This interview for the Columbus Jewish Historical Society is being recorded on October the 23rd, 2014, as part of the Columbus Jewish Historical Society Oral History Project. This interview is being recorded at 500 Parkview Avenue. My name is Ron Robins, and I am interviewing Seyman and Sadie Stern. This is our second attempt, and we’re keeping our fingers crossed that this is going to work. So we are going to start now with Seyman and Sadie, and they’re going to tell us a little bit about their history. Seyman, you kick it off. You were born?
Seyman: I was born! … I was born in Kenosha, Wisconsin. My father’s name was Samuel David Stern and my mother’s name was Sarah Dorothy Stern. I was born in 1928, a good year, just beat the Depression, which started a little bit after. No brothers or sisters; later I had a step-brother and a step-sister.
I was brought up in Kenosha and when I was about twelve, my mother passed away. She had cancer, which was traumatic, but we stayed in Kenosha. My father was in the shoe business. He ran a shoe store, an old family shoe store that doesn’t exist anymore and I went to the University of Wisconsin. ‘Course, before that I graduated from the Mary D. Bradford High School in Kenosha, Wisconsin. What else can I tell you? I went to the University of Wisconsin in 1946 and graduated in 1950 and majored in economics, had a “meal” job at the fraternities and sororities, and kind of worked my way through college, and that’s the story of my life through about 1950.
INTERVIEWER: Let me ask, did you have a Hebrew name or did you grow up in a—
Seyman: It was a Reform family. My father was one of five children, but my grandfather was one of nine who came over from Austria-Hungary.
INTERVIEWER: Did he come over with all his family? Did he come over with nine brothers and sisters?
Seyman: My father was born in Mukwonago, Wisconsin, in 1896. His parents came over here in about 1892 or 3. Most of his family moved to Milwaukee, but he and his parents moved to Kenosha. My grandfather had a bar right next to an organization called the American Brass Company, so at 7 in the morning people were coming in for a beer, just like you might Ronny, and he did very well. I don’t recall when he died, but he died earlier. My grandmother then moved to California with her other siblings. We were the only ones in Kenosha.
INTERVIEWER: Do you know anything about your mother’s family, her maiden name?
Seyman: My mother’s maiden name was Savitz. Sarah Dorothy Savitz. She was from Milwaukee. She had two brothers and two sisters, Manny, Sammy, Ann, and Lena. Sammy died before I was born, and I was named after him.
INTERVIEWER: Can you remember anything about your grandparents?
Seyman: In Austria-Hungary, my grandfather, Morris, was one of nine children who all came to this country. He worked in the wine cellars for Emperor Franz Joseph. When he came to this country, he continued to make wine for the family in his basement, and I recall drinking his wine the many times we had dinner with them. I was a little young then, maybe 5 years old, and did taste the wine. It was very sweet; I liked it. And that’s the beginning of my drinking career.
My grandmother’s name was Molly. After my mother died, she moved in. She sort of took over for a few years until my father got married again. I’m just trying to think about Sarah’s family. She had, as I said, two sisters. Lena lived in Milwaukee, and Ann lived in northern Wisconsin. They lived in Weyauwega, they lived in Wausau, and they lived in Wittenberg, Crandon, great little tiny towns in northern Wisconsin. Ann’s husband ran a little business. He loved to be in Indian country, and that’s where a lot of the Indian tribes were. I was not raised by an Indian tribe, however (laughter).
INTERVIEWER: Do you have an Indian name?
INTERVIEWER: Did your family come through Ellis Island, and if they did, have you ever tried to find out any information about that?
Seyman: We have a map of the family, a family tree that begins with my grandparents and runs through our children.
Sadie: It’s not very complete.
INTERVIEWER: Well, it’s hard to go back too far ‘cause a lot of those records are gone. The little towns in Europe are nonexistent.
Seyman: Yeah, but where they came from in Europe was Austria-Hungary, and one of my second cousins has visited the place they were born.
INTERVIEWER: Do you know the name?
Seyman: Mod. M-o-d. I don’t know if they were born there but they came from there. Mod, Hungary, it’s right on, basically in the Carpathian Mountains. It’s about two hours from Budapest. That’s when Austria and Hungary were one.
INTERVIEWER: Do you recall whether they spoke Hungarian, German or Yiddish?
Seyman: As far as I know they spoke Yiddish. I learned a little bit of Yiddish which I probably forgot.
INTERVIEWER: Do you know how your parents met?
Seyman: I don’t know how my parents met. They were both from Milwaukee. I really don’t know the story about how they met. That’s odd. Well they were only married for a short time and then she passed away.
INTERVIEWER: Well, at least twelve years.
Sadie: Thirteen years it would have been.
Seyman: I think they were married about two years before I was born, so that would make it around fourteen.
INTERVIEWER: Were you bar mitzvahed?
Seyman: Confirmed. We didn’t have bar mitzvahs in those days, not in the classical Reform.
INTERVIEWER: Now was your mother still alive? She had passed away before you were confirmed.
