Interviewer: Good morning, Rhea. Let’s start at the beginning. Are you a
Kaplan: Yes I am. I was born here.
Interviewer: Do you mind telling us when you were born?
Kaplan: I don’t mind. I was born October 22, 1918.
Interviewer: Were your parents born in Columbus also?
Kaplan: No. My parents were from Europe.
Kaplan: My father was born in Yassy, Roumania. My mother was born in
Birdechiff, Russia. I know that my father was brought up in Sofia, Roumania,
which is now Bulgaria.
Interviewer: And were they married when they came to this . . . .
Kaplan: No they were not. They met in Columbus, Ohio, and were married here.
Interviewer: So they came separately?
Kaplan: Oh yes. They didn’t know each other. That’s right.
Interviewer: And what was your father’s name?
Kaplan: Sigmund Ornstein, O-R-N-S-T-E-I-N.
Interviewer: And your mother?
Kaplan: Louise Pass, P-A-S-S. But she was not really Louise Pass. Her name
was Rachel but when she went to school, the teacher couldn’t understand or
pronounce her name so she called her Louise and she was named Louise.
Interviewer: Very good. And your grandparents were married then when?
Kaplan: My parents were married in Columbus, Ohio. I believe the date was
February 22, 1906.
Interviewer: And were you an only child?
Kaplan: No, I had a brother who was 12 years older than I was.
Interviewer: What was his name?
Kaplan: Martin, M-A-R-T-I-N Ornstein.
Interviewer: And what sort of business was your father in?
Kaplan: That’s a good question because my father came – excuse me if I
ramble, tell me not to.
Interviewer: No, you’re fine.
Kaplan: All right. He realized when he was in Europe that there was no future
for him as a young Jew and so he had a brother in New York. He may have had two
in New York, but he came to New York. I think his birth was October 29, 1880,
and he came to New York, probably in 1900. He came to New York, looked around
and decided that there was too much competition in New York. And he had a
baccalaureate from . . . . Romania or Germany but anyway he did, so what he had,
it wasn’t called a baccalaureate, what was it called? He had the equivalent of
a high school plus two years of college education in Europe which was the
standard high school education in Europe. He needed two more years to complete
his college education here. And he found that Ohio State was the cheapest land
grant university. I think it was $15 a quarter at the time. These of course are
memories that I have but they may be inaccurate. But these are memories that I
have. And so he took a train to Columbus and he walked from Union Station to the
Ohio State University and went to the head of the German Department. He was
fluent in German. (His father was born in Germany.) See this was the strange
thing about my father. He knew so much. And the head of the German Department
said that he could get him jobs tutoring, presumably in German. And so he worked
his way through college and he just took any job he could get and eventually
ended up buying lots of real estate. He established a paint factory. He did
many, many, many things.
Interviewer: When your parents were married, where did they live?
Kaplan: Are you talking about their domicile?
Kaplan: I don’t know their early homes but I was born when they were living
at 451 S. Champion Avenue and lived there until I was 8 years old and then we
moved to Bexley.
Interviewer: Do you remember going to synagogue or temple when you were
Kaplan: Yes I remember going to Temple Israel. My parents belonged to 5
temples and synagogues.
Interviewer: That’s about all that was here wasn’t it?
Kaplan: That’s about all that was here. That’s right. Because my
grandfather was very important in one of the synagogues but I don’t remember
which one. Then my parents had many, many friends at Tifereth Israel. So they
joined that too.
Interviewer: And your grandfather’s name was Mendel Pass? Were you
observant as a family?
Kaplan: Moderately. Until my grandfather, see my grandmother died before I
was born and my grandfather lived with my Aunt Florence who was my mother’s
sister, Florence Lieverman was her name. And my grandfather died, he was hit by
a car when he was out walking. I was very young. And my mother kept kosher up
until that time. Then after that, she did not keep kosher.
Interviewer: Tell me a little bit about your childhood. Where did you go to
Kaplan: I went to CSG and I started out at CSG and I never left CSG until I
graduated from there.
Interviewer: You began in the first grade?
Kaplan: First grade. There were only 2 of us who went through all 12 years at
Interviewer: How did your parents select that school?
