Interviewer: It is May 10, 1974 and I am interviewing Rabbi Samuel Rubenstein as part of the Columbus Jewish History Project. Let’s begin back as early as we can in
the history of Agudas Achim, which emerges in the early 1880s. Let’s discuss
generally some of the reasons which may have led to the origin of the synagogue.
Rubenstein: I would say that the early group that ultimately became Agudas
Achim were part of Temple Israel or whatever the name of the synagogue was at
that time. I have a feeling that some of the men who ultimately led Agudas Achim
were in fact members of Temple Israel. Temple Israel in all probability
introduced some reforms in the late 70s or 1880s and that shocked the conscience
of some of these more Orthodox-oriented members of Temple Israel. In other
words, one aspect could be the religious. Now this religious element, more
Orthodox element within Temple Israel remained on as members of Temple Israel or
waited until a more substantial group of their numbers came from Europe to
reinforce them and then joined that group to form a new congregation which they
called Agudas Achim.
There could have been other factors. There could have been
social aspects to this country of origin, some of the members who ultimately
became Agudas Achim members vs. those who were Temple Israel members. And there
was strong social cleavages in those days in terms of German Jews vs. east
European Jews. This could have also been a factor because the early members of
Agudas Achim were either White Russian Jews, Lithuanian Jews, Jews who came from
northern Europe, northeastern Europe, and they too had a certain sense of pride.
The Litvaks had a sense of pride in terms of (indistinct), were as good as the
German Jews. You find later on when the movement came in for the Russian Jews,
east European Jews who came from central Ukraine and other areas, that they were
more, they had a greater feeling of democracy, although they had pride in
themselves but they got along with all Jews or at least tried to get along with
all Jews. So I would say the early beginnings of Agudas Achim came about on
religious grounds as well as on social, perhaps economic. I’m not in a
position to give any personalization of what these people were doing in terms of
their employment except for those who had come in maybe 30-40 years, assuming
they were already established.
My own feeling is aside for eight or ten
families, most of the Jews had come here in the late 60s or early 70s. 80s for
those who were members of Temple Israel with the exception of maybe three or
four families that were founding families that ultimately became Temple Israel.
Agudas Achim was founded, I have a list of, June as of 1881. Whether this is
true or not, I have not found a document that states that our charter was taken
out in 1881. It could be 1882, it could be 1880. There might have been an
organization in existence which ceased and became defunct. We don’t know and
these things we’d have to explore. But we know that the first traditional minyan
of Orthodox Jews, aside from Temple Israel, before it became a Reform
congregation, was established in 1881 which was the nucleus that formed Agudas
Interviewer: You say, “we know.” Is this from the recollections of
people that were inter- viewed in the late 40s and early 50s?
Rubenstein: Yes. And I received this from many, many people. In other words I
went about asking them and they were people who were in their 80s and 90s from
the early families and that I asked them, “Where was the first minyan?”
See I didn’t say “Was the first minyan on Cherry Street or Cherry
Alley?” I said, “Where was the first minyan?” There was no
other name mentioned and the approximate date was in 1881.
Interviewer: Did you ever meet, ’cause this would be conceivable, did you
ever meet the person who was part of that first minyan? Were there any
people alive in the late 40s…
Rubenstein: I met the children of the Freidenberg house in whose home the
first services were supposed to have taken place. So they remember their parents
telling them that this was where the first service took place.
Interviewer: So if we could date the arrival of the Freidenbergs to Columbus
we might have a hint of the time when the first minyan was established.
Rubenstein: I don’t know if you can, well if they didn’t arrive until
1883, then the 1881, the date certainly falls out of place. But if they came in
the 1870s, then we’re on safe ground in terms of their home, at least of being
a possibility that they organized in 1881.
Interviewer: Do you remember the first name of the Freidenberg?
Rubenstein: No I don’t.
Rubenstein: I tried in every one of these cases in this booklet, to try to
get first names where it was possible. And where I didn’t, I just put a second
Interviewer: Uh huh. What about this Kalman London who was the first,
apparently Chazan, although we sometimes called “Rabbi” (indistinct)
Interviewer: or the first leader of the synagogue? Do you know anything about
Rubenstein: The early recollections in most of the members of the families,
and the story was that he had read an advertisement in the Yiddish press in New
York where he resided…that there’s a community in the Midwest which
needs someone to take over the religious leadership to be a Shochet, a
ritual slaughterer, and to serve as a spiritual leader. There must, someone
cared enough for them to come out to lead them in this religious aspect and that
the community would become assimilated and the Jews would cease to exist in
Columbus, Ohio as an Orthodox community or as a religious community. There was
only Reform and Orthodox. There was no Conservative aspect at that time. And he
took it upon himself to come to Columbus and become the first Rabbi. Now Kalman
London was related to the Schottenstein family and this is what brought the
Schottensteins very early to Columbus and Agudas Achim.
Interviewer: Okay. Do you have any idea what happened to Kalman London after
he left Columbus?
Rubenstein: Yes. Kalman London died on the east side in the 20s. When he
finished his tenure here in Columbus, he went back to study Torah. He had a name
and as Demosenet. It so happens I’m very much familiar with it and it’s
quite by chance, he went to a Chevra on the east side which was a shomer
Shabbos. They took only shomer Shabbos people in that society called
the Adath B’nai Israel on East Broadway. And he simply went to that Chevra
and he sat and studied Torah day and night. He ate very little but he studied
Torah. One morning when they came in, they found him dead over a Gemorrah.
And he is buried in their cemetery in the New York area…buried in the Adath
B’nai Israel cemetery in New York.
Interviewer: Does he have any living descendants, children for example to…
Rubenstein: He has grandchildren, many grandchildren here in Columbus. The
only daughter that he had that remained here was Mrs. Sarah Weiner who died
about four or five years ago.
