(Interview conducted in 1987. Interviewer is Carol Shkolnik, a volunteer with
the Columbus Jewish Historical Society.)
Folkman: We were in Michigan for 15 years. We came here from Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Interviewer: Okay. You were born in Cleveland, and how long did you live in
Folkman: Until I graduated high school.That was in ’25. Then I, technically I still lived in Cleveland but I was away. I was at the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati. I met my wife the first day. She was at the University of Cincinnati. And I always said that they never took down the lions in front of McMicken Hall because we met in front of those lions. On two occasions at the University, if I’d be back for formal convocations, and on both occasions, I opened with those remarks. And nobody published any rejoinders. Nobody can tell me that that was not so. So it must be so. Last week, I was back in Cincinnati and we went past the University and it seemed to me that the lions were gone. If I’m not mistaken, they put a law school up where there used to be a great big approach to McMicken Hall. And I could be mistaken about that but I always used to make that claim.
Interviewer: I see. I do want to talk about your college years, but before we
go on to that, so it will be less confusing, could you tell me a little bit
about your family life and what you can remember about your childhood and those
kinds of things?
Folkman: My family?
Interviewer: Your family life as far back as you can remember.
Folkman: Yeah, well I was born in Cleveland. My father was born in Austria,
my mother in Hungary. I was the first generation of our family born in this country. My sister Jean was born four years after I was. And we were a typical Hungarian Jewish family. My grandfather, he’s over there (points to photogaph), you can see. He was extremely Orthodox and yet he was not unsympathetic with the movement of our family from Orthodoxy to Conservatism to Reform. That movement coincided and was probably caused by our movement in neighborhoods in Cleveland.
My father’s aspiration, very obviously, was to get his family out of the
ghetto in Cleveland where I was born. And we had three homes in Cleveland and
each of these represented a move to what my parents considered better
neighborhoods. And with each of these movements, there was a change in our religious point of view. And my grandfather never felt disturbed by this. He, as a matter of fact, when I started talking to him about schools and which school I should be in, he said, “Of course you should go to Cincinnati.”
He said, “If you want to be a rabbi and I think you will want a congregation that doesn’t have beards like mine.” He didn’t know that beards were coming back in style. But he stroked his beard which you can see on that picture and he said, “You would have that kind of a congregation and a new congregation . . . .” My mother was kosher and so was Dad. Because my grandfather came to live with us when my grandmother died and she was strictly kosher. After he died, she didn’t change. But the last, oh 40-45 years of their lives, they were Reform Jews. There was just a gradual movement and I think that their ideologies responded to their change in social position.
Interviewer: I see. What do you remember about your childhood in terms of the
family unit and the relationship with family?
Folkman: Well our family was a patriarchal family as most families were in
this country at that time. There was, in this country from the early 1900s,
there were some families had slightly different structures. But the patriarchal
structure was the most popular. And this was especially true of immigrants. Our
family was a benevolent patriarchate. There was no question that my father was
the boss. but he was not a tyrannical boss. He loved my mother romantically and
he did not keep it a secret. It was very obvious that he and my mother loved
each other and they both loved their children. My father’s idea was that he
should work hard so his family could get as far as possible. He believed in hard
work. I don’t think he ever really understood “play”. I don’t
think he ever really understood it but he believed in hard work. He was strongly
committed to education. I’d say in his value system, education came first and
Interviewer: What did your father do for a living?
Folkman: He started out when he married my mother, he was a shipping clerk in
a cloak factory. Eventually he owned his own cloak factory. And he manufactured,
cloaks and suits was the technical term applied to the manufacturing of ladies’
garments. You’ve never heard this term “cloaks”?
Interviewer: No I’ve never heard “cloaks”, no. But that’s kind
of . . . .
Folkman: An older word, out of the culture. And the country was, there were a lot of Jews in the industry and there was a very famous Broadway production . . . . You never heard of that either?
Interviewer: No I haven’t.
Folkman: Which was a burlesque of Jewish cloak and suit manufacturing. Cloaks
and suits were sort of a culture and that’s sort of disappeared. Jews aren’t
in that so much any more. Well his, my father’s aim in life had always been to
be a physician. But when he and his brother, my Uncle Sam, graduated high
school, which was a tremendous thing for them because they worked to support
their mother, these little kids. Sold newspapers and shined shoes on the streets
in Cleveland. Nobody gave them any grant. Nobody gave them any preferential
treatment because they were inner-city kids. But the idea was to get an
education. And they studied their geometry although they weren’t the same age.
They were classmates because they came over on the same ship. And they, when
they graduated, both of them were very proud of the fact they were high school
Interviewer: Especially in those days.
Folkman: And they flipped a coin to see which one would go to college and
which one would put the other one through. And my Uncle Sam went to Case School
of Applied Science and became an electrical engineer, which was his aim. And my
father supported him. When I was working for the Ph.D. and I began, I’m a
sociologist and I’m a specialist in marriage and the family, and when I became
aware of sibling rivalry, I thought that my father must have had some very
strong feelings that he couldn’t be a doctor, which he wanted to be, but his
brother became an electrical engineer which he wanted to be. So I asked my
father . . . . “Dad, you practically put Uncle Sam through college. Did he
ever pay you back?”
“Of course not, he’s my brother.” I said, “Now but didn’t
you feel it was a little unfair?” “Perfectly fair. We flipped a
coin.” So I said, “Did he ever thank you?” “Why should he
thank me? He would have done the same for me. We were brothers.” So I said,
“Look now Dad, you wanted to be a doctor and you couldn’t be a
doctor.” But he was very proud of the fact that his grandson became a
doctor. He never really knew how distinguished and famous a doctor he became.
But he became a doctor. He always felt that was a realization of part of his
Interviewer: Now are you referring to your son or your nephew?
Folkman: Our son. Which nephew.
Interviewer: Well you said “his grandson”. I didn’t know if you
referred to your child or his brother’s child. Okay.
Folkman: So it was used as my father’s grandchild. And he’s a very, very . . . . But I went on with this testing of my, needling my poor father and he just didn’t . . . . any sibling rivalry at all. And I said, ” . . . . just the fact that you . . . .” And he said, “No it was perfectly fair. We flipped a coin.” And he turned to me and he said, “Well if your sister needed help, would you make her sign a note or something? What kind of a boy are you?” So I thought I’d stop the . . . . But it was very obvious that he had no sense of sibling rivalry. What did he care? Well he was just, Cleveland was a great textile center then and he got into that business. When he married my mother he was a shipping clerk and then when he’d saved up $500, he went into business . . . . and he grew into rather a big business . . . . very well. And then when textiles started moving out of Cleveland, there is still some there but it wasn’t as big, the textile center. It isn’t as large a textile center now as it was then. And he went into the real estate, which was a hobby for him. At the age of 56, he came to Columbus and took the broker’s examination and ranked in the 96th percentile for the state.
Interviewer: Oh my word.
Folkman: And he was in real estate ever since that time until, actually until
he died. He was active . . . . 56. But he was making deals until he fell. And I
realized then that old people shouldn’t fall. He . . . . He went downhill very
Interviewer: You said you came from a patriarchal family. Does that mean your
mother stayed home and cooked and baked cookies, et cetera?
Folkman: My mother was a traditional Jewish mother and my father was a traditional Jewish father. Now in the patriarchal family, there are no problems. Questions come up. I’m not advocating the patriarchal family in society. The patriarchal family no longer functions. In this society it is dysfunctional. But in their society it was perfectly functional because whenever a question came up, my mother would always say: “We’ll wait ’til your dad comes home and we’ll ask him.” Then my mother would ask him and he would say, “Yes,” or “No”. And that’s the way it was. And nobody ever thought to say, “Where do you get that Dad?” you know. “What’s your authority for that statement? How can you . . .yourself.” See in the patriarchal family, the father was boss. And everybody assumed that this was perfectly all right. My father never understood that my sister went back to college after she was married and got a degree. . . . . In fact I’ll never forget one time he looked at me and he said, “Jeanne has gone back to college.” She got her degree at the age of 50.
And incidentally, she’s gone now too but she, her book on . . .became a classic in the field. I don’t know if you . . . .
Interviewer: It’s interesting that you say that because I had some . . . .
functional therapy myself some years back so I know about it.
Folkman: Well her married name was Goldberger and Goldberger on . . . .
correction is a classic. She lived to sign permission for the book to be
translated into Spanish. I wish she could live to know that her husband gave
permission for the book to be translated into Japanese.
Interviewer: That’s . . . . , that’s really successful.
Folkman: It’s a very important method. She, her method was distinctive in
that she did not like the use of devices. Many of the people who work in this area have devices. Did you have it?
Interviewer: No I did the exercises.
Folkman: Well that’s . . . .
Interviewer: Different kinds of exercises both there and at home.
Folkman: And little rewards.
Interviewer: That I don’t remember but . . . .
Folkman: Well what she would do when any of her patients would do the
exercises properly, she would give them a cookie or something . . . . and to fix
the achievement. The chances are that your therapist was familiar with . . . .
Interviewer: It’s been quite a few years.
Folkman: But my father didn’t know that that was going to happen . . . .
But when she went back to school, she didn’t know that she was going to be a
speech therapist. She just went back to school because, you see in those days a
girl went to school to get married. How did you know? You’re too young.
Interviewer: Oh I knew, I knew. I’m very interested in Jewish history and I’ve
read a lot and I’ve taken classes myself.
Folkman: And when she got married, well that was it. Well she had two
daughters. One is a psychologist. No, one is a microbiologist. The other one is
a psychiatric medical social worker. And the microbiologist is . . . . Well she
saw her daughters growing up, you can see how the educational values are
transmitted from one generation to another.
Interviewer: Oh absolutely.
Folkman: And she saw her daughters growing up and she had been doing
everything that Jewish women do, Hadassah, Council of Jewish Women, Sisterhood
and she went through the chairs of all of them. And she did all her good deeds
that Jewish women are supposed to do and she really didn’t feel it was enough
and so she went back to school and . . . .
Interviewer: She was ahead of her time I would say.
Folkman: Yeah she was ahead of her time. Fortunately she had a husband who
Interviewer: That’s great.
Folkman: I should never forget when she graduated Western Reserve and her
daughter graduated Cincinnati at the same time, her husband gave a party to
honor the two girls whose ways he worked through college. He was so proud.
And he’s still, he’s still very proud of the fact that Jean established herself in . . . . speech therapists and the speech therapists invite him to their conventions every year and he always goes. He feels it is a very important part of . . . . memorial to my sister. They really were a loving couple. They still are although she’s dead. But when she went to school, my father couldn’t figure it out. He said, “Jerome do you think Milton is doing all right?” I said, “I think Milton is doing very well.” He was a pioneer in packaging. When he met my sister, he was a salesman in wholesale groceries and she was a secretary to the president of one of the biggest wholesale grocers in Cleveland. And he realized that people, the American people don’t buy the commodity. They buy the package.
Interviewer: Packaging, yes.
Folkman: And so he went into packaging which was a new thing then. And he
actually had difficulty selling this idea to people. For example, he tells a
number of stories of how he was trying to get this across. Nobody ever heard of
packaging meat or chicken. He mentioned a grocer to whom he sold the idea of
packaging in trans- parent packages, sort of cellophane they used then and later
on other plastic materials. And the use of color. He talked about the use of
color. Greeks like the color blue. So this man kept saying “No, no, it
wouldn’t be good.” Well when he put the chickens into blue packages, they
didn’t sell. They looked terrible. So he told the grocer, “Now look, and
I tried to get this across to you but you wouldn’t believe me. Now I’ve made
up packages for you with a yellowish color. Try these.” And the chickens
sold like hot cakes
Interviewer: Oh my goodness. That’s really interesting.
