Interview with Rabbi Nathan Zelizer on August 18, 1974 by Marc Lee Raphael.
This interview is taking place in Columbus, Ohio as part of the Oral History
program of the Columbus Jewish Historical Society.
Interviewer: Before we get to some autobiographical information, let’s
talk a little bit about Tifereth Israel. It was founded in 1901. Do you have any
information leading up to the circumstances leading up to its founding?
Zelizer: According to the information that I received from some of the old
timers – the few who are now living – the congregation was founded following a
Jewish service on Yom Kippur at the old Agudas Achim on Washington and Donaldson
sometime in 1901. A number of Hungarian Jews were congregated on the steps of
the synagogue while services were going on. One of the officials of the
congregation came out and began to chastise them for congregating, talking and
making noise and he used the phrase, You Hunkies, either get out and leave the
premises of the synagogue or come in and sit like menchen.
This, of course, antagonized the Hungarian Jews who were members of the Agudas
Achim synagogue, among them, Emil Cohen, one of the Wasserstroms, Samuel, I
think Max Bayer, and one of the Polsters. It so happened that the bris of Nathan
Polster was taking place at that time, the son of Louie Polster. At the bris,
which a number of Hungarian Jewish people attended, they decided not to
associate themselves for religious activities, with the Polish and Russian Jews
of the Agudas Achim congregation and they founded The First Hungarian Synagogue
of Central Ohio. That is the origin of the Tifereth Israel Congregation.
Interviewer: A number of questions come to mind about that. First of all,
Beth Jacob, the other Orthodox congregation, also seems to have been heavily
Hungarian at the turn of the century. The number of early families at Beth Jacob
– it was founded a year or two before Tifereth Israel – were also Hungarian
families. It struck me as strange that they might not have linked up with
Beth Jacob which had first been founded.
Zelizer: I don’t
know about the original membership of the Beth Jacob congregation. They were
primarily Russian and Polish Jews until Rabbi Greenwald came to Beth Jacob.
Rabbi Greenwald came from Hungary and that’s
when it is possible that a number of Hungarian Jews did associate themselves
with the Beth Jacob congregation. But Beth Jacob, at that time, was not
primarily a Hungarian congregation and it’s
possible that the religious services conducted by the Beth Jacob synagogue also
were not acceptable to some of these more liberal people. The original group of
the Tifereth Israel congregation was not as traditional as the leadership at
Beth Jacob and Agudas Achim. Even when I first came here, the leadership of the
other Orthodox synagogues _____________ but the Tifereth Israel congregation,
the original founders of those people were poor, poor people. They were
bartenders and in the junk business and they were not Sabbath observers. In
1931, when we had maybe 14 people on Saturday morning, or 11 people, there was
only one who became a Sabbath observer after retirement. Now there were some
Sabbath observers, two or three, Harry Margulis, H.H. Rubin, ____________. But
they changed. They were not originally Sabbath observers, as they got older,
they became Sabbath observers. But in the other synagogues, there were quite a
number of Sabbath observers. My impression is that not only this __________
__________ by the leadership at Agudas Achim but also the Hungarian liberalism.
Hungarians, either they are very religious or very liberal, either they love you
or hate you. I believe that the group of people who were offended by Agudas
Achim leadership represented some kind of a middle or below Hungarian Jewish
philosophy and practice.
Interviewer: You mention some of the names of some of early members, perhaps
the founders. Let’s
talk a little bit about them. For example, the first one you mentioned was Emil
Cohen. He ran a saloon in 1901. Was he still alive when you came?
Zelizer: No, he was dead but he was really the employer of those who founded
the temple. That’s
where the old man Nathan Wasserstrom and his wife had twelve children and he
make a living so he was employed there. I. H. Schlezinger was in business by
himself, picking up junk with a horse and wagon. I. H. Schlezinger came a little
bit later. Max Bayer was one of the founders. He was a saloon keeper. So Emil
Cohen was the rich man, so to speak, in those days. Now his brother,
Harry Cohen, just died. His funeral is today or tomorrow. Harry Cohen dropped
out and joined the Reform temple. Those Hungarian Jews antagonized quite a few
people as we go into the history of the congregation, we find that some
of the idiosyncrasies of some of the founders actually chased away some very
fine people and if not for those, if somebody would have been a little more
diplomatic, I think the Tifereth Israel congregation would have become the
outstanding synagogue in spite of the Reform temple of that time. But they were
too exclusive and they enveloped themselves with a sense of pride, maybe out of
a sense of inferiority but they antagonized other people. Emil Cohen was
so to speak, the great
because he had some money.
Interviewer: Morris Polster apparently also worked for him.
Zelizer: Morris Polster worked for him for awhile. Emil Cohen was the Godfather,
so to speak, of this little clique. They all had big families so the
congregation had a solid foundation among the children of the founders. Although
Louis Polster was one of the founders of the temple – his daughter was
confirmed – some of the children were confirmed from the Reform temple for a
variety of reasons.
Interviewer: Do youi>know where the Cohens came from in Hungary?
Emil and Harry? What city? Or anything about their background?
Zelizer: No, not at the moment. I know Mr. Saul Roth was secretary for many,
many years. He came from Moukatch.
Interviewer: Saul Roth who blew the shofar and conducted services?
Zelizer: He was the secretary, the shamas, everything. In other words,
the synagogue had no ______ two functions at that time. Saul Roth __________ .
We had no secretaries and a janitor. We had fifty children in Hebrew School and
of course, I was the teacher. We had a part-time Hebrew School teacher who was
the chasin. The story about chasonim was a very interesting story in the
Tifereth Israel congregation. Also, the change of rabbis. It’s amazing that no
rabbi stayed for any length of time.
Interviewer: Let’s talk about them. First of all, there’s a mystery with
the very first rabbi, Leopold Dumb. The mystery is that every year, in the city
directory from 1901 through 1910, in the front of the directory, under
synagogues, it lists First Hungarian Hebrew Church, Leopold Dumb, Reverend.
However, in the directory itself, where people’s names are written in the
city, he’s never listed in the directory and we have some of the minutes
preserved from Tifereth Israel for a few years during this period and he’s
never mentioned in the minutes. The only paid employee of the congregation is
Henry Einhorn. Leopold Dumb is never mentioned. So it’s a kind of mystery to
me whether Dumb really was with the congregation for ten years or exactly what
his function was.
Zelizer: I think there were some incidents solution is in the life of
Reverend Dumb. He was, I believe, a functionary from Zanesville. Coming up from
Zanesville, he was not an ordained rabbi. He conducted services. He also carried
on some other kind of business from what I recollect. Unfortunately, there is
not a living soul who remembers any of this. I don’t know much about these
people. They were never talked about.