Interviewer: …names of one or two of his grandchildren in Columbus.
Rubenstein: Mrs. Abe Yenkin, Mrs. Jack Ziskind, Mrs. Max Kanter. These people
can tell you, I think Mrs. Ziskind probably would be the oldest who would
certainly remember her Grandpa Kalman London.
Interviewer: Okay. Also mentioned in this booklet is some information about
the Hebrew cemeteries. It says the first Hebrews were first buried on East
Livingston which we know something about. It was the old East Cemetery. It says,
“on the south side of Harrisburg Pike.” Do you know what that refers
Rubenstein: I think this is the cemetery which was recently, well within the
last two or three years, written up in one of the magazine sections of the Dispatch,
Sunday Dispatch, near the ball park.
Interviewer: Well…the next one: “Another burial spot is located
on Mt. Calvary Road south of West Mound Street.” Now that cemetery’s in
existence. I’ve seen it and there are a number of, oh there are 25-30 Jewish
tombstones are there. But I have no idea what this “south side of
Harrisburg Pike” is.
Rubenstein: Now you noticed this Livingston Avenue Park is located right near
Rubenstein: Now they have found some tombstones in my day. I haven’t been
there, I haven’t looked at them in a long, long time, but they were available
then. I don’t know. I merely received this, the man who told us something
about this was Harry Goldberg, who’s gone. He had told me about this. He was
the Chairman of our Chevra Kadisha and worked in the cemetery field and
it could well be that Mrs. Tarshish may know something about this, Mildred
Interviewer: Well it also said Columbus Jews were interred in the cemetery at
Interviewer: Why would that have been?
Rubenstein: Well let’s say this, very early, the only cemetery that was
available was the Reform cemetery. And the Orthodox Jews did not want to be
buried there because it was not exclusively a Jewish cemetery. In other words it
was a section sanctified to Jewish burials but it was really a part of a total
non-Jewish cemetery and they felt, well Jews should be buried among Jews. So
they went to Zanesville, Ohio. Mrs. Goldberg, Mrs. Abraham Goldberg, who came
with her husband probably in the mid-80s, late 80s at most. Now Arthur Goldberg
is the son and he’s still alive. Harry Goldberg was the son who passed away
within the last few months. They were among the founding families. Now she had
told me in the late 40s, early 50s, that when she came to Columbus, they buried
the Orthodox Jews in Zanesville and they went to the mikvah in
Interviewer: The mikvah in Circleville?
Interviewer: Which must have predated . . . .
Rubenstein: Oh yes.
Interviewer: in Columbus.
Rubenstein: Oh yes. A lot of the local Jewish families, let’s say the
Wasserstroms, the Levys, they all lived in Circleville, Ohio. Circleville, Ohio
was an older Jewish commu-nity that was really developed. It developed up to a
point but after a while with the change in city life, Columbus became the number
one city and Circleville just seemed to pass out of existence.
Interviewer: I was aware of the community there. I was unaware that there was
Rubenstein: There was a mikvah which within the last ten years, they
had to make a resolution as to how to get rid of it. It was community property
and the City of Circleville wanted to know how to handle this public
building, you know, which was a mikvah building. I remember in my tenure
here, that they came and asked me about it.
Interviewer: Hmmm. There was no synagogue and building at the same time in
Rubenstein: They met in private homes. There might have been a synagogue
earlier. They met in private homes. They had services up until about 8-10 years
ago. They had services or Sabbath services. They had a lot of religious Jews who
lived in Circleville who were shomer Shabbos. Our friend Mayor
Sensenbrenner told me that he grew up in Circleville and when they had the
Sabbath laws in the State of Ohio, he knew that Saturday night the Jewish
Sabbath was over because he waited for the Jewish stores to open Saturday night
when the Sabbath had closed. He was familiar with it as a boy in Circleville,
Interviewer: Are there any Jews living in Circleville today that might . . .
. Jewish life there?
Rubenstein: Oh yes.
Interviewer: Can you give me the names of some of them?
Rubenstein: I think if you spoke to Ben Gordon, who formerly was the Mayor of
Circleville, Ohio. His father was the leader of the Jewish community. His father
is not dead more than eight or ten years.
Interviewer: All right, let’s go back to Agudas Achim. In emerges
sometime in the 80s. By 1899 another Orthodox congregation has emerged in the
city, Beth Jacob. Have you any idea what might account for the emergence of this
second Orthodox synagogue?
Rubenstein: I would imagine one of the prime reasons was for the mode of
worship. Agudas Achim was an Ashkenazic synagogue, followed the Ashkenazic
ritual. The Beth Jacob follows the ritual of the Chasidim, the Sephardic
ritual and these people who came here, ultimately formed Beth Jacob
Congregation, had a choice to go to Temple Israel or Agudas Achim. They were
really not at home with either area but they were more at home within an
Orthodox framework where the davening was the same and the prayers were
the same, than in a Reform temple. But when enough of their members and numbers
arrived and they felt strong enough to organize their own congregation, they
decided to go on their own. It could be from petty social differences which to
them loomed large. The way of pronouncing of the Hebrew words was different
between the Ashkenazic and the Sephardic and normally they would mimic anyone
who was different than they were. The question was if a person would go to lead
the services, if he had a Yahrzeit and he was of the Ashkenazic
background and if he would introduce some of the added words which the
Sephardic ritual requires, they would make fun of him or sometimes even forcibly
remove him from leading the services. And this was a degrading type of thing.
And they thought, well we want to do our thing, and ultimately when enough of
their people, their family and friends, came from their section of Europe, they
organized the Beth Jacob Congregation.
Interviewer: Now it’s about the same time, 1907 I believe, when both
synagogues erect buildings. I don’t know if it was in the same year precisely
but just about 1907 Agudas Achim has a building and Beth Jacob has a building.
