Interviewer: Hello, my name is Bill Cohen and it is the 18th of June 2018. We’re here in the home of Flo Gurwin and Flo, you’ve got a rich history in Columbus, in the Jewish community. Let’s start and have you go back as far as you can go perhaps to your grandparents. Tell us where were your grandparents born? What were their names? What were they like?
Gurwin: Well, the only grandparents I actually knew were my mother’s parents. My father came to this country when he was 18 years old and his parents stayed behind in the Ukraine. My father came from Starakonstantinov in the Ukraine. When he came, he claimed he was 18 years old. And when I found his papers from the ship manifest, it said he was 24. And I thought that’s a strange discrepancy. But being that I was doing a lot of genealogy, I went to a lot of conferences and I learned from the conferences that if he had said his right age at 18, he wouldn’t have been allowed to leave. Because he was the age of conscription and at 18 they kept you and so he would have been stuck in the Russian army forever. So that’s why they had him at a different age. So he lied about his age when he came to this country, but he was 18.
After he was here and he told me stories about, you know, how he came here alone. He stayed with a cousin. Well, the papers said he was a cousin. I’m not sure he actually was, but everyone was a cousin in those days because you had to have a relative. And he stayed there. I guess this family had three daughters. And after he’d been there for some time and he was learning English and doing the things that immigrants do to establish themselves, the head of the family, this “cousin” wanted to marry him off to one of his daughters. My father wasn’t interested in any of the daughters so he moved out. He moved away from there so he wouldn’t have to be marrying one of the daughters. And he, eventually, opened a little store. It was a candy, ice cream store.
Interviewer: Now remind us what town are we talking about?
Gurwin: This was in New York. He came to New York, so that’s where he landed and that’s where he stayed. When he moved, he lived in a tenement house which was very common in those days. But he wanted to bring his youngest brother, Victor, because he was closest to that brother. When he came to this country, he had three, two brothers left. Now my father actually had… there were four brothers, altogether. One of them died young. He was married but he died and had no children. The youngest brother was the one that my father was the closest to and that’s the one he wanted to bring over. But the family wouldn’t let him come because they said he was too young. And in those days, it took a long time on a ship. It could take a month to get over from Europe to the United States so they wouldn’t let him go. So, he brought the next older brother, the one that was younger than him to the United States and he was in the store with my father. In the meantime, by the time the younger brother was old enough to come, he had married and the Soviet Union had begun. There had been the Revolution in Russia and he said his life was better so he didn’t want to come to this country. So he stayed in Europe and as I said, he was married. He had gotten married and he had two young sons. But in the meantime, the War broke out, the Second World War and so that brother was in the army. And during the time that he was in the army, he was in a battle and was reported missing in action and they never found him. He was presumed dead. Years later, I found out exactly where this was and I found the information about that brother. So, during the War, my father had been in touch with his family, but they were running from the Germans so he lost touch with them. He knew that at the time, his father had died but his mother was still alive, my grandmother. And she was living with this brother and his wife and their two children. So, they were fleeing the Nazis. They didn’t have time to sit and write letters which wouldn’t have gotten here anyhow, so, they lost touch with each other.
Interviewer: Now, wait. I’m a little unclear. We’re talking about World War I.
Gurwin: II (Two).
Interviewer: Oh, we’re talking about World War II.
Gurwin: World War II. Right.
Gurwin: Not World War I.
Gurwin: The Russian Revolution occurred after World War I.
Interviewer: Right, in 1917 and World War II came in the 1940’s.
Interviewer: Okay, so you’re talking about the 40s now.
Gurwin: Yeah, yeah.
Gurwin: So, he lost touch with them and that was all we knew for many years. Now I’m going to drop that part of the story because I will pick it up later.
Around the same time as that, my mother came too and my grandparents came. Well, my mother was one of seven sisters. My grandparents…my grandfather had been married before he married my grandmother. And his first wife…first he had three daughters with his first wife. She died and after that he married my grandmother. The first marriage was not a marriage of love. What happened was, my grandfather’s mother died when he was young. He was a young boy and the father couldn’t take care of three boys. They were young so, he kept the oldest one and he married my grandfather off at 15. My mother would tell me the story about how my grandfather was married. They came with a cart and he rode in the cart and he was yelling the whole time. He didn’t want to go. But they’re marrying him off to this girl, and the youngest boy was given to an uncle who adopted him. And his name was changed. My grandfather’s last name in Europe and Russia was Pasakovitch and when the younger brother was adopted by an uncle, the name was changed to Malkiel. So, that’s where that part of the story ends temporarily.
My grandmother and grandfather lived in Orsha in Belarus and my grandmother had nine children. The oldest child, my mother’s oldest sister’s name was Fruma. Then the next one’s name was Lillie, and then my mother Nettie, and then her sister Minnie, and then after Minnie was Fannie, and then Helen, and then Sarah. But there were two other children in the meantime. There was another daughter whose name was Zlate and Zlate was between I believe it was Fannie and Helen and then after Helen there was a boy and his name was Koppel. Both of those children died. Zlate died when she was a little girl and Koppel was six years old when he died and my mother remembered him. She used to tell me about him. The only boy because the three children that my grandfather had with his first wife were three girls, so that was that. Their names are a little different in Europe. When they came to this country that was the names they were known as.
They had a cousin that married and came to this country and she was lonely. She… all her family was still in Russia, Belarus and she was very close to my mother’s sister Lillie, so she asked the family to send Lillie to this country so she could stay with her. My grandfather was a pretty shrewd guy, so, he said, “Well, okay,” he’ll send Lillie “but on one condition. They have to bring the whole family,” because you had to have a sponsor. He didn’t expect them to pay for it. He expected them to sponsor them so they could come and under those conditions he allowed Lillie to come to this country and stay with this, the cousin. Well, Lillie came and she was lonely. She didn’t like being there. She felt like she was being used as a servant. She was, you know, they were, because she had no other job. She didn’t know the language or anything, so after a while she wanted my mother to come because she was close to my mother. So, because of that promise, my mother was brought, but my mother was young and she was too young to travel by herself all that time on a ship so my grandfather said, “Well, she can’t come alone.” So, my aunt had a friend, a girlfriend, who didn’t have any papers but she could accompany my mother if she had papers and she wanted to come to this country but she couldn’t because of not having….so my mother’s three half-sisters didn’t want to come. They were already married and they had no interest in coming to this country. They used the papers from one of those sisters, the half-sister for the girlfriend and she traveled with my mother and they came to this country. So if somebody ever tries to find this other person, if they’re doing family history, good luck to them because she traveled under my mother’s half-sister’s papers, not her own.
Interviewer: So, your mother Nettie, was involved in a situation that today we might call an “undocumented alien.”
Gurwin: You got it.
Interviewer: Some people would use that term.
Gurwin: That’s right.
Interviewer: And this happened about what year approximately did your mother come into the U.S.?
Gurwin: Oh, my goodness, I would have to say, well, I know when she came. She came in Nineteen…I think it was either 1910 or 1911. So, after my mother got here, now the rest of them started to come. So, after my mom, my grandfather came with one aunt and when I was doing family histories, I had a heck of a time finding their ship manifest. I said, all I found was, when I went to Salt Lake City, I found the ship manifest when I went down to the German section, the German library. I found that they had come from… that they had left from Hamburg and came to England, Liverpool, Southampton, but then there was nothing because that ship never came to the United States. They disembarked in England and I said, “What’d they do, swim the Atlantic Ocean?” I could find no ship during the time that I knew they came. I know when that other ship landed and I knew when supposedly they got to this country and there was no ship that I could find them on. Some years later, I did find them when I was in Washington. I did some research and I went backwards because I had been trying, talking to my Aunt Minnie’s kids. I was talking to my Aunt Minnie and asked if she had, my cousin rather, and asked, Edith, and asked if she had her mother Minnie’s naturalization papers because if I had the naturalization papers, there are numbers on there and I could find more information. I could find when they came exactly because she came with my grandfather, and they kept, she kept telling me “No, no, no, no.” She didn’t, they didn’t have it. One day her son, because I kept bugging her about it, he found the papers. He sent me a copy. I was going to this conference in Washington, a genealogy conference, so I contacted the fellow that was head of the Immigration Department because he was going to be a speaker at the conference and I told him the information I had and asked him if he would be able to find her Declaration of Intention and the Petition for Naturalization. And he brought it for me, so with that information while I was there, because they had computers available, I was able to go backwards. Instead of researching from the other end, I researched from this end using those, the numbers. On those things, the Declaration of Intention and the Petition for Naturalization say on what ship you came and when, so that I found the ship manifest with my grandfather and my aunt and of course, each one was on a different place because they had spelled their names differently. There were errors in the spelling so I found that well, my grandfather’s name, their name was Pasachwitz because they came on a German line, there’s no “vitch” in German. It became “vitz” “v-i-t-z or w-i-t-z pronounced “vitz,” and so, that’s how I found them coming in. After my grandfather got here, he sent for my grandmother and the three younger daughters. So the three youngest daughters came after that with my grandmother. The only one that wasn’t here yet was my mother’s oldest sister and I couldn’t figure out why she hadn’t come. She came last and that was because she too was married and she had a daughter that was born there plus she was pregnant and they wouldn’t let her come on the ship when she was that far along because they didn’t want a baby born on the ship. So, they had to wait until the baby was born before she could come over with her family and so, that’s how the family all got here.
Interviewer: And did they all come in to New York City?
Gurwin: No. They came in…they did not. None of them came in through New York City. Some of them came through Philadelphia. Some came through Boston. They came in through different ports and they settled in Cleveland because that’s where my aunt, and my mother’s cousin that brought them were. So they were in Cleveland.
Interviewer: Now your father, I thought you said your father came in through New York City…
Gurwin: That’s correct.
Interviewer: And started the store.
Gurwin: That’s correct.
Interviewer: So, we still have yet to learn, how did the Cleveland people meet the New York City guy.
Gurwin: Well, my mother was a very sociable person and she was a very smart lady and she traveled a lot. She worked. She was a seamstress and a very good one. When she came here, she didn’t know how to sew. I mean she may have known how to sew but she wasn’t any great shakes evidently, so she went to work as so many immigrant women did, in a dress factory. She told them that she could sew; that she could do these things. It was piece work they used to do, so she would have the same thing to do all the time. So she would sit and watch how the other women did it and she would copy what they were doing so she learned how to do the same things. Never knew that, you know, no one ever knew that she didn’t know how to do it and she got very good at it. Eventually, she went to work for this factory in Cleveland and would take vacations. In those days, you didn’t have vacation time you took it yourself, but they used to have what was called the Fifth Season, where there’s a season where they don’t manufacture anything. It’s in between times so she would use that time to go on vacation and she’d go to New York. She had made… meanwhile, she had gone to the resorts there in the Catskills and she met people and she got very friendly with them and so she’d go where they were and visit with them. She would go to New York. She would go to Connecticut. She would travel and when she was in New York, she met, this couple and their daughter and she became very friendly with them. They knew my father because they used to go into his store and so that’s how she met my father. It was really a long distance relationship because they wrote letters back and forth and that’s how my father and mother met and he proposed to her and they got married in Cleveland.
Interviewer: Now approximately what year was that that they got married?
Gurwin: It was in Nineteen…trying to remember…it’s here [looking through papers] let’s see here. I would say probably nineteen…around 1929 something like that, 1928.
Interviewer: Wow right as the Depression is about to hit…
Gurwin: Exactly. That’s it.
Interviewer: your parents get married…
Gurwin: That’s it.
Interviewer: And they settled down where?
