Dorothy KahnThis is Marvin Bonowitz interviewing Dorothy Kahn for the Columbus Jewish Historical Society’s Oral History Project in her home, 2746 Brentwood Road in Bexley on June 4, 2004.

Interviewer: Good morning, Dorothy. To begin our tape I’m going to ask you about growing Up Jewish in a small town which for you was Ruleville, Mississippi. How did your family come to settle in Ruleville?

Kahn: My father came from Lithuania and immediately came to Ruleville because his uncle was already settled there. His uncle had come and established a grocery store and he told my father, Hyman Pinsky, that this was a good place for him to live. My father started, as most Jewish men did then, with a pack on his back, until he had enough money to open up a store. He opened up a general store and after a while he knew it was time for him to get married and he sent word to Memphis, Tennessee, which was 125 miles away, and a big, orthodox Jewish community, that he wanted a wife.

My mother had come from Lithuania also, had had an unhappy experience living with her sisters in Baltimore and St. Louis and came to Memphis, to her uncle, to see if she could have a happier life. While she was at her uncle’s in Memphis, word got out that Hyman Pinsky wanted a wife and she wanted a husband so it was a shiddach, and they got married.

My mother came to Ruleville in 1917 and knew immediately that she had to have Black help, because that was the pattern and my father owned a store and owned a house already and they lived in the house across from the railroad track, which tells you it wasn’t in the most expensive part of town.

My father bought the first car in Ruleville because he was an innovative person and wanted the best of everything for his wife and family. He continued to send money to his sisters in Europe and as a child I remember that this was the only quarrel my mother and father ever had – that he was sending money to his sisters and my mother would say, “But I want so-and-so, I want so-and-so,” so he would immediately buy her a mink stole, or something like that, so that he could continue without any guilt sending money to Lithuania and Poland to his sisters.  I grew up in a town I was able to remember there were ten Jewish families in the town. Children that were older than I didn’t have any religious connections, so their parents would send them to church to have a Biblical education but by the time I was six or seven years old there were enough Jewish children in Ruleville and Drew – Drew, Mississippi was six miles away – and by the time I was six the families had already established a Sunday School so that we would have Ruleville/Drew Jewish children.  By the time I got to be around ten – I’m not quite sure of these dates – Cleveland, Mississippi, which was twelve miles away, established a Reform Temple so the Ruleville/Drew Sunday School disbanded and I went to the Sunday School in Cleveland, Mississippi. That’s where I was confirmed and that was our Jewish education.

Interviewer: What was your mother’s maiden name, Dorothy?

Kahn: Oser. She came to the United States by herself but she had sisters here. I really don’t know how old either of my parents were when they came over. I know they got married when my mother was about 25 years old. She had a sister in Chicago and another first in Baltimore and then St. Louis.

Interviewer: I know you have a brother, Ted. Who else is in your family?

Kahn: I had three sisters – one sister died. I’m the oldest. My sister Leah is next, my sister Pearl, who is deceased, is a twin of Frances. My brother Ted is the youngest.

Interviewer: What was Ruleville like? It was just a small town – were there neighborhoods?

Kahn: The population of Ruleville was 1,181, so there were not neighborhoods, except the Black people always lived in a separate area. One thousand, one hundred and eighty-one; and all of the stores in Ruleville were owned by Jewish merchants. There must have been about twelve stores, and two drug stores – about twelve general stores. The Jewish people would get together but there was not a building or any organization. The organization really was the Temple in Cleveland.  My father would go to Greenwood, Mississippi, about thirty-five miles away because he was Orthodox. My mother and father were both Orthodox but my mother had children, so my father would go to Greenwood, Mississippi for Rosh Hashana and for Yom Kippur and stay there just for the services. Those were the only holidays on which he would leave.

Interviewer: What about Pesach?

Kahn: He’d observe that at home. My mother tried to keep Kosher and she still kept two sets silverware but she knew that with Black help – of course that was traditional – the wife of the house would never cook in Ruleville, Mississippi. The Black woman cooked and Mother knew that eventually it would be impossible to keep kosher, but she tried in the beginning; but the Black woman did the cooking.

Interviewer: What was your school experience?

Kahn: We had a nice school – when I graduated High School I had the grades to be Valedictorian but they decided that the Gentile Boy whose grades were just beneath mine, should be Valedictorian for some political reason because it would not have been nice for a Jewish person to be Valedictorian of the graduating class!