Folkman: Well these were, that’s sort of a detail. And he became very
successful and eventually DuPont bought him out. They didn’t like to have a
little man coming up, getting up into their company and they bought him out very
advantageously so that he was doing very well. He didn’t have to take up any
collections. But my father was worried. Why would she go back to school if he’s
doing all right?
Interviewer: I see. He couldn’t really grasp the idea of a woman being
Folkman: No. When we went through, when my sister went through my mother’s
papers after my mother died, and she found a notebook from the class that she
was taking at the Red Cross, to become a nurse’s aide. My sister was very
enthusiastic. “Jerome, look, look what our mother did.” And here was
her little notebook. She also had arthritis and the spidery, spider-web
handwriting was kind of . . . . and, my wife has it too, and in that handwriting
she took her notes. Every Friday they had an exam, a little test, and she would
get always in the 90s, 95, 97, 94, never below 90. And then she passed the
course and she became a nurse’s aide. And my sister showed it to me and both
of us were thrilled. And my sister showed it to my father. He said, he loved my
mother and this was romantic. See a lot of those, a lot of their generation were
Interviewer: No touching or anything in front of the family.
Folkman: Well he did all sorts of things like, my mother’s name was Rose, Rochel
in Hebrew. And when they came to this country she went to a school in Cleveland
and the teachers said, “You don’t want a name like Rachel. You want the
name Rose. So they gave her the name Rose and my mother was Rose all of her
life. Well she, my father told us the story, when they had an engagement party,
he went and got roses and melted them into the ice that went into the punch so
that rose would be there all evening . . . . Well it was just one of those
And after she died, he began to grow roses and he really did a fantastic job. And on her grave is one of the most beautiful rose bushes I’ve ever seen which is one of his . . . . a real romantic guy. And so we knew, see a lot of the big problems with the old-fashioned family was that the kids were never assured their parents were contented because life was too formal. But he was overtly romantic. He loved my mother and they loved us and we knew it.
And we grew up with that. But he was the boss. And she would say, “Ben, what about this?” My father would give the answer and that was it. See there never was a problem. I never knew that my father could be wrong about anything until I was a student at the university.
Interviewer: That a lot of time disillusions people.
Folkman: And then I began to discover that many of his notions were in error.
I rarely dis- agreed with him. In fact, he never asked me an opinion. What he
would do is say, “Jerome, I think we’re going to do such-and-such. What
do you think about it?” The first time he asked me an opinion was the day
of my mother’s funeral. My mother died on a Wednesday night. It was actually
Thursday morning . . . . And so as not to have a Saturday burial, and the Jews
have this feeling that they like to bury their dead quickly. Now this feeling
goes back to the Bible. The causes of the feeling are gone but the feeling
remains. And the Jews get very disturbed if a funeral has to be postponed so
somebody could come in from California or some- place. But California is no
distance. We had a funeral here in Columbus one time where the brother, one
brother of the deceased, came from London, England, and the other brother of the
deceased woman came from Tel Aviv. But they were here. Now I think this was unusual.
Interviewer: I think so too . . . . our discussion, you were telling me about
the first time your father asked your opinion. This was at the time of your
mother’s death. Okay.
Folkman: And the table is set. The woman who helped my mother, the day
worker, had set the table for Shabbat the way she always would as if my mother
were alive. And my father asked me a question where he really wanted my opinion.
See usually he made a statement and asked my approval.
Interviewer: He wouldn’t say it wasn’t a good idea after the fact I don’t
Folkman: No. But he asked my opinion. He said, “Jerome, is it all right
for me to light Mother’s Shabbos candles?” We use the Sephardic now but
he was using Ashkenazi Shabbos candles. “May I light Mother’s Shabbos
candles?” Strictly, according to Halacha, that is a function of a woman.
However, the rabbis now, on account of single-parent families being so common .
. . .
Folkman: Are you by any chance in one of these?
Interviewer: I’m a single parent.
Folkman: Yeah. Now that is a very, very common thing.
Interviewer: Yes, very.
Folkman: I notice here, it’s got a bibliography, a tremendous study of
single-parent families, yeah one-parent families. “The Growing
Minority,” an annotated bibliography. There’s a whole book which is just
Interviewer: That’s astounding. It really is.
Folkman: Concerned with children growing up with one parent, for any reason:
absence of father, mother, divorce, death, institutionalization, one-parent
adoption or unmar- ried parents. This book covers articles, books, chapters in
books, . . . . government documents, doctoral dissertations, published in
English from 1970 to the present.
Interviewer: I would think that’d be very interesting.
Folkman: Yeah. Back then nobody bothered with this sort of thing. It was
very, very unusual. Premature death was about the major thing and divorce was
Interviewer: I would imagine that with premature death, there was a quick
remarriage often times.
Folkman: Very frequently.
Interviewer: So someone would help take care of the children.
Folkman: Because the children were close together and there was, well each of
my grand- fathers lost a first wife through childbirth . . . .
Interviewer: Oh my goodness.
Folkman: Each of my grandfathers remarried quickly. My paternal grandfather’s
story is a very interesting story but my maternal grandfather married his
deceased wife’s sister according to the Jewish law. . . . . business.
Interviewer: Do you know that I have a client who that happened to?
Folkman: Is that so?
Interviewer: Yeah. His wife was killed in the Holocaust and he married his
sister-in-law and there was a big age difference. But go on, this is your story.
Folkman: Yeah but my maternal grandfather had four children with his first
wife and she died on the fourth. And he married her sister and my grandmother
who raised her sister’s kids as well as her own, ended up with a dozen. And so
she had her hands full. And my grandfather was also romantic. It was
interesting. My mother married on the basis of paternal selection which is, used
to be a very common thing. . . . and found it very frequently. And when my
mother was going through her mother’s papers after her mother’s death, she
found a lot of little poems and letters tied up with ribbons. She asked my
grandfather, this very austere rabbinic person, she asked him what were these
and she told me that my grandfather blushed pink through his beard. . . .
“When I married your mother, she was a little girl 16 years old. She hadn’t
had any boyfriends. . . . I thought she ought to have some . . . .” so he
wrote romantic letters and poems in German of course, and left them all around
the house for her to find. And he had a romance going. See so we’re romantic .
. . . on both sides which, well, that’s typically Hungarian you see. And my
father was very much influenced by his wife’s father. He was very fond of him
and he might have been influenced by him or he might have gotten those ideas
himself. In any event, he asked me, “Is it all right for me to light Mother’s
Shabbos candles.” Now the rabbis today follow the passage, and which I
quote myself all the time, if there is no woman available in the house to light
the Shabbos candles, a man may do so. If there is no man available, a woman may
say Kiddush. But this is an exception, it’s remote. It’s what they call in
Yiddish prima pitsula. Do you know Yiddish?
Interviewer: Not very well. I knew the basics that my grandmother taught me.
Folkman: Prima pitsula means “small print”.
Interviewer: I knew it was small something. Okay.
Folkman: And the commentaries were annotated around the text of the . . . .
Did you ever see a page of Talmud?
Interviewer: I’m not sure. Maybe in a book but not the real thing.
Folkman: I can show it to you later.
Folkman: But around the text you had commentaries. And the more remote the
commen- tary, the smaller the print. So when one would say, of a scholar, an
advice to prima pitsula, he knows the small print. That meant he was
quite a scholar. He read. He read the small, he read even the remote things.
Well there is this excep- tion which today we use and quote all the time, that
if the father is absent, the mother may say Kiddush. If the mother is absent,
the father may kindle her candles. But as far as the big print is concerned,
Sabbath candles is for a woman and Kiddush is for a man.
Now today they have all
this stuff mixed up. Now they have little kids coming out and lighting candles
and making Kiddush and they think, see the rabbis of today, my colleagues, think
that these kids, if they do it now, will carry it over into their adult life.
But we know that psychologically this does not happen. See this transfer does
not occur. What they’re taught to do in childhood becomes childhood. And what
they do when they become adults is what they’ve seen their parents do. And the
important thing for kids is to see parents do it.
During my rabbinate I was not
enthusiastic about children’s services. I didn’t have them. I wanted the
children to be next to the parents the way I was. And I don’t care if the kids
fell asleep during services. I don’t care if they played Tic-Tac-Toe. The idea
is I wanted them to see their parents worshipping. If they saw their parents
worship, they worshipped. If they didn’t see their parents worship, they won’t.
It’s exactly what is happening. Our kids, our children, now middle-aged
people, and we are grandparents of nine of the outstanding grand- children in
the United States . . . .
Interviewer: Of course.
Folkman: And this is now for public information, God willing, we are
scheduled to become great-grandparents in August.
Interviewer: Well congratulations.
Folkman: Thank you. We’re very proud of that. And this is our
granddaughter, the psy- chiatist who’s married to a pediatrician . . . .
Interviewer: Oh what a marriage.
Folkman: I told you our grandchildren are outstanding and they really are.
All grandparents think that but ours really, our grandchildren are just
remarkable. Well Katherine and her husband Jeff met in medical school. They were
the two top students and now they’re house officers at the University of
Pennsylvania, of the Pittsburgh Hospital. And everybody said, “Oh weren’t
they lucky to be able to get into the same hospital.” It wasn’t luck.
They were the two top students in the class so they both got the first choice in
the matching. And she told us about the baby as soon as the rabbit told her. But
she said, “Don’t tell anybody until I get through my first third of the .
. . .”
Interviewer: First trimester.
Folkman: Trimester, yeah. So then she told us and this is part of what we
would brag about. And we have little things about all of them. They’re all
fantastic. But they’re all, they’re all Jews and they enjoy it.
Interviewer: That’s wonderful.
Folkman: And they’re part of it, you see. It’s a little bit unusual.
Interviewer: No intermarriage then in your family?
Folkman: No thank God. Well I shouldn’t say, “Thank God.” It’s
very simple. It is simply we did not seclude our children. We did not push them
into children’s services. We did not shove them off into Sunday Schools where
that was the only Judaism they saw. They saw plenty of Judaism at home involving
parents and nobody took my place at the Sabbath table unless I couldn’t be
there. Nobody took my wife’s place at the Sabbath table unless she was in the
hospital having a baby or some- thing. And I do remember one occasion when my
Rabbi, Dr. Brickner of blessed memory, had his first heart attack. His wife
Rebecca was lining up his “pups” as she called us, to fill the pulpit
while he was recuperating.
Interviewer: Was this Cleveland or Cincinnati?
Folkman: Cleveland. And she called me up and she said, “Will you be able
to give us this weekend,” a particular weekend. And because of the kind of
family we had, we developed a family that was not patriarchal. We called it
democratic. Actually it was really a colleague family in which children shared
in decision making as often as possible. They were involved in, I mean every
decision that they could possibly be involved in. That’s how they learn to
make decisions. And you can advertise on the TV, “Say no to drugs.” It’s
pretty difficult for kids to say no to drugs when their parents have been
popping pills for everything all their lives.
Interviewer: Very true.