Sadie: Oh yeah, yeah.
Seyman: I was about twelve. My father remarried when I was about fifteen.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. Well, do you know any stories that you remember or anything like that you remember them telling you about, family stories about Mod, Hungary … somebody that did something great?
Seyman: No, but we have photographs of the synagogue, lot of photographs taken by my cousin who made the trip to Mod. When we were in Budapest, I wanted to go there but we were only there like a day or two, so I wouldn’t mind doing it again.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. Now we know a little bit about Seyman’s family. How about Sadie’s family?
Sadie: There’s really not much to know, just that I was born in Brooklyn. My folks were from Europe. My father, Phillip Halpern, as far as we know, I mean, we’re not really sure about the background, but he was from Galicia, Austria. My mother was born in Brody, one of nine children, but during the First World War when they all followed the soldiers across Europe, they ended up in Prague, and basically that’s where she was from when she came to America. But I can’t tell you anything. The whole family was wiped out in the Holocaust. She and one brother were the only ones who were here in America when the war broke out, and the rest of the family … Really the only thing she ever talked about was the First World War. She was a teenager at the time and talked about following the soldiers and trying to get out from wherever it was that they were coming from. She loved Prague. She said it was beautiful.
She came to the United States probably in her early twenties, hated it — and everything that Sam Levenson has said about the Lower East Side is not true. It’s a beautiful story but it is not true. It was dirty. It was horrible. It was uncultured. I mean, this was a woman who loved the opera who came from this gorgeous city to the Lower East Side. She had some family here, and I guess she had a cousin who would take her out on Sundays. They would drive around, and he would try to show her some of the nicer parts of New York.
INTERVIEWER: Now what was her name?
Sadie: Rose. Rose Magid.
INTERVIEWER: And what was your father’s occupation?
Sadie: My father, before the Depression, had a raincoat factory, and I guess my mother worked there and that’s how they met. He lost the factory in the Depression and never quite got back to anything and ended up working for somebody as a — they cut clothing …
Sadie. Yeah, cutters. I think he liked his job but he hated working for somebody, and never really quite got back to what he was before. He had two sisters, but one had died — I guess that’s the sister that I’m named for — and he had four brothers.
INTERVIEWER: Do you have any contact with them or did you have contact growing up?
Sadie: Oh, everybody lived in their own little shtetl. We lived here and everybody lived across the street and the rest of the family lived around the corner. They were close geographically but not really close as a family.
INTERVIEWER: Not that typical big family growing up where you had forty people for seder and every Friday night at Grandma’s house and stuff like that?
Sadie: No, not really. I mean, everybody was in everybody’s house but it wasn’t … we were kind of close to the family that lived across the street but the rest of the family was sort of, I don’t know, not that close. I don’t even know how to describe it. I had cousins and we were not really that close. Everybody’s business was everybody else’s business. They would tell you how wrong you were. It got kind of competitive. It was more the women, I think, and also there was a certain amount of snobbishness. Maybe it comes back to the fact that they always called my mother “the greenhorn” and looking down their noses — you would think they were fourth-generation American. They all came from Europe, but she was the greenhorn.
INTERVIEWER: Last one in. Yeah, last one in.
Sadie: Yeah, probably the smartest one in the bunch.
INTERVIEWER: Now, when did she pass away?
Seyman: In Columbus, Ohio.
INTERVIEWER: Oh, she came here?
Sadie: Yeah. She lived alone in our house in Brooklyn. It really was basically a one-family house but during the Depression they converted it to a two-family. My uncle and aunt and their kids lived upstairs, and we lived downstairs, and then there was one single brother who was an attorney and he had the back bedroom. My father died in 1947, and my mother still lived downstairs. But then Uncle Meyer (the single brother) died and my aunt (who lived upstairs) died, and her husband decided that it didn’t look nice for him to live upstairs and my mother to live downstairs, so he decided to sell the house.
INTERVIEWER: Oh, it was his house?
Sadie: Basically, no, it was not his house. He became the sole owner of the house at that point because the uncle who was the lawyer was the one who owned the house. My father was the one who took care of it and the freeloader lived upstairs and he kind of took possession of the house at that point. I think it probably was written somewhere that the house went to him but the idea was, was that my mother was supposed to be able to live in that house until she couldn’t live there anymore. Well, then she couldn’t live there anymore, so she took turns living with my two sisters who were in New York. Dementia started setting in, and it was 1987, I guess, my sisters, who really had the most contact with her, decided that she needed to be in a nursing home. There was no place in New York that they could really take her and still be able to see her, and it was like, why not here? I mean it’d be so easy. So she went to Heritage House, and she was there until she died in 1990. She was there three years. It was a good arrangement. Heritage House was great.
INTERVIEWER: So, what was it like growing up in New York, I mean, you know, a big city …
Sadie: You know, while I was there it was fine. I liked it. We lived in Borough Park which is now the hotbed of Hasidism but it wasn’t then. It was kind of a mix. The street, half of the street was Jewish, half of it was Irish, half of it was whatever. The church was around the corner, and we got yelled at every Sunday when everybody walked to church.
