Good morning. My name is Naomi Schottenstein. I’m a representative of the Columbus Jewish Historical Society, and we’re in the building of the Columbus Jewish Federation at 1175 College Avenue in Columbus, Ohio. It is February 7, 2013. I’m here to interview a longtime friend of mine and an important part of the Columbus community, Sarita Cohen.
Interviewer: Tell us your full name.
Cohen: My full name is Sarita Karmia Cohen. My maiden name was Goldstein when I lived in Havana, Cuba. Then it got changed when we came to the United States to Gold.
Interviewer: Sarita, do you have a Jewish name?
Cohen: My Jewish name would be Sora, whatever it would be translated from Sarah. I think it is Sora.
Interviewer: Do you know who you were named after?
Cohen: I was named after my father’s mother.
Interviewer: How far back can you trace your family? Do you have some generations that you can talk about?
Cohen: I can’t trace back the great great grandparents, but I came across some pictures of them, and I was much amazed, because they were taken in Russia. They are not very clear. The picture showed my great great grandfather dying. Apparently, that might have been the custom in those years in Russia to take pictures. His wife and my grandparents are right next to him. I was much amazed when I received that picture, but I have no further information other than my great great grandfather.
Interviewer: I find that interesting because it was probably in the late 1800’s. Cameras were not real popular, but somehow they managed to take these black and whites, and that was very important.
Interviewer: What was your mother’s full name?
Cohen: My mother’s name was Elayna Sniderman. That was also changed to Snider. The story will come up about my uncle in St. Augustine, FL.
Interviewer: It wasn’t unusual for names to be changed from a real long familiar name. Maybe we’ll find out more about how that happened. What country was your mother born in?
Cohen: My mother was born in the Ukraine in Kiev.
Interviewer: Well, that was a very popular part of the country. Do you know when she came to the next country that she lived in?
Cohen: I think she must have come to Cuba, I would imagine, in maybe 1900, I would think. When they left Russia with my grandparents to come to the United States because my uncle was living in St. Augustine, FL. He had become very successful, so he sent for my grandparents and my mother. My mother was a change of life child, so she was many, many years younger than her siblings. She was a teenager. I guess they had to travel a lot before they even arrived in Cuba to even be able to enter the United States.
Interviewer: Why do you think they left Russia?
Cohen: That’s when the times were so bad for the Jewish people in Russia. When my uncle left, it was because of the pogroms, and they would have taken him into the army. So, as a result, he left when he was maybe fifteen years old with a friend of his. They made their way to the United States. My grandfather did not have a finger. He cut off his finger because he didn’t want to go into the service in the Russian Army.
Interviewer: So he made himself handicapped so he couldn’t go into the service.
Cohen: Exactly. At that time they would come in and take all the Jewish young boys into the army and you would never see them again.
Interviewer: You went to Cuba because your uncle was there?
Cohen: No, he was in St. Augustine, FL. Actually, I think they traveled to France and Italy, and then from Italy to Cuba. They lived in these places until they could get boardage to leave. Then they came to Cuba because Cuba had an open policy that they could come into the United States. It turned out that my grandparents, because of their age and being the parents of my uncle, were allowed to come. My mother was not allowed to come because of her age and also because she was a sister to my uncle. It was only the parents that were allowed to come to the United States. So they stayed in Cuba. My uncle would send them money and support the family.
Interviewer: I think we need to talk more about your mother at this point and then we’ll go back to your father and tie that in. Do you know how long they lived in Cuba?
Cohen: My mother was there because I was born in Cuba in 1930. My mother at that time married my father because she didn’t know my father at the time they arrived there. It’s interesting because I didn’t know that because we didn’t have a birth certificate. Apparently, the birth certificate was sent to some small town in Havana. It wasn’t until years later when I became a citizen that I had a relative that was able to find my birth certificate. It was a whole document in Spanish. That’s when I found out I was born in 1930. I always thought I was born in 1929. Now that I’m older I’m thrilled. It gave me another year.
Interviewer: Let’s just go back and see if we can connect your father to your mother. How did your father enter the picture?
Cohen: The whole story becomes very sad. Now that I’m older I can appreciate the unhappiness that both of my parents had. My grandparents wanted to come to the United States, but they wouldn’t leave my mother alone in Cuba. So they insisted. My father was a very wealthy man who had a manufacturing company of men’s pants. It was very successful. My father had seen my mother and fell in love with my mother. The only condition that my grandparents would leave is if my mother married my father. I believe that my mother did not really love my father. She had a boyfriend in Russia that she was very much in love with. He was a musician, but he wasn’t ever able to leave Russia. I don’t know whatever happened to him. But looking at pictures in later years when I inherited pictures when my mother died, I saw who he was. My mother was an extremely beautiful woman, very outgoing, very sweet, very very bright business woman. Getting back to my father, she like him, don’t misunderstand me. It might not have been the love that you have as a young person, but she had the security. She married my father and they moved into the most exclusive section of Havana, which at that time was called ________. There were no Jews living in that area of very luxurious homes. Then my maternal grandparents left to go to St. Augustine, FL. I was not born yet. My dad didn’t have any parents. They must have been dead already when they left some part of Russia. He came with his brother and they made their way into Cuba. His brother lived in Cuba at that particular time. My grandparents only stayed in St. Augustine for possibly a year because my grandfather was a very religious person. He was like a rabbi and never worked a day in his life. He was like a scholar. They had a shul in St. Augustine which is really one of the oldest in the south, but it wasn’t religious enough for him. They didn’t have kosher things there, so naturally, they didn’t want to stay there. They then returned to Cuba and lived in the same area. My father was very successful with his business. My brother was born then and lived in that home. From what a cousin tells me, my brother (4 years older than I am) and parents traveled to St. Augustine to visit with my aunt. I have pictures of the three of them visiting and I wasn’t born then. So then, when I was born, then I think the situation got very bad economically. You had the depression here, and they must have felt it in Cuba. So his business then became very bad. My dad and a friend of his decided that they would go to Puerto Rico so that they could get started in business there. My mother was pregnant with me. It was supposed to be that when he got established, my mother would come with the children to Puerto Rico. My mother was left with my grandparents and me as a baby. Apparently, he might have been there when I was born, but I don’t think so. My uncle did support them during that time. Then my mother started working in trying to go into a manufacturing business. I’m sorry to go back. During the time my parents were living together, my mother brought her nephew over. My uncle who is, by the way, written up and pictures of him in the Jewish Historical Museum on Washington Avenue in Miami Beach. His name was Saul Snider. He had also changed his name. He happened to have been the first president of a cattlemen’s association which he started in the state of Florida. He was a cattle rancher in St. Augustine. He was like a cowboy. I remember him with the boots and the hat. While living in Cuba, we used to go in the summers to St. Augustine and spend the summers there. Getting back to my parents. My mother started doing lingerie for women. My cousin Aaron Cooper then brought his sister Rosa over. He loved to play the piano and dance and was very handsome. He then started a business with my mother. My mother would give material to seamstresses, and then they would start sewing it in their homes, and then she would design it and would go and sell it. She was very much an entrepreneur.
