This interview for the Columbus Jewish Historical Society is being recorded on Friday, August 28, 2009, as part of the Columbus Jewish Historical Society Oral History Project. The interview is being recorded at 1175 College Avenue. My name is Marc Polster and I am interviewing Marvin Bonowitz.
Bonowitz: Glad to be here Marc. I’m looking forward to this interview. I’d like to give a quick background if anybody knows my family. My sister Roselyn was married to Julius Margulies. Her children are Cheryl Simon, Joyce Becker, Greg Margulies, Lisa Bendler and Harry Margulies.
Actually, there are two Bonowitz families in Columbus, descended from two cousins–Dovid, aka David Bonowitz, and Samuel Bonowitz, my grandfather. The family of Dovid included the baseball player Joe Bonowitz, the screen actress, Gail Bonney, Esther Winter, OSU twin football players Dale and David Bonney, Anna Winter and her daughters, Miriam Shenker and, Esther Rosen and Esther’s daughter, Sharon Goldenberg among others.
My grandfather’s sister, Nesha married Aaron Canowitz (the fatherof the late physician, Aaron Canowitz) who died before Aaron, M.D. was born- so the local Canowitz family members are all descended from Bonowitzes.
Interviewer: You’ve brought photos, articles and some write-ups that you’ve done which I have read that are part of the archives of the Jewish Historical Society, and I just want to say at the outset that I’m honored to interview you, Marvin.
Bonowitz: Thank you!
Interviewer: You’re a patriarch of the community and a virtual walking encyclopedia of the history of Columbus and the Columbus Jewish community. So thank you very much for sitting for the interview.
Bonowitz: Well I’m 82 years old and my memory is pretty good for the ”distant” past…I was living on Parsons Avenue with my family until I was six years old.
Interviewer: Let’s start at the beginning and we’ll just go through these questions one-by-one very quickly. What is your full name?
Bonowitz: Marvin Bonowitz. Hersh is my middle name but I rarely use it. I had two great uncles named Hersh. They were not living when I was born so my parents named me Marvin Hersh in their memories.
Interviewer: And what is your Jewish name?
Bonowitz: Moisha Herschel or Moshe Zvi in Hebrew.
Interviewer: When were you and Anne married?
Bonowitz: June 25, 1961.
Interviewer: And how far back have you traced your family?
Bonowitz: When my father died in 1965 and I was sitting ”shiva” I had plenty of time on my hands and I started writing down the names of my father’s brothers and sisters. I went back a little farther because I knew some of my father’s cousins and I put them into the family list and so it went.
When I began to record my mother’s family tree I asked my mother’s youngest sister, Harriet Korn, to help me with names of some cousins and she might say, “I don’t know, call Ethel. (Ethel Weisenberg Rosen was Harriet’s first cousin) and she might say, “I don’t know, Herschel might know.” Herschel lived in Akron. As far as I know, he’s still in Akron. I never knew I had a first cousin once-removed, named Herschel. He filled me in with some more information and before I knew it I had names of hundreds of people that are related to me in some way. I bought a program called “Family Tree Maker.” It has blanks that can be filled in with everybody’s name, and family data.
Anne and I joined a group from Tifereth Israel that was going to Eastern Europe, I took advantage of the opportunity to go to Suwalki, Poland, where my father was born. In Warsaw I took a cab with a guide and visited that small town. I was introduced to an elderly Jew who held the keys to the Jewish cemetery. He was friendly and very helpful. He unlocked the iron gates to reveal a rural field of grass which appeared to be doubling as a cow pasture. I was informed that grave stones had been taken away during the war and had been used to line the swimming pool of the Nazi overseers of the town. After the war the Suwalki community recovered those headstones and had placed them into an attractive wall. I didn’t have time to do rubbings or read it at all, but I was able to photograph the wall and visit the town where my dad was a boy.
Interviewer: Who was the first person in your line that you know of that came to America from the Old Country?
Bonowitz: Mother’s brother, Abe Shustick, and her sister, Molly, were born in Ekaterinoslav, near Kiev in Russia. It was renamed Dnepropetrovsk some years ago. My mother’s parents were Joseph and Sadie Shustick, but her father changed his name to George. Mother’s younger brother was Cecil Shustick. Their sisters, Bobby Patricoff and Harriet Korn were born in this country.
Interviewer: What were your mother’s and your father’s full names…?
Bonowitz: My father was Abraham Jacob Bonowitz. His mother and father were Lillian Sacharitky and Samuel Bonowitz. My father had one brother, Ben, and his sisters were Anna Wohlstein, Sarah Plaine, Esther Glasser, Bertha Friedman and Doris Bonowitz. My mother Fannie, her brother Abe and sister Molly came to America with their parents. The other children in her family were born in Columbus. On my father’s side, Esther was the first sister who was born in the United States. His sisters, Anna and Sarah were born in the Old Country.
Interviewer: Do you remember the port of entry that your family came through?
Bonowitz: I don’t know about my Dad’s port of entry, but my mother arrived in Baltimore. They all came on ships.
Interviewer: Right. And if I recall correctly, you had a Circleville, Ohio connection?
Bonowitz: Yes. I can’t find the reason why they were sent to Circleville with five other Jewish families but most of them later moved to Columbus.
Bonowitz: Yes, Friedmans. They all came from Circleville to Columbus. They didn’t come to Columbus first. I don’t know what organization was placing these Jewish refugees from Russia to go to Circleville. They might have been put to work harvesting pumpkins.
Interviewer: (Laughs) Or other crops?
Bonowitz: Yes. So for whatever reason, there was a use for them in Circleville, and Columbus wasn’t ready for them. At the time there were Jews living in Columbus. Some families had come in an earlier wave from Germany. Many were Reform Jews and they settled in the area of Columbus on Town Street which was later re-named Bryden Road, east of Parsons Avenue. It was a good time to open businesses on High Street and some of those who became successful were the Gundersheimers, the Lazaruses, and the Levys, who founded the Union (Clothing Company) in the white brick building which still stands downtown at the northwest corner of Long and High Streets. The Reform Jews built Temple Israel’s first synagogue on Bryden Road which was in use until 1959, when their new synagogue was built on East Broad Street at Noe-Bixby Road.
