I’m (Rhoda Gelles) interviewing Ina Mayer on October 25, 2010, for the Columbus Jewish Historical Society’s and Congregation Beth Tikvah’s archives. So we’ll start with the first question, Ina.
Interviewer: Where were you and Bob born?
Mayer: I was born in Brooklyn but we lived in New Jersey and Bob was born in New York City.
Interviewer: Where did you live just prior to coming to Columbus?
Mayer: We came to Columbus from Baltimore, Maryland. Bob was still, had a post doc at Johns Hopkins.
Interviewer: What brought you to Columbus?
Mayer: A job at Ohio State. When Bob and I came here he was an Assistant Professor in the Chemistry Department.
Interviewer: How long did you live in Columbus?
Mayer: I lived in Columbus 38 years. Bob died after 21 or 22 years.
Interviewer: He was here at Ohio State for about 22 years.
Mayer: Yeah, about that.
Interviewer: Okay, I’m going to ask you about both of your families, yours and Bob’s. Tell me about your grandparents. Where were they born and where did they grow up?
Mayer: My maternal grandmother was born in England while the family was immigrating from Russia and she landed in the States when she was nine months old. My paternal grandparents, my grandmother was from Hungary and my grandfather was from the area of western Poland, called Galacia, I guess that area. They, he came to this country when he was around 19. I think my grandmother was around 18. They came here. She came to her sister. He came to his brother. They were married to each other. So it turned out two brothers married two sisters.
Interviewer: And so they grew up in New York, you’re saying?
Mayer: My maternal grandmother grew up in Brooklyn. It was a large family. Her father died fairly young. She used to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge to work in a millinery factory at the age of 11. Her older sisters were milliners.
Interviewer: And what about Bob’s grandparents?
Mayer: I think all his grandparents were born in the United States. I’m not sure where they were born. His paternal grandmother died fairly young and his mother’s father died when she was about four. Bob was a little kid, maybe seven years old, when his paternal grandfather married his maternal grandmother. So we used to tease him and say he was his own cousin.
Interviewer: And what about parents? Where were your parents born and where did they grow up?
Mayer: Both my parents were born in Passaic, New Jersey and that’s where they grew up.
Interviewer: And Bob’s?
Mayer: His were born in New York somewhere and that’s where they grew up and that’s where he grew up.
Interviewer: New York City?
Mayer: New York City.
Interviewer: Where did you attend college?
Mayer: I went to Adelphi College in Garden City, Long Island.
Interviewer: Was being Jewish important to you in those years?
Mayer: It was important. I went through a kind of anti-religious stage which many kids do when they’re in college. But that was the way it was. I was Jewish and a lot of my friends were Jewish, although not all of them. That was a very important factor.
Interviewer: Were you active in any Jewish activities at Adelphi?
Mayer: No, not really. I think I went to a few Hillel things, but there was just nothing that interested me that much at that time.
Interviewer: Tell me how did you meet Bob?
Mayer: We were both counselors at a camp for emotionally disturbed children. It was run by the Jewish Board of Guardians from New York City. That’s how we met.
Interviewer: And where were you married?
Mayer: We were married in my parents’ house in New Jersey, in Clifton, New Jersey, in the backyard.
Interviewer: And tell me again how long were you married?
Mayer: We were married for 31 years.
Interviewer: And now tell me about Bob’s education. Where did he go to college?
Mayer: He went to college at West Virginia University. He was very active in the fraternity there, the Jewish fraternity.
Interviewer: Which fraternity?
Mayer: Phi Lambda Phi, the Jewish fraternity. He was very active in the fraternity. He at one point thought about going to medical school but he was only 17 when he went to college and he needed to grow up a little bit so he. His grades weren’t so good so he never did get into medical school. He decided that, later on he said this was very fortuitous because he really loved what he was doing.
Interviewer: Where did he go to graduate school?
Mayer: He went to graduate school at George Washington University, in, DC, in Bio Chemistry. He loved it. He loved it. He got his Masters and his Ph.D there and he wanted to teach as well as do research. That’s why he didn’t go to a drug company or other places.
Interviewer: Right. Where were you both in your education when you met each other?
Mayer: We were both at the end of our sophomore years in college when we met each other. We didn’t get married until after we graduated. We got engaged the year we graduated and got married the next year.
Interviewer: Okay. Tell me about your children? First of all, tell me about your children. (Laughter).
Mayer: I was working while Bob was going to graduate school, getting my Ph.T, Putting Hubby Thru. When he was almost finished we decided it was time to start a family. Our first child, Lynn, was born in Washington, D.C. though we lived in Maryland. Then Bob went into the Public Health Service because he felt obligated to perform his duty because they had called him up for draft and he got an excuse to perform this obligation. So he worked at NIH, at Public Health. He worked there as a Post Doc. and that was a good time to have our second child (Deborah) because she was free. She was born at Bethesda Naval Hospital and then when she was six months old we moved to Baltimore because he got a Post Doc. at Johns Hopkins Medical School and that’s where the third one was born. Steven was born there.