Interviewer: What about Einhorn? Did you ever hear anything about Einhorn?
Interviewer: He was a shachet and he also owned a meat store. Einhorn and
Callen Meats which was the only kosher meat store here for awhile. But nobody
seems to remember much about Einhorn.
Zelizer: The congregation, like even seminaries, you study the history of the
Jewish Theological Seminary at the very beginning, people came and went. They
didn’t have the money, they didn’t have the strength to employ a functionary
of any repute. People were just . . the jobs they occupied were not full-time
until Rabbi Arthur Ginsler, whom I met, who I buried. He had a very tragic life.
When I came here, I didn’t hear anything about anyone except Arthur Ginsler,
who happened to be a brother-in-law to Mr. Saul _________. He married a woman
from Columbus. His sister was from Columbus and Arthur Ginsler was a graduate
from the Jewish Theological Seminary – a scholarly person who had a very
tragic experience in the rabbinate.
skip over __________ ___________ for a minute and talk about Ginsler.
Zelizer: Arthur Ginsler used to come to daven with us a lot of times. He
never held a job for more than a year or perhaps less. His wife was antagonistic
to the rabbinate. His children were not cooperative with him in his endeavors
and he was really all alone in the rabbinate. Of course, he was a great
Talmudist and had __________ medieval literature and most of these old rabbis
who graduated from the seminary were well versed in Talmudic literature and he
was one of them.
Interviewer: He was ordained at the Jewish Theological Seminary?
Zelizer: He was ordained in 1906, if I’m not mistaken and he was the first
Conservative rabbi who came from the seminary to Columbus.
Interviewer: Do you know any other cities where he may have served during his
Zelizer: Texas. Later on in his life. Then for awhile, he didn’t serve. I
think he was one of the rabbis who was supported by some of the contributors
that seminary graduates sent in to support those who were not productive. Most
of the time, he was here, he used to come Shabbat morning, and I think, Mr. Saul
____________, he stayed with his sister, never his wife. She died from cancer.
We have some of his Hebrew books in the library.
Interviewer: I found his daughter in Texas. He retired, apparently, in Texas.
His daughter is in . . . I forget the name of the city, San Antonio or somewhere
in Texas. I’ve written to her and she has responded that she doesn’t
remember anything about her father’s career which suggests she doesn’t want
to talk about it.
Zelizer: My conversations with him . . I never went into detail, I even
offered to help, somehow re-orient one member of the family so that they would
sympathize with him. But he never wanted to talk about it. So he was a
broken-hearted rabbi, spiritually, physically and financially.
Interviewer: You said you buried him? Here?
Zelizer: The old Jewish cemetery, Tifereth Israel. On Alum Creek, right in
front in the Saul Roth plot. By the way, in the historical, I bought a bunch of
cards. When somebody died in my congregation, I went to the family. I got the
Hebrew name, the date and pertinent information. I brought over about 100-200
cards with information about people who I buried. I have some more scattered
somewhere. I think it would be helpful. Ginsler’s card may be there, I don’t
Interviewer: Let’s go back to Lichtenstein. We had talked about him before
we began to tape. What are your recollections from people you talked to about
Zelizer: Well, my predecessor, Rabbi Solomon Goodlin, is the one who gave me
the impression that Morris Lichtenstein, after I left Columbus, was the founder
of the Jewish Zionist Movement. To Whether this was true or not, I couldn’t
verify it. It’s amazing how, right now, as you and I talk to each other, that
I, even as a rabbi, did not take the trouble to ____________ some information
about some of these rabbis. Which indicates, of course, as we have talked about
before, that coming from a Yeshiva background and a European background, I never
had a sense of history. I never felt the necessity for actually jotting down or
recollecting or getting some information about the founders of the synagogue.
These were merely names to us and when they were here. I was interested in the
sequence when I wrote those two little booklets about the history of the
congregation – this information I gathered from living witnesses. I tried to put
up some kind of a historic description of the congregation. But nobody talked
about those things. It’s possible because I came here during the Depression,
we needed money badly. The only conversation which was of interest to us was to
increase the membership of the congregation and tell the mortgage people to
leave us alone for another month and another month until we were able to pay a
little bit of interest. So you see, we were so busy that we did not have the
leisure or the time, we didn’t have the money to actually go ahead and involve
ourselves in reminiscences. Now, of course, we’re an affluent community and we
have a big United Jewish Fund so they can afford those things. We couldn’t
Interviewer: The Lichtenstein that founded in the Jewish movement is a
graduate of the Hebrew Union College. He went to the University of Cincinnati
where he got his Bachelor’s Degree and he was ordained at the Hebrew Union
College which may be, at some point, when he was in Cincinnati, he came up here
and served at Tifereth Israel for awhile.
Zelizer: The one that founded the Jewish Zionist movement.
Interviewer: The one that founded Jewish movement is a Reform rabbi.
Zelizer: This is possible because not all the rabbis, even after Ginsler,
__________ the seminary. I don’t think. The seminary did not. Benjamin Wild,
Bernie was not of the seminary. He was the son of a local Orthodox rabbi. I knew
his father for awhile. So being with the Tifereth Israel congregation, that’s
not a guarantee of graduation from the seminary. Let’s not forget that the
president of the Rabbinical Assembly, Laz Margolis, was a graduate of the Hebrew
Interviewer: David Shohet. Did you ever hear anything about him?
Zelizer: Rabbi Shohet, I met a number of times. I met him at the Rabbinical
Assembly and I met him when he became rabbi at Yonkers and that’s where I
spent a lot of time. And of course, I think he died as rabbi of Yonkers. Rabbi
Shohet was a short fellow with a beard – in those days, for a Conservative rabbi
to wear a beard was a novelty. He was a traditionalist of the highest order and
a strict follower of _____________. His influence on the congregation was of no
consequence because I would have heard something about it. It’s possible that
the reason we don’t know much about the people who preceded us is because the
congregation at that time was floundering. It was a baby congregation and they
were moving around from place to place. They were swallowed up by the two larger
congregations, the Orthodox and the Reform and the whole Conservative movement
at that time didn’t move much. At that time, I don’t think we had more than
20 synagogues in the Conservative United Synagogue. Even when Solomon Shecter
founded it in 1915, there were no more than 25-30 synagogues. When I came to
Columbus, the budget of the United Synagogue, nationally, was 9,500.
Interviewer: It’s not even clear when Tifereth Israel became affiliated
with the Conservative movement.
Zelizer: They were not affiliated with the United Synagogue until long after
I came here.
Interviewer: It was during Shohet’s time at Tifereth Israel that a new
building was purchased (built) on McAllister and Parsons. We found an article in
the newspaper about the laying of the cornerstone in 1914 and an article about
the dedication in 1915. Do you have any recollection about this?
