Jews Along the Hocking: A History of Jewish Life in Athens County
by Austin Reid
Ohio Company of Associates successfully petitioned Congress to purchase land in the
Northwest Territory. In this application, it was stated that land would be set aside for the creation
of a university. Eight years later on December 16, 1795, the directors of the Ohio Company met
and selected land in what is now known as Alexander and Athens townships to support the
proposed university. On January 9, 1802, the Territorial Legislature of the Northwest Territory
passed an act to establish American Western University on the land set aside by the Ohio
Company. This institution, however, would never come into existence and the so-called College
Lands would remain empty for another two years. Finally, in February 1804, eleven months after
the State of Ohio was admitted to the Union, the Ohio legislature approved a new act
establishing Ohio University. The development of the university remained slow, however, and
classes would not be offered until 1809. Starting in 1800 a town began to be planned near the
College Lands. By 1811 this area grew and was incorporated as a village named Athens. It would
be a little over 100 years before Athens grew enough in size to be recognized as a city by the
State of Ohio in 1912. During this century a variety of religious groups settled in Athens. The
earliest settlers of Athens were predominantly Protestant transplants from New England. Their
religious traditions included Congregationalism, Presbyterianism, and Methodism. By 1843
several Catholic families, including some who were immigrants from Ireland, settled in and
around Athens. Baptists, Episcopalians, and Lutherans were other Christain denominations
represented in Athens County by this time. 1843 is also a noteworthy year in that it marked the
opening of the Hocking Canal, which allowed for an expansion of Athens County’s economic
interests. Some of the earliest industries included iron and salt production. The late 1830s and
early 1840s also witnessed the incorporation of other settlements in Athens County including
Albany, Chauncey, and Nelsonville.
Athens County would pass another milestone in 1857 when the Marietta & Cincinnati
Railroad became the first rail line to pass through the area. The arrival of the railroad helped to
bring more people to Athens County including the region’s first Jewish families. Many of these
early families were recent immigrants from German-speaking lands in Europe. The reasons
German Jews emigrated from their homelands were multifaceted. Economic hardship and
political turmoil beset Europe throughout the 1840s and 1850s creating difficulties for many
different groups. Jews faced additional challenges in the form of restrictive laws and widespread
antisemitism. America with its prospect of economic growth and promise of religious freedom
was an attractive destination for oppressed European Jews. Still, however, the American Jewish
population remained modest. In 1848 it was estimated that 50,000 Jews resided throughout the
United States., The largest communities were located along the Atlantic Seaboard, but other
Jewish communities could be found across the Midwest, South, and newly forming states west of
the Mississippi. The Ohio River provided an early transportation route for Jews living along the
East Coast who wished to relocate to Ohio. Cincinnati, which would become one of the leading
centers of Judaism in the United States in the late 1800s, was home to a synagogue by 1836 and
nearby riverside towns, including Gallipolis and Ironton, were home to Jewish families by the
early 1850s. In 1852 David Zenner, the first recorded permanent Jewish resident of Athens
County, had settled in Athens and was operating his business within the village.
While the Jewish presence in Athens County has never equaled more than a few
percentage points of the overall population, the contributions of Jews to the communities in
which they have resided has been significant. Additionally, the experiences of Athens County’s
Jewish citizens offer insights into the area’s development and provide an important example of
how one immigrant community has integrated itself into a society in which it is a distinct
minority preserving its own identity. Athens County’s Jewish history provides a vital component
in understanding how Athens came to be how it is today.
Family Ties: Athens County’s Earliest Jewish Residents and Those who Followed Them
Nothing is recorded about David Zenner’s parents or any siblings who may have joined
him on his journey to the United States from Lichtenfels, Bavaria. It is known, however, that
David was born around 1817. Records also exist showing that he worked in Cincinnati and
Rushville, Indiana before arriving in Athens. This connection to Cincinnati, in particular, was of
significant importance to David as he grew his business, Cheap Clothing Store located in the
Jewett’s Building on South Court Street. David’s access to the larger markets in Cincinnati
allowed him to find goods that could not be as easily obtained in Athens. By the 1860s David’s
advertisements in The Athens Messenger became more elaborate and his company had taken on
the more regal sounding name D. Zenner & Co. The success of David’s business was fortunate
since he had a growing family to support. In 1856 David and his wife Babetta, who was also an
immigrant from Bavaria, welcomed a new daughter, Rose into the family. Rose joined two
sisters, Rebecca and Julia as well as a brother, Phillip who had arrived with their parents in
Athens. Rose was likely the first Jewish child born in Athens County. By 1860 the Zenner’s
welcomed another daughter, Fanny as well as a son named Henry, who would eventually own
and manage D. Zenner & Co.
Around this same time another Jewish merchant, Moses Selig, an immigrant from Alsace,
arrived in Athens. Moses opened his store in the Currier Building on North Court Street and also
dealt in clothing. Unlike the Zenner store, advertisements placed in The Athens Messenger for
Selig & Co. note that no business would be conducted on Saturday. This meant that Moses, who
was later joined by his brothers Abraham and Leopold sometime in the early 1870s, observed the
Jewish Sabbath. In the Jewish tradition, the days of the week begin at sunset and the Sabbath, or
Shabbat takes place from sundown on Friday night to sundown on Saturday night. This
knowledge is important when considering how in the early 1870s, note began to be made that the
Selig store would be open on Saturday evenings. This adjustment was likely made to more
effectively compete with other merchants in Athens. One of the Selig brothers’ fiercest
competitors was David Zenner. Often readers of the newspaper would see their advertisements
right against one another. Such was the level of competition that even other regional newspapers
noticed. On July 11, 1872, The Athens Messenger reprinted a remark from the Logan Republican
The Athens Messenger is now edited mostly by Selig & Zenner. Their effusions are very
profitable to the proprietor. Mr. Selig furnishes three columns and Mr. Zenner four
columns. Where is the merchant in Logan who would like to edit four columns?
Proposals received at this office.
For many years the Selig Co. was also listed as the only store in Athens County to close during
the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, and the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur. By 1884,
however, another business was recorded as closing to observe the Jewish holidays, the furniture
store of Isaac Half. Isaac arrived in Athens 23 years earlier in 1861 from Alsace and found work
with Selig & Co. At the time he was 18 years old. It is not recorded how Isaac found his way to
Athens. One theory is that he had known the Selig family while he lived in Europe and these
connections are what led him to relocate to Athens. Another possibility is that rumor had spread
among the Jewish communities of Alsace that several of their former members had found
success in Athens. This might have led others to immigrate to the same area in the hopes of
finding similar prosperity. At some point, Isaac also married Ecole, the sister of the Selig
brothers. Emil Selig, a cousin to the Selig brothers, also moved to Athens in the 1860s. Business
at the Selig Company was booming and in March 1874 the company had moved into a new
space inside the First National Bank Building across from the Court House. In addition to
managing a growing business, the Seligs also took an interest in community organizations. For
example, Abraham, Emil, and Moses were all members of the Masons.
David Zenner’s business was also booming and David was himself becoming a wealthy
man. By the time the 1870 decennial federal census took place, David held property valued at
$30,000. This would amount to over $580,000 after adjusting for inflation in 2020. In 1872 D.
Zenner & Co. moved into new quarters on the west side of Court Street. The company would
remain in this same location until 1936 when the business was declared bankrupt. David also
grew the staff of his company and, like the Selig brothers, he looked to those who were
connected to the family. John Friday was one such connection. Like David, John was an
immigrant from Bavaria, but from a much larger city, Nuremberg. John immigrated to the United
States in 1848 at the age of 14 and he worked in Cincinnati and other various locations
throughout Indiana and Ohio. In 1867 John arrived in Athens where he developed a business
relationship with David. He then met Rebecca Zenner and the two married in 1869 when
Rebecca was 19. Now joined with the family, John increased his involvement with the D.
Zenner Co and became its manager in 1872. John was also joined in Athens by his younger
brother Leopold in 1869. Leo had arrived in the United States from Bavaria five years earlier in
1864. He was 22 years old. During the five years between his immigration and arrival in Athens,
Leo worked in a variety of locations including Nashville, St. Louis, and the Dakota Territories.
After moving to Athens Leo first labored as a farmworker for six months on lands owned by
David Zenner. Then he became a clerk at D. Zenner & Co. Six years later Leo would marry Julia
Zenner further uniting the Friday and Zenner families. Under the direction of the two families,
D. Zenner and Co. grew to become the largest store in Athens County and expanded its
merchandise to include fans, rugs, and umbrellas. David’s son Henry was also involved in his
family’s business. He would also be the only Zenner sibling to have children of his own born in
Athens. All but one of his other siblings, Julia Zenner, would eventually relocate to Cincinnati.
Phillip Zenner in particular would go on to have an illustrious career as one of the county’s first
neurologists. He would also be a charter member of the Jewish Hospital medical staff and enjoy
a long life of 104 years. David Zenner also relocated to Cincinnati where he passed on in 1891.
