This interview for the Columbus Jewish Historical Society is being recorded
on November 13, 2007 as part of the Columbus Jewish Historical Society’s Oral
History Project and the Beth Tikvah History Project. The interview is being
recorded at The Esther C. Melton Federation Building on College Avenue.
Schlam: My name is Helena Schlam and Rose Luttinger is also conducting this interview
with me. We are interviewing Professor Howard Fink. It’s a pleasure to have you talk to us, Howard. We would like to know how
far back you can trace your family?
Fink: No farther back than my grandparents.
Schlam: Tell us about your grandparents.
Fink: Well as far as I know, you always wish you were smarter when you were younger
and asked all those questions, where they came from and so on. No, I know that
my grandfather told me he landed at Newport News, Virginia, which is a little
unusual. I believe he did live in Virginia some time. They moved to Rochester,
New York and both my mother’s family and my father’s family were in
Rochester but from time to time they also went across the lake to Toronto. My
mother was actually born in Toronto, Canada and my father was born in Rochester.
I have very little memory of my mother’s parents because my grandfather died
when I was only three years old and her mother died earlier than that. They were
back and forth to Canada and the U.S. and my father’s side was purely
Rochester and I grew up in Rochester.
Schlam: Do you know from where your grandfather came, it was in Europe?
Fink: No, but interestingly they had a peculiar Yiddish idiom and I checked with
Neil Jacobs and he said it is a Litvak accent, idiom and that he or his mentors
could get it down to about four blocks, but it’s roughly in that Polish,
Once when I was going on a bus in Jerusalem the bus driver turned to me and
said “Ukraine” so I assume that was some confirmation of the area. The
way they spoke Yiddish was quite distinct and I don’t know if it was all,
maybe just my family, but certainly they did.
Schlam: So you mentioned that your mother was born in Toronto. Your father was born in Rochester, as were you, and what
were your parents’ names?
Fink: My father’s name was Joseph, Joseph Mitchell or Yankov Michel, and my
mother’s name was Ann and I don’t know her Jewish name.
Schlam: Did you learn to speak Yiddish? Did you hear Yiddish spoken?
Fink: Yes, I heard Yiddish spoken, yes, often behind my back, and I did pick up
some. As I look back, they spoke Yiddish: 1. When they didn’t want me to
understand, but 2. to their family and they were very close to our families. My
mother and her sister were particularly close. My mother’s father had married
three times. Her mother died when she was very young and I only knew vaguely the
grandfather. On my father’s side I knew my grandfather and grandmother and
Schlam: So how did your parents earn a living?
Fink: My father, well for a while they lived in New Haven, Ct., before I was born,
and my father worked in a very fashionable haberdashery in New Haven and came
back to Rochester, where I was born, My father, through all of my life, was an
insurance agent for the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, as was Philip Roth’s
father. In fact Sondra went to high school with Philip Roth, in New Jersey.
Schlam: Oh my.
Fink: A lot of Jews worked for the insurance company, for Metropolitan Life, yes.
Schlam: Do you have brothers or sisters?
Fink: I have a sister, two sisters in a way because my parents adopted the daughter
of an uncle of mine who had divorced at an early age and in fact it’s her
birthday today. She’s seven years older than I am so I have to be in touch. My
younger sister lives in Los Angeles, as does our older daughter, Karan. She,
too, of course was born in Rochester. That’s the family.
Schlam: I’m struck by the closeness of Jewish families to adopt someone.
Fink: She was two years old and my father was just crazy about her. She was a beautiful
little child and that’s what they did. I don’t even know that they formally
adopted her and they didn’t tell her that she was adopted until she was in
junior high school. I was in a classic Jewish messed up family.
Schlam: Doesn’t sound messed up to me.
Fink: Well there were the kinds of things that should have been done differently at an earlier age.
Schlam: Okay, so tell us a little bit about yourself as a teenager, your interests and also about your Jewish background.
Fink: Okay, again I was in Rochester. I look back on it as a very happy childhood
through the later years of the Depression and the post war world. We still get
together, people who I went to grammar school with and high school, still on the
phone the other day with my oldest friend from high school.
Schlam: Does he still live in Rochester?
