This interview for the Columbus Jewish Historical Society is being recorded
on April 30, 2008 as part of the Columbus Jewish Historical Society’s Oral
History Project and for inclusion in the archives collection of Congregation
Beth Tikvah. The interview is being recorded at the Columbus Jewish Federation.
My name is Helena Schlam and I am interviewing Sheldon (Don) Simon.
Interviewer: Welcome, it’s so nice to have you and I am eager to find out about your
life and also your experiences in Columbus. How long have you lived in Columbus?
Simon: Since August, 1966.
Interviewer: So you precede me. I came in 1967 in August. What brought you to Columbus?
Simon: I took a job at Battelle. Initially I thought I would only be here for two
years. I finished my Ph.D. at Cornell. Initially I didn’t know whether I wanted
to teach or work for government or work in industry. I decided that I would come
to Battelle. I was hired by another Cornelllian who worked at Battelle, another
Agricultural Economist. The interview that I had with him in New York City went
very well and when he described to me about the work at Battelle, it sounded
very interesting. My specialty was the agriculture of developing countries and
they really didn’t have anybody in that area so I came to try it out and here
I am, in 2008, still working part-time at Battelle.
Interviewer: This may seem like a curious question but by any chance was the man who
interviewed you and urged you to come Jewish?
Simon: No, he was not. Actually though his wife was Jewish but they never affiliated
and never raised their children as Jews. I don’t know what they raised them
as. She was a “townie” in Ithica. He met her while he was at
Cornell. He had done his graduate and undergraduate studies at Cornell. As far
as I know she is still alive.
Interviewer: I asked the question to explore whether your coming to Columbus was connected
with the Jewish network, which sometimes happens.
Interviewer: Where did you live before coming to Columbus? You mentioned Cornell
University but I would like to go back to your childhood and find out about your
Simon: The first five years of my life I lived in Roxbury which is part of Boston.
It’s actually part of the city of Boston. It was at that time one of the
heavily Jewish populated areas of Boston. I went to kindergarten when I was
four. My birthday is in August and I started when I was just four.
Interviewer: In the public kindergarten?
Simon: In the public kindergarten. I took some kind of a test,
I don’t really remember, but I completed kindergarten. At age five, we moved
to Mansfield, Massachusetts which was about 30 miles from Boston. We moved to a
poultry farm which was one mile away from my grandfather’s poultry farm.
I then sat out the next year because there was no public kindergarten in
Mansfield. I could not start school until I was six. I didn’t think that was
anything tragic, so I didn’t go to school. Today I think my reaction would
have been a little different although I’m sure in that town there were no
private kindergartens. It was a very small town. There were three Jewish
families in the town.
Interviewer: How did your grandfather come to that town? Where was he from originally?
Simon: Originally he was from a shtetl between Minsk and Vilna. I cannot find the
name of the shtetl. I have done extensive research. I have found all of his
papers and all I can find is that he came from Russia. I remember him saying he
was from Minskakobernia which means in Russian the Minsk region. But that’s
everything. I talked to some immigration people and they said interestingly that
people who came from Eastern Europe never mentioned the town that they came from
where as people who come from Ireland, for example, always mention the town that
they come from.
The only thing I found which might be a clue, but I’m not
certain, evidently there’s a roster of World War One veterans that gives date
of birth and place of birth and one of my grandfather’s nephews and one of my
uncles, was in the first world war. My uncle did not put down the name of the
town where he came from but my grandfather’s nephew, in other words, my father’s
first cousin, did put down the name of the town that he came from. Now I can’t
assume that’s the same town that my grandfather came from because my
grandfather’s father was a scholar.
As you know in those days a scholar was
often brought into a more wealthy family so that he could study. Probably he was
in another town studying and being supported by his father-in-law. It’s sort
of a dead end. I look at my uncle’s Marriage Certificate, it says Russia. My
grandfather’s Naturalization Papers say Russia. I tried to find ship
registries. Unfortunately, my grandfather came in 1888, even though he said he
came in 1882. I know that’s not true because my father’s oldest brother was
13 years older than he. My father was born in 1902 here. My grandfather came and
left his wife and first son in the old country. My uncle was 13 years older than
my father which meant that he had to have been born in 1889, so the latest my
grandfather could have come was in 1888.
I think when he made out his Naturalization Papers he fudged a few years so
that he could get it earlier and I guess there was no way for them to check
then. I’m not really sure where he came. I think he came to New York but I’m
not sure. When he first came he was a sewer in some sort of a factory. I know
that. I just visited the Tenement Museum in New York and found out that the
people who ran the machines got more money than anybody else. After working in
that factory, I don’t know for how long, he saved enough money to buy a farm
in Massachusetts, not the farm that was near the one that I grew up on, but a
dairy farm in Millis which was where my father was born.
My father and two of his brothers were born here and one brother was born in
the old country. Interestingly, the brother who was born in the old country was
the only one of them that was educated. He became a pharmacist and ran a very
successful apothecary in Brookline. My father, who was really very bright, quit
high school after his sophomore year and became an apprentice to an electrician,
among other things. His whole life he was an electrician, a master electrician,
a contractor, in addition to living on a poultry farm and raising chickens.