Before moving into the last decade of the 19th century, it is important to note the arrival
of one more Jewish merchant in Athens, Samuel Sommer. Sam, like the other entrepreneurs
before him, was an immigrant, having arrived in the United States from Strasburg. After settling
in Athens in 1872 around the age of 19, Sam was employed by Selig & Co. Two years later Julia
Selig, the sister of the Selig brothers, arrived in Athens with their mother, Henretta. By 1880
Julia and Sam were married and Henretta would live with the new couple. In 1882 the Selig
brothers departed Athens. Abraham, who had married a Philadelphia woman named Sarah Stern
in 1877, departed for that city along with his cousin Emil while Leopold and Moses left for
Indianapolis where they established a new business. The property formerly occupied by Selig &
Co. was transferred to Sam Sommer who renamed the store Sam Sommer’s. This pattern by
which a Jewish family would pass along a business to another more recent arrival would be
repeated several more times as Jewish residents moved in and out of Athens County over the
Sam Sommer continued to be connected with his relatives the Selig brothers. It was
through Sam that The Athens Messenger learned of the deaths of Leo Selig in 1916, who left his
wife Maggie and four children, and then Moses in 1919. In his obituary, Moses was called a
“highly respected man” and a “pioneer” businessman. Isaac Half also established a new store in
the recently built Masonic Hall after the Selig brothers moved away from Athens. Dealing
primarily in furniture and rugs, Isaac was especially noted for his craftsmanship. He also took an
interest in community affairs and served as treasurer of the Athens Building and Loan
Association. Ecole and Isaac would raise six children named Felix, Eva, Gertrude, Maurice,
Leopold, Sam, and Rudolph. Of these children at least two, Felix and Sam attended Ohio
University. While at Ohio University, Sam was elected Historian of the Senior class and also
served as manager for a sports team. Phillip Zenner, Class of 1870, was another early Jewish
resident of Athens to attend Ohio University. For many years he also bore the distinction of
being the university’s oldest living alumni. By 1886, however, Isaac Half and his family
prepared to leave Athens. Ecole, Isaac, and several of their children first moved to Circleville,
which by the 1870s was home to a well-developed Jewish community. Eva, Felix, Leopold,
Maurice, and Rudolph after another few years all moved to Pittsburgh where they established the
business Felix Half & Brothers. Ecole and Isaac went on to Chicago. By the late 1880s, Sam
Sommer was the only proprietor in Athens to close during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
Around this same time in 1886, the Friday family was visited by tragedy. In October John
Friday died suddenly after returning from a health trip to Europe. Before his death, John’s
friends and family believed that the trip had cured him of his ailments and it was reported that he
was back at work with renewed energy. In a short time, however, a stomach sickness took hold
and proved fatal. John’s death was greeted with widespread sadness in Athens. The newspaper
published an obituary that comprised a full two columns. During the time of John’s funeral, all
businesses in Athens were also closed. This occurred despite John’s funeral and burial taking
place in Cincinnati. It is also notable that Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise, a national leader within the
American Jewish community, spoke at the funeral. Back in Athens, an assembly was held at
Mayor Higgins’s office to eulogize John Friday. This assembly ultimately drafted a resolution to
honor Friday’s contributions to Athens. It read:
Resolved, That in the death of John Friday, Athens loses one of its most sterling business
citizens, a man dear to all, full of enterprise and deep devotion to the interests of his
adopted town. Resolved, That his family and immediate friends have our most profound
sympathy, and that, while with them, we mourn the loss of John Friday, it will be a
pleasure to recall the many excellent traits of his character and a profit to hold up his
business habits as worthy of imitation.
The Athens Messenger on October 28, 1886, went on to remark on the following attributes of
Public spirited, enterprising, benevolent to a fault, kind, social and in all things
honorable, the death of no one of our citizens would have created a greater vacuum in our
This display of public grief demonstrates in part the level of integration Jews had in Athens
County by the late 1880s. Jewish citizens were seen by at least a significant portion of the
general public as being important contributors to the overall community, Jews could achieve
high levels of respect within the Athens County community and had widespread social
John Friday’s sudden death would not be the last tragedy in the Friday family. On August
13, 1901, Leopold Friday would die while on a trip with his wife Julia to Munich, Germany.
While walking, Leo was struck by a streetcar but appeared to be making a recovery. Pneumonia
set in two days later while Leo was in the hospital and this proved fatal after 24 hours. Both
Julia and Rebecca never remarried. Julia would go on to live in Athens for three more decades.
She was active in civic affairs and various philanthropic initiatives. She was also a member of
the Pallas Club, a women’s social organization, and was noted as a gifted student of both French
and German. Like her husband, Julia was buried in the Walnut Hills Jewish cemetery in
Cincinnati. Rebecca would live in Athens for another three years following the death of John
before moving to Cincinnati to be with her parents and brother. Upon her death on August 18,
1940, Rebecca left money for the creation of scholarships for students in Cincinnati. Following
the death of Leo Henry became the sole owner of D. Zenner & Co. Henry would go on to have a
long and very successful career in Athens. Along the way, he would also move out of the Jewish
community a story that will be discussed later.
Beginning in 1880 another wave of Jewish immigration to the United States began to take
place. Most Jewish immigrants who arrived as part of this movement of people were from
Eastern Europe. By 1924, the year the Johnson-Reed Act was passed by Congress to limit
immigration from many parts of the globe, over two million Eastern European Jews would arrive
in the United States. Most Jewish immigrants who settled in Athens County after 1880 would
come from Eastern Europe. After the Civil War and the expansion of the coal mining industry,
Jewish families began to settle in twins surrounding Athens. Glouster was one town in which
Jews settled. In 1887 Emmanuel Atlas, who was nicknamed John, and his brother Henry arrived
in Glouster from Austria-Hungary where they opened up the Atlas Store. Henry would leave
Glouster for Dayton by 1895, but John would remain in town for another 24 years until shortly
after the death of his son Walter, who was stricken with pneumonia on October 03, 1918. After
Walter’s death, John moved to Cleveland and left the Atlas Store to his nephews Herman and
Philip who were also natives of Austria-Hungary. The Atlas Store would be in business for
another 36 years until Herman, who became the store’s sole owner in 1929, sold it in 1955. After
this, the business was known as Walter’s Store.
Emma Rothman, who went by the name Emil, was another Jewish entrepreneur in
Glouster who arrived from Austria-Hungary in the late 19th century. He settled in Athens
County around the year 1891 with his wife, Rellie who was a native of Michigan. The Rothmans
had three daughters who were all born between the years 1894 and 1898, Irma, Lucile, and
Mildred. In 1906 the Rothman family moved to Athens after Emil opened the Rothman
Economy Store. Like Sam Sommer, Rothman would close his store to observe major Jewish
holidays. The Rothman family would remain in Athens for nine years. In 1915 the family
would move again this time to Cleveland. Emil maintained his connection to the local Masonic
organization, however, and by the time of his death he had been a member for 55 years. Two
years before Emil and Rellie settled in Glouster, in nearby Murray City, Samual Seidenfeld and
his wife Clara opened the Seidenfeld Big Store. Sam Seidenfeld was an immigrant from Europe
who lived in Zanesville before moving to Murray City. At the time of the Seidenfelds arrival,
Murray City was experiencing an economic boom as a result of the coal mining industry. The
Seidenfeld family would go on to have a major impact in Murray City’s civic and social life. The
three children of Clara and Sam, Charles, Henry, and Sadie would never marry and spend their
whole lives together. They retired in 1956, sold Seidenfelds and moved to Florida. In 1892 David
Harris arrived in Nelsonville with his wife and their children, Anna, Harry, and Robert. By
1917 David would own The Bon Ton Store on the East End of Poplar Street in Nelsonville as
well as The Peoples’ Store on High Street in Glouster. The Harris family would remain a part of
Athens County for several generations and will appear again. The last early Jewish residents of
Athens County which will be mentioned are Benjamin Chipman and Rosa Klynkie. Only one
record exists mentioning Ben and Rosa. On Thursday, November 29, 1894, The Athens
Messenger ran a short note on its front page reporting that Chauncey had been the location of a
Jewish wedding where Ben and Rosa were joined in marriage. This is the first Jewish wedding
recorded in Athens County.
Keeping the Faith: Jewish Religious Life in Athens County during the 19th and Early 20th
Athens County’s earliest Jewish citizens as well as Jews who lived in the area during the
first half of the 20th century had to make a significant effort to maintain Jewish religious life.
Formal religious institutions, such as synagogues, were entirely absent and formal religious
teachers, such as rabbis, only passed through the area on occasion. The first recorded presence of
a rabbi in Athens County was not in connection with a Jewish group, but rather a Christian
church. On January 11, 1872, David Moore published a letter in The Athens Messenger inviting
the public to attend a lecture delivered by Rabbi Weseliler of Columbus at the Methodist Church
of Athens. In the letter, the title reverend was used for Weseliler, which was common in the
19th century even for Jewish clergymen. Later, however, Moore states that Weseliler is a Jewish
Rabbi and that he is “a most estimable gentleman and a divine of great ability.” This letter
records the first of many examples of rabbis being invited to speak in Athens County to
predominantly non-Jewish audiences. Rabbis, who primarily come from Columbus, will be
invited to speak at occasions such as baccalaureate services, civic organizational meetings,
religious assemblies, and youth retreats. It is perhaps the same public interest in Jewish
perspectives that led The Athens Messenger to publish notes on Jewish holidays, population
statistics, and incidents of persecution abroad as far back as its first additions in the 1850s.