Folkman: It’s very difficult for them not to smoke or drink when their
parents are smokers or drinkers. What they see and hear in childhood has a much
more profound effect than anything that anybody tells them. So you can keep
right on telling them all you want and this will continue to be an American
problem. It’s a very serious problem because we think all you have to do is
tell them. Well we, our children saw us, just the same as I knew my father and
mother loved each other, and my wife came from the same kind of a family. The
fact that he was a patriarch, I could change that and actually, it was shortly
after our first son’s third birthday that we changed our family. My wife and I
sat down and talked it over and we changed our family from patriarchal,
benevolent patriarchal family, to what we then called, we were the first to
publish this, description of an actual family, we called it
Now I think the word “democratic” is really
not a good word. It was a colleague family. It was a colleague relationship in
which we shared decision making. Well let’s get back to my father and his
question. He said, “Is it all right for me to light the Sabbath
candles?” I said, “Well,” if I’d been an Orthodox rabbi, I
would have said, “Well my wife is here, Jean, my sister is here. There’s
two women. One of the women could do it.” However, I thought to myself, if
I say that, my father is going to have an experience of Shabbos without candles
every time he’s not invited to my sister’s for dinner. Now she asked him
after my mother’s death so that was more frequent when she was there. But
every time they’re out of town or something, he’s going to have a Shabbos
without candles because I said my mother was supposed to light them.
So I said,
“Would you like to light them?” And he said, “Yes”. And I
didn’t quote the exceptional rule. It didn’t apply there. There were two
women there. But he said the blessing . . . . and he blessed my mother’s
candles and it meant a great deal to him. Then he asked me to say Kiddush and
also the Motzee, which I did. That was the night that my mother was
buried. She died early Thursday morning and was buried Friday afternoon. Well
that was the first time he ever asked my opinion. It was really quite a thing.
But generally he was a patriarch all of his life and up until then, that was in
1959, he would never really relinquish that role. Well when I met my wife at the
University of Cincinnati, is this the kind of thing you want?
Interviewer: Yeah this is interesting although I did want to hear a little
bit more about maybe the kind of neighborhood you had, maybe a little bit about
your religious educa- tion, some things like that, a little bit before the
Folkman: Yeah well the important thing in our religious education was that
there was a . . . . I’ve always believed, and now I know when I did my Ph.D.
studies, I was able to prove. Before I was a Ph.D. I believed. Now I dodge the
word “think” and the word “believe”. I like to know. When I
don’t know, I try to keep my mouth shut. But that’s what the Ph.D. did for
me. To know or keep your mouth shut. If you don’t know, simply say, “I’m
sorry, I don’t know.” But before I did my Ph.D. studies I believed, and
my wife shared this belief with me, and both of us came from our family
experience, that the best religious education is at home. That all the budgets
and all the curriculum and all the organizations don’t do as much as religion
in the home. We had prayers before every meal and our children and our
grandchildren are the same. And they don’t live here. They live in Boston. Our
eldest son is Professor of, well he’s chaired in surgery but he’s also
Professor of Anatomy and Cellular Biology; he has two professorships in the
Harvard Medical School.
And our number two son lives in San Francisco where he’s
the President of the important The Emporium, of 22 stores. And his wife is a
member of the faculty at the University of California at San Francisco. She got
her Ph.D. at Berkeley. And she is now the President of their temple and they’re
very active in their congregation. All of our children have board experience and
have been active in their congregations and their children. But it’s because
the transmission is at home. Now when we started out, when we planned our
family, we believed this. Later on I discovered it and I got a correlation of
statistical significance at the 5% level of confidence.
Interviewer: I see.
Folkman: Do you understand the language?
Interviewer: Yes, pretty much.
Folkman: And so I know, I know that every once in a while, less than 7 1/2%
of the cases of people who have strong religious feelings get them someplace
else. But 92 1/2% of the cases, people get their religious feelings at home. And
religious schools are, Hebrew schools or church schools are simply adjuncts. And
that’s the way they function. And that’s the same . . . . That’s where our
standards . . . . People rely on institutions and institutions don’t transmit
these fundamental values.
Interviewer: So your primary religious education was home but was there some
formal Jewish education?
Folkman: Oh yes. We went to Sunday School and we did everything that Jewish kids do but we didn’t come home and say, “Why don’t we have Shabbos candles?” We never had a Shabbos where there weren’t candles and Kiddush. We never sat down to a meal where there wasn’t a prayer. And our grandchildren, who are now . . . . , when they were little kids, if somebody ate a piece of candy, they’d say a bracha. And where did they get that?
These things don’t happen in school. This is a great fallacy not only among Jews but among the Christians too, and this is what’s happening. We wonder where the values of this country are going and we see the things that are happening. And the stories of today aren’t too pleasant. But we were, both of us, convinced that religion is transmitted, religious values are transmitted at home. Our first publication, we were the first to appear in print with an actual account of a family prac- ticing what we were talking about. And we called our little book “Religion and Democracy Begin at Home”. We thought it was democracy. But right now, if I were writing the book over again I would say that’s not a particularly good word because it sounds as if the parents abdicated parenthood.
A lot of parents do abdicate parenthood but they think that’s democratic. We were the parents but our children shared in decision making. Well when we met at the University of Cincinnati, I was with a classmate of mine who is now Rabbi Emeritus of the Har Sinai Temple in Baltimore and he lives in Naples, Florida, where he had a retir- ment congregation. The last time we saw him, last, let’s see, that was in March. That was in a year ago March, a year ago this March. The last time we saw him, well I think he was
also at, December, we saw him in December too. And he was talking about retiring
again because the congregation got too large and he wanted a small, take-it-easy
congregation. And it got too large on him. He’s a tremendous rabbi, a great
rabbi. Does a fine piece of work with his family. Well we were best friends. In
those days, the idea was to have a friend. Now parents like their kids to have a
hundred friends or two hundred friends. If they have birthday parties, a hundred
kids are invited.
In those days, the idea was to have a friend and Abe (Shusterman)
and I were friends and we were over at the University one day because we were
told that our names were on the bulletin board to be expelled from the Botany
Lab. Our advisor had failed to register us for a lab team. It was his fault. But
our names were up there and we were kicked out. So we went over to see what
happened. We got ourselves back in, we got back.
The lab instructor was so touched by our tale of woe that he gave us his table and we got in the lab. We walked out of the Botany Lab at McMicken Hall and I looked down the steps and there between the lions there were two young ladies and they were obviously
freshmen. A little bit bewildered. They had all their catalogues…in
front of them and they didn’t know where they were going apparently. And so I
said, “Abe do you want to see two good-looking girls?” And he said,
“I know one of those girls.” I said, “Which one do you know? Do
you know the one with the red coat and the black sailor straw?” Girls used
to wear hats in those days, back in the middle ages. And he said, “That’s
the one I know.” And I said, “That’s the one I’d like to
meet.” In those days, you had to be introduced.
You couldn’t go up to somebody and say, “I’m Joe, who are you?” You had to be introduced. He said, “Sure I know her, I’ll introduce you.” So it was my wife and her classmate Fannie May Cooperin . .
. . And we talked a little bit, not much, and I said, “Abe,” we were
best friends, “I want you to do me a favor. I had a date for our dormitory
dance the following Saturday night but Abe didn’t. I said, “I’d like
you to take Bessie Schomer to the dance so I can get to know her better.”
This was just a casual introduction. In those days, it wasn’t enough. In those
days it was a much more formal society.
Interviewer: At least it wasn’t an arranged marriage.
Folkman: No, well . . . .
Interviewer: We were past that.
Folkman: Yeah well, see those, that’s also dysfunctional in this society.
It worked very well in Europe but arranged marriages are dysfunctional in this
society. So I said, “I’d like to get to know her better.” He said,
“I can’t take her to the dance.” I said, “Why not? She’s a
beautiful girl. I think she’s the most beautiful girl on the campus.” And
he said he thought she was. And he said, “She’s a lovely girl but I can’t
take her.” I said, “Why not?” “Well she lives in
Middletown.” I said, “What’s that got to do with it? My grandmother
lives in Middletown.” I said, “What has that to do with us?”
“Jerry,” he said, “you never lived in a small town. You don’t
know what a small town is like. If I take her to the dormitory dance, Middletown
will have me married to her.” So I said, “That’s crazy”. He
said, “I know but that’s the way small towns are. But I grew up in
Cleveland,” he said, “so . . . . . it wasn’t anybody’s
business.” Well it happened that the girl with whom I had the date for
Saturday night got sick. She got what was then called the Grippe. Now it’s
call the flu. Same thing but it used to be called the Grippe. And her mother
called me up and said, “Mr. Folkman,” it was a formal society in those
days, “Stella . . . .
Interviewer: . . . . how your date got the Grippe and you had an opportunity
. . . .
Folkman: And she said, her mother said, “Stella thought that you might
want to ask another girl. Or do you want to wait and see how she feels?” I
said, “Oh,” I won’t use any last names. I remember who it was. And I
said, “Oh Mrs. B. I don’t think Stella should go to that dance.” We
didn’t have air conditioning in those days. See the dance was set up in the
dining room of a dormitory and sometimes it gets very warm. “She might get
a little fever, she might, I don’t think it’s a very good idea.” So I
called up my wife’s dormitory and she lived at the extreme east end of the
Cincinnati campus on Lane Avenue. We lived on Clifton which was the extreme west
end of the University of Cincinnati campus. So the cross-town car between us. So
I called her up and I’m not quite sure she remembered me. Did you (off side)?
You did. But in any event she said, “Yes,” and that was our first
date. And the interesting thing about Abe, I introduced him to his wife. I
taught Sunday School in Cincinnati and because I was a Hebrew Union College
student, I was one of the youngest in my class, the youngest ever to be ordained
up to that time. I don’t think anybody’s ever beat my record since.
Interviewer: How old were you when you . . . .
Folkman: I was 23.
Interviewer: Oh that is young.
Folkman: When I was there, yeah. And she, I was a Sunday School teacher in
the High School Department at the Wise Temple. Because they think that if you’re
a rabbinical student, you’re practically a rabbi, you know. And I taught high
school kids and they were just a few years younger than I. But I acted old and I
affected dark clothing, with pince-nez glasses, and I tried to be as
obnoxious as I possibly could because that was my picture of being older. And
the girl that he married was in my class.
Interviewer: I see.
Folkman: That’s another interesting story. He wanted me to introduce him to
her. And I didn’t like the idea because there were double dates and I now had
my Sunday School student on a double date and he invoked our friendship. So I
called up the Epsteins, this name I think is all right to use. I said,
“Mrs. Epstein, this is Mr. Folkman, Lillian’s Sunday School
teacher.” “Oh yes, Mr. Folkman, is Lillian behaving?” “Oh
yes, just fine.” “Is everything all right?” “Everything’s
just fine. The reason I’m calling is that there’s a young man,” and of
course he was older than I, not by much but by enough to make a difference when
you’re that young. But I was a teacher. And I said, “One of our most
promising students at the Hebrew Union College and I thought he ought to meet
Lillian.” And Mrs. Epstein said, “Well I didn’t know that the
teachers at the Wise Temple arranged dates for the students.” “I
really don’t usually but this is an exceptional case and this young man is
brilliant, one of our most promising students and I thought he ought to meet
Lillian.” And he met her and married her.
Folkman: That was sort of, yeah.
Interviewer: Can I just ask you for my information, was the Hebrew Union
College for under- graduate school as well?
Folkman: It was.
Interviewer: Okay. ‘Cause I thought that those were usually postgraduate.
