Dr. Marc Lee Raphael interviewing Sylvia Schecter on September 22, 1974 as part of the Oral History program of the Columbus Jewish Historical Society.
Interviewer: Let’s begin by having you tell me something about
your mother and father.
Schecter: My mother came from Galicia which was formerly Austria on
the Austrian-France Joseph Highway. They had tremendous farmlands. He was one of the few Jewish farmers in Austria in those days. The family had lived there 300-400 years. Their name was Furman. Do you want me to tell you her background and how she got there?
Interviewer: Sure. The more you tell me, the happier I am.
Schecter: My mother came here when she was twelve or thirteen years
old. She was a d______ – a servant/maid for the Earl Greenberg family.
She came with her brother, C. H. Furman and they settled in the
Nelsonville-Zanesville area and then they came up to the big city. She
also came with her sister who is now Lena Margulies. They were brought
here by their brother who escaped serving in the army in those days.
She came to Columbus and served as a d_______. From there she got
herself a job with the Greenberg family.
Interviewer: Who is this Greenberg family?
Schecter: They’re gone already. They used to be in the men’s
clothing business downtown, years and years ago. It was called Greene’s
. . . .
Interviewer: Take a guess as to what years, give or take five years.
Schecter: Well, my mother is eighty-three. So it had to have been
seventy years ago, she was thirteen when she came. Right around the
turn of the century. Then she went to work in what they call the
rigalia which was the Lilley Company, a company that made uniforms.
Then she did chocolate dipping factory work. She had very little
education because she came here so young.
Schecter: Well, that we know. She came to Columbus and she got
involved in what they called the Jewish Yiddish Theater. They had
their little group that was probably like the Gallery Players today.
She met my father who was of Russian descent who had been brought over
by his older brother. They ended up with five brothers and two sisters
here. My mother ended up with four sisters and a brother. They were
from a family of seven or eight and the rest of them were all left in
Austria. We had direct word that they were annihilated during the
holocaust in that particular area. They were in the hills of their
My mother told me that their farm was hundreds and hundreds of
acres which was unusual for Jewish people. They used to hire people to
help with the harvest, the milking, the storing up for the winter, the
picking of nuts. She said that when there was a rainstorm, she could
swear there was oil on the ground. My mother talked about when there
was a rainstorm, there would be oil on top of the puddles. She said
she knew they were very wealthy but it didn’t do them any good. They
were all annihilated there – hundreds of the Furman family.
Interviewer: Was C.H. Furman her brother?
Schecter: Lena Margulies who is today Lena Margulies from the
Margulies family. Peers whose children are today, Adele Helman and
Mrs. Emil (Isabelle) Rosen. The Margulies is Julius Margulies. And
then from the Roth family are Irwin Roth, Carl Roth and the Friedmans
came off that. They had five children.
We were three sisters. I’m the oldest of three sisters and a half
brother. My father died March 17, 1915. He was 26 ½ years old and I
was only four years old. He left my mother a widow with three
daughters. I was not quite four, my sister was not quite three and the
baby was four or five weeks old.
Interviewer: What was his name?
Schecter: His name was Benjamin Cohen. When they got married, my
mother was eighteen or nineteen years old and, of course, her sister
came and lived with her. It was later on that the other two sisters,
Lena Margulies and Minnie Peer came with her brother-in-law, Roth, who
after World War I, brought his wife and four or five children here.
Interviewer: Was Charles the first of the Furman siblings to come to
Interviewer: What brought Charles to Columbus? Why did he pick
Schecter: Well, he wasn’t doing very well down in Nelsonville. How
he got to or was sent to Nelsonville, I do not know. I could ask my
mother that. I never did delve into that. But he chose Columbus
because it was just a budding city at that time and he felt things
were good here. He did get into the coal business. Friends and
associations in the Zanesville Coal and Hocking Hills area, he got
into the coal retail business here in Columbus. He had the Furman Coal
Company on the west side where very few Jews lived in those days. He
had a big coal company there and then he went off into a truck and
garage business. it was the distributor for Mack Trucks and Fisk
Tires. I always remember that tire with the little girl saying,
“Time to Retire.” When the 1913 flood came, I was about two
or three years old and I can vividly remember when they opened the
West Broad Street bridge which had been completely demolished.
There were four places on the westside that were used to celebrate.
They had a great big carnival kind of thing. An orchestra playing and
everything. His garage is now the site of the Veteran’s Memorial.
His home was further down.
During the High Holidays, the whole family would trek to our house
and we all would sleep on the floor and go to synagogue in the morning
and be together. We all belonged to Beth Jacob shul which was an
off-shoot, in those days., of the big shul, the Agudas Achim.
My father came to Columbus because he had an older brother, William
Cohen, who came here with Jacob Cohen and settled here in Columbus and
then they brought my father, Mr. Benjamin Cohen and Morris Cohen. Then
they brought their sister who was Goldie Hemmelstein and another
sister who became Mrs. Koltz. The Hemmelstein family today is Ray
Schlonsky, William Goodman – there’s a whole slew of them here. The
Kravitz’s are all off-shoots, Ann Schilling, the Minkins, the
Coopersteins, the other Cohen family are Benjamin Cowell. They changed
their name back to Cowel. Their name was really Covel when they came
here. Somebody in New York said, when they got off the boat, “We
don’t like the name Covel. You can become Cohen.” That’s how
they got the name Cohen. They settled here and they were five brothers
and two sisters. They all lived on _________ Street at one time. We
all lived together in one area.
Interviewer: Has anybody ever talked about the voyage over? Did you
ever hear them talk about the trip? Where they left from?
Schecter: My mother left from Lemburg. My father, I never got to
talk much to my father although my uncle William Cohen was just like
my father. He helped raise me because I had no dad and I wasn’t old
enough to discuss these things with my father. We would sit around the
table and talk but we never discussed too much except that they left
family over there in Russia, I think the Vilna area. They were
blacksmiths when they came over here, that’s the reason they had the
name Cocel which means blacksmith. One of them became the Covel family
which lives here in Columbus. They took back the name. I remember one
of them took the name Covel here. And another took the name Covel in
Chicago. So they sort of split up the name a little bit.
They all very ___________, the blacksmith went into the wet wash
business. Mr. William Cohen, who was just like my father, he had the
Reliable Wet Wash Laundry on Parsons Avenue.
Interviewer: He was very active at Beth Jacob.
Schecter: Beth Jacob and in the community, too. He was involved in
the Federation before it became a Federation in helping raise money
for overseas and local needs, too – the Hebrew School and things like
that. We had a very fine close knit family. All of us cousins were
very, very close and it’s been great being together. I’ve sort of
stuck with the William Cohen family and the Furman family.
Interviewer: So you know Mel Furman very well.
Schecter: Oh, yes. They’re here for holiday dinners. The Minkins
were here with my aunt and William Cohen’s children were here for
the holidays. We’re very close. Mel’s sister, Gertrude, who is
married to a Levin, is very close to me. We grew up together. Not just
cousins but girlfriends.
Interviewer: Was Mel Furman the one whose brother died in World War
Schecter: Yes. Arthur Carl Furman. Lost overseas.
Interviewer: Tell me something about your earliest childhood.
Something about your education and whatever you remember.
Schecter: I went to Fulton Street School. At the age of four and a
half or five, my mother enrolled me in Hebrew School which is unusual
today. You always wait until later. But she always felt . . . I guess
it was because I didn’t have a father and I had to learn Hebrew in
order to .. . I didn’t have Kaddish and I was the oldest so she felt
I had to know Hebrew. I was enrolled and we didn’t have a Hebrew
School at Beth Jacob so the only one that had a Hebrew School in the
entire city was Agudas Achim. I was enrolled in the Agudas Achim
Hebrew School at the age of five or five and a half and I stayed there
until I was about 10 years old. Then they formed a Hebrew School down
around Rich Street. Mom didn’t like the way the Hebrew School was
taught so she pulled me out and enrolled me with a Rebbe Schwartz over
on Fifth and Donaldson. He was crippled and laid in bed with palsy or
something and he taught me not only Hebrew, but he taught me how to
read and write Yiddish because my mother never spoke much Yiddish. She
was always an English speaking person. She adapted very quickly to the
English language and we really didn’t get to learn Yiddish until
right after World War I when all these cousins started coming over
from Europe. That’s when I learned my real Yiddish. As much as I
know. Then of course, when I married my husband who was foreign born,
I learned more Yiddish from his folks. I had a good knowledge of
Hebrew and I was one of only two girls in a complete class of boys all
the way through Hebrew School. Sarah Schwartz, who was Sarah Horowitz
in those days, and I, were the only two girls. Freddie Yenkin was in
that class and that whole gang of fellows.