INTERVIEWER: Nasty, anti-Semitic kind of stuff?
Sadie: Yeah yeah. I worked in Manhattan and took the subway every morning and every night but it was safe or at least we felt safe because we would go to the Broadway shows at night and come home at midnight on the subway, walk home, it was fine. It was okay. I never wanted to leave, you know, that kind of thing. Now I never want to go back.
INTERVIEWER: When you went to school, to what school did you go to? Did you go to any of the special schools like School of the Arts and Sciences, or you just went to PS..
Sadie: PS 192, Montauk Jr. High, New Utretcht High School. I never went to college. I took some night courses and that kind of stuff, but never actually went to college which was a big mistake.
Seyman: You graduated…
Sadie: Well, I was in the top ten. Yes, I had a good report card. I had great report cards, had a great memory at that time!
Seyman: There were what, 400?
Sadie: Over 400 in the graduating class.
INTERVIEWER: They were huge schools. How many were in your graduating class? Twenty? Thirty?
Seyman: No, more like fifty. I don’t remember, frankly.
INTERVIEWER: So, you went to all of grade school in Kenosha?
Seyman: Yes, and I was the high school photographer.
INTERVIEWER: What was the newspaper called?
Seyman: The Kenews. K-e-n-e-w-s. I’ve got one here with pictures I took in there.
INTERVIEWER: Actually you gave me one of the calendars …
Seyman/Sadie: Oh yes.
INTERVIEWER: … and I gave that to the Jewish Historical Society so they have that in their archives so I know you’re able to take pictures. Okay, so you go to college. You graduate college. You’re working in Manhattan. How does Sadie meet Seyman?
Sadie: At a dance in the Jewish Center in Flatbush.
Seyman: The Flatbush Jewish Center. I had a cousin in New York I was very close to, so I stayed with him when I first moved to New York.
INTERVIEWER: Why’d you move to New York?
Seyman: ’Cause I had a job. Well, through the “meal” jobs I had in college, I met somebody whose father was a broker on Wall Street, had a brokerage firm there so I was interested in that. So, they had me all set up for a job there except I wanted to take a trip to Europe first which I did for three months. When I returned, the job was filled.
INTERVIEWER: But you came back to New York.
Seyman: I went back to Kenosha, then I came back to New York. My cousin and I finally got another place for me to stay because his mother threw me out.
Sadie: I think she got tired of the freeloading.
Seyman: I like to freeload. My cousin and I liked to go to dances and affairs and events.
Sadie: You know, that’s what you did.
Seyman: So I worked. I found a job in New York working for Lehman Brothers, believe it or not. That was our life. It was fun, had a good time.
INTERVIEWER: How is it you got to the Jewish Center? It was just serendipity?
Seyman: No, we just saw the Center was having a dance or a party or something.
Sadie: I forget how we found out about those things.
INTERVIEWER: Did you see him across the room?
Sadie: He asked my friend to dance and she turned him down and I was standing there.
Seyman: That’s about right, yeah.
Sadie: No, it was really funny because it was sort of okay, let’s dance. When we left, his cousin couldn’t remember where he had parked his car, and Ilene came along and said, “I’ll help you look for your car if you take me home.”
INTERVIEWER: Ilene was your friend?
Sadie: No. We’d just met her. No, we had no idea who she was. She just happened to come out at the same time.
Seyman: She needed a ride home.
Sadie: And they ended up getting married.
INTERVIEWER: Do you still hear from her? Do you keep in touch?
Sadie: We’d go to New York and we’d stay with them, with the kids getting married and bar mitzvahs, but it was just those kinds of things. Simeon died about two years ago.
Seyman: We were both named after the same person. I don’t know why we were both named after the same person.
INTERVIEWER: So he was related to you on your maternal side.
Seyman: On my maternal side. Yes. Wow, that’s really digging deep.
INTERVIEWER: That’s what we’re here for. We’re digging deep here. We gotta get this history. And then so did you have another date? Did you want to see him again? Obviously, you did, but …
Sadie: Yeah, actually, probably, I don’t remember.
Seyman: Well, I know one thing. A couple times I got invited to dinner at her house. Her mother was a very good cook. I was big on free meals. So that helped.
INTERVIEWER: So, this is in what year?
Seyman: This would have been in 1951 ‘cause we got married in ’52.
INTERVIEWER: So, it wasn’t a long courtship.
Sadie: No, no, but it might have been ’50. I don’t remember exactly because then you went home when Dad had a heart attack, so it was ’51. It was June of ’51.
INTERVIEWER: That you got married?
Sadie: No, no, that we met. It was June of ’51.
INTERVIEWER: That you met, and then you got married.
Sadie: In October ’52.
Seyman: So, we were together a long time ‘til I had to leave.
Sadie: Yeah, actually because then his dad had a heart attack and went back to Kenosha.