Interviewer: I know you have a lot of information about that early Jewish community around Parsons Avenue. I want to talk more about that but I wanted to ask you, do you know why your family came to Columbus? Did they know people here?
Bonowitz: I don’t know the reason, but other families were coming, too. Columbus was a larger city with an established Jewish community; synagogues, kosher groceries, social agencies and more businesses owned by Jews, and which hired and catered to Jews.
Interviewer: Interesting. Do you have any relatives that you know about in the old countries?
Bonowitz: My paternal grandmother was a Sacharitski. And her sibs all emigrated with the exception of one brother who settled in France. They shortened their name to Sharycki. Anne and I visited several Sharycki cousins and their families in Paris and Lyons a few years ago and several of them have visited us in Columbus.
Interviewer: Did your parents tell you how they met?
Bonowitz: They never told me, but my father lived at 860 Parsons Avenue and my mother’s family lived at 756. Her father was George Shustick who served three terms as President of Beth Jacob Synagogue.
Interviewer: So were they married in Columbus?
Bonowitz: They were married in Columbus by Rabbi Solomon Neches in 1918, when the first World War was taking place. My father served in the Army for 18 months.
Interviewer: Did he see action in…
Bonowitz: No, the war was almost over. He was stationed at Camp Sherman in Chillicothe.
Interviewer: I know that your father had a haberdashery, a clothing store…is that how he started out making a living or did he have another occupation?
Bonowitz: He worked at the piano bench factory that existed on Main Street just east of Nelson Road.
Interviewer: Interesting. Did he ever tell you what he did at the piano bench factory?
Bonowitz: I guess he helped make piano benches.
Interviewer: Piano benches?
Bonowitz: Yes. I think all you can do in a business like that is you put the legs on with glue and paint them black. When the war was over he had no profession, but two of his cousins, Rudolph and Joe Canowitz, had a tailor shop on Parsons Avenue at the corner of Oak Street and that’s where my dad learned to be a tailor. When he had skills of his own, he got a job with Louis Levin, a tailor who had opened a shop on Mount Vernon Avenue at Monroe Avenue. Later there was an empty storeroom just two blocks east on Mt. Vernon Avenue and my father took the opportunity to buy that storeroom and have a tailor shop of his own.
As time went on he put in shirts and other items of haberdashery for men because there was no men’s shop on the street, so he met the need for that kind of business. He went on to enlarge his store and it became very successful. He had called it “Vernon Tailoring Company” and when he expanded the store he added the name “Clothing Store” so his sign read, “Vernon Tailoring and Clothing Company” and it existed for many years.
In 1996 prize winning writer Wil Haygood of the Washington Post won a James Thurber Literary Scholarship to live in the Thurber House on Jefferson Avenue while writing a history of Mount Vernon Avenue. I was among the residents and businessmen of that avenue who responded to his call to be interviewed.
A few months later Wil informed me that his publisher convinced him to write his autobiography about growing up in Columbus instead of the historical neighborhood project. Haygood’s book was titled “The Haygoods of Columbus: A Family Memoir” and it won the “Best Non-Fiction Award” of 1996 from the Ohioana Library.
Haygood gave me a “go-ahead” to do a history of Mount Vernon Avenue; Peggy Kaplan of the Columbus Jewish Historical Society asked me to speak about my research for a program to present to the Historical Society membership, which I did. As I finished my presentation, Mrs. Kaplan told the group that the Historical Society would like to publish my findings if it could find financial support for the project.
Immediately, Mayer Rosenfeld stood and volunteered a pledge of a thousand dollars from him and his wife, Dorothy. But the following morning Mrs. Kaplan called to tell me that the Rosenfelds had raised their pledge to two thousand dollars! I began immediately to begin my own research and interviews with friends and businessmen who were part of Mount Vernon Avenue history.
In the following two years I interviewed, compiled material, took photographs and designed the 64 page paperback book, Mount Vernon Avenue: Jewish Businesses in a Changing Neighborhood, which I dedicated to the memory of my parents, Fannie and Abraham Bonowitz. More than five hundred copies have been sold and I found that the project has a life of its own! Nine years later it can be found in the United States Library of Congress and all branches of the Columbus Public Library. If you call your branch library, call in advance to request that the book be available to you at the desk.
Interviewer: When did you become interested in music and theater?
Bonowitz: I became interested in music when we lived on Parsons Avenue. On my sister’s twelfth birthday our parents gave her a piano. I was five years old. I went to the piano and what do you, know, I could bang out a tune.
Interviewer: Did you take formal lessons or just…
Bonowitz: When we had moved to Winner Avenue, a lady, Marie Davis Judd, a piano teacher, was going from house to house seeking students and Roselyn and I both took piano lessons. I won’t say we studied because Mrs. Judd didn’t seem to have a formal program for teaching but she sat there and pointed to the notes and helped us with some fingering; a dollar an hour.
Interviewer: Did you practice?
Bonowitz: Neither of us practiced. I was banging out tunes but neither of us had any plans for a musical career.
Interviewer: Well, you must have learned how to read music pretty well because I know you were an accompanist quite a bit later in life.
Bonowitz: I learned to read music but playing by ear seemed to come natural to me. It’s my gift and I’m very grateful for it. I can read music, but if somebody tells me that she’s going to sing so-and-so but doesn’t have the music, I’ll bang it out if I know how it goes.
Interviewer: You don’t even need the chords?
Bonowitz: Well, my fingers do the work, I don’t. You know, “Fingers, do your stuff!”
Interviewer: You don’t need the chord progressions in front of you?
Bonowitz: What’s a chord progression? No, I don’t. Later in life I decided I might be a better pianist if I took lessons. I called Joe Weisberg, a well known pianist in Columbus. I took a few lessons with him and I learned a little bit about music theory.
Interviewer: Intervals and…?
Bonowitz: What are intervals? But seriously, Ruth Thall Quinn was a talented violinist who was playing at a lot of Jewish weddings. Many times she asked me to accompany her. I also accompanied some of my pals for fun. Mort Ginsburg played a clarinet, Dick Soskin and Jerry Melmed played the violin.