Gurwin: In New York and that’s where I was born. I was born in New York, but you’re right. It was during the Depression and my father’s store was an ice cream candy store. Business was not so great. During a depression people need food, not ice cream or candy and so it was a struggle. Meanwhile, his brother was in the business with him because remember, he had brought his brother, and so, my mother said, “Maybe it would be a good idea to move back to Cleveland.” Because her whole family was in Cleveland and there would be more opportunities for work and she could get her old job back, because they would always take her back. And so, they decided, when I was two years old, they moved back to Cleveland. My father gave his brother the business and let him have it and we moved to Cleveland. And my mother and I came first and then my father followed after he got all the business straightened out. And it was during the Depression and they struggled. My father, you know, had to find a job and he, I guess found a job with a, I think it was a suit factory or something, but my mother had her job back. She went to work and they were glad to have her back. My mother became a, um, a sample-maker. You know, what a sample maker does is she works with the designer. The designer draws the picture and picks the fabric she wants the clothes to be and then she gives it to the sample-maker who, would take the picture and make, from the picture, the dress to fit a particular model, a live model who was a certain size. She would make the dress and then discuss it with the designer, because sometimes the designer would pick fabric that you couldn’t make it do what she visualized on the picture. So my mother would discuss it with her on how to make this happen. Then they would take that dress and take it apart and it would go to the pattern-maker who would then take the dress and make patterns from it. And then it would go to the people that would manufacture the parts of the dress and so, that’s what my mother did and she did this for many, many years. In the meantime, my dad eventually found…the story is my mother’s brother-in-law, one of my aunt’s husband had a friend who had a lousy business and it was, the Depression time. He was not making a living and wanted to get rid of his store and so, they conned my father into getting this store. But my father was not a dummy either and when he took the store over, there was nothing in it, literally. There was not even a lock on the door. Who would come in? There was nothing to steal; there was nothing in the store, so he slept in the store until he could get a locksmith to put a lock on that door. There was no heating. There was nothing. He had to install a heating unit for the wintertime and he bought merchandise and people would come in. They’d want to buy one egg because they were used to coming in and buying one egg. My father said “No, you can get half a dozen eggs. I’ll sell you a half a dozen, but I’m not going to sell you one egg,” so, he trained the people on how you come here to buy things and he built up a business and he had a decent business.
Interviewer: So, it was a grocery store.
Gurwin: It was a grocery store in a, very low-income neighborhood. It was really a relatively poor neighborhood that was very ethnic, from Eastern Europe people and they’d lived there maybe for generations. My father had a very good heart. He was a very, very kind man and I’ll tell you a story about that when I finish this one. People would come in and they didn’t always have enough money at the end of the month to buy food and some of them who came, had big families. So he would extend them credit and he kept a book and an accounting of what they owed and he… his philosophy was you can’t let children go hungry, and so he always would extend them credit so that they could always feed their families. And then at the beginning of the month when they got paid, they’d come in and they’d pay what they owed. And then the month would go on and it would be a revolving thing but he always made sure that they always had food to eat, that they would never go hungry as long as he had that store. And so, he had pretty loyal customers until some years later when it was already past the Depression and an A&P store opened down the street. Big competition because they could sell things for less than my father could so, some of these customers would go to A&P. Well, then when they’d run out of money they’d come to my father and he’d say to them, “You need to go back to A&P and have them extend credit to you.” So, they’d say “Well, A&P doesn’t extend credit.” He said, “I only extend credit to my customers, not to A&P’s customers,” so he got back most of his customers again.
Interviewer: Individual customer service is what he provided.
Gurwin: That’s indeed what he did provide.
Interviewer: And he was able to compete with a big, big corporation.
Gurwin: He did and then he also was very smart when, you know shoplifting is a serious problem in any business, but in any store where you have theft it increases your cost and, and you lose a lot of money. So, of course, the people would come into his store and sometimes they would steal too, but my father, when he’d go in the back… he had also lunch meats and stuff that he would slice so, they thought when he was in the back that he couldn’t see what they were doing. But the case had a glass in the front and a glass in the back. He could see. He was watching. He could see what was going on, but he never said anything so, sometimes they’d steal something like candy or gum or a bottle of pop or something like that and they’d stick it under their coats or in their pockets. He wouldn’t say anything. When they’d go to check out and they’d put it on the counter, and remember this is not a store where they had the aisles like the big grocery store. You put it on the counter and he would take a paper bag and write the items down and add it up, which he didn’t have to do because he could do it all in his head. My father was a mathematical genius. That was another thing. He could take four or five numbers and multiply them by four or five other numbers. He’d tell you right away what the answer is. He could beat a calculator every time. When I’d ask him how he did that he’d say, “It has to do with numbers progression.” I never figured it out but he could do this. But anyhow, he’d have the total done before he ever put it on the bag but, that’s alright. So, when he would, they’d put the things down and he’d list it on the bag and he’d announce what it was and then after he got it all done, then he’d say, and – this was when candy was, and gum was a nickel – so he’d put the things down and the gum 10 cents and the candy bar, 10 cents and they’d say, “Wait a minute, gum and candy bar are five cents. He says, “It’s five cents on the counter; it’s ten cents in the pocket,” so they learned that you can’t steal from him because he doubled the price of whatever it is.
Interviewer: He gave them a double lesson. He told, he showed them that he knew they were stealing and that they were going to pay for it double.
Gurwin: That’s right, so they learned don’t steal from Mr. Phil because he charges double. So anyhow, he had this business that eventually my mother quit working and she just came to the store and helped him. And during the summers when I was a little bit older, I would work in the store. I would come in and help my father, especially during the busy time around noon, because people would come in from industries and businesses that were around in the neighborhood and they’d want sandwiches. And he would make sandwiches. He figured that out. He could make sandwiches and they would come in. It would be cheaper than their going to any of the restaurants because he would cut the meat fresh. He got Jewish rye and rolls and everything from my uncle who was a baker and would deliver every day fresh bread and rolls so they could get whatever kind of roll or bread they wanted and whatever they wanted on their sandwiches and he’d make a hefty sandwich for them.
Interviewer: Now you’ve been born now and you’re living in Cleveland and your father has this store, so what are your, do you have some, some memories of your childhood there? You can talk about maybe what neighborhood you lived in there.
Gurwin: Well, I grew up, when my parents moved to the East side of Cleveland and I lived at…I still remember the address – 607 East 106th Street in Cleveland.
Interviewer: 106th Street and that’s in the city of Cleveland.
Interviewer: That’s not a suburb.
Gurwin: No. It’s Cleveland and it was a street of all apartments and across the street – it was all on one side of the street. On the other side of the street was a vacant lot and it was in three sections. The first section was like a parking lot and delivery area for businesses that faced St. Clair, because 106th Street was off St. Clair. The second part was like a gravel lot, all gravel and the kids played on it. We played baseball and football and all the things and then the third part of the lot was overgrown weeds, very tall weeds like garbage weeds and the elementary school was on the other side of that lot, so you could either walk down 106th Street to St. Clair, walk a block to 105th Street, turn right on105th Street to get to the school or you could take the short cut across the vacant lot which of course, we took the short cut. So, anyway, I was the only girl on that whole street of boys and so, I hung out with all the boys and my very best friend was Jack Turoff and he lived at 605 East 106th Street but it was the same building. They were like connecting buildings so his building entrance was in the front and the part I lived in was receded back so it formed like an open area, but our back yards, our back doors on the porch in the back were connected so, we could go back and forth on the porch and we would always be together. We would hang out together, we would do everything together, We got in trouble together, everything, and because I was the only girl with all the boys I played the boys’ games – Cowboys and Indians, Cops and Robbers, I climbed fences, I climbed trees, climbed on top of garage roofs. I took dares from the second floor – “I dare you to climb down from the second floor to the first floor.” Now the first floor was concrete so you could get killed climbing over, but a dare is a dare, so, I’d shimmy down the down spout and I always knew if my mother knew that she would have killed me if I didn’t get killed myself. But we used to go and explore things. Jack and I would go places. We once found this alley on St Clair that we couldn’t figure out. We had seen it and wondered what was in that alley that went back. And we followed it back and we found it opened up into a great big open area and there was this huge, like a big pipe. It’s like these big huge things you see that they plant underground. They’re great big. They’re taller than a man. They’re very, very big and it was above ground and it went… we didn’t know where it went and we were curious to find out where did this go. There were steps going up, so we climbed up the steps and remember our parents didn’t know where in the world we were. We climbed up and we walked following this pipe and we came out to Gordon Park which was very far from where we lived. And it usually, it normally would take three bus rides or street cars to get there and we thought, “Wow, we found the short-cut to Gordon Park.” We were so excited, so we walked around for a while and we came back and my mother said, “Well, where have you been?” We said, “Oh Just around.” We didn’t say anything and Jack’s mother asked him, “Oh, just around.” Well, you know, in those days, kids would go out in the morning and hang out and be gone all day. As long as you came in before it got dark, it was fine and when you got hungry you came home for lunch, you know. So, we didn’t say anything. We did it a couple times and one day my mother said, “Where were you? Nobody knew where anyone was. Nobody could find you or Jack. We asked all the kids. Well, Dummy, I told her. She said, “You did what?” She said, “Where is that?” So, I said, “I can show you.” So, the next time we were out, I said, “You go down…” She said, “Don’t ever do that again. That’s dangerous. What happens if you fall off?” I said, “Well, we don’t fall off.” “Well, what happens if you do?” “Well, we don’t.” “Don’t do it again, okay?” and she told Jack, “Don’t do it again either.” Of course, we did it again. We just didn’t’ tell anybody we were doing it again, but, anyway, it was fun and we told some of our friends, you know, that we found this short-cut to Gordon Park but we wouldn’t tell ‘em how.
Interviewer: Now, was this neighborhood where you lived at 106th, was this a Jewish neighborhood or an ethnic neighborhood?
Gurwin: That’s a good question. It was predominantly Jewish at that time. In fact, I don’t know of any kids that weren’t Jewish…
Interviewer: …that were not Jewish?
Gurwin: that were not Jewish, at that time. They were all Jewish and it was an interesting place because down the street, if you went all the way down to the end, the opposite of St. Clair, if you went to the total other end there was a pool…a park and a pool and we always called it Filterbeds. That was what we knew it as. It wasn’t until I was in high school that I discovered that it really had another name. It was Glenview Park. We never, ever knew it. None of the kids ever knew it as anything but Filterbeds. And then we realized why. It was the first pool, I guess, in the Cleveland area that had a filtered bed and everybody called it Filterbeds. We called it Filterbeds. We did not realize it actually had a name. That was the name we always knew it as… Filterbeds. So, that’s where we’d go to the park and we’d hang out. And then there was also a streetcar that ran on St. Clair that if we caught it at the end of our street at 106th we could ride it all the way to the end of the line which was, um, um, the park, um, oh, gosh, um…
Interviewer: the Park that you went with the pipe to?
Gurwin: No. That’s Gordon Park. No, this was…it’ll come to me.
Interviewer: Okay but it was closer to downtown?
Gurwin: No, the other direction.
Interviewer: Further away from downtown Cleveland.
Gurwin: Yes, it was further away. It was the other way and it was the end of the streetcar line. It wasn’t Cedar Point. It was like Cedar Point but it wasn’t Cedar Point, but anyhow, because Cedar Point is…It was Euclid Beach.
Interviewer: The suburbs…where the suburbs were starting maybe.
Gurwin: The park… the park is no longer in existence but it was an amusement park and we would go there and for a little nothing cost, a nickel, you could ride all over and we were allowed to do that. You know, they’d give us a nickel or ten cents whatever it was. We’d ride the streetcar, go to the park, and stay for the day. It was fun and we’d…they would make ice cream cones. The cones for the ice cream, the sugar cones, we could see them making it. They make it like a waffle. It looked like a waffle iron and then, when it’s done curl it up. Now they took a thing and made it into a cone shape so when you got an ice cream cone it was a fresh cone, really crunchy.
Interviewer: Now were you and your family, were you members of a synagogue?
Gurwin: Yes. I don’t know the name of the synagogue to tell you the truth but it was on, I believe, Parkview and we were members for a long time. It was a big synagogue and all around up and down on that street there were a lot of smaller synagogues, some of them very Orthodox in little houses. The one I belonged to was a big synagogue and it was a very pretty building. It had steps going up to the front on both sides. A friend of my parents lived down the street facing it and so when we would be there for Yom Kippur we’d always go to their house and they would feed me lunch so my parents didn’t have to go home because we used to walk to the synagogue from my house. It was an Orthodox synagogue. I was brought up in an Orthodox synagogue. The women sat upstairs and the men sat downstairs and when you were little, girls could go downstairs. I used to go down and sit with my father and on Yom Kippur they would pass snuff out. I remember because it would keep you from dozing off or being hungry so, they would take a pinch of snuff and they’d give it a sniff and, of course, sneeze, cough, whatever they do sometimes. And years later, even after my dad passed away, and I found his books, in the lining, in the binding of the books, when you open it up in the crevices of the book was snuff. I saw the old snuff that was still left in there.
Interviewer: So back then and since this was Orthodox so, there were no bat mitzvahs for girls.
Interviewer: What about, do you remember being confirmed at all or did you go to Sunday School?