This would obviously attest to the growth and vitality of the Orthodox community
in Columbus. And yet within another five, six, seven years, a third Orthodox
congregation emerges, Ahavas Sholom, whose emergence probably comes probably
comes in 1913, ’14, or ’15, as best as I can detail it. What might account
for the emergence of a third congregation?
Rubenstein: There was a Cantor who was a Cantor in Agudas Achim who was
released from the congregation and he had a goodly number of friends. There was
a Friedman family that lived next door to the Agudas Achim congregation
immediately north of the synagogue. I think that B. B. Friedman, an attorney, is
a son of this Mr. Friedman, I forget his first name. I have(indistinct) the time. He
was one of the early members of Agudas Achim. He decided that they would form
their own group. There might have been political differences. There were
political differences. This I know. I know from this Friedman’s daughter many
years ago who told me some of these things and I was really not interested in it
but I know that there were personal differences between some of the leadership
of the Agudas Achim as it was constructed from 1910 to 1915. But this Mr.
Friedman was a strong personality. Mr. Friedman had given the Agudas Achim a
lot, an empty lot which was between his home and the synagogue, to beautify it
so that there was really no encroachment which was good, positive thinking in
terms of not coming that close to the synagogue and giving the synagogue a
little latitude. It served as a playground for the children and over the years
we built our Succah in that area.
Interviewer: It also served as the site of lawn parties.
Rubenstein: That’s right. We used to have our lawn parties there. It was a
social outlet because it really was a very beautiful idea. I remember it, I
remember it well even though (indistinct). Now they built that new synagogue which
they called Ahavas Sholom about three or four doors north on Donaldson Street.
Interviewer: Washington Street.
Rubenstein: Washington Street, Washington Avenue, on Washington Avenue about
three or four doors north of the old Agudas Achim. So that within, I would say,
a half a block area, you had the Jewish Orthodox ghetto. Most all the Jews lived
within a two or three block radius. They walked to the synagogue. They lived
there. Many of them worked around that area and these were the three major
synagogues within the Orthodox complex. Plus Tifereth Israel which broke away
from the Agudas Achim earlier. I would say in the 1900, 1901 or 1902 range, in
that category and ultimately they built on Parsons Avenue, I think near Fulton
Street if I remember correctly, Fulton and maybe Donaldson, not too far away,
about two-three blocks away from where the Agudas Achim was. Again I feel the
reason for the estab-lishment of Tifereth Israel, number one it was an Orthodox
synagogue when it was founded, completely Orthodox, that these Hungarian Jews
had a different lifestyle and they had, the were similar problems which affected
the Beth Jacob group affected Tifereth Israel. They davened Sephardic and
(indistinct) they preferred to have their own minyan and they had enough of
their number at a certain point and they decided they were in a position to
organize their own synagogue which they did and that became Tifereth Israel.
Interviewer: Okay. Let’s talk for a bit about the rabbis, although not all
were precisely rabbis, but the clergymen at Agudas Achim. Before we get to those
that we do know some information about, let me try a few that you may not know
anything about. Joseph Rappenport and Saul Silver are mentioned as serving the
congregation in the early years. Do you know anything about either one of these
Rubenstein: I have a feeling that Joseph Rappenport was a schochet.
His son died recently, within the last two or three years his son died . . . .
Interviewer: In Columbus?
Rubenstein: In Columbus.
Interviewer: What was his name?
Rubenstein: His name was Louis Rappenport, Rappenport.
Interviewer: Any other children still alive?
Rubenstein: He had some children that are, no I don’t think he has any
children that are alive but he had grandchildren and someone, one of his
grandchildren, recently died. She was articulate and sort of, but she is gone.
And Mrs. Sam Goldman, Mrs. Sam Goldman . . . .
Interviewer: That the one who’s deceased?
Rubenstein: That’s deceased. That was a granddaughter of this Joseph
Interviewer: What about Saul Silver?
Rubenstein: Saul Silver became a very famous man in American Jewish history.
Saul Silver went on to become the head of the Chicago yeshiva.
Interviewer: I didn’t realize it was the same Saul Silver.
Rubenstein: Yeah, that’s the Saul Silver who went on to become the head of
the Chicago yeshiva, Bet Midrash Ha Torah. And this…I don’t
know if it’s his first pulpit, but he served the Agudas Achim Congregation.
Interviewer: He was ordained then, well certainly by this time?
Rubenstein: What, did you…
Interviewer: I mean in …
Rubenstein: You see, I hate to say anything because he became the head of an
institution. There were all those people who felt that he was not fully
Rubenstein: Even when he was the head of the yeshiva. But the remarks,
this did not affect his work here in Agudas Achim because the synagogue was not
that well formed, any more than we consider Kalman London a rabbi. I listed him
here in the book as a reverend to skirt the issue and not to hurt the family and
yet not being fully aware accurately whether he was ordained or had smicha.
You see I had the, I had the problem, I had the feeling that he really was not
an ordained rabbi.
Interviewer: What about I. Aultfield and Solomon Lewey?
Rubenstein: I don’t know the first thing about them. Saul Silver I was
surprised because at that time there were people alive who remembered Saul
Silver. They had no idea what happened to him. But I knew you see and I was able
to check out that this was the Saul Silver that went on to become the head of
the Chicago Yeshiva, see because it was a revelation to me. He was then a active
and vibrant and a very talented individual. His talents were administration more
than in the scholarly field. He organized the school and did a very effective
Interviewer: He was such a common name. I didn’t associate this Saul Silver
with that Saul Silver. Okay, let’s move then to Rabbi Wiernikovsky.
Rubenstein: Rabbi Werne.
Interviewer: Rabbi Werne.
Rubenstein: Then comes Rabbi Werne.
