This interview for the Columbus Jewish Historical Society is being recorded on June 30, 2009 as part of the Columbus Jewish Historical Society’s Oral History Project. The interview is being recorded at the Columbus Jewish Federation and my name is Helena Schlam and I am interviewing Mike, Michael Fliegel. Tell us to begin your full name Mr. Fliegel.
Fliegel: I had two names. I’m Mike Fliegel. My formal name is Michael Fliegel, sort of. My professional name is E. Michael Fliegel because my real name is Edward and my dad thought I looked like a Mike when he got home from the Service. So they called me Mike.
Interviewer: And do you have a Hebrew name?
Fliegel: I have a Hebrew Name.
Interviewer: Michail is the Hebrew name?
Fliegel: Michail and from my grandfather I am Isser, Isser ben Gershon Halevi. So I’ve been Michael and Israel.
Interviewer: Very nice. I want to begin to ask how long you have lived in Columbus, Mike?
Fliegel: I believe we came down here in 1969. It could have been ’70, right around the end of the year and the beginning of the new year, so about 1970. So its about 39 years.
Interviewer: And from where did you come?
Fliegel: We came from Mansfield, Ohio. My wife and I got married in 1967. I was in the military. When I got out we went to Mansfield so I could go to college and when I was finished with going as far as I could go, we moved to Columbus to finish up and that was right about that time, the beginning of 1970.
Interviewer: Well where were you born? Was it Mansfield?
Fliegel: I was born in Cleveland. I am a Clevelander. I’m born at Mt. Sinai Hospital in 1944. Helena I don’t know how I got so old so fast. We lived there, we were in downtown Cleveland. We have a lot of stories about some of the Cleveland stuff. We stayed there. Dad had a business in a number of areas in Ohio, Lorain, Elyria, Mansfield and so forth, army surplus stores, and in 19– about ’58 decided to move to Mansfield so he could pay personal attention to one of the stores and we moved to Mansfield at that time. So that was a pretty key time. I went to, I finished up middle school and went to high school in Mansfield.
Interviewer: So tell me what your father’s full name is, was.
Fliegel: Hebrew name?
Fliegel: Oh okay. Well Gordon H., Gordon Harold Fliegel. And dad was Gershon ben Natan Halevi. Grandpa was Nathan Fliegel. Are we going to do a little history at this point?
Interviewer: Thank you.
Fliegel: Grandpa was Nathan and Grandma was Nettie and that was an interesting story. Dad was born in Ashland, Ohio, maybe Jewish population of five maybe families. Grandpa, this is sort of a folksy kind of thing is that Grandpa, the tale goes, was a hellion. He used to ride a motorcycle and they didn’t want him to get into any trouble in New York City because they came from New York. They had a raincoat or umbrella factory or something in New York.
And so what they did was they shipped him off to Ashland, Ohio so he shouldn’t get into any trouble in the big city. And to keep him solid on the ground they married him off to his first cousin. So my grandparents were first cousins. They gave Grandpa a women’s haberdashery, a women’s clothing store, in Ashland, Ohio called the Fashion Company and they raised four kids in Ashland, Ohio.
Interviewer: Was your grandfather born in New York or in Europe?
Fliegel: Grandpa was born in New York. The best I can remember, he was born in New York. the next generation was born in Europe. But Grandpa was born in New York, both my grandparents. On my wife’s side of the family however, Carol my wife is first-generation American. Both of her parents were Hungarian and came over oh, like in the 20s. And so she is first-generation American and I’m about the third-generation American.
Interviewer: Wonderful. And do you know originally from where your family on your father’s side came?
Fliegel: Dad’s family came from Germany and I’m not exactly sure where. I know that they came from Germany and then they came to New York.
Interviewer: And probably since the family married first cousins, the mother’s side was likely to be from Germany but you don’t know?
Fliegel: Likely as well, yeah, likely as well.
Interviewer: And so if we, can you give an educated guess as to when they might have come to the United States?
Fliegel: Oh I would say probably maybe just before the turn of the century I would think. ‘Cause Dad, I can’t remember when Dad was born. He just died. He was 88. So he was born what in the 20s, so probably 20, 25-30 years ahead of time. Now my mother’s side of the family, that was another interesting side. Dad of course came from a very small Jewish population and they wanted him to marry a Jewish girl and he wanted the same thing so he found her in Cleveland. And my mother’s family was from a place called, well we think it’s Russia. We call it Russia. My grandmother was born in a place called Kurland. I think it’s up near Estonia. We can’t quite locate it but up in that area someplace.