Interviewer: What a wonderful story! Did you know your grandfather for very long?
Simon: Yes, when I was 11 my mother died of a brain tumor. When I came home from
school on the bus every day I used to go to my grandfather’s house. My
grandfather died in 1947. My mother died in 1944. For those three or four years
I always went (to my grandfather’s house). Then my father remarried in 1947,
the same year that my grandfather died. Then my stepmother was at home so I came
home. I was very close to my grandfather. He was a very unusual guy.
Interviewer: Tell us something that will give us the flavor of the personality he had.
Simon: He lived in an octagon house. It had eight sides and all the rooms were not
square. They all had at least five walls. It was cement on the outside.
Interviewer: Did he build it?
Simon: No, he was involved in the construction somehow. He had a hen
house out back with all his…
We used to visit him when we lived in Boston. It was always an excursion to
go to Mansfield on a Sunday. We would drive there. I remember, my other two
uncles, one uncle lived in Boston and the other two lived in Providence and so
we would all sort of gather at my grandfather’s house on Sundays. I remember
he had a pump in the kitchen for water. He didn’t have running water.
Then later, by the time I was visiting him, he had running water but he kept his pump
because he liked the idea of the pump. He was not religious but the farm that he
owned in Millis, where my father was born, was sold to a hotel. They made it
into a resort for people who were suffering from Tuberculosis. People from
Boston would go there.
I know there was a plot of land in Millis that my
grandfather gave to a schul for them to build a building. Supposedly we had a
family pew that was ours if we wanted to use it. My grandfather was not at all
religious. I don’t ever remember him going to schul. In fact, in the town he
lived in there wasn’t a schul, but there was one eight miles away.
Interviewer: Were you aware of the Jewish holidays?
Simon: You know, we always went to Providence for
Passover. My father was the youngest son. I was the youngest grandchild. I
always did the Four Questions. We really didn’t celebrate Christmas. Usually
on Christmas morning I would get a Chanukah present regardless of when Chanukah
was. I mean that was sort of what I got and it was typically not even wrapped.
It was just sort of sitting on the kitchen table. I mean that was my Chanukah present. We didn’t light Chanukah candles. We
When my father remarried, my stepmother lit Shabbat candles and then we
actually joined a Conservative temple in Sharon, which was the next town. Sharon
is now 90% Jewish because everybody from Boston who fled Roxbury and Dorchester
when the Blacks started moving in moved either to Brookline or Newton or Sharon
or Randolph or other suburbs of Boston. When my father remarried we joined the
temple. I joined the youth group. I became very active in Young Judea. I never
studied Hebrew. I did not have a Bar Mitzvah. My father did not have a Bar
Mitzvah because he lived in this other little town that had no Jews at the time.
Interviewer: Your oldest son…
Simon: …my oldest son, was Bar Mitzvahed he was the
first Simon in three generations to be Bar Mitzvahed.
Interviewer: That is a remarkable tale, wonderful. Speaking of Peter, we’ll jump ahead. I know that he is married.
Interviewer: He has children and you are a grandfather so tell us about that.
Simon: Peter has two children, a girl eleven and a boy nine. They belong to a
Reconstructionist congregation. His wife is Unitarian but she keeps a Jewish home. They
celebrate Shabbat. His daughter is going to be Bat Mitzvahed next year so he’s
really following the tradition.
Interviewer: I didn’t have to ask the questions. You answered what I was wondering
about. That’s wonderful. Perhaps before going back in your history you’ll
tell us about your other two children?
Simon: Shall I tell you what Peter does?
Interviewer: Yes, please.
Simon: Peter is Senior Vice President at GMAC Bank. He’s in charge of the risk group which worries about risk
adversion, you know, and does mathematical models of risk analysis. He has, I
think, eight or ten people who work under him. He has a really good job. They
just moved. He worked for Fannie Mae for ten years in Washington.
Three years ago they moved to Philadelphia. They live in a northern suburb of
Philadelphia, on a golf course to which they belong. He’s doing very well. His
wife who went to William and Mary, Peter went to Penn, his wife went to William
and Mary, as did her mother. She was an editor for two different journals. When
she had the kids she stopped and now she’s working part-time for a non-profit,
writing grants for them, and really likes it. She works like 15 or 20 hours a
week. Lisa, our oldest daughter owns a public relations firm in Philadelphia.
She has about ten or eleven employees.
Her husband, David, is a synthetic organic chemist with Astra Zenica in
Wilmington, Delaware. They live in Cherry Hill, New Jersey which is across the
river from Philadelphia. He drives about 45 miles each direction each day to
commute. They have three children, Max who’s going to be 16 in September,
Molly who’s going to be 13 in August and Bat Mitzvahed, and Ezra who will be
Interviewer: Did Max have a Bar Mitzvah?
Simon: Max had a Bar Mitzvah. Max is being confirmed
this year and he’s going to continue with the high school program that they
have in their temple so that he will go through grade 12 as part of that
Interviewer: Do they belong to a Reform or Conservative?