Interviewer: Now I’ve learned a great deal about his rabbinical career. But
what recollections do you have of his tenure at Agudas Achim? How would you
Rubenstein: He was a great scholar. They tell me he was a brilliant orator.
He was a strong- willed man who took no nonsense. He had a temper on him that
sometimes got the best of him. And when he left the Agudas Achim, I would
imagine it was during World War I, he went on to California.
Interviewer: Los Angeles.
Rubenstein: Los Angeles and held a very prominent pulpit. He was a very
talented person. Had a background, I believe he had a doctorate in Philosophy
from German universities which was rare in those days, in those years for an
Orthodox rabbi. So Agudas Achim was liberal close in the sense that they would
take a man who was not really a traditional yeshiva bocher although he
studied in yeshivas in Europe and he was ordained, but he had this type
of western discipline culture.
Interviewer: Now he came back to Agudas Achim in the 20s.
Rubenstein: He came back to Agudas Achim in the 20s. He came back I believe
after Rabbi Taxon left.
Interviewer: Let’s talk about Werne here in the 20s. One of the things that
he instituted at Agudas Achim was the Friday Evening Forum.
Rubenstein: I don’t know if he instituted, or if this was really instituted
during Taxon’s regime.
Interviewer: Well if it was, Werne certainly made it a very popular . . . .
Rubenstein: In other words, before 1920, I would say maybe 1919, Agudas Achim
had the Friday Night Forum which was real–, makes it one of the very early
Orthodox synagogues which would be involved in this type of activity. But it was
a very popular thing in the 20s and certainly in the 30s. It was part of the
function of the Agudas Achim Congregation which certainly was rare in Orthodoxy
during that range of period.
Interviewer: According to the newspapers, Werne would lecture on Friday
evening in English and then preach on Shabbos morning in Yiddish and the
newspapers also attest to the fact, it’s hard to know whether he wrote this or
not, that he was equally articulate in English and in Yiddish.
Rubenstein: They say he was extremely eloquent in Yiddish and he had a good
command of the English language. My feeling is it was a more scholarly type of
English, a self-taught English. He was adequate, he was more than adequate in
English but he was unusual in Yiddish. He was a brilliant orator. This is the
reputation that, he was a great Jewish scholar. He wrote several books,
scholarly rabbinic Halachic articles.
Interviewer: What might he have occupied himself with during the week here in
the 20s, primarily his own, individual scholarship?
Rubenstein: Different classes. There were classes in Talmud every day in
Agudas Achim. Either prior to Minchah or certainly between Minchah and
Mahrev, right after Mahrev, they had classes here every day and on
Interviewer: Were any of these activities continued with his successors,
Friday Evening Forum, daily Talmud classes? Did those continue?
Rubenstein: They continued, they continued.
Interviewer: Were they in existence when you arrived at Agudas Achim, either
of those activities?
Rubenstein: Friday evening services were part of our program in the old
synagogue before we moved here and after we moved here. Talmud classes had
ceased to operate. There was about a two-year-gap between the end of the term of
Rabbi Hirsch- sprung and my acceptance of the pulpit so that a lot of these
activities which ordinarily would fall into the rabbinic framework, which
required someone competent and it’s a little different than leading the
service in terms of praying which required not really very much in terms of
scholarship or great learning. But to lead a Talmud class and there were a lot
of scholarly Jews, they might have learned on an informal basis amongst
Interviewer: Rabbi Werne in the late 20s left Agudas Achim to become Rabbi to
Rubenstein: Ahavas Shalom.
Interviewer: What might have precipitated that?
Rubenstein: Well I’ve told that Rabbi Werne was a man who had a temper. He
told people off. Any man who is in a community a long time makes enemies. He
makes friends also. He wanted to leave the Agudas Achim. It might have been some
sort of struggle there at that time and the people at the Ahavas Sholom who
remember him warmly brought him to the Ahavas Sholom. They felt it would take
some members away from the Agudas Achim as well. So this was . . . .
Interviewer: This was the first time that Ahavas Sholom has a rabbi. There
was no rabbi in connection with the congregation for fifteen years prior to
Rubenstein: No in the Orthodox field they don’t necessarily need rabbis . .
. . people who prayed, they need Jews, they don’t need rabbis.
Interviewer: Okay. What happened to Rabbi Werne after he left Columbus, after
he left Ahavas Sholom? Do you have any idea?
Rubenstein: I think he went back to live on the coast.
Interviewer: West Coast?
Interviewer: But he also had a son named Benjamin who for three years was the
Rabbi of Tifereth Israel in the 20s and then left to go to Jamaica, New York.
Did you ever hear anything about Benjamin Werne?
Rubenstein: No. I heard about him but it’s not enough to, really it’s so
out-of-hand in terms of (indistinct) that I didn’t hear very, very much at the
time. There was another rabbi in between Taxon and Werne. That was Rabbi Neches.
Interviewer: Well let’s start with Taxon first. Let’s go back to Taxon
since we skipped over him. What kind of recollections do you have of Taxon?
Rubenstein: Taxon came here as a young man straight from Yeshiva University,
Yeshiva…He was the first man, a graduate of the Yeshiva…He had
an American rabbinate training. He was single, he came here with his mother. And
then married into the…
Rubenstein: Schottenstein family. He married Jacob Schottenstein’s
daughter, Edythe. Rabbi Taxon moved around a great deal in his rabbinate. A very
talented, very capable fellow.
Interviewer: Did he go to Memphis from Columbus?
Rubenstein: He died in Memphis. He went to, he had several very, very
important pulpits. He was in Chicago, he was in Omaha, he was in Dallas. He
might have been other places also.
Interviewer: Did he have any children?
Rubenstein: Yes, he has two children in the rabbinate. He has Jordan Taxon
who is in Charleston, South Carolina.
