This interview for the Columbus Jewish Historical Society Oral History
Project with Moishe Herszage is taking place on November 22, 1990. The
Interviewer is Dick Golden.
Interviewer: This is Thanksgiving Day, it is a rainy day, a little gloomy
outside, but I have a gentleman that I am speaking with now that will make it
very bright and he will bring some sunshine into the Jewish community of
Columbus, Ohio because he is our Moyel. And his name is Moishe Herszage.
Or Herzage, and he will correct me if I’m wrong. And today is Thanksgiving
Day; it is 2:11 in the afternoon on November the 22nd. Moishe, good
Herszage: Good afternoon, Dick, happy holiday. Like you just mentioned, my
name is Moishe Herszage, or Herzage, people know me in both ways. I am originally
from Buenos Aires, Argentina. Fifty years old and with a large history of
walking in the Jewish ways in South America, in Israel, and now here in United
Interviewer: Moishe, where you born in South America? Could you tell me where
Herszage: Yah, I’m born in Buenos Aires, in Argentina. In Buenos Aires,
fifty years ago, was already a large community, people came from Europe from
different places. And always the most concern of the Jewish community was Jewish
education, or like they used to call Yiddishkeit.
Interviewer: So your family was also in the education end of Judaism. Was
your grandparents or you parents?
Herszage: Not really. My grandfather, in blessed memory, was a bookbinder. So
probably in many other way he was related to the education because mostly of the
books he used to buy were from schools or any other Jewish institutions, like
synagogues. But they also were concerned about Jewish education. Let me tell you
Dick, fifty years ago Jewish people in Buenos Aires were not too rich. They were
make, made nice living, but they were not really rich in they used to support a
lot of Jewish institutions by themselves. They started Jewish schools or like
they used to call Yiddishe Shules. And they also started a Chedar,
or a Talmud Torah. In this Talmud Torah I got my first really
Interviewer: Okay, and Moishe, what did your father do for a living, what was
Herszage: He was also a bookbinder, but he was a very Orthodox man, and he got
his religious education in Warsaw, in Poland in smaller yeshivas. Even he was a
very Orthodox man he liked many other things like music, opera; he used to read
a lot of books, not only religious books, mainly other books also in general.
Interviewer: Okay, now. How many children in your family? Or, how many
brothers and sisters in your family?
Herszage: We are four, three brothers and one sister. I’m the older. And
next to me a year younger is my brother Jacob, who is a physician in Macoven,
Texas. And my younger brother Meir, is a Rabbi in a large synagogue in Buenos
Aires. And my sister is married to a very nice Jewish man and they have one son,
they are in business.
Interviewer: And are they in the United State?
Herszage: Only my brother, the physician.
Interviewer: I see. I had a pleasure a moment ago of being served coffee by
you, Turkish coffee, which is delicious. I greeted your charming wife Relli and
we spoke about your children. Lets hear about some of the things your children
Herszage: Okay, we have really myself, we have three children. Dotan is the
oldest. He is twenty two years old, originally born in Israel. He just finished
Ohio State and currently he works with me in my Pawn Shop and also he is
involved as a Bar Mitzvah Teacher at Tifereth Israel. My daughter Fabiana who
was born twenty years ago in Buenos Aires, she’s currently a student in Ohio
State. She’s taking International Business. And she’s also a teacher in
Tifereth Israel. And the last one is Bruno, who just became Bar Mitzvahed a few
months ago. He’s born in Quito, Ecuador. And he’s a student at Columbus
Interviewer: Okay, you have a lovely family. Moishe what we’re about to ask
younow about some of the things that got you on here to the United States and
some of your training. And what went on in the past withyour education.
Herszage: Dick, like I mentioned to you before, I grew up in a Orthodox family
where Torah and Avodah, means Torah and work, was always together. In for
this reason even many times I worked in different professions but still I always
liked to be close to Yiddishkeit and to do some part time work in
synagogues or in community activities.
Interviewer: Now you also worked within the Spanish speaking community, the
Gentile community so to speak in South America.
Herszage: Yes, Dick, let me tell you. When I spended ten years, before we
came to United States, we spended, my family, we spended ten years in Quito,
Ecuador. And I was very involved over there as Rabbi, Cantor, Shaychet,
means I used to slaughter animals and chicken for kosher meat, and also Moyel.