Gurwin: I did. I went to Sunday School and I went to Hebrew School. The schools there were community Hebrew and Sunday schools and I went on Sunday and during the week. It was Columbia Hebrew School and Columbia Sunday School and it was on Columbia Avenue which was off of East 105th Street. 105th Street, by the way, was a whole big Jewish neighborhood and there were all kinds of businesses there. There were butchers, there was a poultry store, there was a tailor shop, and there were all kinds of different bakeries, lot of bakeries, lots of competition. So, on the same street depending on which store you patronized most of the customers were pretty loyal. My mom used to go to the same butcher shop, and the same bakery, and the same chicken store. And I can still remember that chicken store, because even in winter time they’d keep the front door open because it would smell so bad in there. They had this screen door and you’d go in and oh, I used to hold my breath before I walked in because it would smell so bad. And the chickens were all alive and they were in crates all over the place and you’d pick out your chicken. They were white chickens, I remember. They’d pick them up and they’d show you the chicken. I don’t know how you could tell from a chicken full of feathers how they looked but then they would take the chicken in the back and slaughter the chicken and you could hear them. And they’d flick some of it and then my mom would take the chicken home and she’d open the chicken herself and sometimes there were eggs, all different sizes of eggs in there. The smaller ones were for chicken soup and sometimes you’d find an egg that was ready to be laid and so, we’d get a whole fresh egg. I remember when my mom would clean the chickens and I’d take the feet and I would play. There’s a muscle you’d grab on the end of the foot and you can pull it and make the claws go up and down, open and close the claws.
Interviewer:… as if the chicken were still alive.
Gurwin: Yeah, you could make the toes move on the chicken, so anyhow, but…
Interviewer: Were there also feather that were still on the chicken that your mother…
Gurwin: Of course. Of course, and she would have to flick what’s left on there but you know something? You can buy kosher chicken today, Empire chickens, I guarantee I’m still pulling feathers, I pull the pin feathers out when I buy it. One time, they had a dinner here. It was the first dinner they had for the Columbus Torah Academy and it was at the Deshler and it was a kosher meal. It was the first one they had and I remember we went to that dinner and they served a chicken and I remember them serving me this chicken and I called the server over and I said, “Excuse me, this chicken has feathers on it,” and he said to me, “But it’s kosher.” I said, “Kosher, you don’t eat feathers.” They didn’t know to clean the feathers off of the chicken. It was really something.
Interviewer: Now when you describe the Jewish neighborhood you lived in in Cleveland…that would have probably been some time in the 1930’s.
Gurwin: Um–hm. Thirties and Forties.
Interviewer: Thirties and Forties and you said you had…all your friends were Jewish. Now when you went to school, you went to public school.
Interviewer: Were there non-Jews there?
Gurwin: Oh, yes.
Interviewer: So, tell me how did that work? How did the Jews get along or not get along with the non-Jews? What was that like?
Gurwin: It was fine. We all got along very well. One of my best friends Dorothy was not Jewish. She lived in the neighborhood. We all got along. I mean, in fact, my school …it was an unusual situation for its time, but there were also some African-Americans there. They were, you know they were called Negroes then, but they were…they were in that school, too, and the reason was, that our school had what was called a major work. It was the only school in the area. I’ll explain what that is. There were other schools in that area but outside of our school district, that when they had kids that were very bright, they would send them to our school which had this major work. It was like advanced classes so they came to our school and there were a number of children that were African-American and they went to my school. We didn’t know the difference. We were all color-blind. We all got along just fine. We had no problems at all. The first problem I do recall was a boy that happened to be Jewish and he was a refugee from Germany because it was around the Second World War and he and his family had escaped from Germany and so he was in school and he looked a little different than the rest of us and his speech was different. He had a very, very pronounced German accent and some of the kids, it’s not that they made fun of him, exactly but they weren’t very friendly to him and I always felt sorry for this boy. I often wonder whatever happened to him but he seemed to get along okay in school. Nobody did anything. Nobody beat him up or anything like that. They didn’t do that. The thing that I do remember about elementary school is not that the kids were so bad, it was some of the teachers that were so bad. And we did have a problem with some of the teachers and it wasn’t necessarily a religious thing either because I remember this boy Charles that was in my class and Charles was always in trouble. He was bigger than the other kids and I remember this one time we were in the, I think at the time we were in the second grade I believe. We were just starting the second grade and Charles had this friend, another boy named Homer and I remember his name was Homer Falloon, and Homer… it was the first day of school, and Charles and Homer went home for lunch and when they came back, Charles came back and Homer did not and Charles was late. And the teacher yelled and screamed at him for being late and wanted to know why he was late. And he told her that on the way back from school, or going home, Homer was hit by a car. He had a… Homer came to school with this big cowboy hat on, with this big wide brim and, he had gone to cross the street… they didn’t have school crossing guards then and he went from between two parked cars, which kids have always been told don’t do, and a car hit him. And so Homer was in the hospital and Charles was with him and it was very traumatic. So the teacher bawled him out for being late anyhow. She sort-of felt bad after he told her what happened and then it turns out Homer died in the hospital and Homer never came back and the teacher, I know, felt terrible but the kids wouldn’t talk to her for the rest of the week. All the kids were mad at her because of her yelling at Charles and making light of the fact that Homer had been hit by a car. She didn’t realize how severe it was, but the other teachers were very compassionate and so the comparison. Then there was another time in the first grade I had a teacher… there was another boy in this class named Donald Cook. How I remember all these kids names I don’t know, but Donald Cook was a really cute little kid but he was always in trouble. I don’t know what he did to tell you the truth. I’ve never figured out what he did that he was always getting thrown out of class and sent to the principal’s office. The principal’s office was down the hall from our classroom and in those days they would hit kids, so, he would get paddled and you could hear Homer yelling. I mean, Donald yelling down the hall and I always felt so bad and then when he’d come back, you know, the teacher would say, “Well can you behave now?” or something and every day was the same thing. I never could figure out what it was that Donald was doing that he got sent out of class because he was a really nice kid. That had to be traumatic for him. I wonder whatever happened to poor Donald Cook, but anyhow, that’s what I meant when I said the problems were with the teachers really, not with the kids. The kids all seemed to get along well and that was Oliver Wendell Holmes elementary school and Jack and I both went to the same school. Now years later, a girl finally moved into the neighborhood and wouldn’t you know, her name was Florence, same as mine and Florence thought of herself as a tough cookie and I was always very small. I was always petite, but I had a head start over her in the department of hanging out with the boys, so, although she thought she was tough, the boys would pick me because they knew I could throw a ball. They knew I could throw a mean football. They taught me how so I knew how to throw. I could throw a spiral. I still think I could do it. I could throw a mean football, but anyway, they didn’t like her so well because she was very bossy. One day we were outside and we were playing and it was a quiet time. I was blowing bubbles and she came over and said, “Can I blow bubbles?” I said, “Yes,” and so she was standing there and she said, “Well, when?” I said “As soon as I’m through.” “Well, how long is that going to be?” “I don’t know. When I’m done, I’ll let you blow bubbles.” Well, she didn’t like waiting so she stuck her finger in the soapy mixture and started flicking it in my face. I said, “Don’t do that.” She kept flicking. I said, “Don’t do that.” She wouldn’t stop. She’d wait a while and then she’d start flicking again. Well, the more times she did it the longer I was going to blow bubbles and finally I just couldn’t stand it anymore, and I said, “So, you want to blow bubbles now? Here.” And I took the whole glass of water and I threw it in her face, soapy water. She didn’t pull that on me anymore. That was the end of that story, but anyway, the kids in the neighborhood really did get along and some of them years later I ran into them and found out whatever had happened to them. Because we lived there until I was in high school. I went to junior high. I went to Patrick Henry Junior High and in Patrick Henry, there were many, many more African-American students because they came from all the different schools around, and we still got along pretty well, and in fact, they were the ones, some of the girls taught me how to jitter-bug and we used to have fun. And then there was a boy that moved into the neighborhood. They moved in on our street to the end of the street and it was a black family but kids, you know, are pretty much color-blind and we would play with them, too. But he used to come to school wearing a Zoot Suit which was very different and the kids would, you know, comment about the way he dressed, the complete Zoot Suit with the baggy pants and the narrow cuffs and the big pockets with the gold chains and the hat with the brim, the whole nine yards and he just was very different and he wasn’t, he wasn’t, um, he just wasn’t, he didn’t seem to be as nice a kid and he was a little more sassy and so the kids stopped having anything to do with him. He and his brother lived, as I said, down the street. Well, one day, remember that I told you on a 105th Street there were a lot of Jewish businesses? There was a tailor, a very nice old man, Mr. Nehamkin and this boy with the Zoot Suit and his older brother went into the tailor store and robbed him and killed Mr. Nehamkin. And they were caught and the older brother got the electric chair and the younger one was supposedly in jail for life. I don’t know. I don’t know whatever happened to him after that but that was really horrible. The kids on the street were devastated because Mr. Nehamkin was a really, really nice man. So, that’s the story of the neighborhood. In high school I went to Glenville for one year and then we moved and we moved from that street to South Euclid on Verona Road and I went to Heights High for two years.
Interviewer: Heights High which is Cleveland Heights High.
Gurwin: Cleveland Heights High but the real name of the school is Heights High and that’s where I graduated from. And I had made lots of new friends when I went there. In fact, one of the friends that I made was Geri Ellman who lives here in Columbus, and…
Interviewer: Tell me a little bit about high school at Glenville.
Interviewer: Oh, Glenville was first year…
Interviewer: and then you were at Heights.
INTERVIEWER…and there was mixture of kids, Jews and non-Jews at Heights?
Gurwin: At both of them but there was a large percentage of Jews at Glenville. Glenville was a very good school and I frankly hated leaving it. I loved Glenville. It was a very progressive high school. It was the only high school I’ve ever heard of that gave, every kid coming in a battery of tests and you spent one or two weeks taking these tests. There were dexterity tests; there were interest tests; there were IQ tests of various kinds. There were all sorts of different tests and then the counselor who happened to also be the history teacher called us in individually into her office and told us what the results were. She showed us the results of the tests and it was a guidance test to show us which direction we should take towards our future. Should you be in college? Should you be in, doing office work? Remember I told you that part of it was a dexterity test. I remember one test where they had a little box and you had to make [dots] little with a pen. You had to up and down real fast put so many dots into each square and then move on and you had to do it as fast as you could and stay within that little tiny box, but there were a whole variety of tests and she suggested I should go to Rutgers and…
Interviewer: Rutgers University.
Gurwin: Rutgers University, yeah, was it Rutgers? No Radcliff. I take that back.
Interviewer: Oh, Radcliff. That’s one of the elite…
Gurwin: Which my parents couldn’t afford so I was never going to go to Radcliff. She thought I should become a psychiatrist, so, I said, “That’s interesting,” because my parents couldn’t afford to do that and I knew that was never going to happen. But it was an interesting battery of tests, and one of the things that I also saw on that test, and she questioned me about it… There were a whole group of things interesting at the top and then there was this long drop to the bottom and it was art and she asked about why I had so little interest in art, and until that question came up, I really had forgotten about it. But back in junior high school I really was very interested in art. In elementary school I used to sit and doodle and sometimes… in fact I got caught once sitting and I’d sit and draw a portrait of the girl sitting next to me and the teacher was walking down the aisle behind me and saw me and instead of bawling me out, she didn’t. She didn’t say a word. She continued walking to the front of the room and finished teaching what she was teaching and then she said – she was also besides being an English teacher she was also our art teacher – and she had everybody pull out their art books and she assigned everyone to draw a portrait of the person sitting next to them. Interesting.
Interviewer: You had already done it.
Gurwin: I was already doing it and that portrait got posted outside on the bulletin board and everyone knew who it was that I had drawn. It really looked like her and I Ioved doing that. But that was in elementary school and this teacher encouraged me to paint and to draw and to… she told me about light sources and different colors and how different colors went together and everything, so I really enjoyed it. And she was also the English teacher and I loved English. I loved grammar. I loved all that stuff, so when I went to junior high school, the art teacher in junior high school was an anti-Semite.
Interviewer: An anti-Semite?