Interviewer: Is he an Orthodox…
Rubenstein: He’s a Conservative rabbi actually. He was a graduate of the
JIR, Jewish Institute of Religion. He occupies a Conservative pulpit. And then
there is another son Kalman Taxon who is a rabbi in Texas. I think it’s Tyler,
Interviewer: Do you know what denomination he’s affiliated with?
Rubenstein: I would say Orthodox/Conservative/Traditional, mostly
Conservative. It’s a small town and they have really one or two synagogues . .
. . a Reform Temple or some other synagogue that caters to the other group.
Interviewer: Okay. Now Rabbi Neches, who also went to, Neches.
Interviewer: Who also went to Los Angeles after Agudas Achim.
Rubenstein: Neches stayed in Los Angeles for a long, long time. Neches wrote
a great deal. From some of his works I would say that he was familiar with the Haskalah
which again was a rarity for that type of rabbi. I don’t know if Neches came
back again. I don’t know, I don’t believe he came back. His tenure here was
maybe 2-3 years, four years would be a maximum, before Werne came back. In other
words, Werne left I would say in the 1916 range, give or take a half a year.
Then Taxon came about 1917 and remained on 1920-’21. But these facts you can
find out specific- ally from Jordan Taxon or some of the members of the family.
Max Ziskind may be able to help you on this.
Interviewer: Okay. That takes us to, well before we get to Rabbi Hirschsprung,
during most of this time Simon Silverman was serving as Chazan . . . .
Rubenstein: Chazan and mohel.
Interviewer: Mohel to the Congregation.
Interviewer: Any information about him?
Rubenstein: There also was a Chazan Friedman I think that served in
between. I’m not that familiar about the Chazanim. But Silverman was a
very popular man, well liked. They were just part of the people. He was just one
of the people and he knew everybody, his children grew up here and actually his
son who had recently passed away, Rabbi Silverman who wrote the Prayer Book,
went to school in Columbus, grew up in Agudas Achim and he was a very famous
Interviewer: Was Morris?
Rubenstein: Morris Silverman. And his son, who is a Rabbi Silverman now in
California . . . .
Rubenstein: Hillel is a grandson of this (indistinct) and Mrs. Sillman, Pearl,
just Pearl, Mrs. Justin Sillman, has a grandchild of, and maybe Justin can help
Interviewer: So she’s actually a child?
Rubenstein: She’s a child but Justin could help. She’s a child of this Chasan
Interviewer: Yeah, she wasn’t very informative.
Rubenstein: No she won’t be because I don’t think she’s lucid.
Rubenstein: Now there are people who knew Silverman and we have a lot of
people who are around who were familiar with what he did. So that’s no
Interviewer: Give me some other names of people that would be familiar with
Rubenstein: Abe Wolman is back. You can talk to Abe. He knew him well. Just
trying to think of some of the old timers.
Interviewer: Would the Yenkins perhaps remember him?
Rubenstein: I would say Abe Yenkin, Max Ziskind, the Josephsons, the…Willie…
if he wants to talk…
Interviewer: Was it difficult for either a rabbi or a chazan to
support himself in an Orthodox congregation in Columbus in the teens and 20s? I
have no idea what their salary was but…
Rubenstein: I would say Columbus was a good town for rabbis because the
economic picture here was good. Columbus never really had a severe Depression
which meant that if the people were making a living, they saw that those who
served them made a living. In other words there might have been ups and down in
the larger commu- nity but here it was fairly even. I cannot believe that any of
the men suffered any pangs of hunger or really were mistreated although in, I
grew up in New York. I know rabbis who did not have enough to live. I don’t
believe it ever happened in Columbus. I don’t think it could have happened in
Interviewer: Okay that takes us to Rabbi Hirschsprung. He comes here in the
late 20s. He is your immediate predecessor.
Rubenstein: He was my immediate predecessor.
Interviewer: What can you tell me about Hirschsprung?
Rubenstein: Hirschsprung was a great scholar. He was a graduate of the
Yeshiva University, Yeshiva . . . ., who had several very important pulpits. I
think he had been in Canton, Ohio, which was then a prominent community. He had
been in Savannah, Georgia. He might have been in a few other pulpits. They say
he was a tremen- dous orator in Yiddish. A good Talmud chochem. He was a
great scholar. He was working on several publications which never really came
Interviewer: What happened to him after Columbus?
Rubenstein: He went to Des Moines, Iowa and I think he died there about three
or four years after he left here.
Interviewer: Does he have any descendants that you know of?
Rubenstein: His wife is alive.
Interviewer: She is alive?
Rubenstein: Yes, she might have died in the last year or so but she was alive
…I really don’t know.
Interviewer: Do you know what city she might be living in?
Rubenstein: She would be in the New York area. I think she may be in New
York. I think she remarried. The one who might be able to help you on that and
may be able to help you is Mr. Ben Greenberg. He was very close to the
Interviewer: Is he a local man?
Rubenstein: He’s a local man or you may ask for Mrs. Harold Kayne. That’s
Mr. Greenberg’s daughter. She may be able to help you. Miriam Kayne.
Rubenstein: K-A-Y-N-E. Somewhere out here, I think on Elm Avenue.
Interviewer: Okay. With all these rabbis that we’ve talked about, any
activities or ventures or anything whatsoever during their career at Agudas
Achim that stands out in your mind that people remember.
Rubenstein: I think that Rabbi Hirschsprung was instrumental in starting the
school which was the forerunner of the Day School. He was the rabbi who held
office and you must give the rabbi credit for these things. The Agudas Achim’s
old building could not house the educational requirements of that time. They
didn’t have any classrooms. The neighborhood was starting to be run down. Mr.