Simon: They belong to a Reform temple. It’s in their back yard so they can walk through their yard. David’s
parents are Holocaust survivors and they spend about nine months of the year in
Israel where they live. They come here typically for the summer and go to the
Catskills to one of those refugee colonies, I don’t know what else you can
call them. They’re really quite horrible, bungalows that haven’t been taken
care of, but they really like them. They have a lot of survivor friends. They’re
both in their 80’s and they’re very sturdy and healthy and in great shape.
Interviewer: That’s a very wonderful story to hear.
Simon: They were from the same town in
Poland. They didn’t know each other before the war. They both went back after the
war. He was in Auschwitz. She was in a labor camp. They met in this town and got
married in…I think 1945, so they’ve been married since 1945.
Interviewer: And your youngest son?
Simon: My youngest son, Eric, lives in New York City, except he now lives in New Jersey.
He just moved to Jersey City, to a condo overlooking the Statue of Liberty and
lower Manhattan. He works for an internet company. His wife is Croatian but she
grew up in Germany. She was born in Germany, grew up in Germany, but she does
not have German citizenship because Germany doesn’t give citizenship to people
just because they were born there. They have a girl 15 months and she’s
expecting any minute, a boy. Peter’s son, Adam, was hoping that he would be
the only Simon in his generation but it looks like that’s not going to happen.
We don’t know what direction they are going to go with religion.
We hope, of course, that the children are going to be brought up Jewish. We think they will,
but you never know. They were married by a Rabbi, not a co-efficient, just a
Rabbi married them. She has no interest. She was brought up Catholic but she has
no interest in Catholicism. She never goes to church so we’re hoping that the
children will be brought up Jewish. There was some discussion about…they’re
definitely not having a Bris, but there’s even some question about
circumcision because in Europe they don’t circumcise.
Simon: I think they finally resolved that so that’s one step in the right direction.
Interviewer: Well it’s fascinating to hear about the kids whom I taught and know but only
remember as children and now they are thriving adults.
Simon: Eric is going to be 40 in September.
Interviewer: Oh dear. Anyway I want to bring you back to the past and find out more about your
family. You told us about your father but I don’t know anything about your
mother or your stepmother.
Simon: My mother’s family was from Lithuania. She came when she was two, with an
older brother and sister. She had a younger brother.who was born here. My
grandmother had several…I’m not sure, I think two, but maybe three sisters
who came to Boston and she had her sister and two brothers who went to Moncton,
New Brunswick. When my aunt, my mother’s oldest sister, was 17 or so she went
to visit her aunts in Moncton, New Brunswick and she met a guy and married and
went to live the rest of her life in Moncton, New Brunswick. Every summer my
mother and I used to go to Moncton, New Brunswick because my aunt had a cottage
at the shore.
The first 14 years of my life I spent the summer in Cheviot, which
is near Moncton, New Brunswick. I was very close…I’m an only child, I was
very close with the five cousins who were in Moncton, New Brunswick. The oldest
cousin, Jeannette, who is still alive at 86, was in the Canadian Womens Army
Core. The next one, Hazel, actually became an American, came to Boston and moved
to Chicago and Phoenix. The next one, Alan, still lives in Moncton, New
Brunswick, just had his 80th birthday. We went to visit him last
summer. The next was my cousin Diane who has died. The next one is Sherman who
was named for my grandfather, just like I was.
Interviewer: I want to make sure that we have it on the recording what your official name is?
Simon: Sheldon Robert Simon.
Interviewer: You are named for the grandfather who you described earlier.
Interviewer: No, oh, excuse me, your mother’s father, excuse me for garbling it. Please clarify.
Simon: His Yiddish name was Shepsel so my Hebrew name is Shabbetai which is sort of an
equivalent I guess. I think his name was Sam in English but I’m not really
sure because of course since I was named for him I never knew him. No one ever
really talked about him because I think he already died. He came and I have a
picture of him in 1904 when my mother was two. He was probably already in his
late 30’s in 1902 and people typically didn’t live. He probably died in the 20’s.
Interviewer: Even though you said that your grandfather was not at all religious but
obviously identified as a Jew, what about your parents?
Simon: My parents, until my father remarried, did not belong to a synagogue.
Interviewer: You mentioned that. But your mother, it sounds like, had a very strong commitment to her family.
Simon: Right and my aunt was very active in the synagogue in Moncton
and so we had some of that flavor. My aunt, every Passover, sent a box, I forgot
that, of Passover cookies, whatever, things made with matzo meal for Passover.
That was like a ritual. Every year I would get this box from aunt Lena for
Passover. It registered there somewhere. My father basically had no interest in
religion. My father was a very unusual guy. I mean he was a bright guy and he
really read a lot and thought a lot but didn’t say much. He was, you know, as
an only child it’s amazing the things he’d let me do.
Interviewer: For example.
Simon: When I was eight years old I went to Canada by myself on the train.
Interviewer: That is remarkable.
Simon: It was a 20 hour trip. He put me on the train at
night. I had a ticket and a little pocketbook pinned to my shirt, you know with
my books and all. It was a coach. I didn’t have a sleeper. As he got on he
talked to people who were sitting around me and said, “He’s going to
Moncton. He has to change trains in St. John.” The train stopped in St.
John so of course I had to get off.