Gurwin: Yes, and everybody knew it in the whole school. They even had a special assembly once and showed the Frank Sinatra movie “The House I Live in” which is about everybody should be understanding about everybody else. If you’ve never seen it you could probably pull it up someplace, but they had the assembly because of her. They were trying to teach her something to help her. She was just an anti-Semite and I spent, this one year… we had graph paper; we were supposed to draw a design, which we all did, and then use that design from the graph paper and transfer it onto this netting and then we would pick colors of yarn and we were to sew using the yarn to this design and then it would turn into a purse. We would, line it and stitch it and we made a purse out of it. Well, I did that and I worked really hard on it and when it was all done, I showed it to my mother and my mother said, “You know, you could finish it off very nicely if you make a little tassel for your zipper on top,” and she showed me how to make a tassel. So, I made a tassel and then I turned in my purse for the grade and she gave me an “F” and I was shocked. And so, I told my mother I had gotten and “F” on it and my mother, who was working at the time, took off work to go to school and talk to the teacher to find out why I’d received an “F.” And the teachers told her it was because I hadn’t made the purse… that my mother had. And my mother said, she never touched it and she could see I was working on it in class, but she said “I never showed her, showed anybody how to make a tassel and there was a tassel on it so you had to have made it.” My mother said, “No, I never touched it. I showed her how to make it and she made it herself.” Well, the teacher wouldn’t relent but finally she turned my grade into a “C” but she wouldn’t give me an “A” which everyone agreed it deserved. But that’s the way she was. This teacher would assign things on a Jewish holiday and you couldn’t turn it in early or late. It was due on that day and you had to turn it in that day. I mean, she was just really a not nice person.
Interviewer: About what year was that? The reason I’m asking is I’d be interested to know how close that was time-wise to World War II.
Gurwin: Let me think a minute. I’d say it was probably around ‘48…1948.
Interviewer: So, just, just after the War.
Interviewer: Just a few years. You know, you’re giving us an interesting portrait of part of the Cleveland Jewish community and that’s of course the angle of the Columbus Jewish Historical Society. We’re always trying to paint a portrait of the Columbus Jewish community but also other surrounding communities, so that leads me to ask you, in high school, what happened with the issue of Jews dating non-Jews? What was…did that issue come up for you at all?
Gurwin: I wasn’t allowed to date non-Jews. My mother had said, “You don’t date non-Jews,” and that was that period. I know one girl who did. Not only did she date a non-Jew, she was a Jewish girl who dated the fellow that was the star of the Glenville football team and he was, I think… I think he was from a mixed White family and African-American because he was light. He was a light black fellow and he was a really nice guy. And this Jewish girl…they eloped and her family sat shiva and they never spoke to her again. I remember her name was Barbara. They never spoke to her again. It was, the Jewish kids really, I won’t say the Jewish kids only hung out with Jewish kids because they didn’t. We hung out with other kids that weren’t Jewish but predominantly our friends were Jewish and it was mostly the non-Jewish kids that hung out with the Jewish kids rather than the other way around, because there were a couple of Italian kids that hung out with the Jewish kids. I remember that.
Interviewer: So, what year did you graduate?
Interviewer: 1951 and what happened in your life than?
Gurwin: Well, when I graduated, I didn’t go to school right away. I waited, and I came to Ohio State University and I lived in Baker Hall Dormitory and I had three roommates, well, two roommates. There were three of us in the dorm and one was from Cincinnati. One was…another one was from Cleveland who had gone to Glenville and we all got along very nicely. I went…I pledged one sorority. One of them pledged a different sorority and one didn’t pledge, didn’t go into a sorority at all, and we lived together that first year. We all got along very well and we dated just Jewish kids because we knew, you know, we met kids in the fraternities.
Interviewer: All three of the girls were Jewish.
Gurwin: Yes. In those days you didn’t have a non-Jewish roommate. They used to ask you your religion and you only had Jewish roommates and across the hall there were two girl that lived together that were both African-Americans, and so they matched you up with your own religious group and even the sororities and fraternities were absolutely Jewish and non-Jewish. When you got invitations to the sororities you only received invitation to the Jewish sororities. You did not receive invitations to the non-Jewish sororities. That’s the way it was and there were lots of non-Jewish sororities. And the interesting thing was that the non-Jewish sororities would rush anybody that wasn’t Jewish but they didn’t specify if you were Catholic or Protestant or what and yet, I learned later, you know, as time went on, that they too had quotas. Some of the sororities would only pledge so many Catholics or none at all. I mean, they, too had their own lines. It was very interesting and sometimes you had, in order to get into those sororities, you had to have a recommendation or you couldn’t get into those sororities. So it was. There was a lot of that going on there, and the fraternities only pledged…the Jewish fraternities only pledged Jewish boys. They didn’t pledge anybody that wasn’t.
Interviewer: Was there any thought about that things could be different or did the teenagers just say, “Well that’s the way things are. That’s just the way things are.”
Gurwin: That’s how we thought of it. That’s the way things are. We accepted that. That’s the way it was. They had a Pan-Hellenic organization where all the fraternities and sororities were part of the Pan- Hell’. You all had representatives and at one point I was a representative and so I got to be known on the campus because I represented my sorority at Pan-Hell’–Pan- Hellenic.
Interviewer: One of the Jewish sororities.
Gurwin: Right. I pledged D Phi E and some of my sorority sisters are my life-long friends. They live in Columbus. Some of them are still in Columbus and they’re still my friends and I have friends all over the country and the interesting thing is I’ve gone to different places, and traveled different places even out of the country and run into D Phi Es and Deephers are Deephers. We are sorority sisters no matter where we are.
Interviewer: So, in the early 1950s you’re at Ohio State and what was the relationship between the Jewish students and the non- Jewish students there? Did people get along?
Gurwin: I think so. I had friends when I was in sorority, I had friends, in fact, and this is kind of interesting. I had a friend that belonged to a non-Jewish sorority and tried to get me to de-pledge my house, to deactivate actually because I was an active, to come to her sorority. She was one of my best friends and I started laughing. I said, “It’s ridiculous.” I said, “They would never accept me and I don’t know that I’d be comfortable in your house.” She said, “Sure you would. We’d love you.” But you know, it wasn’t going to happen. I had no intention of doing it because it just wasn’t done. It just simply wasn’t done.
Interviewer: That’s interesting. Your friend was one of the few people who envisioned that things could be different…
Gurwin: Yes. Yes.
Interviewer: but everybody else said, “No, it’s fine the way it is.”
Gurwin: Right and the thing is, I kept telling her, her sorority sisters would never go for it and neither would the actives, I mean the alums. I said, “How would they accept me?” They wouldn’t. It wouldn’t be done. So, I said,” We can still be friends,” and we were. We stayed friends through school, but, I got a lot out of college. I really took advantage of it. I really wanted to, you know, when you’re a freshman girl, a lot of the fraternities rush the freshman girls. They always like, you know, new stuff, and I had plenty of dates and I enjoyed myself and I loved going out and meeting different people. And I dated a lot, because I was a freshman and you know, that was what you did, but I was never really serious about anybody. Whereas one of my roommates, the one that had pledged another sorority, she actually did come to Ohio State to get an Mrs. degree and she was bound and determined to find a husband which she did, by the way. Didn’t last but she still found a husband. But I really came to school because I really did want a degree. I really did, so nothing was going to deter me. And there was this fella that I met when I was a freshman and I dated him on and off with other guys during the freshman year and then at the beginning of my sophomore year, he proposed to me and I said, “No.” I know that I hurt his feelings but I told him, you know, I said, “I never told you I was serious. In fact, I told you that I wasn’t.” So I introduced him to my roommate and they got married, so it was a mitzvah. I did a good thing, and so that was good and that’s pretty much how it was through school. If a guy got too serious, I’d drop him because I didn’t want to hurt him but, I wasn’t serious about anybody. When I got to be a senior, that’s when I met Phil. He came at the right time. Prior to that I probably wouldn’t have given him a second glance either.
Interviewer: Do you remember how you met?
Gurwin: I do remember how we met. At the beginning of school, before school started, the fraternities rush before the sororities do and so, they get their pledges before. The girls…the sororities are not allowed talk to the new freshman girls except in a social setting. That’s called the Quiet Period, and you’re not allowed to talk to them because you’re not allowed to influence them. The only way that you could actually talk to them, as I said, was in a social setting. So, we were assigned to go to the fraternity open houses that were held in honor of their new pledges because that’s a social setting. So each of us took two houses, took two fraternity houses. We split our time to go to one and then we’d go to the other and that’s how we’d meet the new freshman crop coming in. So, I went to the one fraternity that was behind us. I spent time there and then I left there and I went to the fraternity next door and that’s how I met Phil. He was there. I was talking to some of the fraternity fellas that I knew and Phil had come back from Korea and that was his fraternity. And he came back to the fraternity and he saw me and he saw I was wearing my sorority pin. When the fella that I was talking to got a phone call, he had to go get the phone call. Phil walked up to me and asked me if I knew this other girl who was a sorority sister of mine and I said, “Yes, she’s a sorority sister,” and he said, “Is she here?” I said, “No, she hasn’t come back to school yet.” Well, it turns out Phil was corresponding with her when he was in Korea. Another sorority sister of mine’s uncle was married to Phil’s aunt and so, she was writing to Phil and she got her roommate to also write to him. And so Phil was writing to this girl Sandy for a long time. And, in fact, he used to send her pictures and gifts and when packages would come and she’d open them up in her room, everybody would come in and look at them except me. I never did because I really wasn’t interested. I really was in school to get an education and I really wasn’t…it wasn’t that I wasn’t friendly with my sorority sisters. I certainly was, but I just wasn’t that curious or interested to see what somebody is sending somebody. I didn’t care, so, I never saw any of the things he sent including the pictures so I had no idea what he looked like. So when he asked me if I knew Sandy and I said yes and she wasn’t back at school yet, he stood and he talked to me. Then one of his fraternity brothers asked him for a ride over to his rooming house because he didn’t have a car and he didn’t want to walk and Phil said, yeah he would drop him off there and he asked me to come along for the ride. I didn’t know this person and I’m not going along for the ride and so, remember my friend Jack, Jack Turoff that I told you, from way back when? Jack was in school, too and he was in that fraternity and so I said, “Wait a minute,” and I went up to Jack and I said, “Jack, who is this guy?” and I told him that he had asked me to go with him and he said, “ He’s ok, you can go with him,” so I went in the car with him and we sat and talked and when we came back to the fraternity house he asked me out, but he asked me out in a very, I shouldn’t even say this…
Interviewer: You don’t need to, you don’t need to go into any details you don’t want to.
Gurwin: It was very funny. It was very funny.
Interviewer: He asked you in an unusual way.
Gurwin: Very unusual.
Interviewer: Was this love at first sight or not?
Gurwin: For me, no.
Interviewer: For you, no.
Gurwin: From him I don’t know, maybe,
Gurwin: …but we started dating and we went out almost every weekend after that. And then he’d call me during the week and we went out all the time and the first person he introduced me to, was his grandmother and then his friends and some of his friends who were married. We would go out together and then I met his parents and then he proposed to me and I said, “No,” and then he proposed to me again later and I said, “No.”
Gurwin: I wasn’t that serious. I mean, you know, and I hadn’t known him that long and I told him. I said, “I don’t know you well enough,” so, anyhow…
Interviewer: Maybe, maybe if it’s okay with you, maybe this is the time to learn a little bit about Phil. You said he had just come back from Korea and by that you mean the Korean War, so I know you learned a lot of this later, but what did he go through in the Korean War?
Gurwin: Well, when I met him, he had just come home. I knew nothing about the Korean War and he never talked about it. It wasn’t until…I met him in September and it was probably around November when, even maybe the end of November or the first part of December, I discovered that…no, I take it back. It was earlier than that. It was October because I discovered that he had some kind of a problem when he, Phil, took me to the shul he belonged to. His family belonged to Tifereth Israel and so, for the High Holidays he took me to shul at Tifereth Israel. And he was sitting there and I saw him shake his head in a funny way like you shake your head when something is bothering you and you’re going to give it a shake to get rid of it. I didn’t say anything at first and I thought, that’s odd, and then after a little bit I saw him do it again. He was just kind of shaking and so, finally I leaned over and I said, “Is there something wrong?” and he said “I’ll tell you later.” Okay, and so when the service ended and we were walking out, and I had seen him do it several times, I said, “What is it with you shaking your head?” He said, “Well, I was wounded in Korea,” and I said, “What happened?” and he said well, he was attached to this tank division, and he was a medic and he had his head stuck out of the tank and he zipped when he should have zapped and he got hit with shrapnel. That’s all he said. And so it hit him in the head, his forehead, and so, was taken back eventually. He was flown to Japan where they operated to take the shrapnel out of his head and evidently they missed a piece, but he didn’t know that then, and every once in a while, he would lose his vision. He wouldn’t see. He would be looking and then everything would go black, so he would shake his head and then it would come back. So, I said, “Have you been to an eye doctor?” He said, “Yeah. That‘s what they told me.” I said, “Well how long has it been since you had gone to an eye doctor?” Well, it had been about a year. I said, “Maybe you should go to see another doctor now that you’re in this country.” Finally, he said, “Okay,” and what they had told him was eventually he might go blind because of this. So I’m thinking to myself, this guy is proposing to me and I’m going to go marry a guy that I know for sure is going to go blind? I said, “Why don’t you go find out more.” So, this probably was back then in October, the first part of November that he got an appointment with this eye doctor here in town.