Interviewer: Do you have an idea of how to spell it?
Fliegel: K-U-R-L-A-N-D I believe, Kurland. And again we had some interesting stories about this because my grandmother really fell in love with a Hungarian guy but she couldn’t marry a Hungarian guy because they were on a different social level than the Russians were.
Interviewer: But he was Jewish?
Fliegel: But he was Jewish but she didn’t marry him. She married this other Russian guy and then they came over to this country and did what they had to but sort of a P.S. is that when I married the Hungarian girl, my grandmother accepted her with open arms because it brought back a flood of memories. So it was really very interesting. But my great grandfather whom I’m named after, he was Isser, he was Israel. Again the Russian on Mom’s side was killed in an automobile accident early on.
Oh man, my mom had a brother and a sister and they were all very young and so he left them alone and Grandma had a hardware store in Cleveland and she was trying to raise three little children and run the hardware store at the same time. I’m going into a new story. Grandma survived and part of the reason that Grandma survived was, the story goes, she bought shotgun shells and supplied them to the Mafia in Cleveland and they provided her with protection.
Interviewer: (Laughs) There was a Fashion store in Columbus. Was that you people?
Fliegel: No tthat was not. Fashion Company was the only one was in Ashland. And in fact I was doing a training in Mansfield last month and one of the older people that I was talking to remembered. She was from Ashland and she remembered the Fashion Company. She remembered buying dresses from my grandfather. So that was very exciting.
Interviewer: Let me back up and ask you to tell your grandmother’s name so we connect that wonderful Mafia story with the right person.
Fliegel: My grandmother was Bertha Mattison, M-A-T-T-I-S-O-N, and Grandpa was Isser, Israel Mattison, M-A-T-T-I-S-O-N. And yeah, they had the hardware store, yeah.
Interviewer: Well that is an exceptional story and I would like now to ask you something about your growing up both in Cleveland and in Mansfield and to especially though, describe the Jewish world you knew and how it influenced you.
Fliegel: In Cleveland growing up we belonged to a Conservative synagogue, Park Temple or Park Synagogue. Those were, I can’t remember really what, how they addressed it. I think it was Park Synagogue. I began my singing career there. I was in the chazzan’s Club, the Cantor’s Club, and learned the prayers and learned the songs and we led Services and did some of that kind of stuff. And I was Bar Mitzvahed there. So it was, it was not too far away from where we lived. We had, we had mishpocha close by.
We had aunts and uncles and on Shabbat and on Sunday mornings we would get together and we would have lox and bagels and scrambled eggs and sliced tomatoes and cottage cheese and we just, you know, smoked fish. We used to go up to Harry’s Delicatessen, up on Taylor Road, and we would buy uncooked pickled tongues. My mother used to make lung, boiled lung. I mean, a lot of my memory involves food and eating and the family and everybody getting together. We just had mishpocha all around us.
Interviewer: And did everyone keep kosher or not?
Fliegel: No. My grandmother Bertha kept kosher. I don’t think Grandma in Ashland kept kosher but I don’t remember ever having traife in her home. But I don’t think she kept kosher. We did not keep kosher but Grandma Bertha kept kosher. In fact, P.S., later even as I was growing up after Grandma had her hardware store and had retired, she moved into our house with us and of course, that’s what you did, you brought family home. And she kept kosher and she would cook her meals on our stove in her pots and pans and go up to her room and we trailed after her and made her feed us.
Fliegel: She could not eat in peace. And she had, her favorite expression, my brothers and sisters could tell you, she would look at us and say, “Oy, what do you want from my young life?” ‘Cause we would follow her around. She would cook a lamb chop, she would feed all of us from her little lamb chop that she had because we were right there with her. So Grandma kept kosher as well as she could in our home. But it was absolutely a Jewish neighborhood.
We had people all around us that were Jewish and it heavily influenced me just in terms of who I was. My parents were involved parents. They were on whatever committees they could be on with Park Synagogue in terms of building stuff and doing stuff. And they were involved in a lot of different kinds of things, social kinds of things. So we had this healthy mix of Jewish and social action and so whatever things were happening, they were just going on all around us.
Interviewer: So when you moved to Mansfield was it a shock?
Fliegel: (Laughs) Yeah, a little cultural shock. We had about 50 Jewish families totally. But we were, you know, dad was right in the middle of things, I mean he was a macher. And he became involved and his philosophy was that we all have to be involved if we’re going to keep our population. If we’re going to make this work we all have to be involved. So he was involved and we were all involved and we went to Religious School and did whatever was going on in the community. Again he was involved in other things besides the Jewish stuff but he, if they ever needed a speaker in Mansfield, dad spoke.