Zelizer: About the building you mean?
Interviewer: About the building.
Zelizer: When I came here in 1931, one of the main sources of income for
Tifereth Israel – the building was already built on East Broad Street in 1927
and the house was moved back and then the building was built in front – was the
income that the black Church was to pay monthly to the synagogue. I spoke to the
Board of Trustees many times, trying to urge them to meet their obligations. I’d
preach a sermon, telling them it was an obligation and they owed the
congregation $30 a month for the payment of the mortgage. They were behind. Of
course, Morris Polster and Saul _________ would often go down with me _________-
but they paid up. So that was in the building and the building was an adequate
building. It was smaller, of course, than Agudas Achim but it was almost as
large as Beth Jacob and later on, there was a third congregation, the Ahavas
Sholom, adjacent to one another and there were quite a number of physical fist
fights between worshippers on Saturday morning and some of the leadership of the
respective congregations I had fights for the attendance for a minyon. There are
some very interesting stories that occurred in the 1930s. But the building was a
Interviewer: Did it have a sanctuary?
Zelizer: Oh, yes. It had an alter and it had seats, hard seats. I think the
accommodation was for about 250 people. And it had an administrator’s office
and downstairs in the basement, they had six or seven classrooms because the
Tifereth Israel congregation always had a Hebrew School. Long before I think
they started, they had a good youth movement – the Young Judea Society.
Interviewer: I think Young Judea goes back to Tifereth Israel.
Zelizer: We had a Boy Scout troop in our temple which we founded. So the
temple at that time, was the center where people met because very few would go
to the Schonthal Center. So that B’nai Brith met in our temple. The Jewish War
Veterans met in our temple.
Interviewer: You had a basketball team.
Zelizer: When the temple on Broad Street was built, there was supposed to be
a gym downstairs. There were supposed to be showers where the bathrooms are but
they ran out of money. And the concept, of course, of our synagogue was to build
its own center long before the advocacy of the Conservative movement that a
synagogue should be a synagogue center, serving every need of the Jewish
community – young and old, physical, social, philanthropic, etc. But they ran
out of money. They had grand ideas, the leadership of our temple but at that
time, something happened and it split and a few of the machers went to the
Reform movement. Some of the wealthier people – I think it was at that time that
Harry Cohen broke away – he was one of the most prominent lawyers in Columbus
(he is the one that died last week). He had prestige. There was only one other
Jewish attorney at that time who had that prestige – it was E. J. Schanfarber.
Schanfarber was the great white father, so to speak, of the Jewish community. Of
course, he was the leader of the Reform movement and also one of the founders of
the Hillel Foundation. So if we would have kept a __________ like Harry Cohen,
sometimes a whole synagogue is built around the personality of one. We didn’t
have that one. We had a few Hunkies who fought among themselves.
Interviewer: We’ll come back to all this when we talk in detail. Let’s
continue through these rabbis. Jacob Klein. Did you ever meet him or hear much
Zelizer: Very little.
Interviewer: Morris Schussheim.
Zelizer: Morris Schussheim – this is not for publication. I met
him, I knew him. He was a good looking fellow. White hair – I think it became
white in Columbus. The story which was told – Morris Schussheim had to leave the
temple in a hurry. Can this be told on the microphone? The Jewish community,
which was not Morris Schussheim’s fault. At that time, there was prohibition
and it’s a reflection, of course, on some of the leadership in our
congregation or in the community at large. Morris Schussheim was a young fellow
who came here and before Passover, rabbis at that time were given permission to
buy wine for Passover. And he would sign the application of the committee or
people who said they were members of the committee to get enough wine for a
synagogue – I’m sure, unknowingly, because I talked to him once a little
about it but it was too embarrassing. Unfortunately, he signed the certificates
which he didn’t even read and that was application for more Passover whiskey.
It so happened that some of this Passover whiskey was found in grills and bars.
In other words, he unknowingly, as far as I know, made a partner in bootlegging
whiskey, utilizing the Passover prerequisites as an excuse. There was almost a Watergate
scandal in Columbus, Ohio. But there are a number of other incidences that will
verify, in the course of crisis, in the Jewish community in the past, some of
the finest leadership from all congregations joined hands in covering up and in
having that person to leave town. And he left in a hurry. This is one of a
series of incidences in Columbus, as far as I remember – not remember- I know.
This one, of course, I didn’t know but other incidences, later on which
involved the morality, other things on the part of certain leadership that were
able to use the good offices of talented people to cover up. Covering up
sometimes is not such a bad idea.
Interviewer: That’s interesting. I’ve done some work on crime in Jewish
communities and there was even a president of a local congregation during
prohibition . . ..
Zelizer: Oh, yes. I had a letter recommending him to the judge. It’s in the
files, I just brought it over.
Interviewer: Sometimes it was . . . .
Zelizer. ___________died in jail. Excellent people. This, of course, was a
Interviewer: Sometimes things were planted in people’s homes.
Zelizer: There was another involvement of a rabbi in Columbus – sometime I’ll
tell you the story – also had to leave in a hurry. He was not in our synagogue.
Interviewer: You mentioned you met Schussheim. Where did he go after
Columbus? Do you have any idea where?
Zelizer: Schussheim was in Providence, I think. Rhode Island or Boston. He
was with the congregation for a long, long time.
Interviewer: He was ordained at Jewish Theological Seminary also. This takes
us to Benjamin Warney who is still living in New York – I forget the name of the
city. I don’t think he was ever a rabbi. He ran a Hebrew School in Dallas,
______________ a little bit in Los Angeles. He may be a lawyer. He probably
graduated with a law degree because he’s published. I’ve found at least ten
legal articles which he’s published in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s and he has
shared with me some reflections of his being here. Of course, I’ve done a lot
of work on this father, Isaac Warney.
Zelizer: Did you talk to . . . . ?
Interviewer: Benjamin Warny? Yes. Well, I’ve had correspondence with Warny.
He doesn’t give me anything worthwhile. Certainly none of the interesting
things which people have told me about. Apparently, he took something from
Tifereth Israel when he left. I have this on tape from people that I’ve
Zelizer: What did he take? Books?
Interviewer: Either books or money. People have accused him of . . .
Zelizer: He used to go to the Seminary library – this is what I heard . . .
Interviewer: Did you ever meet Benjamin Warny personally?
Zelizer: No, I met his father. But I heard – there are some stories which
were not very pleasant. He wasn’t with the temple too long. 1923-24 is a
Interviewer: Why did the congregation not seek out an ordained rabbi after
having ordained rabbis previously? No funds?
Zelizer: They had no money. My salary was $2,400 – they never paid me $600.
My salary was under-written by three people – Schlesinger, Albert Schiff and
Harry Gilbert. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be here.