Fink: No he lives in Illinois. He was going to come in for the game but he was ill. We had our 50th high
school, 55th high school reunion last year I think. We still had
people from kindergarten coming back so it was a very stable, to me a very happy
childhood. I’m not sure my sisters felt the same way. That’s the way it is
in every family. Every sibling has its own history and strategy and so on.
Schlam: What was the name of your high school?
Fink: Monroe High School.
Schlam: And it was a public high school?
Fink: Yes, it had just become a high school. It was a junior
high school for a while but it’s still there and the neighborhood is still the
same and we’ve been back.
Schlam: Did you go to Hebrew School?
Fink: No I didn’t. I had private Hebrew lessons. I had a Bar Mitzvah in Beth
Shalom. It was an Orthodox, small Orthodox schul. My grandfathers belonged to
another Orthodox schul on the older Jewish side of the city and we used to walk
over there on Yom Kippur. It was miles away. But I look back on it as a very
Schlam: What about college? Where did you attend college?
Fink: I went to Cornell University School of Industrial Labor Relations and then I
went to Yale Law School after that. So I did everything in exactly the right
order, in the same time frame, without any wild youth.
Schlam: Do you regret that? You don’t have to answer.
Fink: No, that’s an easy way to do it, just do it in the right order.
Schlam: Did you specialize in a particular area of law?
Fink: Through a series of coincidences and things of that nature I asked to stay on
and work with one of the professors who specialized in Federal Jurisdiction. So
for a number of years after graduating from law school I stayed there, and I
taught some of his classes and I wrote with him and worked on cases. So that was
a very nice time and during that time Sondra and I got married.
Schlam: You met Sondra then at Yale?
Fink: No, but when I was working at Yale. She was
in New York City teaching, a little north of New York City, and as it happened a
cousin of mine taught with her. Through another person, also from Rochester,
they suggested that I call her and that’s how that happened.
Schlam: What was the name of the law professor that you worked with?
Fink: J. W. Moore. He was very famous in the field of Federal Jurisdiction. He wrote the rules
and wrote the treatise on the rules the courts still use.
Schlam: And after?
Fink: I came out to Ohio State in 1965 and I’ve been here, this is the 43rd
year. I taught in a number of other schools during that time.
Schlam: That was after you retired from Ohio State?
Fink: No, I had taught in other schools before I
retired. In Law School it’s quite easy to visit other schools. Someone gets a
Sabbatical, or whatever, and they bring in another visitor to take that person’s
place so I taught at… I did some teaching at Yale. I taught at George
Washington, at Illinois, Wake Forest, San Diego, Santa Clara and Emory.
Schlam: That’s pretty diverse, pretty interesting.
Fink: Sondra was willing to travel and I had
the book and that was it. You don’t need equipment in law. You don’t need a lab or anything so it’s
quite easy to do that. It was very broadening and we had a lot of fun.
Schlam: You mentioned Karan so my question is do you have children? I know you do. Tell us about your two daughters.
Fink: Karan is the older one, she is in Los Angeles. She’s a Human Resource Vice
President for a major company out there. Our younger daughter, Mara, is married
and has two boys, Adam and Noah and they are 3 3/4 and 1 3/4.
Schlam: Tell us about how it feels to be a grandfather.
Fink: It feels very good.
Schlam: Okay, when did you serve as President of Beth Tikvah?
Schlam: Before you became President had you been on the Board?
Fink: Yes, altogether I was on the Board for about ten years, the worst being the
year I was President.
Schlam: Tell us about your ten years on the Board at Beth Tikvah. What were the major
Fink: The year I was President the major issue was should we buy a cemetery? The
congregation was very divided on that and the Board was very divided. It was the
most aggravating thing to try to bring together factions in a Jewish
organization where everybody is right. Looking back on it, it was just stupid to
have had all these fights.
We should have just done it but there were those who said we’re too young,
we don’t need a cemetery, we don’t need to obligate ourselves. The big
obligation was buying seven grave sites a year for I think at that point $700 a
grave site which was nothing. There were those who said we needed a cemetery. It’s
an obligation to have a cemetery. I was caught in between the two factions.
Looking back I should have just said that we’re going to do it and that would
have been it.