He would go to schools, he would go to churches, he would go anyplace they wanted him to go. If anybody came close to me and (Indistinct) they were Jewish, my dad went out to them, met them and greeted them. You can go to Mansfield today to some of these folks that have been there for a little while and they all, yeah, they all know my dad and the Fliegel family and all that kind of stuff. So again, I think strongly influenced my life. I’m a lot like dad and I go out and I meet people and I do stuff with them and if somebody needs a speaker or something I’m very willing to go and to do all that stuff. So.
Interviewer: You carry on the tradition well.
Fliegel: Yeah. There’s a strong tradition in the family of again, Judaism and social action. Dad even got an award posthumously from the City of Mansfield . . . .
Interviewer: How lovely. That is quite a nice tribute.
Interviewer: Let me shift and ask you how you met your wife Carol and I think you mentioned how long you have been married but I’m not certain.
Fliegel: It’s 42 years to the same lady. Carol and I met at Ohio University. Carol was attending school down there. I had been going out with a young lady and our term of going out was ending and a friend of mine wanted to go out with her so I took him over to introduce him to Fern Rosenberg no less and Carol was working the telephone desk. At those times you had to go through a central point and people weren’t just allowed to walk up into the dorms and do anything and so Carol was working the desk and we called for Fern and she came down to meet my friend and Carol and I just started to chit chat. And that was it.
I mean the long story short is that from that point on it was, I mean we didn’t see each other for a little bit. I saw her uptown and then we had classes and we missed each other. And Dave Brubeck came, a musician, came to Ohio U and so I asked Carol to go with me and I fell asleep during the performance and she loved that. Anyway we had a good time and that started, that was the beginning. And I was out of school for a while and I went into the military and we kept contact with each other for about three years. And then I invited her over to the Philippines. I was stationed in the Philippines in 1967. This was 1965 I went over. I invited her over in 1967 and we decided to get married. So we eloped. We got married in the Philippines. And then she came home. So out of the first year of our marriage we were together for maybe three months. But you know we’re still married so something worked out okay.
Interviewer: And were you in the Army? Which branch of the military?
Fliegel: I was in the Air Force.
Interviewer: The Air Force.
Fliegel: I was in the Air Force. I was in what we would call Security. It was Intelligence as opposed to the guard dogs or anything. We were keeping our eye on what was happening around the world. So anyway that was a very interesting time in our lives, yes.
Interviewer: So tell us about your children and their Jewish experience in Columbus.
Fliegel: It’s also a nice story, it’s an interesting story. Carol and I came to Columbus as students. Of course we had no money or anything and we found a nice little synagogue up on the north side of town and they didn’t ask us for any money or anything and they had Services at the Unitarian Church, a place called Beth Tikvah. And it was a nice, welcoming group. I mean there was, they said, “Come on”. And so we went on holidays and stuff and, lo and behold, Carol was pregnant. I don’t know how that happened. And as the baby was born, he was very sick. He had aspiration pneumonia and was in the hospital for, like an extra ten days and they gave him a very small chance of living. But in the meantime I had to figure out what we were going to do with this kid because the doctor says he’s not having, the mohels aren’t going to touch him.
And so I called a number of synagogues and I talked to the rabbis and I said, “So what are we going to do?” And they said, “Well, you know, give me $500 and you’ll join and then we’ll have a little naming ceremony for you and everything is done.” And, “Thank you very much”. And I called Beth Tikvah and they said, “Oh, here’s a Friday night. Come on over and we’ll name him. Bring your family.” Beth Tikvah. And they were not asking for money. They just wanted to be a part of it. And so we went over and Joel was named at Beth Tikvah. He is I think 37 years old now. And again, I was just graduating from college. In fact the day he got out of the hospital I interviewed for a job.
I was unemployed and we had no insurance or anything. So that worked out okay. And then my son Seth was born and I was in Ann Arbor at the time going to Graduate School and we had a mohel for that, so he had his proper circumcision. And immediately we moved back to Columbus and Carol was pregnant again. I don’t know how those things happen. And we had Jared. We still hadn’t joined the synagogue. We’d been going to Beth Tikvah for High Holyday Services because we could go there. They allowed us to come in and of course we had no money. We had one salary and now I’m a beginning social worker and I’m working on my third child and again, they allowed us to be there. So it was a very good experience that way. And then Toby came along. I mean they just kept coming.