Interviewer: Would this have been 1953 or 54?
Gurwin: Yeah, ‘55, no, this was ‘54. It was end of ’54. So he went to this eye doctor and the doctor examined him and said, “Well, that may have been true at the time that they told you that but,” he said, “there is a piece of shrapnel. It’s moved away.” It was going through his optic nerve and “it’s moving, so, you probably will not go blind but it’s still in there and where it’s going to go, I don’t know.” Well, he also suffered severe headaches and this was some years later, he went to a doctor, a specialist here, who said they could operate and remove that shrapnel but it was a risky operation. He could, number one, he could go blind. He could lose his memory. He could become paralyzed or he could become a vegetable or he could die. So, he decided to live with the thing still in his head, and for a long time you could tell when he was getting those headaches because the scar was right in the middle of his forehead and it would get really red and bulge and you could really see it. It would sort of stand out. But as years went by, it sort-of dissipated. It stopped and at the end you didn’t see any scar. You wouldn’t even notice unless you really looked that there was a scar there, so, somehow, he got through it. He suffered with the headaches until either he got used to them and he didn’t pay attention to them anymore, or they went away. I don’t know. Never really knew what happened to the piece of shrapnel. As far as I knew it was still in there.
Interviewer: So, you were together at OSU and Phil asked you several times to get married and you said no, and what happened to change your mind?
Gurwin: Well, one day, one evening, we had been out and we had been to a party and we came back and we were standing on the porch of the sorority house and talking and just chatting and he started to laugh and there was something about his smile that melted my heart, and so, the next time he asked me I said, “Yes,” and he said, “Well, call your parents and tell them.” So, I said “Okay,” and I called my mother. My mother was a very smart lady, and when I told her she said, “Do you love him?” And I said, “I think so,” so, she said, “Well, call me back when you know so,” and she hung up. But it wasn’t until years later that I actually found out more about Phil’s experience in the War, and that was after we were married. We were visiting my parents who lived in Cleveland. We were just walking down the street and we stopped and looked in a store window and somebody was coming by and stopped and said, “Doc!” and Phil turned around and this man said, “Remember me, Doc?” and he said who he was and he turned to me and he said, “ Hey, you know this man?” “He’s my husband,” and Phil sort of introduced us but he was…Phil was very sort of reticent to, you know. He was very quiet which Phil, never quiet and the guy said, “Did he ever tell you about the time…,” and he started talking about his experience. “He was something. He saved so many lives. He took this one guy whose guts were blown out and he put the guts back in and kept him alive and saved his life,” and he was going on and on and talking about all these things and Phil never said a word. He was just standing there and you could see he was uncomfortable. He just wanted to escape. He didn’t want to talk about it and finally after some time of the guy going on and on and saying, “How are ya’ doing, Phil?” No, Doc, he called him Doc, “How are ya’ doing, Doc?” and going on and on. Finally, he said “Good to see you,” and he went on his way. And I said to Phil, “You never told me all those things.” He said, “I don’t want to talk about it,” and that was it. He never talked about it. Occasionally we would go to a war movie that would be of the Korean War. Especially if it might have been around the battle that he was in and he’d watch the movie and he was interested in the movie but then he’d never discuss it, like Bad Luck Heartbreak Ridge. There were several movies made of that. He was there. Never talked about it.
Interviewer: But his job was a medic.
Gurwin: Yes. Yes. He was in the Medical Corps and he was trained. I saw a book he had, a great thick medical book that tells how to do things. In fact, on Memorial Day I found 42 letters that I’d forgotten I had, just this last Memorial Day, 42 letters and in one of the letters there was something that happened that Phil talks about and he laughingly says, “I could have fixed that. If Doc had been there it would have been fixed.” So, he recognized, he was very skilled at what he did but he just… I guess it was really a traumatic experience. He did it because it was his job, but it was not something he ever wanted to talk about. I found out there’s another guy that’s here in town that was also a medic in the Korean War, same time Phil was, with a different unit and they used to communicate with each other on the field phones, I guess. And he never talked about it either. I mentioned it to his wife, she recently died, but I had talked to her and I said, “Does he ever talk about it?” She said, “No. He never will talk about it.”
Interviewer: Now, decades later there was the very popular TV show M*A*S*H.
Gurwin: Phil loved that show. He loved that show absolutely. He could remember every single line of that show. He could tell you the script. He knew. He’d seen it so many times. He watched all the reruns and the reruns and reruns and reruns and late at night he’d watch M*A*S*H. He loved that show. I have to say it was probably his favorite show, but he also said, that’s not really the way war was. War was not that much fun. He has tons of pictures that he took. The pictures he took have of some of his buddies in his unit and children, lots of pictures of children. He captured these pictures with their eyes, and something about them, so captivating. I’ve got a box with those pictures with these children that he took.
Interviewer: Korean children.
Gurwin: Yes. Yes, and he would tell me some stories about stuff that went on but not the war part. It was the other part, and he had a good laugh about some of the things that happened but they were always things that were not in the battle.
Interviewer: So, when Phil got out of the military and the War ended, he didn’t continue with any kind of a medical related career. What was his major at OSU?
Gurwin: Well, he went to OSU, where he went originally. His family was trying to get him to go to become a podiatrist. He wasn’t interested in anybody’s feet, so he didn’t want to do that. He really…his father…well, Phil got out of the service three months early because his father had a massive heart attack. Phil’s mother… from the time Phil was six years old, Phil’s mother had MS, Multiple Sclerosis and so she didn’t get better. She was progressively getting worse and so the world revolved around her. They didn’t know very much about MS in those days and she was seeing doctors. She was in and out of hospitals and so, she became really dependent, needing somebody to help her all the time. She sat in a special chair and she needed help getting to… they carried her into bed. She couldn’t do anything really for herself and Phil was an only child, so when Phil’s father had the heart attack, even though they had a housekeeper, they had really nobody in the house to help her. So, the Red Cross brought him back from Korea. It was three months before the end of his tour and so, rather than stay in, they let him get out of the service. They discharged him and he came home. Now, his father had a dry-cleaning plant, dry cleaning store and needed somebody to manage it because he was not able to. It’s a tough business. It’s very hot in those stores, so you know, having had a heart attack, he wasn’t about to go there, so Phil ran the store. He took care of the business, the employees there and his mother, and so, when his father finally had gotten strong enough that he could go back into the store, Phil came back to Ohio State to try and finish up because he had started there and he was taken out, so he went back into school. When the father had so many demands on him, he eventually had to drop out and then he went back and forth, you know, piecemeal, but he decided he wanted to be in real estate. That’s what he decided he wanted to do. Medical school would take too long. He would never be able to do it and we couldn’t afford it. His parents couldn’t help him so he was going to go into real estate. So, he studied for the real estate test and I got that in one of the letters, too. He got out of …I think it was 85 questions, he missed five I think, something like that. So, he passed the test and he began to sell real estate and he worked for this company and he learned how it runs and then he moved to a different company because they paid a better commission. By that time, we were married and he moved his license to another company who allowed him to open a branch so that he had his own company, sort-of and paid them much less of a commission so he could keep most of what he earned instead of making them richer.
Interviewer: This was right here in Columbus.
Gurwin: Yes, and he had his office at that time at Drexel and Main, and next door to him was Dr. Danchik and so…
Interviewer: And would this have been in the late 1950s, or approximately…?
Gurwin: That was probably around, yeah, it was probably around 19.., let me think, 56 or 57.
Interviewer: And where did you live at that time?
Gurwin: We lived in Virginia Lee Gardens which was on Maryland Avenue.
Interviewer: Maryland just east of Bexley.
Gurwin: Yeah. Maryland, um, I think, that is Bexley.
Interviewer: Near, between James and…
Gurwin: No, it was on Harding, opposite Harding where the elementary school is. There’s an elementary school right there on Maryland and that’s the apartment. There was a, like a, you know U shaped and the apartments. We lived in a one bedroom first and then when I got pregnant we moved to a two bedroom which was right across the way and we lived there for three years before we moved into this one. When I became pregnant again we built this house, and so we moved. Yes. I’ve lived here a long time.
Interviewer: This one right here on Castlewood in Berwick.
Gurwin: Right. We moved in 1960 to this house.
Interviewer: I want to ask you, I don’t want to get off topic too much, but I remember hearing stories that even in the 1960s, when people looked at their deeds, their land deeds here in Berwick, there was something unusual in them.
Gurwin: That’s correct, in fact, Phil… I didn’t know about it… Phil knew about it. He said it was a restricted neighborhood. Jews were not allowed. He said Jews and dogs are not allowed and he had determined that he was going to move to Berwick and that’s why we picked Berwick. He had had an opportunity to buy a lot on Merkle, on South Merkle, almost bought it, probably should have, but we ended up buying this lot. He wanted to be in Berwick.
Interviewer: And were there other Jews in the neighborhood at that point do you remember?
Gurwin: Yeah, there were some Jews. There were. There were. They were starting to move in, building houses. This street, when we moved in on this street, there was one Jewish person who lived catty-corner on the corner house on the corner of Castlewood and Clermont. In fact, Janet Jackson lives in that house now.
Interviewer: At one point, she was Columbus City Attorney…
Gurwin: Correct. She was a judge. Then before she retired, she was the Director of the United Way of Franklin County and she lives in that house that the Jewish…
Interviewer: And she’s African- American.
Gurwin: Yes. She is.
Interviewer: So, at some point those deeds, even though the restrictive language was in those deeds, the courts had ruled you can’t discriminate against Jews or Blacks or anybody else in Berwick…
Gurwin: That’s right.
Interviewer: Or anyplace else.
Gurwin: Yeah and so, before we moved into this house, though, we had to move out of that apartment because there was one bathroom in the house. It was up on the second floor and the laundry room was down in the basement and here I am. I was…had a lot of problems with that pregnancy and I was running up and down the steps all the time and Phil – “This is not a good thing,” so somebody had called him to list a property for sale and it was a little house off on… that was off of Country Club Road, near Country Club Road and Betsy Drive and he called me up and he said, “We bought a house.” I said, “What do you mean we bought a house? We’re building a house.” “No, no. This is just a temporary while we’re building the house. It’s all on one floor. There’s no basement. You don’t have to go up and down steps. It’ll be good and we’ll live in the house until we move into our house and then we’ll just sell this house.” I never questioned him. I said, “Okay,” so, we moved from the apartment into that little house…
Interviewer: …which is several miles east of here.
Gurwin: Yes, and I kept most of the boxes packed. I only unpacked the boxes that I absolutely needed. Everything else around the house were boxes lining the walls waiting to be moved again because it had really no storage there. There was nothing. There was no garage. It was a carport. But my son was born when we were living in that house and that was…he was born in January and in May this house was done and we moved from there to here so we actually lived in the little house for six months. That’s it.
Interviewer: So, this house here in Berwick, you moved in approximately what year?
Gurwin: It was Nineteen, well, 1960.
Interviewer: Been here ever since.
Interviewer: So, we often ask in interviews to reconstruct and paint a portrait of the Columbus Jewish community. Do you have any particular memories of the 1960s and 70s here in Berwick and the greater Columbus Jewish community?