Schlam:So in the end what happened?
Fink: We did it. With Beth Shalom we have a joint cemetery and this, if you can call a
cemetery a success, it’s a success. It was good to have it.
Fink: Many more people were buried there than we expected at the time, including Bob Mayer,
who went very young. He was the second person. Bud Hollander, I think, was the
first. So we’ve had quite a few parents of members and so on. I have been
associated with Beth Tikvah, we joined 40 years ago in 1968. I was on the Board
a couple of years after we joined there.
As I said about the McGovern campaign, I should have wondered about it when I moved up so fast. It was a lot of fun and
a lot of aggravation. Sondra worked looking for a site for the building that we
ultimately built. They’d looked for seven years when they came upon this site.
Again, nothing is simple in a Jewish organization but that site proved to be
exactly what we were needing. It was in a residential area so it wasn’t zoned
We could get it at a good price. I negotiated the sale of the site. What
happened, there was some opposition from the neighbors, surprise, surprise. When
opposition was raised at the City Council meeting, the lawyer that we had was a
member of the congregation, quit as being the lawyer and quit the congregation.
Schlam: Who was that?
Fink: Gerald Portugal his name was. I think he joined a congregation out
So that site was just…I said to Sondra “We’re not going to lose
that site” because there’s no alternative and we’ve been looking for
seven years. We need 315 which wasn’t even completed. It went as far as North
Broadway at the time we bought. We knew that was where the growth was going to
be. There were probably two Jewish families in Worthington at the time, if that
many. There were just no Jews up there. There was some opposition, surprisingly, for going so far from the Central
City. Manny (Luttinger) was one of those who was opposed. Rodger (Klein) was very
Schlam: Is all this relevant?
Fink: Yes, it’s very important. Rodger was very
integral to keeping the congregation united. We only lost two member families as
a result of the building. Some people were honestly opposed to leaving an urban,
central area and some people said that we won’t grow if we stay in that
central area on Indianola. I was very much for the move but respected, and I
think Rodger caused respect.
I think that was the difference really between how
things were then and some mistakes that were made in more recent years in the
temple. That is we kept everybody on board. Whether we were for or against it,
everybody was respected and everybody had a voice and everybody had a say and we
went forward. I remember very vividly the day that we left the last time from
Indianola, marched with the Torahs. The people here, in this building, were
amazed that we were openly marching with the Torah from Beth Tikvah, up North Broadway, etc., all the way up to our new site and they were amazed we built up there because there were no Jews. Jews followed and that was the way it was.
Schlam: Did you have something to do with Jack Resler…
Schlam: …in terms of the gift of the land?
Schlam: Can you tell us about that?
Fink: Let me get an exact sequence here. We bought the land. I negotiated the sale
as I said so I know the cost and I know what we had. We have $40,000 in the bank
and we bought this site for $110,000. Our plan at the time was to use the house
for classrooms and to build a small sanctuary on the site and that’s as far as
we knew. Jack had made us a promise. First, he actually offered us five parcels
of land. They were developing the land where Meiers is now up on Sawmill. That
was all his land. He said okay and Don Simon turned that down. He said we don’t
want to be there. It’s going to be very tightly congested and so on. Jack said
okay well I’ll give you the equivalent of what I sell those parcels for. I
think it came to $45,000 if I remember correctly, but some sum like that.
Then he was going to lend us the difference between what we were going to have, about
$85,000 and the $110,000 that we needed to complete the sale. We actually
completed the sale. We had a mortgage. He was going to give us some and lend us
some. Then one day I went over to his office to collect the check for the
parcels. He said “I want to talk to you about something.” First, in
his way, did you know Jack?
Schlam: I did not.
Fink: He really was a great man. He was
very humorous and very combative. He and I got along very well. He said
“You don’t have enough money to do this thing. You’re not ever going to
get anywhere. You’re never going to be able to build on that site.” Of
course he was testing me. I got angry as I’m wont to do as Manny can tell you.
I said “Look Jack, thank you for the money. We’re going to build on that
site next year. We’re building a small building.” He said “Okay, now
I want to talk.”
He said “There’s a much bigger site that we’re going to sell and I
want to give you the money for that but it’s got to be a deal where you raise
money and I’ll match.” But anyway the figure of $750,000 was mentioned.