Interviewer: You were doing your part to . . . .
Fliegel: We were doing our part to maintain the population of Columbus . . . .
Interviewer: To be fruitful.
Fliegel: To be fruitful, absolutely. And it was about at that time and maybe just a little bit later that we thought that we have to get our kids ready for a nice Jewish education. I mean we have to figure out how to do this. And so I was recruited. There was a fellow that I worked with, sort of. He was a magistrate at the Juvenile Court named Jeff Folkerth. And Jeff would be on the bench and I would be a social worker coming into his courtroom. And he was talking to me about wouldn’t I like to teach in their Religious School. So we talked a little bit about that, and with Carol as well, and we were invited over to their home and interviewed with a group of people. I don’t know if you were involved in that at all, Rose.. But they interviewed me, what is his name, the Rabbi over at William and Mary.
Interviewer: Oh, Mark Raphael.
Fliegel: Mark Raphael was I think the Rabbi at that time. Earlier we had Roger who did the naming of a couple of the kids. But Mark Raphael was in there someplace. I can’t remember where. But they assured me that I could come and teach and I had some doubts but I decided that we would give it a try. And so I began teaching at Beth Tikvah and I’ve been teaching. I retired one time I think for a year and I just retired this year. So I have quite a few years of teaching behind me at Beth Tikvah. My four children were Bar and Bat Mitzvahed and all our simchas were at Beth Tikvah. We were sort of almost like the old core.
I went to a caterer for Joel’s Bar Mitzvah and I said, “Here’s what I would like to do. What can I have for this amount of money?” And the caterer said, “I can give you coffee and coffee cake”. That didn’t, that was never going to work. And I think both of you know that my wife cooks and she’s an excellent cook and so with my mother’s help and everything else, we did it on our own. And we made food for 200 people ’cause we didn’t want to invite one member of a family, if you invited a child to come you invited the whole family to come. So we prepared for a couple of hundred people and I hired the Youth Group members to be our servers and our caretakers and I said, “This is my mishpocha. Everybody here is my family and when they come you make sure that they have everything they need and you take good care of them.” And we told them what we wanted them to wear. It was wonderful. We, they had good service. They took care of all the family. We put on four simchas this way.
Carol made 400 stuffed cabbage rolls one year. We made about 15 or 20 briskets. We had cabbage and noodles. I mean we cooked for six months. And we’d freeze stuff and we would do all that kind of thing. And in the meantime, one of the things that I think that we’ve almost accomplished is it’s a home synagogue for my children. I have an issue with it being a home synagogue because I would like my kids to know more about who were the important people, what was our history. And we’re doing something about that at this point.
But, you know, we need to have a sense of belonging. And I think that my kids all have that. They love Beth Tikvah. I think they really love our Rabbi. They love the people. They have relationships that they’ve had with people that they still have today. And when people are having babies and doing stuff or they come home, they invite them over and they see them. So it’s been a really beneficial place for us. It’s been a home. It really has and of course I haven’t, I have a sister who’s here and she’s at Tifereth Israel. Other than that we have no family, I mean, it was like everybody else, a lot of us in Columbus who came from some other place and you didn’t have your family and so your synagogue becomes mishpocha. They become your family and ours did. And I think we touched everybody that we could touch coming through, and got touched by them and it’s been a wonderful place to be, so.
Interviewer: Well that is a perfect segue for me to ask you to tell us about your term as President of Beth Tikvah. Can you tell us the year or if not, just continue about the experience.
Fliegel: I’m not real sure about the year. The experience was this, the experience was, at least at that time, I had been on the Board before and we had entered into a degree of understanding that we were going to build a new building and that we were going to be moving to a new headquarters. And when I came in everybody was, “Boy are you lucky. You get to be President. You get to move the Congregation.” We haven’t moved yet so it didn’t quite happen that way. And we’ve had, I think, two or three Presidents since I was there. But when we came in we were in a transition stage. We had built a support group of people looking toward moving and trying to make plans to go on ahead and take what we had and what we enjoyed to another level, to a higher level, because we really felt, and I think still do, that we are a friendly Congregation, that we offer a lot, that we are an inclusive Congregation and that we can be a key factor in people’s religious lives.
And from that perspective they asked me if I would run for President. There were a couple of other things that were going on that were interesting and the people who were First and Second Vice-Presidents didn’t want to go on any further. And so they asked me if I would because I had been around again forever and there was some degree of stability that I could bring. And so I took on that kind of responsibility and became President. And we were looking at, you know, who we were as a Congregation and the kinds of things that we wanted to do.