Beth Jacob did not have a Sunday School so they enrolled me. We
were poor people – my mother had a very small widow’s pension – she
had to really work hard. I want you to know that. I worked at the age
of eleven at Bornheim and __________ as a stock girl and at
___________ before _______________ at age ten or eleven. At the age of
fourteen, I was already a secretary to Goldie Kantor Mayer. I was out
of high school at the age of fifteen, graduated with high honors.
There were no scholarships. __________ _________ wanted to send me on
a borrowed scholarship mother couldn’t afford, I had to bring in
this money. So I became a private secretary / stenographer at the age
of fifteen or sixteen. At the age of nineteen, I was married to my
Interviewer: That was right around the beginning of the Depression?
Schecter: We got married right during the heart of the Depression –
1931. We were married 43 years.
Interviewer: Let’s go back a little since you’ve now moved to
Schecter: I went to Fulton Street School for four and a half years –
supposed to be six – I went to Mound Junior High School in two and a
half years. Then I transferred to Central High School and was in the
first class to enroll after the Commerce High School broke up on Broad
Street and went over to Central High School. We used to walk to
school. I lived on the corner of – I was born on Washington Street in
a row of flats right off Fulton, between Fulton and Mound.
Interviewer: It’s still there.
Schecter: No, the freeway is there.
Interviewer: Nope, the freeway starts below Fulton. All those flats
are still there.
Schecter: Then we moved over to Stauring Street where my uncle lived
right around me. That’s why they were so protective of us and saw
that we had everything that was necessary. We were all three children
born in the home, not in the hospital. We lived on Stauring Street
until my mother decided that paying rent would never get us any place.
She had a little bit – I think $500 left from the funeral. She bought
a house at 517 Fulton Street. The reason I think it’s nice to know
is, when we lived on Fulton Street, there was quite an inflationary
period with reference to kosher meat. The community felt that the cost
of meat was too high so they went out and brought in their own butcher
and set him up on Fulton Street in a small shack across the street
from our house. I can just picture it on Fulton, right off of
Livingston. His name was Harry Center. Then mother decided that she
wanted to improve – by that time she had gotten married after 12 years
of being a widow – and we moved over to 17th Street. Her house that
she sold is where Harry Center set up his great big butcher shop. It
was the Harry Center Butcher Shop and it was one of the best the city
has ever had. It was also a grocery store. The reason I brought this
up is because I think it’s important to know that this is part of
the Jewish trend.
I remember as a little girl during the war years, World War I, when
peace was declared, I vividly recall getting in a big truck in front
of the Agudas Achim with all the Jewish people with Jewish flags in
our hands and we were representing the Mothers’ Alliance of America
and paraded in a big spontaneous parade downtown because at that time
they were sending stuff to Israel / Palestine. The Mothers’
Alliance, which my mother was very active in, then became the Pioneer
Women which is today flourishing in Israel more than it does today in
Columbus. Mom was very active in the synagogue. She was president of
the Sisterhood for five or six years. When I got married, I became
president of the Sisterhood for seven years. Do you still want to go
back to my childhood? What more?
Interviewer: Lots of things. Let’s talk about the Columbus Hebrew
School. Do you remember Mr. Matchnik?
Schecter: Oh, yeah, that was about the time when I left. I didn’t
have much to do with him because my mother thought that he was too
strict, too much of a disciplinarian. But I remember the old man
Mellman. And do you know who else was my Hebrew teacher?
Interviewer: Robert Mellman’s dad?
Schecter: Robert Mellman’s dad. And you know who else was my
Hebrew teacher? Dr. Professor Beckman was also my Hebrew teacher. He
was my teacher at the Hebrew School at Agudas Achim.
Interviewer: I thought he was at the Schonthal Center.
Schecter: No, at Agudas Achim. The Schonthal Center, they decided
there were too many young Jewish kids not getting a Jewish education
and didn’t belong to Agudas Achim who had a Sunday School or Temple
Israel, who had a Sunday School, or Tifereth Israel, who had a Sunday
School. So Schonthal set up a Sunday School in the Schonthal Center. I
was looking for this picture before you walked in – I can’t find it
– of being confirmed at the age of thirteen or fourteen. All previous
people who were confirmed at the Schonthal Center, Dad Schonthal used
to say, “I want those kids.” He made Temple Israel take
those poor children and put them in the confirmation class at Temple
Israel. My year was the first year that they didn’t join with Temple
Israel’s group so we got confirmed in our own confirmation class at
Interviewer: They usually have the rabbi at Temple Israel perform .
Schecter: That’s right. I think Tarshish was in my picture. I
remember Rabbi Korn, too.
Interviewer: Kornfeld. Do you remember any teachers at the Hebrew
School? I’m trying to think if Julius Baker’s brother . . . .
Schecter: No, Aaron? Sam Yablock? Sam came over afterwards. I ran
around with Sam’s and Rabbi Baker’s wife – as children, we went to
school together. Sam and I were in the same class together in school.
He was older than I – I was ahead of myself.
Interviewer: Before Rabbi Greenwald came, there was a Rabbi
Topkowitz. Do you remember him?
Schecter: I sure do. He was a short, very handsome, black bearded
man. Very gracious, very kind, very sweet. I don’t know why he ever
left but he was head of Beth Jacob in those days. Then Rabbi Greenwald
came. He was a doll. I loved him very much.
Interviewer: We’ll get back to Rabbi Greenwald later. What about
when you were a kid, was there a Rabbi Werner?
Schecter: He was at Agudas Achim. He was involved in the Hebrew
School that was there, too. We used to have our Hebrew Annual program
at the big shul. I remember at the big shul on Friday night, all the
most famous speakers, world wide, especially in the Zionist movement,
would come on Friday evening as we would gather what we called Maggid
, the Friday Evening Forum. I remember as a
youngster, going to hear these famous men – I don’t think Herzl was
here but some of the other men -that would come here. I think some of
the most famous men that we think about now that were involved in the
great movement, were here. I remember going as a child – I was
interested in Zionism and I was interested in Hebrew and my uncles and
my father were ___________.
We had on our mantel, a little statue, a head of Herzl, always – as
a child, I remember seeing it. That’s the reason my uncle, Mr.
Moynya Cohen moved to Israel – that was before I got married – and his
wife’s sister married a Kesselman. Have you come across their name
yet? His wife’s sister graduated from Ohio State University which
was quite a thing in those days. My God, I was only a kid yet and for
a girl to graduate from Ohio State University and she met a man there
who was in agriculture which was very unusual for a Jewish man. They
picked themselves up and moved to Israel. My uncle and aunt, who had
no children, she treated her sister like a child, went to Israel and
he laid out what is today the Hula Valley. We visited them fifteen
years ago. At that time, my uncle was already dead. They took my other
uncle’s money together and that’s how they got to Israel. My Aunt
Chaya (Kesselman) and her daughter, Shoshana and their son, Ayil, (who
was written up in Exodus and at Ohio State University). He had a price
on his head by the British government. All he did, the six months he
was here, was outfit a boatload of ammunition and he swam that
boatload from the Gulf of Mexico to Israel. It was one of the
boatloads of munitions they needed before 1948 and after he got there,
he was there only four or five days and he was killed. His name is
enshrined over at Ohio State University Hillel, too. So you can see
how Zionists and Hebrew minded are family and always were.
Interviewer: Do you remember Flag Days here?
Schecter: Yes, we went around with boxes and we sold and pinned
flags on the men. We went to all the prominent places. That was the
way we got money for Palestine. We were proud about that.
Interviewer: You would go out and collect . . .?
Schecter: Yes, we sure did. I was part of that movement, I guess, as
a youngster, without realizing it.
Interviewer: You mentioned that you were all born at home. Did you
ever have doctors take care of you?
Schecter: Yes. I had Dr. Fisher as a youngster. I had a very bad
illness. Dr. Feddleman had just come back from the war and my mother
threw him out of the house because he gave me up for being dead. She
threw his bag out because she said to him, “You’ll have to get
somebody else in,” and he said, “You can’t afford it and I
can’t get you a doctor.” She threw him out and she ran over on
Main Street and got this Dr. Fisher. He came over and he diagnosed it
as erysipelas. My uncle had to walk from Stauring Street to Main and
High Street (of course there was no transportation) where Mykrantz was
open late at night and he walked all the way back and that was the
medicine that saved me. We used Dr. Fisher, who had a place on Main
Street, for years and years after that.