Gurwin: Oh, yeah. There’s an interesting thing about the Jewish community in Columbus. Remember, I grew up in Cleveland and Cleveland was a very friendly city, very friendly. I mean, it was easy to make friends there and people talked to one another and you could talk to somebody on the street. It was… and the Jewish community was pretty big and, as I mentioned earlier, there were a lot of synagogues. All over the place were synagogues, and, in fact, when my parents moved to South Euclid, sometime around that time I think it was… it was after…it must have been after I was married because I was no longer…I wasn’t going to shul there because I was going to Tifereth Israel when I was married. But that Orthodox synagogue that my parents belonged to… the Jews were moving further out into the suburbs so that synagogue that they belonged to… fewer and fewer people were going there and remember, they walked and so, if they were that far out they wouldn’t be able to go. So what happened is, that synagogue merged with another synagogue that was a smaller synagogue that was, I think, in the Kinsman area. Now there was a big Jewish community in the Kinsman area of Cleveland. That’s where most of my family lived. My grandparents and my aunts and uncles and cousins, except for one of them, they all lived in the Kinsman area. And most of my cousins went to John Adams, which was the high school in the Kinsman area, so, they too were moving out into the suburbs. So, the synagogues merged and the synagogue became a new synagogue that opened in South Euclid on the end…at the corner of Warrensville and Mayfield Road and that’s where my parents then went to synagogue, at that synagogue. So, when I moved to Columbus, we belonged, because Phil’s family all belonged, to Tifereth Israel which is a Conservative synagogue. I was perfectly fine going to the Conservative synagogue. At the time, Rabbi Zelizer was the rabbi and he bar mitzvahed my older son. Interestingly, I found an old scrapbook of Phil’s that had some things when he was bar mitzvahed and Rabbi Zelizer, who would have been the rabbi to bar mitzvah Phil, was also in the Second World War and so, he wasn’t here. He was on a leave of absence as a chaplain in the Second World War. But he sent Phil a letter about his bar mitzvah and so, there was the letter in there. So when my son Bruce was bar mitzvahed, I showed Rabbi Zelizer the letter. He was absolutely astounded that Phil had kept that letter all those years, so he talked about that. So that was an interesting bit of history from that. Then he left and when David was bar mitzvahed, it was a different rabbi. I think it was Rabbi Zissenwine that was here at the time, and so, you know, each of them. My older son Bruce, was the first one to be able to read from the Torah. Before that the kids were not doing reading from the Torah and by the time David did it, he did the whole entire service and he was the first kid at Tifereth Israel to do the whole service. He did all of it, the whole thing from beginning to end and the cantor at that time, it was before Cantor Chomsky, it was another cantor, he did not want him to do the musaf and he already learned all this stuff so, I went to Rabbi Zissenwine and I told him and he said, “He learned it. He’s going to do it,” and so, he did. He did the entire service. He read the whole Torah portion, the haftarah, the whole thing and the cantor had nothing to do. He just sat there and let David do the whole thing, and so, after David did it, then Avram, um, um Grail, did it second. He was the second kid to do it. Avram Grail after David, Avram did the whole thing.
Interviewer: Oh, somebody not from your family…
Gurwin: Right. Right.
Interviewer: … followed in your kid’s footsteps.
Gurwin: And that’s how it evolved that all the kids do this now. They don’t all do the whole service but they all read from the Torah and they do all that. So, anyway, the Jewish community in Columbus…as I said, the Cleveland one was very friendly and very open and it was bigger. Columbus, it was much more clique-y, particularly the women, and it was not an easy transition. Fortunately for me, Phil had friends, fraternity brothers, who also got married and lived here in Columbus around the same time we did, so my experience was not unique. They had the same experience that I did, not so wonderful. The women were not terribly friendly and sometimes could be very rude, but those of us that came from other places, stuck together. We had our friendship and eventually, as more and more people from out of Columbus moved into Columbus, things changed. Also, I wanted to meet more people and I wasn’t married that long when they called. A friend of mine said, “Come to a meeting. We’re going to have a meeting about this new organization at Sylvia Schechter’s house.” At the time Sylvia Schechter lived on, I think it was, was it Gould, and um, it’s across from St Catharine’s.
Gurwin: Fair, yes, and, no, I take it back. She wasn’t there yet. No, she wasn’t in that house. I don’t remember. It was another street, but anyhow, yes! That’s the house. It is the house that was on a corner and she had a porch. We met on her porch.
Interviewer: And what was this new organization?
Gurwin: This was a new chapter of B’nai B’rith Women. There …at the time, there was one chapter, Zion Chapter and it was very, very large and the women were older and they knew they couldn’t get a lot of young women in, so, they decided, with the blessing of the District, to start a new younger women’s chapter and this was going to be the formative meeting and everybody that was going to join would be a charter member. I saw that as an opportunity to meet new people and I thought, “Sure, why not?” So, I joined. I became a charter member of Candlelight Chapter of B’nai B’rith Women and I was very active in the chapter. I did all different kinds of jobs and we used to have an event that we worked, we did things cooperatively with Zion Chapter and we had this big event called the Menorah Ball and the Menorah Ball was the big fundraiser. We put out a calendar, a spiral book which had advertising in it which we sold and recipes so it became a recipe book. It was a book that people kept because of the recipes. So, long after the calendar was useless, the recipes were still good and every year there’d be a new one. Eventually, we even put out a recipe book where we took favorite recipes and we put it in the book and we sold those. As I said, I had different offices that I held in there and I eventually became president of Candlelight Chapter. And then as years went by, well, not so many years, there was a state B’nai B’rith Women’s Association as well, that we belonged to and I was involved in that. I was on the board and then I became a vice president and the next year I was to be president of the State Association but then National office came out with a new thing that State associations were no longer going to be opened to large chapters, only communities with smaller memberships, smaller chapters. Smaller cities would be able to belong to the State Association, so, places like Dayton or little towns in the area, Lancaster, someplace like that if they had a chapter, they would belong to the State Association, but Columbus was no longer eligible, so I was done being a part of it. I got all these going away gifts for serving as vice president. It was very lovely. I still have that jewelry. In fact, it was on display when they had a program about Columbus. Then I became a consultant to other chapters and then I went on the District Board which is an eight-state district and I served on the District for several years and I was a PR… I did PR and, oh, gosh, I can’t even remember all the different things that I did but I held different portfolios and did that and then I stayed a consultant. I was a consultant to some local chapters and chapters in Dayton, Ohio, and then I start working. I went back to work. When I first got married, I worked as a juvenile probation officer here in Franklin County and everybody used to say I should go on “What’s My Line?” because at the time, I looked like a teenager and no one could believe that I was a probation officer, but I was. When my kids were young, I stayed home with them. Then when my younger son graduated from high school and was getting ready to go to college, I decided to go back to work, so, that‘s what I did. I started, actually, working for a company that did market research and I decided making those phone calls was not for me, not for me, so, I was looking for something else and I found that they wanted… they were looking for a Volunteer Coordinator at Heritage House, so I got the job at Heritage House and I became the Volunteer Coordinator there. But, prior to that, when I first started working, you didn’t need a resume. Nobody had resumes. They didn’t. Nobody heard of such a thing, so I took a resume writing course to find out how to do a resume and it was offered by OSU and I met the woman that was head of this women’s program at OSU named Mary Miller and Mary Miller asked to see my resume when I completed it. For some reason, she took an interest in me. I don’t know why. But I brought it to her office when I had it done and she said, “May I keep a copy of it,” and I said, “Sure,” and I forgot all about it. Meantime, I was working at Heritage House and sometime after that, I got a call from Mary Miller, that she had given my resume to the director of Crittenton Family Services. At that time the agency was called Family Counseling and Crittenton Services, so I said, “I already have a job,” and she said, “Yes, but it’s part-time and this is a full-time job, so, she said, “Just go for the interview. Okay?” So, she said, “I don’t know if they’ll call you or not but if he’s interested, he will call you. I just wanted you to know.” So I continued working and then one day I got a phone call asking me to come in and meet with him and it happened to be a day I wasn’t working at Heritage House. So I went and he took me to lunch and by the way, that’s the worst possible way to interview somebody while they’ve got a mouthful of food and you’re trying to answer questions. It’s difficult. But I went to the interview and afterwards he said he’d let me know in a few weeks. I said, “Okay,” and I went back to work at Heritage House and I was perfectly happy at Heritage House, the residents and working with them. Well, it wasn’t two weeks later. It was about a week and a half later. I came home one evening after going to a meeting and Phil said somebody had called me and left a message for me to call him and I called him and he offered me the job of PR Director and Volunteer Services Coordinator at Crittenton Family Services. I said, “Oh,” and he told me how much it paid and I said I’d let him know. The next day, I went to Heritage House and I told them that I had another job offer and I said, “If you will meet that offer then I will stay.” They were willing to make it a full time job right away, but they wouldn’t up the rate of pay. The rate of pay would be the same, but it was less than what I’d be making. I said, “I’d be foolish to stay if I can make more money somewhere else.” And they tried. My supervisor tried very hard to get them to, they said that I’d have to be…it would have to be a different department head. They tried to talk them into making it a department head. He wouldn’t budge and so I said, “sayonara,.” So, I left Heritage House and I went to work for Crittenton Family Services where I stayed until I retired. I worked there nineteen years. And I was originally PR. I’d never done PR. All I did was… that was one of my portfolios when I was on the District Board. So, volunteer work really does help you in a career. It can really make a difference in your professional life. I created a volunteer program there that they had never had before and I even formed a Clown Unit that was in all the Columbus parades. That was a lot of fun. It was really good and eventually through the volunteer part, I created another part. There were some Federal funds that came down, for emergency assistance. It was through FEMA and it was for emergency rental or mortgage assistance to people that have a one-time emergency. I developed this program for Franklin County that was so successful that they had me going to Fairfield, no, yeah, Fairfield and Licking County to teach them how this program worked. Eventually I couldn’t do everything when another program, a State program, came down. It was another emergency assistance program to assist those who formerly had been part of a welfare program that had been eliminated for singles. Single individuals would no longer be eligible for welfare, so they had another emergency program that was developed by the State to help, and then another organization came with a program. Gail Gregory, at that time, was head of the Shelter Board, the Community Shelter Board and they brought another program and so, they wanted me to run that because Gail would only bring the program to the agency if I ran it.
Interviewer: That was to deal with homeless people.
Gurwin: To prevent homelessness or to get them back if they are homeless to find and get them into permanent housing. So they were all three different, but they were all interconnected and so, when by this time, the director of our agency had retired and there was a new director and he, you know, talked to me about this because Gail insisted I had to be the one to run it because of the experience that I had and I told him…I said, “I can’t do everything. I’m only one person.” So, they told me that if I did that, they’d get somebody else to do the PR part and that they would give me a higher salary – that’s always nice – and that I could run these three programs and I could hire some more people, which I did and so, we put those programs in place and I ran those programs until I retired. And when I retired, the agency wouldn’t do the programs anymore because they had said they’d have to hire too many people to replace me, so it was given over to another agency.
Interviewer: That always makes somebody feel good to learn…
Interviewer: …they really have done such a good job it takes more than one person to replace them.