We have a lot of work to do still on the move and we kept getting stymied in the economy and then we couldn’t sell our building so lots of things happened. We managed still to survive and to thrive in terms of all this kind of stuff. So it was an interesting term. It was not particularly remarkable other than we survived and carried on and did whatever, would have liked to have made the move and done a couple of other things that we were prepared to. It just didn’t work out that way and so then the next President came on and we had the same goals and that didn’t work either. So.
Interviewer: Well let me ask you to back up because you mentioned being on the Board before. And part of what is important in this interview is the full history of Beth Tikvah as well as your history. So what can you tell us about other positions that you held on the Board that would shed light on Beth Tikvah’s history?
Fliegel: Do we want to go back even a little further? Does it have to be Beth Tikvah because part of the deal for me was. Part of the deal that I had when I came here and joining this synagogue on the north side of town was that we’re not as a synagogue viewed as highly, from my perspective, as other people from the east side of town. And I wanted to make a difference. And we are, we’re part of the Jewish community. And so I did a lot of volunteer work. I served on the Jewish Family Services Board for about eight or ten years. And the Community Relations part, I served as the liaison from the Jewish community to Columbus Public Schools and met with the Superintendent for ten years.
And part of the role that I had as President of the Congregation is I wanted to be a part of the total Jewish world here and so I stress a lot of stuff in terms of people becoming involved in doing stuff throughout the community. I served as a Religious School teacher and even as a part of that in my other roles being on the Board of the Federation and so forth. When we ran two Maccabi Games within relatively close time of each other, they asked me to be the Judaica Chair for the Maccabi Games. So we were involved and we wanted to be involved and we wanted to do the kinds of things that we can do from the north side of town, to be involved in what was going on.
So even as President then, to encourage people to do that stuff. I, you know when we hired Gary, I was on the Board. I don’t think that we were as well defined in terms of, ’cause I don’t remember what I was doing except that I was on the Board. We interviewed Gary Huber as our Rabbi and we hired him in at that time. And then later of course I taught and did all that kind of stuff and then I came on as the Religious School Committee Chairman in terms of the Committee work. And at that time then we had something that was going on because we were doing stuff with the building. They asked me if I would leave that position and take over the Building Chair, or vice versa, I can’t remember which one came first. And then I became President after that. So basically for a while I was at the synagogue and doing the stuff but not on the Board. But I’ve had a few years on the Board so it’s been, I don’t know, probably two, four, six, served ten years on the Board ’cause that’s home and you take care of home and family business there.
Interviewer: Well that’s important. That’s the day-to-day life that creates the history of the institution. So I, well you’ve answered my next question in part in terms of your other involvements with the Columbus Jewish community. But I particularly want to ask about your role in the Communiteens program because you were one of the founding teachers.
Fliegel: Communiteens was a fascinating, still is a fascinating concept. Florence Melton had facilitated the development of adult education, taken it to new levels worldwide. And her concern was, is that we were missing the boat a little bit on kids, that we were not giving our kids the same kind of a quality education. And not that she disliked rabbis, but she felt that we have teachers who related better to children than some rabbis do and that we needed to have and build relationships with our children to facilitate a better learning experience. The Folkerth family got involved again. Jeff got me to teach at Beth Tikvah. Carol then asked me if I would at all be interested in this Melton Mini-School for Children and so decided that yeah, we could give that a shot. And they had started to develop curriculum and they needed some people to teach it.
Here, they had done a little trial, I believe, and they were trying to make some things go. They hired me. I came in. There were times when I would get the curriculum like the day before the class. We had a number of people developing curriculum, a number of rabbis developing curriculum, and then we took that the second year to a different level because we had a two-year program that we were trying to develop. And that whole thing was curriculum development we kept looking at and making sure that we had. We picked 50 topics and what I taught was the big ideas of Judaism. And so you can pick a thousand topics of whatever the big ideas are and if you’re trying to teach a lesson and you have only one hour, it’s you know, I mean I could have taught probably five hours for each lesson that we were doing but we had to do it in one lesson. And so you had to pick out the stuff that was important and to make it important to the kids to make it fit in a part of their lives because they had not only to live whatever it was but when you’re going to make a decision later on in life, it’s like where is the impetus for the way in which I make my decision? What’s the Jewish way? What is it that I can bring in terms of my history? So we had to make it really important with them. And so we had a number of looks at the curriculum and the most recent at Brandeis. They put some stuff together to make sure that our curriculum looked well and read well and is easily presentable.