My cousin, Hazel, who was at that time
working in St. John would meet the train to make sure that I got onto the train
to Moncton. I did that when I was eight, when I was nine, when I was ten. By the
time I was ten I was collecting soda bottles on the train while the train was
moving. People…someone would come to them and sell soda and I would collect the
bottles and get off at a station and cash in the bottles. I made money on the
way to Canada.
Interviewer: That was after your mother had died but you were going to visit the family?
Simon: No, it was when my mother was sick.
Interviewer: When your mother was sick?
Simon: She was sick from I would say from about the time that we moved to Mansfield which was
age 5. She would have sort of fits I guess, you know the pressure on her brain. She
would blank out, her eyes would roll and that sort of thing.
Interviewer: That must have been very frightening for you as a child but it all seems to have worked out
well in the end and certainly you honor her memory. Let us go forward. Our goal of course is to find out more about, not more, to
find out about Beth Tikvah and your presidency but there is still much territory
to cover because I want to find out about how you came to be married and about
more of the background before you came to Columbus.
Simon: As I said before I belonged to a youth group at the temple in Sharon which
was a fairly large Jewish population and I knew a lot of Jewish kids in Sharon.
In the summer before…oh and I went to U Mass…
Interviewer: As an undergraduate…
Simon: …as an undergraduate. I had a four year 4H scholarship.
Interviewer: A 4H scholarship?
Simon: I was the outstanding 4H boy in Massachusetts in 1951.
Interviewer: Was your specialty chicken farming?
Simon: It was.
Interviewer: That’s wonderful!
Simon: When I was 16 I bought a pick-up
truck which my father… When I was 12 we had a farm truck and I used to drive
the truck to visit my friends when my father was out so I would drive up and
down the state highway and on the back roads. When I was 16 I bought a truck. I
bought an egg route from somebody who was going out of business. I bought eggs
from my father at the wholesale price and I sold them at retail.
I had quite a large egg route so that was part of my 4H project. Then we did
service things in the community. It was a very active program so I won this Esso,
which became Exxon, 4H scholarship which paid my tuition for four years at U
Mass, which in those days wasn’t very much, but still it was something. My
undergraduate major was Poultry Science.
I was on the Poultry Judging Team which is sort of competitive. You go to
different places and you judge poultry. Interestingly from a Jewish perspective,
the University of Connecticut, Cornell and Rutgers all had at least one Jewish
guy on the Poultry Judging Team because there was a huge Jewish poultry farmer
community in Connecticut. There was also one in Vineland, New Jersey and one in
Sullivan County, New York.
Interviewer: That is fascinating. After you received your Bachelor’s degree did you go
directly to graduate school?
Simon: No, I went in the army for two years. I was in
the university during the Korean War so I had a deferment to stay at the
university. While I was at the university, I was very active at Hillel and I was
National Vice President of the Student Zionist Organization. I really wanted to
go to Israel at that point but if I left I would have been drafted so I didn’t
go. When I finished school I had to go in the army. I had to be drafted.
Unfortunately my draft board told me that I would not be eligible because of the
waiting list for eight months. There were that many people that had graduated
from various universities and they only had so many people that they had to
draft. I don’t know whether this is relevant or not. The summer before my
junior and senior year at college I worked for a friend of my fathers who had a
cleaning contract for the Boston army base. My job was to clean fluorescent
fixtures and I got paid very well for doing it.
I had a ladder and a bucket and I went from office to office. I was always
listening to what was going on while I was cleaning the light fixtures. In one
of the offices I heard a Colonel discussing with a Master Sergeant the fact that
the recruiting people never talked about two-year enlistments because the
recruiting people didn’t get credit for two-year enlistments. They only got
credit for three-year enlistments.
When I found out from my draft board that I couldn’t be drafted for eight
months I went back to the Boston army base, went to that colonel’s office,
knocked on his door, and I said “You don’t remember that I washed your
light fixtures last summer. But I heard you talk about two-year enlistments and
I’d like to enlist for two years.” He said “No problem.” I was
in the army for two years as an enlistee, not as a draftee which made a little
bit of difference, not much but some. I had a different kind of serial number.
Interviewer: Did you actually go to Korea or not?
Simon: No, the Korean War was over.
Interviewer: It was over by then?
Simon: I was a Personnel Administration Specialist. I spent 18 months in
Germany. I tried a German fencing club. I learned how to speak German. I bought
a Volkswagon. I drove all over Europe touring. In the mean time, back to before
my junior year, at one of the summer gatherings in Sharon one of the girls I
knew from the youth group introduced me to her college roommate. She was going
to be a freshman and this girl was going to be a freshman. That was Rhoda Bloom
who became my wife. Rhoda went to U Mass as a freshman, I was a junior. I never
dated her, her whole freshman year. Freshman girls at U Mass had to be in their
dormitory at 7:00 and I wasn’t interested in that.
We started dating in March
of her sophomore year, my senior year. I graduated in June. We were both
counselors at a summer camp in Maine, not that close to each other but we saw
each other a lot during the summer. I went off to the army in September. She
transferred to Boston University. I spent the two years in the army. When I came
back from the army I looked for a job. I found a job with the Ralston Purina
Company selling animal feed. We were married in March of 1958 so we’ve just
had our 50th wedding anniversary.
