –
Katz: I don’t know! I don’t how they handled the language problem
– I don’t know to what extent they had that problem, but I think it
was handled to a good extent at Fulton Street School rather than Fourth
Interviewer: Did you go to a neighborhood school, or did you have a
choice of schools to go to?
Katz: I had a choice. I could have gone to Fulton Street School or
Fourth Street School. The distance for me was from Seventh to Fourth
Street – that’s three blocks, and one block south – I had to go four
blocks. They had an excellent principal – her name was Anna Pfeiffer –
and she was of German stock, she was a very strong character and a good
principal, and she had a good staff of teachers.
Interviewer: About how many children would there have been in a class
in elementary school?
Katz: I – I can’t say with any great degree of certainty, but I
would guess, perhaps, 16 to 20 children per class.
Interviewer: And then from elementary school, where did you go?
Katz: From elementary school we went to a senior high school. The
junior high schools at that time were just in their inception, but I was
not privileged to participate in that change in educational structure. I
went to South High School. I had originally intended to go to high
school on the corner of Broad and Sixth, which was called,
“Commercial High School.” with the thought that Commercial
High School would enable me to get the educational results that would
enable me to make a livelihood. But I recall my mother talking to my
father, saying that she thought that I should go to a different high
school, a “preparatory” high school from which I could go to a
Interviewer: Was going to a university a popular thing to do in those
Katz: It was not very popular. I was one of a minority. Now most of
the children that graduated from Commercial High School did not go to
the university. Most of the children that graduated from South High
School and West High School and North High School did matriculate to
universities, mainly The Ohio State University.
Interviewer: Do you remember many of your classmates from high
school? From the Jewish community, I mean.
Katz: I do remember quite a few of them.
Interviewer: Recall some names?
Katz: I remember Henry Piatt, I remember Joe Solomon, peculiarly I
can’t recall any of the girls!
Interviewer: Did you work while you were in high school?
Katz: I certainly did work when I was in high school.
Interviewer: What did you do?
Katz: In the main, I was a candy butcher in a theater where I would
have a basket over my shoulders, selling peanuts, popcorn, Crackerjacks
and chocolates and I would sell before the matinee and also during
intermission, and in the evenings I would sell before the show and after
the intermission. The theater in which I sold was the Broadway Theater.
Incidentally, another one of my classmates was Joe Skilken and Joe
Skilken preceded me as a confectionery salesman in the theater.
There were some things I recall vividly that after high school, which
was perhaps a one o’clock or one thirty termination, I would have to
rush in order to make the theater before the two o’clock or before the
two – fifteen performance.
Although I was on a commission basis, the amount of money that I made
was fantastically high compared to anybody else that I knew who was
working while in the school. With the money that I made I was able to
clothe myself, had my own spending money, and of course, seeing all the
shows I was able to learn all the songs, and all the jokes, whether they
were on – color or off – color but it was a good experience until the
time I graduated from high school.
Interviewer: Was this still during the silent movie days?
Katz: It was during the silent movie days to the extent that the
silent movies were across the street in a theater called, I think, The
Rialto, subsequently renamed The Palace. The theater in which I worked
and sold my confections, was a vaudeville house. Then, of course, a
couple blocks away, there was another vaudeville house called B. F.
Keith’s and a popular pastime among the people in our community was to
go to either Keith’s or to the Broadway Theater for entertainment. The
Broadway Theater was subsequently torn down and a theater was put in its
place which showed movies, which had an orchestra, and where the very
first spoken movie was shown.
Interviewer: So after high school then, you went on to the
Katz: I went to the university. Now I graduated from high school at
19 – 1916 at the age of – no, excuse me – I entered high school in 1916
and graduated high school in 1920. At the time I wasn’t even
seventeen. And I graduated from the university in 1924.
Interviewer: What did you study at the university?
Interviewer: Was that taken for granted, or did you have any choice?
Katz: Oh, I had a choice of any school I wanted to go to, but
business was the subject that intrigued me at the time. One of my
classmates that I met at the university was Sam Melton, who had moved to
Columbus with his family – his mother, father and sister – to Columbus
from Toledo because they wanted their son to go to the university, and
now living in Columbus the economics made it much easier for them to
have their son go to the university.
Interviewer: Did you eventually live next door to that family?