Interviewer: Was there any other anti-semitism that you were aware of?

 Kahn: No. A couple of times kids would call me “Jew Baby” but that didn’t – but some of the kids would make slurring remarks about the Black people, but we didn’t – we were taught differently – but we just overlooked it. There was no anti-semitism that was any problem.

Interviewer: What school did you attend after high school?

Kahn: I went one year to Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana with no particular major and when I eventually met Al Blank and got married that was my career.

Interviewer: Was Al from that part of the country?

Kahn: No, I came up to Columbus to go to Bliss College – business school and met Al and got married.

Interviewer: Tell us about your children.

Kahn: Harley was born in Mansfield because shortly after we were married Gray Drugs transferred Al to Mansfield, as manager and that’s where Harley was born. After Harley was born Ted Schlonsky came to Al Blank and said, “I’ve got a drug store that’s all paid for; I need you as my partner,” and Al said, “I don’t have any money to invest in a business and Ted said, “I don’t want you to have any money, I just want you to come in as my partner!” And Al said, “I won’t come into it unless you let me pay something. So Ted said, “I’ll take all the money out of the cash register. We don’t owe any bills, we’ll each put $140 into the cash register and that will start out the business!”

Interviewer: Great!

Kahn: So that’s how Al and Ted became partners in the store (Sloan’s -Ed.) at Main and Ohio. They expanded the business, bought a store at Parsons and Whittier; they bought other stores and they remained loyal partners until Al died and they bought out his share of the store.

Interviewer: Al was very interested in the Jewish Community and Tifereth Israel…

Kahn: You want to know that background? I have four sons: Harley, Ronnie, Barry and Dennis, and of course, they went to Columbus Hebrew School and at some point before Harley was even bar mitzvahed, I don’t remember about what time it was, some of the Officials of The Columbus Hebrew School came to Al and said – I’m mentioning names so you’ll eliminate whatever you have to – (Name deleted) was running as president of The Columbus Hebrew School and he can’t be president because he will ruin it. We want you to run as president and if you’re president we know it will be run properly.

Interviewer: Who were some of those people?

Kahn: I have no idea – I can’t remember who those people were. And Al knew nothing  about Jewish politics; all he knew was that we were members of Tifereth Israel, the children went to ColumbusHebrewSchool and he did his own thing. He said, “Okay, if you need me, I’ll do what I can,” so they saw to it that Al won and from then on his involvement in Jewish Life – he became more involved in Jewish Life because from Columbus Hebrew School he eventually became president of Tifereth Israel.

Interviewer: Did he have any experience in Jewish education?

 Kahn: No. His bar mitzvah consisted of exactly what – he came to The United States when he was one year old – sorry, The United States or Canada, I don’t remember which – his family immigrated when he was just a few months old – they lived in Cleveland for a while then they had to move to Canada then they had to move back to Cleveland and he did what most hard working Jewish people did – they took their sons to the synagogue on Thursday and said a few brochos and that was his background. He just knew he was Orthodox.

 Interviewer: From the Hebrew School he went to Tifereth Israel and –

 Kahn: Well, of course. It’s the same for all Jewish organizations. All organizations work the same. If they see a good community leader in one organization they ask him to be on the board of another so he was on the board and became President. Then he went on to become head of The Jewish Federation. It evolved just the same as my own activities in Columbus evolved.

 Interviewer: Ronnie also was very active in community organizations.

 Kahn: Ronnie has been president of Jewish Family Service and served on the Board of Tifereth Israel. He married Ruth Ann Glick, a very active member of The Federation and of the Community.

Interviewer: Barry is second –

 Kahn: You didn’t get Harley! Harley’s the oldest. Harley married Denise Snider – they were divorced and he married Glenda. Harley is a physician and his service consists of charity work as a physician.

 Interviewer: Barry?

Kahn: Barry is a dentist – a periodontist – he married Denise from New Jersey and my son Dennis graduated in pharmacy. He lives now in East Liberty but he works out of Cincinnati for a big firm. I can name my grandchildren: with the last name of Blank there are Todd, Greg, Alison Forche (with an accute accent) Jennifer Lee, Jaime Grilli, Linsey Beyor, Andrew Blank, Amy Gosdanian, Kathy Blank, Randi Eisen, Becky Guzman, David Blank, Jim Blank and Russell Blank.

