This is Bill Cohen for the Columbus Jewish Historical Society and we are in the home of Sally Fingerett in Bexley, Ohio and the date is April 13, 2015.
INTERVIEWER: So, Sally, you are not a native Columbus Bexley person. Your beginnings are where?
FINGERETT: I was born and raised on the south side of Chicago in a Jewish neighborhood called South Shore. It’s an interesting neighborhood because it was built in the very early fifties, 1950-1954. Those four years an amazing tract of land was purchased and in a thirty block radius we had three to four shuls, a delicatessen, elementary schools. On my street, Jeffrey Boulevard, three houses away from me was the JCC. Across the street from the JCC was Rodfei Sholom/Or Chadash which was the Conservative synagogue. Next door to the JCC was Marco’s Deli and it was our shtetl. It was the South side shtetl. Now this was put together between 1950-1954. In 1968, the neighborhood started to change and our shul was founded in 1956 and by 1970, fourteen years later all the Jews were gone and the shul closed.
INTERVIEWER: When you were born…
FINGERETT: in 1954,
INTERVIEWER: In 1954, was the whole neighborhood Jewish or, I mean what percent?
FINGERETT: I couldn’t tell you the percentage because I was a child and in 1970 , we moved like all the Jews. All the Jews fled. There was a Diaspora of tremendous proportions. My sister went to Bowen High School in maybe 1964 it was 90 percent Jewish. When I went to Bowen High School in 1968, it was 98 percent Hispanic. I was a freshman homecoming queen. There were about fifty Jewish kids in the school. I could be wrong but it felt like it because no one was left. Nobody was left. Everybody had gone –
Skokie, Highland Park, and that was what happened to that neighborhood.
INTERVIEWER: So, when you were in elementary school and junior and high school, so what do you remember about being a Jew and then your relations with non-Jews? Was it friendly or…
FINGERETT: Oh, yes, very. My next-door neighbor, the Barns family, they were not Jewish. So, of course, Mark got to get out of school on Wednesdays for catechism and privately in the back yard of our homes he told me I was going to hell for not taking Christ as my savior but, in school, he was the minority and growing up it was very much like what Bexley is today or what Eastmoor – Bexley was in the fifties and sixties here. My upbringing, and which is why I love this area of town, is because you know everybody says they want to grow up and escape and then they get married and have kids and they look for a place that is just like what it was when they were growing up and when I first came to Columbus in 1979, I recognized the fact that Columbus had a Jewish community where the continuity and the consistency of its culture and its familial evolution was very much like what Chicago South Shore would have remained and would have been had not the socio-economic changes happened overnight. I’ll tell you what happened. Ernie Banks and Muhammed Alli bought homes in our neighborhood and everybody fled.
INTERVIEWER: Even though they were middle class, upper middle class, they were upper class?!
FINGERETT: Absolutely. Yes, they were. Um-hm. That’s right.
INTERVIEWER: But it wasn’t that Blacks moved in, they were Black, but it was that the Hispanics moved in.
FINGERETT: No, the Hispanics, that, there were these borders you know like any Jewish neighborhood would have and I could be off by a lot, but my recollection is that in some Jewish neighborhoods or Jewish ghettos from like the forties maybe, they’d call it a White Tower where there was this moat bound the Jewish community and different sectors of religions and cultural identities lived and that‘s what it was like on South Shore. We had a tremendous Hispanic community off by Commercial Avenue where is now the Illinois[?] Beltway, the Indiana Beltway from Gary, Indiana to Chicago. And so they started moving in. The Blacks came in from one area, the Hispanics came in from the and the Jews just fled, and overnight. My friends left in 1968. My mother and father said “We’re not going, we’re not going,” and then two years later I was chased by a gang on my way to school in the morning and I came pretty close to having some horrible things happen to me and two weeks later we were gone – boom, gone. They weren’t the Bolsheviks, you know. It was America but my parents did their best to not succumb to the “White Flight” that South Shore is famous for. But, everyone in Chicago, my friends, all went north and we stayed and moved into, actually a non-Jewish neighborhood, a White working class neighborhood that was not Jewish called Calumet City. I went there for two years of high school and I was not allowed to date non-Jews. I didn’t date for two years in high school.
INTERVIEWER: Let’s backtrack a little bit. How did your parents get to Chicago? What’s their background?
FINGERETT: Okay. My mother: my mother’s parents were from [?chestecthaeur], which is, I think, part of Poland, near Lodz, I think. I’m not sure. From my ancestry.com information in the census things that my grandparents signed, every ten years it was someplace else. I think on the day Poland was out of favor they were from Russia and then Russia fell from favor, then they were from Poland. I don’t know, but my grandma and grandpa: Sam Garfinkel came though Galveston, Texas, in 1913. He was twenty-four and then seven years later, Rose Hertzberg came through Portland, Maine in 1920.
INTERVIEWER: Herschberg? Can you spell if for us?
FINGERETT: H-e-r-t-z-b-e-r-g and Garfinkel is G-a-r-f-i-n-k-e-l. And they met in Chicago and they married in Chicago, sometime in the twenties. Now there’s not a lot of records. My grandfather was shot and killed in his store on the South Side of Chicago when he was forty. My mother was seven and my aunt was three months old and then my grandmother Rose died of cancer at the age of thirty-six which was four years after her husband died, so my mother and aunt were in an orphanage, the Drexel Home for Jewish Children, in Hyde Park and my mom was confirmed at KAM [KAM Isaiah Israel] which is across the street from where [President] Obama lives now or did, yeah. So that’s my mother’s side. Between no records, I’ve got one wedding photo and that’s about it. I don’t know what year it’s from that my grandparents married.