My mother and sister were active in the Jewish War Veterans Ladies Auxiliary which was having an affair at Valley Dale and asked if I would accompany a lady who had recently come to Columbus. It was Michelle Horsefield who became a well known name in Columbus musical circles! We became good friends.
For a time I played in Max’s 21, Max Shell’s bar on West Spring Street, and for the past forty-two years I’ve been part of Muriel Gundersheimer’s troup, accompanying the singers, dancers and other talent that join the troup from time to time. Muriel, herself, does lip synch to comedy tapes of Beatrice Kaye, Betty Hutton and others, in costume.
Anne had been a camper and later a Counselor and Teacher at several of the Camp Ramahs around the country in the Berkshire Mountains, California and Wisconsin, Georgia and Canada. The camps are sponsored by the Jewish Theological Society and provide an athletic program and Jewish studies and Hebrew conversation and religion in kosher forest settings. When our children became old enough they became campers at Ramah in Wisconsin. Anne led classes of Jewish interest;. I was a registered nurse in Ohio and inWisconsin,and I became the camp nurse for five summers. Sons Alan and David ran the camp radio station, WRMH, in succeeding years and Abe became the Outdoor Camping Counselor.
In addition to assisting doctors in running the camp infirmary I accompanied the productions of Broadway musicals that were translated into Hebrew among them Guys and Dolls, Pinocchio, West Side Story, and Sesame Street. Lots of fun!
Interviewer: How about the theater back home? When did that start?
Bonowitz: I was seven years old; it was the first day of Sunday School at Agudas Achim. The teacher, Rosalie Mellman cast me in a little play about Adam and Eve. I was Adam and Miss Mellman cast her sister, Kathleen, to play Eve. Teacher told us to improvise the story about the Garden of Eden, with our clothes on. I was a big “show off” and continued to act and dance at schools and performing groups. I once listed titles of more than 40 plays and musicals that I was cast in, in addition to 6 operas at the Metropolitan and New York City Opera Company.
Interviewer: Where did you go to school?
Bonowitz: I went to Fair Avenue Elementary, Franklin Junior High and East High School. At East High School I accompanied singers and instrumentalists.
Interviewer: You were pretty young when the Depression struck. What do you remember about the Great Depression?
Bonowitz: I was 6 or 7 years old. I remember hearing grown-ups talking about it but I didn’t know what they were talking about.
Interviewer: Do you remember anything about World War II?
Bonowitz: Sure. Young guys were being drafted into the military services. Sugar and gasoline were rationed. We had blackout practices pulling down the shades to practice what we might have to do in case, God forbid, there would be an air raid by enemy planes! Volunteer “air raid wardens” would make their rounds in the neighborhoods for practice. I was still in school at the time but my brother-in-law, Julius Margulies was drafted into the Army and his wife, my sister Roselyn and her baby daughter, Cheryl came to live with us on Eastwood Avenue. My uncles, Harold Korn, Jack Patricoff and Cecil Shustick all served in the army. They were conscripted! Men had to go!
Interviewer: You’re a man of many languages, I can tell. Now before we go to New York, tell me a little bit about your career at Ohio State. I know you were in the Marching Band, The Best Damn Band in the Land and you studied Psychology and Russian. Tell me about your experiences at Ohio State.
Bonowitz: Well, my parents expected that I would go to Ohio State and study “Business.” I was half-hearted about this. I’d worked in our store and I had good general experience but I didn’t think that I would want to do that forever. I enrolled in the College of Commerce and I lasted there about a year.
My schedule sometimes required that I had an 8 a.m.class and sometimes I had to stay for 3 o’clock or 4 o’clock classes. I was on the campus all day long so I found things to do. I got part-time jobs of one kind or another. I posed for art classes in clothes and out of clothes for their figure drawing classes. I took a course in ceramics. I volunteered to score psychological tests in a test lab in the old Armory building. I became a Psychology major and I took some classes that were interesting to me: Russian, French, Music Appreciation.
Interviewer: What did you play in the band?
Bonowitz: When I was going into the sixth grade at Franklin Junior High,my parents bought me a clarinet so I could play in Junior High and Senior High School bands. Marvin Grossman sat next to me in the clarinet section of the East High Band; he may recall that there were only sixteen players in the East High Band, just enough players to form the letter “E” as we marched down the field in East High’s Harley Field! Figure out the formation!
At Ohio State I went to try out for the well known marching band. It is known to be an all brass band but World War II was on and there was a shortage of guys at OSU to fill the need for 120+ players, so I was admitted to the band as a clarinetist on condition that I carry a tuba in the first year while learning to play an alto brass horn, because the OSU marching band was, by tradition, an all male, brass band. So I learned to play a brass horn and I was with the marching band for three years…
Interviewer: A big part of my dad’s education there, too. So you graduated from OSU with a degree in Psychology.
Bonowitz: …and I took my place as a 22 year old bachelor in the social milieu of the Columbus Jewish Community.
At this time there was some theatrical activity in the Jewish community. Junior Hadassah was putting on a play as a fund raiser and they needed a guy. They produced “A Date With Judy” by F. Hugh Herbert, and they gave me the role of Oogie Pringle probably because I was the only guy that came to the tryouts.
Later the B’nai B’rith Women raised funds the same way. There was a man named Romberg in Canada staging variety shows based on humorous skits, dances and so forth. The B’nai B’rith Women bought his shows to stage here. I was in the shows which he called “Awake and Swing” and “Pack Up Your Trebles” singing and dancing.
I graduated from Ohio State in 1949 and continued to work in my dad’s store, but I was concerned that I might be better suited to a different career. The possibility of failure or catastrophe of any small business such as ours could not be dismissed, and I had no real skills to fall back on. My family had worked hard to establish a successful business but I felt that I needed to get more knowledge or expertise of my own.
I was about 25 when I entered the Mills School of Nursing for Men at 3,000+ bed Bellevue Hospital in New York, one of the largest and most respected in the country. I guess I should talk a little about how this happened.
After ten years of serving the Bexley Community, the men’s haberdashery business had lost its charm…I enjoyed meeting my customers, helping them
select their sweaters and ties and serving their needs when the laundry was late returning their clean shirts.