He said “You can’t tell anybody about this. It’s between us.” Not
too much later, I went back and forth with him several times to nail it down.
Then we were having our banquet, a kick-off banquet for raising money for the
At that time ( I knew he was going to do this but nobody else
knew) he then made a challenge to the congregation that came down to, if you
raise, in increments, If we raise ultimately $150,000 he would give us $750,000.
We did raise the $150,000. That went for furnishing the building. The $750,000
plus interest paid for the building itself. Within a few months of that promise
Jack died. Don Simon and I went to the funeral home the night before the funeral
and Eleanor said “Don’t worry, you’re going to get the money.”
There was nothing in writing. It was purely an oral promise although I had
recorded his talk at the banquet but the point was they had no thought but to
give us the money. The money went through the Federation.
That was the idea that he would give it to the Federation and again, at a meeting here in this
building, the Federation Board said we’re going to immediately pass that money
through to you. Interest rates were very high at that point. I think it was 15%.
They didn’t hold on to a penny of the money. They immediately then transferred
it to us and that had turned into, by the time we built, $840,000 which paid for
the building. So it was one of the great gifts that the Reslers gave, among
other gifts, to the community. Does that answer your question? So then I stayed
on the Board and became President in 1988. This however was done in late 1978 and we built the building and entered it
about 1980, in the 1980’s, (1981) before the High Holidays. What else?
Schlam: That is very important.
Fink: That’s how it began.
Schlam: Yes and you were right
there at the critical points and that’s very significant. I think your
mentioning the Federation leads me to want to ask about your role in the
Federation, but before I do, do you have anything else to add so we can keep the
Beth Tikvah material as a section?
Fink: I guess it’s fair to say that over the years there’s been another
addition to Beth Tikvah in which Don Sylvan was very instrumental when he was
President at that time. That didn’t evoke much response from the neighbors. It
was a modest addition. They then decided much later to do another addition which
the Federation, the Jewish Center and Beth Tikvah were really involved with. We
lost a vote at the City Council of Worthington by a 4 to 3 vote. Again I was
involved. We were going to do the same free legal services, not just myself, and
take an appeal. The congregation became split as to what to do at that point.
Some people wanted to leave. Some people wanted to fight.
I was in the later category. They decided ultimately not to take the appeal
and they bought a new site. Then over the past ten years up until last Thursday
I have been in a guerilla war with the congregation over whether they should
take on more debt than they could handle. I was never opposed to…if you want
to build on a new site, fine. They bought a new site. Through various ups and
downs it finally has been put on hold, that’s the idea of where or if we would
build. I was at a Board meeting just the other night. We were with the Jewish
Center. At some point they were going to do a pre-school. The thing that killed
the idea was that we never did get an offer on the building. There never was a
firm offer on the building. Selling the building was integral to getting the
money to do the new building and there never was an offer that was finalized.
So we didn’t sell which I think is very fortunate because we’re still in
a very solvent and solid position and we own the new site which we might some
day build on or sell and build some place else.
Schlam: I would like to ask you more about the period when the Worthington City
Council voted. You lost the vote. Can you give a better, not better, a
description of the legal issues? What was at stake?
Fink: Well, at some point, and I think Marty Seltzer was very instrumental in this.
They decided to propose not only an addition to our building but a pre-school
with the Jewish Center running the pre-school and becoming a partner in a
building that would be co-owned by the Jewish Center and Beth Tikvah or at least
the Jewish Center would help finance it and the Jewish community. They did
finalize an offer of ultimately 1.5 million toward the project which was a very
fine thing. The building never sold and we couldn’t afford to do it without
both the Federation money and the proceeds of the building and fund raising.
Schlam: I was more curious about the critical point with the Worthington City
Fink: They hired an architect. They drew plans for this building. And then they had
to get the approval of both the Planning Commission and the City Council.
Schlam: What were the objections that they voted it down?
Fink: The neighbors’ objections centered on the pre-school. There’s no question that we had the
right to build on our site. There was no zoning problem, no problem with set
back. We didn’t need a variance. We didn’t have any of the things that might
have raised a legal issue but they combined the two into one proposal and the
objection centered on the pre-school which some neighbors thought would have a
lot of traffic during the day, children playing and so on.