Interviewer: That is what we would call here a cottage industry.
Cohen: Later then, because I was still young and this was told to me, she started a manufacturing company called Lady Lee. Then my cousin worked with her. During that period also Rosa married and remained in Cuba until 1962 when they left Cuba. I don’t remember what her first husband’s name was. He died in a tragic accident. She then married a man named Jose. They also started manufacturing company of women’s wear. They had children, who all live in Florida and Puerto Rico. Getting back to the story of my mother then, I don’t think my dad was able to keep in touch with my mother. He wanted her to bring us over to Puerto Rico. He was established in Puerto Rico. They made men’s pants. His brother Leon left when they were living in Cuba and went to Pittsburgh, where they had cousins. He married his first cousin named Mamie. They had a big family there. He established himself in the scrap business and remained in Pittsburgh all the years until he passed away not too many years ago. His family then, five children, moved to Miami. Two are now in Pittsburgh, but the rest are in Miami. When my father left Cuba, my grandparents would not go to Puerto Rico. My mother was a very devoted daughter and she would not leave. By that time she had established her own business and would not leave her parents by themselves there, even though they had my mother’s nephew and niece, it was still different. And then stories, I gather, were brought back to her that my father had other women. If you think about it, if he had been there by himself all those years, it would have been natural. I never met my father until I was fifteen years old. So during that period of time, she had established herself and remained in Cuba. I went to school there. The only house I remembered was the big apartment that was called _________ that was a suburb of Havana. From there we moved to another home which was closer to the shul for my grandfather. That was called __________. It was right across from the Havana High School then. We did not go to the public schools because they were not really great public schools to begin with. I went to a Baptist school. We never had to go in for any of the religious things or anything like that. It was a good secular school for me. My brother went to a boys’ school that might have been Edison. My brother and I didn’t interact that much. We lived in this house where upstairs was my mother’s dearest friend who was like an aunt to me. She happened to come with my mother on the same boat from Russia. Her married name was Olga Fox. She had two children. One is Manya, who now lives in Israel. The other one was Leon, her son. That’s another story. Anyway, my mother and Olga were always together. My mother was active in the Jewish community. While she was with my father, she had established a lending society for the Russian refugees. They used to call that the ____________. She was very active in Jewish causes. She was very well recognized in Cuba.
Interviewer: Was she a successful business woman?
Cohen: Right. At that time there were not many women who worked because there were more housekeepers. We are talking about the 1900’s, even before 1940, when I was a baby, she had established herself. In 1940 we came to the United States. I know she was very instrumental because I have pictures of those events which I have sent to Cuba and the synagogue in Florida that had written up a whole historical thing about the Cuban Jews who came into the United States. Interviewer: So your grandfather was able to be satisfied with the Jewish life in Cuba.
Cohen: Very much so. He kept a strictly kosher home, not that I paid any attention to it, but they did. Sadly, think about it now. I’m sorry that I didn’t appreciate it but I was young and always fell asleep for the seder. My grandfather wore the white coat (kittel) and the white hat on. With it being a tropical climate, you really didn’t sit down to eat until almost 10:00 p.m. I would always fall asleep, so I never really saw a seder. It was a long night and I didn’t remember anything. My grandmother wore a shaydel all the time. I never saw her hair. They were very observant. Unfortunately, when we came to the United States, my mother didn’t observe anything. We never got involved with any religion whatsoever.
Interviewer: You knew it was in your background.
Cohen: Exactly. When three ships came from Germany to Cuba in maybe 1938, one was the St. Louis which had a book written about it, she and a delegation from Cuba plus some from America, came to try to get the German Jews aboard these ships to settle in Cuba. They were not allowed. Their belongings were all taken off the ships because they felt that they would be disembarking. Years later I found out it was Roosevelt who would not allow them. The Jewish community raised a million dollars with the American community to try to get them out to pay off a visa who was in charge of it. They were not permitted to come to Cuba, so unfortunately they were turned back to Germany. Maybe two of them survived because they jumped overboard. Some went to Holland. It was a very sad time, I think it was 1938 when that incident happened. I heard about it years later. I have pictures of them aboard the ship trying to get them out.
Interviewer: Sarita, all these pictures you’re talking about, we should try to get some copies for the Columbus Historical Society to connect and identify as much as you can and when and where.
Cohen: I probably would not know the people who were aboard the ship because none of them were American. They came with my mother because they had raised the money. The story with my mother was that she started going with a very nice gentleman. At that time my parents were not divorced. My mother never spoke about my father, never unkindly, just never spoke about him. I did not really know where he was, but I got birthday gifts from my mother only. My brother and I thought it was my father giving the gifts. My brother and I had sort of imagined him to be like a movie star. Let’s put it that way, because not having that and having my mother always speak so well of him. He was a good husband and a good father to my brother. But I did not know him. Getting back to my mother. She started going with this gentleman. As children, we were very jealous of the gentleman. It is sort of sad when I look back at it, because she was a young woman in her 30’s. It would have been a wonderful time in her life. He was quite prosperous, but she was in business herself then. He wanted to send us away to boarding school in the United States. She wouldn’t allow it so she broke up with him. She met a few other men, even in the United States, who wanted to marry her, but she wouldn’t do it.