Interviewer: In the 1920s – I don’t want to give the impression that the
congregation was affluent but they were able to erect a building, they were able
to have ordained rabbis periodically. I don’t think they were a depressed
congregation in the middle of the 1920s.
Zelizer: A lot of members __________ they built a building in 1927. They
thought everybody was going to flock there.
Interviewer: And they didn’t.
Zelizer: They didn’t and of course, they had a tremendous obligation. We
spent a lot of . . . I’ll tell you later on how we kept the congregation open.
They just couldn’t afford it. All the money went for mortgage payments.
Interviewer: All right, that brings us to Riflin. His wife is still living .
Zelizer: There is another reason – ordained rabbis from the seminary, there
were so few, they wouldn’t go outside of New York. Why I came here is another
story. I came here for five months just to make a few dollars and go back. I was
at ____________ to continue my studies. I never wanted to be a rabbi – I still
don’t want to be a rabbi.
Interviewer: Too late now. That’s true. There were not many men to choose
from and those that were around . . .
Zelizer: There were very few that graduated. Some graduated and then the
Conservative movement. And then people began to take notice of it. So there were
much bigger congregations. There is another reason. The word Columbus among
traditional Jews is not a good name. To tear yourself up from Jewish roots.
After all, kashrith and all that. Also, many rabbis were afraid to leave the
larger communities because they would get lost by themselves, by the affluence
of the Reform movement and by the vivaciousness of the Orthodox movement.
Interviewer: But of course, there were respectable Orthodox rabbis here at
this time. Rabbi Greenwald was certainly . . .
Zelizer: They were so respectable that any Conservative rabbi would be
drowned out. He would be considered a nothing which, of course, I had to go
through. Compared to the knowledge of some of the other rabbis, they were giants
in the knowledge of Judaism and in piety. After all, a Reform rabbi was a Reform
rabbi but what was a Conservative rabbi? It was a different atmosphere – the
Conservative movement. These are some of the things I think I would like to . .
. you, as a historian, perhaps discuss from my point of view – from the point of
view of the pulpit, not from the point of view of the library.
Interviewer: What you’re even suggesting is that there might have been
greater antagonism against a Conservative rabbi than against a Reform rabbi?
Zelizer: Not only greater antagonism, there was a sense of fear and after
all, we did fulfill their fears because in the last couple of years, I used to
borrow a yalmalke from Dr. Folkman but when I came here, Rabbi Samuel Gup and
Jacob Tarshish, they wouldn’t officiate with a yalmalke so we never officiated
together. Today a Reform rabbi will put on a yalmalke and I put on a yalmalke.
So in other words, the Conservative rabbinate was so close to Orthodoxy and yet
there was a certain liberalism that an Orthodox rabbi would step on the
Conservative rabbi harder than the Reform rabbi. Rabbi Greenwald would coddle
the Reform rabbi more so than he would coddle the Conservative rabbi. Until
later because there is a ___________, there is a division, people know the
difference. But right now, as things develop, the Conservative ___________
____________ . So that’s another story. These are some of the reasons and
there are many more reasons why Conservative rabbis would not leave the large
Interviewer: That brings us to Riflin, your predecessor.
Zelizer: Of course his wife is still living in Chicago. Solomon Riflin was
very active in the Conservative movement. I think he was the president of a
Conservative synagogue in Chicago.
Interviewer: Jerry Riflin is his son?
Zelizer: Solomon Rivlin was a rabbi here, I think for two years or so. He
came in 1926 at a decent salary. $3,600 – $4,000 at that time – 1926-27. Solomon
Rivlin was a contemporary of Solomon Goldman. I think a classmate. He graduated
sometime in 1926, I believe. Solomon Rivlin was a big Talmudist – came from a
big family. He was a Talmudist – a great speaker, a great organizer. Then in
1929, the big Crash took place and the congregation had a membership of about
250. All of a sudden, members began to drop out. Cantor Grodner was a great
cantor here in Columbus – he’s buried in Columbus, his son is still living.
Cantor Grodner and his wife were great artists. They had beautiful plays for the
whole community and it was jammed every time he put on an operetta in Yiddish or
in Hebrew. It was the cultural event of the community. So Cantor Grodner and
Rabbi Rivlin wanted to find functionaries of the Conservative movement for the
first time on a scale which is comparable to an active congregation. It was then
that the Conservative Movement began to be noticed in the community. Then the
Depression hit and membership went down to 140-110 and they wanted to cut the
salaries. They cut the Cantor’s salary and he stayed. No, the Cantor, they
fired altogether because Rivlin was also a ____________. They wanted to hire one
of the Columbus Hebrew School teachers to conduct the services for the High
Holidays. ____________ would davan. At that time, we had a few I. H. Schlesinger
was a former Hebrew School teacher and was president of the synagogue.
Interviewer? I. H.? Where did he teach Hebrew School? Here?
Zelizer: In Hungary. He could daven nicely. There was a Mr. White who’s son
is now director of the Ohio Youth Commission. We used to meet on Shabbat morning
on the balcony because the temple was to big. Many times, we had to get five
children because we only had five adults. We had to wait – Mr. Schlessinger
would get in his car and pick up a few children to make a minyan. Friday night,
we’d have 10-15 people – sometimes none at all – when I first came here. So
Rivlin, they wanted to cut his salary and he quit. Rivlin was a salesman of the
highest order and he went into the insurance business. He was appointed chairman
of the committee to get a rabbi from the seminary to succeed him. After a year’s
absence of a rabbi on the pulpit, the congregation was going down to about 90
families. So Solomon Rivlin came to New York, interviewed a couple of seniors to
get a rabbi and he interviewed me. At that time, I was on a $500 a year
scholarship for the ___________, they called it. I was studying for my doctorate
and I was going into teaching. He persuaded me to come to Columbus for half a
year or so and make some money – my father was a poor rabbi, a poor man – I had
to have some more money to support myself. I didn’t live at home. I stayed on
Riverside Drive near the seminary. I came to Columbus temporarily. Then Rivlin
started selling insurance and he sold ______________. He didn’t have
____________. He went to Israel, became the director of the United Synagogue in
Canada and then became director of the Jewish National Fund, also in Canada. Of
presence in the synagogue made me very nervous.