If Jewish residents of Athens County wished to gather in large numbers with their
coreligionists, a connection had to be maintained to an established Jewish community. In the late
19th century these communities were almost always based in Cincinnati or Zanesville. On major
Jewish holidays such as Rosh Hashanah observing Jews would travel to one of these cities for
services. Occasionally, however, Jewish religious services would be organized closer to home. In
1910, services for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the High Holidays, were organized in
Nelsonville. Later in 1915 and 1916 High Holiday services were held in Lancaster. In 1927 a
synagogue, B’nai Israel, would be dedicated in Lancaster, but it does not appear that many Jews
in Athens affiliated with it. It seems that by the 1920s most preferred to affiliate with larger
synagogues in Columbus. Of these synagogues, the most common affiliation was with Agudas
Achim, also spelled Agudath Achim in some sources. While Agudas Achim has affiliated with the
Conservative movement of Judaism since 2004, for most of its history it was an Orthodox
Also of note is that a rabbi lived in Nelsonville for a brief period around 1911. There are
only two references that mention this rabbi, Solomon Jacobson, and both regard his application
for American citizenship which was completed in May 1911 when he was naturalized. It is not
known how active Jacobson was in organizing any local religious services for the Jewish
community. It is possible he had a role in organizing the High Holiday services in 1910. In his
application for citizenship, it was recorded that Jacobson lived in the United States for five years
before he applied for naturalization with the Athens County Municipal Court. Most if not all this
time was likely spent in Athens County. No record, however, is found of Jacobson outside the
year 1911. The absence of local religious leaders also meant that life-cycle events, such as
marriages and funerals, were most often held outside Athens County. It would not be until 1951
that a rabbi, Phineas Kadushin would live and work in Athens County. In Judaism, however,
day-to-day religious life is not vested with formal religious authorities but rather is based in the
home. Parents serve as the most important keepers and teachers of Jewish tradition. Mothers
often play an especially important part. In the absence of synagogues and rabbis, the family itself
was the only safeguard of Jewish continuity and practice.
Apostasy did at times occur. One likely example of someone who converted out of
Judaism was Henry Zenner. While it is known that Henry’s parents were Jewish as well as his
brother Phillip, Henry at some point appears to have joined the Presbyterian Church. While no
record exists stating publicly that Henry did convert to Christianity, his funeral in 1931 was held
at the First Presbyterian Church in Athens. It is possible that Henry’s family simply wished for
his funeral to be held locally at a venue that could sufficiently host a large memorial gathering
for a man who ranked among the most prominent citizens of Athens. If the family traveled to
Cincinnati for a Jewish funeral and burial perhaps many family friends would have been unable
to make the trip. This scenario, however, does not seem likely based on the experiences of other
Jewish families. Another bit of evidence suggesting that Henry’s family converted is that his son,
Phillip married his wife Juliette in 1920 at a Presbyterian Church in West Virginia. At the time
of Henry’s death, he was noted as being president of the D. Zenner Company as well as The
McBee Binder Company, a major component of the Athens County economy for almost 75
years. He also helped to create the Ray-Glo Corporation, which produced heaters. In his social
life, Henry established the Athens Country Club and was a member of the Elks, Knights of
Pythias, Masons, and Rotary Club. Another area in which Henry was active was within state and
national politics. He was an important figure within the Republican Party and served as a
delegate to the 1912 National Convention as well as being a member of the “Harding for
President” committee. Henry’s life demonstrates once more that a person’s Jewish origins were
not a significant impediment, if challenges existed at all, to business and community prominence
in Athens County. This it must be remembered was not always true for other parts of the United
States and certainly the world during the 1930s.
A Period of Growth: Jewish Residents in Athens County from 1900 to 1918
Early in the 20th century, several new Jewish families settled in Athens County. Many of
these families would remain a part of the local community for over 70 years. Others would
remain in the area only briefly. Disappearing once the children of the first residents moved to
other locals. By examining the histories of these families several patterns emerge which can help
elucidate the experiences of Jewish residents of Athens County. These families also provide an
interesting prism through which to study the various economic changes that will take place in
Athens County and across many areas of Appalachia during the 20th century. Families that have
been hitherto profiled have been engaged in mercantile pursuits. It is important to note, however,
that not all Jewish families engaged in business. Beginning in the early 20th century it is easier to
find records of families who were engaged in other economic pursuits. Farming was one area in
which Jews were represented. Samuel Pailet was a member of a Jewish family of farmers that
was active in both the Gahanna area and Coolville. The Pailet family originally hailed from
France and had cousins, the Drezinskis who lived in Louisiana. It would sometimes happen that
members of the two families would marry among themselves. This was the case for Sam and
his wife Ida, who would be married in 1930. In Gahanna, the Pailet family engaged in dairy
farming and owned the Pailet Milk Company. In Coolville Sam Pailet grew apples and taught
vocational agriculture classes at Troy Township High School. Ida and Sam had two children.
Alan was the oldest, and he would live in Athens County his whole life managing the family
farm. He would also serve in the United States army. Ellen was the youngest, and she would
eventually move to Illinois where she died at age 41.
Another area of economic life in which Jews were increasingly represented was within
white-collar professions. As the 20th century began children of Jewish parents were increasingly
attending colleges and universities. This opened up additional opportunities in fields such as law,
and medicine. Louis Tyroler, who was likely Athens County’s first Jewish lawyer, is one person
who represents this newfound social mobility. Louis and his wife Ruth moved to Athens from
New York sometime before the outbreak of World War I. Once in Athens Louis established a
law practice. During the war, Louis would serve as a Captain in the Intelligence Division and
would remain in Paris for 18 years following the armistice. Ruth would join him in Paris from
1930 to 1936 where she was a private secretary to General Pershing. After returning to Athens,
Louis would resume his practice and become a leader in both the local American Legion chapter
and the Jewish War Veterans chapter in Columbus. He would also serve as a county Probate
Judge and was an active member of the local Democratic Party. Ruth became a leader in the
American Legion Women’s Auxiliary and the Women Democrats. In 1941 she would serve as
president of the Women Democrats. Louis and Ruth would have a son named Robert around
1923. When World War II broke out Louis would return to the service along with his son. Louis
would go on to work with the Allied Military Government following the war and to serve as
mayor of a German municipality. Ruth would join him abroad in 1946.
While Jews born in the United States increasingly engaged themselves in various
professions outside of mercantile work, more recent immigrants found that their options were
more limited. Often recent Jewish immigrants would find means of supporting themselves
economically by filling niche industries such as junk dealing that were not already occupied by
others. Junk dealers purchase materials such as glass, iron, paper, and rope that have been
discarded and repurpose the items for future use. Albert Neiman and his wife Celia were one
couple that supported themselves in this way. They arrived in the United States from Poland in
1914 and set up a junkyard in Nelsonville. Albert also sold produce out of his car in addition to
dealing junk. Four children arrived in Nelsonville with the parents, Dorothy, Lillian, Ruth, and
Samuel. In 1915 another son named David was born. Around 1920 Abe Neiman and his wife
Sarah would settle in Nelsonville after immigrating from Poland. It is likely that Abe, who was
also engaged in junk dealing, was the brother of Albert. Sarah and Abe would have two sons,
Barney and Robert, who would help their parents run A. B. Neiman & Sons. Members of the
Neiman family would remain in Nelsonville for another 50 years. The family’s business interests
would eventually expand to include stores in Ironton, where Neiman’s Super Auto Store was
located, and Pomeroy, the site of the Neiman Iron Company.
Another family that arrived in Nelsonville 13 years before the Neimans were the
Shamanskys. Like the Neimans, Michael and Rachel Shamansky primarily engaged themselves
in the junk business after immigrating from Europe. Both husband and wife were born in the
Russian Empire and married in Riga before immigrating to Manchester, England where they
lived for a short time. In 1901 the couple arrived in the United States with several children and
settled in Nelsonville. At the time it was estimated that fewer than 30 Jews lived in Athens and
Nelsonville combined. Unlike the Neimans, however, almost no members of the Shamansky
family would remain in Nelsonville after one generation. Most of the children would attend Ohio
State University and go on to obtain jobs outside Athens County. Most would also marry
individuals who came from larger cities. The experience of the Shamansky family illustrates two
of the most significant demographic challenges for the Jewish community in Athens County. In
the early 20th century, Athens County provided opportunities for recent Jewish immigrants, but
the area did not have a large enough Jewish population to allow most of their children to marry
locally. During the first half of the 20th century, interfaith marriages between Christians and
Jews were uncommon and generally frowned upon in both communities. Jews from small towns
who hoped to find a partner would often have to relocate to an area with a larger dating pool.
Additionally, most members of the second generation who attended college did not return to
Athens County after obtaining their degrees. The Shamanskys would have eight children,
Dorthy, Dina, Harry, Isaac, Fannie, Julius, Sarah, and Solomon. Of these children, Harry, Isaac,
Fannie, Julius, and Solomon are all known to have attended Ohio State. Harry would graduate
from the Ohio State School of Medicine in 1917 and serve in the Medical Reserve Corps during
World War I. He would also serve in World War II along with his son Sam. His other child
Robert Shamansky would become a notable lawyer in Columbus and serve in the House of
Representatives from 1981 to 1983. Both Isaac and Julius would move to Mt. Vernon, Ohio, and
open up medical practices. Isaac would be a dentist and Julius would practice medicine for over
45 years. Fannie would study pharmacology at Ohio State, but it is not known if she ultimately
became a pharmacist. Solomon became a lawyer.
While many second-generation children would leave Athens County, as long as new
families arrived in the area the Jewish population remained stable and at times grew modestly.