My father’s family: my aunt landed in Chicago at the age of sixteen from Vilna and she went to work immediately at Hart Schaffner and Marx in Chicago and she was actually quite an accomplished seamstress to the extent where she was taken from the generic female population of the seamstresses and put on the floor with all men as a joiner which was the department that joined the sleeves to the shoulder pad, shoulder seam up the coat and it was quite a talent. My grandfather, his mother died in childbirth and his father remarried and had more children. Now my grandfather wanted to be an actor and I think his people really kind of came from somewhere in Russia-Poland, settled in Des Moines, Iowa, found their way to Chicago and my grandfather went to all these studios dressed in cowboy clothes ‘cause he took pictures and sent them to Hollywood. He wanted to be an actor. My grandmother and my grandfather married and they had a bakery on Division Street in Chicago. My grandfather drove the truck and my grandmother ran the cash register and spoke Polish to the Poles, Russian to the Russians. I think she spoke Yiddish to everybody else and had four kids in a very small apartment upstairs from the bakery in Chicago.
INTERVIEWER: So, they were bakers.
FINGERETT: Uh, yeah, they hired bakers. They just ran the bakery but they owned the bakery – Fingerett’s Bakery. They gave Fingerett Orange Stamps, like Green Stamps. I have stamps with my name on them.
INTERVIEWER: Wait. Say that again? Explain that?
FINGERETT: Okay. Remember Green Stamps when you would get gifts?
INTERVIEWER: Yes. S & H Green Stamps.
FINGERETT: S & H Green Stamps. My grandparents did that. They gave out Fingerett Stamps.
INTERVIEWER: And with those if you made a purchase you would get some stamps. You’d save up the stamps…
FINGERETT: …and you’d probably just get a cake ‘cause I can’t imagine what you would do with them, but I know that we have sheets of them. They’re orange. I don’t know. Go figure.
INTERVIEWER: Now did they do Jewish, did they do bagels?
FINGERETT: No. They were actually across the street from Rosens Rye Bread. They didn’t horse around with rye bread or bagels. They did wedding cakes, and pastries and beautiful Russian breads and ryes, not American, certain ryes or whatever, but cream horns, things like that.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. So you left Chicago, what year?
FINGERETT: 1979. I was performing in Chicago.
INTERVIEWER: Yes, talk about your, in Chicago, what did you do? You performed. You were a musical performer.
FINGERETT: I am a singer-song-writer, composer and I used to perform on the coffee-house circuit in colleges all around the country, in clubs, festivals, folk festivals, and then I was in an all-female blue-grass band living for a while in Nashville, called The Buffalo Gals and then I returned to Chicago and was performing in bars and then I was introduced to this gentleman named Dan Green who is from Youngstown, Ohio. He had gone to Ohio State. He was living in Columbus. He was in Chicago visiting some friends. We were introduced by mutual friends. We met, fell in love and I followed him back to Columbus. We got married and I’ve been in Columbus since 1979.
INTERVIEWER: And he had a recording studio here.
FINGERETT: Yes, he still does and we were married in ’79 and the divorce was final in 1998 I want to say.
INTERVIEWER: And your daughter was E.J.
FINGERETT: Elizabeth Julian Green, E. J. Green, yes, and we lived in Clintonville and we belonged to Beth Tikvah for her childhood which I loved. It was a wonderful community and she went to Camp Livingston and she went, we were members of the JCC during those years when she was little. She went to JCC camp and actually, for me, personally I felt like I was providing her with the Jewish continuity that I had had. I would have loved to have maybe been able to live on the east side when she was very small but we lived in Clintonville and it wasn’t as if she had a lot of Jewish friends. We felt a little isolated and a little alienated up near the Ohio State campus area and we belonged to the satellite JCC and she went to preschool there but the Jews were so dispersed in Columbus, geographically from Clintonville to Arlington, or Worthington, Westerville, Dublin, Powell. You know to go for a play date was a thirty minute drive and I was accustomed growing up, every house on my block had a house of three to four to five kids stair stepped aged with my brother and sister and I to where we just ran outside and played and I wanted my daughter to have that existence but I was not able to provide that for her.
INTERVIEWER: So you had even then, you had a pretty strong Jewish Identity.
FINGERETT: Totally, very much so.
INTERVIEWER: But you didn’t feel like you kind of had the whole thing fulfilled maybe the way you wanted it.
FINGERETT: My adulthood or my childhood?
INTERVIEWER: Your adulthood.
FINGERETT: You know having married a Jewish man, my first husband was Jewish and we as a family were Jewish and we did the holidays and because we were raising a Jewish child, we were dedicated to that cause. We did everything we could living separate from a neighborhood. We made all the efforts we could to give her a Jewish identity which is very strong. She is committed to marrying a Jewish person. She doesn’t think she could ever really live with a Christmas tree in her home and she knows that she could never ask anyone she loved to give up a Christmas tree so she has to make those choices in advance as it were, but, so, given the fact that we lived in a neighborhood where kids on all sides of our home went to private parochial schools, she went to public school, and then she went to Sunday School at Beth Tikvah, we did the best we could.