Seyman: To take over the business while he was recuperating.
Sadie: [He did this until] the ROTC said it’s time to show up at Lockbourne.
INTERVIEWER: Just to go back, let’s get the marriage part here. Where were you married? I know in New York but in the synagogue? A hotel? The study?
Sadie: It was in the rabbi’s study. Yeah, it was in the rabbi’s house. It was very small, with just family basically because once he got the orders it was like, you’ve got to get the show on the road.
INTERVIEWER: Were you in the active military then?
Seyman: Oh, yeah. I was eligible to be called up and I did get called up because I graduated in ROTC. If you graduated from ROTC at the time you graduated from college, which is what I did, it’s the same thing, you were eligible to be called into service. And this was during the Korean War.
INTERVIEWER: You were married at the time.
INTERVIEWER: You were still dating.
INTERVIEWER: Long-term. He’s in Wisconsin and you’re in New York and you’re writing letters.
Seyman: Then after we were married we moved to Kenosha and lived there for three weeks.
Sadie: Until you had to report to Lockbourne.
Seyman: Until I had to report for duty.
INTERVIEWER: And then you came to Lockbourne. So now we’ve got the Sterns in Columbus in 1952. Did you have to go overseas or anything like that?
Seyman: No, no. As a matter of fact, I was on schedule to go to Korea. However, Sadie was fortunately pregnant.
Sadie: Yeah, I became pregnant right away.
Seyman: You didn’t mess around.
Sadie: You can delete that.
INTERVIEWER: No, I can’t. I’m not touching that thing. I’m not touching it. So, that was your first child and that was, Susie.
Sadie: Susie was born out at Lockbourne.
INTERVIEWER: Susie’s full name is …
Sadie: Susan Diane Stern.
INTERVIEWER: She was born in Columbus, Ohio, Lockbourne Air Force Base in 1953.
Sadie: September 9, 1953.
Seyman: The total cost was ten dollars and fifty cents.
Sadie: Fifty cents because I asked for an aspirin and they charged.
Seyman: They charged her for an aspirin.
INTERVIEWER: That’s the Army. So, you had Susie. Any more children?
Sadie: Well, then there was Jodi Ellen, born in ’56, and Michael Loren, born in 1960.
INTERVIEWER: And they are now married and on their own. Where is Susie? I just want to say as an aside, I’m not supposed to do this, but Susie was a pupil of mine when I taught Sunday School.
Sadie: Susie’s in Colorado Springs. She has two daughters. The older one just got married in July. Susie’s had a rough way to go. Her first husband died and she had two small children. Sarah was not quite four and Hannah was a year and a half when Jim died of cancer, and it was rough, but she’s an amazing lady. She’s done a great job with those girls. These two girls are just special.
Sadie: Sarah is 27 and Hannah is 24.
Seyman: Sarah graduated from Johns Hopkins. She has a master’s degree in–
Sadie: Epidemiology. I love to say that word.
Seyman: … which is public health.
Sadie: Yeah, she’s working on hepatitis.
Seyman: She got a terrific job. And she just got married.
INTERVIEWER: And her husband’s name is?
Sadie: Kyle. Kyle Block, but it’s spelled B-l-a-c-h. He’s a great guy.
INTERVIEWER: And the other daughter, Hannah?
Sadie: She graduated from the University of Montana, and then she and her boyfriend John went to Anchorage and lived there for about two years and then moved to Denver last year. So she’s now in Denver, which is great for Susie because she’s got both of them at least in the same state. Hannah’s got a great job. They do communication systems for hospitals and nursing home. I’m not sure exactly what it is, but it’s a great job and she loves it.
Seyman: She’s very smart. She’s got great job security. She’s the kind of person you want to hire. She’ll never be without a job.
Sadie: She has this job and then she works for H & R Block during tax season. And she climbs mountains.
INTERVIEWER: So, tell me about Jodi.
Sadie: Jodi married Cliff Hirschman at Temple Israel. Bob Levy married them. They also had the Hirschmans’ female rabbi from Richmond. They did a double ceremony. Lanie Katzew was the cantor at that time. They had a son, Ben. They later divorced, and Jodi remarried eighteen years ago and that ended up in a divorce just in the last two years. She lives in Marlborough, Massachusetts.
INTERVIEWER: She had children with the second husband?
Sadie: Yes. She had Jeremy. So, she has Ben Hirschman and Jeremy Kelleher. Jeremy’s now in college. He just started at U Mass. Ben graduated from George Washington in international studies.
Seyman: He’s really angling for a government type of job.
Sadie: After about a year or so, he decided to go back to school, so he’s working on a master’s at Johns Hopkins.
Sadie: Michael is in Minneapolis married to Amy Rosen and they have two sons. Zach is in New York working for the Zionist Organization of America and traveling all over the place. Aaron is at Wisconsin, University of Wisconsin. He started out his first year at the University of Texas in Austin. Grandpa laid a guilt trip on him. Michael and Amy both graduated from Madison. Grandpa graduated from Madison. Jodi graduated from Madison. It’s like, Aaron, you have to go to Madison. So, Aaron is out in Madison and loving every minute of it.