College tuitions for four children loomed in the future and finally, the thought of returning to the Nursing profession was received favorably.
A table meeting with wife and four children resulted in unanimous support for my wish to sell my store and resume my career in the nursing. I sold the store to Mrs. Earl Shmitz who made it into a very attractive gift shop.
I enrolled in a refresher course offered by the National Professional Nurses Association and began answering calls for private duty in homes and hospitals.
I responded to an ad by Tom Wineriter, R.N., M.S., who was the director of the Grant Hospital School of Nursing. Bellevue Hospital in New York is a full service hospital maintained by the City of New York. It served all of New York City south of 42nd Street and many of its police runs led to admissions to its psychiatric service which is well known in fact and occasional humor, so Mr. Wineriter may have assumed that I had some special experience or knowledge, as indeed I did, and he hired me on the spot to join his faculty as an instructor of Psychiatric Nursing.
I was to lecture and supervise student nurses in classes in the newly built hospital Tower as well as at the Ohio Psychiatric Hospital on West Broad Street.
After a year the Grant Hospital; School of Nursing moved to Westerville so it could join Otterbein College and offer Bachelor’s degrees to its graduates of the nursing school. Its faculty placement called for Masters’ Degrees.
I had a Bachelor of Arts from OSU and a Bachelor of Science from New York University, Bellevue School of Nursing but the lack of a Masters’ Degree would disqualify me from the Grant School faculty.
I worked temporary fill in services at Emergency Departments at Mercy Hospital and Saint Anthony. The next sixteen years found me on the staff of The Ohio State University Hospital, including 2 years in the organ transplant service, 2 years in Urology, 2 years in ophthalmology and six years in psychiatric nursing.
“Ask-a-Nurse” was a commercial hospital program purchased from another hospital. Nurses would triage telephone callers by entering their various health concerns into computers which would inform the nurse of appropriate responses to problems such as “My baby won’t stop crying,” or “The medicine that the doctor gave me made me sick!”
At this time University Hospital had built a constellation of small medical offices in the city. The telephone service also served to
inform callers about these facilities when appropriate, and it was necessary to know about the many medical and surgical services were provided by University Hospital or its satellites.
In this process I learned about many surgical services that were being performed, including the recently developed (at that time)
surgical procedure, referred to as a stapidectomy. I lost no time in scheduling this operation for one of my sons who had a severe
congenital hearing loss. The successful surgery changed his life!
Responses by the nurse depended upon the computer responses. The nurses consulted computer screens seeking advice on various health concerns….which included “Come to the hospital at once,” or “Call your doctor if you don’t feel better in the morning! These responses would guide the caller.
After three months in this position I returned to my position in the Emergency Department and retired when the hospital management announced that its contributions to employee’s retirement funds were to be revised.
I enjoyed my career as a nurse but I recall some concerns about some aspects of hospital employment nowadays. First, although nurses in the psychiatric settings wear ordinary street clothes, nurses in other settings no longer wear white uniform and nurses no longer wear caps which identified their professional status and the nursing school that they attended. Secondly, it is customary for doctors and other professional staff to wear white “doctor” coats or jackets. Many other hospital workers wear “scrub suits” of various colors. Years have passed when the levels of various hospital workers could be identified by the colors of their uniforms. Housekeeping staff might wear navy blue, dietary workers might wear green. In some instances it is confusing who is who because the colors of their uniforms may be the same across positions.
The following three years found me as a non-nursing assistant to the manager of the University Hospital Emergency Department. I collected data to report statistics of various interests such as waiting time of Emergency Department clients. This data was presented to emergency department management to help better better their service to the public.
Interviewer: That had to be difficult.
Bonowitz: While learning a worthwhile profession, I was learning to live the New York life; the bright lights and the music. I attended Broadway plays and operas. I learned that the opera companies used what were called “Supers,” short for supernumeraries; extras who didn’t have to sing or dance. They just did walk-ons in crowd scenes in make up and costumes and made a few bucks while hearing opera stars close up.
Bonowitz: Yes, extras. At the New York City Opera Company I was onstage in “Carmen” and “Aida.” I progressed to the Metropolitan, the opera company of the nation and performed in “Die Meistersinger,” “La Gioconda.” and “Lohengrin.” We walked on in the costumes and were part of the scenery.
A favorite memory of mine from the Met stage was watching, from a distance of about three feet, the Wagnerian Soprano, Helen Trauble, trying to break up (get him to laugh) Lauritz Melchior during a love scene in Lohengrin.
Interviewer: It must have been a big thrill.
Bonowitz: It was. At times I had to hurry back to the Hospital to work the night shift. I got into a little bit of trouble in “La Gioconda” in the first act, when the Angelus sounds in the main piazza, the cast onstage was to take off their hats, kneel, and pray. I was facing upstage with the rest of the cast behind me when the Angelus bells rang.
At Intermission, the manager of the ushers came into the dressing room, asking to know “who that was standing up with his hat on when the Angelus rang?” I had to confess that it had been me! Well, in my religion, when a man prays, he wears a cap and he stands up!
Interviewer: How did you get away with that?
Bonowitz: I didn’t exactly get away with it, but I didn’t play that opera any more!
Interviewer: Where did you live in New York, down near NYU?
Bonowitz: No, I lived in the Hospital.
Interviewer: At Bellevue?
Bonowitz: Yes, until I graduated and then I moved.
Interviewer: Where’s Bellevue?
Bonowitz: Bellevue Hospital is on First Avenue between 26th Street and 31st Street facing the East River. It was an interesting place to live. I had a river view from my window, all I could eat, while earning another college degree from one of the best schools of nursing in the country.
Interviewer: What drew you to nursing originally? Did you see it as a profession?
Bonowitz: I saw it as a nurturing profession, always and everywhere needed.
Interviewer: What motivated you to go back to Columbus?