INTERVIEWER: Now you are on the east side, living in Bexley. So how did that come about?
FINGERETT: In, it’s a long story and I can abbreviate it but as a divorced person, I really, when I was dating again, I thought I could date anybody. I have my Jewish child, not having any more children so I opened up the playing field and I was dating this one guy, a lawyer in DC and he wasn’t Jewish and it just, he didn’t get my jokes and he didn’t like my cooking, so screw him, so I went on J-Date, a Jewish dating service called J-Date, and I have to tell you, you have to kiss a lot of frogs to find a prince and it was kind of disheartening because dating online, whether you’re Jewish or not, is fraught with discrepancies. I’ll just put it that way and I went on a couple dates and there’s an unspoken grammar among Jewish people, you know. Sure, they liked my jokes, liked my cooking but the guys were just not for me and it was difficult to say “no” for a second date because it was not for me. It was very difficult. It was stress in my life I kind of didn’t need as a single mom so I went off.
INTERVIEWER: You were how old approximately?
FINGERETT: Me? Uh, in 1999/2000? Forty-five/forty-eight. In 2001 my mother became ill and I was down in Florida in 2001 on and off for six months and then she was deathly ill, mortally ill and I was sitting at her bedside and I got an email from J-Date that said “Michael wants to say hello” or something like this and I thought I had taken the page down. I had disabled the internet J-Date page for myself and I clearly had done it wrong so I hadn’t taken it down and here was this guy named Michael and I’m thinking my mother’s dying, my child is in storage with her father which was not exactly the best scenario and I’m in Florida taking care of my father while he takes care of my mother and I can’t get involved in this so I write him. I say, “That’s nice, thank you very much, however you don’t’ want to know me right now. This isn’t really convenient,” and he wrote me back the most amazingly lovely letter, “I’m so sorry” and da da da da da and then I wrote back and then he wrote back and then I wrote back and the next thing I know, while my mother is at the end of her life and she’s pretty much out of it, I’ve got these beautiful emails and I’m communicating with this nice Jewish guy who has two sons and he’s telling me about this and that and it was a lovely diversion from this life cycle event that was horrific. Actually Bill, today is April 13th. Today is our, 2001 April 13th was our first lunch date.
[M: So, it’s our anniversary.]
FINGERETT: Yes, ‘cause we had internetted for weeks and weeks and weeks and I had to come home to Columbus to file my taxes and check in with my daughter and I told Michael that I can’t see you, I’m so busy. He goes, “How ‘bout lunch?” and it was Pesach and so we met for lunch. We sat there and we couldn’t eat, not that we wanted to eat because we were both so nervous but, and then the rest is really mystery and the relationship just took off from there and it was a besheirt. It really was. So we are J-Date success stories. We dated for about almost two years and with my daughter and his two boys and I moved to Bexley in January of 2003. We got married. We bought a house together. His kids were very enmeshed in the east side. They went to Torah Academy up until 6th or 7th grade, each boy and now they were in Bexley in middle school and high school. My daughter was at CAHS. She stayed at public school. I couldn’t’ remove her from her crew.
INTERVIEWER: CAHS, that’s?
FINGERETT: Columbus Alternative High School and so she was at CAHS and she was also at Fort Hayes in art. So she had a nice life. It wasn’t a Jewish life but it was a good life and we moved out here and she got to know Max and Aaron’s friends and their siblings and so she kind of had a taste of living in this really vibrant Jewish community where the kids all knew each other and the kids’ siblings all knew each other and the parents had grown up together and it was just this wonderful generational, what’s the word I’m looking for – the continuity was there and she really dug it. She really liked it. So, even though it was brief, she got to experience living in a neighborhood where the kids on foot could get together and be together.
INTERVIEWER: It was brief because she was going away to college…
FINGERETT: She was a junior in high school.
INTERVIEWER: So, now you’re here on the east side in Bexley. Do you feel more connected to the Jewish community because you’re…
FINGERETT: I feel that I live in the exact same neighborhood I grew up in and the faces have changed. The names are identical. You got Rosen, you got Greenberg, you got Cohen, you got Jacobs, you got Levine. These are the names I grew up with so, I’m in the exact same place. It’s like I never left. I mean I have best friends that I didn’t’ meet ‘til I was in my fifties. They are childhood friends I didn’t meet until I was in my fifties, but they’re the same. They’re sort of placeholders for the children that grew up and moved to Skokie and moved on. Although, I have to say I’m still close with all my South Shore girlfriends. There’s about fifteen of us. None of us went to high school together. None of us went to college together but we remained friends and to this day we’re still in touch. We have our own South Shore reunions, 8th grade graduation reunions that we put on by ourselves, about 150 kids come, Jewish kids.
INTERVIEWER: Now you have a lot of non-Jewish friends here in Bexley and Columbus.
INTERVIEWER: You’re active in the general community.
FINGERETT: Yeah, it’s funny ‘cause my growing up was so sheltered and so Jewish that I must have been nineteen before I knew that there were all these grey areas – like Presbyterian and Lutheran and Methodist and all that. I thought you were Jewish or you were Catholic. I really had no clue, all those Catholic-like whatever. I didn’t know and now I do, but yeah, I’m no longer sheltered.