INTERVIEWER: You’d think they’d get a break, wouldn’t you, for having that many in one family.
Sadie: You’d think but it doesn’t work that way, I guess.
INTERVIEWER: It sounds like they’re all pretty much involved. They obviously got all of this Zionist … was that from youth group, is that from family?
Sadie: You know it probably was a combination of both.
Sadie: I think the youth group was really important to Susie. She was the president one year. She was the song-leader.
Seyman: They all went to camp (UCI in Zionsville, Indiana), and all three were very active in the youth group at temple.
Sadie: Of the three, Jodi was more involved. She was active in the Conservative synagogue in Worcester, and she loves to go to services on Saturday morning. This is interesting because when she was young, she decided the night before Confirmation she wasn’t going to go, even though she was playing the guitar and was the song leader and was president of the youth group. She said, “I’m not going because this doesn’t mean anything to me. I can’t find an answer for it,” blah, blah, blah. And I’m like, “Jodi, you don’t have a choice. You have to go.” We finally found a compromise, and she did show up for Confirmation. Then she went to camp that summer right away, and we get this amazing phone call, Oh, she found G-D and she was confirmed at camp and then had her bat mitzvah at age 17. Jodi’s two boys went to Day School in Worcester and then to Gann Academy in the Boston area.
Both boys would be at the train station at 6:30 in the morning to go to school to take this hour schlepp to the Gann Academy. Ben graduated from there, and then when it was Jeremy’s turn; that’s where he wanted to go. So those are Jodi’s two boys. Michael’s two boys also went to the Day School in Minneapolis, and they belong to the Conservative synagogue, and Michael was like, “I hope you don’t mind but we are not joining the Reform congregation.” Amy grew up in the Conservative movement, and they keep kosher, at home. And the boys keep kosher too.
INTERVIEWER: So, there’s this strong Jewish fiber that’s sort of running through the family, so I imagine it started with you guys.
INTERVIEWER: So, tell me a little bit about that. How do you think your involvement at the temple, with Judaism and Jewish organizations—
Seyman: Have no idea about that.
Sadie: I guess it rubbed off.
INTERVIEWER: Well, Seyman was the president of a congregation so there’s obviously a commitment here that’s very deep.
Seyman: Well, all the kids but particularly Michael would remember this, when we had all of our difficulties at the temple. I mean he sat there and saw. He was like 16 years old. He wasn’t a kid, so I think if anything he would be turned off by it. The girls might have been too, but it didn’t have any negative effect on them. They just knew that we were active in a Jewish synagogue.
INTERVIEWER: Whoever’s going to be listening to this isn’t going to know about (the difficulties) so maybe you should—
Sadie: Well, I don’t know.
Seyman: Oh, that was a horrible experience for the congregation, and it’s all in the history of the congregation, and I happened to be president just about that time.
Sadie: The thing is it resulted in a split, and that’s how Beth Shalom came about.
INTERVIEWER: Now what I’d like to do is maybe continue with you guys and your involvement with Columbus, and Columbus history and Columbus Judaism and Columbus secular and some of the groups that you were in.
Sadie: The only thing I was going to say was that they (our kids) knew that we went to services Friday night and that the cake on the counter was not for them, it was for temple because there were always the Friday night onegs. There was always someone from Sisterhood, a different person each month, who was in charge of the Friday night onegs and you got your women together to pour coffee and tea and punch and bring cake. I was involved with that lots of times. If I wasn’t the chairman of that particular month, then I was always baking for another month.
We took them with us to temple, certainly for the holidays, I mean, they were always there. As a matter of fact, I don’t know if this is anything, it just always strikes me. Michael must have been eleven, twelve, maybe, and it was Rosh Hashanah and we got into a big fight in the morning and he was not going. I think Susie was already in college. I don’t know maybe Jodi was, too. I don’t remember, but he was not going to services with us. There was this whole big battle and it was like, “Okay, you stay home. Dad and I are going to services.” Well, here we are at temple, this packed sanctuary and at eleven o’clock, Nancy Levine came over to us and said, “There’s somebody here to see you.” Here was Michael dressed a little sloppy but wearing a suit, I mean nice pants, and a shirt and a jacket because that’s how you went to temple. You wore nice clothes when you went to temple. I’m crying and asked, “How did you get here?” “I took a cab.” This kid called a cab and came to temple, so obviously there was something there that he needed to be there. Yeah, that’s something. I mean here I’m looking at this schlumpy kid, ready to kill him, and … so, there was something that came through whether we knew it or not.
INTERVIEWER: I like to think you did something right.
Sadie: Yeah, maybe we did do something right.
INTERVIEWER: So you were in Sisterhood. Did you have any offices in sisterhood?