Interviewer: Mazel Tov!
Simon: During my experience with the Ralston Purina Company one of the things I did was to work
for Victor Borga, the piano player, who had two hundred thousand Rock Cornish
game birds on Purina Feed. I managed all these.
They were on like 35 different farms. I managed the whole operation for him
while I was a Purina employee, the reason being that he never paid his bills and
they would not ship feed to him unless I authorized it and I would not authorize
it unless I had a check for the car load of feed.
Interviewer: Oh my, that is quite a story. When did you end up at Cornell?
Simon: After three years on the road at the Purina Company, I decided that I was
really not a salesman. I was in sales and service and Purina feed was, compared
to other feeds at the time, much more expensive which meant that if you had a
dairy herd that had really good breeding and could produce a lot of milk it was
worth buying this more expensive feed that had more nutrients in it but if your
herd was not sufficient to take advantage of the extra nutrients it was a waste
of money. I decided one day that’s not the attitude of a good salesman. A good
salesman sells to you whether you need it or not. I decided I would go back to
My undergraduate career was not exemplary. I mean I played quite a lot
of Bridge, did a lot of traveling, horsing around, having a good time. I went
back to U Mass. I got into a graduate program, we were married by then, in
Agricultural Economics. The first semester I didn’t have a fellowship or
anything, I was just on my own to show them that I could do the work. A year and
a half later I got a Masters in Agricultural Economics with a minor in Economic
Development. The woman who was on my committee was from Smith College, a very
famous Anthropologist, Gwendolyn Carter, who really got me interested in this
whole development thing. From there I got a fellowship to Cornell. We spent two
years at Cornell. We went to India for a year for my dissertation research and
back to Cornell for the fourth year. I finished my dissertation. We moved to
Interviewer: That’s quite a story. When you came to Columbus did you immediately get
involved with Beth Tikvah?
Interviewer: What do you remember from that original getting together?
Simon: We lived on Bricker Blvd when we first came here which is the continuation of
Fishinger on the other side of Kenny Road. Our daughter who was then four, Lisa,
was enrolled at First Community Pre School. Joan Wolf whose husband Hal was in
the Pharmacy Department (at OSU) had a son, Gary, who just had a baby by the
Simon: First, Rhoda and she started car pooling to First Community and they were involved
in Beth Tikvah and we immediately joined Beth Tikvah. They were on High Street
in that old building that was subsequently razed to build an office building.
Interviewer: Do you remember anything about the services or anything about what it was
Simon: I remember Bennett Hermann was the Rabbi. There were 65 or 66 families that
were members. It was when Jack Resler first became interested in the
congregation. He and Eleanor would come to services. He always was amazed.
Everybody was doing something then. This person was sweeping the floor, this
person was serving the Oneg, this person was doing something else. He was just
overwhelmed, unlike Temple Israel where everything was done for them, we did
everything for ourselves. I fairly early on became active in the congregation.
Interviewer: Do you know how Jack Resler initially was connected with Beth Tikvah?
Simon: I don’t.
Interviewer: That was a very interesting story that he attended services with Eleanor.
Simon: Right, and then as you know, we moved to Indianola. We walked from North High
Street to Indianola with the Torah and all the members. We were in the building
on Indianola where Peter was Bar Mitzvahed. Lisa was never Bat Mitzvahed which
she now regrets. As I never mentioned before, we lived in Iran from 1971 to 1972,
our whole family. I was head of a project writing a five-year plan for the
government of Iran as a Battelle employee. We looked into Hebrew schools for
Lisa but they were taught in Farsi.
She knew a little Farsi. She went to an International School where French and
English really were the two main languages, not Farsi, so we just decided that
it was too much hassle. She was in fourth and fifth grade at that point. When we
came back we told her she could get tutors. She said no she didn’t want to do
it. We felt the readjustment to civilization and to making new friends and all
of that was difficult enough that she didn’t need the extra pressure of going
to Hebrew School so we didn’t push it.
Interviewer: Do describe Peter’s Bar Mitzvah because they were very special at Beth
Tikvah, not that they aren’t still very special.
Simon: For Peter’s Bar Mitzvah my father made 400 blintzes and heated them in the
downstairs kitchen which was about as big as a closet and served them upstairs
as part of the Bar Mitzvah lunch. A notable thing about Peter’s Bar Mitzvah
was that during his Bar Mitzvah speech he questioned whether there really was a God. During his
Bar Mitzvah speech a piece of the Bima fell and hit him on the head. Everybody
thought that was really some sort of answer.
Interviewer: What did Peter think?
Simon: He thought it was just a coincidence.
Interviewer: That is a wonderful story.
Simon: I think Eric was in the first class to be Bar Mitzvahed in the new building. Eric’s
Bar Mitzvah was in January of 1980 and I think we had just gotten to Beth Tikvah.
His birthday actually…oh no wait, that’s right. Now I don’t remember. Maybe
it was Peters. Eric definitely had his on Olentangy River Road.