Folkman: That happened later. But I went there right straight from high school and stayed there through ordination and got my B.A. at the University of Cincinnati and my B.H.L., that’s a Hebrew Laws degree, and my ordination, at Hebrew Union College. Well I knew right away, I didn’t tell her right away, but I knew right away that she was going to be my wife. I told that to Abe. He said, “Great. She’ll be married a dozen times before you’re ready to support a wife.” In those days, you didn’t ask a girl to marry you until you could support her. There were all kinds of weird ideas back there then.
Interviewer: Well didn’t some of them live with families until they could
support themselves? Or maybe that hadn’t happened yet.
Folkman: Well that, you see we went to Cincinnati to…
Interviewer: Your family wasn’t there because you were in college?
Folkman: When you can support a woman, you ask her to marry you. And this is general. I didn’t tell her right away but I did eventually and…
Interviewer: How long approximately?
Folkman: Well it was about two and a half years before we actually got
married. It was about two years and we were just you know, boy- and girlfriend. But I knew. And I talked to her about the rabbinate as if she knew. And I don’t know whether she knew or not. And we talked about a number of things. And one of the things that we discussed was an observation that I had made about the families of rabbis. Because of my grandfather’s father in Cleveland, I saw a lot of rabbis and heard an awful lot of talk in many congregations. And I was aware, now here I was a young kid, an undergraduate, but I was aware that many rabbis had difficulties with their wives. Later I found, and I’m published on this, the same thing happens in medicine. But we discussed this. We were both undergraduates and we figured out that the cause of it was that they didn’t get married until after ordination. So a girl married a rabbi.
And immediately, she was dating a young man and she married a rabbi,
and immediately she had 500 people competing with her for his attention. And she
began to resent this. And the books that the rabbis wives wrote, they began to
write a number of books telling their tale of woe, and most of these books were
complaints, how hard it is to be the wife or a rabbi. And we decided at that
time that that’s not the way a rabbi ought to do, that we should get married
in my senior year. Nobody else did that. We were the first. We were the first
students ever married in the Chapel of the Hebrew Union College.
That was historic.
And we invited the whole student body and faculty and our friends and relatives, of course. But we decided that we would get married in my senior year. That would give us a year as Mr. and Mrs. so we would get used to each other. Then we’d be in the rabbinate for a year with no pregnancy, no vomiting, no kids. We would be Rabbi and Mrs. where we could both get used to a congregation at the same time, which we did. And then we decided that we would have our children at two-year intervals, which we did. They are 53, no 54 now, his birthday just occurred, 54, 52, and 50.
Interviewer: That kind of family planning wasn’t that prevalent at that
time I don’t believe. No.
Folkman: It was a very unusual. And so by the time I actually talked
marriage to her on the cross-town bus taking us back to the dormitory. People
didn’t have cars, or students didn’t have cars in those days and it was on
that bus that we talked about it, we already knew what kind of marriage we
wanted even though we had never talked about it as our marriage. I said,
“This is what rabbis should do.” So I didn’t want to ask the faculty
for permission to get married because I didn’t believe they had the right to
give or to deny permission to get married. It was none of their business. But I
asked permission to use the Chapel which had never been used for that purpose
And 25 years later our dear friend and mentor, Dr. Marcus, also our
teacher, taught both of us, 25 years later he did our Reconse- cration for our
25th anniversary, and he told us that the faculty was in session ’til way
after midnight on this request because they were afraid it would establish a
precedent, which it did. But we didn’t cause the students to get married.
Social forces operate, see. Although we were the first and so that it looks as
though it was the cause, but it was not a cause. It was just the beginning of a
new trend. Well we were Mr. and Mrs. for the first year of our marriage. And
then we were Rabbi and Mrs. And then was the time to have our family. My
classmates were writing, in the Depression then, things were bad. And our
classmates were writing reports on that they were going to postpone their
families until after the Depression. And my wife is very quiet but she’s a
very brilliant woman. And she has a way of saying something very succinctly
which is very, very smart and you’ll think about it for a long time.
So I said
to her, “You know the fellows and their wives have decided not to have kids
until after the Depression, so . . . .” And she said, “What if it’s
never over?” And the way Mr. Hoover was running it, it would never have
been over. Mr. Hoover’s ideas are very similar to Mr. Reagan’s. He thought
it would automatically go back. It doesn’t go back.
Interviewer: You have to make it.
Folkman: Yeah, see, you have to go forward. You can’t go back. But Mr.
Hoover thought that prosperity was just around the corner. And if we kept up
that way we never would have gotten out of it. And I’m sure this is not going,
the Reagan economics will not survive. But we’re not in good shape now, as you’re
Folkman: It’s not as bad as it was then because now we have many of the
cushions that the New Deal put in. Federal Deposit Insurance so the banks don’t
fail and much, old age pensions. Now we have Medicare, see. Social Security we
have now. And I don’t think Mr. Reagan thinks these are very important but
there are a lot of people who couldn’t survive without these cushions.
Folkman: . . . . And we knew what kind of marriage we would have and we did.
And when the fellows wrote that they were going to postpone their children, we
said, she said, “What if the Depression isn’t over?” I said,
“Well if the Depression isn’t over, it’s going to be a poor
country.” She said, “Yes”. And I said, “In a poor country,
the clergy are poor.”
Folkman: You see in a rich country, the clergy are less well-to-do. In a poor
country they are poor. She said, “That’s right. But we’ll have our
Interviewer: That’s stated very good. I like that.
Folkman: Yeah. And I said, “That’s right.” So we stopped using
the contraceptives. They didn’t have the pill in those days. In those days you
couldn’t use the word “condom” but now it’s widely advertised and
highly recommended. And we didn’t do it to avoid disease but we did it to
control reproduction. And we controlled it and we had children at two-year
intervals. Now the manual said three-year intervals for the health of the wife.
But my sister and I were four years a part and that was too much. We never
really got to know each other.
Interviewer: Uh huh. There was always too much of a gap.
Folkman: Until we were parents. And my wife and her sister were five years
apart. So we decided on two years and . . . . Well we had our family at two-year
intervals and it was rough. The banks closed the day Judah was born. Every
Michigan bank closed first. Every bank in the state was closed and I had a
dollar, seventy-five cents in my pocket. The President of the Congregation went
around to the members and begged for currency so I had $75, which, this I never
forgot. Seventy-five dollars in currency was awfully hard to come by with all
the banks closed. And my wife was in the hospital and everything ran on chits.
You know, I wrote a check for the doctor which was good later on when the banks
opened. It wasn’t good when I gave it to him. The banks were closed. But we
had our family and when our eldest son was three years of age and it occurred to
us, you know, this occurred which I won’t go into because it’s another story
that will take up the tape, which showed us that the patriarchal system which we
had replicated from our families of orientation, was no longer suited to this
country, this society. And we decided that from then on, we would involve our
children in decision making. And we did this for the rest of our lives.
Let me give you an illustration. By the time we had three children, see we had them at
two-year intervals, by the time we had three children, by the time they were of
an age to be on wheels, we had a front. They parked their bikes and their skates
and their wagons where people would fall over them. Now the patriarchal parent
would simply say, “I want those bikes, I want those wheels on steps or on
sidewalks. I don’t want to see it any more.” That’s a patriarchal
parent. I know just how it would be because that’s what mine was up until
Judah’s third birthday, 51 years ago. And, but what I did, I had already
become a member of a colleague family which we called “democratic” and
after dinner that night, I said, “Our family has a problem.” Now this
is not unusual.
There are many families operating this way today. But we were
the first to put it in print and I think we did a lot to influence the trend. I
said, “Our family has a problem. Kids have wheels, bikes, skates, and you
leave them all over and somebody could fall and break their neck.” So the
kids said, “That’s right Dad, that’s right. What should we do about
it?” And I said, “What would you suggest?” Well the first
suggestion came from our daughter who was speaking of skates and she said, let’s
see, the bride over there in the top corner is our daughter Joy. Those are our
three brides. And she said, “Well we ought to put them in the
basement.” The boys said, “You can’t put your bike in the basement
every time you get off the bicycle.” I said, “That’s right. That’s
not practical.” I said, “Boys what would you suggest?” “Put
’em in the garage.” “Oh I see.” Well now we had so many garden
tools in the garage and it was complicated. So they said, “Well what do you
suggest Dad?” This is a colleague family in operation. This actually
happened. I said, “Well I suggest that we make a rule that all bikes,
wagons, skates not in use be parked on the grass.” “Is that good for
the grass?” “No but it’s better to nick the grass than to have
somebody have a broken leg.” It’s a value system. So one of the kids
said, “Well I’ll make a motion. I move that we have a law that unused
vehicles be parked on the grass. I know that this is a good motion but not a
very good law.” “What’s the trouble with it?” “Well there’s
no provision for violation.” “Well we won’t violate it. We’re
making the law. We’re not going to violate our own laws.” “When you
make these laws, you create violators.
The major cause of law violation is laws.
If you abolished all the laws, there’d be no violations. You wouldn’t want
to live in that society but there’d be no violations.” “Well let’s
put something in. Violators have to be punished, that’s right.”
“Well how?” Well the things they suggested were much too severe. I
would be arrested for abusing children if I’d done the things they suggested.
But we suggested, I suggested, that what we should do is have a penal system. We
lived in Michigan then and penal fines were put in the Michigan Library Fund. So
I said, “We will have a one-penny fine for the first offense, two cents for
the second offense, three for the third offense. And the money should be put in
the Tsadakah box.” Do you know what that is?
Folkman: In the kitchen. Now this followed the example of the state in which
we lived. And we passed that law and that solved the problem for a while. My
wife and I came home one day and David, that’s our number 2 son, let’s see,
where is he? Oh he’s over here.
Interviewer: Is the daughter the second or the third?
Folkman: The daughter was the third.
Interviewer: You’ve got book ends there.
Folkman: This is our son Judah and Gerald and Mrs. Ford. That’s when he got
the Eisen- hower Award. Let’s see. David is over there with that cute little
girl with the necklace. And these are the bride and groom, the parents of the
child we’re looking forward to in August.
Interviewer: Oh I see. Very nice.
Folkman: So David had his bike on the lawn. So I took out a piece of scrap
paper from my pocket. I wrote on it “Illegal parking. First offense.
One-cent fine,” underneath. And in those days, bikes used to have bells on
them and I affixed it to the bell. That night at dinner, he said, “I got a
parking ticket today.” And I said, “Mom and I know; we put it
there.” He said, “I know you signed it.” I said, “You were
parked illegally.” “Well I didn’t do it. I’m not going to pay the
fine.” I said, “Who did it?” He said, “Jimmy,” his best
friend from down the street. So I said, “Well it’s your bike. Did Jimmy
take it without your permission?” “No, he borrowed it because his bike
is being fixed and he had to go to the store for his mother.” I said,
“Well if you loaned it to him, you’re responsible.” He said,
“That’s not fair.” I said, “That’s the way it is, that’s
the way life is. If you own something, you’re responsible.” So he said,
“I’m taking an appeal.” Now this had never happened before. One of
the great problems with middle-class families is that they’re so reluctant to
go for outside help. You’re a social worker?
Interviewer: Sort of, yeah.
Folkman: Then you’re aware that middle class families won’t go for help
generally until their problems are out of all proportion. Here was a great
opportunity to show our willingness to go outside of the family for help because
he said, “I take an appeal.” There was no television and he’d never
heard of Perry Mason. I don’t know where he got that legal formula but he got
Interviewer: Now was he what, three or five at the time?
Folkman: No he was about 10, he was . . . .
Interviewer: He was older?