Katz: Yes. Sam Melton’s sister was Myrtle and I was taking her out
and eventually we moved on Livingston Avenue, she and her family living
in 960 Livingston Avenue, and our family living at 958, next door. And
indeed, it made for great convenience.
Interviewer: At that time was your father’s business across the
Katz: Eventually, my father moved from Washington and Seventh to a
location on Livingston Avenue, I think it was about 1014 Livingston
Avenue, which is on the south side of the street, between Ohio and
Interviewer: So then, you graduated from college and then, what did
Katz: After I graduated from college, I moved to Toledo, where I was
offered a job as an office manager for a jobbing company that
specialized in selling mechanical goods such as belting, valves, to some
extent fittings, and I was there about a year. Subsequently I was
offered a position with a company in Indianapolis called The Stutz Fire
Engine Company, and I was with them perhaps a year or two. Myrtle’s
brother, Sam Melton, had inaugurated a business in Columbus, and he
asked me to join him in Columbus, this being about 1926. I joined him
there and the company that was formed was known as The Capital
Manufacturing and Supply Company, and originally had to do with the
merchandising of supplies and subsequently we bought some equipment and
began manufacturing pipe nipples, and with the passing of time more
equipment was bought, we started manufacturing couplings, other types of
pipe fittings and I was with the company until my retirement.
Interviewer: Shortly after you joined the company then, you were
Katz: I was married in 1927 and Myrtle and I were the first couple
married in the new Tifereth Israel Temple at Broad and Livingston Avenue
by Rabbi Solomon Rivlin.
Interviewer: Broad and Linwood?
Katz: Broad and Linwood. What did I say?
Katz: Broad and Linwood. Rabbi Solomon Rivlin was the officiating
Interviewer: How long had you belonged to that Temple, because I
understand that before that your father had belonged to Agudas Achim.
Katz: My father originally belonged to Agudas Achim, but we – the
family – I say the family – my father joined Tifereth Israel when they
were on the corner of Parsons Avenue and McCallister, which is one block
south of Main Street. And I must have been there for several years,
because I recall that I received my Hebrew education there. I sang in a
choir, an all – year choir under a Reverend Dunn and some of my fellow
choristers were Harry Roth, Justin Sillman, the others I can’t
remember. But I do recall that when I was thirteen, which had to be in
the year 1916, and actually before my thirteenth birthday, we had quite
a confirmation class under the tutelage of Rabbi David Shohet. Among my
classmates were Harry Roth, Justin Sillman, Carl Lustig, Helen and
Charlotte Roth, we must have had 12 or 14 people in the class.
Interviewer: Was Confirmation something new in the Jewish –
Katz: Confirmation at that time was something new. It was –
Interviewer: That was in a Conservative Temple
Katz: That was a Conservative Temple. Our family enjoyed going to the
Conservative Temple because of the one – floor seating, because the
family that prayed together stayed together. After they moved to Broad
Street, of course, we -I was going to school at the time, but after our
marriage – Rabbi Rivlin was the officiating rabbi at our marriage at the
Temple, and I knew the people that were the founders of Tifereth Israel,
because in the year 1900 people such as I. H. Schlezinger, Morris
Polster, Sol Roth, had gotten the articles of incorporation of what was
known at that time as “The First Hungarian Congregation,” –
subsequently realizing that the nomenclature was not the kind of name
under which a Temple could prosper. The name Tifereth Israel was
adopted, and is alive to this day.
Interviewer: From the outset, did you take an active part in the
Katz: At the instigation of –
Interviewer: – when you joined –
Katz: – I. H. Schlezinger, who asked me to serve the congregation, I
became active, and I served as a vice-president under him, and when he
was critically ill, I recall that during the high holidays, ( I was a
very young man,) I sat on the bima as the acting president and
Mr. Schlezinger, who was bedridden, had arranged for a telephone line
between the Temple and his home, where he could listen and participate
the best that he could in the services and I remember also that when I
became active, other young men were solicited by the older members to
take an active interest and some of the men such as Louis Schlezinger,
Tobias Polster also took active part in the growth of the Temple and its
Interviewer: Wasn’t there a point at which during the depression
that the Temple was having problems?