Other Jews who settled in Nelsonville between 1900 and 1918 included Isaac and Zelda Simon
as well as Mose Sherman. Isaac arrived from Russia in 1905 after having fought in the
Russo-Japanese War as part of three and a half years of service with the tsar’s army. He began
working as a peddler but eventually saved up enough to establish a junkyard. In 1914 he would
fund the passage of his wife Zelda and son to the United States. Isaac and Zelda would have two
other children and all three would move away from Nelsonville. One son would become a doctor
in Troy, Ohio north of Dayton and the two daughters Bess and Sara would marry into families in
Cleveland and Columbus respectively. Mose Sherman was an interesting personality who was
known by the nickname “Slew Foot” [sic] in Nelsonville. This term can be understood to mean
clumsy. In addition to publicly brawling with Isaac on one occasion in 1908, Mose was also
involved in selling bootleg booze. Mose had additional business interests in Charleston, West
Virginia, and would sometimes relocate there when he ran afoul with the law. It seems that
eventually, Mose moved there permanently sometime shortly after 1913. In 1911 Louis and
Mollie Regen would settle in Nelsonville with their daughter Sylvia. By 1916, however, the
family would move to Zanesville. The Radens were another family that arrived in Nelsonville
around 1910. The patriarch and matriarch were Samuel and Elizabeth Raden. Both immigrated to
the United States from Poland around 1888 but did not arrive in Nelsonville for another 20 years.
The roles their children played in the Nelsonville community will be discussed later.
In Glouster, two families, the Golbergs and Trasins, joined the community. Harry and
Louis Trasin were brothers who immigrated together from the Russian Empire in 1910. Once in
Glouster, the Trasins established Trasin Brothers, a clothing retailer and tailor shop on High
Street which was in business until 1941. The business notably weathered a bankruptcy that was
filed in 1932 near the height of the Great Depression. Both brothers were also married. Harry
was wed to Gertrude, a native of Cincinnati, and Louis was wed to Sarah, a native of Russia.
Both Harry and Louis were involved with the Masons for over 50 years, and Harry additionally
served on Town Council. From 1932 to 1934 he was the Town Council president. Louis would
have two children, David and Margaret. David would attend Ohio University and move to
Columbus for work. Margaret would attend Ohio State University and move to Akron after
marrying David Dienoff in July 1940. Harry and Gertrude would also have one child in Glouster,
a son named Robert. In 1941, the Trasins who remained in Glouster would all move to Akron.
The Goldberg family would remain in town for over 30 years longer. Aaron, Adolph, and David
Goldberg would settle in Glouster around 1915 after immigrating from Austria-Hungary.
Together the three established Goldberg Brothers. Aaron would move after a short time in
Glouster and in 1921 Ben Goldberg, a younger brother, would arrive in Glouster. Ben would
eventually become the sole owner of the Goldberg’s store after his brothers moved away. Also of
note is that Adolph helped to create the Kiwanis Club chapter in Glouster during his time in
In Chauncey, Herman Luckhoff and Isaac Wilson were two immigrants from Russia who
settled in the village with their families. Herman arrived in 1910 and moved to Athens by 1912.
During his earliest years in the United States Herman made a living selling clothes as a door to
door salesman. By 1914, he opened his first clothing store on South Court Street. Later he would
move his store in Athens to North Court Street and open stores in Glouster and Nelsonville.
Herman was also a member of the Elks and Masons and maintained an affiliation with both
Temple Israel and Tifereth Israel synagogues in Columbus. He was married to Pauline and had
two children Beatrice and Seymour. Neither of the children would remain in Athens County.
Pauline was herself an immigrant from Russia and was the sister of Max, Mike, and Sam
Altman. The four Altmans arrived in Athens County around 1920 and members of the family
would remain in the area for several decades. Isaac Wilson and his wife Sarah established the
Isaac Wilson Store in 1900 which sold both clothing and dry goods. The Wilson family was a
large one. The names of the six children were Aaron, Edith, Lena, Louis, Max, and Saul.
Sarah would outlive both her husband and all four of her sons. The early deaths of so
many members of the Wilson family had a major impact on the family’s presence in Athens
County. Isaac would pass on in 1919 at age 49 while undergoing an operation at Grant Hospital
in Columbus to remove gallstones. After Isaac’s death Aaron, Lena, Max, and Saul helped Sarah
to manage the family store. The oldest son, Louis died in France about one year before Isaac on
September 12, 1918, while serving in World War I. It would be another four years before the
body of Louis was sent home from Europe. Another son Saul Wilson would marry Rosalyn
Siwalk of Columbus and have one daughter, Elaine in 1925. Saul’s first marriage would not last
and he would move to Los Angeles in 1931. His daughter Elaine would remain in Chauncey with
Sarah. In 1939 Saul would be killed in an auto accident while on his way to work. He left his
second wife Eva Cooke and one other child, a son named Louis. Aaron Wilson died of a heart
complication in November 1942 at age 43. He was a World War I veteran as well as a member of
the Elks and Masons. He was never married. His burial was held in Columbus and during the
funeral, all stores in Chauncey were closed. Two years later in October 1945 the last of the
Wilson brothers, Max died shortly after undergoing an operation to remove a brain tumor in
Cleveland. Max was chairman of the Dover Township District of the National War Fund during
World War II and president of the Chauncey-Dover High School Alumni Association. He too
never married. A few weeks after Max’s death Sarah died and was buried in the Old Agudas
Achim Cemetery in Columbus. She was survived by her daughters Edith, who was the wife of
Dan Friedberg and Lena, who married Robert Harris. Edith and Dan Friedberg would move to
Cleveland following the death of Sarah. Elaine, the granddaughter of Sarah, would go on to
attend the University of California, Los Angeles, and remain on the West Coast.
Before moving into the interwar period there is just one more family to mention, the
Rosenbergs. Benjamin and Rose Rosenberg arrived in Athens around 1916 and established the
Athens Junk Company. Ben was born in the Russian Empire and became a naturalized American
citizen in 1923. Rose immigrated from the Russian Empire in 1913 and settled with her brothers
Max, Myer, and Harry Maggied in Gallipolis before moving to Athens with Ben. Rose also had a
sister, Mary who was the wife of Abraham Yenkin and lived in Columbus. Ben and Rose would
have one son Solomon, nicknamed Sol. On November 26, 1936, Thanksgiving Day, Ben was
involved in a fatal car accident while traveling back home from McArthur in Vinton County.
He left his wife and 20-year-old son. Both Rose and Sol would continue Ben’s business, which
was eventually renamed Rosenberg Iron and Metal Company, and go on to be active members of
the Athens County Jewish community as well as the community at large.
The Interwar Years: Developments in the Jewish Community from 1919 to 1941
During the interwar years, the beginnings of organized Jewish institutions began to form
in Athens County. While the Jewish population was still too small to maintain a synagogue,
other efforts to create a more formal community were attempted. One of the first records of this
occurs in 1927 when The Jewish Review and Observer out of Cleveland reported that Glouster’s
Jewish residents had organized to support an annual national giving campaign conducted by the
United Palestine Appeal. This organization endeavored to support Jews living in the British
Mandate of Palestine and would later be known as the United Jewish Appeal. In 1938 students at
Ohio University would establish a Hillel chapter to facilitate the creation of an organized Jewish
community on campus. At the time, Hillel chapters were found on 40 other college campuses
across the United States. This new chapter would become an officially incorporated foundation
on January 20, 1950, and provide services to not only students but also Jewish families
throughout much of Southeastern Ohio. The first recorded reference to Hillel found in The
Athens Messenger dates from December 07, 1939, where the organization is listed as a
co-sponsor along with the Young Women’s Christain Association (YWCA) a talk by a visiting
professor of religion and biblical literature. By 1940 an estimated 250 Jewish students were
enrolled at Ohio University. Rabbi Harry Kaplan, Director of Ohio State Hillel would visit Ohio
University once or twice a month to keep connected with students. In addition to the students,
less than 50 Jews lived in Athens County year-round. The 1940 edition of the American Jewish
Yearbook recorded 22 Jews living in Nelsonville and fewer than ten in Athens and Chauncey.
On Friday, February 13, 1920, Samuel Sommer, a longtime member of the Athens Jewish
community died at his home on West Union Street. He was 65 years old. Julia, Sam’s first wife
had died over a decade prior and by 1909 Sam had remarried Elsa Haas, a native of Cincinnati.
Following Sam’s death, Elsa would sell the Sommer store to M.D.W. Hughes and return to
Cincinnati. Hughes would keep the name “Sam Sommer Store” for a time out of respect for the
former owner. After nearly 40 years of business in town, Sam was a widely known and respected
figure. One day after his death the editors of The Athens Messenger wrote:
Sam Sommer was a good man. He was honest, he was kindly, he was loyal, he was just
and he was devoted to his family circle and loved his fellow man and the country of his
adoption. He was modest, unassuming but always kindly, hospitable in his home and
charitable in the fullest meaning. He was a good man and true… His death is a severe
loss to the community.