Interviewer: What about teachers? Did you ever have a Jewish teacher
while growing up?
Schecter: Dr. Sylvester Goodman, too. I had a very serious operation
at the age of three. I was climbing over a fence and I got stuck on a
picket fence. Dr. Sylvester Goodman operated on me three times. Great
man. Saved my life, too. I was a big fatty and was a tomboy.
Interviewer: Did you ever follow Dr. Goodman’s career?
Schecter: Sure did. His wife is living today in Heritage House.
Interviewer: What is her name?
Schecter: Mrs. Sylvester Goodman.
Interviewer: What’s her first name?
Schecter: I forgot her first name. He became a very well known
surgeon in the city of Columbus.
Interviewer: Teachers. Did you ever have a Jewish teacher as a
Schecter: No, I don’t remember. I still see Mrs. Dodson and Mrs.
Cox who were my seventh grade music teacher and my fourth grade
teacher at Fulton Street School. I walked in here about a year and a
half ago to go to this little restaurant over here, Grill &
Skillet and there was Mrs. Dodson. I walked up to her and said,
“Mrs. Dodson! I’m shocked.” She said, “You’re one
of the Cohen girls.” She recognized me from the fourth grade.
Well, I had seen her on and off through the years, at Lazarus, so it
wasn’t that fresh but she remembered. It was remarkable. And those
two women never got married. Teachers used to be old maids. Mrs.
Keefer and Mrs. Newman, I think if you talk to anybody from Fulton
Street, they’d tell you about Keefer and Newman. Mrs. Newman was the
drama teacher and everybody learned “Lil’ Orphan Annie”
Interviewer: Speaking of “Lil’ Orphan Annie”, in your
home, as you were growing up, did you have English books, Yiddish
books, Hebrew books?
Schecter: I was an avid reader. We didn’t have that many books but
I’ll tell you this, we were just reminiscing the other day about it.
Saturday, as religiously as we went to services in the morning, that’s
how religiously we all walked up Grant Avenue to the Columbus Public
Library and came home just trudging books. We always had a big kitchen
and everyone lived in the kitchen. I could sit there enthralled in a
book. There could be God knows what going on around me and I would be
buried in a book and never hear. To this very day, I can read and
anything could be going on around me and I’m able to concentrate. I
read books and books and books. Dickens and everything. The kids don’t
do that today.
Interviewer: You didn’t have television and radio?
Schecter: You’ll see my library. I’ve got a library back there.
Interviewer: What about butchers other than Harry Center. Do you
remember any others?
Schecter: Sure, Israel Briar who lived over on Donaldson Street and
married one of Joe’s (my husband) cousins. Mr. Katz was over there
on Livingston. Of course, old man Godofsky was on Parsons many years
ago before Marty took over and Joe talked him into moving over here on
Interviewer: Do you remember Henry Einhorn? Einhorn and Cowan
Schecter: No, I don’t.
Interviewer: What about policemen? Did you ever meet any policemen
in your neighborhood when you were a kid? Did you ever see any
policemen? Any recollections?
Schecter: Not too much except during prohibition when they did some
raiding in our area. I had an uncle, William Cohen, who was raided.
Interviewer: C.H. Furman was raided, too.
Schecter: I never heard that.
Interviewer: It was on the front page of the paper.
Schecter: If I remember, that was a “put up” thing.
Somebody got angry and they put him up on this. It was at the West
Broad Street Garage. Mr. Furman was never involved in that. Mr. Cohen
was. He used to do some selling liquor on the side because he needed
the money. He was keeping two families, his own of three daughters and
my mother’s with three daughters.
Do you want me to tell you something about my mother. It was
remarkable how, without education, she was able to make a living. She
used to trudge with three suitcases, selling tablecloths and things to
the goyim on the southside. Harry Margulies, ,my brother-in-law, had a
dry goods store and she used to get some of the stuff from him. Then
came the High Holy Days and she would sell fish in the backyard. She
would bring in great big boxes of fish and the women would gather and
come with their baskets and buy fish for the High Holidays. From that,
she went into catering. They would hire her by the day to cater. They
would furnish the food, the shifts. She would do the cooking in their
Interviewer: Did your mother cater any of the picnics? Did you ever
go to a picnic?
Schecter: Did I ever go to a picnic? No, they never catered picnics.
Everyone brought their own baskets. To go on picnics, we went to
Heimendale Grove, to Olentangy Park and then to Old Indianola Park
where they had the great big swimming pool. We went dancing at
Olentangy Park. That’s how I got back to seeing my husband again. We
brought our own food. They had shows and all kinds of rides, of
course. But the ones we enjoyed the most, were the ones at Heimandale
Grove because they were restricted, they were our own people.
Interviewer: The Voliner Society.
Schecter: Yes, the Voliner Society. My uncles all belonged, my
husband belonged. The synagogues, the Sisterhood would all have that.
They also had ice cream socials in the backyards of the synagogues to
raise money. We had raffles. We called them Lawn Fetes.
Interviewer: There obviously was no lawn next to Agudas Achim.
Schecter: Yes, there was.
Interviewer: I know there was an empty lot.
Schecter: That was a beautiful lawn. We used to have grass on there.
And we also had a yard in back of Beth Jacob. At that time, I wasn’t
involved. The only reason I went to the big shul was for Hebrew
School. I belonged to Beth Jacob for years after I was married. In
fact, I was president of their Sisterhood for seven years. Then when
the shuls didn’t get together and we had already moved out here,
that’s when I got involved with Agudas Achim.
Interviewer: After Agudas Achim built their own synagogue?
Schecter: No, I didn’t wait until they built. I knew they were
coming and I was already here. I’m here 33 years. I joined there. We
were supposed to merge and it didn’t go through. I was part of the
group that was trying to get them to merge. We thought they were
merged and then they broke it away again. When they broke away again,
I stayed with Agudas Achim.
Interviewer: We’ll come back to that. What about birthdays for a
poor family when you were a kid? Do you remember celebrating . . .?
Schecter: We always had birthday parties. I always had a birthday
cake. I think my mother used to go out of her way to see that we
children had everything that anybody else had even though we were
poor. Living on Stauring Street, the old Jewish Community Center used
to be on the corner of Washington and Stauring. There was an old
building there and it was right next to Ahavas Sholom Shul which was
right next to the Agudas Achim Shul. Yes, we had birthday parties.
Interviewer: Do you remember a man by the name of H. Joseph Hyman at
the old Jewish Community Center there?
Schecter: Yes, and Mrs. Steiffel, who was like the social worker but
I think she did it as a volunteer. I remember old lady Steiffel with
the gray hair and she was short in stature. We loved her. Hyman was
more of a different kind than that.
Interviewer: Administrator? Director?
Schecter: Yes, he was like a director and we children didn’t have
too much to do with him. But I remember Mrs. Steiffel very well. We
loved her. She’d go around because we were part of welfare. She’d
come to call on us.
Interviewer: Do you remember back as far as Rabbi Taxon?
Schecter: Sure. That’s who was in the picture. Taxon, not Tarshish.
Interviewer: What do you remember about Rabbi Taxon?
Schecter: Not too much because we never went to his temple.
Interviewer: Taxon was the Rabbi at Agudas Achim.
Schecter: Agudas Achim before Werner. Taxon – the Schottenstein
woman married Taxon. I knew her very well. After she lost her husband,
she came to live here. Yes, I knew Taxon before Werner.
Interviewer: Did you know anything about him?
Schecter: Not too much.
Interviewer: How about Rabbi Neches? Remember him?
Schecter: I heard the name, yes. That was way back.
Interviewer: He came right after Taxon for two or three years in the
Schecter: I wasn’t there too much. I was at Beth Jacob. Except
through the Hebrew School Association, that’s how I became familiar
and having our annual programs at Agudas Achim.
Interviewer: Do you remember Reverand Silverman,Cantor Silverman?
Schecter: Sure. And his choir.
Interviewer: Tell us something about him.
Schecter: We used to steal away from Beth Jacob so we could go over
and hear the choir. Cantor Silverman had the sweetest voice. Of
course, I know his family. His daughter lives here. Pearl Sillman. She’s
having problems today. His son and his brother is a famous rabbi in
England and there is one son down in Pittsburgh or Philadelphia. I
think they both died already.
Interviewer: Did he do anything? Was he a shochet, a mohel, for
Schecter: Yes, they all were. He was a shochet and he was a mohel.