Interviewer: So you said you worked. In what capacity did you work before?
Mayer: I was a first grade teacher first in Prince George School, then Montgomery County.
Interviewer: I see. So you have gone back to your roots.
Mayer: Yes I have. I think that’s funny because my girls are back to the area where they were born.
Interviewer: That is funny. And you told me you and Bob were married for how long?
Mayer: Thirty-one years.
Interviewer: Thirty-one years. Tell me about your children’s Jewish experiences in Columbus.
Mayer: Well it was very interesting. My oldest daughter, when we lived in Baltimore, she wasn’t developing her language as well as we had hoped. The pediatrician said we should send her to pre-school. The only pre-school that we could find that could take her in the morning was a very, very Orthodox school. I think that we had a hard time explaining to her that we didn’t do things that way. Our Judaism was a little bit different. I think she carried that with her because when we moved to Columbus, Bob had picked us up at the airport and we’re driving. The kids asked, “Is this our house? Is this our house?” Finally we got home. She was five years old. She looks up and she says, “I saw a lot of churches. Where are the synagogues?” So it was obviously very important. I kind of thought she was a kick back to my Orthodox grandparents.
Interviewer: Very interesting.
Mayer: Well it was very important to her, very early. We didn’t join a synagogue at that time. We didn’t have very much money. We looked around a little bit. Then we decided we’ll just have to wait for a little while. One day, Lynn came home all excited because she’d met a Jewish girl at school. We were probably one of three families who were Jewish at that school.
Interviewer: What school district?
Mayer: Fishinger Elementary in Upper Arlington. She came home all excited about this little girl. We became friendly with her mother and they belonged to the Northside Jewish Community group. So we did join that and the girls went to religious school there a couple of times, a couple of years. Actually I even taught first grade there. I was just not happy with that. So then we looked around and ended up joining Beth Tikvah which was very important to my children, all three of them.
Interviewer: Where was Beth Tikvah located when you joined?
Mayer: On Indianola. They never complained about going to religious school or later on to Hebrew School because that’s where they met their Jewish friends. They were in a Christian environment in school and they were very happy to go. Debbie and Steven eventually went to Gucci, the Goldman Institute camp in Zionsville. Steven, in fact, is still in touch with the kids that he went to camp with. There were five of them in his religious school grade and they’re still good friends, still in contact with each other. In fact he’s coming into the Washington area because Steve Shulman’s son is having a Bar Mitzvah. They’re going to have a camp reunion. So, Judaism is very important to my children. I think when Debbie, my middle one, decided to go to college, she wanted to go where there were a lot of Jewish kids.
Interviewer: Where did they go to college?
Mayer: Lynn went to the University of Michigan, Debbie went to Washington University in St. Louis and Steven went to the University of Wisconsin. All three of them were all very active in the youth group. Lynn went to Israel for a one-year program at Hebrew University as a sophomore in college and came home. She was going to make Aliyah. That was her goal.
Interviewer: Tell me about what your children are doing now.
Mayer: Presently Lynn is an assistant principal at an elementary school in Fairfax County in Virginia. When she first moved there, actually she had made Aliyah. When my father was ill, she decided to come home. Her marriage fell apart and she got a job teaching kindergarten in a Jewish Day School. She’d never taught before but they needed a teacher. She had majored in Judaic Studies because after she came home from Israel that was the only thing she could major in. She became interested in Special Ed so she decided after a while to go get her Masters in Special Ed. So she’s teaching at a Jewish Day School and trying to raise a child as a single parent. She eventually did get her degree and got a job in the Fairfax County Public Schools where she’s been ever since.
Interviewer: And she has a second child?
Mayer: Yes, she remarried and she has a second child. Amazingly Judaism was mportant to both girls but much more to Ilana who is now 14. She went to Jewish Day School for two years. Adrianna went to Day School from first grade thru seventh grade and then went to public school. Ilana was there for two years but it just didn’t seem to be the right place for her. She just needed more stimulation. The best thing about it was that she was learning the Hebrew. Both girls were Bat Mitzvahed in a Conservative synagogue. Ilana has joined BBYO and she has gotten very, most of her friends are Jewish now which is unusual because living in northern Virginia is not that different from living in certain parts of Columbus. She’s decided, Ilana, she’s a very determined child, that she’s going to do high school in Israel, the second half of her sophomore year. They were in Israel this summer. They went over there for three weeks, the whole family, had a wonderful time.