So I was very involved and its very interesting that many non-Jewish people used
to call me to talk for them about what means the Jewish religion. And I think
this is very important, always was important and today also to make clear to the
non-Jewish people what about our religion.
Interviewer: Did you come across some serious anti-Semitism in South America?
Herszage: Let’s say when I was a small boy and I used to go to the Yeshiva in
Buenos Aires, I used to have some problems about anti-Semitism. They used to
take off my, my yarmulke from my head. They used to call me “Jew” or
“dirty Jew.” But this a part of, let’s say what bigger the community,
Jewish community, more anti-Jewish activity there is. But lately, we left
Argentina in 1956 to Israel. So the fifteen years I spended in Israel I didn’t
have any problems over there. Later, when we came back to South America, we
spent one year in Mexico and ten years in Quito, Ecuador. Really we didn’t
have any major problems because Quito is a small place and the community was
small also. Really, we didn’t have any problems.
Interviewer: Okay. Moishe, tell me about your training and how you became a
Rabbi and a Shaychet and a Moyel and other services to the
Herszage: Like you know, Dick, to be a Shaychet and to be a Moyel,
first of all you have learn the Jewish Law, means what we call the Halacha.
So, thanks to my father who sent me to different Yeshivas in Buenos Aires and
also in Israel, I could study, Aloched, Jewish Law and later when I
decided to be a Shaychet and later a Moyel, I had the basis to
start and study the Aloched.It was not easy, especially to be a Moyel
is not so easy because, you know, even I used to go with doctors, with
physicians and later with Moyels to watch how they do the different ways
of doing circumcisions. So I had to go and watch. But, nobody really lets you do
the first Bris, this is, was the top part of this.
Interviewer: The first time?
Herszage: The first time, right. And…
Interviewer: Do you ever see that child? I hope he’s well. (Laughter)
Herszage: I’m sure and I’m very serious about what I’m doing. This is
the reason why I can say I’m famous here in Columbus because I do this really
Interviewer: And you do a beautiful job Moishe. I have witnessed it and I, if
my grandchild is a boy, the one that is due, I would be honored to have you
Herszage: Thank you. So, really twenty years ago, after my first son was born,
I start to think about being a Moyel. And took me a few years to watch
how the different physicians and Moyellim, they do this. Finally when I
started, I was really happy.In 1982, when we moved to United States I had the
opportunity to go to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. And I worked with a very famous
Moyel in Philadelphia and he took me to the Jewish hospital there and
during five days we did every day between six and eight Brisim. And
really was a very great experience for me and he gave me my certificate.
Interviewer: Now, over what period of time did you work in the Philadelphia
Herszage: Only five days really. The idea was to get a Jewish American license
because you know, Moyellim, or a Moyel, gets his training from
another Moyel. But you can never get really a license but because I did
this here in Philadelphia with a very famous Moyel I got a license from
the Jewish hospital in Philadelphia.
Interviewer: Now, am I hearing this that there is reciprocity in most states
within the Jewish community that you can perform the Brit Mila, for
Jewish people like in Ohio, in Kentucky, in any place else. What is the
licensing here in Ohio?
Herszage: Okay, really my license is over all the country, really, not only
for Ohio. And I, by myself, I travel a lot because I’m probably the only Moyel
in all this area, not only in this part of Ohio, but also in West Virginia I
travel and I was many times in other cities in Ohio, like Cincinnati, Dayton,
Kanton, Akron. I have to say that they like me and this is the reason why they
call me and I like to travel so many hundreds of miles to do this very important
Interviewer: It is indeed a mitzvah. So then I hear that you can out of state
to perform this service.
Herszage: Yes, without any problem. But you know there are big cities where
there are Moyellim, there are other Moyels, and if they call me I
go, you know. But, mostly I really do brisim in Columbus, and around Columbus,
or in places where really there is no another Moyel.
Interviewer: Moishe, just a little bit off the beaten path here. A question.
Can you, will you, or have you performed on Islamic babies?
Herszage: Yes, I can tell you coincidentally, lately in the last year I get
many calls from non-Jewish people. They heard about, how I do, how fast I do,
how good I do the circumcisions. And they call me. There is no any problem what
belongs to the Aloched, to do this on non-Jewish people. I can show you.