Sam was also eulogized by Reverend Wilcox during the next Sunday sermon at the First
Presbyterian Church. A Jew being eulogized by a Christain minister at a church was sufficiently
unusual at the time that it drew the attention of the editors of The American Israelite , a Jewish
newspaper out of Cincinnati. The Reverend had attended Sam’s funeral in Athens and watched
as the funeral carriage departed for Cincinnati where Sam would be buried. He shared the
following with his parishioners:
I have just come from the home, where it was my privilege to share in the funeral
services of Mr. Sam Sommer. As we well understand, Mr. Sommer’s religious belief was
unlike ours, yet such was his character, such the life he lived among us, such respect he
gained during nearly fifty years of business dealings in the city of Athens, that not one of
our number, I am sure merely because he preferred the Jewish and we the Christian faith,
will for one moment be disposed to believe that he is now enjoying any other rewards
than those we hope to enjoy, when God – his God and ours – shall call us from this earthly
life. At an hour like this, how clearly do we see that the truths which we hold in common,
and which, therefore, unite us in a common faith are greater far than those which separate
us, often forging us wide distances apart.
While Reverend Wilcox delivered this sermon over a century ago, its message of humanity still
The interwar years also brought the arrival of a few new Jewish residents to Athens
County. Unlike previous decades, most of these newcomers would not be immigrants from
Europe, but rather native-born Americans. After World War I very few Jewish immigrants would
settle in Athens County. This primarily was the result of federal efforts to limit immigration from
Eastern and Southern Europe after 1924, as well as the changing economic character of Athens
County. 1924 is a significant date in that it marks the adoption of The Johnson-Reed Act into
law. This legislation limited the number of immigrants permitted entry into the United States
through a national origins quota. Specifically, the maximum number of immigration visas
provided to a given national group was equal to two percent of the total number of people
representative of the nationality in the United States as of the 1890 federal census. The act also
completely excluded immigrants from Asia. Nationalities such as Greeks, Italians, Jews, and
Poles whose numbers in the United States were relatively small until the decades after the 1890
federal census were allocated a modest amount of visas. Nationalities from Western Europe were
generally allocated a much higher number of visas because their presence in the United States in
1890 was greater. This quota system would largely remain in place until 1965. Economically, by
the 1940s industries such as coal mining and brick making were on the decline in Athens County.
While it would be another 30 years before most mines would close, the signs of change were
beginning to become apparent decades earlier. By the late 1940s, the role of Ohio University
within the local economy began to grow as well as industries such as healthcare. These sectors
would attract a workforce to Athens that primarily was college-educated and largely native to the
United States. This economic transition will be examined further later.
One of the new Jewish residents of Athens County was Isador Goldberg and his wife
Regina. Around 1938 Isador took over an optometry practice in Athens and Logan from M.R.
Shapiro. In Athens Isador’s office was located on the second floor of the Worstell Building and
in Logan it was found inside the Odd Fellows Building. Another newcomer was Samuel
Rothman, who opened a store in Chauncey on October 06, 1932. While Sam conducted
business in Chauncey, it seems that he continued to make his home in Perry County with his wife
and two children, Betty and Harry. Several years before Isador and Sam arrived, around 1924,
Fred Bergman relocated to Athens County. Fred would first find employment with the newly
opened Boston Store in Nelsonville as an advertising manager. Later he would be associated
with the Fair Store, which had locations in both Nelsonville and Glouster. The Fair Store was
itself opened shortly after World War I by another new Jewish resident Jack Davis. Both Fred
and Jack would marry daughters of Samuel and Elizabeth Raden thus trying together the
Bergman, Davis, and Raden families. Fred[ Bergman married Anna Raden and Jack Davis
married Nettie Raden in 1922. Jack and Nettie would have one daughter Phyllis who would
attend Ohio University and move to Cleveland after marrying William Isaacson in 1945. Anna
and Fred would have two children, Martin and Elizabeth. Anna worked as an insurance
bookkeeper in her early 20s and Nettie was a school teacher in Nelsonville. In addition to
managing his business, Jack Davis was also active in B’nai B’rith, a Jewish fraternal
organization, Elks and the Excelsior Club.
Samuel and Anne Kleinman were the heads of another recently settled Jewish family in
Athens County. It is not known whether Sam was an immigrant or a native-born American.
Anne, however, was an immigrant who arrived in the United States from Russia in 1905. In
Glouster, Anne and Sam owned a dress store called Kleinman’s. Anne was also active in the
Ladies’ Auxiliary of the American Legion, where she served as chapter president in the
mid-1940s. This likely meant that Sam was a veteran, but it is not known what war he fought in.
World War I is the most likely possibility because by 1962 Anne and Sam were of retirement age
and closed their shop to move to Cleveland. Anne and Sam had two children, Leonard and
Phyllis. Phyllis would attend Ohio State University and move to Kingston, New York after
marrying. Leonard, who graduated as salutatorian and who served as president of the 1937 senior
class at Glouster High School, also attended Ohio State. He would go on to become a doctor in
Cleveland. Also of note is that on September 2, 1933, Leonard had his bar mitzvah ceremony at
the Heights Orthodox Temple in Cleveland. This demonstrates the distance Jewish families in
Athens County had to travel to observe Jewish lifecycle events. Records do not exist of any bar
mitzvah ceremonies being held in Athens County until the early 1960s. The reason that Jewish
life cycle events were able to be held in Athens County by the 1960s was because of the growth
enjoyed by Hillel and the professional staff who settled in Athens County to work with the
A Place to Call Home: The Development of Hillel and Jewish Life in Athens County 1941 to
On December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor was attacked killing 2,335 Americans. This marked
the entry of the United States into World War II. At least 14 Jews connected to Athens County
are known to have served in the war. Their names are: Samuel Altman, George Cohen, Elery
Golos, Philip Hermann, Leonard Kleinman, Rabbi Leo Lichtenberg, Barney Neiman, Robert
Neiman, Harry Shamansky, Isaac Shamansky, Louis Tyroler, Robert Tyroler, Sol Rosenberg,
and Howard Wicke. Not all of these men lived in Athens County before the war’s outbreak, but
all would either eventually settle locally or have some other type of personal, familial connection
with the area’s Jewish community. The experiences of these enlisted men varied. Sol Rosenberg
received the Bronze Star in recognition of his meritorious service in direct support of combat
operations in England, France, Belgium, and Germany between February 1944 and May 1945.
Lichtenberg, who would serve as Director of Hillel during the 1953 – 1954 academic year, was
an Air Force chaplain in both World War II and the Korean War. Robert Tyroler, who before
enlisting majored in chemistry at Ohio University, served in the Chemical Warfare Division.
While millions of Americans went off to serve, economic life continued on the homefront and
civilians did their part to support the war effort. Max Wilson, as previously mentioned, served as
chairman of the Dover Township District of the National War Fund (NWF). The NWF was an
organization funded by contributions from civilians across the United States. These contributions
were then used to support numerous causes related to the war effort including aid for refugees
and relief for prisoners of war.
Near the war’s end knowledge of the Holocaust began to become more widespread. On
Thursday, June 7, 1945, The Athens Messenger published on page eight a letter from Louis
Tyroler to his mother which detailed some of what he saw shortly after a concentration camp was
Some low-lying brown wooden barracks arranged in orderly rows on a hill almost a
beautiful hilly countryside… We walked through a double line of barbed wire fence at
the open gate. Ahead of us we saw what looked like a post for children’s swings, two
short rusty chains hung from it. A loose board was placed horizontally midway from the
top. It was the camp scaffold where rebellious prisoners or caught escapees were hung
while the rest of the camp was called out to witness the slow deaths… We turned to the
right and saw about twenty dead men crumpled in grotesque positions in a space between
the barracks. Some were naked; others wore rags. They had blood on their faces or hands
or sometimes just on their clothes; but not much they were too starved. Sometimes they
clutched where they were hit; their faces were constricted in pain. No one knows yet who
they were… thousands were buried in pits in the surrounding countryside. We visited one
mass graveyard pit. A huge ditch, some water had speed in; in places it was reddish. A
man’s leg was visible. Thirty-five hundred were killed there on the eve of liberation.
Nearby was a charred open fireplace. Some rails set on rocks and bodies were stacked on
it. But it was a poor job of cremation for one could see skulls and parts of human forms.
On June 23, 1946, Sol Rosenberg married Lola Cudzynowska in Columbus. Around 150
guests attended the wedding. Lola, who would change her name to Laura after immigrating to
the United States, was a Holocaust survivor who was liberated from the Rentzmuhler Camp in
Germany on June 08, 1945. It appears that neither of Laura’s parents survived the Holocaust
and that she immigrated on her own. After her liberation from Rentzmuhler, but before she
immigrated to the United States Laura lived in Brussels. While there she was assisted by the
Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), an organization that helped to meet the needs of
Jewish refugees in Europe. The JDC would also help to secure Laura’s immigration. Even before
settling in Ohio, Laura was already engaged to Sol, who was active in supporting her
The war years also brought notable civilian developments within the Athens County
Jewish community. In February 1942 the Glouster Retail Merchants Association was formed. Of
the 17 stores represented five were owned by Jews. These businesses were the Atlas Store,
Luckoff’s, Kleinman’s, Trasin Bros, and Goldberg Bros. This demonstrates once more the
ongoing importance of Jewish families in local commerce. Hillel continued to develop on
campus and engaged in interfaith activities that were promoted to the wider community. In
February 1942 Hillel participated in Brotherhood Week, a week-long series of interfaith
programming. Rabbi Samuel Gup of Temple Israel in Columbus spoke at Ohio University as part
of the week’s activities. In January 1944 Hillel participated in an event at the First Methodist
Church which hosted a talk on “The Church’s Obligation to the Jews.”