Katz: The Temple had its problems – it had a mortgage with The
Bellefontaine Savings and Loan Company, and there were years when it was
very, very difficult to meet current expenses plus the payments on the
mortgages – on the mortgage – and I think that a settlement and a
compromise was made with the Bellefontaine Building and Loan whereby the
mortgage was modified and the Temple met its commitments with the
modification of the mortgage.
Interviewer: Do you remember what the membership of the Temple was at
Katz: There was a time when we only had about one hundred members. I
remember it was at that time that we brought in a young rabbi, Nathan
Zelizer, who was an immediate graduate of the Seminary class of the
Jewish Theological Seminary of America, and we brought him into the
Temple. He was virile, he was friendly, and he was a good rabbi that
served the congregation for many, many years.
Interviewer: He was also single.
Katz: At that time he was single. It was just a matter of time before
he became married, marrying Florence Handler. He was well-liked in the
congregation and the congregation grew.
Interviewer: Do you remember – recall any of the other officers who
served any length of time in the congregation?
Katz: One of the others who became interested was Bill Wasserstrom.
He served as a president before I served as president. Martin Polster
served as president before I served as president. It’s difficult for
me to remember – so many of these names.
Interviewer: I was thinking of the treasurer who was there for many,
many, many years.
Katz: Sol -(possibly recalling Sol Roth.)
Interviewer: Joel Gutter ?
Katz: Joel Gutter was a treasurer for many years. Joel Gutter was an
uncle of my wife, Myrtle. And of course, he was a mainstay of the Temple
and served them well, faithfully.
Interviewer: What was the high point of your presidency of the
congregation? First of all, do you remember what years you were
president? Was it before the war?
Katz: It was after the war. I know that’s a – I recall it was an
occasion when the final payments of the mortgage were met – when we had
the mortgage burning ceremony,- I can’t remember all these things.
Interviewer: Well, getting back to – leave the Temple for a minute.
What effect did the depression have on you as a young, newly – married
Katz: Certainly it had an effect. In the early years of 1933 when
they had these bank failures, Franklin Roosevelt became president, we
had our home on Champion Avenue at which time I had a daughter, or we
had a daughter, Renee –
Interviewer: That’s me!
Katz: -and I would recall on my salary, on which we had to live, on
which I had to pay rent, on which I had on which I ate and clothed my
family, was reduced from forty dollars a week to thirty dollars a week.
We made out.
Interviewer: Well, how much was rent?
Katz: I don’t recall the rent. I can’t recall what the rent was.
Then from Champion Avenue we moved to Lilley Avenue. And from Lilley
Avenue we moved to Main Street. And on Main Street, my older son Stanley
was born, and we had a very nice life there and in a matter of time we
decided we would purchase a home in Bexley – 2414 Fair Avenue, and that’s
where we moved from Main Street. While we were living on Fair Avenue, my
third child, Donald, was born on Yom Kippur day of 19 — ? Does that
Interviewer: No, he was born on January 23rd, so it couldn’t have
been Yom Kippur.
Katz: He was born on January 23.
Interviewer: 1938. Your grandson, Kyle, was born on Yom Kippur.
Katz: That’s right, my grandson, Kyle was born on Yom Kippur.
Interviewer: You’ve been known as being active in many social
service organizations. What was the first one you recall, and what was
the reason for it being begun? Did the holocaust begin it, or did it
begin before that?
Katz: Well, I was president of the Jewish Center before that.
Interviewer: And the Jewish Center began when?
Katz: The Jewish Center was first on Rich Street between Washington
and Parsons. It was an old building – I remember the Jewish Center
having Sunday night dances to which the Jewish teen – agers came. And
they were very successful because I’m sure many, many marriages came
out of these dances. There was also a Center for immigrants. You asked
before where they learned the language. The women had a group there and
I think they did a lot of teaching. They also supervised the placement
of orphans and children that needed placement and took care of those
families that wanted to adopt children. And as a matter of fact, my
wife, Myrtle. was invited to be on the board of that organization. She
served for a number of years until conditions changed where there was
such a shortage of children that the need for that organization just
deteriorated. But eventually they decided to build a Jewish Center, and
the Center was built immediately after the war years.
Interviewer: Was this an outgrowth of the Schonthal Center?