Interviewer: She was a young attractive successful woman.
Cohen: But we didn’t like anybody because we were so jealous. We didn’t verbalize it because we weren’t aware of it, but we just wanted her, not anybody else in our lives. My mother went on a buying trip to New York and she ran into my father there. He was also on a buying trip. By that time we were already living in the United States. I was ten when we came. My uncle wanted my mother to leave Cuba and come to the United States. My grandmother had passed away by then. My grandfather was left and was elderly by then. He would not come. So my mother found a home that was a very observant Jewish home. The woman also took in observant men to live there. This was in Havana. He moved there and we were able to move to the United States. My mother, brother and I moved to Miami Beach. I didn’t start school right away. Shortly after we arrived there, my mother had gotten ill and needed surgery. She had trusted the doctors in Cuba because they were friends of hers. So she had me go then to St. Augustine to live with my uncle and aunt. They had a magnificent home. He was the cattle rancher and also had grocery stores. I didn’t speak English very well. I started school there and had a very close friend there. As kids when we went in the summer, we would play with hand signals. My friend’s name was Edith Price. Her mother happened to have been a step sister to my aunt. They lived in the other part of town, but we became good friends. Unfortunately, she passed away last year. She was not related to me, but was part of a family. Although the two sisters never got along, so they never saw each other that much. We started public school together and joined the Girl Scouts. We would ride our bicycles because it was a very safe community to begin with then. I spent a year there, and when my mother returned back from Cuba, it was a happy time even though it was a sad time because you were separated from your family. We went back to Miami Beach. From there, my brother went to Miami Beach High School and I was in junior high at that time. I did two years at Miami Beach High School and really did not like it at all. So then I decided I would go to a vocational school. A friend of mine, Jocelyn Plotnick, whose parents were also separated (her father lived in Mexico), didn’t live that far away from me. She was American and had a sister who was going to the University of Miami. She and I went to vocational school without permission from my mother. So that was my last two years of school there taking ________. At that time also, my senior year, my uncle wanted my mother to move to St. Augustine. She was going to start a children’s clothing store business there.
Interviewer: What happened to her lingerie business?
Cohen: She sold it when she moved to the United States. At that time, my cousin who had worked with her, had established his own place. She was comfortable financially at the beginning. And then she went to work as a sales person in one of the very fine dress shops in Miami. In those years, the ______ was closed. Only in the winter did they open it up for the tourists. I did work during the summer. We never discussed money. We never knew if we had money or didn’t have money. We lived in an apartment where everybody who came from Cuba stayed with us. When I look back, I remember we had one bathroom.
Interviewer: That wasn’t so unusual then. People needed a place to land and hang out. It was a fun time too.
Cohen: You didn’t realize that you were putting anybody out. Especially my mother’s good friend Olga’s daughter Manya, came to live with us. Manya’s parents had stayed in Cuba. She came to live with us to go to the University of Miami. She was like a big sister to me. She is 88 years old now. Not so much now, but when you were young, there was quite a difference in age. When I was fifteen years old I babysat. I think I got a quarter for the whole evening. These were summer jobs. After that I had a job as an usherette at one of the movie theaters on First Street in Miami. Then I became a cashier after that. After that, there was a job as a waitress in a very exclusive restaurant (I think it was called Murray or something like that in Miami Beach on Lincoln Road. I decided I wanted to work there. I lied about my age. Manya would walk me there because it was on Lincoln Road and we lived at 1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, so it was quite a walk. I really like the job. I think my biggest tip was $1.00 for a table of six. There was a Jewish woman in the back. She took care of the cash in the back and would make sure the food came out. She took a liking to me. Unfortunately, I had to get fired because they found out that you had to be eighteen because they were serving liquor. The next job I had was working in the dime store, Woolworth’s, behind the soda fountain. They had fountains for blacks and whites. No blacks were allowed in Miami Beach. There were a lot of servicemen there, too, stationed in Miami or Miami Beach area.
Interviewer: Give us a description of Woolworth’s 5&10. What kind of a store was it. We don’t have them in today’s world.
Cohen: There was a lot of anti-Semitism at that time too. Remember they had Arthur Godfrey at the Kenilworth Hotel. No Jews were allowed. My cousin Manya had been going with a young man who wanted a job at the Pan American Union. He was a Sephardic Jew. His name was Alfredo something – a very Cuban name. He applied for a position with them after the war. The first thing they asked him was his religion. He squirmed about that. They said, “Why don’t you recite the prayer of the Holy Mary?” He knew it because he had gone to Catholic school. He got hired but said he wouldn’t take the job because he was Jewish. I think it wasn’t until the Anti-Defamation League came in that really changed things. I remember walking and seeing signs that no Jews were allowed in the buildings. When I went to the vocational school, there were a lot of Christians there. I think we were the only two Jewish girls there in the school. They would say that we lived in Little Palestine. One named Barbara, a very attractive redhead, actually said to me “Honest to God, Sarita, I thought that Jews had horns.” That was the mentality in those years. We weren’t actively involved ourselves. I realized that years later, but living there, it is like an everyday life, you know. My mother went to work. The last year of senior high school, she moved to St. Augustine. She didn’t have any qualms, and I didn’t either, because Manya lived with me. I stayed in the apartment to finish school. Then I moved to St. Augustine with my mother. That year I went to college at Florida State College for Women in Tallahassee. At that time it was a women’s college, and Gainesville was the men’s university. My brother had been in the service for a few years in the Navy, fortunately just staying in the United States. He went to men’s college at Emory University because of the GI bill. When I was in Tallahassee we lived in barracks because they didn’t have room for dormitories. I shared with another girl who passed away. I used to go to conclaves at Emory. My brother was always fixing me up. They were wonderful conclaves like homecoming dances and things like that. That summer, after I finished the first year of college, we had relatives. My mother always had a relationship with her brother, my uncle Leo Gold in Pittsburgh and his wife Mamie. That was also a cousin to my father’s side. She always kept the relationship with them. Well, one of their cousins came down to St. Augustine, Florida, and spent their vacation time there. My mother said that I should go visit them in Pittsburgh. So I drove up to Pittsburgh and stayed with my uncle, which was a lot of fun because of his children. They were very warm. So while I was there, my father came to visit. The first time I met him was when I was fifteen in Miami Beach and I think we went out to dinner. He came specifically to visit me. At that time he had been married twice already. It was very disappointing because I always visualized something. In my mind the picture of him had him looking so great. Years had changed him and bitterness had changed him, too. He felt that he had lost a family.