Sadie: Yeah, I was on the board. I was involved with the Gifty Fund, the money that went to camp. I used to send out the gift cards you know when people would call and say I want to make a contribution to Gifty. So I was on the board for a lot of years and we did kiddush catering for bar mitzvahs. I forget who was the chairman of that, but we would come in on Saturday and cook and help serve or whatever.
Rabbi Folkman was the rabbi over at the Bryden Road temple. I hated the service. I came from a very Orthodox background where the women sat upstairs and the men were downstairs. There was a curtain, you know, and the whole bit and here we are in Temple Israel with a choir, and every time they pause I wondered, “Do I get down on my knees and genuflect now?” It was totally foreign.
Seyman: Do you want to talk about how we got into the congregation? Do you remember? We, I didn’t know where to go.
Sadie: I was in the hospital having Susie at that time.
Seyman: That’s right. So I went out looking for a congregation. I went to all three, and I was treated very indifferently at two of them.
Sadie: And he was in uniform.
Seyman: Right, right. I wore my uniform. I would have to have a ticket at two of them, but Temple Israel was completely different.
Sadie: They were falling all over themselves.
Seyman: They were falling all over me. I mean, “Oh, Lieutenant, here … would you like to do this or that, would you like to sit here?” And they were asking all kinds of questions. Nobody wanted money or anything like that. They just wanted to know something about me and us. So, there wasn’t any question about where we wanted to join.
Sadie: … with or without me.
Seyman: You remember Marvin Frank? He was one of them.
Sadie: Sol Shaman. Yeah, he came to the house.
Seyman: So these were people who went out and really did things to promote the congregation. So, there wasn’t any question. I wasn’t going to join anywhere else. We met Rabbi Zelizer, and he worked us over for a time and he tried.
Sadie: He told me I would still go to heaven.
INTERVIEWER: He’s a legend. He’s a legend in Columbus. Were you in any other Jewish organizations?
Sadie: I joined all of them — Hadassah, Council, B’nai B’rith, Ra’anana, whatever organization there was, I joined.
INTERVIEWER: Were you fairly active in those or did you sort of pay your dues?
Sadie: Yeah, I was fairly active, but I was more active in the MS Keys, where we went to visit patients. I did a lot of walking from house to house to collect for charity. It got so when the neighbors saw me, they weren’t home anymore. Oh, and then we sponsored a Vietnamese family as part of the boat people program. We helped the husband find a job. The wife was pregnant. Do you remember Alma Covitz? Alma and I were in charge of taking her to the clinic every month.
Seyman: It was a great success that boat people thing.
Sadie: Yeah, we still hear from them. They moved to California.
Seyman: San Jose, California. They call us every Christmas.
Sadie: Yeah, Miss Sadie.
INTERVIEWER: Now what about you? You were active at temple and probably from the get-go just about.
Seyman: Well, yeah. Sol Shaman walked in and wanted me to join the Brotherhood and temple.
Sadie: I remember him coming to the house and I’m saying “no” and Sol is saying, “Try it, try it, you’ll like it.”
Seyman: But I got active. I was doing work with local and a little bit of national stuff, too, with the Brotherhood. We went to UAHC conventions, Brotherhood conventions.
I was active in temple, I was on the board, was president of the Brotherhood, and then I became an officer on the temple board. I went through the chairs on the board, a lot of activity. A fellow named Troy Feibel [Ronny’s father-in-law] was president when we had the 120th anniversary. I was in charge of the event. It was really exciting, and we sat at the head table with Troy and his wife, Pearl.
I got active in Federation. Miriam Yenkin was president. She came to our back door one day, since we were neighbors, and asked me if I’d take over a program. They came up with an idea of having a loan program to keep as many Jewish families in Berwick as we could. So we had a Berwick loan program.
INTERVIEWER: What was the reason for that? Was there some kind of problem going on in Berwick at the time?
Seyman: It was a changing neighborhood. It was a very mixed neighborhood. The goal was to keep it mixed and not let it go all black, all white, whatever, to have it be a mixed neighborhood. I think it accomplished a lot of that. They wanted to make it attractive for young Jewish couples to live there because there was a synagogue nearby, Beth Jacob was nearby, or they could go to any synagogue from there. So we, the Federation, set up a loan program, which is what I set up, and we had a committee and people made loan applications. I did the whole thing like a bank, I guess, and we made a lot of loans. They’d get their first mortgages someplace else and then we’d add to that to help the process so they could get in with very little cash.
INTERVIEWER: Just as an aside, the reason you got that is because you were…
Seyman: I was in the real estate business.
INTERVIEWER: You were in the real estate business and fairly successful, in fact, very successful, so maybe you want to talk about that, too, because that was another side to Seyman Stern.
Seyman: Well, that was my business. We did sales, but we did land development. I was involved in the development business. We built small strip centers, that type of thing. The name of the company was the Sisson Stern Company. My partner was Earl Sisson, who was from Columbus, graduated from Ohio State. Before that, I was with Central Realty, which is another piece of history in this city.
INTERVIEWER: Tell me a little bit about Central Realty.