The strength Hillel had as an organization by the mid-1940s can be seen through its
efforts on behalf of various philanthropic causes. In spring 1946, Hillel was designated by Irma
Voigt, Dean of Women at Ohio University to lead the Athens Emergency Food Collection
campaign on campus. Hillel collected over $250 for the effort, the most out of any student
organization. This would be approximately $3,200 after inflation in 2020. Another
development occurred in the fall when Hillel brought Randall Falk, a rabbinical student at
Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, to Athens to officiate at High Holiday services. This marks
the first recorded resumption of high holiday services in Athens County led by a professionally
trained clergy member. Two years later, in February 1948, Hillel hosted a large dance to benefit
the Jewish National Fund. Faculty, students and townspeople were all invited. During this
period of the 1940s, Hillel was located at 17 W. Union Street. In May 1950 the organization,
now called the Ohio University B’nai B’rith Hillel Foundation, moved into the former Bess E.
Fleck residence at 97 University Terrace. The new residence was purchased for $22,000. Hillel
promised that the University Terrace property would be “open to all university students.”
Organizations from the wider Athens community also met at the Hillel house. Examples of these
groups included the Unitarian Fellowship and Democratic Women’s Club. The Hillel Foundation
Board in 1950 was composed of: Robert Harris, President, Sam Altman, Vice President, Sol
Rosenberg, Secretary and Treasurer. Dr. Israel Knox Assistant Professor of Philosophy served as
University Terrace would be Hillel’s home until 1968 when the organization was
compelled by the City of Athens and Ohio University to vacate the property so that a local
redevelopment project could proceed. In 1951 Rabbi Phineas Kadushin arrived in Athens to
become Ohio University Hillel’s first Director. He was joined by his wife Susan. Phineas was a
native of Madison, Wisconsin, and he attended Columbia and the Jewish Theological Seminary
in New York City. Before arriving in Athens, he served as Director of Hillel at Harvard and
Brandeis University in Massachusetts. Kadushin was also the first known rabbi to live in
Athens. He had the additional distinction of being the first son of a Hillel Director to also serve
as a Hillel Director. Susan was also active in developing Hillel. Two new initiatives she
brought were organizing an arts and crafts group and creating a theater group. Shabbat services
began to be held on Friday nights and Saturday afternoons at the Hillel house. In 1950 there were
260 Jewish students on campus. Of these students, 125 were members of Hillel.
Phineas would not remain in Athens for long. In spring 1952 Rabbi Emanuel Seidman
had taken over for his brief term as Hillel Director after Phineas left to begin a position as a
pulpit rabbi in Plainview, New York. Seidman studied at Yeshiva University and the Juilliard
School of Music. He then worked at Queen’s University in Ontario before arriving in Athens.
Shabbat services continued to be held on Fridays and Saturdays. Hillel also sponsored new
philanthropic activities to benefit causes including cerebral palsy research and the Children’s
Christmas Fund, organized by the Child Welfare Board and the Athens League for Service.
Hillel was also featured in a national B’nai Brith calendar. Seidman taught classes on Hebrew,
Jewish history and the Torah for both students and residents of Athens County. By December
1953 Rabbi Leo Lichtenberg moved to Athens to serve as Hillel Director for an academic year.
One interesting event that took place during Lichtenberg’s time was the wedding of Rochelle
Silverman, daughter of Charles and Sophia Silverman of Athens, and Harvey Leventhal at the
Hillel House on December 27, 1953. This was the first recorded Jewish wedding in Athens
County in 60 years and its occurrence demonstrates how the presence of Hillel and its directors
contributed to Jewish communal life in Athens. This contribution would only grow with the
arrival of Jacob Mirviss, Hillel’s first director to serve for multiple academic years.
The Jacob Mirviss Years: Jewish Communal Life from 1954 to 1967
In spring 1954 Lichtenberg was transferred by B’nai B’rith Hillel to Adelphi College in
New York. He was followed by Jacob Mirviss who served as Hillel Director for 13 years until
his retirement in 1967. In 1954 it was estimated that Ohio University enrolled 186 Jewish
undergraduates and three graduate students. There were also five Jewish faculty members known
to Hillel. During Jacob’s time on campus, these numbers would all increase significantly. Jacob
and his wife Lillian arrived in Athens from Milwaukee. Jacob was born in Kovno, Lithuania in
1905 and his family immigrated to Minneapolis when he was one-year-old. Before moving to
Athens, Jacob received a bachelor’s degree in physical education from the School for Jewish
Social Work in New York City and worked at Jewish community centers in various cities
including Omaha where he met Lillian. Later in Milwaukee, Lillian would study law and
become the first woman to earn a law degree in Wisconsin. Jacob and Lillian would be active
members of the wider Athens community during their time at Hillel. Lillian would write
publically on political issues, and Jacob would be a frequent guest speaker throughout Athens
County. He also worked part-time as a faculty member in Ohio University’s Physical Education
Department in addition to his responsibilities with Hillel.
On April 7, 1957, a chapter of the United Jewish Fund (UJF) was organized in Athens.
Natalie and Sam Altman would serve as the group’s first co-chairs. This chapter of the UJF
called itself the “Columbus Branch Group” or the Valley Branch. Its members came from
Athens, Glouster, Nelsonville, Lancaster, and other nearby towns. In addition to Mr. and Mrs.
Sam Altman, other attendees at the inaugural meeting included, Jerold Altman, Anna and
Charles Epstein of Lancaster, Ben and Bertha Goldberg, Robert and Lena Harris, Emma Ingels
of Gallipolis, Annette Levine of Wellston, Harry, Dorothy, Meyer, and Mary Maggied all of
Gallipolis, Jacob and Lillian Mirviss, Barney Neiman, Laura and Sol Rosenberg, Max Yunker of
Parkersburg, West Virginia, Ruth Shatz of Logan, and Miss. Lena Spiegel, the mother of Bertha
Goldberg. Fifteen additional guests came from Columbus. The geographic distribution of the
meeting’s attendees shows not only the close ties the local Jewish community in Athens County
had with Jewish families in Columbus, but also connections that existed across southeastern
Ohio and along the Ohio River. The UJF was itself an international organization that primarily
worked to support the large numbers of refugees settling in Israel. These refugees numbered in
the hundreds of thousands and they arrived in Israel from a variety of locations including
Hungary, Morocco and Poland. In 1958 the local UJF chapter in Athens County renamed itself
the Southeastern Region. The annual fundraising dinner was once again sponsored by Sam and
Natalie Altman and attended by guests from Athens, Columbus, Gallipolis, Glouster, Logan, and
Wellston. In 1959 Laura and Sol Rosenberg served as co-chairs for the UJF. 1960 is the last year
recorded in which a UJF fundraiser was held in Athens. Charles and Sophia Silverman served as
the co-chairs and Arieh Plotkin, a former officer in the Israeli Defence Force and a noted lecturer
who was educated at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International
Affairs, spoke as a guest speaker. 30 people attended the program.
Another Jewish organization that had a presence in Athens during the late 1950s in
addition to Hillel and the UJF was B’nai B’rith. This fraternal organization was founded in 1843
in New York City, and by the 1950s it had chapters in locals across Europe and the United
States. B’nai B’rith also helped to sponsor Hillel’s activities on college campuses including Ohio
University. Members of B’nai B’rith in Athens were included under the Gihon Lodge in
Zanesville. Other towns represented by lodge members included Bellaire, Marion, Steubenville,
Portsmouth, and East Liverpool. In April 1958 Sol Rosenberg was elected as Chairman of Gihon
Lodge and the Ohio University Hillel Foundation. Other officers included Harry Barlow of East
Liverpool and Ben Lenavitt of Marion, who served as Vice Presidents, Leon Levion of
Zanesville, who was elected as Secretary, and Melvin Sachs of Zanesville, who served as
Treasurer. Robert Harris was the outgoing Chairman.
Jewish fraternal organizations for students also existed in Athens. Two organizations, Phi
Epsilon Pi and Phi Sigma Delta were in existence by 1950. Phi Epsilon Pi was chartered at Ohio
University in 1933 while Phi Sigma Delta was established in 1948. Both of these fraternities
were chapters of larger national groups that were founded in New York City during the first
decade of the 20th century. This was a period when Jews were excluded from membership in
many existing fraternities, sororities and other collegiate societies. As a result of this exclusion,
Jewish students formed their own organizations. In Athens, members of the local Jewish
community would often assist the two fraternities in organizing larger programs. At various
times locals would also serve as formal advisors. Louis Tyroler was one advisor to Phi Epsilon
Pi and Ruth Tyroler was also involved with the organization. Phi Sigma Delta was at times
assisted in hosting events by several women in the Jewish community including Natalie Altman,
Rose Rosenberg, Laura Rosenberg, Sophia Silverman, and Lena Harris. [It is also interesting to
note that Phi Sigma Delta enjoyed an especially close relationship with Hillel in part because the
two organizations were neighbors on University Terrace. Both fraternities ultimately merged into
Zeta Beta Tau, another national historic Jewish fraternity, in 1970. This was the result of
decisions made by each group’s national governing bodies. Nearly a decade earlier in 1961,
another Jewish fraternity, Alpha Epsilon Pi was in existence on campus. By that same year a
Jewish sorority, Alpha Epsilon Phi was also formed. As of 2020, Alpha Epsilon Pi is the only
remaining Jewish fraternity or sorority at Ohio University.