— Could not hear —
But we got along beautifully. I was single and he introduced me to his home
and we would walk 2 � miles every Shabbas morning and Friday night. He really
befriended me so that the congregation began to ask me to stay another half year
and another half year because I had to go to the bank – there’s a very
beautiful story of how a rabbi and a president and another balabos went to
Bellefountaine after 3 or 4 o’clock
and we stayed up until 4 o’clock
in the morning in the vault in the bank. I never saw a bank in my life but as a
spiritual leader, I was 23 years old. We persuaded the bank to cut the interest
in half. We paid interest and then we went back to the bank and we settled a
$150,000 mortgage for $75,000. And we raised the money. Then of course, I went
out getting them, knocked on doors and so forth. That’s why I never went to
conventions. And that’s why I dropped out from Ohio State University for my
doctorate, I had all the prerequisites. But they called me for a funeral. There’s
no secretary and I had to teach Hebrew School – there was one teacher and me,
Bill Lackritz and somebody else. There are two types of rabbis – rabbis who
devote themselves to intellect and rabbis who devote themselves to practical –
to leg work. I just decided to build.
Interviewer. In the minutes of the 1930s at Tifereth Israel, membership takes
precedence over every other discussion. You are the membership committee.
Zelizer. You should see the count. I used to collect. Riflin would go to the
____________ and I’d follow him. I’d get a fifty cent down payment for
membership sign-up and the ________ was running around somewhere but ten years
ago, I quit because they were big boys already. But anyway, Riflin was the type
of a fellow and we studied together and Riflin was respected by the Orthodox
rabbis although he made several mistakes. For example, at that time, we used to
have debates between Orthodox, Conservative and Reform rabbis. But…
–Too much static —
He was a Sabra.
Interviewer. He had family there and lots of Rivlins in Palestine.
Zelizer. Yes. I stayed with his sister. Writers, poets. One of his
brothers-in-law was a taxi driver in Brooklyn. Another brother was a carpenter.
His father was one of these big, tall fellows, robust, about 70 or 75, was an
Israeli even at that time. But when he came to Columbus, you could see the
vibration. Every ____________, every organ in his body – the way he talked about
Israel. Of course, Israel was a vision of the Zionists and at that time
____________, the pores of the organization, we went out and worked together. We
had 150 members at that time in 1935. The highest number of Zionists was 850 and
now of course, I think it’s down to 40 or 50.
Interviewer. Let’s talk a bit about some of the other rabbis in town. Let’s
start with Agudas Achim. Did you ever meet and know Rabbi Warner?
Zelizer. Warner was here for just a month or two. I think he left around
Interviewer. Yes, to go to Los Angeles.
Zelizer. _____________ twice. If a rabbi did not invite me, I would invite
myself. I never heard him speak but his scholarship was appreciated by many
people. People told me about his scholarship. Also about his liberalism.
Somehow, there was . . . This was the kind of _____________ . . . it’s
possible that’s why Greenwald inherited some of that liberalism from Werne but
he did not respect Hirschsprund.. Werne did not respect________ was prevalent at
that time. I don’t know much about Werne. All I heard was, he was an Orthodox
Interviewer. What about Hirschsprung? As long as you mentioned it. He came
here about the same time you did.
Zelizer. The rabbi who applied for the position, Rabbi Silver at Agudas Achim.
My wife, at that time, was a confirmation student at Agudas Achim. So after
Werne left, they began to look for applicants and one of the applicants was
Silver and he was almost hired. He was here for a couple of months.
Interviewer. Silverman or Silver?
Zelizer. Silver’s son. Silverman was hired in Connecticut as an Orthodox
Interviewer. I don’t know who he is.
Zelizer. An Orthodox rabbi in the 30s. There were many applicants. Agudas
have a rabbi. Hirschsprung’s wife is a graduate of the Teacher’s Institute.
Rabbi Hirschsprung was a great ___________. He was an excellent Yiddishcist.
Interviewer. I have a lot of his articles in Yiddish. He wrote his first book
in Yiddish in the 40s.
— Could not understand —
Zelizer. Hirschsprung was a pure Yiddishcist. He developed into a kind of
preacher who developed a theme, beautifully reading the Talmud and apply it.
Where he got his material from, I don’t know. I have got quite a collection of
______________ in English and Hebrew. I had to do so much preaching, I couldn’t
be original anyway. By the time I got through, I was at the point where
________________. He was a long speaker – spoke 40-50 minutes. He and I
officiated together. Of course, I took members from his Congregation. His
congregation was on a down grade. And __________ developed a certain
___________. I don’t think he was the type of person that was concerned. He
wasn’t a synagogue rabbi. He was an eclectic speaker from the pulpit and that
was his forte. He was the type of rabbi who lived on 18th Street with
a big library begging people to come for Shabbas. As a matter of fact, she was
more of an extrovert than he was. He was a very modest person and he would sit
instead of moving around. People would come over to him. It hurt him that the
____________ of course, he was also ____________ than Greenwald. Greenwald was
also a luminary that Hirschsprung, at least in writing and collecting material.
Hirshsprung was the type of fellow who was always writing, collecting material.
I don’t know if this is a rabbinic sickness.
Interviewer. He published quite a bit in Hebrew and _________ and articles.
amazing. His Talmudic scholarship – maybe he wasn’t deep enough in Talmud
except to study and to retell.
Interviewer. Did he preach in English at all? Did he speak English?
Zelizer. Yes, fairly good English. But he liked to speak in Yiddish. His
audience appreciated a Yiddish sermon because at that time, the young people
didn’t come to Agudas Achim. Most of them dropped away. Most of them didn’t
go to Reform. Most of them came to the _________ because of the Hebrew School
and because of the Sunday School the Sunday School was an adaptation of all the
__________. Many times Hirschsprung and I would get into it because when we had
a wedding, I saw in the paper, “Rabbi Mordechai Hirschsprung assisted by
When I saw the word “assisted”
that really got me. I have a temper. This was maybe eight years after I was in
Columbus. I said, “Now
listen, buddy, I’m not your assistant. Next time we have a wedding together,
you say officiated by ____________.”
He said, “I don’t know who put that in. I didn’t do it.” I think
that was the second time. I called up the people. In other words, I followed
through. I said, “This
is so and so.”
I think I still have the clipping. I said, “How
did you put in the word assisted by Rabbi Zelizer? Whose assistant am I?”
“I’m sorry but that’s the impression that was given when I filled in
the . . . . “
and also there was another thing which happened that aggravated me. I had to
fight – in other words, I had to let them know that my – of course I was a
traditionalist. I had an electric clock, I wouldn’t turn on the lights at that
time. I’ve changed a little. I have an electric clock. I wouldn’t turn it on
Shabbat. Turn it on Friday at 6 o’clock and many times I wouldn’t go to
sleep, I’d read, sometimes I’d get up at 2 o’clock in the morning and I’d
read. Perhaps I purposely became a traditionalist. I developed a certain
atmosphere about myself – I couldn’t do it any other way. I used tradition in
order to get people to believe me and to move ahead in the realm of observing
and the people of the congregation. And it worked. Of course it paid dividends
after awhile. I began to enjoy it. I came with pais but when I went to the
university to study medicine. I, theologically became very liberal from the
point of view of observers I retained a position. T Theologically, I’m far,
far away from my personal observance.