Gurwin: Well, it’s because I had experience and I just was able to handle it. But anyway, so that work experience was very interesting and Phil was very supportive because I’d come home sometimes really late and at the time, I had moved my mother here. My mother was at Heritage House and so, I’d have to see her and running here and there and everywhere. It was difficult, but we managed. But Phil, I want to get back to Phil. Phil was working in the real estate business and eventually he decided he wanted… he was running this office by himself and why did he have to pay anybody. So he decided to go for his broker’s license, so he wouldn’t have to have his license with another broker. He went to take the test and they denied his request to take the test and the reason was, they said, because he hadn’t sold all kinds of real estate. He said, “What haven’t I sold?” He had sold a lot of houses. He had sold investment property and had sold commercial stuff. He hadn’t sold a farm. Well, how many real estate people sell farms? There are very few. The fact of the matter is they didn’t want him to take the test because, he found out later, he became the youngest broker in the State of Ohio. Phil was still in his twenties. So, he went to Doctor Da…it was either Dr. Danchik or one of the Wasserstroms and he sold them a farm and so, then he went back and he said, “Okay. I sold a farm.” Now they couldn’t deny him so, they let him take the test and, of course, he passed and he became a broker. And so, that’s how he started in the real estate business. Then, as years went by, and he wanted to spend more time with family and, you know, when you sell real estate, you’re running at all hours in and out and he wanted to be with the kids and spend more time with them. Also, there was a period of time when the real estate market was terrible. There just… houses weren’t selling…nothing was really moving and so he decided he had to expand his horizons. There was a company in Philadelphia that was looking for appraisers and Phil knew the value of property. He was very good at calculating the value of property and when he would list a property it almost always sold at what he listed it for. He had it right on the head, so, he went to work for them and there was an off….He was working out of Philadelphia for a while and he’d come home on the weekends and then they had a subsidiary company. It was a very large company and it had a subsidiary that was doing mass appraisals in Columbus and they needed him. They sent Phil back so he was working in Columbus and that was good. He worked for them for years and then they also had another company. There was more than one subsidiary, and then he worked for them in Cleveland and so, again, he’d come home on the weekends. But he worked in Cleveland and then they sent him to Indianapolis and then he was in Texas. He was all over the place and I remember saying to him, “Phil, you did this because you wanted to spend more time with the kids and the family. You’re never here. You’re always out of town.” But eventually he came back and he worked just in Columbus and they kept him here because he was an expert court witness so he would testify in court for the evaluation of property and he was highly respected by the Board of Revision and the Board of Tax Appeals. Several times they asked him to serve on those boards and he turned them down because if he did that, then he couldn’t do his own stuff. So, that’s what he did and then, eventually he stopped doing that and then only did VA appraisals or FHA’s, no VA’s, and eventually he retired from that and only did private ones when people were appealing their taxes and he would, you know, give them a different evaluation if it was worth it or tell them if it was not. He was very honest. He wouldn’t take their money if he said, you know, “They’ve got it right. Save your money,” and so that’s what he did. Phil, because he lived here all of his life, he had an amazing memory. He remembered where every Jewish family lived. He even remembered the addresses, what street they lived on, where it was, who lived across the street from whom. He knew it all. He could have mapped out the whole thing. He sold, in fact, he’s the one that sold Beth Jacob, the old Beth Jacob when they moved to the new, when they built the new one. He also, something else he sold, oh, he sold a sorority house up on campus, the A E Phi House. When they built a new house he sold their old house. He knew this area backwards and forwards and this was his home. His grandfather by the way, I told you his mother was ill. His mother lived until David was two years old so she, I think she died in …I think it was 1962. I think… around that time and he helped his dad at that time and his dad spent a lot of time with us, but he was a really amazing son. His uncle, his mother’s brother, was David Goldsmith who was once president of Tifereth Israel Synagogue. He was also president of the JCC and David Goldsmith…Phil admired him. David Goldsmith’s mother also was Phil’s grandmother and his grandmother and grandfather were the ones that he spent so much time with because his mother was ill so much. His grandfather had a pawn shop on Third Street where all the pawn shops used to be so, he knew all the pawn shops on Third Street. He knew who ran the pawn shops. His grandfather was killed in that pawn shop. Somebody came in to buy a gun and, in those days, there were no laws against buying guns. If they wanted to buy it you had to sell it, so they bought the gun and he wouldn’t sell him the bullets, and so he grabbed the bullets, loaded the gun and the grandfather had a bad heart and he went for his heart and the gunman evidently claimed he was going for a gun. He shot him and he killed him. His grandmother came into the store. She used to come into the store every day to be with him. They were very much in love, always, and he was gone. He had been killed and Phil never quite got over that. It was a very traumatic thing because he was very close to his grandparents, but he stayed very close to his grandmother. He used to take her for rides and in the summertime when it was hot and they didn’t have air conditioning he used to go take his grandmother for rides and we used to do that on Sundays. For years, even after we were married and had kids, we would pick up his grandmother on Sunday and take her for a ride. We’d go anyplace. We’d ride all over, out of town sometimes. Then we’d go to dinner. Then we’d take her home and we’d pick up our kids. On Sunday we took our kids over to my in-laws so my father-in-law could spend time with them and the housekeeper would feed them and then we’d pick them up and bring them home. And this became a ritual that we did. He was very close to his grandmother. Until she passed away, he was very, very close to her.
Interviewer: Now you were active in B’nai B’rith Women.
Interviewer: Any other Jewish institutions that hold special memories for you?
Gurwin: Yes, I was also active in Council of Jewish Women and I worked on a number of their committees and it was very interesting. I started with the evening group because of my kids. You, know, in the evening I’d go and then when, eventually I joined the, or maybe it was the afternoon group, but anyhow, I eventually belonged to both and I also was into bowling, B’nai B’rith Women’s Bowling League. I started during the day before I started working, I was in the Monday Afternoon League. When I started working, I started bowling on the Thursday evening League but it became, when they moved it from the Center over to the bowling alley on Refugee Road, they had to start later and so, we’d finish later. I couldn’t get up in the morning. I had to be at work early so, I dropped out of that and I didn’t do that anymore.
Interviewer: You remember the days when the Jewish Center had all the bowling lanes inside it and you bowled there.
Gurwin: Absolutely. I learned how to bowl, after learning in college. As a freshman, we had to take Phys. Ed. and by the time you got to school as a freshman, all the good things were gone so, you got the leftovers. You had to pick from the leftovers and I picked bowling. So, I learned how to bowl there and I learned a four-step approach or five-step approach. I don’t know. Anyhow, it was a different approach and then I took all different kinds of things there because I had all the leftovers, you know. I even took modern dance which I thought was a hoot. I just did it because there was nothing else to take, but I loved it so much that I actually took it on purpose the next time. But when I started bowling at the Jewish Center, the Weeses were in charge of the bowling lanes and they taught me a different approach and so, I learned a different approach to bowling and I had a pretty good average there. I bowled there for many years until, you know, when the bowling lanes were gone from the Center, I missed them because everybody loved the bowling lanes there.
Interviewer: Now, did you miss the fact that everybody or it seemed as if everybody in the bowling leagues smoked?
Gurwin: Yes, a lot of people smoked. A lot of people smoked. Yes, they did. It was always smoky but, I never did. I never smoked and actually the smoke used to bother me and so, on my team I don’t remember anybody smoking and if they did, they didn’t around me because I didn’t like it. But it was fun to bowl at the Center and I mean they had a lot of leagues. I mean, all the Jewish organizations had bowling leagues. Hadassah had a league and I did belong to Hadassah. I wasn’t active in it but I belonged to it and actually I’ve been a life member of Hadassah for a long, long time. I mean, I support it and, as I said, I belonged to Council of Jewish Women and, at one point I think I belonged to Brandeis when that was active here, and, oh let me see. Oh, at one point in, B’nai B’rith Women, I was also president of the Columbus Council and then they had formed another chapter. That’s another part. They had enlarged the number of chapters from Zion and Candlelight. They started Twin Rivers Chapter and then they decided to start another chapter– they started a co-ed chapter and then they started another chapter and then they decided, when they were having trouble getting leadership, that they were going to redo all the B’nai B’rith Women’s chapters by area and so, there was Berwick- Eastmoor area and they started another chapter called Nitza and I was president of Nitza Chapter, too. And eventually, they used up all their leadership in the chapters. I think, a lot of organizations have trouble. You know, you use up your leadership and then there’s nobody to take over plus women were going back to work. A lot more women were working and so, they weren’t available to do things like that. I was active in the alumni of Di Phi E, too. I was president of the House Corporation and I was an advisor to them and president of the alumni group here so, you know, when I was younger, I was involved in a lot of different things. It was an interesting place to live.
Interviewer: Do you have any observations to make about how the role of Jewish women may have changed over the last forty or fifty years in terms of the mainstream Jewish organizations. I know at one point, women were not particularly welcomed in terms of leadership, but, of course, today women hold all kinds of leadership positions in all the groups.
Gurwin: Well, you know at one point, I was chapter chairman of the Central Ohio Chapter of March of Dimes and you know, there were mostly men that held that. I had gotten involved with them, actually through B’nai B’rith Women and my work at Crittenton Family Services. Because Crittenton was a home for unwed pregnant girls and I just…it was kind of an almost natural involvement because I used to do a lot of public speaking and I’d go to different places and schools. Through the March of Dimes, they had a speaker’s bureau and I would talk about so many different things. At one point, I was talking to junior high as well as high school kids about the importance of getting immunization for different things. Because, you know, in some of the schools some of the kids don’t have all the necessary shots that they should have, like for measles and all those childhood diseases which can create problems. If you get to be an adult and have a child and you get mumps or German measles, the child could be born with birth defects. It’s a simple thing, so we would talk about all sorts of things, including pregnancy. I mean, it’s something you can’t turn a blind eye to. It happens and people that say, “Just say, no,” well, you know, kids are kids and in the heat of the moment, they’re not going to say, “No,” and they’ve got to know the consequences, and, if necessary, use some form of protection, something. And so I would talk to them and rather than lecture them about it, I used to set up situations and do role playing and let them figure it out. I would tell the girl that was selected a certain situation and then I’d take the boy aside and give him a different situation so that neither one knew what the other was told then they would hash it out. It was a very interesting thing and the teachers were absolutely dumbfounded with the results of these role plays and you know, they say a picture’s worth a thousand words. Well, an acting live presentation is worth even more than the picture and so that was pretty effective. And the teachers used to have me come back all the time with their new classes every year. It was through the March of Dimes and through the good graces of my agency who allowed me to do it, that I was able to go out to the schools and do this. My work in this area got the attention of the office of Governor Richard Celeste. I was asked to serve on the Governor’s Task Force on Adolescent Pregnancy. It was a 1 year commitment during which time, we developed ideas to educate teens on this subject. As a result, the task force came up with legislation that found its way to the statehouse and subsequently passed. I found that more organizations, I think, were welcoming women into leadership roles. When I became Chapter chair of the March of Dimes, I think I was only the second woman to become Chapter chair. The first one, the one prior to me actually resigned. She resigned, because, and this is also an interesting thing, The March of Dimes needed a new director here in Central Ohio. I was on the search committee. They brought in several people to interview and the person that they picked was this man who had some experience from the East Coast and I gave him a thumbs down. I said, “I don’t believe he’s going to stay. I don’t think he’s the right choice. I think, frankly, he’ll be here today and gone to lunch and I think you’re going to be wasting your time.” But they wanted him and the woman that was the Chapter Chair wanted him so, they hired him. He came a few weeks later and I didn’t know how prophetic my words were. He came to the organization’s office and they showed him around the office and introduced him to everybody and showed him different things and then he left for lunch and he never came back. So when I said he was here today and gone to lunch, did I know that was going to happen? No, it was just an expression but that’s exactly what happened. He never came back and so they had us do the search all over again and this time of the people that came, there was a young woman. After interviewing them I thought she was the perfect fit and the woman that was the Chapter Chair was adamant against having her. She wanted this man and I said to her, “Have you not learned anything? This person will stay and I’m sure she will be good for the organization.” Well, the others listened to me because of the experience from the last time. They thought, “Oh, she must know something,” so, they did hire her. She turned out to be the best fit. She was there for many, many, many, many years. The organization thrived under her and because they hired her, the Chair became angry and she resigned. Now, the person who was Vice Chair that should have taken over was a man. He refused to take over. He didn’t feel that he wanted to be Chair. He didn’t feel he was qualified and comfortable doing it so it dropped to the next person, the secretary. That was me and I said, “I’m a secretary, what do I know?” Well, they said that they would train me and the national office sent somebody down and they talked to me and anyhow, I agreed to do it and they did keep their word. They were wonderfully supportive. I went to a national conference that they held in Detroit that was a real eye opener that was amazing from the National March of Dimes. They had one of President Roosevelt’s sons there. They had Jane Wyatt there. They had a bunch of people that were well known there. Jonas Salk was there. I met Jonas Salk there. In fact, he danced with me. Yep, and I mean, it was just an amazing experience and it really charged me up. I came back and I had a person who was in charge of development and we had fundraisers. We started new programs that are still running. We had one that was a fundraiser involving restaurants’ chefs that was a food thing that was held in a hotel…Gourmet Gala. That was a big money maker. We held night marches, Night Moves that was a race at night. We had all sorts of different things that we held besides the well-known Mothers’ March that you know, go door to door. The others proved to be far more effective in fund raising and so we raised a lot of money and some of it was kept locally and used at Children’s Hospital. We had grants to Children’s Hospital and did a lot of good things, created new programs at Children’s, had discoveries that were funded. I mean, it was, it was very good and I stayed with the March of Dimes for many, many years until you had to rotate off, because when…that was the other thing we did. We had boards that were much too large and when a board gets too big, they’re not effective and we determined a better size, so, the ones that had been on longer would rotate off and that’s what we did. I rotated myself off after the next person after me followed me as president…another woman, and when she went out, when the next person came in I rotated off and that’s what we did.
Interviewer: Now, you have lived in this house in Berwick for fifty-eight years…
Interviewer: …so you have seen some interesting changes and I want to see if you can illuminate something that happened about 15 or 20 or 25 years ago because it involves the Jewish community here. As you pointed out, you moved in here around 1960. There weren’t a lot of Jews.