I have a booklet in which they, somebody mentioned that in England when a baby
boy is born by the English Monarchy, they call always a Moyel, so there
is no any problem. The only thing is that when a Moyel does for a
non-Jewish family, he has to make clear that this is not for ritual reasons. We
cannot make a Jew only through a bris, a circumcision. We have to make
clear that this is not for ritual reasons. And by the way, ten days ago in one
week I had four circumcisions in which two were from non-Jewish, Catholics, one
Muslim, and one was not really Jewish, means the father was Jewish but the
mother wasn’t Jewish therefore the baby was non-Jewish. But, yes I get many
calls from non-Jewish people and because I like very much to do this I perform
Interviewer: Is there any situation were you have refused on Halachic
Law to perform?
Herszage: I would say yes. I had a few cases in which really the father was
Jewish, he called me to do the circumcision but really they were not sure that
they want this for any special reason. And I don’t want to let people think
that I do this in any case. I don’t mind to do this in Jewish, non-Jewish,
completely non-Jewish families than to do this were the parents are really not a
hundred percent decided that they want this for ritual reasons.
Interviewer:Well I think that the Jewish community should be made aware of
the importance of your following of the Halachic tradition. And could you
tell me in you own words why a Moyel is important to a Jewish community,
and a Shayche.
Herszage:Okay. First of all, kosher food and the mitzvah of Brit Mila
are very important because Brit Mila is our really second commandment,
the second mitzvah in the Torah. And kosher food is also a very important
mitzvah in the Torah. So to be Jewish means really to follow the mitzvahs in the
Torah. Without the mitzvahs in the Torah we are non-Jewish people. So this is
the reason why its so important for a community to have a Moyel and Shaychet.
Here in Columbus particularly, we don’t have Shaychet in this moment
because there are no facilities to do this Shaychete. I think this has to
do something with the city of Columbus who doesn’t want to have a slaughter
house here. So we get really the kosher meat, or the kosher beef from out of
state, but this is not so bad really. We have here a very important supermarket,
Martins, what is really, I feel personally, is very important because after
spending so many years in South America in small places where we didn’t have
any kosher meat or beef and I had to do this by myself, for my family and for a
group of other Jewish families in the community. I feel very pleased that I can
get this so easy. But a Moyel is very important because, let me tell you
Dick, I remember when my second son Bruno was born and years ago was not a Moyel
in this city, and when I called a good friend from another country, neighbor
country in Columbia, he told me, “Moishe I can come after thirty
days.” So you have to understand that we couldn’t wait thirty days, maybe
you can not eat kosher meat or not eat any meat for thirty days, but you cannot
postpone a bris for thirty days. So really it was very tough. We had to
do this in a different way. I still did the bris.
Interviewer:You did the bris.
Herszage:Really, my friend the Moyel, he couldn’t come for thirty days.
Interviewer:Well, then your son has a double blessing. He has a father who is
Moyel and father who knows what he’s doing. Raising his son properly.
Herszage: Thank God I lately, a few months ago, I had the privilege to be
also my son’s Bar Mitzvah tutor and really I think was very important. I did
this for my older son when he was Bar Mitzvah in Quito and I did this for my
daughter Fabiana when she was Bat Mitzvah seven years ago in the Agudas Achim.
And now I did this for Bruno when he was Bar Mitzvah a few months ago at the
Beth Jacob Synagogue.
Interviewer:Now Moishe, a question. Have you ever performed a bris on
an adult male, on an adult?
Herszage:I did, but not by myself. You see a circumcision, a bris, or
a circumcision on an adult is involved with really more than in a small baby.
You need full anesthesia and you can really not do this at home or, you have to
do this in a surgery room. So we did here in Columbus a few on Russian adults.
When they came in the last years from Russia, Jewish people they couldn’t have
a bris in Russia so when they came here to Columbus we did this at the
Saint Anthony Hospital together with a Rabbi who used to be with Ahavas Shalom
before Rabbi Chin. I don’t remember in this moment his name. And also Frank
Nutis was very involved in this big mitzvah.