Interviewer. Do you know if there are any Hirschsprungs still around?
Children? Or his wife?
Zelizer. His wife and I were very good friends. She was, of course from the
seminary. There was a certain ____________.
Interviewer. There is a daughter, Sylvia, and at least one son.
Zelizer. Is he a rabbi, too?
Interviewer. I can’t find him anywhere. If he is, he’s not listed in the
directories of rabbis. Abraham, I think is his name.
Zelizer. I knew his children because they went to the Yisheva. They were not
in Columbus. At that time, I’m telling you, as a one man synagogue there was
nothing left and I went to all the meetings and the association with the rabbis
was very – except for funerals and weddings – the Reform rabbi went to every
meeting and I said to myself, if he goes, I’m going to go because at that time
the Reform rabbi was the “big white father,” the main cheese and I had
to change my ___________ philosophy. When I came here, the Christians,
especially, they did not know any rabbi. They did not know there is another
aspect. They used to announce at services, many times, that the High Holy days
were one day. Sukkot and Pesach and so forth. The Reform rabbi always had the
sermon announced until we followed up and they didn’t put it in, I went down
to the editorial room and I said, ‘Listen,
we have services too, Friday night. Now they’ve cut it out the last couple of
years I think because of the shortage of paper.” But the sermons were
announced regularly. I didn’t like Reform at that time. It was goyish, I was
closer to Orthodoxy. But after awhile there were so many Reform it was like
somebody said, “There are more poor people than rich. That’s why God must
love the poor more than the rich.” The little fish more than the whale
because there are more little fish than whales. But this was the approach and
the other rabbis – Greenwald – was closer to me than Hirschsprung because
Greenwald’s congregation was small and there weren’t too many members I
could take from him. They were mostly elderly people
Interviewer. Tell me something about Greenwald as a person. I read countless
Zelizer. Greenwald was – his wife did not like the rabbinate. Rumor was, she
even washed the porch on Shabbat to antagonize him. That’s why I think, when
he died, half the library was given to Hebrew Union College and half was burned.
Interviewer. The Orthodox rabbinate in the United States was enraged.
Zelizer. Mrs. Greenwald would never ____________ a meeting. I don’t think
she went to shul. He and his kids were not getting along. To outsiders, he was a
nice father. He told me, for example, that he tried at the Orthodox conventions
to have a kosher type of . . . He tried to put it over many times and we talked
about it. There was a certain liberalism about him which attracted me. He was a
very jolly person. He was nice to talk to. Hirschsprung was reserved but he
would somehow frown upon, look down upon a person who did not know as much as he
did. Greenwald was just the opposite. He knew that he was a scholarly person.
Hirschsprung would always criticize Greenwald to me. I was like a Jewish
Chaplain in the army. We were the go-betweens the Catholics and the Protestants.
This is what happened. I was a Conservative rabbi. A Reform rabbi would never
say BOO about an Orthodox rabbi but the Orthodox rabbis say “God
forbid.” And there were three Orthodox rabbis. Ahavas Shalom also had some
rabbis and each one would get into my ear. That was until ten or fifteen years
ago. Then I got too busy and I stayed away. But in the 30s and 40s until I
opened the service, it was terrible. So when I met with Hirschsprung, I wouldn’t
talk about Greenwald and vice versa. But Hirschsprung would always criticize,
“What’s his contribution to Jewish scholarship? He’s a collector.
Nothing original.” Which is correct. So Hirschsprung said to me, “I
can write those things too. I can collect.” But if I’m going to write
something and he always pointed to others like Solovaitchek
Interviewer. Greenwald had an annual lecture services year after year. Did
you ever attend the lecture that he gave on Jewish history and Jewish
Zelizer. We worked together on platforms and I heard him speak but it was
nothing. Greenwald’s speeches were not as good as Hirschsprung as far as
content was concerned. I would compare his speeches maybe to this fellow from
Ahavas Sholom. He’d shout more. Same type. He would raise his voice many times
– you could see his veins almost bursting.
Interviewer. Did he ever speak in English? Did he ever lecture in English?
Zelizer. Yes, he spoke in English. But I never attended. My policy was
always, I was a rabbi in the temple. For me to go to a lecture, in the first
place, (maybe I’m wrong) it was a repetition of what I read to a large extent.
Even when I went to Finkelstein’s lecture, I always tried to behave as not to
be a part of the audience. You have to develop a certain distance. This was part
of my rabbinate. For example, when I first came to Columbus, three people came
to me: Solomon Rivlin, Dr. B. W. Abramson, a scholarly person and I think one of
the Schiffs. “We want to be your friend. We want you to spend most of your
time with us.” At that time, I happened to have read some article about the
minister in the Christian literature. And it said I shouldn’t have friends. So
I said to Abramson, “Please, if you’re my friend, I’ll have an enemy. I’m
trying to be a rabbi to the congregation and if I spend more time with you . . .
as a matter of fact, you need me less than Mr. Hirsch who is dying of cancer or
Mr. So and so who is a poor man. I don’t want any friends and I have no
friends.” I never made friends because of that. And they never forgot it.
That’s the reason you stay a long time in one place. It doesn’t happen by
itself. It’s not a ___________.
Interviewer. Tifereth Israel is where nobody stayed more than a year.
Zelizer. My philosophy which I adopted for myself and by the way, I didn’t
go back to the seminar for fifteen years. I never went to the convention because
I couldn’t afford it and I had to do some work. But anyway, so Greenwald –
so when I went, the only time I went and I still don’t – I never go to a
funeral on the Sabbath. I never go to a wedding on the Sabbath. Because I can
relax, I can read. In other words, I’m not part of an audience. This is my
Interviewer. Did you get a chance to know Gup very well?
Zelizer. Sam Gup – pretty well. Sam Gup was the outstanding – the best
________ in Columbus. Tarshish wasn’t here long enough. Tarshish was an orator
and when I came, people would tell me, one fellow said, “You know when
Jacob Tarshish preaches, I _________. When you preach, I fall asleep. That was
spoken by a lawyer when I first came to try out for my job on a Friday night. So
Jacob Tarshish invited me to his home when I first came. His wife was very
pleasant although they didn’t get along – they had marital problems. But
Jacob was a very polished person and he was an oratory. It was a super
oratorical exposition on some of the most common problems in marriage, divorce,
involving happiness, _____________ type preaching.
Interviewer. And it was what eveyone wanted to hear at that time.