Bonowitz: My dad and my mother had for many years worked in the store, while I travelled, goofed off at OSU, moved to New York and lived the life of a dilettante. My dear parents were tired and certainly deserved to retire. I came back to Columbus and took my turn at the store. Mother and Dad had moved to Eastmoor. I stayed in their new home for a while but I felt that I needed to have an apartment of my own. When you’re in your late 20s you don’t live with your parents so much. I rented an apartment in a converted mansion on Jefferson Avenue which I later found had been the home of Ohio Governor Nash in 1904.
I was working in our store and living downtown, driving an Austin-Healey sportscar, wearing expensive clothes, going to theaters, socializing with friends and being in literary and theater groups. I was acting in “Androcles and the Lion” at Derby Hall at OSU. The Drama Department had invited non-students to audition for the shows. Rhea Kaplan was one of the Jewish actors and I was another who performed in the shows. Players Club planned to take some of those Derby Hall shows at OSU intact with those casts and put them into their theater on Franklin Avenue. Membership in Players Club was tightly restricted. One had to be invited by an active member and there were no Jews that I knew that were members.
Gene Gerard was a popular radio announcer, the theater columnist at the Columbus Citizen, an instructor at Ohio State and a performer in many shows including some at Players Club and later, at Gallery Players. Gene married a Jewish lady named Charlotte Frankel who was a very talented actress. He was a valued member of Players Club. Ipso facto, if Charlotte Frankel was married to Gene Gerard, it could be assumed that a “member of the tribe” had been approved/elected to membership in Players Club. If there had been restriction of Jews to membership, it had now been broken. Rhea and I had somehow become members there.
I enjoyed my membership, met interesting people and appeared in several shows. It was understood that only members could attend the productions with the exception of one show per year when a member could invite an outside guest to attend a performance. “Androcles and the Lion” had been selected as the show to which members could bring a non-member; that important privilege. At a dress rehearsal of that show, Roy Bowen, the Director of the show, called me down from the stage at a break and said, “I know you have colored friends and you have to understand that colored people aren’t welcome here.” Non-plussed, I asked, “You mean they can’t even sit in the audience?” And he replied, “No, they can’t even sit in the audience.” Well, I performed in that show and then sent in my resignation. I was faced with the reality that there were no performing organizations, other than schools, that welcomed both white and non-white talent; if I may use that expression, in Columbus!
Membership in Gallery Players was at that time a privilege of membership in the Jewish Center. I was on the Board of Gallery Players and I had performed in some of the shows there. I encouraged them to create a “guest membership” and to produce the Broadway musical play “Finian’s Rainbow”. It was a sinister request. It was to be Gallery’s first musical and its first show to run four nights! It called for a racially mixed cast so that Gallery would have to open the membership to other people who would perform as guest artists. “Finian’s Rainbow” was Gallery Players’ first musical. It played to four sold out houses. The Columbus Citizen Journal wrote that “The color of ‘Finian’s Rainbow’ could be heard on the stage and seen in the colors of the talented cast!”
I voiced my thoughts about organizing a Community Theater with a membership open to everyone, to be located centrally, with dues of no more than $5 a year, that would encourage opportunities in acting, dancing, and musical performance. Amos Lynch and Norman Nadel gave appropriate space in their respective newspaper columns, to invite anyone/everyone to an open meeting which was to take place in Poindexter Village (which would indicate that tryouts for performing would to be open to all).
For meeting rooms and performance spaces I asked the Franklin County Commissioners for the use of the Franklin County Memorial Hall on East Broad Street. After some months we were asked to leave as the building was to become the first home of The Columbus Organization for Science and Industry (COSI).
Where to move? The Richard Lewis Travel Agency was moving from 142 E.Gay Street to space in Lazarus’ Basement. I went to the landlord of the Gay Street Store Front, who happened to be my friend, Ivan Gilbert. When I described the mission of the Columbus Community Theater, he agreed to let us use the storeroom, rent free!
It was quite a large room, with an elevator to the second floor which was a large, clean room with wooden floors, which I; with helpful members, sanded and labeled it our dance studio. To our cadre of amateur actors, singers, musicians and playwrights we recruited the head of the OSU Dance Department, Dr. Shirley Wimmer who was eager to direct our members into a performing dance group!
Alas, a year later another company wanted to buy the premises, but NOT TO WORRY! Friendly Landlord Ivan Gilbert took me by the hand to the office of his friend, Leon Schottenstein. Ivan described my community theater project and suggested that Mr. S might have a vacant storeroom that might house us.
Yes, indeed! The property was the former Jimmy Rawlins Dance Studio, centrally located at 164 North High Street! It contained several rooms with suitable dance floors, two pianos and several rooms with folding chairs that would become meeting or rehearsal rooms and a pop machine! Rent free!
More than 300 people joined the Columbus Community Theater in the three years that it existed and it broke the color line in amateur theater. Other performing organizations could now do the right thing and open their membership!
My father opened the Mt. Vernon Avenue Store each morning and I would be the janitor in the Columbus Community Theater Studios on High Street; neatening the chairs, turning on the furnace, filling the soft drink machine.
After three years and several dance and drama productions I felt that I had made my statement to the community and announced that I was retiring as President. My successor was a local man who was majoring in Theater at OSU. I stayed out of the theater business and the Columbus Community quietly folded.
Interviewer: Where do we go from here?
Bonowitz: The Columbus Jewish Community owes a great deal to Samuel and Esther Melton and Florence Zacks Melton, benefactors of Congregation Tifereth Israel and to the Jewish Theological Seminary. The Melton family felt that there was a need for standards of
teaching and learning programs in Jewish educational institutions including Tifereth Israel and very possibly in other schools across the country. The Melton Foundation endowed the seminary with funds that would meet such needs.
Interviewer: A curriculum?
Bonowitz: Yes, a Jewish educational program. Saul Wachs was to be the Head Teacher and his wife, another man and two other women came to Columbus to develop these pilot programs at Tifereth Israel. My wife was one of those people. I was in her adult class because I was interested in Jewish education. I had been a Sunday School teacher there but I didn’t know what I was doing. I mean I read the books that the children had and I got some kind of Jewish content in my teaching but I was interested in learning more and doing it better.