Interviewer: So it wasn’t a real warm time of meeting.
Cohen: He wasn’t a very warm type of person because I think he felt uncomfortable. Maybe he felt that he had missed out a lot in the relationship. So when I came to Pittsburgh, he came for a visit from Puerto Rico. He said that if I wanted to stay in Pittsburgh he would pay for my education. So I said okay. I looked into the Pittsburgh School of Art and Design. I thought I might do something with decorating. My mother agreed to it. So I went back to St. Augustine and then back to Pittsburgh and I registered. I started school there, but my uncle lived very far away. He lived in the suburbs. My mother had a cousin who lived in Squirrel Hill. His name was Morris Cuban and her name was Fannie Cuban. I looked them up and they had a lovely home. They wanted me to live with them. They had three boys, one of whom was out of the house. His name was Martin Cuban. The other two were Nortie and Larry. Larry was in school then and Nortie was out working. She said she would only charge me $20 per month rent. We shared the bathroom. I said “fine.” My father took care of that. I think toward the end of my stay there, they wouldn’t take any money from me. They were absolutely wonderful to me. I lived with them. They loved having a girl around after three sons. They would take me out for lunch every Saturday because he worked hard as a representative for cheesecakes and salamis, bolognas, Polish things, and would do a lot of traveling. There are so many stories that you could go on and on. Nortie has three sons, one of whom is Mark Cuban, the one that owns The Maverick, and he’s on Shark, the TV show. I don’t remember him except when he was a child. I went to school there for a year. During that year Aunt Fannie kept wanting me to meet her nephew. I felt sorry for this man who was an orphan. The story was that his parents had died and he came to live in Pittsburgh with his uncle and aunt at age fifteen. He was from New Jersey originally. He didn’t want to remain with the stepmother, who was a wonderful woman. It didn’t work out living with the aunt and uncle because they had no children, and it didn’t work out having a teenager there. He worked at a drug store while going to Taylor Alderdice. Then he moved in with an uncle who had four daughters. He lived there until he graduated. Then he went into the service.He was working in furniture in Steubenville, OH, at the time at the ___ Department Store. He did come in and I did meet him. In the meantime I had gone out with other men. He would come in on weekends and we would go out, and I was really smitten by him. He was tall and good looking. He didn’t have any money, but who knew about money? Romance was not an important issue. My mother had opened a store in St. Augustine, and in the winter she had a shop at the Ponce de Leon Hotel there, which is a junior college today. She had a partner, and I did work there in summers. It was different. I didn’t have the interest in clothing like young women do today. Money didn’t register, let’s put it that way. So he worked hard and didn’t have anything. Al was ten years older than I was. He wanted to marry me. I think I was eighteen years old then. My mother wondered why I never went for Uncle Morris’ son Nortie because he was so handsome. We were more like sister and brother living in the same house. He would walk me to school, get on the streetcars, and he would drop me off. The relationship was so different. Larry, the one who was in high school, we interacted, but it was different. I went with Al maybe less than six months. He was ready to get married and I was smitten. My mother did come to Pittsburgh to meet him. Before I met Al, I had gone with a young man also as a friend. He was very smitten with me. But he was heavy and came from a wonderful family. They were in a big electrical business. My mother wondered why I wasn’t attracted to him. I said that he was nice but not that good looking. She said that I would have a wonderful life. I said that he was heavy, and she said that I could always put him on a diet. I was so immature when I look back on those years. I kept saying to my mother that she shouldn’t worry because we would be okay. My father came to Pittsburgh and my mother wanted to make a small wedding in St. Augustine. I didn’t want her to do that because I didn’t want her to spend the money in having to do that. I felt that it wasn’t right. So my Dad wanted to be there. I didn’t want him there. Al was living at that time with a family in Pittsburgh. We got married with a justice of the peace where he lived in maybe October, 1948. The only ones there were Uncle Morris and Aunt Fannie. My mother wanted to be at my wedding and she wanted my brother there too, but he was at Emory University. So I went by train to Florida after the wedding without Al. My mother and aunt went to Georgia, and we then got married with a rabbi. From there we went on a honeymoon to Cuba. That was his first time in Cuba. After that we stopped in St. Augustine and spent a week with my mother. I am such a believer in fate and bashert in life. We started looking through pictures of the family, and here was a picture of my husband’s mother with her best friend, who happened to have been my mother’s cousin, which was Uncle Morris’ sister. Her name was Sonya. She wrote on the postcard “This is my best friend Tanya Karmia.” There was a remote tie to the family. We were both floored at the connection. It was fate that had brought us together. After that then, we went back to Pittsburgh. We had a small apartment on Murray Avenue. Then I got pregnant with Tina, my daughter. He was working as a furniture salesman in _______, a suburb. We moved to an apartment in Stanton Heights. That was closer then to my Uncle Leo and Aunt Mamie than to my Uncle Morris and Aunt Fannie. So then my dad would come in to see them and me. It was a different type of relationship. My dad met Al before we were married. I didn’t want him at the wedding if my mother wasn’t going to be there. I didn’t think it was fair. Tina was born in 1950 at Mercy Hospital. The couple that moved to the apartment next to me was the heavy guy my mother liked for me. He was not a very nice man to his wife. She was such a lovely woman and he was very violent. That was bashert too.