Mayer: Debbie went to Law School at Ohio State and first got a job up in Cleveland but she wasn’t very happy in a corporate law firm and finally got a job in Washington, DC where she worked for the Department of Labor where she worked with the Black Lung patients. She was dating on and off and she met her future husband at some kind of a political rally or something. They married and she was still working. She was living also in an area where there weren’t many Jews. One day she was in the grocery store and saw a sign saying something about a Succah party. So she called up and that’s how she got involved with Judaism in northern Virginia. They eventually decided to form a congregation so she was one of the original founders and very influential. She helped them will all their legal things. She’s continued to be in that congregation. They have a part-time rabbi. They rented a place in a church and they’re now moving to their own place. They’re renting. They can’t afford to buy. She’s been very active on the Board in many different positions. She’s been very active there.
The boys, Ben had his Bar Mitzvah and Adam will have his in 2012. So they’ve been very active in Judaism. Steven, his camp days, he was very involved in Judaism. He taught music at Beth Tikvah when he was in high school, you know, with the religious school. When he was in college he did the same thing. He got a job in a temple doing some Friday night Services and doing the religious school. He went to Israel, I guess it was his junior year. He went to Israel. But he didn’t take courses. He went to an Ulpan and he worked on a Kibbutz. Lynn was living there at that time so he was the first one to see his niece. He had met his wife, I’m not sure when he met her. I think he kind of knew her before he went to Israel. When he came back they started to date. She’s Jewish too. I think that Lynn would never have married somebody who wasn’t Jewish. I think that Steven and Debbie probably would have but I don’t think they could bring their children up anything else.
Interviewer: How interesting.
Mayer: Yes, and Steven, when they had their first child, they did their own baby naming in the house and they chose the name Esther because they wanted her to have a strong biblical name.
Interviewer: That’s nice.
Mayer: I’ve got a Jewish family, it’s wonderful (laughs).
Interviewer: Bob was President of Beth Tikvah from 1979 thru 1981. What were the main issues at Beth Tikvah during his tenure as President?
Mayer: Where were we going to find a place to go (laughs), to get out of the Indianola place. Bob spent a lot of time going from one piece of property to another, one place. We would specify weekends going to different places. That was the really big thing and having the money to do it.
Interviewer: What events do you remember that you would consider significant in the history of the congregation?
Mayer: Obviously, moving from Indianola to Worthington was the big thing. In fact when we had the march Lynn was a freshman in college and she came home because it meant so much to her to walk with the Torah. That was a big deal.
Interviewer: Oh yeah, that was a big deal. Did you and Bob have other involvements n the Jewish community?
Mayer: When he first started on the Board, he was working. He was in charge of the Hebrew School. At that time, they had the Columbus Hebrew School. He was kind of active in that and tried to coordinate things. But I really wasn’t any more. I was active in Beth Tikvah but that was it.
Interviewer: In what capacity?
Mayer: I was very active in the Sisterhood. I became Vice President and Secretary and I was on the Board of Beth Tikvah as membership person. That was very important. I think it was very important to us that we had the affiliation. Beth Tikvah was the perfect place for us. After he died I took the Florence Melton Mini School for two years. That’s how I was active.
Interviewer: How did being Jewish come into play first of all in your career?
Mayer: Well it really didn’t come into play except that I was always a minority. I was basically the only Jewish teacher.
Interviewer: Where did you work?
Mayer: I worked in Dublin schools.
Interviewer: In what capacity?
Mayer: I was a teacher, mostly first grade. Towards the end of my career I did kindergarten, special reading. I would do the Chanukah bit every year when everybody else was doing Christmas. The one thing that stands out in my mind is one teacher said to me, “You’re not going to tell them you don’t believe in Jesus, are you?” I said, “No, but why?” She said, “Well you would disillusion them.” Well of course I’m not going to tell them those things. I’m just going to tell them how we celebrated our holiday and that it wasn’t the same as their holiday. I later found out that I probably wouldn’t have been hired if my name had been Cohen or Moskovitz.
Interviewer: Did being Jewish come to play in Bob’s career that you’re aware of?
Mayer: I don’t think so, not in his career. In science there are, you know, it’s just are you good in your field. There were Jewish and non-Jewish people that he associated with. It didn’t have any effect on him.
Interviewer: When did Bob pass away and from what cause?
Mayer: He passed away in 1989, October 6th I think, two days before Yom Kippur. It was a tough time for all of us. He died from cancer. Originally it was esophageal cancer, but when he died it had been in the abdominal cavity. That was it.
Interviewer: And how old was he?
Mayer: 53, much too young.
Interviewer: When did you leave Columbus and where do you live now?
Mayer: I left Columbus, let’s see, 2006 and I moved to northern Virginia to be near my daughters and my grandchildren.
Interviewer: The last question, how did the Columbus Jewish Community change while you were living here?
Mayer: It really changed. There were very few Jews on the North side of Columbus and when I left there were significant numbers of Jews on the North side of Columbus. I think that people began to be a little more tolerant. What do I want to say? I never had any problems with our non-Jewish friends but other people did. It changed for the better.
Interviewer: Well thank you very much.
Transcribed by Rose Luttinger
Edited by Rose Luttinger