The existence of four Jewish collegiate societies in the early 1960s points to the
significant number of Jewish students in Athens during this period as well as their involvement in Jewish life.
This vitality was also reflected in the larger Jewish community. In particular, the
1960s saw many bar mitzvah and Jewish confirmation services in Athens. On May 28, 1961,
Hillel graduated four students in its Confirmation class. This marked the first time such a
ceremony was held in Athens. The confirmands were Berinthia Rosenberg, daughter of Mr. and
Mrs. Sol Rosenberg, Matthew Levinson, son David and LaReina Levinson, Daniel Goldberg, son
of Mr. and Mrs. Ben Goldberg, and Alan Neiman, son of Bess Neiman of Nelsonville, widow of
Barney Neiman. Eleven other children were also enrolled in the Hillel Sunday School. Helen
Mauck Galbreath Chapel would be the location of several bar mitzvah services in the 1960s. On
February 6, 1965, David Zlatkind the son of Dr. and Mrs. Hamil Zlatkind, celebrated his bar
mitzvah. Following the service, 100 guests attended a celebratory dinner at Fred’s Steakhouse.
About four months later on June 12, 1965, Stuart Libman the son of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph
Libman had his bar mitzvah. The following year two bar mitzvah services were held. On June
11 Robert Anon son of Mr. and Mrs. Louis Anon celebrated his bar mitzvah. One week later
Norman Clearfield son of Abraham and Ruth Clearfield marked his bar mitzvah.
The largest bar mitzvah services during the 1960s were likely organized in honor of Mark
and Geoffrey Rosenberg, the sons of Laura and Sol. On September 8, 1962, Mark had his bar
mitzvah in Galbreath Chapel. Following the service, a lunch was held for 200 people at the
Rosenberg’s home. Later in the evening, a celebratory dance was held at the Athens Country
Club. Three years later, in June 1965, Geoffrey was celebrated in a similar manner. Out of
town guests for these two occasions included individuals from Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton,
and Gallipolis. Residents of Maryland, New York and West Virginia were also represented at
both functions. Hillel’s Director Jacob Mirviss helped to prepare young people for their bar
mitzvah ceremonies. The presence of Hillel at these moments demonstrates once more the role
the organization had in creating a Jewish community not only for students but for all Jews in
Athens County who wished to engage.
In July 1967 Jacob retired from his role as Director and moved to Kibbutz Urim in Israel
with his wife. There his daughter Carmel had already established herself and her family. More
than 60 people attended Jacob’s retirement dinner at the Ohio University Inn including Rabbi
Benjamin Kahn, the National Director of Hillel. At the time Dr. Edward Penson served as
Faculty Advisor to Hillel. Jacob’s 13 years on campus had witnessed significant growth in
Jewish student life, particularly after 1959. By the time of his retirement, it was estimated that
Ohio University enrolled 900 Jewish undergraduates and 32 graduate students. The number of
Jewish faculty members had grown to 25. Jacob would pass on in 2008 having lived to see the
age of 108.
Challenges and Changes: Jewish life from 1967 to 1990
Jacob Mirviss was followed by Rabbi Joseph Polak as Hillel Director. Joseph arrived
from Montreal where he attended Sir George Williams University and the Rabbinical College of
Canada Lubavitcher Yeshiva. He was also a child survivor of the Holocaust who immigrated to
Canada in 1948 with his mother. During World War II his family was sent to Westerbork in the
Netherlands and then Bergen Belsen. His father, Aaron died three days after being liberated.
Joseph would only be in Athens for two years. The most significant development during his time
on campus was the opening of Ohio University’s first-ever kosher dining hall facilities in 1968.
By this time approximately 1,000 Jewish students were enrolled at the university. Joseph would
also teach classes on Jewish literature and theology in addition to his roles with Hillel. In fall
1970 he was reassigned by B’nai B’rith Hillel to Boston University. His successor was Rabbi
Norman Lewison who arrived in Athens from Ankara, Turkey where he was recently stationed
as an Air Force chaplain. Norman was a 1961 graduate of the University of Chicago and was
ordained by the Jewish Theological Seminary seven years later in 1968. By the time of his
arrival in the fall of 1970, it was estimated that 1,500 Jewish students were enrolled at Ohio
University. High Holiday services had grown large enough that they were held in venues such
as Baker Center and Athena Theater. Passover seder meals would also be held in the Baker
Center, while Shabbat services were organized in Galbreath Chapel.
Hillel was also active in political advocacy. One of the largest events occurred on
October 15, 1969, when Hillel partnered with three other organizations to hold memorial
services as part of a day-long protest of the Vietnam War on Ohio University’s campus. The
other organizations which organized memorial services were Christ the King Catholic Student
Center, the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd, and the First Presbyterian Church. Other
events included a 3:00 PM rally on the College Green and a 4:00 PM meeting at the war
memorial during which the names of those killed in action were read. A teach-in was also
organized at Baker Center Ballroom. Hillel also brought Israeli political leaders to campus. One
of the most notable speakers was Gavriel Cohen, a Knesset member and professor at Tel Aviv
University, who was on campus in March 1968.
In the midst of this period of growth, Hillel faced ]a significant challenge. The site of its
home at 97 University Terrace was included in an area slated for redevelopment by the City of
Athens and Ohio University. The general public was first made aware of this plan on November
08, 1965, at a public hearing. Hillel was one of two parties to publicly oppose the plan at the
hearing. The Acacia Fraternity and Phi Sigma Delta properties were also impacted by the urban
renewal project in addition to private residents. Despite this resistance, the proponents of the
redevelopment plan succeeded in their initiative in 1966. Hillel, which had purchased the 97
University Terrace property only 16 years earlier, faced difficulty in finding a new property.
Due to the redevelopment project, Hillel was only able to earn $25,000 from the sale of its
property in 1968. Real estate around campus outside the development area was also in high
demand due to Ohio University’s rapid growth. Eventually, a property was located at 21 Mill
Street and purchased for $50,000. An additional $50,000 was then required for renovations. In
1969 the renovations were complete, but the formal dedication of the new Hillel house had to
wait until 1970 due to student disturbances on campus. The purchase of the new property and
the renovations had left Hillel with significant debt. Traditionally, the primary funders of Hillel’s
activities in Athens had been members of the local Jewish community. This local community,
which was estimated in 1972 to contain 40 families in Athens and 10 families in surrounding
areas, was too small to pay off the debt alone.Appeals were made for the first time to parents
of current students in other locales and fundraising letters were published in outlets such as the
Ohio Jewish Chronicle .
A group, the Committee to Save Hillel House, was also formed and was co-chaired by
Abraham Clearfield, a professor of chemistry, Marvin Fletcher, a history professor, and Larry
Miller, a professor in the College of Business. Around this same time in November 1969, the
Hillel Women’s Auxiliary was formed. Its first elected officers were Lila Golos and Barbara
Steinhardt, co-chairs, Mrs. Joseph Polak, Secretary, Linda Harris Treasurer, and Sophia
Silverman Telephone Chair. There were also 23 general members. This organization would
organize local fundraisers for Hillel in addition to helping to sponsor programs at the new
property. The first event sponsored by the Hillel Women’s Auxiliary was a Chanukah party on
December 7th at the Hillel House. Fundraisers included an annual Jewish Foods Festival
which was first held in October 1970 and bingo nights. The members also created a cookbook
in 1973. Recipes were included for food such as chicken soup, kugel and stuffed cabbage.
Family celebrations also continued to be held in Athens. On June 14, 1969, Howard
Clearfield, the brother of Norman, had his bar mitzvah in Galbreath Chapel. In 1973 the Hillel
Sunday School was re-established with the help of the Women’s Auxiliary and four Ohio
University students who served as teachers. Family-centered Shabbat services were held four
times a year and a Parents Group was created. This group would help to organize holiday
celebrations such as Purim carnivals. On November 03, 1975, a bris, or ritual circumcision, was
held for the son of Rhonda and Louis Rieser. This ceremony was advertised through an open
invitation to all members of the local Jewish community published in The Athens Sunday
Messenger and marks the first time the ritual was recorded publicly in Athens. By this time
Norman Lewison had left Hillel and Louis was likely his successor as Director. Shabbat services
also continued to be held on Friday evenings at 6:30 PM and Saturday mornings at 10:00 AM.
On March 30, 1974, a most unusual bar mitzvah was celebrated at the Hillel house. On this day
Herbert Harris and his son David both celebrated a bar mitzvah together. Herbert participated in
the occasion because when he was 13-years-old, which was around 1944, no rabbi resided in
Athens who could teach him how to read and chant the Torah. In honor of the occasion, and to
mark the significant role Hillel played in the Athens Jewish community, David and Herbert
requested that any gifts be made to the Save the Hillel House Fund. At the time Hillel owned
$23,000 on the mortgage.