And so, of course, was Gellman who followed him. I think Gellman
Interviewer: That’s right.
Schecter: There was nothing in between. They both stayed very long
periods of time.
Interviewer: Silverman was there twenty years until he died. Then
Gellman came for a long time. Is Gellman still alive?
Schecter: He just died last year or two years ago. I have a picture
of him if you want it.
Interviewer: I’ve seen it. Did he die in Columbus?
Schecter: Sure. He got sick between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, two
Interviewer: Do you remember any Judaic objects in your home besides
as a kid? Did you have paintings of people?
Schecter: Paintings, I doubt. We had lots of Jewish books. Of
course, we were raised that way.
Interviewer: Yiddish and Hebrew books? Books in English about Jewish
Schecter: Oh, yes. I loved to read the Bible stories. I always read
them as a child. Those were my favorites. There were all kinds of
books around the house.
Interviewer: When you were attending Fulton and then Mound, do you
recall if there were mostly Jewish students there at the time?
Schecter: Yes, there were a lot of Jewish students. Especially over
at Fulton Street and Mound Street schools. There were quite a number
of us. Half of the classes were Jewish. It was like a little ghetto
Interviewer: You didn’t have many friends among the non Jewish?
Schecter: Yes, I did and I do. To this very day, I remember Mary
Capuano and now the Capuano Restaurant that’s just opened up over
here. I keep thinking of Mary when I was a kid. I had a Catholic
girlfriend – full face with blond hair – who came from Holy Cross
around Third Street there. She came to school with me at Mound Street
School and I thought it was so neat that she had given up her all day
school, as you would call it, going to Holy Cross School and come with
us. We were very good friends. We also had colored children in our
class and there was none of this kind of thing about being surprised
about being with colored people. We just took it for granted. We went
all the way through Fulton Street, Mound Street and Central High
School with colored kids and thought nothing of it. I even had some
friends there. I can’t recall their names. Before you came, I was
trying to find my high school paste-up book – my class book of Central
High School – someplace in my basement.
Interviewer: Let’s talk about your activities after you were
married. Let’s start with B’nai Brith Women which you were
particularly active in. Is that correct?
Schecter: Yes, my Uncle Mr. William Cohen was organizing a B’nai
Brith chapter – it’s exactly forty years ago last year. He took all
of us children – all of us cousins – and put our names in for a dollar
so we were on the charter – they wanted to have 180 people on it. I
was part of that, although I worked. I worked with my husband. As I
said, I went to work early and when I got married I continued to work
as a secretary at Midland Mutual. I was secretary to the assistant
actuary. While I was with Chester Sullivan, he became the actuary, the
vice president and he ended up being president of Midland Mutual and
he was president until they moved over to this gorgeous new building
on Broad Street. I worked for Midland for seven and a half years and
then I got pregnant with my first child.
In the meantime, my husband went into the liquor business on the
west side. When we got married, we were absolutely broke. It was the
heart of the Depression, May 31, 1931. My husband, Joe, couldn’t
hold a job. As I said, he was foreign born. He went to work for Mr.
Furman, hauling coal and actually shoveling the coal down the chutes
of the basement doors for a quarter a ton. He was supposed to take a
colored person with him to do that but he would do it himself because
we needed that quarter. I think I earned, as a secretary at that time,
$23.00 a week. I had a good job – it was considered excellent.
Then Joe got a job at the county in the county courthouse. Lawyers
couldn’t get a job. His cousin Schecter couldn’t get a job and he
was a graduate attorney. But he got a job refiguring the appraisal
taxes. He was supposed to have that job for a few weeks but he held it
for nine or ten months. By the time we were married about four years,
he was a fruit peddler on Saturday at Fourth Street Market – Central
Market. He wouldn’t let me come out and help. He thought that it was
beneath my dignity.
Then Joe was offered a job by Stone, the beer company. It was one
of the original beer companies who had malt stores in this city. It
was a string of Stone Grills. I don’t know whether you came across
them or not.
Interviewer: Stone’s Bar & Grill? Everyone . . ..
Schecter: Joe went to work with him the day they opened up. Sam
Stone saw him and said, “Joe, come work for me,” and he went
to work. I’ll never forget the Thanksgiving that he couldn’t come
up the stairs. He had worked for five days, day and night and he
couldn’t crawl the stairs. I don’t know what he got. He got almost
nothing. Sam said to Joe,
“You worked so hard, I’m going to open you up your own
place.” So he opened up a place in the bottoms of the west side.
Joe was there about three months. Both of us worked very hard. I even
made the curtains. He took an old theater and Joe and Morris Skilken,
who were out of work, remodeled the theater. It had a sloping floor
which they remodeled into a straight floor and made a big barroom out
of it. We opened it up together. We put shows on there. We got people
Then one of the Scherer brothers came in and said, “We want
you to charge _______. We want you to raise it up,” and _________
Hines said, “You can’t do it if you can’t afford it.”
And he said, “You’re through.” Here we had opened it up
and gone through all that – Sam Stone had gone to Florida – he left it
in charge of Joe. So he spitefully bought his old malt store down at
the bottom and with tea room furniture we bought together, we opened
up a bar there. And we did very well. While I was working in the
office, I worked nights there with him. He worked a;; day – he used to
spend 18-20 hours working there and that’s how we got started – we
borrowed $50 from Lou Levin for Stage _________ Company.
Interviewer: We’re going back to your activities in B’nai Brith
Women. You enrolled when it was first founded?
Schecter: Chartered. I was working and I came to a meeting one
evening at Temple Israel. This was one of the nicest things that
happened in this community. Temple Israel was very generous with their
social welfare programs. They would leave out their rooms to be used
by all Jewish organizations without charge. All you did was pay John
for his time or using the facilities. Today they won’t give you
anything. None of the congregations . . . it’s a shame they don’t
let anyone use their synagogues and the organizations are having
problems today. We used to meet down there and I came down there one
day and Pearl Sillman decided to resign as Vice President. I had taken
on the chairmanship of a card party and it was successful. The chapter
was three or four years old at that time. She resigned that night and
Tillie Rosenthal got up and said, “I nominate Sylvia Schecter as
vice president” and I was so shocked, I couldn’t talk. I’m a
different person than I was. It made me into a different individual,
it really did. I say that leadership can be developed from anybody. I
couldn’t talk, it stuck right in my throat but I became vice
president and the next year I was president. From then on, I got into
district work, representing the chapter. And from district work, I
became state president and district president. I never wanted to be a
district president. I felt I wasn’t qualified. I always had a
hang-up that I never had a college education. But I feel that my
college education was experience throughout the world. I’ve listened
to some of the finest men in the world speak and somebody once said,
“You had your classrooms at the feet of very important men.”
The most outstanding thing that I experienced in all my years in B’nai
Brith work was two things. One was the trip to Israel made available
to me as the only woman representing the eight state area, fifteen
years ago at the first Triannual of B’nai Brith of Israel. Before
that, when I was on the board of the district, I was always involved
in Jewish education. I had the privilege of being the first Adult
Jewish Education chairman for District 2 which is an eight state area.
They sent me to New York and I was in the presence of people like
Mordecai Kaplan, Lilyveld, Rackman. The finest minds were called
together by B’nai Brith to set up the Adult Jewish Education program
which was before we had the Institute for Jewish Life or any other
organizations that were involved in Jewish education. I had the thrill
of sitting for six days at the feet of these men and just listening. I
came back a different person. I’ve had my education in other ways.
These were the two outstanding things that meant more to me than
anything else in my life as far as B’nai Brith Women is concerned. I’ve
had a very organizational life. I’ve been involved in synagogue
Sisterhoods most of my life.
Interviewer: One thing at a time. Who belonged to B’nai Brith
Women? All the women in the city?
Schecter: At first they didn’t. There were a few of the Reform,
but mostly Orthodox. Reformed belonged as token members, people like
Shanfarber’s wife and Fran Gundersheimer. They all belonged and I
think they still belong because B’nai Brith at that time had your
nucleus of the Reform people which was being infiltrated with the
Orthodox and the other Jewish people, the synagogue and so on.
Interviewer: Was this an equivalent of the Council for Jewish Women?
Schecter: No, not at that time. We were considered below them.
Hadassah with Council,and B’nai Brith was the lowest. There was no
Brandeis. I helped found Brandeis later on. Incidentally, I also had
the privilege of being district chairman of the Hillel Foundations for
eight years and working under Dr. Saffere in Chicago. At the time,
when the Hillels were considered almost nothing, we only had 200 in
the whole district and I remember how I used to have to get up and
make a report. I’d be the last one on the agenda because it didn’t
meany anything as far as program. Today, it’s the one that’s
pushed the most.