I was in Anne Schiffman’s class and I learned a great deal. At the end of the year, I told her that I would like to take her to hear the Cleveland Orchestra which was playing at Veteran’s Memorial; as a thank you and a going away gesture, because she was going to teach in another city. I took her to the concert on Monday night. Tuesday morning I took her to the Hartman Theater to watch them hang the scenery for the musical, “Fiorello.”
After that we went to Lazarus for lunch and somebody in the elevator said, “You must be going together,” so it must have shown that we had some attraction for each other. Jim Jordan, the manager of our Mt. Vernon Avenue men’s store had been coaching me in dating and marrying because I was at that time, what, 30-31 years old?. Part of my game was to not take her out on Wednesday, but I called her on Thursday.
Interviewer: Playing hard to get?
Bonowitz: Well, somewhat.
Interviewer: Not overdoing it?
Bonowitz: That’s right. So we went to a movie on Thursday evening. I expected that I would take her home and say “Goodbye (because you’re leaving next Monday to go to teach in Rochester.)” We went for coffee someplace, and then I took her home and there wasn’t anything else to talk about. “Goodbye, what time does your train leave,” maybe. She didn’t answer. She didn’t know what to say and I had nothing else to ask her. We had had a nice evening, but she didn’t make any move to leave the car. A light bulb popped into my head !!! I asked, “Anne, are you in love with me?” And she said, “Yes I think I am.”
Bonowitz: So I said, “Well, let’s get married!?” And she said, “Okay!”
Interviewer: Wow. This is what, five days into your romance?
Bonowitz: Yes. I had taken her out on the first date Monday evening, on Thursday we were engaged. Friday night I had been invited by one of the artists who was being honored at the Art Museum and she; the honoree, had invited me be her escort. But Saturday night I took Anne around to where my parents were playing bridge and we announced our engagement. Sunday morning I took her to break the news to my good friend, Michelle Horsefield and her family.
Interviewer: And the following summer you got married.
Bonowitz: No, the same summer. I took her out on Monday. We were engaged on Thursday. The following Sunday I went to New York to meet her family and tell them that we were engaged. This was in May. We were married the 25th of June.
Interviewer: What did her parents say when she introduced this gentleman whom she had dated for four days? What did her parents say?
Bonowitz: Her father had died years before but her mother said, “What is this? You don’t know this man.” But Anne knew where she was going and what her course in life would be. She was a Jewish educator and she was going to be a Jewish educator. I had been in her class. We were married the 25th of June.
Interviewer: Were you married at Tifereth Israel then?
Bonowitz: No, Anne’s rabbi at the East Midwood Synagogue in Brooklyn married us.
Interviewer: Just a little bit about Anne. She was born in Allentown, Pennsylvania?
Bonowitz: Yes, Allentown, Pennsylvania, Her father’s work had taken the family to Allentown; but when they could leave they went back to Brooklyn.
Interviewer: So you were married in Brooklyn at Anne’s family shul? Was your side of the family able to make the trip?
Bonowitz: Not many. My cousins Joan Wallick and her sister, Rosalie Ungar, were there and my parents and my sister Roselyn and her husband, Julius, came to the wedding in the East Midwood Jewish Center.
Interviewer: What was life like in the first few years of your marriage?
Bonowitz: We moved from Jefferson Avenue to Remington Road. Alan and David were born when we lived there and Anne continued to teach at Tifereth Israel. I went back to managing my father’s store on Mount Vernon Avenue.
On a beautiful summer day in 1967, a Jewish lady I knew, called me up. She was an active member of CORE, the Council On Racial Equality. She informed me that the CORE organization felt that Mount Vernon Avenue was no place for Jewish businesses but that members of Negro community should own those stores.
I responded that “We have a very nice community of Jewish owned stores and Negro owned businesses on Mt. Vernon Avenue and we all get along.” She said, “We’re coming out to have a demonstration,” and I thought, “What? What?” I didn’t believe it. But that afternoon cars drove up with placards, “No Jews Wanted on Mt. Vernon Avenue.” and similar others. I documented this in the book that I wrote later, called Mount Vernon Avenue: Jewish Businesses in a Changing Neighborhood. The CORE organization had marched into the community with placards and picketers. Later, they torched Morrey Cohen’s store, Lee’s, Abe Weiner’s. They ransacked our store and others. Fires were set and windows were broken!
Bonowitz: Yes, dangerous. The militant organization, CORE, decided that they were going to
take over the street. It happened in Detroit and it happened in other cities.
Interviewer: And this was in 1967?
Bonowitz: The black community had to organize and become leaders in their own community.
Interviewer: It’s interesting that the Jewish people were among the most supportive of the…
Bonowitz: We were supportive…
Interviewer: …of civil rights. And it’s ironic that…
Bonowitz: Jews opened stores on Mt. Vernon Avenue because that area was a burgeoning shopping neighborhood. We sold the hats and dresses, suits and ties and the everyday work clothes that residents wanted or needed.
Interviewer: Right, and the Jewish enterprises would employ many of the black people in that area. I imagine that the CORE organization…oddly, a Jewish person on their board was…
Bonowitz: I can imagine hearing her say, “I know a guy that owns a business there,” and they outlined what they were going to do and they came down with their placards ready to take over my store. My store was guarded by Carl Brown and newspapers ran complete stories. My own story was about what was taking place there. Attorney Frank Shearer and other members of the African-American community were apologetic and supportive of an integrated neighborhood.
Interviewer: So then what happened to the store?
Bonowitz: I cleaned up my store and offered to sell it to Jim Jordan who had been our Sales Manager. I opened a small store in Bexley which I called “The Top Drawer” and ran both stores until Jim was ready to buy me out and I just left the Avenue. I went in and took my father’s portrait under my arm and left out of the front door.
Interviewer: Uh huh…and by this time Susan had come along, born in 1967.
Bonowitz: Well, first was our son, Alan.
Interviewer: And then David, Abe, and Susan was last. You sent them all to the Columbus Torah Academy.
Bonowitz: Yes. Anne was a teacher at the Columbus Torah Academy and it was a family decision to send the children there. Torah Academy at that time only supported eight grades, so they all transferred to Bexley Schools and did well there. Alan wanted to be a baseball player. He went to the Wendelstedt Umpire Academy in Florida and then he went to South Bend to umpire and he became a manager of the South Bend Baseball Stadium. He had a degree in Journalism from OSU and a degree in Sports Management from Kent State University.