Folkman: Yeah, yeah. Now this was really fantastic. He said, “I take an
appeal.” Our daughter has written a book. She’s does reading arts and
reading correction at the University of Rochester School of Education. She’s
married to a very distin- guished and also world-famous cardiologist, a
Professor of Cardiology.
One of the things she found out is that kids know much
more than anybody thinks. They just don’t have command of all the words. He
said, “I take an appeal.” I recognized at once that here is an
opportunity to call in an outside source which teaches our kids very early in
life that when you have difficulty, there’s nothing wrong with calling in an
outside source. We happened to have a superior court judge living across the
street, Judge Samuel B. Taylor. That was his name.
So I said, “Very well. You want to appeal this case. I’ll call in Judge Taylor.” So he said,
“Fine”. So I called up Judge Taylor. “Judge.”
“Yes.” “Rabbi Folkman.” “Yes Rabbi.” “We’re
having a little difficulty over here. I wonder if you could help us.”
“Oh, certainly, certainly.” He didn’t know exactly what it was. But
everybody likes to help somebody else with domestic problems. I said,
“Would you like us to come over there or do you want to come here?”
“Well my wife is in the middle of housecleaning.” People used to clean
house in those days and now they move. But in those days they used to clean
house. And he, we’ve lived here since 1947. And he said, “I’ll come
over. I’ll put on a coat and tie and I’ll be right over.”
So he came over and we used to have a chair with a big high back. It’s in the attic now
because it doesn’t fit in this room. But it was a nice chair and it was a good
place to seat a judge. So we seated the judge. We gave him my gavel which I
received when I was President of B’nai B’rith and which we always used as a
symbol of authority every time we had a meeting. We would call “Meeting,
meeting.” That was for legislation. And “Justice, justice.” That
was for trying a case.And so…a symbol. See rituals are very important.
Now people try to play them down, and especially Reform Jews are always mucking
with them. But rituals must be repetitive to be effective. Well anyhow, I turned
the gavel over. Now this meant, you see what rituals do, you think they meant
but you couldn’t put it into words that kids would understand. You do things.
When they saw the gavel transferred from us to the judge, they saw the authority
of the family going outside of the family. The case was told to the judge and
the judge said, “Well this case, I’ll, this court will sustain the lower
court.” He got into the mood of it.
And he told us the Supreme Court of
Michigan’s parking case. The principal of ownership involved responsibility
and that if it had been alleged that this bike was taken without the owner’s
permission, that would be an equivalent case not for our jurisdiction. But there
was no claim that this was taken without permission and the fact that it was
used by a person not of this family who didn’t know the rules, has nothing to
do with it. Anybody going into any other territory is bound by the rules of that
And he quoted all kinds of citations and he said, “In short, the
fine must be paid.” So little David went out to the kitchen and got the
kitchen chair. He took a penny out of his piggy bank, please excuse the
expression, and put the penny in the (tape goes blank) . . . . They really, they’re
fantastic kids. And they have outstanding kids.
Interviewer: Okay. Being that I know we have a half an hour left on this
tape, could you give me a little information about what pulpits you’ve held
and what circumstances led to you coming to Columbus.
Folkman: Yeah. Well our first pulpit was in Jackson, Michigan, a small
congregation of about 35 families, about . . . . families when we left. But we
were attracted to it because it was next door to the University of Michigan. And
I always had the idea which I shared with my wife before I told her she would be
my wife, that clergy should never stop going to school.
Today this is
commonplace. Any ecclesiastical journal has articles about the clergy must
continue their education. Now this is true of all professionals but I’m just
talking about my own. If you are a lawyer, and you don’t go to the meetings,
you don’t attend clinics, and you don’t read the journals, you’re going to
lose cases. If you’re a doctor and you don’t keep up your medical education,
pretty soon you’ll be out of practice. Your patients…But if you’re a
clergy person, people will tolerate you even though you don’t have a thing to
say. “Dear Doctor Jones. He hasn’t had a new idea in 25 years but he was
so nice when Aunt Tessie died.” See we’re nice to people and they like
us. So we can hold a job even though we’re not growing intellectually. Well
this we saw and we made up our minds that we were going to be someplace near a
So we went to Jackson, Michigan, and the next year I enrolled in the
graduate school as a doctoral candidate in Ann Arbor. And we were living on a
very small salary. We, our salary was $166.66 a month so we were . . . . We
owned no car. So I had a commuter ticket on the Michigan Central Railroad and I
had an 8:00 class Monday, Wednesday and Friday at Ann Arbor. I started my
studies there. Well we were there five years and then I was called to Grand
Rapids, Michigan. That made Ann Arbor rather difficult and I couldn’t continue
there. We were in Grand Rapids, Michigan, 10 years. And then we were called here
and one of the things that attracted me to Columbus was The Ohio State
Unviersity and particularly there was a professor by the name of John Cuber who
wrote a book on marriage counseling which was the only book which didn’t
expect the clergyperson to become an imitation psychiatrist or social worker. It
was the only book that I had read that talked about counseling at the conscious
level without being therapeutic.
So I defined myself as a counselor as a
role-repair man. There’s nothing wrong with these people. They just don’t
know how to be hus- bands and wives because they didn’t see examples that
would fit. They don’t know how to be fathers and mothers because they didn’t
see examples that will fit in this society. Well we didn’t see them either but
we made them up. But we did have the important values to become . . . . Well, I
liked Cuber’s work so one of the things that I liked about Columbus was the
proximity of Ohio State University. And when the Board interviewed me, I asked
them if they objected to my studying at Ohio State and they were most
interested. You know how Columbus views Ohio State.
Interviewer: Now just for point of reference, what year was this when you
came to Columbus?
Interviewer: Oh okay. So this is your first home in Columbus?
Folkman: This is our first home in Columbus and we’re still here. And so
we, the Board thought that would be fine. So in 1948, I enrolled in the graduate
school at Ohio State as a doctoral candidate in Sociology, specializing in
marriage and the family. And I got my degree in 1953. And so they, and our
family was all part of this. So when I was pushing IBM cards through sorters,
the whole family was there punch- ing cards off of my data machine. Everybody
worked and everybody was aware of what we were doing, you know. The problems of
the Ph.D. candidate is also having a growing congregation. See when we came
here, the congregation was about 350 families. There was a man named Rudolph
Stern, Sr., whose son Rudolph Stern, Jr. is still a member of the congregation.
So he got the idea of having a hundred new members in honor of the new rabbi,
the “Rabbi Jerome D. Folkman Class”. And that idea has gone on to this
day. Every year they had a new member’s class. But his idea was that there
should be a hundred new mem- bers to honor the new, young, I was young then,
rabbi. And I remember one day we were sitting in the Continental Restaurant on
Long Street. There’s a restaurant there now. I don’t know what it’s called
but it’s not the Continental any more. It was a place where the Jewish
merchants used to gather and sit around and com- plain about business. And we
were sitting there and having lunch one day and Rudy Stern came in and he said,
“Fellows, I’ve got 99 new members for Rabbi Folkman next Friday night. I
need one more.” And I think he got five or six members right there in the
Continental Restaurant. So then we were a congrega- tion of 450 members right
Interviewer: Was that families or individuals?
Folkman: Jews count memberships, are you a member of any congregation?
Interviewer: Yes. Agudas Achim.
Folkman: Yeah. Jews count in families. There’s a tendency now to change this because we have so many alternative arrangements. But traditionally we thought of memberships as family memberships.
Folkman: And when we retired when I became 65 in 1972, we were almost up to 1400 families. So you can see there’s been tremendous growth in all this time, tremen- dous enthusiasm, and we had a, we loved our ministry, the whole ministry. And the kids were a very important part of it. They went to temple together, we went to temple. There never was an idea that you have to go to temple. You see, this is what our family does.
Interviewer: What was the Jewish community like at that time? What were your
Folkman: We were very favorably impressed. One of the things that bothered me
was that the congregations were not too friendly with each other. They are now.
But I think I had a great deal to do with that. We started the first, I, when I
say “we” I mean I . . . . first Columbus Board of Rabbis with the idea
that the rabbis should be friends and they are to this day. The Columbus
Rabbinate gets along fine and we’re all good friends. And every once in a
while you find members of one congregation or another who speak ill of another
congregation. But this is very rare. The community is much better integrated now
than it was when we came here and I think we had a great deal to do with it. I
think any impartial historical account would . . . .
Interviewer: How would you characterize the congregation at the time you took
over the pulpit there?
Folkman: It was a smaller congregation. But my idea was that the congregation
should be an enlarged family. And that’s the way we operated. And that’s
what we came up with. I was never committed to the idea of organization . . . .
I liked the idea that a family should come to temple together as much as
possible. We beamed the Friday evening service at adults and the kids were
invited. We beamed the Satur- day morning service at the children and the
parents were invited. Now the Saturday morning service now is a small service
mostly for Bar Mitzvahs. We always had a very nice Saturday morning
service because the kids were involved. We had a Children’s Choir and a good
Children’s Choir. There was a young woman in the congregation whose maiden
name was Beverly Thal. She became Mrs. Melville Singer. I married her to Dr.
Melville Singer and she became, they live in California now, but she is now a
National Vice-President of the National Federation of Temple Sisterhoods. She
was a very beautiful, very charming, very attractive woman, excellent musician.
She sang beautifully and the kids adored her. See, it’s important if you have
something like this which is new that the person should be attractive,
personally attractive, which she was. And so we had a Children’s Choir and we
robed them. And the parents came to hear the children. The Confirmation kids
gave sermons, which they wrote themselves, on Saturday mornings. I would do the
Torah portion and that was teaching a lesson. And they would give those sermons.
And the parents started coming to hear their kids. That was Saturday morning.
Friday night was an adult service. No gimmicks. None of this kid stuff. No . . .
. It was straight service and we strove to have the highest quality preaching
and music and everything we possibly could. And I think we did. And the result
was that we grew from 350 to 450, eventually almost 1400.
Interviewer: Would you say that at the time you arrived, that the
congregation was still affluent?
Interviewer: It already was?
Interviewer: Uh huh. And when was the new Temple built on East Broad Street?
Interviewer: And that was just like 12 years after you had been here?
Interviewer: What was the building campaign like? Were you the first
congregation, no, the other temples had already moved out.
Folkman: Well I never asked, this is interesting, I never asked anybody for
money. My observation from early childhood was that people began to dislike
their rabbis because they were always involved in some kind of money-raising.
The only pitch that I made was for this building and it was on a . . . . And I
never heard of Martin Luther King, in other words “I had a dream”
sermon. Mine came before his. I don’t think you heard of mine. And I didn’t
say “I had a dream,” “I have a dream,” but I put it out over
this . . . . you had an overcrowded, changing neigh- borhood on Bryden Road,
need for parking, need for air conditioning, see. And especially classroom space
and I put this in a sermon.
Interviewer: Had you discussed this with board members . . . .
Interviewer: or other people before?
Folkman: It was a sermon. I always believed very strongly in the freedom of
the pulpit. I discussed it with no one. It was a sermon. At the conclusion of
the sermon, the President of the Congregation got up and said, “We are all
glad to know what our Rabbi is dreaming about.” The President was Jack
Resler. And he said, “I’m calling a special meeting of the Board next
Tuesday evening to discuss the Rabbi’s dream.
Interviewer: The hour is late and I don’t want my son to get locked out of
Agudas Achim at 9:30 at night.