Kaplan: Well my father had the old-fashioned European idea of what a young
Jewish girl should have and that was the best. And so he chose CSG and my
brother went to East High School and graduated from East High School and went to
Ohio State University.
Interviewer: Do you remember some of your classmates?
Kaplan: At CSG? Yes I do. I remember, I was the class of 1936. I’ll start
with the Jewish girls first. Regina May Kobacker and Joan Lazarus were my
classmates. The other girls I don’t know that you’d be interested in. Would
you? No? All right. Those two were in my class. Yeah.
Interviewer: And after you graduated from school?
Kaplan: I went to Wellesley.
Interviewer: You went to Wellesley. Why did you select Wellesley?
Kaplan: Because in those days you didn’t get your acceptances until July
and I was at camp in Maine. Acceptances didn’t come early. At CSG, nobody,
they just assumed everybody was going to a woman’s college, an Ivy League
college, so I applied to Bryn Mawr and Wellesley and I didn’t remember, I must
have applied to a third. And I was accepted at them. So when I was at camp, one
of my best friends had just finished her freshman year at Wellesley. Her name
was Phyllis Finkelstein. And Phyllis said, “You know Bryn Mawr had only
about 500 students. You’re not going to meet any Jewish boys and Wellesley is
wonderful.” So I chose Wellesley. Then of course I was delighted and happy
Interviewer: While you were at Wellesley, what did you study?
Kaplan: I was an Economics major which of course was silly because my faculty
advisor was French and he couldn’t speak much English so I couldn’t really
ask him any questions about myself. I should have majored in the arts, either
music or art or some one of those. But I majored in Economics. And I haven’t
Interviewer: But you had an interest in the arts . . . .
Kaplan: Always from the age of 5.
Interviewer: Did you take lessons . . . .
Kaplan: When I was a kid. I studied violin and piano and dance. Yes, all of
Interviewer: Were you a performer?
Kaplan: Not really, no. But when I was in college, the Bennington School of
Dance which was in Bennington, Vermont, held one, their original intent was to
hold alternate years, alternate summer sessions on the West Coast and that
particular year, which was the summer of 1930, let’s see . . . . it would have
been the summer of ’39, they were in Oakland. What is the name of that
college? Mills College in Oakland, California. And so I went out there and
studied dance that summer and majored with Doris Humphrey. And when my parents
came out at the end of the summer, Miss Humphrey said to them, advised them to
take me out of college and send me to New York to study with her. I feel fairly
certain that eventually I would have ended up in her performing group but I didn’t
want to leave Wellesley and I didn’t.
Interviewer: Could you have gone after you finished college?
Kaplan: Well I didn’t. When I was in college I met my husband Maynard and
became engaged after the tenth day. We met on October 1 and by October 10, we
Interviewer: How did you meet him?
Kaplan: A blind date. A very funny blind date. My roommate, my junior year, I
had met a lot of guys and I was by that time dating a lot and early. The first
part of my senior year, my roommate, and I had a classmate named Verna Rudnick
and she lived in Brookline and we always took our overnights at her house. Her
mother was great. And Mrs. Rudnick arranged a blind date for my roommate and for
someone else but Millie and I preferred going out on blind dates together. We
went out on two blind dates so that if we didn’t like the blind dates we had
each other. So we switched off and we got rid of the third party and I went out
in her stead. I think I was supposed to go with her date and she was supposed to
go with my date. But somehow we got mixed up so we ended up with my dating
Maynard on October 1.
Interviewer: Where was he from?
Kaplan: He lived in Salem, Massachusetts.
Interviewer: Where was he going to school?
Kaplan: Oh he was out of school. He had graduated from Brown and Harvard Law
and he was practicing law a little bit but was also managing a travel agency
which belonged to his uncles.
Interviewer: And then you were married?
Kaplan: And then we were marr—, well that’s a sort of pretty long story
but I’ll make it short. My father really had chosen someone else from the
Columbus area for me to marry and he really didn’t want me to marry anyone
else. So Maynard and I eventually eloped in 1941. I graduated in June of ’40
and we eloped January 3, 1941.
Interviewer: So this time was just before the war began?