I think they had no legal basis for opposing it and I believe, as a matter of
fact, the Planning Commission approved the addition to the building but not the
City Council voted 4 to 3 to not approve the project. Worthington Ordinances,
state law and federal law, for that matter, state that the building plans of a
church or synagogue cannot be thwarted by cities. There’s always objections to
when churches want to do a building or do an addition and in fact there’s a
federal law specifically that says that local law cannot interfere with the
right of religion to have a facility. There’s no doubt in my mind we could
have won the appeal but what happed was a lot of people had the feeling we’re
not wanted here, we don’t want to stay here. I think I probably fell in that
Schlam: Was there an actual vote of the Congregation in regard to that? How was it in
terms of a…
Fink: Yes there was, there was. There was a vote later with a plan…
Schlam: As to whether to appeal or not?
Fink: No, there was no vote of the congregation
on that. In fact for a while they pursued both routes, that is planning for a
new building and appealing.They sort of decided not to invest any money in an appeal which I was very
much opposed to.
Schlam: Would that have been very costly, an appeal?
Fink: I said I’d do it for free. That’s not costly so no it wasn’t that. By that time we were in
California for a year but they really didn’t want to do it and if you don’t
want to do it you can drag your feet and say you’re doing it but not really do
it. What they really wanted to do was build on the new site and the Jewish
Center went along with that. I think if the vote had been 4-3 the other way we
would have built the pre-school and everything on our site, but it didn’t
Schlam: I hesitate to ask but I want to hear your response because I do recall that
people spoke about anti-semitism being a factor. I’m curious as to how you see
Fink: I didn’t see it that way. How do you ever know what peoples’ motivations
or mind are? There was never any expression of anti-semitism. Other churches in
Worthington had similar problems. When they attempted to do an addition
neighbors complained. The primary case law in Ohio is City of Beechwood against
what is now The Temple in Cleveland.
The Supreme Court of Ohio ultimately held that the city couldn’t
stop a church or synagogue in this case from building in Beechwood. There are
claims of anti-semitism in that case. I don’t know. No one’s ever going to
say it. I think what happened was that one Councilwoman changed her vote because
the neighbors urged her to do so and she did. You don’t have to give reasons
why you vote. I never saw any evidence of anti-semitism. Indeed, many neighbors
came to the temple and said “Please don’t leave. We don’t want you to
think that this is us. This is not us, it’s a few neighbors who are
campaigning but it is not us.” The people from Shaker Square, the adjacent
development to the temple, many came and said “You’ve been wonderful
neighbors and we don’t want you to leave,” including some ministers said
that. We could have gotten together a group of ministers. We could have done a
lot of things to turn that vote around but once a group felt that they wanted to
leave and they wanted a new facility they prevailed.
Schlam: Thank you. That’s very deep, lots of aspects. Do you have any questions in
regard to any of that, Rose?
Luttinger: No, I don’t. Manfred (Luttinger) agrees with Howard. He didn’t
think there was anti-semitism involved.
Schlam: Good, I’m glad to hear that. He thought it was just a case of not in my back yard.
Fink: Yes, which is very common and to be expected almost.
Schlam: What do you consider to be your most important contribution to Beth Tikvah?
Fink: Fiscal responsibility, that’s my religion. I said to the Board the other
night, I said “It’s like waking up from a ten-year bad dream.” I was
afraid that they were going to take on an obligation that they couldn’t afford
and find themselves with a large debt, with not a growing congregation and it
would turn into a money machine. The focus of the temple would be to raise money
and so I’m glad it came out this way. They might build some day but I hope
that they will never put themselves in the position of vulnerability that I saw
in these numbers. I saw that alone in opposing this nine years ago
and then Gil (Nestel) came on Board and Marty Seltzer and then more
and some bitter feelings. I never felt bitter but there were bitter feelings on both sides and
some people left the congregation as a result. When you make a major change some
people will leave. I mean that’s just… but to his credit Rodger (Klein) very much held the
congregation together at that time.
Schlam: When the building at the current site was completed, it was paid, you had the
money to pay.