Interviewer: I want to go back to your family, but we haven’t put any information in about your brother. Tell us about your brother.
Cohen: When my brother graduated from Emory University as a geologist, he could not get a job at all because he was Jewish. There were no jobs available unless he went to South America. My mother would not allow him to travel to South America not knowing anyone. Anywhere we went we had to know someone.
Interviewer: Geology was unfamiliar territory for sure.
Cohen: Yes, it was mostly for gentiles. He then moved to Washington, DC, and he started working at the Pan American Union in a gift there and became the manager of the gift shop. There were lots of South American items. Because of speaking Spanish, he had no problem with that. He met his wife, which we did not know about, after a few years. My mother had taken ill. He would have not married because the girl he had been living with for five years and wasn’t Jewish. I didn’t find out about this until my mother passed away. My mother felt that he was not going to go anywhere working there, so she asked me to please write to my father and ask him if he would give him a position with his factories. I wrote my father and begged him to take my brother in. So my brother went to Puerto Rico and started working with him. At that time, my father already had the beginning of dementia. He was not very nice to my brother. He would be very insulting to him. He would unfortunately not let him take over the business. He always wanted to be in control, but the business was going down and down. My brother left it and went as a manufacturer’s representative with a partner. They started working with a company that was manufacturing women’s clothing. They were such good salesmen that there commissions were so high (American owners of the company) that they suggested that if he would leave the commission in the company, they could become partners. It was an opportunity for him. It turned out that it was very successful. The company flourished and then he retired from there. He had a son, my nephew. The partner stayed. He was a Puerto Rican man. I think his name was Mark _____. He stayed in the company and became a millionaire. When he left he bought a lot of cemeteries and flourished as far as business went.
Interviewer: Was owning cemeteries a business?
Cohen: Yes, it was property. When he left he had so much money that it was just investments. Now my brother left Puerto Rico when my nephew was seven or eight years old because my sister-in-law hated Puerto Rico.
Interviewer: When did your brother finally marry and tell us her name.
Cohen: Her name is Ann. He married her in 1962. My mother was already deceased when he married her. The wedding was in Washington, DC, and it was Unitarian. She did then go to Puerto Rico. My sister-in-law had a daughter from a previous marriage and brought her to Puerto Rico. She was eight years old at the time. And then she had my nephew, David Gold. He is an attorney in the Ft. Lauderdale area. He is my brother’s only biological child. He never adopted the daughter because his wife would never allow him to adopt her. She was Episcopalian and lived in Houston with her family. In the meantime, my brother decided to give my nephew the proper education. Since she hated Puerto Rico, he retired from his business at fifty years old. He took the money and left for Miami. That’s where they stayed until later years when they moved to Plantation. I used to go there practically every year to spend time with them. I also visited them in Puerto Rico because then I would take the children to Puerto Rico. At that time my dad was living in Puerto Rico. He was married the fourth time. When the dementia got progressively worse for my dad, my brother put him in a home. They were not in business together or didn’t see much of each other. That’s where he remained until he died. He was really senile. My brother was the one who looked in. He really had no feelings for my father whatsoever. He felt an obligation because he brought him to Puerto Rico. It’s interesting because in later years he never really understood that because I said that he would never have been here if not for him. Even though it didn’t work out.
Interviewer: So the relationship with your father was always strained for both of you, but your father still tried to fulfill his role as a father in some ways.
Cohen: When I look back, I look back at the sadness of two people that could have had such a different life if my grandparents had not interfered and they could have stayed together, and we would have had a different life. My father became a big gambler. He had the money for it and was very well known in the Hilton Hotels. He had the finest of everything and went through three other wives which cost him a lot of money. At the end he really didn’t have anything.
Interviewer: Let’s finish with your brother’s family.
Cohen: He has David and now he has two grandchildren, Adam and Jason. David married a girl named Debbie Eskel. Her grandmother lived in Columbus. Her mother also lived in Columbus. Debbie was born in Columbus, OH. She lived here since she was twelve years old and then they moved to Florida, maybe Orlando. Her father was a buyer at Lazarus. Again, this is so strange because everything is so connected. Her father’s best friend, also a buyer at Lazarus, introduced Debbie’s father, Sidney, to Lynn, her mother. Many years later when I married Norman Cohen, it turns out to be that this gentleman who introduced the mother and father to my niece, Debbie, happened to have been Norm Cohen’s nephew through marriage. All the ties keep coming back.
David’s grandson Adam is sixteen years old and Jason is fourteen years old. My brother had a wonderful life when he retired. The first year they traveled all over the world. They brought David to stay with me while the traveled on the first trip they ever made abroad. They brought my father, which was a very hard time for us, because my father had dementia then. He wandered out of the house and we had a lot of difficulty until he went to Pittsburgh to his brother and sister-in-law, my aunt and uncle. Then my brother came and took him back to Puerto Rico to the home. When he returned to Puerto Rico, he tried to burn the apartment. He tried to put the gas on for something to eat and didn’t realize the gas was on and the kitchen caught on fire. That’s when he went to the home. He had to go to a private home because they didn’t have nursing homes like we have now. Getting back to my brother – he bought a beautiful sailboat, a ______ Morgan. So he used to do a lot of traveling in Florida to Puerto Rico. He had a wonderful life. He was very generous as far as taking us on trips. He was very outgoing. He died two years ago. It was a sad time. My sister-in-law is still living in Plantation, Florida. They sold their home in Miami.
Interviewer: What was your brother’s illness?
Cohen: My brother had melanoma. It was in the family. Living in a tropical climate and being out in the sun, belonging to a country club and being on the beach all of the time, and being exposed to the sun without putting anything on, he got melanoma. He was on the boat and never took care of himself. He was fair-skinned like I am and never wore a hat or sunscreen. And then he started getting dementia. So it was both conditions that he passed away from. The dementia became Alzheimer’s. He lived at home, but I believe the cancer killed him.
Interviewer: Let’s go back to your family.