Cold Indiana winters led him to Bakersfield, California, where he managed its baseball stadium and did some turns in its radio booth. Alan later joined the staff of a daily paper in Santa Barbara but now he’s editor of the AAA Magazine’s Hawaii edition. Our second son, David is 17 months younger than Alan. David loves baseball, too, and was on an “A” baseball team when he attended Princeton.
Interviewer: All your children are academically gifted it would appear. David was on the “In the Know” team at Bexley High School with Michael Meckler. Is that right?
Bonowitz: Yes, they were on the “In the Know” team together.
Interviewer: Well, after David got out of Bexley and the “In the Know” team, how did he end up at Princeton?
Bonowitz: Well, David, in the seventh grade had decided that he would go to Princeton! He was very capable and he had big plans for himself. A few years after graduating from Princeton with highest honors he earned a Master’s degree from the University of California at Berkeley. He’s a structural engineer. He takes government jobs and organizes programs for earthquake re…
Bonowitz: Yes, structural engineering so things don’t fall over should there be an earthquake.
Interviewer: Specific courthouses as I understand. And then how did Abraham become passionate about the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty?
Bonowitz: In Abe’s junior year at Bexley High he was able to spend half of each school day in the photography educational program given at Fort Hayes. Following graduation from Bexley High he spent a year in a professional photography school in Dayton. Then he came back to Columbus and took a job as a photographer at ATT Bell Labs which was still in the big building on Broad Street across from Mt. Carmel Hospital. He was a photographer for their Graphic Art Department.
After hours, employees could attend optional meetings of various interest groups and that was where he learned about Amnesty International and their concern with abolishing the death penalty. Abe later went to California to become an assistant to the head of the Cesar Chavez Foundation, a part of the United Farm Workers Union, while remaining devoted to the movement to abolish the death penalty and that’s been his life. He’s now Area Director of the National Coalition For the Abolition of the Death Penalty with an office in Washington, D.C.
Abe is married to Beth, who has a similar job with Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation, another anti-death penalty organization. They met at an event Abe arranges each year at the U.S. Supreme Court. Their son, Isaac Carl Bonowitz is named after the biblical son of Abraham and Carl in memory of his great-uncle, Julius Carl Margulies.
Our daughter, Susan, also attended Torah Academy and graduated from Bexley High School and later Michigan State University, earning a degree in Restaurant Management. At present she is a recruiter for technical engineers and computer programmers. She finds executives and salespeople for large corporations. Her son, Sppencer Eppstein is a senior at the Columbus Torah Academy and her son, Austin, at age 16 attends high school in Hubbard, Ohio and he’s affiliated with several traveling baseball teams.
Interviewer: Marvin, would you like to add a little bit more about Anne and her academic background and career history?
Bonowitz: Anne was born in Allentown, Pennsylvania, because that’s where her father’s work took him. The family moved to Brooklyn where Anne was graduated from Midwood High School. She attended Hebrew School and when she was 11 years old her brother taught her to read Torah. Her brother later became a rabbi.
While Anne was studying for a degree from Brooklyn College she was also attending classes at the Jewish Theological Seminary earning a degree in Jewish Studies. She was selected to come to Columbus to be a part of the Samuel Melton project to develop a pilot program for Jewish studies that would design curricula to various institutions that wanted to have a viable, up-to-date Jewish Studies program. Anne worked here for a year and she was on her way to her next job in another state when she…
Interviewer: …got a proposal?
Bonowitz: Yes. So we were married and working and our family was coming along. It was a foregone conclusion that our children were going to have a Hebrew education of quality and at that time the Columbus Torah Academy was organizing and we sent the children there. Anne was a teacher there and she remained on the faculty for 24 years. She now enjoys being a docent at the Columbus Museum of Art leading tours and teaching young visitors. And she reads the Torah regularly at shabbat services at Congregation Tifereth Israel.
Interviewer: Very interesting. I know that you’ve done a lot of research and you have a lot of history here in Columbus. Scholars, Jewish history mavens, researchers and educators are going to be interested in what you can say about the history of Jews in Columbus, the migration of people from neighborhood to neighborhood, and the various parts of Columbus that were important to the Jewish community. Parsons Avenue, for example, and then even into recent history with significant aspects of the Jewish community including the migration of Russian Jews to Columbus.
Bonowitz: A lot of this early history can be found in the book, “Jews and Judaism in a Midwestern Community: Columbus, Ohio, 1840-1975” by Marc Lee Raphael.
Interviewer: Great book.
Bonowitz: It’s in many libraries and it can be read at or purchased from the Columbus Jewish Historical Society. It’s an encyclopedia in one volume, a history of the Jewish community in Columbus. As early as 1850 Jews came from Germany and settled in the part of Columbus bounded by Parsons Avenue, Town Street and down to High Street. They established the handsome synagogue on Bryden Road which was called the Bryden Road Temple.
A larger migration in 1881 came from eastern Poland and Russia. Jews were not treated well in Russia or Poland; there was forced conscription of men too: as much as 25 years of service to the Army. The onset of the Nazi party, concentration camps and death camps led to the emigration of many Jews from Germany in the early 30s.
When Russians took over the eastern part of Germany, Poland and western Russia, there were pogroms and hard times for Jews so we had a major immigration of Jews from that part of Europe. Raphael’s book presents a lot of history of that era and names many of the Jewish people who came to Columbus. Mr. Murray Ebner has set up a mini-museum in the entrance hall of the Jewish Family Services Building on College Avenue across from the Jewish Center. It’s an excellent presentation of that history.
Interviewer: You spoke about the early entrance of Jewish refugees. What happened to the original Jewish Community? How did it change and where did the eastern European Jews live?
Bonowitz: The census of Columbus in the early 1900’s documented the Jewish community that came, the early arrivals. There were six or seven families that went to Circleville but the reason for that is not known. But the Polsters, the Bonowitzes, who else?