Interviewer: We are going to stop for just a minute. Moishe we’re going to
close up our conversation now. But before we do, I want to ask you about some of
your Rabbinic training and why it is important to have this full circle of
training. Rabbinical training, Moyeling, training as a Moyel,
training as a Shaychet. And you certainly are the type of person that I
would consider an eesh, you’re important and you’re a humble man. You
are not a, may I say, you’re not a cocky guy. You’re a good educator Moishe,
you’ve educated me, you don’t even realize it.
Herszage: Let me tell you Dick, I would prefer to be born in United States
fifty years ago and not in Argentina because really its much easier to be a Jew
in United States than to be in Argentina or in small communities in South
America. But from the other side I was lucky because those all years in South
America gave me the experience. You see, in South America you have many small
communities, they cannot afford to have even a full time Rabbi. So my education
from childhood, like I mentioned to you I start in a small Talmud Torah in
Buenos Aires later my parents they sent me to different yeshivas, I was in
Israel fifteen years in different, in different institutions. I was in the army
two and a half years and I spent it in the Rabbinical part of the army.
Interviewer: You served in the Israeli army?
Herszage: Right, in Tzahal. But as a soldier, but also involved in
Interviewer: Did you have to go through the regular training procedures
Herszage:Right like any other soldier. Not only this I did training also as a
Army Rabbi because the army is, the Rabbanut HaTzfaeet, what is the
religious part of the army, is a special training and you have to take care of
many activities in the army, spiritual activities. So Iit was very important.
About how I became a Shaychet, let me tell when we moved to Mexico, from
Argentina to Mexico, I came to small place Guadalajara, very nice place, but
they have a small community like three hundred fifty families or four hundred
fifty families. And really wasn’t a Shaychet, so it was big problem to
bring kosher beef from Mexico City, so then I started to really think if you
want to keep kosher and to give to your family kosher food you have to take care
on the Shecheytee by yourself. So I had opportunity to go and study Shechetee
with a very important Shaychet in Mexico. And I spent with him a few
month studying the Shecheytee of chickens, what is really not so
complicate like the of animals.
Interviewer: So this was in the poultry end of…
Herszage: Right, right, the Shecheytee of chickens. Later I went back
again, like lets say to school, and I had to start to learn the Shecheytee
of animals which is a lot more complicate, not only because the laws of Shecheytee
are complicate also, the laws, the government laws are complicate. They don’t
let do this Shecheytee in only in certain places. So, but finally I had
opportunity to in Columbia, in a small place, small city, Kale, I had
opportunity to go there in slaughter house. We used to slaughter like twenty to
thirty every day.
Interviewer: Mostly beef.
Herszage: Yes, right, for beef. And really this gave me the experience to do
later the Shecheytee in Quito and I can say, I want to be modest, but I’m
very proud that when I started the Shecheyteeing in Quito, Ecuador from
zero kosher families I got to a point where we had about a hundred families what
they used to buy kosher. And was not an easy job. I used to travel hundreds of
miles to places where I could make the Shecheytee and I used to spend
days back and forth to do the Shecheytee and also with the chicken. But I’m
very proud about this because for me and for my family always kosher as
important and I had the privilege to give kosher for many other families. In
this moment I don’t do Shecheytee but I’m still involved in religious
activities even I’m now a businessman. I have my own Pawn Shop on the West
side, Hilltop Pawn Shop, but I also, I’m a Cantor, I’m the Chazan at
the Beth Jacob Synagogue, and I’m very happy that I can atleast once a week go
to the Shul and sing, and I think people are happy with my davaning. In general
I feel good because I’m now involved in different ways. Also I’m involved
with the Russian immigrants. They call me always for activities. I started a few
years ago a fund to provide kosher baskets for Passover for the Russian older
immigrants. And with the help of a few good people here in the community we
raised money during Passover. During Passover we, during Passover we prepare
baskets, kosher baskets, that means with the chicken and the gefilta fish and
kosher wine and matzos and we send this to the Jewish older generational Russian
immigrants. Together with me also Frank Nutis was a very important part in this
Interviewer: Well Moishe Herszage, I think this is a marvelous opportunity for the Columbus and Central
Ohio community to learn about a man and his history and his deep and loyal faith
to Judaism. And the importance of him not only as a Rabbi but as a Melamed and
a Shaychet and a Moyel. Its important for not only our young
people, but the young people who are not yet born. They will hear this tape. Now
I would like very much to ask your wife a few questions if its proper with you
Herszage: Oh yes, sure I would like.