The Hillel house also served as a meeting location for various groups in Athens including
the Athens Chapter of the Ohio Civil Liberties Union, Athens Bicycle Club, and Concerned
Women of Athens, an advocacy organization that lobbied the State of Ohio to increase funding
for institutions of higher education. Jews and non-Jews also attended public events at 21 Mill
Street including art exhibitions, lectures, and musical performances. Larger Hillel events were
held at other locations in Athens. In 1977, Gail Berenson, Carole Cordray, and David Lewis
helped to organize a Jewish music concert in the Memorial Auditorium to benefit the Hillel
House. Other Jewish artists who lived in Athens during the 1970s included Murray Stern, his
wife Gladys Bailin, and Rebecca Steinhardt. Murray moved to Athens from New York City in
1972 after his wife found a job as a professor at Ohio University’s School of Dance. Previously
he had worked on sets for more than 70 Broadway productions including “Camelot”, “My Fair
Lady”, and “Sound of Music”. He also created movie sets in and around New York City
including ones seen in “The Godfather”, “The Group,” and “The Pawnbroker” Rebecca
Steinhardt was the mother of William Steinhardt, who served as Ohio University’s Director of
Public Relations from 1969 to 1970. She was also an immigrant from Bulgaria who arrived in
the United States in 1921. A noted needlepoint artist, one of Rebecca’s works was displayed in
the Roosevelt White House. She was also a writer and the inventor of a diabetic-friendly cake
mix Her last year of life in 1972 was spent in Kansas City where she moved following her son
and daughter-in-law Barbara. They had moved two years earlier after William’s decision to take
a public relations position at the University of Missouri Kansas City.
By the 1970s, most of the long-established Jewish businesses in Athens County would
close or be resold as their owners grew to retirement age. Additionally, few young Jews who
grew up in the area would choose to remain by the early 1980s. Most went on to attend
universities elsewhere and remained away as they began their careers. These trends can be seen
across several families. In June 1970, Natalie and Samuel Altman would sell Altman’s their
30,000 square foot store on Court Street to Marting Brothers out of Portsmouth after 26 years of
business. The store would be known as Marting’s-Altman following the sale.
Their son, Jerold, went on to practice psychology in Columbus and daughter, Jean, moved to Florida
to work as a schoolteacher. During their time in Athens, the Altmans were active in both Jewish and
civic organizations. Samuel had served as President of the Athens Retail Merchants Association
and was on the Board of Directors for the Athens County Chamber of Commerce. He was also
active in Rotary where he served as president for a time. In 1973 Ben and Bertha Goldberg
retired and closed their store in Glouster where it had been in business for over 50 years. At
the time of his retirement, Ben had been a member of the Kiwanis Club for over 40 years. Bertha
had spent many years as a volunteer with the Red Cross. None of their children would remain in
Athens County. By 1981 Laura and Sol Rosenberg moved to Florida where Sol became active in
real estate. They may have followed their son Mark who worked for the Florida State University
system, eventually becoming its chancellor. Charles Silverman passed on in 1980. His wife
Sophia would pass away three years later. Both had been long time restaurateurs in Athens
County. Their businesses had included the Terrace Restaurant on Route 33, Campus Skillet on
Court Street and Campus Pizza on State Street.
While several long-time Jewish families disappeared from Athens County by the
mid-1980s, newer families would move into the area. This allowed the Jewish community to
remain fairly stable demographically. Increasingly these newer arrivals would have some
connection to Ohio University. Often campus positions would prove to be transient with new
families coming and going over a few years. Some Jewish professionals would find more
permanent postings on campus, however, and remain in Athens for decades. Some of these
individuals include Howard Wicke, a professor of mathematics, Lester Marks, a professor of
English literature, and Barry Roth, a member of the English Department for over 40 years. The
number of Jewish families outside the City of Athens, however, would diminish to almost zero
by the end of the 1980s. This decline in the Jewish population mirrored population contractions
that were occurring more generally in small towns across southeastern Ohio as a result of
economic changes both locally and nationally. One or two families, however, were still active in
rural areas. For example, from the late 1970s to mid-1980s Bruce and Pnina Sabel attempted to
establish a moshav or cooperative farming community, on five acres of land in Amesville near
Athens. They did not, however, achieve long-term success. The Jewish community in Athens
County by the late 1980s also included artists, doctors, homemakers, musicians, therapists,
writers, and other professions. This diverse professional makeup continues to be a feature of the
Jewish community in Athens into the 21st century.
The Jewish community in Athens continued to organize itself to support Jews who faced
persecution and hardship abroad. One of the most notable examples of this activism occurred on
June 06, 1983, when the City of Athens symbolically adopted the Raiz family, which was among
many Jewish families at the time who were forbidden to emigrate from the Soviet Union.
Vladimir and Karmella Raiz and their two sons, Moshe and Saul, were given honorary Athens
citizenship by the City Council. At the time they had been endeavoring to leave the Soviet Union
for ten years. Soviet Jews who were denied the right to emigrate from the Soviet Union were
often called refuseniks. November 15th was also established as an annual day of solidarity with
Soviet Jews by the city. Hillel at Ohio University was the sponsor of the proposal and received
help in its composition from Norm Garber, a professor of Hearing and Speech who previously
traveled to the Soviet Union in 1978 to meet the Raiz family in Vilnius. The Hillel Director at
the time, Rabbi Irvin Wise, also helped to create the proposal. At the time of the declaration,
Athens was the first municipality in the United States to symbolically adopt a refusenik family.
Mayor Donald Barrett and Councilmen Stephen Kropf spoke at the adoption ceremony as well as
Dr. Garber. Seventy people attended the ceremony on the steps of the city courthouse during a
cold rain. Copies of the municipal declaration were sent to the Raiz family.
Another important development within the Jewish community occurred in 1985 when a
Jewish cemetery was created in Athens County. This cemetery is called the Southeastern Ohio
Jewish Cemetery and it is located within the larger Alexander Cemetery. It is the first and only
Jewish burial ground in Athens County. Before the creation of the cemetery, local Jews who
wished to be buried traditionally were interred in Cincinnati, Columbus, or Zanesville. The
cemetery is governed by the Southeastern Ohio Jewish Cemetery Association and continues to
function into the 2020s. Hillel also continued to grow, and it seems that its debts were paid off by
the early 1980s. In 1986 the organization added a part-time staff member who served as Director
of Student Affairs. During this time Rabbi Yosef Grodsky served as Hillel Director. Several
other Hillel directors would come and go over the next 11 years including Scott Flashner, Rabbi
Eddie Sukol, Rabbi Mark Newton, Rabbi Randy Segal, Rabbi Marianna Gevirtz, and Rabbi
Elena Stein. In 2002 Rabbi Danielle Leshaw would begin her time as Hillel Director. She
would remain on campus for 15 years making her the longest-serving director in the history of
Hillel at Ohio University. As of 2020, Hillel employs two full-time staff members, Sarah
Livingston who serves as Director and Jon McCullough who serves as Jewish Student Life
The Jewish community in Columbus also developed increased connections within Athens
County during the last two decades of the 20th century. In 1988 a group of individuals created a
religious summer camp called Camp Ari in Nelsonville. The campus of Hocking Technical
College, now called Hocking College, was utilized as the campground. Within a year of its
creation, Camp Ari enrolled 50 participants from all over Ohio and four additional states. Jews
in Columbus also connected with their coreligionists in Athens County by hosting Hillel Sunday
School students during trips to the city’s synagogues and by providing religious speakers who
visited Athens. Columbus was also the site of some bar and bat mitzvah services for young Jews
living in Athens. For example, on Saturday, May 21, 1983, Deborah Golos, the daughter of
Ellery and Lila Golos had her Bat Mitzvah at Tifereth Israel. Before her Bat Mitzvah, Deborah
was a student in the Hillel Sunday School.
Into the 21st Century: Jewish Life in Athens County 1991 – 2020
The Jewish communities of Athens and Columbus continue to be connected into the
2020s. In 1992, the Jewish Federation of Columbus helped to establish the Allied Communities
Outreach Committee. This group aimed to support Jews living in smaller Jewish communities by
improving the quality of local cultural and religious offerings. Alfred Weiner, an Ohio
University staff member, was active in the committee representing Athens. Five other
communities were represented on the committee: Gambier, Lancaster, Marion, Newark, and
Zanesville. By 2000, however, this group appears to have become defunct. Local Jewish families
also continued to be joined for at least part of the year by hundreds of Jewish students. Jewish
enrollment at Ohio University appears, however, to have declined over the last three decades. In
1996 it was estimated that 1,000 Jews were enrolled. By 2005 this number had decreased to
800. In 2019, Hillel International estimated that 600 Jewish students were on campus.
Determining the exact number of Jewish students at Ohio University is difficult, however,
because the university itself does not keep statistics on the religious affiliations of students.
Jewish students may also choose to not be involved with Hillel or other Jewish organizations and
consequently go unaccounted for. Available statistics for year-round Jewish residents are more
stable. In 1997 an estimated 100 Jewish people lived in Athens. This same report continues to be
cited in the American Jewish Yearbook up to 2018. In 2015 a new Jewish organization,
Chabad was established in Athens under the leadership of Chanee Raichik and Rabbi Levi
Raichik. While organized Jewish life has vanished from Lancaster, Newark, Zanesville, and
many other small towns, Athens continues to be home to a modest but vibrant Jewish
community. Communal activities in town include a Jewish Kids Club, which meets every two
weeks, a Jewish Book Club, and regular religious services. Today’s Jewish residents of Athens
County carry on nearly 170-years of history. Jewish life continues, and Jews remain as important
contributors to the local community.
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120 “Camp Ari Enrollment Doubles,” Ohio Jewish Chronicle , April 20, 1989.
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123 Quinn Bowman, “Religion in Our Community: Hillel Provides a Spiritual Oasis for Jewish People in
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