Interviewer: When you say this was the order, Hadassah, Council for
Jewish Women . . ..
Schecter: No. Council for Jewish Women, Hadassah . . .
Interviewer: What kind of order?
Schecter: Social status, let’s put it very bluntly. But then, what
happened was, during the World War II years, B’nai Brith had a
tremendous war service program. Incidently, I got involved in it over
my head with David Cheses. That’s how David became the State of Ohio
chairman for all war services and to this day, Red Cross. That’s
where we organized the local Red Cross unit for the Jewish Community
Center. I got involved from the district of the war service level. We
did so many things locally that we brought recognition to the chapter
for the kind of things we were doing. Then we went into a program of
having to earn money, we did these big shows – these tremendous shows.
The first one started with East High School, a 2 ½ hour program. We
brought down a Leonard Romberg from Ontario who was a cousin to
Sigmund Romberg and he had score and he showed us how to do it. We
used the cantor from Temple Israel – I forget his name – they had a
cantor at that time who was head of the music department – he happened
to have a cantorial background. He did our direction and we had Aaron
Cohen who today is called Artie Kane and is married to Jaye P. Morgan,
do the music. We put on a show for two days, 2,000 people at a time at
East High School. We had hundreds in the cast and we brought such
recognition, that our membership shot up from 200 or 300 to 1,200.
Zion Chapter had 1,200 women. I think we were the largest chapter in
the entire country. The Zion Lodge was large at that time, they had
1,500 at one point. So the war service brought recognition to us. With
the war, we went into a program of blood donor at the old Red Cross
Blood Donor Center on High and Spring Street. We set up a Blood Donor
Day for the Jewish community, which they had never done.
Schecter: B-Day, yes. From that, I organized the B-Day program that
today we have going at the Jewish Community Center. I organized that
myself and I’m very proud of that program, too.
Interviewer: What happened to B’nai Brith Women from the war to
Schecter: I think it’s as great today.
Interviewer: Would you say it’s still flourishing?
Schecter: Yes, we were real high for awhile. That was fifteen years
ago. Then the chapter became too unwieldy and we decided to break it
up. When we broke it up, it went into a bit of a slump. But today,
there are five chapters and I understand we have 1,200 to 1,300
members. No other organization has that many and they’re flourishing
beautifully. As I see these young girls, I think they’re dynamite.
They’re clever, they’re creative, they’re doing a magnificent
program under this Operation Stork thing with the March of
Dimes. They’re doing all sorts of things and I’m very proud of
where they’re keeping themselves.
Interviewer: What about Hadassah? Were you active in Hadassah?
Schecter: I never was active but I always belonged. I belonged to
everything in the community. I remember the old Hadassah donor dinners
at the Neil House – 500 to 600 women would show up for the dinners.
Yes, I always was a contributing member. Not only a member but did
what was required of me as a donor. I couldn’t get that involved. I
didn’t have that much time. I worked with my husband, too, and B’nai
Brith. I helped organized Brandeis.
Interviewer: This was around 1950-1952? The Brandeis Women’s
Group? Mrs. Kobacker was also involved?
Schecter: When Zacker came here . . . You see, I organized first the
Women’s Division of the United Jewish Fund. I was president of the
1941 B’nai Brith chapter here so they wanted to organize the women’s
division and they called in Mrs. Kobacker, Fran Gundersheimer, Eleanor
Resler, myself, Mrs. William Schiff, Rose Schiff and that’s how I
got to know all these people. Fran said she would not take the
chairmanship unless I would take it with her. So Mrs. Kobacker was
made the chairman of the women’s division. The women’s division
the third year was Fran and me. Mrs. Kobacker kept it two years, then
Fran and I took it for two years. Then we went on to the rest of it
and went on to today where I think we’re thirty something years old.
In the meantime, that same nucleus became the nucleus for Brandeis.
When Zacker came here, because of my affiliation and relationship with
Zacker from his Hillel days, he called on me to help organize
Brandeis. We brought in Ida Kobacker- the same group that organized
Brandeis. You’ll find the same people that came from there came into
Interviewer: It’s amazing how many life members in such a short
time you were able to. . .
Schecter: How did you know that?
Interviewer: Well, I’m writing the hiroty of all these
organizations and within the . . .
Schecter: Do you mean Brandeis?
Interviewer: Yes. Brandeis.
Schecter: You know when we did the biggest membership recruitment?
Mickey Schoenbaum and I were vice president of Brandeis. Mickey and I
brought in ninety some members in one year. I took the chairmanship
and she took it with me. That was the biggest hump that we took at one
Interviewer: Within the first two or three years, you had 400-500
life members. Amazing. Okay, now, Sisterhoods. Beth Jacob. Agudas
Achim. Was there anything that distinguished them from these other
women’s organizations? Did they do things that were different? Were
they primarily, for example, functioning on behalf of the synagogues?
Schecter: The synagogues and temples didn’t get involved in the
communal activities that the other organizations were concerned with
in any way. It’s only in the last few years that they sent
representation to certain kinds of things. But we stuck to our own
work. Each congregation was zealously interested in their own
programming and their religious schools and their children’s
programs and their youth programs and so on.
For seven years, I served as president of Beth Jacob before I came
over here but never took the presidency at Agudas Achim. But I was the
first woman on the men’s Agudas Achim Board which was very unusual
because they’re Orthodox and don’t have women on the Board. Mr.
Luper or Mr. Waldbaum asked me if I would take the chairmanship of the
religious school. I was chairman there for five years and that’s how
I got on the Board. I think it’s funny. I’ll never forget. They
made me chairman of their vital and important committee function of
their board. I was trained in B’nai Brith, how to do things – make
reports, recommendations, take a motion, you pass on the
recommendations and so on – I got up and did this at my first board
meeting. On my report on the religious school, to bring in the amount
of money we were going to give for salaries, the budget, etc. They had
never had reports that thorough. When I got through, I made a motion
that the report and certain things be accepted. Somebody got up and
said, “She can’t make a motion, she’s not officially a member
of the board. She’s a woman!” I think this is important because
they resented a woman making it. Of course, a lot of people got up and
defended me. Someone said, “Well, to make it official, somebody
please get up and make the motion for her.” And that’s how it
was first tabled. And since then, we’ve been doing it differently.
Interviewer: Tell me something about Rabbi Greenwald at Beth Jacob.
What kind of memories do you have of Rabbi Greenwald?
Schecter: Very religious. Very sincere. Dedicated to Judaism in all
its phases. A sweet man. Egotistical but I guess all rabbis are,
company excluded (laughter). He got along well
with the people but he never let himself go with the young people
enough. Everyone respected him but that’s the reason we lost the
young people. There were very few of them my age that were there
before moving from Donaldson Street. If he would have let things
alone, we could have all been over at Agudas Achim together but at the
very last, he was reluctant to leave the name Beth Jacob, he got a
core of people and they didn’t go through with the merger. Let me
say one thing about him, I’ll never forget. It’s personal. Do you
want anything personal?
Schecter: I’ll never forget. A Jew, especially a Rabbi, is not
supposed to look at women. We have the upstairs. One year, I came
there in a purple suit with a purple hat and chartreuse flowers. I
looked good in those days. I was a little thinner and everything. I
was the only young person with all these old ladies because I had to
say Kaddish and I would always come every yontiff, regardless if I was
working, I had to say Kaddish for my father. I sat in the front row.
When we were walking down the steps that Passover, he stopped me and
said, “Sylvia, you shined so beautifully up there, it was a
pleasure to look up there to see you. But please don’t tell anybody
I said this to you because I’m not supposed to look up there and
notice another woman at all.” Well, that remained with me all my
life because I thought that was the sweetest thing.”
Interviewer: He was a very sharp dresser himself, was he not?
Interviewer: His son tells me that he was.
Schecter: He was meticulous. Very well groomed. He had a lot of
respect among the non Jewish people. They loved him. They really did.
And he was quite an author.
Interviewer: Did he ever speak in English?
Schecter: He tried, but mostly Yiddish.
Interviewer: When he gave lectures on Wednesday evenings or he gave
Interviewer: What about when he gave a eulogy at a funeral? or
Schecter: Yiddish. He would say a few things in English. Toward the
end, he was mixing up English with Yiddish. But it was mostly Yiddish.