Katz: It was the Schonthal Center – the one on Rich Street. Now when
the Center was built on College Avenue, the chairman of the search
committee for land for the location was Abe Yenkin – the late Abe
Yenkin. To my estimation he did a noteworthy job of recommending a site
for the Center. When the Center was built, they brought in Mayer
Rosenfeld as director – executive director. I was put on the board and
after a passing of a few years I became president of the Center. As
president of the Center there was a lot of contact with the Columbus
Jewish Federation because the Center was one of the beneficiary agencies
of the Federation, and also was a beneficiary agency of the Community
Fund, the united fund of Columbus.
Because of my association with the Columbus Federation my interest in
fund raising and fund allocations was enhanced and I became quite
interested in the Columbus Jewish Federation. During my tenure of office
at the Jewish Center as president, I recall vividly we had two floods,
whereby the Alum Creek overflowed and did a great deal of damage to the
lower levels of the Center. There was damage to the handball courts
which were located on the lower levels of the Center, and in order to
overcome this difficulty the engineers recommended and it was decided to
put in check valves which would prevent the water which was going out
through the sewer from coming back because of pressure to the other
side. That worked, and the check valves worked well, and the damage to
the handball courts was corrected and I was sure that in the years I was
president of the Center, they were very successful years.
Interviewer: Do you recall what years they were?
Katz: In the 60s sometime.
Interviewer: Then from the Jewish Center, was that your first social
service that you engaged in?
Katz: That was the first community social service. From there I was
invited to be on the Hillel Advisory Board. Rabbi Harry Kaplan at that
time was president, the director, the rabbi, and when the Hillel
Foundation was a very active and a very knowledgeable operation, they
allowed them on the campus. I remember we had kosher kitchens for the
Passover holidays, I remember we brought lecturers to the campus. I
recall that because of my help that the Jewish Museum in New York sent
exhibits to Hillel which were meaningful to the students – we had dances
and functions, and of course, we had fund raising where we went out and
asked families and individuals to help in the progress of the Hillel
I recall an appeal that was made by Rabbi Kaplan for a piano which
was needed and needed badly. And the rabbi asked if anybody knew of
anybody that might be willing to contribute either a piano or the funds
for a piano. At that time, I was president, and I contacted Harry Cobey
in Galion, Ohio, and the Cobey family donated funds for the new piano. I
knew that Mr. and Mrs. Cobey and all the members of the Cobey family
were always pleased to remember that they had done this good deed for
Hillel. My immediate predecessor as president of Hillel was Attorney
Robert Mellman, and the subject of my retirement was Ed Schlezinger and
Ben Yenkin were among those who became president of the Hillel Advisory
Interviewer: When was the new building constructed?
Katz: The new building was constructed before I became president.
Located at 14 East 16th Avenue.
Interviewer: Were you involved in that building also?
Katz: I was involved in helping to raise funds. I recall the
dedication of the building -and if what I say is treason, make the most
of it, but a number of us, including myself, were disappointed because B’nai
B’rith, in the inaugural ceremonies, seemed to want take all of the
credit for raising the necessary funds whereas the fact of the matter
was that the community of Columbus contributed most of the funds, and
that fact was not properly portrayed.
Interviewer: Wasn’t that rather unusual for Hillel throughout the
Katz: Well, Hillel was one segment of B’nai B’rith activities.
Interviewer: But wasn’t the Columbus contribution to it more
substantial than most other communities –
Katz: Well, I have no way of knowing because I never studied the
figures in other communities, but we knew that by far the bulk of the
moneys that were raised were raised in the community, not through B’nai
B’rith. I think that in retrospect that B’nai B’rith itself is not
to be blamed – I think it is because representatives of B’nai B’rith
did not pinpoint an actual and truthful status of where the funds came
from. Subsequent to the building it was found that there was a lack of
parking space and two lots immediately west of the building were
obtained and if memory serves me correctly, I think it was through the
efforts of Leo Yassenof that these lots were obtained.
Now going back to Federation, I became active in the fund raising and
I became active in the allocations. During these early years of my
association with the Federation, they brought in an assistant director
from Detroit by the name of Ben Mandelkorn to supersede Mr. Bernstein
who had been acting as director until that time. The community of
Columbus had grown by leaps and bounds as far as united giving was
concerned through Federation and it was deemed necessary to bring in a
director with experience and a young director that could motivate the
community and its organization as to giving and allocation.
Interviewer: Did this large movement begin with the World War II
needs, or was it after that – after the founding of Israel?