Zelizer. But it was the way he said it on the radio. And of course when we
were home and he invited me to his home after three or four months of my
presence in Columbus, I told him, “Where do you get the language?” I
was born in Europe and I couldn’t pronounce the Lamid, the “L”. I
couldn’t say Zelizer. I had to do a lot of studying and reading out loud – I
read Dostoevski – the English Bible out loud to change my vocal cords. I couldn’t
pronounce the “L”. So he gave me a lecture and talked to me on
oratory. Of course he was a card player. As a rabbi, he was so close to the
people because he lost himself in the oratory. 90% of his audience were gentile.
Then he got into a fight with Lazarus and of course he tried to organize his own
congregation. Didn’t you read about that?
Interviewer. I’m only at 1939 so far.
Zelizer. This happened before 1939.
Interviewer. Gup quit in 1946.
Zelizer. I’m talking about Tarshish. Didn’t you read how he tried to
organize his own congregation on Sunday mornings?
Interviewer. Yes. They got rid of him, apparently because of his commercial .
— Could not hear —
Zelizer. I called him up. I was young. I always had nerve. We had lunch
together somewhere. He had his meat. Before I entered the service, I didn’t
eat anything downtown. Not even a cup of coffee. I’d have a glass of milk from
a paper cup. That’s all I’d have. A glass of milk and a tomato. Of course it
was early 30s. That’s why I never went downtown to lunches. I didn’t want to
see Jewish people, there was nothing for me to eat.
— Could not hear —
The first time I met Lazarus was twelve years later when I had to get some
money from the seminary.
Interviewer. Fred Lazarus, Jr.?
Zelizer. Yes, he told me a very interesting story. I had worked ___________
$100. He gave $100 to the seminary for a number of years. So I said to Tarshish,
“You know, you got lost in your ability. You should respect other people’s
feelings. And I started on that meat business. I’m a greenhorn. Couldn’t you
have a tuna fish sandwich or something? I didn’t feel good about him trying to
organize a synagogue-church in the Hartman Theatre on Sunday mornings. What are
you going to contribute? Are you going to have a mixture of Christians and Jews?
You’re going to keep your talk on happiness, philosophy, marriage and so
forth. Don’t call yourself rabbi. You’re not a doctor ___________. Now Gup
was an entirely different person. He was not a good preacher. He was
Conservative. He was the kind of a guy who never put on a yalmalka ________
__________ and Dr. __________ from Dayton _________. There was a Jewish barber
named Myer Warsaski who’s daughter was getting married to Joseph Cohen who was
a member of the Reform temple. Marla __________ was the girl – she was a
member of my temple. The temple at that time, we didn’t have weddings in the
temple. Most of the time, like Ilanka’s and other places. __________ with
Rabbi Gup. I went to Rabbi Gup and said, “_________________.” I went
to them and said, “You tell Rabbi Gup that if he wants to officiate with
me, he has to wear a yalmalke. Then he can do anything he wants. I would write
my katuba, he can write his katuba. I never accepted the Reform katuba and I
always used the traditional katuba. I didn’t want to create divisiveness. Gup
didn’t want to wear a yalmalke. The result was, I said, “Let him
officiate.” He officiated. I did not officiate, the dinner wasn’t kosher,
I didn’t go. And the family got mad and dropped out of the temple. So this was
one incident. He was a Reform rabbi of whom I was not afraid. My competition
started with Folkman. But at that time the temple was growing nicely. Of course,
Folkman took away a lot of members of the traditional community. The Kahns, the
Yenkins, the Wasserstroms all became ___________. I took it very seriously
because I was so involved when one guy dropped out, I stopped talking to him.
Some members – my wife has a big family – they won’t talk to me and I
haven’t talked to them because they didn’t belong to the temple. That kind
of mishagash was awful but it served a purpose.
Gup was – I went with him on a train, once and Christian after Christian
– “Hi Rabbi Gupp.” I sat there like a ____________. Nobody knew my
face. It was at that time that I decided, for God’s sake, I’m going to make
myself known. And don’t forget, I didn’t have Lazarus behind me or the
Levys. There was nothing. Our Jews were not involved in anything. I didn’t
have a member of our temple on the Hillel board for maybe 20 years. There was
not a member on the old center from our temple.
— Could not hear —
Rabbi Tarshish would confirm the Schoenthal Center kids. The Schoenthal
Center was for the poor kids who they didn’t want to take into the temple.
Interviewer. And many of them were from Orthodox families.
Zelizer. Yes because in the first place, it was a matter of salary decline.
It was also a matter of nobody paying and the Orthodox summer school was nothing
. . . the educational system in Columbus was detestable except for the Columbus
Hebrew School. It’s amazing. The only people that really tried education was
the Reform temple in their own way and our temple on a smaller scale because we
didn’t have the money.
Interviewer. Mentioning Gup – this is a little out of sequence. Gup gave
really strong sermons – they made headlines in newspapers – against the
proposed boycott of German goods. There were then letters to the editor saying
they were merely reflecting the position of the merchants that belonged to your
synagogue and you have no sensitivity to the problem in Europe. Was this an
issue anywhere else besides Temple Israel in the community?
Zelizer. No I don’t think I was too strong for the Boycott myself. I don’t
think my people were. At that time, the Boycott issue was – there wasn’t a
strong central agency in the Jewish community that actually could bring it to
the forefront. Like today, for example, we have a strong ADL-United Jewish Fund.
At that time in this community, everyone was a volunteer worker. Sunday School
teachers were volunteers except in Temple Israel. Hebrew school teachers got
paid stipends. Except in the Columbus Hebrew schools, there were no Executive
Directors in any synagogues as far as I know. They were all volunteers in the
I didn’t feel good about Boycotts in general. Gup and I talked about it
once because it could have repercussions that could hurt us more. So it was an
issue which Gup, of course – Gup was to a certain extent a little bit of a
sensationalist. He would always send in an excerpt of his sermon before he
preached it so it was published on the Sabbath. Whether he preached the sermon,
I don’t know. I don’t think there was anyone to listen to it – attendance
was terrible. Saturday morning services they didn’t have. There was just a
Sunday School. So the Orthodox rabbis – we didn’t talk about it. We preached
on the suffering, on mercy, in other words, appealing to the world from a Jewish
point of view but not from an economic point of view. And Gup was that type of a
person and to a certain extent there was a certain insensitivity to Jewishness
on the part of Gup. He was a genuine Reform rabbi who was interested in the
concept of missions the Last of the Mohigans to a certain extent. Folkman had it
for awhile. Now he’s changed. I don’t know about Traynor yet. But the
concept of Mission that was his main purpose and he preached that way and that’s
the way he lived. I didn’t have a concept of Mission until I got into the
army. I also accepted a certain mission. My whole attitude toward the Christian
community changed radically after I started meeting some priests and ministers
– I had never met any in my life.