Kaplan: Yes, well Great Britain had gone to war on September 1, 1939. I think
that’s the correct year and the correct date. And this was at the end of that
year, that summer that I was studying dance at the Bennington School of Dance at
Mills College. And we went, we were traveling. My mother and my father and I
were traveling back from California. We had gone up to the Rockies and to Banff,
Lake Louise and Vancouver and that whole area, Victoria. We started back
immediately since my father was very concerned because Great Britain was at war.
America didn’t go to war until, let’s see, well Pearl Harbor and what date
Interviewer: December ’41.
Kaplan: ’41? Okay All right. Yes. Maynard and I were married. Yes. And
well, he will tell you this when you interview him so I won’t go through this
Interviewer: Okay. So at the time in December ’41 you were living in Salem?
Kaplan: Salem, Massachusetts.
Interviewer: When did you return? First of all, did you have a family? Had
you had children by that time?
Kaplan: No, no. We were married in January, ’41 and lived in Salem for two
years. Then we went to Boulder, Colorado to the Naval Language School. Maynard
learned Japanes and served in Naval Intelligence in Washington until the end of
the war. It wasn’t until after the war was over that we had our family.
Jonathan Kaplan, was born in September of ’47 and Marcie was born in May of
’49, 20 months later.
Interviewer: Had you moved back to Columbus?
Kaplan: Yes we moved back to Columbus before Jon was born.
Interviewer: What precipitated your return?
Kaplan: Oh no, I’m sorry, yes. We came to Columbus after the war.
Interviewer: After the war?
Kaplan: Yes, we were not happy here. We went back to Salem where the children
were born. We lived there until 1951 so we were in Salem from about 1946 until
Interviewer: What prompted your return to Columbus?
Kaplan: Well my father had sizable business interests here and he said,
“Either you,” speaking to my brother and myself and our families,
“come back to Columbus or I’m going to dispose of the business.”
Well you think twice about something like that though we had a marvelously happy
existence in Salem. We had a wonderful circle of friends, all of Boston, the
Boston Symphony, made the arts available. We lived on the North Shore. It was
really an ideal existence but still, one has to be very practical. And so that’s
why we came back and my brother and his family moved from Atlanta.
Interviewer: Your brother was living in Atlanta while you were in . . . .
Kaplan: Yes, yes.
Interviewer: So when you got to Columbus, you had two children now and where
did you live?
Kaplan: First we had a little apartment on East Broad Street for about 4
months. We came in September of 1951 and we bought a little house on North
Cassingham, 270 N. Cassingham, and we lived there until 1960.
Kaplan: Then we moved over to 2625 Powell Avenue which was a block from the
high school. Both moves were ideal. N. Cassingham was across from the Maryland
Avenue Primary School and our second move was ideal because the children could
go to the high school and we were always within walking distance of the schools.
Interviewer: Columbus was a much larger community than Salem.
Kaplan: Oh yes.
Interviewer: Was there a lot of Jewish activity, clubs and had Federation
begun at that point?
Kaplan: Yes to all of that.
Interviewer: And were you active?
Kaplan: I was active in oh Lord, I don’t remember. At some point I became
Chairman of the Women’s Division of the Columbus Jewish Federation and at some
point I was also the Librarian at Temple Israel where I catalogued the entire
library and I was moderately active. I was also active in Hadassah and probably
the Sisterhood but the things I remember were my associations. I remember the
year when I was Chairman of the Women’s Division because that was really a
hard task but one that I was glad to do. Yes, I must have been active in the
Sisterhood because I was Chairman of the Art, we had a fund raiser by having an
art show and sale from the Pucker-Safrai in Boston that handled Israeli art. Oh
Brandeis, became very active in Brandeis. And guess who I was active with?
Interviewer: Remember book sales?
Kaplan: My interviewer. And I remember Renee Levine and I hauling books all
over this city for the Brandeis Book Sale. Before moving to Columbus, I was a
nurse’s aide in the Salem hospital. You know, so many of the nurses had gone
into the army that they used a lot of volunteers. And that was a very
interesting and important part of my life in Salem.
Interviewer: Since you were interested in cultural arts, did you pursue that
interest in Columbus?
Kaplan: Yes I was a member of the Women’s Board of the Columbus Symphony
and active in the Bexley Section. There were many sections and I was active in
that. Yeah I did a lot of work like that. I was also very active in Gallery
Players and acted in their productions and was President of it one year. Did
several shows with the Gallery Players at the Columbus Jewish Community Center.