Interviewer: In fact, the deeds had said, “No Jews allowed,” but then Jews did come in the 1960s and 70s and then at one point, Black people started moving into the community. But then at one point there were worries that as Blacks moved in, the Whites might move out, as they did in many other communities, and the community of Berwick might become all Black. But yet, some of the White people who lived here in Berwick and some of the Jews who lived here in Berwick said, “We don’t want this community to be all Black. We want to stay and we want to live in an integrated community,” and they took the initiative to do things which would keep it an integrated community.
Interviewer: Can you illuminate that, what happened there and how that worked? That was pretty unusual.
Gurwin: Well, what happened is, prior to that, the area that’s right next to Berwick, it was called Berwyn, an African- American family moved into a house that had been sold and people stuck For Sale signs all over the place. There was a fella who was a local organizer that actually I had worked with when I first got married and was a Juvenile Probation Officer. I knew him from then because he was – Cliff Tyree. Cliff Tyree went around talking to people in Berwyn and asking them to remove those signs and to stay. It was a whole big deal there because whole streets were loaded with signs, but somehow some of them maintained their status quo and didn’t move. But Berwyn did change very quickly because of that.
Interviewer: … and did become mostly Black?
Gurwin: Right. But when this started to happen in Berwick, when the first person sold a house to a Black family, everyone was afraid the same thing was going to happen and we did talk about it and nobody wanted to move. We did not want to move and somebody, more than once, people came up to me and said, “Are you going to hang around?” or “Are you going to wait and let what happened in Berwyn happen here?” and I said, “What happened in Berwyn will only happen here if everybody decides to move. If you don’t decide to move, nothing’s going to happen.” I said, “These people are not contagious. If they move in, so what? If they can afford a house, they are entitled to live here and I don’t think anybody should make a big issue out of it. If you let it go, it’ll be fine.”
Interviewer: …and you’ll be able to maintain an integrated community with Blacks and Whites together.
Gurwin: Right. At this time, it was only one family. I mean, don’t make a big deal out of nothing. So, little by little there were Blacks that moved in and so, what? There were families that moved. There were. And that, you can’t change somebody else. You can control only yourself. You can’t control someone else. But there were enough people that didn’t want to move, that liked Berwick. And the people that were moving in were very nice people and nobody was going to budge and the ones that were going to move were going to move and that, we couldn’t control. So, there was a period of time that more Black people moved into the area and those of us that didn’t care, stayed, and eventually what has been happening is White people started moving back into Berwick. When the Black houses were sold, White people moved in, so it became a mixed neighborhood which is healthy, I think. I have neighbors that are Black. First neighbor in this block was across the street. Nicest people and when somebody said something when they saw it, I said, “Yes, so? Their skin’s a different color. They’re still humans and so, what?”
Interviewer: So, Berwick today is…
Gurwin: Very integrated.
Interviewer: …one of the most integrated communities in the whole area.
Gurwin: Right and the people get along fine. They help one another and I think my neighbors are nice. I don’t have any problem with them and if they’re Black, White, Purple, I don’t care. If they’re good neighbors, they’re good neighbors. If they’re bad neighbors, it doesn’t matter what color they are. They’re still going to be bad neighbors, but the neighborhood is a nice neighborhood and people treat each other nicely. They take care of their property and that’s all that counts.
Interviewer: Let me ask you a question I often ask people in these oral histories: Berwick and Bexley and Eastmoor for decades have been in general the focus of the Jewish community. At one point, those were about the only three places where Jews lived but in recent decades, Jews have moved into Arlington where they were once banned. They have moved into New Albany, dozens of miles away. They’ve moved into Gahanna which in the 1950s ‘60s had almost no Jewish people, So, Jews have spread out. Do you have any observations about whether that’s been good or bad or what?
Gurwin: That’s interesting. When I first got married and I told you I was a probation officer, I traveled all over the county and one of the places I had to sometimes go was Gahanna. Now, in those days, we’re talking about 1955, Gahanna was not the Gahanna that you know today. It was mostly like an open field and there were outhouses. They did not have indoor plumbing. It was out in the sticks. It was nothing and it was not a good place that you’d want to live. Times changed and just as Gahanna has changed, so have other places changed. At one time, you’re right, if you didn’t live in this area, who were you? My older son lives in Gahanna. My younger son, before he moved to Pittsburgh, lived up northwest, lived off of Sawmill Road, in that area where it was in the Dublin School District. Today, I have two grandchildren whose families live in Westerville. I have a grandson whose family lives in Clintonville. Jews didn’t live in any of these places and yet they’re everywhere and they’re comfortable where they are. Jews, they live all over. In New Albany, before one of my granddaughters moved to Westerville, they lived in New Albany. They moved from New Albany to Westerville because the taxes in New Albany are too high. So, I think because Columbus has grown and as it spread out, people have spread out and that’s why organizations now like the JCC, Tifereth Israel, they have groups from the North End. They have groups from different parts of the county because, I remember many years ago when people started moving, Jewish families started moving out to Hoover Dam. I mean, whoever heard of a Jew living near Hoover Dam? I mean, really? But they did. They spread out and I don’t think it’s unique to Columbus. I think it’s happened all over. People have cars and transportation is readily available with your car. You can go anywhere. I happen to like being in Berwick because everything is so close. The Center is less than five minutes away. I can get downtown in about ten minutes. I can go almost anywhere within twenty minutes. I can get to almost any part of town and so, it’s not a big deal to live somewhere other than Berwick, Bexley or Eastmoor. It’s just, although most of us still do live in this area, more are moving out. Younger people, particularly, are not feeling confined to this area. They’re moving outward.
Interviewer: Have we lost anything with that?
Gurwin: I don’t know that we have. Maybe, what I’d probably have to say is they’re expanding to the point where they’re not tied to all that is Jewish. They are finding that they are, um, socializing more with non-Jews, not just in the personal but in the business world, I think. I think that their, um, their world view is expanding so that it isn’t, you know when you think back, the mindset was more like a shtetl. Remember the old families that lived here? There were a lot of Orthodox. They were centered around the synagogue and it was like the little shtetl, the ghetto. Well, they don’t need that anymore, and people…they’ve become more educated. Most of them have gone to college. They’ve met people that aren’t Jewish and people that aren’t Jewish have met Jews and found out that we don’t have horns and that we’re just like anybody else. And they’re more interested in our beliefs and how we think and, I think that it expands our world. And do I think it’s a bad thing or a good thing? I don’t know. It’s kind of a mixed bag because on the one hand, it’s a good thing to have a wider knowledge of people and appreciation of the people and their differences. On the other hand, you have much more intermarriage than you had before and that’s what happens. It happens that way because as you meet more people and you expand, you’re gonna’, and people are gonna’ fall in love with people that they know and they’re gonna’ get married. And that’s exactly what happens which was probably one of the reasons that the old Jewish custom was to stick to your own because they didn’t want intermarriage and that’s what it is. It’s just, it’s a difference of the mind-set of the old with the new.
Interviewer: We’ve been talking a long time here. You’ve led such a long a fruitful life with such roots in the Jewish community here in Columbus. Is there anything else that you want to talk about that we haven’t touched on?
Gurwin: That’s a good question. Um, one thing I do remember. When I brought my mother, this is sort of different. You know, we had belonged to an Orthodox synagogue in Cleveland. My parents had always been Orthodox, my mother, too. That’s how she was raised and when I brought her to Columbus, I used to bring her to shul with me to Tifereth Israel. I remember one day she was sitting with me and she leaned over and she said, “You know, I like it better here,” and I knew it was because the men and women were together. One of the things that happened to cause me to become much more involved with Tifereth Israel as far as my membership is concerned was when my father died. He was buried in Cleveland from this Orthodox synagogue. The way they treated me, because I was only a daughter. They didn’t even come to the house for shiva week. The rabbi didn’t come because I was only a daughter, I didn’t have to say kaddish. And I remember saying to him. “There’s nowhere that says I’m prohibited from saying kaddish.” Why? Just because I was only a daughter? That hurt. So when I came back to Columbus… because I was going to say kaddish for my father for the whole eleven months…I thought I would go to Beth Jacob because it’s close by and I could go there before I go to work in the morning. And I had a friend who had lost his mother more recently and he was saying kaddish for his mother at Beth Jacob, so I called him and I said, “I’m going to see you at Beth Jacob. I’m going to go there to say kaddish for my father and he said, “Well, that’s nice if you want to stand in the hall.” I said, “What do you mean if I want to stand in the hall?” because they have this separation, there’s the mechitzah and so I can’t be with them. I said, “Uh huh,” so I talked to my son and he said, “Mom, go to Tifereth Israel,” and we were not members then. We had been members and then dropped our membership and he said, “You’ll be welcome at Tifereth Israel,” so I started going every single morning to Tifereth Israel and eventually we joined because I felt comfortable and welcomed and I never looked back, and I said, “You know, if I am treated as a second-class citizen, I don’t need that.” Furthermore, as you had mentioned early on, I had never been bat mitzvahed but in 19…we had gone to Israel originally, Phil and I had gone to Israel in 19 um 67 just before the Six Day War. The War occurred a few months later and then we went back exactly thirty years later in 1997, and there was a whole group going and the person that was the tour person said, “Have you ever been bat mitzvahed and I said, “No.” “Would you like to be bat mitzvahed?” she asked and I said, “I’d love it.” So a number of other women including some men who had never been bar mitzvahed were part of the group that went. And we were all bar and bat mitzvahed in Israel at this little, interestingly enough, Orthodox synagogue near the Western Wall and that meant more to me than anyone could ever know. That I was able to get bat mitzvahed in Israel near the Western Wall meant a lot. I always felt comfortable with Tifereth Israel. That’s my home now and the fact that my mother said she likes it better there, that was unbelievable to me because she didn’t… I guess she never liked the separation, but that’s what it was. You know, my grandmother was Orthodox and wore a sheitel and it wasn’t until many years later that my mother told me, my grandmother was very cute. She had dark skin and blue eyes and blond hair but I didn’t know she had blond hair because she always wore a dark sheitel. My mother was the one that told me that she had had blond hair. Whenever I saw her she had the dark brown sheitel. When I saw her when she was really old and living in a nursing home, her hair was white, but my mom said she had blond hair but because her skin was dark, people, if she had worn a blond sheitel, would not have believed that it would look natural so, she wore a brown sheitel and she hated it. My mother said she used to brush the sheitel and swear at it that she had to wear this sheitel. So, times change. I mean, here my grandmother wore a sheitel. My grandfather was ultra-Orthodox and wore black, dark clothes and had a beard and payas and my father did not. My father was Orthodox but he did not. My mother did not wear a sheitel. She was more modern. She dressed modern and even though she kept kosher, that means, she kept an Orthodox life but didn’t wear a sheitel. She wasn’t her mother. And I keep kosher. That’s how I learned and so I still keep kosher but I belong to a Conservative synagogue.
Interviewer: So, you are a modern American Jewish woman who is proud of her Jewish ancestry and believes very much in Jewish tradition and ritual but you’ve also changed with the times.
Gurwin: I have and, you know, one of the reasons I got involved with the Jewish Historical Society is because I find the history, even though I wasn’t originally from Columbus, I find the history of Columbus fascinating. I think it’s a rich community. It’s hard to put into words exactly, but it was a very small closely-knit community when I moved here. It has become so much more. It is so much more worldly because so many people from outside Columbus have moved here and have brought with them so much to appreciate and I just think that it’s a wonderful community. I really appreciate Columbus and the Jewish community and how it has changed over the years. The Federation has grown. I remember the Foundation, when it started. I remember when Ben Mandelkorn was here and I remember…remember I told you I had left Heritage House to go to Family Counseling and Crittenton Services? I was at a meeting, because they had a meeting of council presidents, and Ben Mandelkorn was a very, very strong personality and he said to me, “I understand that you’re working for this agency.” I said, “Yes.” He said, “Well, if you were looking for another job, why didn’t you come to me?” I said, “Well, you never asked.” I said, “Why would I come to you?” Because he wanted to keep the Jewish leadership in the Jewish community and I understood that later. I thought it was odd at the time, but I get it now. He was a force to be reckoned with and I worked with him when he came as a consultant to Family Counseling and Crittenton Services. I had to work with him in fundraising when we were raising funds to move to a new building and that was an experience and a half, too. But he was a force that brought the Foundation. He started it. I mean, Columbus has grown. It has grown and it has become not a small shtetl. It’s a big city.
Interviewer: Well, that sounds like a good ending point for our interview with Flo Gurwin on Castlewood in Berwick. Today is June 18th, 2018. My name is Bill Cohen and we’ve been doing this interview with Flo Gurwin for the Columbus Jewish Historical Society.