And that’s why he lost the Jewish young people. The young people did
not know Yiddish anymore. There were very few of us that did. To this
very day, people are amazed that I know so much Yiddish. It’s been
my exposure, I guess. I think people in those days went out of their
way not to be Jewish. And there’s been a reversal now.
Interviewer: Let’s go back to the almost merger because your story
contradicts most everybody else’s story. You placed some
responsibility upon Rabbi Greenwald for not going along with the
merger. For some months, if not longer, there was a sense of agreement
that the two congregations were going to merge.
Schecter: I will tell you this step by step because I was involved
from the very beginning. At that time, I had just gotten through being
the president for seven years, of the Sisterhood. My cousin, Willie
Goodman, who was married to a Himmelstein, was president of Beth Jacob
at the time. Louis Levin, a cousin, was married to a Furman who was a
cousin on the other side. Our family was very well represented at Beth
Jacob. My mother, all of us. The merger came about because the land
they had purchased in this area was so beautiful and the decision was
made that this was the time to go and there wasn’t enough of a
congregation in either one to build a great big synagogue. So they
felt by merging the two, Orthodoxy would be strengthened. On that
basis, we sold, including myself, because I was in the heat of it,
advocating that we do have the merger. I had already moved out here. I
already had one child and I knew that that child would not get a good
kind of youth exposure to Judaism at Beth Jacob because they had very
little youth activities. You saw in my age, I had to go to other
places to get it. So I advocated it along with our whole family and
when we decided to do that, they took a vote.
At that time, the Schlonskys and a whole gang of them all belonged
to Beth Jacob. Well, they fooled around with this merger for two and a
half to three years. By that time, somebody gave them (I think it was
Mr. Schwartz or Mr. Payne) a piece of land over there on Bulen Avenue.
They felt they should build on that piece of land. I got up at a
meeting and I pleaded with them. “The land means nothing. It’s
the site. The site that we picked over here in Bexley is so much
better that if you do this, you’re going to get yourself involved
because already colored people are coming over there.” No, they
felt this was better. Besides which, they would lose their name. There
were Weinstock and Bein and Louis Levine who were with us and all of a
sudden, made a reversal because Rabbi Greenwald did get them all
aside. He tried to talk me into it, too. By the time they got around
to that vote, two and a half years later, all the young people who had
been promised the merger, had left and gone to Tifereth Israel. So
those young people who had __________ the vote and it was a very hotly
contested vote. By the time they got ready for the vote, those people
were teed off and they could care less and they had left and they
weren’t there to vote. I got up and pleaded with them and actually
cried. I said, “Please don’t vote. You’re hurting your young
people. You’re doing an injustice to the city. We will take care of
Rabbi Greenwald. We’ll see that he becomes the __________. We have
made this agreement for him to protect his years of service.” And
it was all set.
By that time, Rabbi Rubenstein had been hired at Agudas Achim – I
think he was there a year and a half before we moved. They took a vote
and it was very close. Willie Goodman was president and it failed by a
very small margin. Willie Goodman resigned so you can’t say there
weren’t any consequences, there were. Not only Willie Goodman, but
he left with his whole family, Leon, Label Shlonsky, us, and Max
Schlonsky, who is today, Max Schnell, the Rubens, my mother. About
forty families left Beth Jacob and I was heading it with Willie.
We went to Agudas Achim and they said, “Why leave now? We’re
not built yet.” And I remember saying, “Shtutige gram a
far garechte Tishkoff keft nisht. I don’t go on a spread table.
If I’m going, I’m going to work for where I’m going to be, and
that’s where I’m going to be, so I’m not going to wait until
they build – I’m going to go right away.” Rabbi Rubenstein
picked me up and right away he said, “Sylvia, we need you, we
want you.” And that’s when I started attending services at the
old big shul. I got active in the Sisterhood right away and we had a
big dinner party at the Jewish Community Center to furnish the
kitchen. We got thousands of dollars in. And he said to me, “I
don’t think our people know you enough. You’d better get yourself
lined up with somebody else as chairman.” After all, here I was a
new person in a synagogue they’re building. So we got a hold of
Patricia Schottenstein and Mrs. Stein (Irving Stein’s mother) and
the three of us were chairmen of the luncheon at the Jewish Community
Center. It started the initial thing as far as Sisterhood was
concerned, to go with Agudas Achim. I became very active in the
Sisterhood and did all kinds of things there. But I would never take
the presidency. They kept asking me and I wouldn’t take it. I was
too involved in too many things but I continued to work very hard in
Sisterhood. Sisterhood was involved in religious school, Sunday
School, the kitchen facilities and did that kind of work for Agudas
Achim. Two years ago, Agudas Achim honored me and they had never done
that before. I have a big picture hanging, I’ll never forget it.
They honored me and the entire city showed up at a luncheon for all
the work I had done in the community. I had never taken the presidency
but I continued to work.
And though I left there and I became an administrator – ______ two
years ago. Sarah Schwartz went to work there and they needed an
administrator so they thought they’d try me out. They tried me out
for six months and I stayed two years. That was six years ago. I
stayed two years and they were paying me peanuts but I was doing it
because I wanted to show them what an administrator could do and I
decided I wasn’t getting enough. I was getting no more than a
secretary and I was working Saturdays and Sundays. So I very nicely
gave them my notice. I was out of work about four months when Ben
Mandelkorn asked me to come in over there at the Federation. But I had
never done professional work. I had done volunteer work all my life.
And to do this very day, they got ready to set up the kitchen over at
Agudas Achim, planning the kitchen, I’m over there. They had
problems with the Jewish education this summer, I’d get away from
it, they called me in because they had problems with the Sunday
School. I’m in there, made the suggestions, got the head or whoever
they have right now. I’ve never allowed myself to get out because
this is my synagogue and right or wrong, it’s my synagogue.
Interviewer: Are you aware of any role Rabbi Rubenstein might have
played in this merger situation?
Schecter: He was very pleased that it didn’t go through. I think
he had qualms about having to share a rabbinical set up. But I think
he was willing at that time.
Interviewer: Was there any reason to believe that Rabbi Greenwald
felt that Rabbi Rubenstein was willing to share . . .
Schecter: I think Rabbi Greenwald was getting cold feet about the
fact that he would not be considered top banana. He would not be given
the kovod (honor), maybe or the acclaim he thought he should have
although he would have been able to have devoted himself to so much
more productive things if he had allowed this to happen. He could have
written and done the things that he was really great at. I think he
did an injustice to himself. This is my viewpoint, of course. I think
if we had the double merger – of course, we wouldn’t have the jewel
of a synagogue they’ve got over there, it’s the most beautiful
place in all the world, but I think we would have had something really
Interviewer: What about the question of the mechitza for
Rabbi Greenwald. What role do you think ……..
Schecter: That might have been one of the stopping – one of the
barriers that held up.
Interviewer: You certainly don’t suspect that a man like Rabbi
Greenwald would have …….
Schecter: Gone along with it?
Interviewer: . . . attached himself to a congregation where there
was not . . . .
Schecter: Let me say this to you. Before we ever left Washington
Street Agudas Achim , we already were sitting mixed seating downstairs
in the back. On many occasions, there was mixed seating – always at
the forum services on Friday nights, there was mixed seating even way
back when, although they never had formal services. True, so that
there was this liberal outlook and procedures going on regardless. I
think if we had gone on with the merger, we probably would have kept
the mechitza idea. Because the plans were not ready yet. So
what would have happened?
I can’t predict. I don’t know whether they got into any
discussions about this prior to that that helped make the discussion
or not. I think the fact that the people gave that land free . . . and
all I kept hearing as I recall, at that meeting was “We’re
going to be submerged. Nobody will ever hear the name Beth Jacob. It
will be lost and we’ve been here all these years.” That kind of
thing was prominent in the arguments of why we shouldn’t pull away
from the merger. We kept saying, “How can you say that when all
of us are going there? We’re all leaders and if anybody wants to
lead any congregation _______ leadership. Regardless where it comes
from, they’re not going to …… Weinstock was afraid he’d never
be __________. The very people who argued against it some of them are
sitting today at Agudas Achim for services. I sat next to Weintraub
for Rosh Hashana and I kept thinking about arguing when he was
treasurer at Beth Jacob at the time. He didn’t want the division and
here he is, sitting at our synagogue at Agudas Achim. So who knows?
Interviewer: Did you know much about the Workman’s Circle?
Schecter: No. That isn’t the _________, is it?