In fact I came, the second year it was in existence and became active in it
right away. And also was very active in Players Club. That was not a Jewish
organization. In fact when we first came here, Players Club didn’t accept Jews
as members. But then the director died and Roy Bowen, who is still a dear
friend, became the director and Roy was a different mode and he opened it up to
the community and Maynard and I joined and I was in many plays there. I also
participated in Stadium Theater at OSU and in Playhouse on the Green in
Interviewer: What about the Art Gallery?
Kaplan: No, the Art Gallery was closed pretty much until . . . .
Interviewer: . . . .
Kaplan: Yes well that was later on. That was after our children were gone out
of the city. When the, you see all of these groups started with individual
people who wanted to, well I think Players Club started with a group of women
who wanted to read plays. And they just got together to read plays. And then
they decided, well let’s do a play. And eventually of course, acquired the
property on Franklin Avenue which was lovely, it was a great pleasure. In the
beginning, Players Club had no Jews, no African-Americans, no Chinese, no
homosexual members. You know, it was a very insular organization and so was the
Museum. And I don’t remember when the Museum opened up but it did and when it
did and I was then pretty much free and I had the time to become a docent which
was a very intense and time-consuming occupation. There was a year of training
which takes a lot of time for study and then after that, you conduct tours and
you have continuous training so it took at least two full mornings and some
parts of the afternoon out of every week and eventually almost three days and
finally it got to be so burdensome that I had to stop. But I had been a docent
for 13 years.
Interrviewer: That’s a long time.
Interviewer: Have you met any people in Columbus during your stay here since
1951 that have been a big influence in your life, besides your parents?
Kaplan: (Sigh) I can’t answer that question because I can’t think of
anyone who has been. Obviously I’ve had many, many friends who have enriched
my life but I can’t think of anyone who has pushed me on into anything.
Interviewer: Except yourself?
Kaplan: Except myself and my husband. He’s always been, he was very
interested, very much involved with the Federation. He chaired the Community
Relations Committee. And he was also President of Heritage House. You know, he’s
been, he’s done his share.
Interviewer: Heritage House began in the 50s also?
Kaplan: I don’t know. We weren’t here at that time, but I think the
original building was on the NE corner of Woodland and Long Streets, but that
info is probably available. And I don’t remember when Heritage House was built
at its present location. Perhaps in the late 1940s.
Interviewer: It was built in response to a need then?
Kaplan: Oh sure, oh yeah. Everything is built in response to a need. Or
somebody’s desire for ego-enhancement. But this was a need. Yeah.
Interviewer: So in Columbus you had a very wide circle of friends . . . .
Kaplan: Uh huh.
Interviewer: And what particularly did you follow? You followed your
Kaplan: Always. As I, at my age now and I will be 85 next month, I think
almost constantly of the friends we’ve had and the circles we’ve moved in
and how we’re no longer part of those circles. Things change. Things change.
And though always we have found ourselves part of groups that like the arts,
people who like music. Music has been a central part and to a certain degree the
arts and theater. Theater has not been terribly rich in Columbus so that’s a
little harder. And also through our Jewish associations. I find this very
interesting now. I play bridge once a week. And through the years, some of my
closest friends, the people I’ve liked very much, have never belonged to a
single Jewish organization. And this surprises me and I have always felt a
distance between them and myself.
Interviewer: They were Jewish then?
Kaplan: They were Jewish. They never denied their Jewishness and they
remained part of the community in belonging to a Temple, a Temple in my case,
’till their children were confirmed and that was the end of it. And every now
and then I look up a name in the Hadassah membership book and it’s not there.
But I know that I will not find them there. They’d never belong to Hadassah.
They don’t belong to a Temple. They never belonged to B’nai B’rith or the
Council of Jewish Women. And I can’t understand it.
Interviewer: But in your day and my day, when we were housewives and mothers,
that . . . .
Kaplan: That was not the case.
Interviewer: That’s what everyone did.
Kaplan: We all belonged. Yeah. We did.
Interviewer: We had help and we were able to get out.