Harry Gilbert made available a building on Bryden Road which was then a
fashionable neighborhood. Temple Israel was down the street. This was even in a
nicer section of Bryden Road than was Temple Israel. It was closer to Ohio
Avenue. I think the number was 1021 Bryden Road where the Sunday School at
Agudas Achim met, the youth groups met there. But the Agudas Achim
Self-Development School, pre-school, it was the first pre-school in Columbus,
met there and Rabbi Hirschsprung was then the Rabbi. When I came in ’49, we
introduced the first grade for those children who had graduated the
Kindergarten. And then we had a second grade. And ultimately in ’51or ’52
when there was a merger with the Center school, the Jewish Center took over the
Agudas Achim Self-Development School as it was called but it was on the
condition that the two grades of the Day School should be knocked out. It was a
compromise that was worked out with us, with Harry Gilbert and myself and some
of the leaders of the Agudas Achim.
Interviewer: The fact that there were no classrooms at Agudas Achim may
explain the fact that old members of Agudas Achim that I’ve interviewed that
went to Religious School in the 20s and wanted to continue their education as
teenagers, went to the Schonthal Center. They were members, their families were
members of Agudas Achim but they studied Judaica of sorts . . . .
Rubenstein: Well the Hebrew School met at the Schonthal Center. Let me say
this, that at the very beginning, Agudas Achim had its own Hebrew School.
Interviewer: How far back does this go?
Rubenstein: The very beginning.
Interviewer: The very beginning?
Rubenstein: Up until I would say after World War I, there was, the Agudas
Achim had its own school. The Agudas Achim gave up its school to form a
Interviewer: The Columbus Hebrew School?
Rubenstein: Hebrew School. And they met at the Schonthal Center. Now they met
originally one of our teachers at the, well a few of our teachers, at the old
Agudas Achim. There was Dr. Beckman who passed away recently. He was one of our
teachers. Dr. Abramson was a teacher in the old Agudas Achim. There were others.
Interviewer: Was this…did this Columbus Hebrew School replace independent
Hebrew Schools at the other (indistinct) synagogues?
Rubenstein: There was no, there were no schools. Even Tifereth Israel did not
have a school until much later.
Interviewer: You mentioned in passing Abraham Goldberg.
Interviewer: He was a very active member of the synagogue, is that correct?
Rubenstein: He was one of the active persons.
Interviewer: At one time he was President of the Synagogue.
Rubenstein: He was President for many years.
Interviewer: Did you ever meet him?
Rubenstein: No, when I came he was gone. He died in 1940-’41, in that range
and I came here in ’49. His wife was alive. She’s, she died in I think 1952
or 1954. So I had several years with her and she was lucid almost up until the
very end. She was one of the great leaders. They formed a team. He was a leader
in areas in the men’s division of Orthodoxy in the community, the Hebrew
School, the synagogue, and she was active in the women’s. There was an Ezras
Noshim Society which would be equivalent to the Women’s Division of the
United Jewish Fund plus the Council for Jewish Women and all those. They raised
money and distributed money. They took care of charity and they helped people
out when they came here.
Interviewer: Was the Ezras Noshim still in existence when you came to
Rubenstein: They were just about going out of business when I came here. Mrs.
Goldberg was still the head. She was the head until the very end. The decision
was what to do with the money that remained in the Ezras Noshim Society
treasury and ultimately the money went to the Heritage House.
Interviewer: Do you remember any of the other organizations called
Rubenstein: Ivreeyoh Society, yes I remember the Ivreeyoh. I installed the
officers on several occasions for the Ivreeyoh Society.
Interviewer: Was this primarily a fund raising group for the Columbus Hebrew
Rubenstein: It was sort of a ladies auxiliary of the Columbus Hebrew School
to keep them interested, to raise money, take care of picnics, take care of
social events, to give the women something to do.
Interviewer: Right. What about, was the Hebrew Free Loan Association or
Society still in existence when you arrived in Columbus?
Rubenstein: Just about ending, just about ending. Again that was a related
type of activity to the Ezras Noshim Society.
Interviewer: What about the Sheltering House? There was a…
Rubenstein: There was a Sheltering House on Livingston Avenue.
Interviewer: Was that group still around in your…
Rubenstein: Actually I think the Schottenstein family took care of that more
or less although it was a communal institution. Heschel Schottenstein who
was a brother of Jacob Schottenstein, was the one who put up that house and his
children. E. L. Schottenstein, that’s the department store…
Rubenstein: Yes. And Meyer and Harry Schottenstein who still survive, they
still have a single thing. They house people in their own homes today.
Interviewer: Meyer and Harry?
Rubenstein: Yes. Harry more than Meyer although in the last few years Harry
has had to cut back a little with it because his wife is not well.
Interviewer: So what other lay leaders of the synagogue prior to your
arrival, which we’re saving for another interview, do you have recollections
Rubenstein: That were contemporaries of mine . . . .
Interviewer: Well . . . .
Rubenstein: or that I heard about?
Interviewer: That you heard about. People in the teens, 20s, 30s, 40s, that
we should talk a little bit about.
Rubenstein: I would say the great leaders that I have heard about would have
been Abraham Goldberg, Maich Finkelstein, Jacob Schottenstein, Jake
Schottenstein as they called him, these, Abe Wolman was coming on. These were
Louie Lakin, Louis Lakin.
Interviewer: Okay. What might have, by the 20s and 30s and into the 40s, what
would differ-entiate Agudas Achim from the other two Orthodox synagogues in
town? Were there still differences between the synagogues?
Rubenstein: There was the mode of worship. In other words, are you speaking
of the Ahavas Sholom and the Beth Jacob?
Interviewer: Particularly about Beth Jacob because Ahavas Sholom kind of
remained very small. But Beth Jacob began to grow a bit.
Rubenstein: You see, Beth Jacob had some very prominent rabbis but the man
who had the longest tenure and probably made the most impact was Rabbi
Interviewer: He was there 30 years.