Interviewer: It was called “Our Right to Ring” or
“The Workman’s Circle.”
Schecter: Except that I used to go to their shows when they had
their Yiddish shows here. My father-in-law had what they called the
Free Loan Society. The gift he gave us for our wedding, he had to
borrow money to give us a wedding gift and he borrowed it from the
Hebrew Free Loan Society.
Interviewer: Joe’s dad? From the Hebrew Free Loan Society? Were
you at all involved in the Hachnosis orchim – the sheltering house?
Schecter: Yes. As a young person, it was very unusual for me but I
would go around and help them get housing for people passing through.
I remember having to take somebody . . . sometimes I used to take
somebody to Washington Avenue. Somebody would say, “Sylvia, will
you take them there?”
In reference to the Mikvah, I helped the ladies set the one up on
Livingston Avenue, not that I participated in it at all except through
marriage and stuff like that but I helped them because I feel that
whatever Judaism calls for, I may not use it but it’s there for
Jewish people that want it. That’s been my approach to anything I do
with reference to Jewish life. That’s the way I was with Torah
Academy, too. My son is a product of Torah Academy. I helped set up
Torah Academy, too.
Interviewer: What is your son’s name?
Schecter: Benson Schecter.
Interviewer: You helped set up Torah Academy? Let’s talk for a few
minutes about that, which is more controversial than the merger.
Schecter: What’s controversial about that today? It’s so great.
. . .
Interviewer: People that weren’t even in Columbus claim they set
up Torah Academy. Not to mention people who opposed it and were in
Columbus and claim they set up Torah Academy.
Schecter: Now everybody’s on the bad lane, is that what you mean?
Interviewer: What are your recollections of the key people involved?
Schecter: I’ll tell you what happened. Before we had a Torah
Academy as we have it now, on my back porch, which today is my den,
Rabbi Rubenstein, Dina Zisenwine, who is Rabbi Zisenwine’s mother,
Frank Nutis, and myself sat down to discuss an all day school which
started off when Rose Schwartz had a pre-school over on Bryden and
tried to set up a first grade class which these kids were involved in.
It didn’t go over. So we sat here and we had a commitment from Dina,
who had a very fine Jewish background (that’s Rabbi Zisenwine’s
mother). That fall, she organized a first grade school. We were set to
go. Rabbi Rubenstein, I think, was the strongest one. Sometimes I don’t
think too much of some of the things Rabbi Rubenstein does but
without him, this would never have gotten off the ground I don’t
care what anybody says, he also kept it financed and Agudas Achim kept
it going by housing them free. I know because I was the administrator
there six years ago and I know what kind of money they were using and
how they deteriorated the building and everything.
Interviewer: Almost everyone that I have interviewed has
contradicted what you just said. The role of Rabbi Rubenstein and the
congregation in the founding.
Schecter: You’ve been talking to the wrong people. You didn’t
talk to Frank Nutis?
Interviewer: No, not yet. I will.
Schecter: When you don’t house a school for twelve years in your
congregation, if you don’t have a role to play in that.
Interviewer: I mean prior to . . . they didn’t start housing until
the school began. I’m talking about the stages of trying to start
Schecter: I will say that one of the prime movers was Rabbi Stavsky
but Rabbi Rubenstein kept it going because it was he who each year
went out and got the money. Without Rabbi Rubenstein, they could never
have raised the money. He is the greatest fund raiser this city ever
conceived. If you want to raise money, you turn it over to him and he
can bring it in. I’m telling you because I worked with him. I
reorganized our fund raising for the present building they now have.
They had it dormant for about seven years. He’s lazy sometimes but
when he wants to do anything, he does it. That’s one of the things I
did in my two years. I got him organized and got the group to go out
and do it and kept after him and he can produce anything. He was the
one who financially kept that thing going with Frank Nutis. Of course
Frank Nutis has a lot of money and Phil Bornstein – those are the guys
who had the money and that’s our synagogue. So if you have anything
from any other synagogue, don’t let that . . .there were many people
in our synagogue who opposed the use of our building. They were going
to charge rent, charge for lights, charge for gas and charge for
janitorial services. Believe you me, in the end, our synagogue assumed
all those expenses. They left us owing. We had bills. It was set up
but the money never came into pay for all that stuff.
My son was the second year enrollment there. If it had been there a
year sooner, I’d have had a daughter in there. I firmly believed in
Torah Academy. And it was important to get the people’s children in
there, to start off. They were thrilled to enroll Benson. They didn’t
have a kindergarten yet but he got in and went the whole eight years.
I was very active in Torah Academy. Active in the initial dinners we
set up with the Schottensteins and I’m sorry if anybody else says
they did it. Agudas Achim people are the ones who did it.
Interviewer: What about Harry Gilbert’s role?
Schecter: Absolutely. Harry Gilbert was the financial philanthropist
who made it possible . It was his idea for a Jewish education. He’s
the one who gave the building on Bryden Road, if I’m not mistaken.
And it was his idea with Rose Schwartz and we tried a first grade over
there. Then after that was when they went over to the Jewish Community
Center. We lost our pre-school. I’ll tell you something, Agudas
Achim was the forerunner of a lot of things that happened in this
community but it’s been taken away from them. The Hebrew School, the
pre-school, Torah Academy. That’s the reason why they never had a
very healthy youth organization there. Everything seemed to be
concentrated on a lot of other things. I’m sure if a Gilbert or a
Nutis or a Bornstein wanted to, that money could have been funneled
into a youth program like some of the other congregations had instead
of into a Torah Academy or a Hebrew School or into a pre-school.
Interviewer: What was Mrs. Rubenstein’s role in these early years
of Torah Academy? Was she involved at all?
Schecter: Not in Torah Academy. She was involved in Sunday School
and religious school. Let me tell you something, that woman is sharp.
She is a phenomenal. If you ever want to take a course in Hebrew
interpretation of the Bible, she can do a tremendous job. She’s
absolutely magnificent – a very bright and very creative person.
Interviewer: We skipped over a Rabbi who was at Agudas Achim for 18
years. Rabbi Hirschsprung. Do you remember him at all, though you
weren’t a member at that time?
Schecter: No, not too much. He was from the old school, too, and
didn’t have enough rapport with the young people. I understood. He
just wasn’t involved with young people enough. The big shul was just
too modern . . . he was a scholar and that’s about it.
Interviewer: Do you suspect that that was the attraction of Rabbi
Rubenstein? That he could relate to young people?
Schecter: Yes, very much so. He came here and he was a human dynamo.
He just did things. He came up with the ideas of a Bar Mitzvah
Breakfast program and it was the only one in the city at the time. It
went over with tremendous success. To this very day, they have a
beautiful turnout every Sunday morning. I remember over at the old
synagogue, we would have the Sunday morning services. What do you call
Interviewer:. Tallis and Tefillin.
Schecter:. Then we would go over to the building on Bryden Road and
cook lunches. Salmon patties, macaroni and cheese – big lunches to
attract the people to come to the services on Sunday mornings so the
kids would learn how to set their tefillin and learn how to daven.
That was before we had the synagogue here so that shows you that I was
involved even before we came here. He started that program. He got
along with young people fabulously. We were really going strong.
Interviewer: Did you ever hear any stories of why Rabbi Hirschsprung
Schecter: He was voted out. It was a bitter kind of thing, I guess.
It was really a matter of progress and the fact that he was not
catering to the young people. He did not go out and do the fund
raising for the new synagogue which Rabbi Rubenstein did do. And which
put him on the forefront. It was he who raised the money to build this
building, to start with. Have you seen it yet? It was he who brought
in the money to do this new remodeling program.
Interviewer: Did you know Rabbi Duff?
Schecter: Just from being around people from Temple Israel. He was
very, very reformed as was Rabbi Tarshish who was loved the most. But
I guess he catered too much to the community and not enough to his
congregation and they got rid of him for that reason. He became
Interviewer: What about Esras Noshim? Were you ever involved in
Schecter: Yes. Esras Noshim was the forerunner of what we have in
Heritage House, too. That was your charitable organization. Since I
was working with the same women at the synagogue as a young woman, I
know that we did the charity things. That was originally organized by
Mrs. Goldberg, then Mrs. Schiff. She followed me as president of the
Sisterhood at Beth Jacob. She also was president of the Esras Noshim
at the time it went down but some of the money was turned over to the
Home for the Aged. I used to go out with some of the old ladies and
try to raise money for some . . . just on a perepheral basis. I
concentrated my efforts on that. I know Mrs. Speisman, to this very
day will tell you that when we had to have Passover goods or we wanted
to have Passover meschitim for the Home for the Aged, she and I would
go schnorring down Main Street. I learned a lot from these women.