Interviewer: We’re introducing Relli Herszage , the charming wife of Rabbi Moishe Herszage. And if I’m pronouncing it incorrectly, Moishe will forgive me. And this is Relli. She’s going to say to few words to us.
Mrs. Herszage: Hello. The only thing what I want to tell: We are very pleased to
be here in United States and to have the opportunity for our children to have a
very good Jewish education. Thank you.
Interviewer: And how do you like Central Ohio?
Mrs. Herszage: I like Columbus and I think that Columbus is very good place to
raise to teenagers.
Interviewer:This is a charming lady. Madam Herszage, Relli. A very pretty lady. Moishe you’re a lucky man. You’ve
got a lovely wife and a beautiful family and a marvelous tradition of many many
generations behind you and many generations to come.
Herszage:Let me tell you a final word. My father, in blessed memory, who
passed away a few months ago before Passover, and I miss him very much.
Interviewer:What was his name?
Herszage: His name was Pinchas. He used to tell me always, “Moishe I
never was rich but I invest all my power, all my career, all my mind, all my
intellectual in giving Jewish education to you and to your brother and sister
and I think this is the best investment.” Atleast I follow this, his way.
Thank God we have here in Columbus a lot of good friends, a lot of, we don’t
have any relatives here, but we have a lot of friends. And we are always proud
of our children because they are really involved in Yiddishkeit and this
is what is important.
Interviewer:We are going to close now on our tape. I would like for you sing
a song. You are a Rabbi, and a Shaychet and a Moyel, you also have
to be a Chazan. Sing a Yiddishe song, or an Evreet song for
Herszage: I’m a Chazan, I consider myself a good really balt
fele and I will be pleased to sing for you a song of peace, Sim Shalom. (Moishe
sings on the tape).
Interviewer: Tov maode , Rebbi, tov maode. We’re signing off
on Thanksgiving Day. This is November 22nd, 1990. We’re leaving the
charming yiddishe home of Rabbi Moishe Herszage and his charming wife, Relli, and his beautiful family. And I say,
Herszage: Shalom v’Kol Tov. Hag Sameach.
Interviewer: Hag Sameach. Now in Espanol
Herszage: Buenos oyedeya es undeya muye felis es undeya de gracias e’nos
olemente para los nocho deos…
Interviewer: Gracias Senore. Gracias. We have a little bit of
space left on our tape and I would like to get some personal feelings from Rabbi Moishe Herszage about some things that may be needed and changed in the Jewish
community. Something that is important to Rabbi Moishe Herszage.
Herszage: First of all Dick I would like to mention something what
my wife remind me a little while ago. And its that we are lucky here in Columbus
that we have the different Jewish movements, what is the Orthodox, the
Conservative, and the Reform. I know all those Rabbis. They are very nice
people, they are doing nice jobs. And we are priveleged that we can choose what
really to which movement we want to be a part of them. What I want to mention to
you Dick is lately I saw a booklet what was printed from the Jewish Federation.
And between all those services what the Jewish community is here in Columbus
they talk about a Moyel but they don’t mention my name and I’m really
very surprised because I’m eight years here in Columbus. I did bris and
I do brisim for all the different Congregations, the Orthodox, the
Reform, and the Conservative. Everyone knows me. I’m very proud about this and
I’m very pleased. And I’m surprised that the Federation didn’t mention my
name when they talk about a Moyel, they only say, “Contact your
Rabbi for a Moyel.” Means like there is no Moyel in Columbus
and the Rabbi has to take care and bring maybe a Moyel from another city
when I’m here and everyone knows me. This is only what I want to mention to
Interviewer: I think this is important for the Jewish community to know. And
the Columbus Jewish Historical Society will be made aware of this through this
tape and through me personally. I hope that the Jewish Federation will take note
of this, there is no anger involved in any way from Rabbi
Herszage ‘s point of view. He just wants to make it clear that the Jewish
community should be made aware that Rabbi Moishe Herszage is a licensed Moyel and he is willing and happy to perform Brit
Mela in the Franklin County area and else where and his name should be
placed in the booklet in a place of honor. And I close with that. Shalom Rebbi
Herszage: Shalom v’kol tov.