Rubenstein: He was a contemporary of mine. I was here when he came. Rabbi
Greenwald was a great scholar, a writer. He was not very effective as a preacher
because he spoke a type of Yiddish which most people could not understand. I
remember in the old days when I first came here and we were just a few doors
away from Beth Jacob, that they would get finished with their services at the
Beth Jacob and come to us.
Interviewer: The worshippers?
Rubenstein: Well the worshippers would come to our synagogue. I remember them
standing in the back when I was talking. They would come in to hear my sermon.
Or if the Cantor was singing, some would stay on. The rest would go away. But
they would come. He wasn’t a very effective Yiddish speaker
and his English was halting at best. It was really a latent, it was the force of
his personality. He was very good with people. He really was. He was a very
pleasant man, very easy to get along with. But as far as a pulpiteer, he was not
effective at all.
Interviewer: So you’re suggesting that the rabbi was fairly crucial in one’s
decision as to which Orthodox synagogue to join?
Rubenstein: And the school. I would say this, that Rabbi Zelizer campaigned
for members. They had a good Sunday School. They were in a good location. In
other words if one wanted to be a traditional Jew and bring his children to the
school, they almost certainly went to Tifereth Israel because Agudas Achim was
in a played-out neighborhood and people didn’t want to send their children
there. Our Sunday School could not compare to Tifereth Israel. Rabbi Zelizer was
more outgoing and more community-minded and he spoke a better English then any
of the rabbis in the Orthodox field.
Interviewer: And you think it was important…
Rubenstein: This was helpful to Tifereth Israel. This was the great
years of their growth.
Interviewer: Was there any element of status connected with the different
Rubenstein: Agudas Achim had status. It had…in other words, even
today people would come…Beth Jacob in the old times, certainly from
Ahavas Sholom…the Big Shul, Agudas Achim…
Interviewer: And when they said “the Big Shul” they meant
more than just physically larger?
Rubenstein: Uh huh. They meant the key people from the community, the wealth,
people of means and people of power and prestige joined Agudas Achim in the
Interviewer: Well how would you describe these people in terms of their
commitment and sensitivity to Jewish education?
Rubenstein: They were completely dedicated to Jewish education. But I need to
say this about Rabbi Hirschsprung. He was a great leader of the Mizrachi. I
believe under Rabbi Taxon the Mizrachi in Columbus was organized.
Interviewer: This is a very active Columbus Zionist district.
Interviewer: Almost a dozen of…
Rubenstein: I would say this, that the great leaders of Zionism came to
Agudas Achim. Agudas Achim really was the focal point of Zionist activity. The
great, great leaders of Jewish, Ben Gurion and others who came here, Shamuel
Levin, they all came to the Agudas Achim, they all spoke at Agudas Achim. That’s
where they spoke.
Interviewer: It is true. There was Rabbi Neches, all of these rabbis were
very active Zionists.
Interviewer: in the community.
Rubenstein: They were active Zionists. They were active at the very, very
beginning and they attracted the Mayor of Berlin who later, the Bar-a-lon
University bears his name which, in many times, provided Biblic, a lot of the
great, great leaders…and all of them. They were all, they were all
here and they were at Agudas Achim. They brought tremendous crowds.
Interviewer: Now Greenwald was also able to bring in many of these that he
was close with and attached to. Is that not true?
Rubenstein: Greenwald was basically a non-Zionist. He was not anti but he was
Interviewer: Hmmm. Has Agudas Achim remained throughout history as
you can recall, actively Zionist?
Rubenstein: Agudas Achim is the first congregation in this city who had a
bond drive on Rosh Hashonah, that when the war broke out in ’67 we had an
appeal from the pulpit. Whether the Fund had it or not, it didn’t matter. I
mean this is where the people felt the pulse of what was happening in world
Jewry. Agudas Achim always took the lead in those areas.
Interviewer: In terms of, you spoke about this just a minute ago, commitment
to Jewish education and, how was this manifested, if one were to say the
congregation as a group was committed to Jewish education in the 20s, 30s, 40s,
what could you point to tangibly?
Rubenstein: The leadership of the Columbus Hebrew School were to a great
degree members of the Agudas Achim. Appeals for funds were voiced from the
pulpit of Agudas Achim. But when they needed money and when they needed
students, that’s where they came.
Interviewer: Uh huh.
Rubenstein: And most of the students, most of the money came from Agudas
Interviewer: Hmmm. Okay. Although we’re going to conclude with the year you
arrived in Columbus. Why don’t you tell me something about yourself prior to
your arrival in Columbus.
Rubenstein: Well I was ordained from the Yeshiva University. I graduated the
Yeshiva College in 1940. I was ordained in 1941. I took a pulpit in the south,
small community, Fitzgerald, Georgia. I also served as a Chaplain for several
Army air bases in the area. From there I went in 1943 to Cheyenne, Wyoming where
I served the local Jewish community and served as a Civilian Chaplain at Fort
Francis . . . .
Interviewer: Was this an exclusively Orthodox community or?
Rubenstein: There was only one synagogue and it was an Orthodox synagogue.
Very young, vibrant, active synagogue. Beautiful community. I also had several
air bases that I covered throughout Wyoming, the Dakotas. It was a ministry of
over 500 miles in either direction. It was really wild and wooly. Then I went to
Charleston, South Carolina in 1945 and I served there until June of 1949 when I
came to the Agudas Achim.
Interviewer: What kind of secular education did you have? Was your education
at Yeshiva a combination of secular and religious education?
Rubenstein: From Yeshiva, I was graduated from the college.
Interviewer: This was a regular Bachelor’s program?
Rubenstein: A regular Bachelor’s program. I majored in Philosophy and did
some math work, some American History and Social Thought. I have all my credits
at theYeshiva University Graduate School for a doctorate in Jewish History.