These old ladies would do a fabulous job, fund raising just by going
in with tickets, they would sell an ordinary person $10, $15 or $20
which in those days was a lot of money.
Interviewer: Did you remember old Mrs. Goldberg?
Schecter: Not too well but from a distance. Knowing her was supposed
to be a joy. She was the matriarch of the whole thing. Of course, she
was at Agudas Achim and I didn’t know her too well. Mrs. Furman was
already president of Beth Jacob and Mrs. Goodman and those were the
people I knew as a youngster.
Interviewer: Did you know Rose Sugarman?
Schecter: Sure. At the old Schonthal Center. She ran the center with
an iron hand. She had a big mouth and she talked a lot. I loved the
Schonthal Center. It was where I grew up. I was one of those who
really gained a lot from my associations there. I remember going to
sewing classes there and of course, the library there. There isn’t a
library in our new Jewish Community Center. Everything but a library.
Sewing classes, dancing classes, gym classes in the back in the old
barn, or a place where they used to have horses – a barn, like.
Interviewer: Do you remember Rose as a person at all? Her
Schecter: Yes. Rose was a very strong personality. Some people did
not like her. I adored her. I guess it was the way you got along with
people. If you are exposed to people long enough, you begin to accept
their weaknesses as well as their strengths. She used to tell all
kinds of stories about Pop Schonthal because he was a widower. Pop
Schonthal, we all loved him. I used to sit on his knee.
Interviewer: So did Rose.
Schecter: They used to go to conventions together. Of course, I went
to a lot of conventions, too, with a lot of men, which didn’t mean
anything. She ran the whole center and the camp way out on on Magnetic
Springs – she ran that. Everything was under her. I remember when Don
Shusterman, who became a dentist, after he was in charge of physical
educational at the center. We also used to have Sunday night dances at
Interviewer: Did you ever know Joe Bonowitz?
Schecter: No, I heard you mention him, the fighter.
Interviewer: No, no, that was Lou Bloom. Joe Bonowitz was the ball
Schecter: No, I heard you mention him at that meeting. Those sports
were beyond me – I was a little too much older than they.
Interviewer: Do you remember Maurice Bernstein?
Schecter: From the Federation? Sure, I worked under him. I helped
Interviewer: I know that but the tape recorder doesn’t know that.
Schecter: The Women’s Division was organized before Maurice
Bernstein was E.J. Schanfarber, who organized the United Jewish Fund
as it is constituted at this time. We used to meet over in E.J.
Schanfarber’s offices – he had a little office near where Mayer
Rosenfeld . . . .
Interviewer:. This is the end of the tape containing the September
22, 1974 interview of Sylvia Schecter by Dr. Marc Lee Raphael for the
Columbus Jewish Historical Society Oral History Project.
* * *
INTERVIEW WITH SYLVIA SCHECTER PART 2
Interview with Sylvia Schecter part 2 on September 22, 1974 by Marc Lee Raphael.
This interview is part of the Oral History program of the Columbus Jewish
Schecter: E.J. Schonfarber, who organized the United Jewish Fund as
it is constituted at this time. We used to meet E.J.’s offices – he
had a little office over there with Leah Rosenfeld, the Easter Building.
Leah Rosenfeld and I were very close because, as I said, I helped
organize the Women’s Division.
Interviewer: Do you know whatever happened to Leah Rosenfeld?
Schecter: Yes, she just died two or three years ago. She died in
Heritage House. I think she left, she was pensioned off by Jewish
National Fund, $20,000 or $30,000 to Heritage House. She came in toward
the last. I knew Leah really well. She was a reformed girl but spoke
very dramatically, as Rose Sugarman did, too, in fact. We used to take
dramatic and elocution lessons at the Center together.
Interviewer: Maurice Berstein was really the first director. Simon
Lazarus and E.J. Schonfarber did this as a hobby.
Schecter: That’s right. It was a side thing for them.
Interviewer: Is Maurice Berstein still alive?
Schecter: Yes, I see him at General Assembly when I go and I saw him
at the United Jewish Fund thing just a few months ago.
Interviewer: Where is he working now?
Schecter: He’s with National United Jewish Appeal.
Interviewer: In New York?
Schecter: Yes, he is. He’s still with them. He has a big job with
them. He’s retired right now. He told us, yes. I see Maurice all the
Interviewer: We skipped over Simon Lazarus. Did you get to know him
at all in your work?
Schecter: Yes. During the war, I was in a lot of district work and a
lot of day work and everythng! I wanted a typewriter and you couldn’t
get a typewriter for love or money. You had to be on a list and wait
your turn. I needed a typewriter and it was my birthday so Joe says he
was going to get me one. Do you know what he did? He went up to the
Lazarus Company and asked to see Simon Lazarus and went up to see him
and told him who he wanted a typewriter for and why. Simon Lazarus
called downstairs to the typewriter department and told them, “You
give Joe Schecter a typewriter for his wife” and Joe came home with
a typewriter. He was a gracious and kind man, dignified and very
pleasant to be with. I looked up to him because I was just a young
chick. To me, he was someone to be idolized. Never forget.
Interviewer: Tell me something about Heritage House and its founder.
Schecter: When we originally had this little Home for the Aged over
on Woodland Avenue, I had made a promise to my old aunt, Mrs. Roth, that
I would get involved in that when I got through with B’nai Brith. And
I did. I went around picking up stuff with Mrs. Pfeiffer and I helped do
some things. Lazaar Brenner, at that time, was a social worker and we
had an argument. We met in the office at the Jewish Center and we were
discussing whether it should be taken over by the Federation. You want
to know about controversy? You say there’s no controversy? I remember
sitting at this long table and there were two factions, the Reform and
the Orthodox, with a mixture of the other in between. They were asking
if the Federation would consider putting the Home for the Aged in its
budget, to some extent. They didn’t want to do it. We got together and
then they decided they would do it. Before they got into it, people were
sitting around – Charles Lazarus, Mrs. Lazarus, Simon Lazarus, Troy
Feibel – there was a whole group of us. Bob Mellman, Abe Wolman and
myself – Max Robbins at that time was interested in the Home for the
Aged – there was a whole table of us. We got into a heated discussion
because they said, “We have Montefiore Home or we’ve got the Home
for the Aged in Cleveland and if we want to, we can send our people
there.” At that time, they would send them and pay for them. But
they didn’t recognize the fact that there were people here who wanted
their people right close to them. So we got into quite a heated
argument, to the point where, finally, it was passed.
Then someone said, “Next thing you know, they’re going to want
money for a Home for the Aged. A new home. They’ll have enough people
and they’ll say they need it.” I’ll never forget, Abe Wolman
turned red and I did, too, after we had already decided. We appointed,
last summer, a social worker, to be head of the Home for the Aged on a
side basis because it was just part of a social work thing. I got up –
by that time I had learned to use my mouth a little bit – and I said,
“You people are supposed to be the leaders of this Jewish community
and it seems to me, you worry about a home that you may have to build in
the future but if there is a time when we do need it, if you people are
supposed to be the head of the community and if you have an interest in
the Jewish people, if we have to do it, we’ll face it at that time and
not talk about it now. It’s a shame that we sat here and had to
discuss when old people really had no place to go.” Max Robbins and
Abe Wolman were very upset because they could take their people and put
them in the Montefiore Home and if anybody wanted to visit them, they
had the money to go visit them.
But here, these were poor Jewish people that couldn’t go visit
their parents. These people were really stranded here. From that day on,
it was great. When we got ready to have a new home, the first thing we
did was call Abe Wolman and Laz and I sat down and we called Bob Weiller
and Aaron Zacks. We got two factions together. Bob Wriller, who had
never worn a yalmalke in his life, we finally got him to walk into
Agudas Achim for a dinner and put a yalmalke on. It was the greatest
thing that ever happened. I think the Home for the Aged has been the
most unifying force for our Jewish community than there was in the whole
community. Besides the Federation. Because they have learned to work
together, to respect each others’ denominations and allow each to
fulfill its own role. I feel that the home as been the nicest thing that
has happened to our Jewish community. Look at Cincinnati, they have two
homes. You said there wasn’t controversy. There was a lot of
Interviewer: I only meant nobody has told conflicting stories about
the controversy. I don’t mean there wasn’t controversy. I mean
everybody that tells me the story about what you just told me, more or
less tells the story the same way.
* * *