Cohen: Tina was born in Pittsburgh. From Pittsburgh, Al then had an opportunity to go to Youngstown, Ohio. He had a wonderful position there at Haber’s Furniture Company. So we moved to Pittsburgh to Youngstown, which I hated. But I really loved living there. Billy was born there in 1952, and then my son Sidney was born in 1954. Quite a few years later, my son Eddie was born there in 1962. Al went to work for the Haber Company and worked there for a few years. Then he met this gentleman and they decided that they would open up a furniture store. So they did open up Lecar Furniture Company on Market Street. Then times got bad there when they closed the steel mills. So it was a different situation and they had to liquidate the store. The partner later on opened up his own furniture store after we left. Before we left, he had a position offered to him to come to Columbus, Ohio, to work for Janet Leeman and open up a store for her, which was Ideal Furniture Company. Janet was already in the furniture business. She had grown children, Barry and a daughter. And Donny. Barry was still living here and working in the business. Ideal was at one corner and then they had another furniture store two blocks away. He ran the one that he opened up for her. In fact Barry used to work there. We first came to Columbus when Eddie was about two years old. Our first home was on S. Virginia Lee. We rented a home and lived there for about a year. Then we bought a home at 3083 Elbern, around the corner from there. At the time we could have bought in Bexley, but everyone kept saying the best schools are in Eastmoor.
Interviewer: At that time they were better for sure.
Cohen: When we came here, Tina was in her last year of junior high. The boys were at Fairmoor, which was the elementary school. We were on Elbern for over thirty-five years. It was a great house. You remember it, Naomi. It was an old house.
Interviewer: You had the flavor for it, the furniture and all the appointments that went with it.
Cohen: Thank you. From there then, he went to work for Schottenstein’s, who seeked him out to come work for them. So that was Leon Schottenstein. They hired him to work as a manger. He had opened a store in downtown Columbus called Don’s Furniture Store. Al opened it up for him. He continued to work for the Schottensteins for a long time. He then went to work for Don’s on main Street, a great big store that he managed. After Don’s, he went to manage Value City on E. Main St.
Interviewer: What happened with Al through the years?
Cohen: There’s a lot more I could tell you about my life in Cuba and the United States, but it would be four hours. We had a smattering of it.
Interviewer: Maybe we’ll have another edition another time.
Cohen: During the interval before Value City, Al and I became good friends with Ruth and Harold Edelstein. This is where you come in, Naomi. You were the one that told me there was a gentleman that came and was born in Cuba and lived in Columbus. You gave him my name, and I remember that they came to see me right away.
Interviewer: That all happened at a party that Boots and Frank Nutis had when they lived on Broadleigh. I think it was Sukkos or something and we were all there. I kind of put the pieces of the puzzle together. Harold Edelstein and Sarita’s family.
Cohen: At that time we were renting on S. Virginia Lee. I remember when they showed up that he was so excited. He had me confused with another Sarita who was his contemporary. We started to talk. He left Cuba way before we did. His mother was an American, and his father was a Russian who lived in Cuba. My mother was good friends with his parents, which I did not know. By that time my mother had passed away when I was pregnant with Eddie. My mother’s story then continued on, but we have to do it another time.
Interviewer: That’s another bashert communion there with you and Harold Edelstein, and you remained friends.
Cohen: So anyway, the interesting thing with Harold is that when his mother came to visit, she couldn’t believe that she had met me because they left Cuba when my mother was pregnant with me. His mother, who was an American, was never happy in Cuba, but she was a friend of my mother.
Interviewer: What a coincidence and that you just happened to live in Columbus, Ohio.
Cohen: So we became good friends then. And that’s how I became good friends with you.
Interviewer: And I had a happy relationship with the Edelsteins and the Karmias.
Cohen: And that’s how we met the Cabakoffs, Florence and Izzy.
Interviewer: And Boots and Frank Nutis were all a part of our gang. So eventually Al got sick.
Cohen: When Al was working for Value City, he started not feeling well. He kept falling asleep and sleeping all the time. Unfortunately, he had a great deal of trust in a doctor. I kept telling him we should see another doctor. We should see someone else and get different opinions on why you are always so tired and sleepy. He said “No, no, no. He’s the best, etc.” I couldn’t convince him. I don’t want to mention the doctor’s name, but I couldn’t convince him that there was something wrong until finally, when he did go, they kept thinking it was a virus. He sent him then for a checkup with a kidney specialist. He took x-rays and they found that he did have a tumor in the kidney. They had to operate. At that time, I guess they didn’t realize it was cancerous. When they opened him up and realized it was cancer, but they did remove the kidney. But it didn’t work out. He never left the hospital. He was transferred there from Mt. Carmel East to Mt. Carmel West. It was three days from the time he was diagnosed until he passed away. What are you gonna do? You can’t blame doctors or start suing. He passed away in 1993. I think it was about a year later that Norm Cohen came into my life. I think I was in my early sixties then. The man really pursued me. Al had business dealings with him. He used to sell a lot to Schottensteins. He used to go into the stores and they would buy novelty items and rulers, etc. I knew him and his wife socially. I knew who they were. I didn’t know much about him or his family or anything like that. I guess he had ____ Advertising at the time. Al did know him because of the dealings they had when he bought merchandise from him for advertising purposes. I think I was at a funeral and his sister, Gladys Herwald, was sitting next to me. She said, “Can I make a date for you with my brother?” He was sitting next to me. And I said that I wasn’t really that interested. This was about a year after Al was gone. Well, I always kept running into him, and I guess then that he had the nerve to call me. His wife had died quite a few years before. He wanted to go out to dinner. I didn’t want to go, but my kids kept saying, “What have you got to lose? He’s a nice man. Go out to dinner.” It’s so amazing when I think back because at that time he was so old. He was about eighteen years older. It turned out that he was so nice. He had a young attitude about life. He was such a nice person that I kept thinking that he really was a nice man. We went together for about a year. I liked his family – his brothers and sisters. They were really very warm and very caring. So his relationship with his wife was a lot different than with me. We had fun, we traveled a lot together. He felt young. So we took a trip to Israel, our first trip together. We volunteered there. We got married in 1995 and he passed away in 2004.