Interviewer: How many is that?

Kahn: (smiling) I’m Orthodox – I don’t count!

Interviewer: Dorothy, you, yourself were active in many organizations. Tell us about some of your community activities.

Kahn: I have served as president of B’nai Brith Women, on the board of Tifereth Israel Sisterhood, on various committees for The Jewish Federation – many committees of The Jewish Federation, on the board of The Jewish Center, as chairman of a volunteer committee of United Appeal and I have served and still serve as chairman of Women’s Service Committee of the Jewish Welfare Board. I’ve also served on the Board at TempleIsrael and I served on the Board of Council of Jewish Women.

Interviewer: When you came to Columbus, was all this activity something new to you?

Kahn: I came from a background of my father’s giving because the what-do-you-call‑them? They would come to Ruleville and I knew that my father always gave money to them. Father’s name was Hyman Pinsky and he established the atmosphere of giving to the community – he also gave of himself to the community of Ruleville, not just the Jewish institutions.

Interviewer: Coming to Columbus from a small town background was something new for you to step into.

Kahn: I really don’t know how to explain it except that it was not only a social need of mine to meet people and to be part of the community and of course I had help so I could leave my babies.

Interviewer: Unfortunately you lost Al –

Kahn: Al died when I was fifty-years old and then I married Bill Kahn.

Interviewer: Another community activist.

Kahn: Bill was very active in the community. Bill was the oldest of six children, and he and his brothers established Kahn Jewelers, which was very well known in the community. He served as president of the Federation, was a very active member of Temple Israel but he wasn’t an active participant – he didn’t serve on their board, that I know of.

Interviewer: You travel, you love to travel and you’ve been to many places.

Kahn: The only place that I have ever returned to in all of my travels is Israel and I’ve been there six or seven times. I’ve been in many parts of the world and have been fascinated by every place that I’ve been, but there’s a different pull that makes me come back to Israel each time.

Interviewer:, You love going to the Theater. You’re social with a great many friends. You’re very much admired.

Kahn: I went back to visit Ruleville once and I went back with Al and my children so they could see where I grew up, and I went back again with Bill where he could see where I grew up and it has always amazed me that the house that I lived in – that my mother built after our first house had burned, that I thought was such a big house and it was all Mother could afford – not all she could afford because she was considered one of the wealthier women in the town – I thought it was a big house, but when I went back each time it kept getting smaller and smaller. The last time I could not believe how small the house was but in those days a house that had three bedrooms and a bathroom, a living room, dining room and a breakfast room and a kitchen. It was considered big. Of course no central heating – we had a heater in the hall that all the rooms opened out into, where you got dressed in the morning… If you want to know my first memory of the past is that I remember the gas lights that were in the house when my father brought in electricity. As I said, my father wanted the best of everything for his family and he was one of the first persons to bring electricity into the house, one of the first to have a car and when my mother was pregnant with Teddy, he said, “Electric refrigerators are the thing and I’m gonna buy you an electric refrigerator,” and my mother said, “You are not going to buy me an electric refrigerator until after I have the baby because if I die when I have the baby I don’t want another woman to have the refrigerator!” But as soon as Teddy was born my father bought a General Electric!

Interviewer: What was the social life in a city that small?

Kahn: Among the other Jewish people, the men, when they would close the store on a Saturday night, because Saturday was a big business day – or maybe on Sunday night, the Jewish men would get together and play poker. My father was the worst card player in the whole wide world. My father did not smoke but when he went on Sunday night to be with the men, he played poker and he smoked cigars. My mother played Bridge, but they played Bridge – not just the Jewish women – the Gentile women of the community – the Bridge game was just a social – what we today call “kitchen bridge” – they played at a game of Bridge but they all got together. But they also had a Jewish Sisterhood. They called themselves “sisterhood” and they would meet in the houses and just talk about… – it was just a social get-together. I took piano lessons at the time and they would have me play one of the new pieces I had learned and that would be the entertainment! So it was a very simple social life but it was a happy social life. There are some Jews still living in that community but I’m not sure how many.

Interviewer: For the Columbus Jewish Historical Society I want to thank you for sharing your memories with us.