Katz: I think it began after World War II. I was there but not as an
officer when Ben Mandelkorn came to the community. It was a few years
before I went through the offices and I served as a vice-president under
Herbert Schiff, under Abe Yenkin, and then I became president. In 1973 –
when was the war against the Arabs? 1973?
Interviewer: Sixty-seven, wasn’t it?
Interviewer: Or forty-eight!
Katz: Forty-eight was the War of Independence. But the war – not the
Yom Kippur War, it was before the Yom Kippur war – when the Arabs were
defeated terribly – sixty – seven? I think so – Myrtle and I were in New
We were about to embark for a trip that would take us to Iran – to
Turkey, to Israel, to the Scandinavian countries, and it was on a Monday
morning, and we awoke in our hotel room to hear the announcement on
television of the breakout of hostilities between Israel, Egypt and the
Arab countries. Turning to Myrtle, I said, “As president of the
Federation in Columbus, we have to go back to Columbus. We have to
cancel our trip because we’re going to have to raise money! We’re
going to have to get busy on the phone and cancel.”
We canceled, we paid cancellation fees, and when we went to the
airlines I recall clearly, the lines of the Israeli youth that were
lined up trying to get air passage, so they could go and help Israel in
its conflict. This happened in the office of TWA and also Scandinavian
Coming back to Columbus after the cancellation of our trip, there was
a mass meeting at Winding Hollow Country Club and the largest sum of
money ever contributed was given that night – over $400,000. In this day
and age when over a million dollars is given, it may seem that it was
not a large sum, but in those days, it was, indeed a large sum. And I’m
proud to say that the community of Columbus gave freely, and what was
equally as important, paid their pledges properly.
The Federation prospered, we had a council that had to do with the
lay life of the community that was made part of the Federation, because
I recall we had changed their name to the Columbus Jewish Federation and
Council or words to that effect. And subsequently, the council part of
it became a minority item and the major element, the foundation itself
became the name of the Federation today.
And subsequent to my presidency, I think Ed Schlezinger became
president, and many other illustrious people served the community as
president of the Federation.
A very interesting commentary with regard to my presidency, was that
in my last year as president of the Federation, I received a call from
the nominating committee of the Jewish Family Service, and they asked me
to serve on their board. And to the chairman that invited me to accept
this nomination, I replied, “I cannot do so. I cannot give with one
hand and take with the same hand, because the Jewish Family Service was
a recipient of funds from the Federation and I, as president of the
Federation was doling out the funds.” And I said, “No, I have
to refuse your kind invitation, but after I retire from the presidency,
if you still want me next year, the year after, or in future years, just
call upon me, I’ll be glad to serve.”
And the time came the next year and I was invited to serve. I was put
on two committees – the admissions committee and the financial
admissions committee. The first couple sessions I did a lot of listening
and very little talking. I discovered how the Jewish Family Service
operated with regard to what it did by way of relief, by what it did by
way of counseling, and by what it did – (am I talking about Jewish
Interviewer: Mm – hmm.
Katz: It really isn’t – it’s the Heritage House.
Interviewer: No, that’s Jewish Family Service you’re talking
Katz: No, it’s the Heritage House that I’m talking about now.
Interviewer: Let’s go on to Heritage House, then.
Katz: Well this is the Heritage House I’m talking about! Not Jewish
Interviewer: Okay –
Katz: Well, the building had already been built, and the admissions
(committee) had to do with who comes in and who doesn’t come in
because there was a waiting list, and the admissions policy regarding
the financial arrangements was very unclear. And I was torn between an
element that thought that consideration should not be given to what
financial arrangements had been made, but rather no matter how wealthy
or how not wealthy the family might be, the main criteria should be
whether or not the person under consideration should be given admission,
be put at the head of the list, the middle of the list, or at the bottom
of the list. There is a great deal to be done and considered with regard
to that area of concern, and subsequently I became chairman of the
second committee which had to do with the financial arrangements that
the family should or should not pay upon the admission of a member of
And my position in the matter was, that if the family had the means
and did not help in the building of the structure, did nothing to buy
any bricks, and after a period of years after the building had been
constructed and a member of the family, and not only a member of the
family required or wanted admission, then the family should pay. My
position was a position of most of the members of the committee and that
there was a reception of a policy that has lived to this day, and as a
matter of fact, has been enhanced far beyond what I had ever thought of.