Interviewer: What was your education prior to Yeshiva College?
Rubenstein: I went to the Yeshiva Tor Vadas in Brooklyn and Hyam Berlin High.
In other words, I’m a product of the New York system of yeshivas.
Interviewer: Where are your parents from?
Rubenstein: Central Europe. It’s hard to say because they came to America
prior to World War I. That was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. What
happened afterwards I couldn’t tell you what part it was, whether it was part
of Russia or Czechoslovakia or Hungary or what part.
Interviewer: Well it was the eastern part . . . .
Rubenstein: The eastern part.
Interviewer: of Austro-Hungarian Empire. So you’re not from Galicia?
Interviewer: You were born in the United States?
Rubenstein: I was born in New York.
Interviewer: What about your grandparents? Do you have any information about
Rubenstein: Yes. My father’s parents came here, my father came here as a
young boy with his parents. My mother came here alone. Her parents remained on.
Her mother died prior to World War II. Her father and her brothers and her
sisters were killed by Hitler.
Interviewer: What brought your grandfather and your dad to the United States?
Rubenstein: I imagine economic and religious opportunities.
Interviewer: Do you know what kind of work your grandfather was in?
Rubenstein: My grandfather was an ordained rabbi who never practiced the
rabbinate as a profession. He was a businessman. He ran a hotel in the Catskill
Mountains and he ran a shop on the lower east side of neckties.
Interviewer: What about your dad?
Rubenstein: He’s a neckwear operator. He worked as a neckware
operator. He’s still working now.
Interviewer: He’s still alive?
Rubenstein: He’s still alive.
Interviewer: Lives in New York.
Rubenstein: and he’s still active. He lives in the New York area.
Interviewer: Wonderful. Okay. Do you have any brothers or sisters?
Rubenstein: I have three brothers who all went to the yeshiva. My oldest
brother is an atomic physicist who graduated from Yeshiva High School, Yeshiva University, and went on to Brooklyn College and I think he has a
Master’s and teaches in one of the universities in the Washington area. He
works for the government.
Interviewer: And you have another brother?
Rubenstein: I have two other brothers who are rabbis, two younger brothers
who are rabbis, are in the New York area on Long Island.
Interviewer: Both Orthodox?
Rubenstein: Both Orthodox but they have what would be called Conservative
Interviewer: You all get along pretty well?
Rubenstein: Oh we get along wonderful.
Interviewer: You can’t attend conventions together though?
Rubenstein: No if we go to a convention now, both of them are, and our
convention is in Florida, but if I attend a convention and they’re in New York
and I want to spend time with them, they’ll come up to the mountains if we are
in the mountains and spend a few days together.
Interviewer: What about do you have any sisters?
Rubenstein: No sisters, just four boys.
Interviewer: Okay. Are there any other aspects of Agudas Achim prior to your
arrival that I haven’t asked you about or that come to mind that we should
talk about? It’s a very vague and general question.
Rubenstein: Agudas Achim was the leading congregation for many, many years in
this city in terms of the Orthodox Jewish community and I would say right after
World War II or from World War II on because the neighborhood was literally
dangerous, the synagogue started to lose its impact. Even as the synagogue
itself was losing its clout if you will, in the community it gave Columbus Jewry
its leadership. The Zionist Organization was a very crucial organization, the
White Paper days of the very beginning of trying to establish a State. Most of
the Presidents of the ZOA came from the Agudas Achim. The ZOA was THE
organization. B’nai B’rith was a very important force and most of the
leadership of B’nai B’rith came from Agudas Achim, the men and then when the
women began, they were also from Agudas Achim. The Hebrew School certainly
leaned (indistinct). The first breakthrough in terms of giving non-Reform Jews a voice
in the community came from Agudas Achim people. A breakthrough to make this a
representative, democratic community came from the leadership of Agudas Achim.
Interviewer: You mean in terms of the Federation?
Rubenstein: Federation, the Welfare Federation to make it a representative
body rather than a self- perpetuating, self-appointed group.
Interviewer: Who were some of those individuals that first broke through?
Rubenstein: Harry Gilbert was one of the major forces.
Interviewer: How were the relationships, either rabbinical or lay, between
Agudas Achim and the Reform congregation in town?
Rubenstein: I would imagine prior to my coming in the 30s there was a
cleavage because we had two clubs. You had, the Reform Temple had the Winding
Hollow Country Club and then there was the Excelsior Club which the so-called
traditional Jews went to, the non-Reform Jews went to.
Interviewer: So these clearly differentiated?
Rubenstein: Oh yes, oh yes. You had to belong to Temple Israel, to either
their Brotherhood or the Congregation itself to be a member of the Winding
Hollow Country Club.
Interviewer: And the Excelsior Club was…
Rubenstein: Was for the traditional Jews, where they came and bathing,
swimming, other activities, social, recreational or where the Orthodox element
felt they wanted to go to have someplace. The Reform Jews went there,
they went here. As far as the rabbis are concerned, I think it was with my
arrival and Folkman’s arrival that there became a very harmonious type of
relationship among the rabbis. I do not believe that my predecessor and Folkman’s
predecessors had much in common. But it was Folkman who opened the door. I say
this quite candidly, tried to be friendly, was friendly and of course when I
came there was no question because I had grown up in that type of atmosphere.
Wherever I was at I was a member of the rabbinical mixed group so. But Folkman
deserves the credit.
Interviewer: …which…to me because that is really where we
begin when we look at the last 25 years. Thank you.
* * *
Editor’s note: Winding Hollow required that prospective members belong to a
synagogue before joining the Country Club. It was not specifically necessary to
be a member of Temple Israel.
Rabbi Greenwald came to Columbus prior to Rabbi Rubenstein’s arrival.