Kaplan: Yes and also your life was very much dictated by your children. You
know, yes, and even the neighborhood, when we lived on North Cassingham, we knew
all the neighbors because they all had children about the same age and it was
really a very happy situation. When we moved to Powell Avenue, the same thing.
We knew our neighbors. And now that we’ve living here in Lyonsgate, we know
our neighbors but now it’s proximity that brings about the relationship, not
Interviewer: When you were active in Columbus, tell me about, were there
different, from different Temples were there different groups?
Kaplan: . . . .
Interviewer: Were there different parts of society that mixed and others that
Kaplan: Yes I’m sure there were.
Interviewer: Even . . . . when you were . . . .
Kaplan: I wasn’t terribly much aware of that because I went to a private
school and my life revolved about that school and in a minor way, revolved
around my Confirmation Class at Temple but then that was over by the time I was
what, in the tenth grade, something like that? Somewhere around that. At that
time Temple Israel didn’t have bar and bat mitzvahs but they did
have Confirmation. I’m sure that there were very tight social communities
built around the Temples but I don’t think this affected my mother because of
her very intense interest and involvement with Hadassah which was a
cross-community organization. And my father wasn’t involved. He was a very
generous man but he wasn’t involved with volunteer activities. And I wasn’t
in high school. When I came back to live here, our involvement was with the
people who were interested in the same things we were interested in. So it wasn’t
broken down by Temple association or Temple affiliation.
Interviewer: Were you aware of any anti-semitism in Columbus?
Kaplan: Not in Columbus. I was in Salem but not in Columbus. There must have
been anti-semitism here but I never encountered it.
Interviewer: It was a different time also.
Kaplan: It was a different time, yeah. But in Salem after we were married, we
encountered anti-semitism. There was an apartment we wanted to rent. I went to
see it. This was before the war. I went to see the apartment and the agent who
showed it to me. It was a lovely apartment and the rent was right and we agreed
that my husband and I would come back at a certain hour that evening and sign
the papers and do whatever was necessary. It wasn’t until then that he knew
our name. Later he called and he said it had been rented to someone else.
After the war when we went to Salem, we lived in an apartment in a duplex
owned by Maynard’s parents. That’s where you came with your mother to visit.
Interviewer: Well when you were in Columbus and you mentioned the fact that
Jews were not invited to partake in the Art Gallery and the cultural arts of
Columbus, how has that changed?
Kaplan: Oh completely. Completely changed now. The Museum has no bounds. At
least I’ve never experienced any and there were a lot of Jewish women, people
I know, who were docents, very active in the Museum. And the same thing with the
Players Club. Now the Symphony I don’t recall.
Interviewer: Do you remember Izler Solomon?
Kaplan: I do and I want to thank you for bringing that up because he, you
know so many of these things but you don’t know the absolute truth. But it was
generally believed that he was dismissed because of anti-semitism in the
community. And he led a wonderful orchestra. Did he go to Buffalo afterwards?
Where did he go? He did get another position right afterwards. And the Columbus
Symphony just became ghastly after that. It was deadly for many years until Evan
Whalen left. Christian Bodca was our next conductor. He created an excellent
orchestra but his relationship with everyone involved was terrible. And then he
was dismissed and then Siciliani, Maestro Siciliani, came and has given us a
wonderful orchestra. And I don’t know why he’s leaving and I wish he weren’t.
Interviewer: Do you think any of this, the change-over, was for financial
reasons? They didn’t have the support of the Jewish community before and now
Kaplan: Possibly. The Wolfe’s really kind of ran the town and they really
didn’t have any great interest in the cultural arts. I never remember their
names being associated with the arts. And when you go to cities like Detroit and
Toledo where they have fabulous museums, these museums were developed by people
who had money, lots of money. But in Columbus, it was not the case. Our museum
has always been very good, and very solid, but small. But you can’t compare it
to places like Toledo and Detroit.
Interviewer: What do you see for the future of the Columbus Jewish community
now that so many of the women now work and we have a lot of professionals doing
jobs that volunteers used to do? How do you feel about that?
Kaplan: I don’t know. I’m trying to remember. Well it was Brandeis I
think that really folded because the leadership became professional workers and
I think that’s the reason it fell by the wayside. And I notice it’s very
active in Florida. But then after all the people who are going down to Florida
are retired. They’re not professionals and they have time on their hands and
they do have some money.