INTERVIEWER: Now you are a singer-songwriter and a performer. We’ll get in to the Jewish angle of that a little later but talk a little bit about your performing history as a member of the Bitchin’ Babes and as a solo performer. What have you done with that over the years?
FINGERETT: Well I have to say that as far as being Jewish, it had my identity, my cultural identity irregardless of my religion and my traditional identity all got put on a back-burner when we moved before my junior year of high school. There was no JCC in Calumet City. There was no shul we belonged to in Calumet City. It went to nothing. It went from full-tilt shtetl life in a contemporary assimilated Jewish community to zero, to nothing to ham sandwiches and milk in the lunch room at a high school where everyone was blond and blue-eyed and Lutheran and I didn’t even know what that meant. So, after high school when I moved into the city again to Rogers Park in Chicago which was at that time where all the good delis and the Habonim Zionist organizational buildings were – you know, it was all there, so I moved back into the Jewish community, but I’ll say this, in 1978 I moved to Nashville and I made my living in bluegrass and outside of Andy Statman and David Bromberg and Bella Fleck now but then, no Jews in bluegrass in 1978, and I actually worked in a deli behind the counter as a day job and somebody walked in and asked for mayonnaise on their corned beef. I said, “I’m sorry, I can’t do that,” and I quit. I left. I walked out. I said “I cannot be here. I cannot participate and this is a shanda,” and frankly, you couldn’t find a kosher hotdog in all of Nashville back then and I moved back to Chicago. I said, “That’s it,” but irregardless, when I was living in Nashville, working in this band, we played in Alabama, Louisiana, we were all over the South in the most rural communities for folk festivals and bluegrass festivals and I never said I was… people, well I looked Jewish, but Fingerett, not so much. So, I spent my time pretending and not celebrating and just trying not to, you know, not…can I tell a story? This is a true story. This was a good one for the readers to read. When the Bitchin’ first were in 1990,
INTERVIEWER: This is the group of singer-songwriters, four of you who do an ensemble concert tour.
FINGERETT: It was, yes, we are four composers, all performing our own original material. We were musicians who played our own instruments, we wrote our own songs, we sang. It was in the round on stage and this was – I left the Buffalo Gals which was a bluegrass band in ’78, ’79, come to Columbus, it’s like 1980, get married, have the baby in ’86. 1990 I join this Bitchin’ Babe group. Julie Gold is in the group. Julie Gold is Jewish. She’s from Philadelphia. She was living in New York. She still does. Julie Gold wrote a song called From a Distance and it actually won a Grammy for Song of the Year for 1992. So, Julie and I and the two other Bitchin’ Babes are traveling down to Tennessee to perform and we all have to go to the restroom and so we pulled off the highway in a town called Oodlewha, Tennessee, O-o-d-l-e-w-h-a. Oodlewha, Tennessee. I think that’s how you spell it and we went to a Waffle House to go to the bathroom. Well, Julie is very timid and very shy and didn’t feel comfortable going in and using the restroom without buying something. So, we all go in and Julie is also, had never really been south of like Trenton, New Jersey and she says, “I’m scared, I’m scared I’m gonna’ end up hanging from the old oak tree.” That‘s what she said. I said, “Julie, they don’t do that anymore, and we’re Jewish besides, c’mon, and besides our noses no one’s gonna’ know. “ So we go into the Waffle House and as soon as we walk in the door, the guy behind the fry counter looks at us and says, “Hey Ladies, how ya’ doing?” to paraphrase a Southern accent, and he says, “We’re having a Bible conference here in Oodlewha and you win a free iced tea if you can answer this question,” and so, the two other Babes are Irish Catholics, Megan McDonough and Christine Lavin. So, he asks Christine Lavin who baptized Christ? She says the answer. She gets a free iced tea. Megan McDonough – P.S. Both of these girls are one of nine Irish Catholic children – and they ask Megan McDonough who baptized Christ. She answers the question, moves on, gets a free iced tea. Julie’s next and they won’t let us pass until they answer the question. You can’t go into the restaurant and Julie is forced to say “I’m Jewish. I don’t know the answer” and she was so scared she was almost in… so she kind of like pushes her way through him and then just goes to the bathroom, and I was born on Christmas, so, I kind of knew, well, John the Baptist is who baptized Christ. It’s just the whole Baptist word I thought that kind of fit. So, anyway, but that was the beginning for me of really getting that I was comfortable in all circumstances, in all parts of the country, with all kinds of people, whereas Julie had been this very sheltered Philadelphia Jewish girl that living in New York and she really was a foreigner to this life and I didn’t know what it was I could have been like had it not been for music who took me out of my shtetl and put me in the rest of the planet and to see what the world was like and I mean yeah, back then I’ve had people say, “ Oh, you’re Jewish? I have some Jewish friends.” You know, I’ve been through that. I’ve been checked for horns, sure, but it’s just everybody’s got their own world and their own life and nobody really cares about mine. That’s fine.
INTERVIEWER: That is a great story. So, you’ve toured all over the country with the Bitchin’ Babes and just for people who don’t know much about them, just tell us a little about, I don’t know, how many places you’ve been, what kinds of places you sing at.
FINGERETT: Well, we play…the Four Bitchin’ Babes has been around since 1990. I’m one of the original members and I’m actually the last original member.