Interviewer. Let’s talk about your family background, your youth and
eventually we’ll get up to Tifereth Israel at another session. Tell me
something about your parents, where you were born.
Zelizer. I was born in Stabosk, Poland in 1905. There is actually no birth
certificate. I established that from Social Security and from certain
recollections and so forth. My father was a rabbi of third generation. He was
from ____________, Poland. My father was ____________. My father married my
mother and my mother worked to support him so that he could study at the
Yeshiva. Then when I was eight or nine, my father sent me to Lunza because it
had a Yeshiva.
Interviewer. You pronounce the “L” very well.
Zelizer. Yes. I was the oldest of the five boys. One died of starvation. My
sister was the oldest. So there were four brothers and one sister. Five boys and
one girl. Before the war, I went to Lunza and I ate ____________. I stayed with
an uncle of mine who had a ___________ hotel. But I ate out and I went to Lunza
Yeshiva. Then my father left before the service before the war to escape service
in the army. Some Jews actually cut off their finger because of kashrut
__________. So he left Poland and went to America, to New York in 1913 – just
before the war broke out. Then we were stuck during the war. So during the war
Stabisk was in no man’s land. On one side, the Germans, on the other side, the
Poles and we dug ourselves into the basement and stayed there sometimes for a
couple of days. It was there that one of my brothers died because there was
nothing. You had to be strong to survive. When the war was over everyone went to
America. My father wouldn’t bring us over here so we had to send messages.
People went to this country because he was afraid we’d become goyim. Finally
we came to the U.S. We lived in one room on Delancy Street and then he took all
of us to the Yeshiva. My brothers quit and went to work. I continued at the
Yeshiva. I was Bar Mitzvah here, then I went to Yeshiva High School in the
afternoon. I went to night school in the evening and the Yeshiva in the morning
so that I graduated – of course I made public school in a short time, I think
in two years, I couldn’t speak anything – no Hebrew – Yiddish – and no
Polish because we lived in a ghetto and knew very little Polish. I studied hard
and I made high school in two years by taking chemistry I at the Yeshiva in the
morning and in the afternoon, chemistry II in high school. Sometimes we even
forged a report card because we had a burning desire to make it fast. When I
graduated from high school – there were three of us – one became a lawyer,
one became a doctor and one continued. I was registered to Jefferson Medical
School but my father wouldn’t give me the money. I went to New York University
in the afternoon. I got my degree in 3 � years. I took pre-medicine and then I
was accepted to Jefferson Medical School but my father wouldn’t give me the
money because of Shabbas. Doctors are allowed to break the Shabbas only that
___________. I always wanted to become a doctor, always. So then I graduated in
chemistry. I was accepted after a few years of pre-med __________. So I
continued to major in chemistry. I loved chemistry. I loved science. And then I
decided the Yeshiva, I went up to Dr. R________. The Yeshiva at that time didn’t
have a regular number of ______________.
— Could not understand —
So a number of us went up there. I went up to Dr. R_______ and said,
“When am I getting out?” So I started at $250 – I didn’t know
— Could not understand —
I quit. I became a butcher boy. I delivered beef once and a woman scratched
me on the face and said, “It stinks.” I rebelled. That’s when I
decided to go further in the rabbinate. I couldn’t take the Yeshiva. There
were a number of things that happened. For example, Dr. R_______ would walk in
on our discussions and would ball us out for reading a Yiddish paper on Shabbas.
— Could not understand —
I took the subway and walked from Seventh Avenue to Twenty-third.
_____________ and he looks at me and I said, “I’m Zelizer. I want to
study here.” Then I entered the seminary. I was accepted by Dr. Ginsburg
and Professor Ginsburg was a very sharp person with a squeaky voice. I was a
smart aleck. Ginsburg made a monkey out of me. I thought I knew Talmud. We had a
lot of fun but it proved to me that I wasn’t the _________________ that I
thought I was.
— Could not understand —
Interviewer. You mention you didn’t know Polish. Was the city in which you
grew up an entire ghetto? The entire city was Jewish?
Zelizer. _____________ had 500 Jews. But we didn’t go to the regular
school. We were among ourselves. As a matter of fact, during the war, my brother
was caught by a German soldier. The anti-Semitism was terrible. It was a
Interviewer. Weren’t there any kinds of contact with gentile kids? Did they
beat you up?
Zelizer. No. I avoided it. I was afraid of them. In other words, we went to
Chader and then we went home. And we studied. There was no compulsory education
so why should I go there? And secondly, I was afraid. There was actually a
physical fear. I was eleven years old and my sister was afraid and my mother was
afraid. During the war, my mother and I would hire a wagon and we would barter
to trade for potatoes for cotton, for needles, in other words, we _____________.
We were scared. So the experience we had in trying to survive ___________ so we
created our own flour. We hired a piece of land and we planted potatoes. But we
were afraid to go out and dig for the potatoes until a bunch of us got together
and we went out to get the potatoes. And we put them in our basement which wasn’t
a basement – it was a hole in the ground – and at the beginning of the
winter, we would put onions there, potatoes. By January or December, the whole
floor was full with sprouts, potato sprouts, onion sprouts. We slept on a
_______________. We went to the synagogue in Poland, on Shabbas because it was
cold in the house. We put a piece of meat in our pockets and the synagogue was
the only warm place. And that’s the kind of youth from which we came. Our
surroundings. As far as a goy was concerned, a goy was a son-of-a-bitch, pardon
the expression because they were Jew killers and Jew haters.
Interviewer. Did your mom work at all? Or was she mostly at home
Zelizer. She was a seamstress. She sewed old clothes together, made dresses.
That’s why we traded, we bartered for cloth, needles, spools of cotton for
five pounds of potatoes. Then we’d drive the wagon. I remember once a couple
of hooligans were running after the wagon ___________ ___________. I remember
incidents in my youth which really did not create any desire on my part to know
Polish or anything about Poland. Only those who lived in the shetel can realize
the kind of hatred which the Christian community created within the mind and the
heart of the Jew. And I’m not talking about Holocaust, I’m talking about
periods in the so-called “golden age” period in the large Jewish
community. So all we knew was the synagogue and the home and Chader. We didn’t
Interviewer. Did you ever visit the a big city? Did your family ever take
Zelizer. No. The only time was Lunza. I just stayed with my uncle. I went to
the butcher on Monday and the cjamzan on Sunday. And then the only time was on
the way out, we went to Belgium. In Belgium and in Warsaw, somebody stole my
mother’s passport so we had to wait there for three months. And my father
wouldn’t send us other passports so again we had to prevail upon people
____________. From Belgium, we took the ship, ut we never went to big cities.
Interviewer. This concludes the oral history interview with Rabbi Nathan
Zelizer for the Columbus Jewish Historical Society.
End of interview