Interviewer: I was referring to the professional leadership.
Kaplan: Oh you mean like the Federation and things of that sort? I don’t
really know, Renee, because I’m not involved in that any longer. I’m not
involved in any volunteer activities. Our Temple started something that I loved
and that was about seven years ago. Our Temple did start a mentoring program.
They didn’t call it mentoring. They called it tutoring to help children learn
to read. I think about three years ago tutoring turned into mentoring. And I
signed up for that in the beginning.
Interviewer: Who were they tutoring?
Kaplan: The children in the Main Street Elementary School, eleven-year-olds,
about 5th graders. And I did that for 4 years. The first year I didn’t think
it was very effective so the second and third year I asked if I could come in
independent of the group on Wednesday mornings. They were coming in at l:00 in
the afternoon or 2:00 and it just wrecked the whole day. And they came as a
group and had all these kids in one big room. For the second and third years, I
had a wonderful time. I had two children, an hour each, once a week. Really we
bonded. I really think they learned and they were wonderful associations. But
then the 4th year the teacher felt as though she just wanted to sort of get rid
of me. And every time I’d come in she’d give me a different child. So it
didn’t work. By that time Maynard and I were older and our daily needs were
differen and it wasn’t working, so I gave it up.
Interviewer: So there are some rewards to volunteerism which people aren’t
Kaplan: Oh please. I think it’s pathetic. If you have the money, or if you
have the security of finances, giving your time, I don’t think it’s . . . .
Well I can understand a woman being driven to become a doctor, you know. Or
maybe in science or in the arts, or maybe a woman who sculpts, paints, or do
something. But so many of them just feel as though they’re obliged to have a
job. Now I really don’t know because none of my generation did.
Interviewer: Is there anything that you’d like to add before we . . . .
Kaplan: Good heavens. I’ve been going forever.
Interviewer: Keep going. We have . . . .
Kaplan: No I don’t. I can’t think of anything. You’ve jogged my memory
about these things, a lot of things I’d actually forgotten. But I think it’s
interesting now that Maynard and I have decided that we should assess the stage
of our lives. He is 90 and I will be 85 and things have got to go downhill from
here. We know that.
And also we’ve learned by watching our friends who have refused to make
adjustments and those who finally had to make an adjustment, to make a change in
their living style and found that they sacrificed a great deal because they didn’t
have time to dispose of things. And also both of us feel that it’s not fair to
have our children have all of this stuff plunked in their laps when they’re
not here. If they were here it would be different. But they’re not. They live
in Atlanta. They live in Boston. And they can’t give up months and weeks of
their lives to dispose of things. So we’ve made the decision to go into
retirement living at Creekside- at-the-Village. Maynard and I don’t talk about
it much but he seems to be just as content as I am and it’s fun because we go
through these things with our kids. What do you want? And we don’t dispose of
anything without checking with them. The latest thing is the ladder in the
garage and the stock pot, soup stock pot. But it’s fun.
Interviewer: The interesting thing is that it’s the Jewish community who is
allowing you a space to move to that you . . . .
Kaplan: You know, one of our friends, a young man who is the son of very dear
friends, said to us, “You know there are a lot of retirement facilities all
over town.” But we said, “Yes but we want to stay close to
Bexley.” First of all, we’ve lived here for so many years. All the
tradespeople know us and they’re very nice to us. We go to concerts something
like 20 to 30 concerts downtown. We’re 10 minutes from downtown. We’re 7
minutes from the airport. Why should we move to New Albany or move to Dublin?
This would be insane. If we want to just walk over to the synagogue, it will be
right next door to Creekside. If we want to go see a play at the Center, it’s
right next door. And so, and we didn’t even have to think about it. It just
happened. And we’re very content with it.
Interviewer: That’s wonderful.
Kaplan: It is quite wonderful. Yeah, it is quite wonderful.
Interviewer: You can do things now while you’re able to do things.
Kaplan: Yeah, right.
Interviewer: Well thank you very much Rhea.
Kaplan: You’re welcome. Thank you for listening.
Interviewer: I’ll be glad to come back and we can do it again.
Kaplan: You just want a free lunch.
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Transcribed by Honey Abramson