INTERVIEWER: Because you keep changing personnel…
FINGERETT: Yeah, everyone, you know people would, they had solos careers, they had records, they got married, had families, whatever, so, I endured and stayed with it and we perform in performing art centers like in LA we performed at Wadsworth Theater at UCLA, the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco, the Bottom Line in New York, Kravis Center in West Palm Beach, Sanders Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts at Harvard, Center East in Skokie in Chicago, all over the country, all over the country, from Vancouver to Edmonton, to Winnipeg, to Toronto, to New York, to Florida, to San Diego, and everywhere in between, everywhere, Hawaii, Alaska..
INTERVIEWER: So you do these live performances. You’ve also put out several cds.
FINGERETT: We have nine recordings over twenty-five years. I also have five solo recordings and I’m just getting ready to release my sixth recording and my new book.
INTERVIEWER: We’re going to talk about that in just a little bit but I just want to talk a little more about the Babes.
INTERVIEWER: So, the kind of songs that you do with…
INTERVIEWER: And what’s the subject, what’s the thrust?
FINGERETT: Well, the Babes, the wheel got invented, the wheel was invented on its own. If someone had said twenty-five years ago that I would be in a group that sang comedy songs about women’s life and relate to women songs that are poignant yet funny, yet real, I would, you can’t invent that. It just happened, really it just happened. We were very lucky. The four women who started the group had four different lives. I was married with one child and a husband at the time. One gal was engaged and getting married. One gal was a Lesbian. One gal was sort of devoted urban single sophisticate and we all wrote songs about our lives and because our lives were uniquely different, the material presented as different and we attracted multi-generational, multi-cultural audiences based on the material and consistently through those years, through twenty-five years, our self-images were always different. Our personal lives were different so our material attracted different types of audiences. One woman, I love this, she said the Four Bitchin Babes as far as their songs go, it’s every role a woman plays, set to music and that’s who the Babes are and we, yeah we harmonize behind each other. We play instruments behind each other. I like to look at the group where it’s as if we’re this velvet blazer and every gal gets a chance to be the diamond brooch and so she steps up to the mic. She’s the diamond brooch. It’s her turn and the three of us are the velvet lapel and then it’s the next girl’s turn to be the brooch and then those leftover three become the velvet lapel and so it’s an evening of that where everyone, we share as a team helping everyone attain their greater goodness and talent and celebrate whatever it is they’re performing and singing.
INTERVIEWER: Now, in recent years, you’ve always done solo work also, but in recent years you’re starting at this point to do more with a Jewish thrust.
FINGERETT: It’s funny, yeah, because and this would be, I guess, the quintessential issue in my life as a performer. I was always the Jew-y one standing with…Julie Gold was in the group just one year and so it was always three shiksa g-ddesses and me and so I couldn’t deny who I was. I couldn’t hide, for G-d’s sakes, I couldn’t hide who I was. That’s the flavor that I am and so about in 2001 or 2003, I was thinking of leaving the Babes after my mother died and I had this idea to do a one-woman show. I actually did something at the JCC here in 1997. I think it was called It’s a Crazy World But Where Else Would We Live? and I subtitled My Big Fat Jewish Thighs’ Experience and that’s how Mental Yentl came into view.
INTERVIEWER: Mental Yentl being…
FINGERETT: …the name of my new show/book and cd and what that’s about, the book, is after twenty-five years of touring theaters with the Babes, all the shtick that I’ve written for the stage to introduce the songs that are thematic and theatrical, they’re not folk songs, they’re theater pieces, cabaret pieces, so all the shtick about what inspired the song to come into view, fruition, those stories needed to be fleshed out and so, I spent the past two or three years taking all my notes from all my performing in writing these stories, and then in the book you’ll see these essays and these stories and then at the end of each essay or story will be the lyric to the song that it inspired and then the cd is the companion to the book and it is the actual thirty-four songs from these forty four stories, and what really motivated me in these last coming years was the Babes were asked to do a holiday show and we called it Jingle Babes which is ridiculous and then I said, “Guys, if I’m in it, we have to have some Jew-y stuff, just have to.” So, in our marketing materials, there’s a photograph of the four of us, the back of our heads. It’s three girls wearing Santa hats and then I’m wearing that menorah hat from the catalogue of Everything Jewish. It’s a soft plush pile blue menorah with a little white…and I’m wearing a menorah on my head and it’s called Jingle Babes, Evening of Shared Musical Tradition and the girls, I wrote a new version of the “Dreidel Song.” I do my song “Jewish Kid Born on Christmas Day Talking Blues.” I do an instrumental rendition of “Hatikvah” and “My Yiddishe Mama,” on piano, very new age, and the girls, you know, they do their Christmas stuff, but it’ s all comedy, bit it is a really lovely look at both sides of that spectrum of December. So, I thought, you know, there’s a lot of people out there that I’ve performed to over these past twenty-five years that know my music. They know me but they’re curious about Jewish stuff so I thought I’m gonna’ write primer and in this book I have a glossary. Not every Yiddish word, but every Yiddish word I use in my book is in the glossary, you know, so, I think actually in the book, we put lots of words, you know if it’s a Yiddish word we put it in italics so like yutz, or shpilkes or kishkes, or things like that, you know it’s in the glossary and I think for zoftik, I put “a lovely, kind way of saying overweight in a sexy way but be careful we’re not there yet.”