I was, Florence asked me, she had a conversation with God one day and she said that God wants you to be my National Director so would I be the National Director of Communiteens. And so how can you say “no”? Florence is a very powerful, influential and a wonderful lady. So I became the National Director and we started in on a process so we could take the curriculum nationally. And we formed a Board and we did certain other kinds of things that got us going. And then unfortunately Florence got ill and died and we, and Gordon, her son, was able to find a guy that had a lot of good organizational kinds of experience. But in the meantime, Ed Frim, who had been working with us, went to Pittsburgh and we hired a gal from Pittsburgh to work with him to take the curriculum stuff to Pittsburgh. And we got some people involved in Chicago so we took the curriculum to Chicago and down to Florida. And we have inquiries coming from Colorado and Florida and Washington and all over.
So I see lots of really good potential with the curriculum and with Communiteens. I think there’s always tweaking to do with the curriculum. But I think that with the proper teachers we can get our kids motivated to having a pretty darn good idea of where the Jewishness, and how we make our decisions based on our Jewish history. We look, again its text-based kinds of things. So if we can go back to the text and that’s not a, I mean it’s a boring, you know, kids don’t like, our kids today don’t like to read text. So it’s a matter of taking the text, putting it into a form, sharing with them, having them to discuss it and consensually, and very much from what I have been doing in my whole career. I allow the kids to talk because kids don’t have an opportunity to discuss stuff. Normally, they’re sitting there being told, “You do this and this and this,” and they’re given facts and figures.
Thank you very much. I want to hear your voice. I want to hear you say what’s on your mind about whatever it is and how do you respond to that and now we’re talking about it. So for the first time I hear kids generating ideas that are coming out in words that they can mold and say, “Oh you’re right, it doesn’t make any sense this way, maybe some other way.” But it allows them an opportunity to express themselves, to work it through, to debate with each other and that for me, with our guidance as adults, make sure they get the right message but it’s not forced on them where they have questions and they don’t get an answer.
Interviewer: Thank you for that overview and I also would like to ask about your experience as a social worker even though that was not in a Jewish context except for your term on Jewish Family Service I think, but you may surprise me.
Fliegel: I probably will surprise you. I quote Hillel quite often to my clients when we’re talking about things because there are some things that they just don’t think about and, you know, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If not now, when?” I mean there’s just lots of stuff as we go through our lives. And .I did child welfare for thirty years and families get into predicaments and they’re doing various kinds of things and they don’t understand lots of things and I will make a point as I’m talking with families. Even now I go through, I do what’s called semi-annual reviews. So I would do cases for the court and send them reports on how well the family’s doing. A lot of Jewish thoughts and concepts, a lot of stuff from Perke Avot, picking yourself a good teacher and you know making a friend from them, and so forth. Whenever I get the opportunity I bring in my Jewish stuff. And I’m going to deviate for just a second because I volunteer at Marion Correctional Institute with the Jewish prisoners who are there and in addition to being an outside brother.
Then on Tuesday afternoons I go in and I lead a discussion group on character reformation with a group, like twelve guys that have been in my group, no Jews. But it’s a faith-based program and so I bring the Jewish faith and philosophical kinds of stuff and why we believe some of the things that we do and how to live our lives in Perke Avot. It’s just a wonderful thing, a wonderful tool when we’re looking at character reformation and how one needs to live their lives. So I bring my Judaism into effect regardless of where I am or who I am. I do not hide the fact that I’m Jewish. I don’t flaunt anything but I do bring it to bear and explain on a philosophical basis why it’s good stuff for them and again, taken (Indistinct) that you don’t have to do what I tell you but this is some good stuff and this is how I see it.
Interviewer: Well how have you seen the Columbus Jewish community change in your experience or have you seen it change?
Fliegel: You know there are some big changes, I think that the Jewish population study woke a number of people up that Jews don’t live in Bexley. They live all over the place and you know, how do we, how do we handle that, how do we take care of tha? How do we meet the needs of the people in various locations and I think that the community has, continues to respond to some of this stuff. They’re doing new building. They’re opening up day care on, you’ve got day care on the northwest side of town and the northeast side of town. The Hassids are going out to the New Albany area and there’re just a lot of things that are happening and I think that the community’s been as responsive as they can be. There’s politics that are involved. I don’t want to get into the politics but that part does happen.