It was Peter who had his Bar Mitzvah early because Lisa went to ….. yeah, he
had his in January of 1980 instead of March. Lisa graduated high school early
and spent a semester in Israel. She left for Israel in January of 1980 and she
should have graduated in June so it was his Bar Mitzvah that was early. Eric was
on time, he was in the first class. I think Roger Klein was already the Rabbi at
Interviewer: Who was the Rabbi at Peter’s Bar Mitzvah?
Simon: Also Roger. Another thing that I remember, I used to meet with Roger on a fairly regular
basis, just sort of interact with him, giving him feedback from the
congregation, telling him what people felt he was doing right and wrong. He was
very receptive to that. He really wanted another opinion about how things were
Interviewer: Did you initiate that or was it the general procedure even before you were
President, or do you know?
Simon: I don’t know. I know that we had a good relationship.
Interviewer: You and Roger…
Simon: Roger and I. He had a Sabbatic while he was Rabbi. It was after I was President and I sort of
managed his house while he was gone. He had renters and I was the person that
they came to if there was a problem or you know something. I remember that.
Interviewer: You had a strong personal relationship?
Simon: I really liked him a lot.
Interviewer: Back to the process when you were President, that’s rather extraordinary, I think.
Simon: I don’t know whether everybody did that or not but it really worked. I had
strong feelings about some issues. It was a new building. We were talking about
building. There was a lot of dissension in the congregation. If you were a
member then you remember that the people who lived on the East Side didn’t
want us to move North. Even people who lived in Clintonville wanted us to stay
closer to the University. We actually looked at places in Clintonville and
finally we decided that the future was in the suburbs and we really had to move.
I’m sure there are still people who feel that was the wrong decision because
they predicted that people would end up just dropping their kids off and not
paying attention to what was going on. That’s happened but in any congregation
of 500 families that’s going to happen.
Interviewer: Do you recall what size Beth Tikvah was when you were President in terms of
the number of members?
Simon: It was approaching 200 I would say.
Interviewer: 200 families.
Simon: 200 families.
Interviewer: Other issues that you discussed with Roger, can you remember any in
particular? So there weren’t comments about his sermons or how he handles specific
things. It was larger issues especially related to whether you would build the
building or where it would be?
Simon: How to appease the people who were unhappy
and whether they could be appeased. In the end some people still came with us
and they’re still with us and live in Blacklick and other people left and
joined other congregations. Some people, you remember Karl Gelfer.
Simon: He didn’t have transportation. It was difficult for him to get anywhere. I don’t
know what he did. That was one of the problems that we discussed because he was
a member and we couldn’t continue to serve him. You can’t serve everybody
when you make that kind of a move, unfortunately.
Interviewer: How would you describe Roger’s stance on the issue? Was he for or against
the move or did he remain neutral?
Simon: No, he was for the move but he really wanted to appease everybody. He’s a
nice guy. I don’t think he really cared. He certainly didn’t have an edifice
complex. He just wanted, he knew if we were going to grow we needed more space.
I mean the building on Indianola was really quite horrible. It was really small.
There wasn’t enough classrooms and we were growing and you know as those of us
who were in favor of the congregation moving saw, we immediately grew very fast.
Not only did people who lived North and West join but lots of Jews moved into
the Northwest because we were there.
Interviewer: After your Presidency were you involved in other ways officially or just as a
Simon: You know you’re still on the Board for two years. After your Presidency you’re
the ex-President so you’re still on the Board. Frankly the Board meetings used
to make me crazy. I would come home and I would have to watch television because
there was just so much banter and so much disagreement and retrenching and going
over the same thing. You would vote on something one week and the next week
somebody would bring it up again, even though it had been defeated. I found that
very frustrating. I felt as a President I wasn’t all that democratic.
Interviewer: You were aware.
Simon: I would say things like we’re only going to discuss this for
ten minutes. This is the agenda. We’re going to cover the agenda and we’re
not going to dwell on this anymore after the ten minutes.
Say what you have to very quickly because several people want to talk. I
tried to keep the Board meetings within a time frame that was reasonable but
that didn’t always happen. There were always people who pushed it over. It’s
very frustrating being on a Jewish Board, I must say. I was on the Battelle
Credit Union Board for 15 years and it was like night and day.
Interviewer: They kept to the agenda.
Simon: They kept to the agenda and it was usually an hour or an hour
and 15 minutes and it was over. It wasn’t constantly bringing back stuff that
we had already decided on. It’s frustrating. Since being President, I’ve
served on committees, I’m on this 25th Anniversary Committee. I was
very much in favor of moving, one of the only people and my cohort, I think.
There are a few of us who would really like to move. Most people and my cohort
really feel that they don’t want to spend the money. They like the present
building, you know 25 reasons why.
I stood up at a meeting and stated that the building was there for our
children and the present building is inadequate for the present members’
children and we ought to move and support a move so that today’s children will
have a decent place to go to school. That was appreciated by the younger people and not by the older people.
Interviewer: Let me back up and ask you if you were involved or remember anything about
the purchase of the building on Indianola so that we fill in any of the blanks
if we can.
Simon: I was there. I voted for it. We felt it was a good move at the time.
Interviewer: Do you recall from whom the building was bought?