Interviewer: Okay, this is about three months later, June 15, 1987, sitting
in Rabbi and Mrs. Folkman’s living room. Okay, you were talking about your
“I had a dream” speech that was before Martin Luther King ever did his
famous speech, that was the beginning of the campaign to build the new temple
out on Broad and Noe- Bixby. What else do you think might be interesting about
the building of the temple or the process?
Folkman: Well that wasn’t a speech. That was a sermon. And I preached the sermon on erev Yom Kippur, erev Yom Kippur when the whole congregation would hear the whole thing. And the President of the congregation called a meeting the following week to take up the matter. They didn’t, it wasn’t just a sermon preached in the air. He picked it up and had a board meeting and they started organizing for the building of the building. It turned out to be a building that was really very artistic and very, a lot of art in it. I didn’t think of all the art. What I was thinking of was all the utility. I didn’t say anything about the art but the art that is in the building is a wonderful addition to it. On the front of the building we have a “Burning Bush” which is sort of the logo of the congregation now and in the building there are a number of artistic pieces and that was the idea of the members of the congregation. Of course, the congregation actually built the building. They had committees to do everything, what they wanted. We surveyed the congregation. We had a questionnaire. We were able to determine where our people lived. Did I mention this questionnaire?
Interviewer: You may have but that’s okay. It wouldn’t have been very
Folkman: Yeah, yeah. We had a questionnaire. We were trying to find out where
our people lived and where they were moving if they were moving. And we were
able to determine this and we put the, the idea of the site was to be in that
area and that was exactly what happened. And we used social prediction to
determine where the building should be and then what it should be. One of the
things that I asked for was that since we knew that the American people were
growing older, I asked that the building should be designed so that people could
come in who had difficulty in mobility and who used wheelchairs and there aren’t
any steps in the building except up the altar. And it never occurred to me that
one of the first people to whom this would be helpful would be my own wife. See
I didn’t know that she was going to get arthritis and osteoporosis and that
she wouldn’t be able to come into a building that had great big steps in front
of it. And the building was designed for the benefit of older people and now we’re
older and we’re enjoying it and it’s one of the few places that we go
regularly because we can get into the building without difficulty. A lot of
places we can’t go because we can’t climb a bunch of steps and things like
Another thing that I thought was extremely important was that the building
should be air conditioned because our old building on Bryden Road was not. That
meant that during the summer our program was reduced to a minimum. When we got
into an air conditioned building, we soon discovered that we could maintain a
program all year ’round. And we first thought that the chapel would be used
for summer services. And the summer services were so overcrowded that it was
only a few weeks before we had to move them into the main sanctuary. The chapel
now is used for small services, weddings and, God forbid, funerals. But it’s
used, of course. But our idea was it would be ideal for the summer. And the
building was well planned and the subsequent use has demonstrated that this
planning was good.
Interviewer: Uh huh. I know there’s something that I had thought of when I
was thinking of what we hadn’t talked about last week. I was wondering if you
might tell us what it as like in Columbus during World War II and the reactions
to the Holocaust and how it was affecting some of the Jewish people in Columbus,
particularly in your congregation.
Folkman: Well we didn’t live here during World War II.
Interviewer: That’s right. You didn’t come here . . . .
Folkman: We came here after the war was over. But we lived in Grand Rapids,
Michigan, during World War II.
Interviewer: Can you give us some feelings about how . . . . happening at
Folkman: Yeah. Well in Grand Rapids, Michigan, there was no Family Service so
I was the Family Service. There was no ADL so I was the ADL. In fact, I was the
commu- nity apparatus which was an excellent experience. A lot of work but it
was an excellent experience. The different communities in the country were
assigned people to come, those who would be rescued from the Holocaust. And part
of that was my work. Now this is the way it was done. There were two schools of
thought in the United States about how the Holocaust should be approached. One
school of thought was represented by the late Rabbi Stephen Wise who felt that
we should use Madison Square Garden, big parades and big protests all over the
country. Another school of thought was represented by the American Jewish
Committee that felt that we shouldn’t make too much noise because this might
react unfavorably upon the families of the people who were saved. And I think
there was justice in both claims and although the two schools of thought, the
American Jewish Congress and the American Jewish Committee, were bitterly
opposed to each other and had bitter fights, actually in the way God works
things out, they both served very good purposes and both methods were good.
One of the things that we had to do was to get affidavits from people of substantial
wealth who would guarantee that those who were brought out of Europe, out of
Germany in the main and later on other countries as Hitler took them over, would
not become public charges. And I remember the president of our congregation and
I don’t know if I should give names out, well I don’t think there’s
anything wrong with giving names, his name was G. A. Wolf, Gus Wolf. A
remarkable person. He was a lawyer and he was active in the practice of law
until his terminal illness which was brief and he was sharp as a tack. And his
wife had died when he was a young husband and he was very much in love with her
and he remembered her and celebrated their anniversary every year with a Maine
lobster banquet for his friends celebrating their wedding anniversary. But he
had no offspring and he had amassed a considerable fortune.
So I asked him to sign affidavits. I couldn’t because my salary was so small that my affidavit
would not be accepted by the Department of Immigration. So he would sign the
affidavit. But the only thing that he was sharp enough to elude was the question
about age. If he’d given his age, of course they would not have accepted the
affidavits. He said “of legal age” and I think he must have signed
20-25 affidavits for me and we brought these people in. There was a man in
Flint, Michigan, by the name of Ellis Warren. A wonderful man, high ideals, and
I went to him to get affidavits and I said, “Now you have to show your
financial worth.” So he told his secretary, “Give the Rabbi a copy of
the first page of my 1040 Tax Form.”
And when I saw the first page, I
thought it was the national debt. And he signed a lot of affidavits. Well people
would get these affidavits signed and then these people would come over and then
they’d be assigned to various cities. This was done quietly and without too
much fanfare. And this was the part that they thought they ought not to
publicize too much and they didn’t. You probably never heard of it. And I don’t
know of any history of the period that tells how many people were brought over.
Other things happened. For example, an article I had written appeared in the National
Jewish Monthly for which I was paid and perfectly proper. I got a
letter from a young man in a place in Germany called Wolpertauelberfelt. I had
never heard of it and every one of the people who came from Germany that I had
met I asked, “Where is it?” and they all gave me locations and they
were all slightly different. But they all had heard of it, a very nice place to
live. This young man wrote me a letter and he said he saw my article in the National
Jewish Monthly which comes to their library in Wolpertauelberfelt
and he is convinced that we are cousins and he would like to know about our
Well I realized right away what he was doing. What he had wanted to show
was that he had relatives in the United States because if you had relatives in
the United States before Kristallnacht, the Germans were less likely to
pick on you. And all these letters were read. So I immediately wrote him back
and told him that I was sure that we were, in fact, I called him “dear
cousin so-and-so” because of the names in his family which were similar to
the names in our family and I was sure that we were related and if there’s any
way that I could be helpful to him. Well the result was that when men of his age
were being picked up off the street in Wolpertauelberfelt, he wasn’t. And to
tell you how the story worked out, he left Germany on a luftreisa. Oh you
don’t know German?
Interviewer: No I don’t and the transcriber might not either.
Folkman: That’s a pleasure trip.
Interviewer: Pleasure trip.
Folkman: See. He told me he was just going for, you know, a tourist, see. And
he went to Rotterdam where he became acquainted with a Jewish family and met
them. (Tape goes blank to the end of tape.)
Interviewer: Okay. It looks like it’s working now. All right. We’re
continuing our conver- sation on June 15, 1987.
Folkman: Well I was telling you about this young man. Fortunately he left
Rotterdam with his wife before the Germans got there and he and his wife went to
London where they took up residence and became British subjects and we kept up a
correspond- ence for quite some time but somehow or other we haven’t kept it
up all this time. But I hope they’re still very happy. But this will give you
some idea of how people happened to get out. Well, when families were assigned
to Grand Rapids, we usually had them in our home first. So I began to hear all
these stories and when I would put them in sermons or speeches, people wouldn’t
believe them about the furnaces and the mass extermination. People thought that
I was just making this but . . . .
Interviewer: This is after?
Folkman: No this is during.
Interviewer: This is during? Okay.
Interviewer: That’s good. I wanted to hear what these people were doing.
Folkman: Yeah. See, I heard the stories. We had, my wife and I both heard
them and our kids heard them. And we had people in our home and we saw the slave
numbers on their arms so it was very frustrating because people were inclined to
think, “Well this is exaggeration.” And during World War I, atrocity
stories were used against Germany too and they thought this is the same thing
over again, the Jews are making this stuff up. But they were telling me. And we
heard some of the most unusual tales. For example, one young man who we had as
our guest in our home for dinner had told us that his family were very convinced
that nothing would ever happen to them because they owned huge vineyards along
the Rhine and they sold their products to Von Ribbentropp, who was a big wig in
the German government and Von Ribbentropp was their friend and nothing would
happen to them.
Well when the Nazis came to power, the first thing they did was
to confiscate all those vineyards and to arrest and exterminate the older and
very young members of the family and they sent him to a slave labor camp. This
great friendship that they had, the family had, with Von Ribbentropp, how he
happened to survive is just an unbelievable story and I’m not surprised that
people didn’t believe this. But he told us, my wife and our children, and I
heard this, that he noticed that they were put to work and as the work project
was slowing down and they needed fewer people, they would have a line up in the
morning with a count- off by twos. And he noticed that all of the twos marched
in this direction. The ones marched in this direction. And the twos never came
back. He observed this.
Fortunately, he drew a one and a one and a one and when
he drew a two, he didn’t march off with the twos. He marched off with the
ones. And the Germans are so accustomed to methodical procedures and doing
exactly as you’re told, you know, “Ach Tung,” they couldn’t
imagine that a two would march off with the ones. And so he marched off with the
ones. And he was there when the work camp was liberated and sent to this country
and he was assigned to us and we had him as our guest in our home for dinner.
The first family, this young man was later on, this was toward the end of
hostilities in Europe, but the first family we had was a family named Kolb and
they came from Vienna. And Mrs. Kolb told us that her friend and roommate from
college was married to a Storm Trooper.
And one day she called her up and she
told her, “Tell your husband not to come home. He’s on the list to be
taken for a work camp. And tell him to go to the bank and get all the money he
can and go to Switzerland and when you can get out, you’ll meet him
there.” Now you wonder, how do people go to Switzerland and find each
other, see. Well they did because they all went to the same sources for help and
eventu- ally they would find each other. And to this day, the survivors publish
a news- paper called “Aufbahn,” which means
“reconstruction”. Have you ever heard of this?
Folkman: And they all get it. And the Aufbahn tells stories about
people by name, so-and-so from such-and-such a place is now here and looking for
relatives. This one is down here. And they find each other.
Interviewer: This is really amazing.
Folkman: Yeah it really is amazing. See these things are just unbelievable.
Interviewer: You’re right.
Folkman: And it’s no wonder that the people didn’t, it was very
exasperating. But it’s no wonder that the people didn’t believe us but we
were getting it directly from people who had experienced it. Shane and her
husband, Mr. and Mrs. Kolb, met in Switzerland and she got pregnant and they had
a darling little daughter named Lisa and they, we had them in our home for
Seder. This was their first Seder in the United States and it was, we still have
a picture of them at our Seder table. And this was a very good experience for
our children too. Now these people just narrowly escaped because Mrs. Kolb’s
roommate, college roommate, told her in advance that her husband’s name was on
the list, see.
Interviewer: It’s unbelievable.
Folkman: Yeah, yeah. And every one told a similar story.