Fink: It was all paid for. There’s not a congregation in the
country that starts out with all the bills paid and therefore that’s why we
wanted to preserve. We were so lucky to not have to worry about money and the
size of the congregation we built, thinking 250 would be the absolute we could
imagine, 250 members, now we’ve got about 480, I think, something like that.
It’s an open question whether if we built more Jews would have moved to that
area, we just don’t know.
Schlam: I’m going to shift gears. I would like to know about your experience on the
Board of the Columbus Jewish Federation. Tell us what you did and in what years.
Fink: They were more or less the same years. I believe I went on the Federation
Board, I don’t remember if it was when I was President of Hillel, there’s
another whole story there.
Schlam: Oh, I didn’t have a question about that. We’ll come back to that.
Fink: Then they were going to put me on the Board one year, I
don’t remember what it was, but that turned into another evolving ten years on
the Federation Board which I found to be a very interesting experience. Again,
that was the period when we were getting Jews out of the Soviet Union. It was a
very interesting time on the Federation Board. There were also initiatives in
Jewish Education. We built Kol Ami during that time. Again, these things often
start with a single conversation, why don’t we do such and such and the Board
was very forthcoming in Jewish education and very interested in Jewish
education, again never without controversy. We did, I think, create a very good
Jewish institution there. You know much about that.
Schlam: Were you alone in being from the North End on the Federation Board or were
Fink: Never alone.
Schlam: Never alone?
Fink: There were very few at that time from the North End but always some. It wasn’t that I was like this
outlander and I never felt in any way the odd ball. It was always a lot of good
fun with a lot of good people and I had a great enjoyment in being on the
Federation Board, sometimes maybe representing Hillel, sometimes maybe I was
representing Beth Tikvah. I was on various committees, Education Committee and
so on and I think that was another thing we did, building Kol Ami which was in a
sense an aid to education in the city.
Schlam: What about your time as President of Hillel, which I wasn’t aware of so I
didn’t formulate a question?
Fink: I was on the Board for many years. I was President of Hillel in 1987. That
was the second worst year in my life. I’m not sure whether Beth Tikvah’s
Presidency is in some ways worse because during that year we changed the
Director, the Rabbi and the Administrator. It was a terrible time when Aaron (Leventhal)
left. He didn’t leave for a year. During that year we had an interim Rabbi,
and interim Director and then new people were brought in so I’ve had the
experience of personnel change, that sort of thing, on more than one Board and
it was not a good experience at that point. But still we kept Hillel solvent.
During those later years we started the building campaign to build a new
Schlam: So you were involved in the building campaign for Hillel. You’re
good about building experience, yes. I want to ask you also, there was an organization of faculty and scientists
at Hillel and I believe you were quite active in that?
Fink: Yes, that was when we were trying to get people out of the Soviet Union.
Schlam: Tell us a bit about that.
Fink: Some of these things were simply Jewish organizations
at the University. I know that Judy Genshaft, who is now the President of
Florida Southern University, was very active in organizing Jewish faculty around
the campus. Also we had Lou Nemzer who was very much a part of that. During
those years also there was a good deal of upheaval in the late 60’s early 70’s.
The university was closed at one point. Nemzer played a very important role in
that confrontation, literally.
Schlam: Was that the time of Kent State?
Schlam: When it was closed?
Fink: No, we were closed when Kent State happened. If we hadn’t
closed it might have happened at Ohio State because there were troops lined up
on the oval with bayonets fixed on one side and students on the other side.
A few faculty were running back and forth, including Lou, to try to avert a
So looking back on 40 years in Columbus, those were exciting times. They were
exciting times and terrible times and good times. Yes, there was an organization
of the Jewish faculty. Of course Hillel came to have more and more role in
organizing the Jewish faculty.than it had done. Then another organization
developed to try to help Jews get out of the Soviet Union. That was like an
offshoot of this.