INTERVIEWER: With the Babes over the years you’ve often played up your Jewishness, your comedy
FINGERETT: I can’t help it. I think that when you have been raised in my skin – I’m not a New York Jew, I’m a Chicago Jew, which is like a New York Jew with” a parking space is what it is. So, I’m ethnic-y and people always say to me, “Are you from New York?” I say, “No I’m from Chicago. It’s Midwest,” but, so, there’s no denying I’m ethnic and no one ever said, “Are you Jewish?” but they just know I’m a little different than the three Irish girls that are standing next to me with blond hair and blue eyes and no wacky hand movements in any way. You know, I’m the only one who’s talking wither hands onstage. We’re really… in the cheap seats no one can see your hands. You just look like you’re flailing around, but, so, yeah.
INTERVIEWER: So, you feel…
FINGERETT: I just need to be onstage as me, a Jewish girl, a nice Jewish girl who needs to make sense of a lot of craziness. That’s what Mental Yentl.. Yentl, of course, everyone knows was the name of Isaac Basheva Singer’s book, story Yentl the Yeshiva Boy where, in the movie, Barbra Streisand [plays]wants to be a boy who can study the Torahs because as women were not allowed back then at the turn of the century, so to me, Yentl can be a term for any woman who wants to learn more and hold close to her soul things that are just important to her, a Yentl, and because my mother was, unfortunately didn‘t survive her childhood very well, and was diagnosed as a manic depressive when I was eighteen after being undiagnosed for my entire life, I really kind of sat at the foot of a crazy master. I loved her. I did the best I could to understand her which was difficult and she didn’t come to her life with a lot of culture and traditions because she was an orphan and it’s interesting that a lot of European Holocaust survivors have their story but then there’s this American dream gone awry story that my mother had, you know the child of violence. Her father was shot and killed on the streets of America in 1931 and then her mother died of cancer, but you know, the American dream was very short-lived for my mother’s family and then she tried to replicate the existence that she saw her friends having, you know, assimilating, having a tract house in the fifties and raising children, and Hebrew school, bar mitzvahs and all that and she just was so emotionally damaged. Life caught up with her when she had three kids in a small house. It just, she just sort of tipped over sideways. So, I was her care provider. I was the Baby 3, the designated daughter who took care of my mother with my father. They moved here to Columbus when my father retired because I could handle her and so, as an artist, I, my view-finder with which I create is through a view-finder of someone, you know, my vision was skewed because my view-finder was set on sort of wacky stuff. My life was not, I was on the outside a lot of times with this upbringing. So.
INTERVIEWER: You use the word crazy a lot. In your book and so forth, you’re examining crazy.
FINGERETT: Well, that’s it. Mental Yentl is, I’m a life-long student of crazy, so, the book is stories from a life-long student of crazy. The cd are songs from a life-long student of crazy and actually the show is going to be called the Mental Yentl Musical Review, but I think that a lot of us, a lot of women my age, our generation, our parents were first generation Americans or they were the adult children of Holocaust survivors and so their whole view of America, their whole view of assimilation, their whole view of carrying on tradition is different than our generation. You know, we take their lessons and then we take what we want and then we take our own peer pressure and we take our own needs and then we make a life for our children and a lot of us return back to what we were taught and some of us don’t. Some of us move forward in a different direction altogether but that’s what Conservative, Orthodox and Reform is for.
INTERVIEWER: Now these interviews that we do like the one we’re doing with you now is to give people a picture of the Columbus Jewish community and you, even though you were a transplant, you are now a very vibrant member of that community. Do you feel like you are a part of…
FINGERETT: Um, I have to say this. Let me tell you and Bill you’ll relate to this. You’re from here, okay but your wife is not. All right. Randi and I met when Elizabeth was like a year old. My daughter was a year old or so, so it was before Hannah was born, your daughter and because she and I both had no family here, we both married, well, my second husband here, is like, his mother’s the mayor. I mean, she’s from here, her father was from here. I mean, generationally, Michael Stan’s family, they know everybody. Maisie’s friend’s children played with her children and it was just like the South Side and yet I come unattached. I have no legacy. If I look back, I’m at the head of my table because there’s nobody left from my side but I married in to this dynasty where his parents are 90 and 89 and our Passovers are twenty-two people sit-down, just immediate family it’s so large. So I think what happens to a lot of people in Columbus, for those of us who came her without family, we banded together and became extended family and there are cities where that happens and there are cities where, I’m sure it happens everywhere. I’m sure it happens everywhere but I think for me now I’m part of a family and the friends that I had in Clintonville and some of the friends that I had during the years I was a single mother, they were my family then and I’ve had a hard time balancing my life between my extended family, the family that I’m a daughter-in-law in because that’s such a huge family – cousins and aunts and siblings and all that and spouses and their kids. So, I loved, when I belonged to Beth Tikvah, I think a huge, there was some statistic, first of all, I think 90 % at the time, were Jews that were not from here. We all longed for family and we clung together. Now it’s different for me because now I’m in the thick of it.