Interviewer: Okay. Another . . . . I thought that might be interesting, if
you might want to talk about the different groups that split off from Temple
Israel. I know there were a couple of congregations that formed at different
times . . . .
Folkman: I only know of one.
Interviewer: Only one. I’m not sure so do you think you could just tell a
little bit about that. I think . . . .
Folkman: Well Beth Shalom broke off from Temple Israel at the time that Rabbi
Kiner was here. Rabbi Kiner was my successor and he and I got along very well.
But when he became the Senior Rabbi, he had difficulties in that role and he
offended enough people not to get reelected. And some of those who felt that he
was a good man, which he was, but he had difficulty in his relations with people
which is probably the most difficult part of the rabbinate or any
decision-making post. And so they broke off and started Temple Shalom and Temple
Shalom is doing very well today.
Interviewer: I thought there was another one. Wasn’t there a Beth Am?
Folkman: Beth Tikvah.
Interviewer: No I know about Beth Tikvah. . . . .
Folkman: Beth Am, no Beth Am was not from us.
Folkman: Beth Tikvah was on the north side.
Interviewer: Right but that wasn’t a split, that was just . . . .
Folkman: That was not a split. As a matter of fact, when I first came here,
when I first came to Columbus, I was aware of the fact that we had quite a few
children in our Reli- gious School who came from the north side. And it was very
obvious that these children felt estranged in the Religious School because all
of the other kids came from Bexley and from this general area. And they all had
friends in the Religious School. But the north side kids didn’t. And I made a
recommendation to the Board of Trustees that we should establish a branch on the
north side so that they could go to Religious School nearer their home. And when
the Board realized that this was going to cost a lot of money and it wouldn’t
be profitable, they weren’t too enthusiastic. I wanted a branch that we would
fully support but instead we got a resolution that we would favor the creation
of a congregation on the north side and give it our effectual support for
anything they needed.
So they began and they’re really a remarkable
congregation. Most of them are academic people, brilliant people. Well they
began without a rabbi. They conducted their own services. They preached their
own sermons and they were very good. We helped out when they had weddings or Bar
Mitzvahs or Bat Mitzvahs and one of the Temple Israel rabbis would
help out for those occasions. Also, God forbid, for funerals. And up until this
time, that policy has been continued and they use our cemetery facilities for
funerals when they occur. But they have just purchased a cemetery site. I don’t
know exactly where it is but I’ve heard that working together with Temple
Shalom, which did break off from Temple Israel, Beth Tikvah and Beth Shalom have
purchased a site so they will eventually be taking care of their own cemetery
problems. But we had this as a matter of policy, to give them our effectual
support. And the man who was most generous to our congregation was Jack Resler
and he was also generous to Beth Tikvah and to Beth Shalom. He helped them all
out. Other people did this too so that they got along very well. And the
relations among these three Reform congregations are good. They’re very
Interviewer: I don’t think any interview with you, or interview . . . .
without asking some of your opinions about the future, the current conditions of
the Jewish family in the United States. You know, there’s all kind of things,
most of it sounds negative and I would just be interested to hear what you might
have to say about that.
Folkman: Yeah. Well the family has been the major concern of our career. And
I say “our career” because my wife shared in it as much as I did. She
contributed as much as I did.
Interviewer: I understand.
Folkman: Maybe more. I think probably more. But when I first became a rabbi,
I was very moved by a professor that I had at the Hebrew Union College, the late
Abraham Kronbach. And I called the early part of my rabbinate my “prophetic
period”. Did I say anything about that?
Interviewer: No I don’t think so.
Interviewer: If you did, it didn’t come up in my random check.
Folkman: Yeah, well it was the period in which I was following Dr. Kronbach,
may he rest in peace. And I was trying to save the world. And I was preaching
tremendous sermons to the world in a small congregation in Jackson, Michigan,
and then to a little larger congregation in Grand Rapids. But I soon discovered
that nothing was happening, that the world was not being saved. I was preaching
very strong sermons and I had them all and nothing happened. It also occurred to
me very early in my ministry that the Jewish family was not as secure as most
Jews and most Christians believed. As far as I knew in those days back in the
early 30s, I was ordained in 1931, as far as I knew, the Jewish family was
impervious to all of the centrifugal forces that operate upon families in this
country. And when I began to listen to people, I realized that this wasn’t so.
And the family became the major aim of our ministry. My wife and I both started
to devote ourselves primarily to the strengthening of Jewish family life. And
one of the things that I noticed when I talked to children in the Religious
School early in my ministry was that in their homes there was no religion
practiced whatsoever. This was shocking to me because our religion, Judaism, was
practiced in my wife’s family, in her home, and she grew up seeing it, and in
my home. And I assumed that this was characteristic of all Jewish families. But
when I surveyed the Religious School I discovered that very few of the children
saw candles kindled the previous Friday night. Very few of the children had
prayers at every meal. Now very few of the children knew very much about any of
the holidays except Hanukkah and Pesach. They were sort of well known. And this
began to be a matter of major concern to both of us. And we used all sorts of
gimmicks, many of which rabbis still use. They didn’t work but we used them.
And they still don’t. The rabbis are still using them.
Interviewer: What kind. Can you give me an example.
Folkman: Well for example, most of these gimmicks were based on the notion
that we would get the children in the Religious School to practice religion and
they would take it home. But we discovered, and when I worked for the Ph.D. I
found out, this is a scientific fact, that children grow up to be like their
parents. And they grow up to do what their parents do or did. What they see
their parents doing is what they do when they grow up. So if you can get the
kids to light Sabbath candles, and many rabbis do this. We had a big contest, a
blue and white contest. We divided the Religious School into a blue team and a
white team and we gave points for every observance reported by the kids, see.
And we thought, “Boy, we are really converting these people to practicing
religion in the home.” When the contest was over, the whole thing stopped.
Interviewer: So a gimmick is a gimmick.
Folkman: A gimmick is a gimmick and it doesn’t work. When I worked for the
Ph.D. and one of the things, one of the variables that I studied was where the
kids get their religious notions. And it showed us very clearly that what we
suspected earlier, although I had no scientific way of proving it, what we
suspected intuitively was true, that if religion is practiced in the home, those
children will go on and practice religion in their home. I once told my wife
that if I had the guts, I would close the Religious School to children, no
children allowed, only adults. Teach the adults so they can teach their
children. See, the Bible says, “You shall teach them diligently to your
children,” and the Bible is right. It’s Deuteronomy. This is the way it’s
supposed to be. The parents are supposed to teach the children. But if I had
guts to do that, I wouldn’t be a rabbi very long because the people want a
Religious School because, for children. The Christians have Sunday Schools for
children. See? And if you don’t give them that, you can’t be their rabbi
very long. And I never tried it. I’ve said it many times but I’ve never
actually tried it. But we did introduce a tremendous program of parent
Interviewer: I was just going to ask you if adult education . . . .
Folkman: Adult education.
Interviewer: helped that in any way.
Folkman: Yeah. And especially in what to do. Because children are influenced
by what they see and not what they’re told. Many times I’ve had parents come
to me so distressed. Their children are going out with other children who aren’t
Jewish or dating other young people who aren’t Jewish or marrying young people
who aren’t Jewish. And what did they do wrong? And I would always ask,
“Were you very religious at home?” I’d do this very cautiously.
“Well you know, we give to the United Jewish Appeal.” See? But the
kids don’t see you write checks. “Did you light candles on Friday
night?” “No. We went over the Grandma and Grandpa’s and we would see
that once in a while.” And religion became something that belonged to
Grandma and Grandpa. But the children are going to be like their parents. There’s
a song that comes on every once in a while about this little boy who grew up to
be just like his father.
Interviewer: Yeah . . . . “The Cat’s In the Cradle” or something
Folkman: Yeah. It’s a great truth.
Interviewer: Uh huh. It’s a really touching song.
Folkman: And what the parents tell them can hardly be heard because the
children are so involved with what the parents are doing. And so we began our
crusade to restore the practice of Judaism into the home. And as I look back now
on my ministry, I see that the children whom we influenced or the children who
were influenced by their parents to, who saw their parents practicing Judaism,
are doing the same thing today and they’re Jews. Children who were
propagandized and told, really couldn’t hear what they were being told because
what they saw and lived was making so much noise that they were not influenced
by what they were told. And to this day I’m convinced, now with the strongest
scientific evidence, and I’ve written articles on this and preached on it,
that the important thing is to strengthen the Jewish home and the great big
budgets and great big curricula and great big buildings really don’t preserve
Judaism. But the practice of religion in the Jewish home does.
Interviewer: Do you think that Judaism can survive with the high rate of
Folkman: Yes, yes. Judaism will survive. The high rate of divorce makes it
extremely diffi- cult because Judaism is designed for two-parent families and in
ancient times, our ancestors didn’t have any monkey business. If a man’s
wife died, he was supposed to marry his deceased wife’s sister. That’s a
picture of my grandfather there.
Interviewer: Well I think you said that happened with him.
Folkman: That happened with him. No monkey business. He had four children
from his wife who died in childbirth. And he had to marry her sister. And no
romance, no dating and no love business, see. But he married her. And my other
grandfather, of whom I don’t have a picture married a woman of whom my Aunt
Nettie said she dreamed. Did I tell you this story?
Folkman: Oh fantastic story.
Interviewer: You’re talking about on the other side now, or your father’s
. . . .
Folkman: No this is on my mother’s side, see. He was the rabbinical
Interviewer: And you were talking about . . . .
Folkman: Now on my father’s side, see, he did what he was supposed to do
according to Jewish law. He married his deceased wife’s sister and she raised
her sister’s children. And I think I told you that he wrote her the little
love notes because she didn’t have any romance. Isn’t that sweet? Yeah. And
my mother found them after her mother’s death. Now when I grew up, I always
believed the story about my paternal grandfather and this was the story that the
Folkmans believe to this day. The first disbelief I had was when we saw
“Fiddler on the Roof” and we saw the dream sequence. Do you know
Interviewer: After they were . . . .
Folkman: You know the dream sequence?
Interviewer: Yes. That was very . . . .
Folkman: Tevye made up that dream. The writers did a fantastic job with it.
But Tevye made it up because his children wanted to be married on the basis of
romantic choice and he wanted his children to marry according to tradition,
persons selected by their parents. How could he give in to his children and
still be a Jewish father? So he got a message from on high and this message
became that terrific sequence in the play.
Folkman: We saw the play. It was playing six weeks in New York and we were
able to get tickets through Dick Lewis, which was a travel agent. And we were in
the fifth row, practically on stage. If we were any closer, we would have had to
join Actor’s Equity. We were practically on stage. And when the dream sequence
came on, I said to my wife, “Bessie, now I know what my Aunt Nettie
did.” Now by this time I’m a grown man and a Rabbi and Ph.D., see. But I
realized what she did. Now this is the story. My Aunt Nettie was the eldest of
the children of my grandfather’s first wife. And she told her father, that’s
my Grandpa Folkman, she told her father that she had a dream that in Nysanda,
that’s across the border in Galicia, there was a widow by the name of Goldman
and that he was supposed to marry her. They had never heard anything about
Freud. They had no idea where dreams come from. They had no idea of how all this
material is stored up up here and when the censor is down, when you’re not
conscious, it runs by itself. And when you’re, as you come to consciousness,
some of it you remember but you can’t remember all of it. Usually it’s just
before you wake up that you have the dreams that you can remember, at least in
part. They didn’t know anything about this. They thought that dreams came from
heaven. These were messages from on high. My Aunt Nettie had this dream she told
her father and my grandfather hitched up his horse and buggy and took his
daughter, who was really the mother-surrogate for her brothers and (tape goes
Interviewer: Rabbi Folkman, you were telling me about your aunt’s dream.