Interviewer: I know he was crazy about you.
Cohen: We used to go for winters in Florida. I moved into his home. We had a lot of difficulty. I didn’t want to move into his home, and we looked for apartments. We went to Parkview but he didn’t like looking out over a garage at that time. We put a deposit at Park Hill before we got married. He wasn’t happy. If we did the house and got rid of the furniture, then I would be happy to move in there with him. I wanted to make it mine. So we remodeled and painted, etc. Then I became kosher. I couldn’t bring my dishes or glassware without koshering the whole thing, so I didn’t go in for that. It was a nice life.
Interviewer: You managed to make the conversion.
Cohen: It wasn’t so difficult. And then after a few years he died, but I still kept kosher. After that, I thought this is ridiculous for me. So I quit. I did get the house. I didn’t want to get thrown out of the house if I didn’t have it in my name. I was not very swift in realizing the laws and one of the ladies who was with us in Israel who had had a few husbands had said to me, “I don’t want you to get married to this man unless you have the house signed to you.” She said she was kicked out of the house from my second husband because it was in both names. But when the children came, they wanted me out of there. So she told me not to do anything unless you are properly taken care of.
Interviewer: You needed that protection.
Cohen: So we each had a pre-nuptial, but the house was signed to me. So then I realized how luck I was that she had given me the advice. When he spoke to his children, one of them suggested that I live there the rest of my life, and when I die, the house goes to them.
Interviewer: That’s not terribly unusual in a second marriage. And you had a lot of children in his family. I know you had a good relationship during that period of time. They all really loved you and they saw that their dad was happy.
Cohen: Absolutely. And I still have a good relationship with his doctor son in Atlanta.
Interviewer: We still have pieces to pick up from your family because you told us about your four children. Tell us about their status now.
Cohen: I’m very fortunate. Three of them live here in Columbus. My daughter married her first husband who was not Jewish. Neither is her second husband. His name was Phil Robertson and he lived in Utica, Ohio. At that time he had a lot of farms. Later he opened a trucking business and was very successful, buying, leasing and selling trucks. It has gotten to be a very large company. They had one son, Ethan Robertson. He had a wonderful education and went to Columbus Academy. When I moved out of my home to marry Norman, my daughter was in the process of a divorce. She asked if she could live in my home. I said that it would be a lot simpler moving into my house with her son. Until then, she didn’t live out on the farm. She used to go out to the farm, a prehistoric home. She lived in Westerville in a condo at Little Turtle. It was difficult because they lived apart and see each other on the weekends and in the middle of the week. I have a good relationship with my ex-son-in-law, and that is important because of my grandson. Quite a few years later after her divorce, my daughter met Ron Frazier, her current husband. They seem to have a very happy life, and that’s what’s important to me right now. They live in the condo and he retired. They also have a home in Florida. My grandson is getting married this year. He went to Ohio State (wanted to stay in Ohio). He was always interested in the business, so he graduated with a business degree from the Fisher School of Business and went to work with his father. He is there now and increased the business a great deal. He is engaged to Cory Kessler who is a pediatric nurse from Zanesville, Ohio. Everything rotates in things that are meant to be. Her parents own an electrical company. She graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a master’s degree in nursing. She loved pediatric nursing and she went to work in Washington, DC. From there, she came to take care of her maternal grandmother who was very ill because she was very close to her.
That’s why she moved back to Columbus, and that’s how they met online. When they went out, they found out that his father and her father and his brother did business together. Another tie. Anyway, they are very much in love and are getting married Labor Day weekend of this year. She is a lovely young woman. My son Billy never lived in Columbus after he finished Ohio State. Then he joined my little son Sidney, who was in the carnival business. Every summer Billy and Eddie would work with Sidney and they traveled all over the country.
Interviewer: Describe the carnival business he was in.
Cohen: Sidney started at the age of fifteen, although he claims he started at twelve. That’s not so. He and Bobby Aronson went and got jobs at the Ohio State Fair. My son Sidney fell in love with the carnivals. So he went to work for a gentleman and traveled with him after high school. He did not want to go to college at all. Then he went into his own business, which was the games at the state fair. He started his own business. Then my son Billy joined him. You know you have these stands at carnivals and people throw balls and knock over milk bottles and they get stuffed animals. He became very well known in the carnival business because he had all these concessions. They traveled all over the country. Then Eddie, during the summers while he was going to school, joined him also in the carnival business. They got a tremendous education seeing the United States. Then Eddie went to Kent State, and then he went to Franklin University also. It came a point then when they got tired of traveling so much with the carnival business. Sidney decided to sell the concessions that he had. A gentleman in Detroit offered him a position to come work for him as a salesman in selling the products you sell to carnival people, and cranes where you put the money in and try to get a stuffed animal. He went to work for him. He had a lot of connections with all the carnival people that he knew. It was an easier business to get into, knowing that you know these people because they wouldn’t have trusted a complete stranger. The company’s name was Silver, I believe. The woman who recommended that Sidney come work them had a daughter who lived in Phoenix, Arizona. Her name was Leslie Gadonky. They fell in love and got married in Columbus. Her parents didn’t want to make a wedding. The father was very ill with a heart problem. He didn’t attend the wedding at Temple Israel. They went back to Detroit and were going on their honeymoon when the father passed away. He remained in Detroit and established themselves there. They had beautiful homes that that had moved into. They had their two children in Detroit. One is Max and the youngest one is Sam. Sam is at Butler University and should be graduating next year. Max just graduated from Texas University. Both are in their twenties. Now Sidney lives in San Antonio, Texas. Sidney opened his own business. He had met people and he had a partner. They decided to open up a manufacturing business of stuffed animals. He opened up a big warehouse and goes to China, buys merchandise, designs merchandise that is more attractive for these carnival to be able to push in games, like Spiderman, Batman, etc. Max just graduated in business. I don’t know if he wants to go on for a master’s degree. Same wants to be a teacher. He is student teaching right now. They are very good looking boys and are very sweet. My son Billy was living in Texas and was working in Dallas with his good friend, David Turk. They had been friends since Columbus, went to Ohio State and were roommates. They worked for Haverty Furniture Company. He also worked in Baltimore, Ohio, for another furniture company. David’s mother had moved to Texas, so they decided to move there. While he was there, Al passed away. He didn’t want me to be in the house by myself. Eddie didn’t quite finish Franklin University, but he started to work at Value City in the furniture business as an assistant manager. They both decided they didn’t want me to be alone, so they moved to my house with me, which was wonderful for me. Even though they might be all night, at least I know somebody was in the house. Billy apparently had met Julie Grayson Rosenblum. They knew each other from school but had not paid attention to each other. Julie was in the process of a divorce. They then started going together after the divorce, and then he did marry her. She had three children from her previous marriage. The youngest son was eight when she married him. He is now twenty-four. She claims that it is longer that they have been married because they went together maybe four years. She considers it twenty years. They have a wonderful marriage, and she is a wonderful daughter-in-law. They are very happy together and have two wonderful daughters. Mollie just got married to a gentleman named Luke Croke. She is an interior designer here in Columbus. Beautiful and lovely. And Stephanie is a yoga instructor at a studio at a fabulous business. And then Ross just got a job as a bus driver. Billy and Julie live in Blacklick. They had two other homes before they moved to Blacklick, which are big homes. I think one was on Null Drive with a big pond. Then they moved to Windrush. You went to that home for my seventieth birthday parties. Do you remember? Everybody had to have a pocketbook from an early year.