INTERVIEWER: You’re in the thick of it. You are part of the Jewish community, a very contributing part…
FINGERETT: I wish I could contribute more. My work, you know, people get in the car, they go to work every day. I get on a plane I go to work every day. I’m out. I’m gone and I seem to be not in the mind’s eye when it comes to certain events. I don’t hear about it. I’m just out of it and I’m looking when I retire I’ll be more active, but I do have to say, and this is not a negative – dot, dot, dot – but when I get together with my husband’s family and they sit and they talk about all these Bexley people, I glaze over. I have no idea who they are and I don’t know who they’re talking about – this one’s kid and this one got married and there’s a bar mitzvah and here’s a bris, and this one got a new job and this one got married – I don’t know who these people are and I listen ‘cause I’m just, I’m here and I think it’s sort of like I’m an immigrant in this new area and I will assimilate and I will learn who these people are and I will learn to remember their names actually so I’ll stop asking, “Who’re we talking about now?” Who’s that person? Did I meet them?” ‘cause they have to get tired of me asking.
INTERVIEWER: Are there any institutions in Columbus that now are important in your life?
FINGERETT: All of them. The JCC, I have to tell you when, there was a time in my first marriage, my daughter was three years old. Things were very hard for us financially and I think it was Nancy Rosen at the JCC? I mean I could not afford membership, I couldn’t afford preschool, you know, I had to work, I had no family, I had no one to help me, you know I had to pay for… I didn’t have a mother or a sister, I couldn’t drop the kids off anywhere. This was tough. I think it was Nancy Rosen who gave me the scholarship to help me out and then in 1997, when I was getting divorced, I did a concert at the JCC, a big, big, big benefit for the Ellman Center school in the area of education and it was really my opportunity to give back. I mean I just worked for free and it was a big show in the Gallery Players
INTERVIEWER: …the theater.
FINGERETT: Yeah, and it was fun. I had a great time. I hired the musicians to work behind me and lovingly did it because I was so grateful. I was so grateful to Nancy Rosen for what she was able to do for me during those tough years and I am often asked to perform at benefits and I have to be, of course, judicious ‘cause I am making a living and all that, but when I retire and I can I’d love to be more active.
INTERVIEWER: Any other Jewish institutions in particular that might be, I don’t know was Martin’s still around a few years ago when you were around or…
FINGERETT: I remember Martin’s.
INTERVIEWER: Any other businesses like that?
FINGERETT: Oh, there’s Block’s, but Martin’s? In Clintonville, I grocery shopped in Clintonville. East side, I had friends out here, but no, I was a North-sider.
INTERVIEWER: The JCC really is…
FINGERETT: But I traveled out for the JCC. In summertime there was a bus that picked up the kids at the Satellite J on Sawmill and Bethel and then sometimes I’d come out and pick her up here, but, no, I was not an East-sider until 2003 and she was already sixteen and seventeen. She was seventeen in 2003.
INTERVIEWER: You wrote a song called “Home is Where the Heart Is.” It’s just one of dozens and dozens of songs you’ve written but that was a song that was pretty prominent. Talk about that a little bit.
FINGERETT: Well, in 1994, I was still married to my first husband and I had come down with some virus that left me with paralyzed vocal cords. For a year I couldn’t talk. I had no sound whatsoever and I was out of work and I had written a song when Elizabeth was four years old in 1990 called “Home Is Where the Heart Is,” and it was about the people in our neighborhood in Clintonville. It was a very diverse, domestically diverse area of gays and lesbians and you know raising a conscientious, spiritual citizen of the planet child, I had a very difficult time explaining what’s up with the two mommies or the two daddies and I wrote this song. In 1994 when I was sick and couldn’t’ sing, Christine Lavin, the founding member of the Four Bitchin’ Babes gave my song to Peter Paul and Mary and being social activists that they were, they recorded it in 1995 for their Lifeline cd and they also performed it in their PBS special. So, for me personally, it was an opportunity to be validated as an artist even though I possibly would never sing again, so, I felt like I’m a writer, a good song-writer. I was validated. I got paid. It paid for my divorce in 1996 so, it was besheirt, it worked out, but it gave me some strength. It gave me inner strength to just keep moving and keep chugging and after a year, my voice came back. It was a virus and it passed and I was okay. Funny, I had to return to Nashville for some rehab at a vocal clinic at the big Vanderbilt Voice Center which is huge and very well respected and I went in to that deli that I’d worked at it was like now a real deli. You know, they obviously put some money in and I don’t think anybody was putting mayonnaise on their corned beef then by 1995/6. So, anyway, but yeah so I think after that experience of Peter Paul and Mary, also I have another song. I don’t think I ever told you this, Bill. I came home from a tour once and there was a message on my phone from All Girl Productions and because Holly Near and Ronnie Gilbert had also recorded “Home Is Where the Heart Is,” I thought it was Holly Near’s production company and it was Bette Midler’s production company and she wanted the sheet music to my song called “The Return” that I’d written in probably 1989 and it blew my mind and I did and her album was being produced by Arif Mardin and I sent the sheet music and the way the music industry works is, you know, you record like twenty songs and then they pick twelve and so it didn’t get chosen, but I thought, hmm, I can live in Columbus, Ohio and still have a career. This is pretty sweet ‘cause I love it here.
INTERVIEWER: Do you attribute anything from being raised Jewish that is linked to your creativity as a musician?