There was one family that we particularly centered on. One
Jewish faculty member was brought to the attention of this group and we worked to get a faculty visiting position for
him. Yuri Medvedkov was his name. We were successful. They wouldn’t let you
out if you didn’t have an offer from a university so we had a meeting with the
(Medvedkov was a Geographer, and is. He’s still on the faculty of the
university.) We had a meeting with the Provost, a German. The question was
whether there’ll be money to finance a visiting position. The head of the
Geography Department said he didn’t have the funds. Jack Zakin and I met with
the Provost and the Department Chair and the Provost, after some confrontation,
said “Okay I’ll finance it. I’ll pay for it.”
Schlam: And the Provost, do you remember who it was?
Fink: Yeah, I’ll have to think of his name, Dieter
Schlam: And he agreed to finance it?
Fink: Yes, it was a very tense situation.
His father had been a member of the German army. His mother I think was Jewish,
in fact, and they kept her hidden. There are so many dramas that you could talk
about over these years. That was a dramatic moment. He said okay I’ll finance
it. Then they came here. They got out and they weren’t sure they were coming
here. I was on the phone with them, in Europe, and I said “Look, you gotta
be here next week. There’s no time for travel. The semester quarter is
They came and they lived with us for about six weeks, the mother, the father,
two children, and grandparents. Sondra maintains that I had not told her in
advance. I said “Well, we talked about it. In a general way we talked about
it.” Anyway they came to live with us and that was great fun. That was
another great triumph. From them also came another person who was in the Gulag
at the time, Zach Zunshine. The Federation played a big part in this. All of a
sudden Zunshine got out. Zunshine was a close friend of the Medvedkovs, his wife
Schlam: Is it Z?
Fink: Sunshine with a Z.
Fink: Yes. He had tried to get out of the Soviet Union by suing them and that proved to be a mistake. He got three
years in Siberia as a result. The tide was beginning to turn. Things were
beginning to change. He got out as a so called Prisoner of Conscience and went
to Israel, didn’t want to be in Israel, but there he was, he and his wife.
They got back in touch with Olga Medvedkov, who got in touch with me. The Zakins
happened to be in Israel at the time. I got in touch with Jack and I said
“You’ve gotta meet these people.” Jack said “We’ve already
met them.” So we worked it out that he, Zach, applied first to the (I
forgot what department it was in the university.) Political Science.
He took a Masters Degree in Political Science the graduated from Harvard Law School. The
Federation, I remember calling Miriam Yenkin and said “Miriam, we’ve got
to get some money for these people.” Ben Mandelkorn was involved. I
remember calling Ben. Then we met them in London, that is the Medvekovs. They
were there on a speaking tour but they wanted to come immediately to America so
we got the fellowship from the Jewish (What is it called where people have
Schlam: Endowment Fund?
Fink: Yeah, from one of the Jewish Endowment Funds (What
do you call them? Foundations.
Schlam: Oh, from the Foundation.
Fink: Yeah, Miriam Yenkin arranged that. He got his degree in Political Science and then came to the Law
School and graduated from the Law School. Their little boy was
born soon thereafter, a little fellow, who now is about
to graduate from Upper Arlington High School and is sitting in on my seminar in
Law History and Philosophy. He’s a wonderful boy. So, I say, maybe this is a
kind of a … over all it’s been a lot of fun, all these things that we did, a
lot of involvement, rarely home at night. There were these
three different entities, the Federation, Beth Tikvah and
Hillel. Those were my activities.
Schlam: Intense Jewish Involvement. I also want to ask about your career in the Law School.
Fink: That took second place to all these
other things. We did manage to do some classes, do a little writing and so on
during that time.
Schlam: When you came to the Law School how many Jewish faculty were there at the
time? Can you remember or was that even in your consciousness?
Fink: Oh, certainly in our consciousness, when I was looking for a job and
teaching, this goes back to about 1959, I was told at Yale there are certain
schools don’t bother to go to they won’t hire Jews, certain schools that are
quite well known today. So they were always steering to schools that would hire
Jews and there were Deans that simply wouldn’t hire Jews. They told me that
they already have one Jew. Here, at Ohio State at the Law School, there was one
Jewish faculty member, Irv Pollock. He had been hired in about 1947, after the
war. The then Dean, Jefferson Fordham, had hired another Librarian first,
Jewish, and the Board of Trustees had turned him down and Fordham went across to
the Board of Trustees and said “The next one you turn down, you have my
resignation.” So, they hired Irv. Before I came on board there was one
other Jewish faculty member who happened to be head of the Appointments
Soon thereafter things changed in the late 60’s, when Kent…. I believe
the person who was head of the Department’s Committee happened to be Jewish.