Interviewer: I want to interrupt by asking you a question. When
Heritage House was built, there was a huge backlog of applications. What
did people do before this facility was available? Obviously there was a
need for it, but what happened to those people?
Katz: Went to the Cleveland – or went to any facility they could get
at. By the way, the cities didn’t want to take them, either, because
if the family didn’t live there and didn’t help build the
institution or the structure, they were very reticent about taking the
people in. And the elderly people lived in “foster homes”
until the building was built.
Interviewer: Did any of them live with their children?
Katz: Yes! Many of them – some of them were ambulatory and some were
not ambulatory, and living with the children was difficult both for the
elderly and for the children, and for the grandchildren. The building of
Heritage House was a great, great asset for Columbus, and subsequently
they built the apartment building called “Heritage Towers,”
which has been successful from the day of its building. From the day of
its building they’ve had a waiting list for people who want to move
in, because it’s a good place for the elderly to live that are
ambulatory, that can take care of their rooms, that to some extent can
cook their own meals, that are reasonably self-sufficient, and don’t
have to have nursing aid. Those that live in Heritage House itself
generally have to have a certain amount of nursing aid.
Interviewer: Were Heritage Tower and Heritage House built as a result
of studies by the Jewish Family Service of needs in Columbus?
Katz: That I can’t tell you. That I don’t know. Heritage House
was a very successful campaign. Now Heritage Towers was a different
proposition. Heritage Towers was built practically 100% with money
donated by the federal government. That was confirmed by studies and
appeals and information supplied by Heritage House for the need for this
one. Columbus was one of the very first communities that did take
advantage of the federal law and obtain this low mortgage rate. I think
it was 3%, maybe 2%.
Interviewer: We’re going back. Do you want to go back to your terms
with the Jewish Family Service? Or do you recall –
Katz: Jewish Family Service – I was nominated for that and I was made
treasurer, and I think that when a person is a treasurer and a person
signs checks, he sees things that the average person in a community
cannot see. For example, I would sign a check for envelopes, or
stationery. Let’s take envelopes. I’d say, why are we buying these
envelopes for ourselves? Why don’t we join with the Jewish Center, and
the Jewish Federation and Heritage House, and buy one vast number of
envelopes in one fell swoop, and all the printer has to do is change the
type for which he’ll charge $2, $5, for one change. Instead of buying
5,000 envelopes, you’re going to buy 200,000, you can imagine you’re
going to get a much cheaper price. It was done! It was done that way.
And envelopes isn’t the only thing that’s done – many supplies –
office supplies and so on can be bought on a cooperative basis. I hold
no brief against the presidents or the executive director. I just say
that because I sign the checks, I saw these things.
Interviewer: So good business procedures eliminate a lot of expense.
Katz: Certainly. And to this day I understand, I understand they have
a central division for mimeographing – and for mailing. And it saves the
whole community a lot of money.
Interviewer: Let me ask you – in the early days of the Jewish Family
Service, what was their constituency? What did they do —
Katz: What they did mostly, in the main, they helped families that
were having difficulties perhaps between husband and wife – possibly
between parent and children – but that was the main forte.
Interviewer: Did they help settle immigrants also?
Katz: At that time when I was with them, that was not a big factor.
But subsequently, it became an enormous factor, and at great cost, and
at great expenditure of money. And the money was freely given by the
Jewish Federation. This is something that I say without having complete
knowledge. This is a remark that should be investigated, and that is, I
think that the community of Columbus has done more than its share in
taking more of the immigrants into the community than a comparison with
other communities, but I do not have direct knowledge, but it’s my
belief that that is true.
Interviewer: Getting away from the Jewish community for a minute, it
seems that you were also present, among other things, at the inception
of the first – what we know now as the Columbus Symphony Orchestra. Do
you recall – that was in the mid 40’s, after the war.
Katz: No, that was during the war.
Interviewer: During the war?