FINGERETT: My father was a violinist and he gave up his dreams of sitting in the Chicago Civic Orchestra to be an accountant to take care of us and being little he would play the violin in the hallway in between our bedrooms every night and we listened to him play the violin as we’d go to sleep. To this day I hear a violin solo my eyes cloud, but it was always, you know, sort of like we had our own little Fiddler on the Roof in the house and, I think, it was, I was always in choir at shul and I sang and I don’t really know what the Jewish influence in my music is other than I’m a journalistic artist who writes about what’s real in my life and what’s real in my life is my Jewish identity. I’m not a political person. Really, I’m a humanist and I would write about the people around me no matter what they are, but for me personally, my view is a Jewish view. It’s a tzedaka view, it’s a tribal view, it is a family-at-the-table view…
INTERVIEWER: And you’ve written a song about being a family at a table.
INTERVIEWER: You’ve also written a song, a very moving song called “Faces On My Wall” which has a Jewish feel to it. Talk about that.
FINGERETT: Oh, it’s very Jewish.
INTERVIEWER: Talk about that.
FINGERETT: Two things that inspired that song is that when my mother died my father wanted me to take the photographs home and we’re going through and actually there’s those, and actually, the two pictures on my wall, going through the photographs, my mother had only two large framed oval pictures, studio shots from the twenties of her mother and father in their wedding dress, in the wedding garb, and then there’s a photo of my grandmother and my mother as about a four year old, the two of them and that’s it and when I saw them, I’d seen them once as a little girl and then never again and I forgot about them until I saw them when I’m cleaning out the house after my mother died. My dad was going to down-size and I looked at the frames and they were disgusting, you know they were fifty, sixty years old, seventy years old, eighty years old – who knows? Yeah, eighty years old and I told my dad, I said, “Dad, I’m going to take the backs off. I’ll reframe these but I gotta, this is creepy ,moldy, icky,” and I took the photos out of the frames and outcome more photos and we looked at them and I said, “ Daddy, who are these people?” and he said, “ I couldn’t’ tell ya.” So, we, and my mother was gone and you know what? She probably didn’t know. She probably carried these two frames in the orphanage, out of the orphanage, through her life married and never knowing who those people were. So, side-bar, Cheryl and Jackie Jacobs who live here in Columbus -they’re also from out of town – Jackie’s mother was a Holocaust survivor and I heard the story of their son being very small asking his grandmother about the number on her arm and she said, “ Aw, it’s my telephone number.” And then he saw the movie The Sound of Music and he says to his grandmother, I think he called her, what did he call her? It’s Dutch for grandma. I forget what it is. Anyway, he says, “You know Grandma, I know what that is. That’s not your telephone number that’s from the Snazis –S-n-a-z-i-s – Snazis, and to me that’s a very endearing story and I know that in 1967 when my sister went to college in Israel, my mother, she found family for my mother. My mother got on a plane to Israel with three days’ notice to meet her uncles for the first time that she didn’t know she had and those stories I heard later in life. So, my father wanted me to have all these photographs of the 1967 Israel pictures, and then these two framed photos of my mother’s mother and father, along with all these people I had no idea who they were. He said, “Just take them home.” So, I brought them all home. I don’t know what to do with them, and I just wrote this song ‘cause I was really kind of curious. You know, “To these faces on my wall, I long to know you. I long to learn about your life, about your husband, about your wife and your children, what were they like? Were they like me?” And the whole song is about our American experience with the family members. If we don’t pay attention to who these people are, they will no longer exist. What do we say? People live in our memory and you honor them and bless them by having them and saying their name out loud every year on a yahrzeit and how can you do that when you don’t know their name? And that’s what this song is about.
INTERVIEWER: We’ve talked about a lot of things here. Is there anything we haven’t mentioned here about your life, especially your life in Columbus, your Jewish life in Columbus, the Jewish community, anything you’d want to talk about or anything you want to leave us with?
FINGERETT: Hmm. Deep. I feel bad for that person who is transcribing because this was a lot.
[Transcriber’s note: I have thoroughly enjoyed every word.]
INTERVIEWER: I think you’ve said many things that really…
FINGERETT: Well, I couldn’t understand who’d be interested in my story because it doesn’t begin in Columbus and yet I have a story that begins in Columbus. It might not be the same length but when you talk about a diaspora, I talk about that word and I pronounce it differently each time, it has to start somewhere and my daughter’s history is here. Mine is not but my creation of her history is here and she will always be from Columbus, Ohio, and much like my grandparents were from a foreign country, her grandparents were from Chicago. It’s not a foreign country but it certainly is someplace else and I think that’s what a diaspora is. It’s a someplace else and so our story starts here. My story could possibly end in Columbus. Her story started here but her story could end somewhere else. As long as she’s Jewish, she can have her story go anywhere, as long as she takes her Judaism with her when she goes.
INTERVIEWER: But even though your story, your Jewish story didn’t start in Columbus you’re in Columbus now and you are making history in Columbus.
FINGERETT: I have built my life here. I have created a life here and I love Columbus. I came here in 1979 because I found a place to park and I thought, ah, who wouldn’t want this? Green peppers were three for a dollar and I could park anywhere I wanted to go. Sold. Honest.
INTERVIEWER: With that, we’ll end our interview with Sally Fingerett here in her Bexley home on April 13, 2015. Thank you.
Transcribed by Linda Schottenstein