Regardless of that, is that there’s been a pretty decent degree of responsiveness. I know even at Beth Tikvah we probably get quote “a lion’s share” of funding from the Federation for educational kinds of stuff. We’re very innovative. We do some stuff we submit requests for and we get some funding for this, and I think more than other synagogues who don’t either request the money or are involved in a more narrow educational type of an endeavor. And the Federation’s been very responsive to us in terms of meeting some of our needs. I mean right now it’s a terrible financial time so that’s going to be different. But I think that the response of the Jewish community has been pretty darn good.
Interviewer: Well thinking about your experience at Beth Tikvah in particular, how have you seen Beth Tikvah change?
Fliegel: (Sighs) Oh goodness. The face of Beth Tikvah is the face of American Judaism today . Good, bad or. indifferent we have Asian people, Oriental people, African American people. We’ve got Murphys. We have a lot of mixed families that are coming together. Fortunately our synagogue allows for and has a place to meet the needs of people from blended families and we provide services to better educate blended families so they understand and they can help their children work things through. We give cooking lessons so they can cook some Jewish food and have some ideas. Beth Tikvah, when I first joined Beth Tikvah, we had, it was a smallish group. I don’t know we had 50 or 60 families and people from Ohio State and professors and so forth and probably 90% of everybody was Jewish.
And probably today 50% of our population at Beth Tikvah is Jewish. But we are an inclusive group, an inclusive synagogue, because we don’t want people necessarily to leave and we want them to come and to join us and to be a part of the Jewish tradition and so we’re doing an awful lot of stuff to insure that and to try to cater to their needs. We are also, we have been working the last number of years to have fun. We have, you know, I can’t, I don’t belong to these other shuls so I speak with forked tongue almost. Our synagogue has always been into adult education. Boy, we will educate our adults! And we have speakers and we have influential speakers and we have people that are coming to teach us things all the time and I think that we have a little rebelliousness; can’t we have some fun too? And si we’ve been trying to have some fun and we have had some fun too. We had a number of, not only educational stuff , we still have a high level of educational stuff for adults and we have a really good Religious School curriculum and have given our kids some good stuff. But we are playing a little bit more.
We are renewing our efforts in terms of social action. I like to think that we are just a fulfilling group at this point and we’re doing stuff and having fun and we’re incorporating all the good Jewish kinds of stuff into our Congregational life. We have people wanting more and more things to do. I saw an ad in our newspaper that says people volunteer in a lot of different areas. If you’re doing something, let people know in case they might want to do that too as opposed to one group or two groups of people doing some thing. So it’s providing people with learning opportunities and keeping them involved in some stuff. So I don’t know if that answers your question . . . .
Interviewer: It’s a wonderful overview and I would turn to Rose to see if she has any additional questions about Beth Tikvah’s history that you might be able to answer for us. (Well I can’t think of any right now).
Fliegel: We just won an award.
Interviewer: What award did Beth Tikvah win?
Fliegel: For the best-looking grounds. We got some thing that, an award from Worthington that our synagogue looks good. I’m not exactly sure what that is but we just got it, just had an E-mail on that like yesterday or the day before.
Interviewer: Mazel Tov.
Fliegel: They vote at our synagogue. We give blood at our synagogue. We’re a part of the Worthington community, the whole Worthington community at our synagogue. So.
Interviewer: Do we have any negatives? (Laughs)
Fliegel: I’m not going to tell you what they are. The answer is yes we have things to work on and individually because we have 500 families we have differences. But we try to work those differences out. We try to give some input. We are working all the time and trying to give the input to make sure that we’re as responsive to our population. So the answer is that yes we do have some things everybody does not agree to. But we’re working . . . .
Interviewer: But isn’t that a Jewish way?
Fliegel: Absolutely, absolutely..
Interviewer: If everyone agreed it couldn’t be a Jewish institution.
Fliegel: No, for every question we’ve got at least six different answers.
Interviewer: Well before I ask my last question, I’m curious if there’s anything you, having this opportunity to do an interview, would like to add or anything that I might have missed. I’m sure I missed a great deal.
Fliegel: Well one of the big things that I have still relates back into the larger community of Jews. I know that as I’ve gone to the prison and we’ve gone up with some folks from different synagogues, that I stop and realize that if we wouldn’t be going to prison together, I’d never meet these people.
Interviewer: How many of you and from how many synagogues?
Fliegel: Well we probably have about a dozen of us that are going from probably three different synagogues at this point.
Interviewer: All men or men and women?