Simon: It was a dance studio. It had been a church at one point and had been
converted to a dance studio. When we bought it I’m pretty sure it was still a
dance studio. (Rose Luttinger says it was a church because they left their pews
for a few years). There was a two-car garage that was classrooms.
Interviewer: Did your girls
go to those? I taught in those classrooms without the heat, with the
Simon: Yeah, the building was bad. We sold it to a church. I think
that church has since gone somewhere else and another church is there although I’m
not really sure about that. I think the church we sold it to moved near Meijer
off Sawmill on Martin Road.
Interviewer: Do you remember anything about how you found the site and what was involved
with the …..?
Simon: No. I know that we were looking. We wanted something small.
In retrospect we probably made the wrong decision because it wasn’t big
enough, but it was all we could afford. We’ve never been a congregation that
had any wealthy members. We have a few comfortable members who are still members
like the Brachmans but it’s not like the typical Jewish congregations where
the big business owners, etc. are part of the congregation. That’s been a
Interviewer: Was Jack Resler involved at all at that point when we moved to Indianola
because you mentioned he came to services?
Simon: No he wasn’t. I think he wanted
to see if we could do it on our own. That’s the impression I have. (Howard
Fink stated in his interview that Jack Resler helped us get a more favorable
loan, that was all he did then).
Interviewer: When you went looking at sites was the current location one that Jack Resler
particularly liked? What do you recall about the current location?
Simon: He liked one on Sawmill and he brought me there at least three times to look
around it. I really did not like it. It was under a high tension power line which I have
doubts about even today. It was just an open field. It subsequently became a
housing development. There were no trees. It was just totally open. I just
really felt like….First of all it was too far west. It wasn’t near a
highway. The site on Olentangy is very convenient because it’s near 315. Even
people who live in south Arlington can get there very quickly. People who live
in Clintonville can get on 315 very easily.
The site on Sawmill, now given what’s
happened on Sawmill, it would have been a disaster. It’s just so built up. It’s
difficult to move and to get there quickly so we really made the right decision.
I think he had some kind of an in. Either he already owned the land or he had a
friend who owned the land so that’s why he was pushing that. He and I
discussed it at great length about why from his point of view it would be a
great place to be and from my point of view it would not be.
Interviewer: Are we talking about the site on Sawmill?
Interviewer: What about the current site?
Simon: The current site he didn’t object to.
Another site that we actually liked a lot was behind the Unitarian Church on
High Street which was owned by Schottensteins. We tried to negotiate with
Schottensteins. Some of the lawyers in the congregation tried to make out an
approach that would give them a tax write-off and would give us the land for not
very much money. We could build a parking lot in the back and we could share the
parking lot with the Unitarian Church. It didn’t work out.
Schottensteins wouldn’t come through for us. In the end it probably was a
good decision because it wasn’t a very big lot.
Interviewer: That’s fascinating background. You were very much involved with getting
things organized so that there could be a move to a larger building?
Simon: Right. Jack never really said up front how much he was going to contribute, whether
he was going to buy the land. I was always under the impression that he was
going to buy the land but in the end he actually paid for more than the land.
Interviewer: Were you involved with his coming to that formula, the money that he gave?
Simon: No, I think Howard Fink was the one who did most of that. I was present but I
wasn’t the one who was interacting with him. Howard, I remember, was trying to
get him to commit. There was a meeting at Temple Israel where we discussed the land.
Interviewer: Did you go to that?
Simon: I did. Howard recorded it because it was one of
the few times where Jack actually said that he would pay X or Y or Z.
Interviewer: It would be good to find that recording.
Interviewer: I am going to back up before I forget to make sure that I find out
about your experience in living in Arlington because you mentioned to me
something about being Jewish in Arlington was somewhat controversial, if not
controversial, you tell me.
Simon: When we first came to Columbus we had a contact here. I don’t remember who
it was but it was somebody, one of those things the daughter of a friend of
Rhoda’s mother knew somebody. I don’t remember exactly who. They lived in
Bexley. We were staying at the Hilton, I think, while we were looking for a
place. We came a few months before we moved to look for a place to live. We
visited with this family and told them that we wanted to live on that side of
town because it was more convenient to get to Battelle. I didn’t like the idea
of commuting across the city to get there. Lisa was four years old. We weren’t
really worried about the schools. We really didn’t know anything about
Columbus. They told us in no uncertain terms that we could not live on that side
Jews were not welcome. There were not many Jews who lived there. There were
covenants in the real estate in Upper Arlington that prevented people from
With that in mind, we looked in Bexley. Both of us grew up in old houses. We
did not want an old house. I grew up in a farm house. It was modern. We had an
electric stove in 1938 but then my father was an electrician but then it was
old. We wanted something more up to date. Rhoda grew up in a two-family huge
house in Brookline that was old and she didn’t want to live in an old house.
At that point we really wanted to be close to where I could get to work easily.
We didn’t worry much about the Jewish community with a four year old so we
bought a house on Bricker Blvd. We were actually in that house only ten months.
They changed the school starting age from October 30th to September
30th, October 31st to September 30th in
Columbus. Arlington had not changed yet. Lisa’s birthday is October 24th.