Seyman: No, you don’t want to hear about Central Realty. It has nothing to do with the Jewish community.
INTERVIEWER: Well this isn’t only Jewish. It’s life.
Seyman: Well, I got to know the principals there. They were real characters and I got involved in the company. I think we had our share of anti-Semites in the company, but we all managed to get along alright. And then I left. I went out on my own. I started this company — I started out on my own and then talking to Earl we decided to do something together.
Sadie: I think it was ’57 maybe?
Seyman: Something like that. We were in business together for about 20 years. We broke it up when things got so bad it was tough to support two families. So we split things up, and then I just went on my own. I had some partnerships with other people but the company was strictly mine, called Foxboro Communities. We bought land and developed single-family lots and also office buildings.
Sadie: And I became the payroll clerk.
Seyman: I was very active in the State Association of Real Estate Boards and got very active in the urban renewal part of things. I participated in some programs where a group of us got together, met with the city, and came up with ideas at a meeting to talk about what we thought were the best things that they could do. We did one up in Warren, Ohio, which was really quite a thing. We did studies and then we gave our reports, and that was quite an event. We all got awards for that. After that, we never could get enough people interested in doing it. I thought it was fascinating and met some great people in the process.
INTERVIEWER: And what was the purpose?
Seyman: To advise a community, to come up with ideas for a community on how to approach things, how to improve things, what things they need to really improve the looks, the feel, the future prospects, that kind of thing. It was a very good concept. There was a lot of good reporting done.
INTERVIEWER: Sort of like urban renewal type stuff and revitalization. It’s an important job.
Seyman: Urban renewal and revitalization. That was my big thing, and that’s how we started up buying old houses and buildings and refurbishing and selling them. Did a lot of that.
Sadie: You know when you mention accolades, it suddenly dawned on me, I forgot about the library. Gloria Wells and Harriet Schiff and I were the three library ladies for a number of years. This was before the remodeling, because after the remodel we kind of lost our jobs. They retired us. The three of us were in the library, and it was great. Gloria and Harriet ordered the books, the three of us kind of decided, but they did the ordering of the books and the putting them together. I did the typing and the catalogue cards and that kind of thing, and we just manned the library and it was great. We enjoyed doing it. When we started the remodeling, everything kind of got put away in boxes, which we sometimes could find and sometimes not. When they decided that it needed to be computerized, rather than keep the card catalogue, I think, that was kind of the beginning of the end for us. There were a lot of obstacles.
Seyman: Not the least of which was the rabbi.
Sadie: Yeah, because he was going to do something and it never got done and we were going to do something and it never got done. And it just kind of laid there for a while. But now somebody is in there. They’ve straightened things out and the library looks nice again. Another big problem was that the room they set aside for all the computers took space away from the library, and I’m not even sure the computers are there anymore. So then there was all the stuff for the computers, the files, the books, and it became a hodgepodge. It became a storage room rather than a library. Gloria and Harriet went away for the winter, which left me and a few women trying to put the books back in order. That got taken out of our hands, and it was like, okay, guys, we’re out of here. We got some apologies. But I didn’t want my rabbi apologizing to me, please, thank you. I was also in the middle of chemo and it was like, we’re done.
In 2002, Gloria, Harriet, and I got the Marc J. Simon Volunteerism Award for service on behalf of the library. We got a lovely plaque.
INTERVIEWER: Tell me some of the (other) things that you were doing.
Sadie: You were active at the Boys Ranch.
Seyman: It was there in Grove City. I forgot all about that. I served on the board there for a long time and then on the executive committee and that was it. It was a great experience, a lot of fun, came up with programs. They came up with the tennis matches out there. I was very involved with that. There I was photographing, took a lot of pictures and also did a lot of photographing at the Boys Ranch and I had brought on somebody to help with photographing. I had a young college student who was really great and we put together a book of photographs.
INTERVIEWER: Maybe you ought to say what the Boys Ranch is.
Seyman: Buckeye Boys Ranch was a place for young people with problems, students and children in general, and at that time it was only for boys. Now I think they take girls there as well. Les Bostic (the director) did one phenomenal job with all the boys when he was there. There were a lot of success stories, a lot. I used to go there for lunch occasionally, and they would show me what was going on. It was a good program. It’s still is a good program.
By the way, all of my files of the temple, good, bad, and indifferent are in the archives at the temple. That includes pictures that we did when we were remodeling, which I was co-chair of and spent a lot of time on. That was 12 or 13 years ago.
Sadie: You and Jeff Ungar and Steve Nacht.
Seyman: Can we get back to Berwick for minute?
INTERVIEWER: We said that was to help families…
Seyman: …to help families, to encourage people to live in that area to keep it a mixed neighborhood, not to get rid of anybody, but…
Sadie: There used to be a big billboard that said “Restricted Area.” I remember it was a triangular site, and here was this big sign.
INTERVIEWER: It’s where the Jewish Family Services building is now, that little triangle of land.
Seyman: We don’t need to mention the guy who put it up.