Seven people came on board that year at the Law School and four of them are
Jewish. So things changed very rapidly. In fact there was some perhaps some
resentment that too many Jews were coming into law teaching. So everything
turned exactly around and many Jews joined Law faculties and probably other
faculties as well. But this, you know this was a very conservative city I mean
we went through also integration of the schools which went to the U. S. Supreme
Court. The Columbus Schools were segregated by law and the Jewish faculty played
a large part in a number of those endeavors. So, yeh, it turned around
completely and there were a number of Jewish faculty in a short time.
Schlam: At the present are there a large number of Jewish faculty?
Fink: Yes, probably a third of the faculty.
Schlam: When you were at Yale in your class were there a large number of Jews in your
Schlam: There were?
Fink: Yale was so far ahead of its time. Yale was a
different place. Harvard didn’t have women in its class until 1952. Yale
always had women in its class. Yale had a number of Jewish Deans including
Rostow who was Dean when I was there and his apprentice was Schulman so Yale was
a very different place.
Schlam: So basically even though the Law professorship was second to your Jewish
involvements, it’s been a very positive experience…
Schlam: …for you.
Fink: Yes, yes, sure.
Schlam: Were you at all involved with Sam Melton in establishing the…
Fink: Melton Center, yes.
Schlam: Can you tell us about that?
Fink: Well, I was involved more (sigh) in the
earliest days of the Melton Center I wasn’t involved until Marc Raphael became
Director of the Melton Center. I’ve been involved since then. My greatest
involvement was when we set up a joint center.
In Sam”s will, or maybe it wasn’t his will but a gift, he gave some
money to set up a three-way center between Ohio State, Jewish Theological
Seminary and Hebrew University and I was involved in getting that going and even
went over there for the first meeting of the group. So I’ve been involved
probably less with Melton than the other involvements, but some.
Schlam: Well that gives us many facets of Columbus Jewish history and Beth Tikvah is
probably the most involved and the richest. Tell us about your life now.
Fink: Well I technically took retirement ten years ago but I’ve been teaching in
other places, including Iowa State and Stetson Law School in Florida. During
that time I taught first four years in California at San Diego and Santa Clara
and I taught for a year at Emory. So while I’m retired I haven’t stopped teaching.
Schlam: And your involvement with Jewish issues?
Fink: That has not abated but I don’t have any official capacity.
Schlam: Is there anything else that you would like to speak about?
Fink: Yes, I could say also how important Beth Tikvah’s Adult Education was with my mentor
Manfred Luttinger. The years of Sunday night education, that was really my Jewish education. I
didn’t really have much Jewish education before I came to Columbus. I had
some, visa vie our discussions, largely with Rodger (Klein), over all those
years I really got a deep understanding. We also had a Hillel program for
bringing faculty to Israel and I had a very, very interesting trip there in
1980. We met people who ultimately became leaders of the Israel government,
Olmert, among others. So that was an interesting time. I think the foundation of
Jewish education, my understanding of Jewish issues and Jewish political
questions and so on was Beth Tikvah. So Beth Tikvah was more than simply a place
you went to on Friday night. To us it was the center of our Jewish life and our Jewish education.
Schlam: That’s it, a good place to stop? Excellent unless Rose has anything else she would like to
ask. A very beautiful summation.
Luttinger: No. but, that was a beautiful ending, you’re so
articulate. Let me ask you what kind of life messages you give to your children
and your grandchildren?
Fink: Well both daughters have been active in Jewish life, particularly the camp.
The summer camp for our older daughter was a very, very formative experience.
She… the friends from the camp days are still their friends. The younger one
was less involved with the camp. Her boys they go to the Jewish Center and they
go to the temple and they are Jewish boys. I haven’t given them any life
messages yet since at age 31/2 it’s a little difficult but that will come.
Schlam: Wonderful. On behalf of the Columbus Jewish Historical Society and Beth
Tikvah I want to thank you for contributing to the oral history project. This
concludes the interview.
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