Bonowitz: Yes, plus Dulskys and Topoloskys. They went to Circleville first, possibly to do work in the fields or whatever employment was available, but many of them moved to Columbus, and many of them settled in the section of Columbus just east of what’s now called German Village, around Parsons Avenue, Columbus Street, Kossuth Street, Ohio Avenue, and Champion Avenue, and stayed there until they had enough money to buy homes in more comfortable neighborhoods.
When their children grew up and went to college or to homes of their own, many moved east to what is called Driving Park. The circle just south of Livingston Avenue around Lilley Avenue and Geers Avenue had been a track where Eddie Rickenbacker raced. That’s why they call the area Driving Park.
Many Jewish families on their way up economically were moving out of the old buildings in Driving Park. Some of their children found that Bexley appealed to them and Bexley was opening up to Jews. Bob Shamansky has written about the history of some of that early settlement. The children who grew up in that milieu generally went to Bexley schools, and the Columbus Academy and Columbus School for Girls were accepting more Jewish students.
An early home of Columbus Academy was in a house that stood in a lot immediately east of Tifereth Israel. It moved to a large mansion on Nelson Road before moving to Gahanna. CSG was in a mansion on Town Street east of Washington before moving to its Bexley home on East Broad Street.
Interviewer: Can you think of any other landmarks around Parsons Avenue, Town Street?
Bonowitz: Tifereth Israel, Ahavas Shalom, Agudas Achim and Beth Jacob were all synagogues within a one block area near Washington Avenue and Donaldson Street. Interstate Route 70 now occupies what had been that entire neighborhood, including the area where the four synagogues had stood. All of those synagogues moved east to be where the Jewish residential populations were living.
Interviewer: Did they move because of the highway’s coming or…
Bonowitz: Perhaps, but many family structures may have changed; children may have moved, parents may have found that newer housing was now available and affordable.
Ahavas Shalom moved to a converted house on Ohio Avenue at Columbus Street before moving to its present home on East Broad Street. Tifereth Israel had already moved to East Broad Street in 1927 and Agudas Achim built its present home on East Broad Street in Bexley; Beth Jacob built a new structure which is now occupied by a church on Bulen Avenue south of Livingston Avenue before building its present home on College Avenue.
Interviewer: I know, Marvin, you’ve done a lot of work with the Russian community in recent times. Will you talk a little bit about that?
Bonowitz: When the Russian Jews were able to leave the Soviet Union thirty years ago they were assisted by Jewish communities in the United States and other countries. Many were assisted by the Columbus Jewish Family Services. We marched in the streets to protest anti-Jewish policies of the Soviet Government, and to support the New Americans with their housing and settlement as they arrived in Columbus.
It was a challenge to teach the Russian immigrants to speak English well enough to take jobs and enter their professions and schools. Lev Kucherski’s daughters, Olga and Ina, volunteered to assist in the “English as a Second Language” program provided by Columbus Jewish Family Service. I volunteered to teach “English as a Second Language” to the New Americans for three years. As teaching tools I published a free monthly magazine which I called “Doroga k Kolumbusu” (The Way to Columbus). which featured articles about our city, and interviews with local personalities in Russian and English translations in side by side columns printed at no charge by the Nutis Press. Copies are still available from me. “Family Ties” was the name of the program that encouraged Jewish families to welcome the New Americans into their homes and to assist them with their needs.
Allan and Judy Blair are close friends of ours and we did some special things. For one young couple we arranged a Jewish wedding by Rabbi Harold Berman under a chuppa; Judy provided a wedding gown and we arranged a night in a downtown hotel. We took some of them to movies, invited them to dinner in our homes. For one young man I found a job as a patient care assistant at a local hospital. He had good English skills and patient care experience. I lent him one of my nurse uniforms for the task; at a time when nurses wore white. Frank Nutis and many others led members of the Columbus Jewish community into giving bags of groceries for Pesach and at other times.
Interviewer: Okay, Marvin, we’re winding down our interview session. I just have a few more questions for you regarding family, family ties, transient history and whatnot. Firstly, would you say that you have strong family ties?
Bonowitz: Yes. Our families are tight-knit families. My first recollections are from when Jewish families lived in the south end. My Grandmother and Grandfather Bonowitz lived in the other side of the double house we occupied and my mother’s parents lived in a house a little farther down on Parsons Avenue. As my Grandfather George Shustick became more successful in learning the roofing trade and sheet metal business, he occupied a shop at about 770 Parsons Avenue and the family lived across the street.
My father and my mother were lavish with their affection to my sister Roselyn and me. We had a kosher home and we went to synagogue on High Holidays, occasionally on shabbat. Anne was very observant in the Conservative Movement, being a teacher of Hebrew and an officer in Hadassah.
Interviewer: So she had a big influence on you as well?
Bonowitz: I was encouraged in those directions. As it turned out, Anne and I were much alike as we both enjoyed the same types of music, travel, drama, puzzles, movies, art, learning, reading, children and other interests. All of our children attended Columbus Torah Academy and all were graduated from Bexley High School, but each is different!
Alan, born in 1963 tired of cold weather and moved to the West Coast. He’s the editor of the Hawaii AAA Magazine and has an office in California. He’d like to live in Hawaii when he retires. He moonlights as a drummer in rock bands around Long Beach, California.
David, our second son, was born 16 months after Alan.. He’s a graduate of Princeton and he lives in San Francisco. He also earned a Master’s Degree in Structural Engineering from University of California at Berkeley. He works for various communities that need help in designing earthquake resistant buildings and living quarters.
Our son Abe, was born in 1966, His concern is for people who have been affected by the death penalty. He’s devoted his life to the abolition of the death penalty and he’s a leader in that movement. His wife, Beth heads the organization, “Murder Victims’ Families for
Reconciliation.” They have a precocious son, Isaac, who was born in 2005. This family lives in a suburb of Washington, D.C.
Daughter Susan and her son, Sppencer, 18, live near us on East Broad Street in Columbus. Sppencer is a senior at the Columbus Torah Academy. Susan’s younger son, Austin is 16, is a baseball player on several teams and hopes for a career in professional baseball.
Interviewer: Well thank you Marvin for your time here today.
Bonowitz: Thank you for interviewing me.
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