INTERVIEWER: The sign? We know who, don’t we?
Seyman: We do, don’t we?
INTERVIEWER: Well, we could … No, we better not.
Seyman: No, we better not.
Sadie: That was our third (anti-Semitic) encounter in Columbus. The first time was when we went to those apartments on Bryden Road or Town Street, I guess. This would have been in ’52, when we just got to Columbus, and we had to find a place to live. Seyman was at the base, and we weren’t going to live on the base. We went to those apartments, what would it be, west of Parsons? Is that right? Anyway, I think there still is a row of apartments on Town Street. I think at that point, it’s Town and not Bryden. We were told very politely that, no, they would not rent to us. We ended up renting a bed-and-bath in a private home on South High Street for a couple of months.
Then, G-d bless Tillie Ziskind, she had an ad in the Chronicle and we ended up on Main and Linwood above Dr. Jacob Ziskind’s office. She was fabulous, and the first Friday night that we were there, she had come in to the apartment while I was at work at the United Jewish Fund and he was at the base. We get home and there’s a little bowl of chopped liver, two candlesticks with two candles, and a teeny little prayer book. She was something. I mean, she had come in and put this stuff down. She wanted to make sure that I was going to light the candles for Friday night and that we had the chopped liver. The Ziskinds’ lived on the other side of Main and Linwood. We would see her, and we knew their daughter Susie. As a matter of fact, when my kid sister came to Columbus to help with the “birthing,” she and Susie became friends.
After our Susie was born, it was time to move. We moved to Virginia Lee, and then I was pregnant with Jodi and we needed a bigger place. It was time to look for a house. Ernie Fritsche was developing a subdivision in Eastmoor South, and we moved there in 1956. After 11 years, we decided it was time to make a change and Bexley was the place to go. So we go house looking and saw a house again on Bryden Road, and Rudy Stern is showing us this house and, yeah, this is the house we want. We sign a contract, the whole bit, and poor Rudy comes back, very embarrassed, and says, “I can’t sell you the house.” He didn’t come right out and say it, but the reason was because we’re Jewish. He had already turned somebody else (also Jewish) down.
Seyman: The owner lived in Delaware, and he would not sell to Jews.
Sadie: We talked to Rabbi Folkman and it was like, how could this be? The rabbi basically said the guy’s an idiot and what can you do?
INTERVIEWER: Was that the first time you came across anti-Semitism?
Sadie: No. In New York, I was the company Jew at Nestle’s. I knew the personnel manager who worked at Nestle’s because I worked with his wife at Funk & Wagnall’s until we were all “outsourced.” He was looking for somebody to break the barrier at Nestle’s. Coo-ool. I was like twenty years old. Yeah, I’m ready to be the company Jew. I didn’t buy Nestle’s products for years after that.
Seyman: Let me just quickly add a couple things that you wanted to know about what we did in the community. I served on the Federation board and chaired the Resettlement Committee, the resettlement of Russian Jews. We had $11 million to work with, $6 million of which came from Leslie Wexner in honor of the six million Jews who were killed in the Holocaust. The balance of $5 million was raised in the community by the Federation. Then it was our job to allocate the funds, and we allocated the funds to the various organizations that needed them. Organizations submitted requests for funds, which we reviewed and acted upon. That was quite an operation.
INTERVIEWER: Do you recall how many Jews that you all resettled here? The numbers I think are pretty great.
Seyman: Yeah, the numbers are pretty great. Part of our goal was to teach Russian Jews something about tzedakah. Eventually they began to give small amounts, nickels and dimes, but it was tough getting money from them. They were a really tough group to work with. They were not used to giving money to charity. It’s another culture. That was something that went on for several years, and we did a lot of work.
INTERVIEWER: Have you ever thought about what it was that caused you to be the people you are, what it was? Was it Judaism? Was it your upbringing? Was it just your parents and grandparents?
Seyman: We were born that way.
Sadie: I don’t think so.
Seyman: Before my mother passed away, she was in the choir at Beth Hillel Temple in Kenosha and was very involved in temple activities.
INTERVIEWER: So they were always involved.
Seyman: My dad was an usher at the temple’s Friday night services for a hundred years. He’d take his naps during services.
INTERVIEWER: That’s one of the advantages of being an usher.
Seyman: And I learned that from my father.
INTERVIEWER: If you thought about it, would there be anything in your life that you’d like to see your grandchildren perpetuating? Is there some sort of philosophy that you’d like them to hear, because someday they might listen to this and they’ll be able to hear your voices—a chance to talk to the future generation?
Seyman: I really think that the kids, every one of them, are following this path.
Sadie: I hope so.
Seyman: I think they are.
INTERVIEWER: Why do you think that is though?
Seyman: Maybe they saw what we did. Maybe we laid the foundation. I don’t want to give us too much credit. There’s no paragraph that I would read to them that will tell them what they don’t already know or see.
Sadie: Just maybe say to love each other. Be kind to each other. We love them.
Seyman: That’s right. Push the end button.