We felt she was ready to go to school. Rhoda was pregnant with Peter and we felt
it would be nice for Lisa to be in school so we moved to our present house.
Interviewer: Did you have any problem dealing with the real estate agent or buying it?
Simon: Nothing but I think most of the covenants, we had a friend who lived on Leeds Road which
is in Canterbury. I think Canterbury was one of the areas where there were
covenants and I’m not sure they were still in effect then. For years after we
lived there we would meet people from the East Side who would say, “You
live in Arlington. Jews don’t live in Arlington. How do you live in
Arlington?” It was like nobody could believe that Jews could live in
Arlington. To this day there are still people on the East Side who think that
even though in our neighborhood there’s probably six Jewish families now. It
has really changed. It took a lot longer than Worthngton who has been much more
Jewish for a longer period of time. Eventually it changed.
I don’t think you can count on one hand the number of anti Semitic
incidents our kids had going to school. There were a couple, they weren’t
terrible. Eric, our youngest son, was President of Senior Class at Upper
Arlington High School. Marc Raphael who was the Rabbi at that time at Beth
Tikvah, whose son was also in Eric’s class, gave the Benediction on a Sunday,
the first and last time that a Rabbi ever did that at the Baccalaureate Service.
Eric asked him to do it. As President he was in charge of that.
Interviewer: That’s a nice little note. If we speak of anti Semitism let me ask you how
your experience at Battelle has been for these many years?
Simon: Interestingly when I first came to Battelle every Jewish staff member knew
every other Jewish staff member. We called it the Jewish mafia. If there was a
new staff member who was Jewish he or she immediately was introduced to the
other Jewish staff members. We knew everybody who was Jewish. Over time there I
think have been fewer Jewish staff members than there were when I first joined.
My feeling is that it’s not the same kind of close knit. I think also that’s
because of the nature of the younger generation. Not Lisa, but the boys, if I’m
talking about one of their colleagues or they’re talking about one of their
colleagues and they seem to me to have a Jewish name and I say is he Jewish.
They always look at me like I’m coming from space 9. They just never ever
think about who is Jewish and who is not Jewish where from my generation I think
we were always sort of tuned in, who is Jewish, who is not Jewish, not to get
favors, not to do anything else, the same thing as if somebody does something
wrong and he’s Jewish you feel oh goodness why did it have to be somebody
Jewish. Our kids just don’t think that way. They don’t know a Jewish name
from a non-Jewish, they just don’t think the same way. I think the staff at
Battelle probably fall into that category.
Interviewer: Well, I want to return to Beth Tikvah to see if you have any other memories or
things that would be very good for the history of the synagogue to have recorded.
Simon: One thing I remember that Roger used to do with the Lulav and the Esrog, he
would have a special ceremony and the kids would get together in a park, you
know dance and sing. Our kids still remember that as well. You don’t need a
special building or a special anything for those kind of memories.
Interviewer: Thank you for sharing that particular memory. I will ask one final time as we approach the
end if there is any further information or material that you want to have us
record in terms of your life as a Jew in Columbus, Ohio and as a former
President and current member of Beth Tikvah?
Simon: I think it’s unfortunate that we didn’t move. It was one of those
situations where we needed to sell the building. We couldn’t find a buyer. I
was against building further on that site. I think the site is too small, the
driveway is too narrow. I know some of the neighbors who work at Battelle and I’ve
had a number of interactions with them. I sympathize with them. When the Jewish
Center was going to be part of the plan and we were going to have a school for
the Jewish Center and it was going to be up to 100 kids in the school, these
people who live along that driveway were frantic. There were going to be 100
cars going in and out every day and I can see where they’re coming from. The
lot is just not big enough for one driveway and one in and out to accommodate
Interviewer: Do I understand that what you’re saying is not the opinion of some, that
the objection of the neighbors was just anti Semitic?
Simon: I don’t believe it was. I really don’t. I think it’s very easy to
label people anti-Semite just because they disagree with you. These
people have homes. They’re concerned about the value of their home.
They’re nice people. I know them. I’ve known them for a long time.
Interviewer: They’re willing to talk to you openly?
Simon: Oh yeah. They were against it. It was a
legitimate position to take. It’s too bad but I can sympathize with them. That
neighborhood hasn’t been very nice generally. They’ve put up no parking
signs on the High Holidays. You could think that for two or three days a year
they could live with more cars parked on their street but there are all sorts of
restrictions now. It’s unfortunate. On the other hand, we’re a lot of people
and they don’t like it and they’re entitled to their opinion.
Interviewer: I didn’t ask if you were involved in any other Jewish activities other than
Beth Tikvah in the time that you have lived in Columbus?
Simon: No, we support Jewish Family Service. We think they do really great things.
Interviewer: You obviously have a strong commitment to Judaism and you have expressed it
through your involvement with Beth Tikvah. That has been very important. I
certainly want to thank you for taking the time to share your memories and
allowing us to make this recording. I will ask as a final conclusion if there is
anything that I failed to ask you or anything that you would like to add?
Simon: No, that’s it.
Interviewer: On behalf of the Columbus Jewish Historical Society and Congregation Beth
Tikvah I want to thank you for contributing to the Oral History Project. This
concludes the interview.