Folkman: Yeah. My grandfather took Aunt Nettie in the horse and buggy. They
crossed the border. They went to see the Rabbi of Nysanda who was a very famous
rabbi and in Yiddish literature, he’s referred to as the sunsuruff. You
see the Galicians don’t say “Rav” the way we do. They say
“Ruff”. They say “elohayne“. They say “borech”.
See they have slightly different pronunciation. And the Austrian Jews looked
down upon the Galician Jews. In fact the Austrian Jews looked down upon all
other Jews. You never, have you heard of this?
Interviewer: No I really haven’t.
Folkman: Yeah. The German Jews looked down upon everybody.
Interviewer: I knew about the Russians versus the German . . . .
Interviewer: but I hadn’t heard about . . . .
Folkman: And the Spanish Jews looked down upon everybody else. If you’re
interested in why this occurred, there was a woman in Grand Rapids who’s most
famous for her biography of Audubon. And her name was Constance Roark. And
Constance Roark couldn’t understand anti-Semitism. And she developed a theory
and published it which impressed me at the time and as time passes on, even more
so, that it’s the newcomer that is suspect. And when people came to this
country in floods of immigration, they were suspected. The Irish were cordially
disliked, see. And as they came, each new wave was subjected to this kind of
antagonistic feeling. She used the analogy of the freshman and the sophomore.
The sophomores look at the freshman class and, “What is this school
coming to?”. The juniors think that the freshman class is simply atrocious.
“We’ll never survive. These people who are coming here now, they’re
going to ruin the whole school.” And by the time they’re seniors, they’re
glad they’re rid of these freshmen, you see. And this is the way she developed
it and I think there’s something to this.
In any event, now the Jews know very
little of this feeling of landsman toward each other and their antagonism
toward other groups. But it’s in the literature. If you read the literature of
the period, you’ll see it’s there. And my grandfather’s family were
Austrians. And here my grandfather was going to Galicia, see. But my Aunt Nettie
had this dream. Now the Rabbi of Nysanda, who in the Galician Yiddish is called
the sunsaruff, very famous and highly esteemed all over central Europe,
my grandfather went to him and told him the story. “Is there a Widow
Goldman in your congregation?” He said, “Yes there is.” He said,
“I’m supposed to marry her.” And the Rabbi said, “How do you
know?” “My daughter had a dream and in this dream she was told that I’m
supposed to marry the widow. Otherwise I would never have known about her.”
So the Rabbi said, “Bring your daughter here. I have to interrogate
her.” He said, “She’s outside with the horse and buggy.”
“Bring her in. I’ll send the Shammas to take care of your
So he interrogated my Aunt Nettie and my Aunt Nettie told me the
story that when he questioned her, he wouldn’t look at her the way I’m
looking at you because a pious Jew is not supposed to look into the eyes of a
woman to whom he is not married. But he interrogated her like this. And my Aunt
Nettie acted it out for me. But he never looked at her but he interrogated her.
And after the interrogation, he said, “Herr Folkman, Mr. Folkman, your
daughter’s dream is valid and you’re supposed to marry the Widow
Goldman.” Never saw her, see. And he said, “You’re supposed to marry
her.” Now she’s still in her mourning period so you’ll have to come
back.” And he figured out the number of days and my Aunt Nettie told me but
I can’t remember. But he figured out how many days she’d have to wait before
she could get married.
And my grandfather said, “Look, I closed up my
tavern. I crossed the border. It’s not easy. I came here and I expected to go
back with a wife. And I’m not going to make another trip.” The Rabbi
said, “Very well.” Now this is interesting because he took a message
from on high as superseding the tradition that the widow should wait for her
mourning period to end before she gets married. It’s really a very interesting
thing that a great rabbi did this. So he sent the Shammas over to my
grandmother’s house and he said, “There’s a man, a very fine,
distinguished gentleman from Austria in the Rabbi’s home, and he’s supposed
to marry you. The Rabbi says that you’re supposed to marry him. How soon can
you get ready to leave?” And she said, “Well you mean today?”
“Yes today.” She said, “I’ll need at least an hour.” And
the Rabbi said, “Very well.” The Shammas came back and,
“She’ll be ready in an hour.” So in an hour they went to pick her up
and the Rabbi married them and he brought back his Galician wife. The Austrian
kids never accepted her and there was friction between the children of the first
wife and my grandmother’s children as long as I can remember.
Interviewer: That’s incredible.
Folkman: Isn’t that amazing?
Interviewer: That really is an incredible story.
Folkman: Now when I saw “The Fiddler on the Roof”, I realized what
my Aunt Nettie had done. She’d heard about this widow because my grandfather
had a tavern. They didn’t have radios and televisions and newspapers but they
had grapevines and she heard people sitting around talking and they talked about
the man Goldman who died in Nysanda across the border. And so this became her
dream and I realized what she had done.
Interviewer: She was a very clever woman.
Interviewer: Very . . . .
Folkman: And she always was on my grandmother’s side. Her brothers and
sister by their mother were most unsympathetic with my grandmother. But I didn’t
know my grandfather’s first wife if course.
Interviewer: Uh huh. Okay. That really is a most interesting story. I like
Interviewer: Something else I was thinking about as we were talking about the
family, I was wondering what your feelings might be about the extent to which
Jewish young people were involved in some of the cults of the 60s like the
Moonies. And I understand there’s a lot of, there’s a disproportionate
number of Jewish men who become gay and I’d be interested in any thoughts you
had about that kind of . . . .
Folkman: Yeah. Well see the family is the area which I’ve studied
scientifically. I know something about it. And I can speak with some authority
about it, you see.
Interviewer: That’s why I asked you.
Folkman: Actually, people have a need for a mystical relationship with the
world. People have a need to feel that there is a God, I’ll put it in these
terms, who cares about them. Now I grew up with this feeling. I haven’t lived
a single day without it. We sit here now and I’m sure that there’s a God,
that He’s interested in what we’re doing and I wouldn’t do or say anything
to you or to anybody that I don’t think He would like. Now you can’t, the
existence of God cannot be proved scien- tifically. The existence of God cannot
be denied scientifically. This is a matter of faith. But because I grew up in a
religious family, I grew up believing and feeling that He’s there. And I feel
His presence right now. And that He’s interested in me and you and my wife.
Maybe He isn’t there at all. Or maybe He’s there and He doesn’t really
care about us. It doesn’t matter. I grew up and I lived 79 years, well I don’t
know if I had this feeling for 79 years, but I must have had it at least 77
years, and it has worked fine. I get along fine believing that He’s there.
This is a need that human beings have. If they grow up in families where this
need is not satisfied, they’re going to find it someplace else. And so they’ll
go for mysteries and cults and gurus and almost anything that will supply the
Interviewer: But do you feel that there is a disproportionate number of
Jewish people and if so, why?
Folkman: Yes. It isn’t a matter of feeling. We know by count . . . .
Interviewer: That’s what I wanted to know.
Folkman: that the numbers of Jews in cults, there is a decrease, it’s been
decreasing in the last five years, but the numbers of Jews in cults previously,
say 10 years ago, was out of all proportion with numbers of Jews in this
country. And these Jews were studied. I didn’t do the studies but reputable
scholars did and they came from families where the need for a feeling of
attachment to the universe, which is a scientific term for God, this need was
Interviewer: Uh huh. I see. But no feeling for why there are so many Jews.
Folkman: I think it’s because they began practicing religion or neglecting
religion in the home and when they did practice, it was at a funeral or on Rosh
Hashonah or Yom Kippur when it was so crowded and the synagogue is so big that
it’s not personal, see. The religious practice that reaches the child is in
the family circle.
Interviewer: Okay. I can’t think of anything else in particular but I’m
wondering if you have anything that you feel for being recorded historically in
terms of Columbus, your feelings about the community, just anything that you
would say . . . .
Folkman: Well I would say that the most important thing of all would be to
encourage people to practice Judaism at home. And all during our ministry, our
procedure was this. We would begin with one thing. Start with Sabbath candles,
but every Sabbath. Make it a rule. Also don’t worry about the sun. See, you
worry about the sun and this means that in the summer, candles are kindled so
late that the children don’t see it. In the winter, candles are kindled so
early that nobody’s home. Fortunately, we’re Reform Jews so our practice was
to have Sabbath every Friday night at 6 o’clock, sun or no sun.
Interviewer: I see. Very interesting . . . .
Folkman: So that our children always saw their mother bless the Sabbath
candles and heard her and they always saw and heard me blessing the bread and
the wine and after dinner, I blessed them, my wife and children. And nobody took
my place. No child ever blessed Sabbath candles when I was sitting there. See
what the rabbis are doing now is what I did at the beginning of my ministry and
it doesn’t work. What they’re doing now is getting the kids to bring their
religion into the home, thinking that it will stay. It doesn’t because when
they become adults, they do what their parents did. But our children did what we
did. Now they’ve had their Sabbath, in each of our children’s’ families,
their Sabbath begins at 6:30 because 6:00 is too early. Same principle. Sun or
no sun. But at 6:30 they have Sabbath. And this is the first thing. Then
blessings at every meal. And we’ve seen this. We’ve seen our grandchildren
wouldn’t eat a piece of candy ’til they’ve said a blessing. Because this
has been carried on. And we’ve seen this go from genera- tion to generation in
our family and the families that have responded to our crusade and what I’m
really interested in is the revival of the practice of Judaism at home in the
family circle. Now the difficulty which you raised before when you have only one
parent, this means that the one parent who has custody or who is the survivor,
has to play two roles. It’s not easy.
Interviewer: That’s true.
Folkman: It’s not easy. Let me give you an illustration of what we did with
two parents. For example when my Rabbi, the late Rabbi Barnett R. Brickner of
Cleveland, had his first heart attack, Rebecca, his wife, now his widow, called
up his “pups”, that’s us, the young men whom he influenced, to fill
his pulpit for him. So she asked me for a certain weekend. So I said, “Well
Rebecca, you heard my lecture and I have to get permission to absent myself from
the family.” Nobody stayed away from our family table on the Sabbath
without permission. Permission was always granted but you had to ask for it. I
got permission. I called her back and I spent the weekend at the Euclid Avenue
Temple in the pulpit of my Rabbi. When I was gone, our eldest son took my place.
But not when I’m there.
Interviewer: I understand.
Folkman: When I’m there, I play my role. When I’m there, my wife plays
her role. And the children see this and it’s what they see is what matters. I
was never very much interested in Children’s Services because they don’t see
Interviewer: Yeah I think you mentioned that last time. You want them, no
matter what, to be with parents.
Folkman: Yeah. I don’t care if they fall asleep. I don’t care if they
play Tic-Tac-Toe. When they fall asleep, their parents are worshipping. When
they wake up, their parents are worshipping and that goes on for the years to
come. And I think that is the most important thing we’ve been trying to say in
55 years in the ministry.
Interviewer: Well this has all been very interesting and very helpful and I’m
sure that the Federation will very much appreciates your contribution to the
project. Thank you very much.
* * * *
Transcribed by Honey Abramson (Or as he used to call me, Harriet. He said it
wouldn’t be proper for a rabbi to call his secretary Honey.)