Katz: Because I recall vividly when Izler Solomon stood in front of
the orchestra, and the orchestra consisted of many players in uniform,
and they always started the concert with “The Star Spangled
Banner.” So I know it was during the war. And Izler Solomon was a
marvelous conductor, and he did a lot for the community in starting the
symphony orchestra. And Izler Solomon was a guest in my home, I was a
guest in his home – I thought a great deal of him. Again, if this be
treason make the most of it, here’s a guy that can be conductor of the
Israel Symphony Orchestra. He gets on the plane to go to Israel – on
that night, or the very next night, the directors of the Columbus
Symphony Orchestra met and discharged him – without a hearing. Izler
Solomon survived. He went to greater heights. He became director of the
Indianapolis Symphony – which in musical circles had a higher status
than the Columbus symphony.
Interviewer: He had a very tragic personal life, didn’t he?
Katz: He did. He lost a child, and he lost a wife.
Interviewer: But he, himself died very young, as I recall.
Katz: That, I can’t say. I don’t know when he died. But he was a
– I remember going to his home, and he would play his recordings – he
seemed to have a deficiency in his hearing because he played these extremely
loud. But we must remember that he stood right there, in the midst
of the orchestra, and he heard it loud. So when he wanted to hear it
right, he heard the recording real loud.
Interviewer: Jumping around – it’s the last thing I want to ask you
about – is the invitation for you to join the (Jewish Theological)
Seminary’s board of governors.
Katz: Well before that, I think I should – can I go back to your
Interviewer: Wherever you like. We have about five more minutes of
Katz: In my presidency of the Columbus Jewish Federation, I was
nominated to be on the National Council of Jewish Federations and
Welfare Funds, head quartered in New York. I served for two years. I
went to every meeting. I thought it was a magnificent organization. They
had, I think, 188 communities in the country that had membership in it.
They were the information source for the different individual
communities. You could go to them and find out what a sister community
did with regard to their method of allocation. We went there one time
that I recall, without mentioning the name of the city, but that city
came and asked us if we would meet with them to show them how we
allocated, because they were having difficulty in allocations.
A difficulty in allocations, mostly, rears its ugly head because of
pressures that are exerted on allocations by the members of that
community’s board and the big givers. In Columbus, we overcame that
difficulty. They wanted to know how we did it. Also when I was there I
became chairman of the subcommittee on Jewish education and all the
organizations, or in any organization, like the American Association of
Jewish Education, that came to the Council of Jewish Federations and
Welfare Funds and said, please endorse our budget, because this is the
budget we want to present to Columbus, Toledo, Indianapolis, New York,
Chicago, – it is up to the national council to support the budget – to
say, “we think that this is a logical budget.”
I was chairman of that committee! One year, the American Association
for Jewish Education came in with a budget that was exactly the same as
the year before. It happened that I was on the board – on the national
board of the American Association for Jewish Education! On the following
day I was at a board meeting. I rose and denounced the officers because
they were standing still – marking time. If they didn’t have enough
energy to find new paths – new programs that would demand more money,
then they should be kicked out. I said so right there. I was fearless.
But anyway, they were told – the American Association for Jewish
Education were told that year that they were derelict in their support
of Jewish Education in this country.
After two years, I was superseded by somebody else from Columbus,
because it was a policy in Columbus that new people should get new
ideas. What was it that you asked me about?
Interviewer: I asked you about –
Katz: The Seminary?
Katz: Okay. Years ago, the Seminary, in trying to raise funds, would
take one of their most recent graduates and send him out to the
boondocks, and at that time Columbus was a boondock city, believe me.
They came to Columbus – I think I was the vice-president of our Temple
(Congregation Tifereth Israel) at the time. I think the president, I. H.
Schlezinger said, “Herman, take care of the gentleman.” I went
around with him, helped him collect funds, and so on, we arranged for a
dinner – and raised an unheard of amount of money for a boon dock city.
And from then on, Columbus has been fantastic in the eyes of the
Seminary, for the support that we give them. I think that last year we
Then I became a patron, and for these many years, perhaps thirty
years, I have been a patron, I have given one thousand dollars or more
to the Seminary each year as a patron. And in 1980 I was nominated and
was given an honor for community leadership by the Seminary at exercises
which were held in Miami Beach. And for that, I am thankful to the
Seminary. I think that the Seminary is a rock that every conservative
congregation has to lean on in order to avail itself of the educational
facilities, of the ideas of the Seminary. And last but not least, I do
want to remark that the Seminary faculty has just approved that women
may become rabbis, and I’m with ’em 100%.
This concludes the interview of Herman Katz by Renee Katz Levine for
the Columbus Jewish Historical Society Oral History Project.