Fliegel: All men, all men. It started off to be a Brotherhood kind of a thing where we needed to have men be outside brothers for the inmates at the prison.
Interviewer: How many Jewish inmates are there?
Fliegel: Right now there’s probably about seven that we have been dealing with. We’ve had a number that have gone and we have probably another eight to twelve at the camp that we don’t visit with regularly. We’re looking at maybe making some visitation.
Interviewer: What is the camp?
Fliegel: The camp is right next door to the main part of the prison. It’s for sexual offenders. And so we have a few of them, a few of us over there. And, but, it’s for me a sad commentary. I don’t know how we get people together in the community to meet with each other to have the social kinds of stuff except for very special kinds of things that may bring us together. I don’t know how we, it’s, it’s a frustration that I’ve had and again I go to the east side of town so I meet a lot of people and I know a lot of people because I go over to the east side of town. A lot of people I know don’t. And a lot of people I know don’t feel part of the Jewish community. They’re part of the Beth Tikvah Jewish community but they’re not a part of the Columbus Jewish community and that for me is a shame. I would like to be able to reduce that down a little bit. That would be..
Interviewer: A worthy goal.
Fliegel: There you go.
Interviewer: Well my last question is what do you consider, reflecting upon your experience, to be the most valuable contribution, and you have made many contributions to the Columbus Jewish community, or if you prefer to Beth Tikvah?
Fliegel: I’m going to prefer Beth Tikvah for right now only because I have some renewed energy and part of me, I love this place. I love Beth Tikvah. I love the community. Its survival is important but more than survival I believe that we have a need for ownership. And I know, I may be going against now some historical perspectives from our Congregation. Our Congregation has been egalitarian. We have not wanted anybody to be any better than anybody else. We do not plaque. We do not fund-raise. We just survive and we get along.
I was chagrined when somebody made a mistake and said that Carol Folkerth was our first woman President and she was not. And my mishpocha, my son’s wife’s mother was the first President and her picture is not in the synagogue. And all of our President’s pictures are not in the synagogue. My question is how did we get here if we can’t look at the people that brought us? What is our history? How do we celebrate our history? I’m on a mission to bring some ownership because I want the kids to be able to walk in, look up and see their daddy or their grandfather’s picture or something and it says, “This is my synagogue,” as opposed to bare walls that don’t say, “This is my synagogue”. So that’s my new, my newest. . .
Interviewer: That would work well with the Columbus Jewish Historical Society . . . .
Fliegel: There you go.
Interviewer: Because we have the same mission in a slightly different stated form. We are trying to create an archive of the Jewish history of Columbus and central Ohio. Or in your case you’ve brought us even further out in Ohio and it is important for future generations.
Fliegel: Absolutely, absolutely.
Interviewer: Well I wonder if there are any further questions or statements that anyone would like to make?
Fliegel: I just thank you for the opportunity. It’s always fun to relive and to go back over some stuff and reflect on things that are happening. It also gives me again some reflection in terms of looking at the direction that I’m going in doing some kinds of things and I am glad that this is almost like a continuation of Roger’s book of the Jews of Columbus. Or was that Mark’s?
Interviewer: Mark wrote the book.
Fliegel: Mark wrote the book on the Jews of Columbus. So this one adds a little chapter to it as well in terms of the Jews in the north side of town. And I was talking to somebody the other day and it’s like they never knew that (northside) Jews were involved over on the east side of town and I stop and I think, “Why not?” We have people in every organization. We have people that are doing all kinds of work and involved in all kinds of stuff, the Federation, the Foundation, the Historical Society. I mean we’re here. All northsiders are here and some people don’t see that. We need to help them understand.better.
Interviewer: Do you mean that some people on the east side don’t know that there are Jews doing . .
Interviewer: It is because it’s the same issue that you raised.
Fliegel: They’re going to see Helena Schlam and they know Helena Schlam. They don’t think she’s on the north side of town. And if they were to hear you were from the north side of town, they’d say, “You’ve got to be kidding”.
Interviewer: Well it does happen. And indeed people were always shocked that I was from Texas. “There are Jews in Texas?” Of course.
Interviewer: There are many Jews in Texas.
Interviewer: On that note . . . .
Fliegel: That’s like you heard I used to live on the north side of town. I mean, you know, I went to Ohio State, I mean.
Interviewer: On behalf of the Columbus Jewish Historical Society I want to thank you for contributing to the Oral History Project. This concludes the interview.
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Transcribed by Honey Abramson
Edited by Rose Luttinger