Interviewer: We’ve been fortunate to have some good parties through the years. Good times.
Cohen: From there, they built a home in Blacklick. They entertain a great deal. Her parents are lovely people.
Interviewer: The Graysons are a very respectable family and warm-hearted. That is Pat and Elliott Grayson. Julie happens to be special and very much loved.
Cohen: Eddie was then working at Value City and Boots Nutis, who I knew as a friend, got her daughter Jodi, who had been living in Florida. She had been married and wanted a divorce and left him there. She came to Columbus and met my Eddie when she went furniture shopping with her parents. I’ll never forget. Eddie came home and said that he would really like Jodi Nutis’ phone number. She really is a cute girl. So I asked Boots for the phone number and she gave it to me. Eddie never called her. He was sitting in a bar with another girl and Jodi came over to him and liked him. That’s how their relationship started. Al passed away, unfortunately, before they got married so that he was never able to enjoy that. She had her own apartment. Maybe she was working for Nutis Press.
Interviewer: Both Eddie and Jodi have great personalities.
Cohen: They are both very outgoing with so many friends. She is a wonderful girl. A very caring daughter-in-law and also a person you can call if you need to go to a doctor. She would be right there to take care of you. Very loving and very much loved. In the meantime, they started going together. I think Jodi and Eddie got married before Billy and Julie got married. The first one to get married beside my Tina was Sidney. After that it was Jodi and Eddie who got married. That was a huge wedding. Much to my pleasure, they started keeping a kosher home which my son had to learn. My three boys all got bar mitzvahed at Temple Israel. They were consecrated there too. I had Reform background. I didn’t have Jewish background until I married and had children. That is when we joined a synagogue. So Eddie married Jodi Nutis and they established a home for themselves. They have three beautiful children. Alyssa is sixteen years old and goes to Torah Academy. Cameron and Jacob, twins, are fourteen. They went to Torah Academy until a year or two ago, and then they changed to Bexley. They are very happy there. They are like all teenagers. They are busy with sports. Eddie coaches the girls’ basketball team at Torah Academy. And he coached the boys’ basketball team at Torah Academy because he is always big and involved in sports. The kids are all very sports-minded. Alyssa is a wonderful basketball player. They got Cameron into golf and is a very good golfer on the school golf team. Jacob is into Lacrosse and track and field as a runner. They live around the corner from me.
Interviewer: You live in a compound, Sarita.
Cohen: You are right. Boots and Frank Nutis live next door to me (Jodi’s parents). Jodi and Eddie live around the corner from me. Amazing as it is, though, we see each other for holidays, etc. She said she doesn’t want me to ever call. Whenever I want to stop, stop over. Well, you’ve gotta see her car there or my son’s car. Otherwise nobody’s home. They are very busy. They are very involved with Beth Jacob and Ahavas Shalom. The children have a very good Jewish foundation. Especially Alyssa is more observant. I keep thinking that my grandfather would have been so pleased and so happy.
Interviewer: Well, Eddie sure blended right in with it.
Cohen: It is amazing to me when I got to Shabbos dinner that I hear him giving the prayers in Hebrew. I’m thinking that this is wonderful, a blessing. He does all the cooking for the synagogue to raise money for the basketball team or the baseball team. He is everywhere and very well-liked. My daughter-in-law Leslie has a lovely mother who lives in Florida. She has a brother and a sister, and it is nice to get to see them at happy events. I don’t go there that often. They will all be here for Ethan’s wedding. My daughter lives here, and that’s a blessing to me. It is so cute because now that I am living alone, she calls every single morning to make sure I am okay. My son Billy is exactly the same way. He has to check in and see that I am okay.
Interviewer: They are very caring.
Cohen: It was so funny because when we had that snowstorm with so much snow. In the early part of the evening when it wasn’t dark yet, there was a gentleman and his nephew cleaning the snow off the driveway for my neighbor. I called them over and asked them to do my driveway. So they did. Billy called me and I told him about this gentleman. I think it was during the Super Bowl. They wanted me to come over and I didn’t want to do that. They had a lot of company. I told him this man was cleaning my driveway. He started lecturing me about how can I let a stranger do this. You don’t know who they are, etc. I told him it was okay and not to worry. He said that the minute I pay him, you call me. I want to make sure you are okay. He is very caring, as is Tina. They all are. To my amazement, all three are such wonderful cooks. While they were growing up, I always did feel that they should know how to clean. One thing is that they always had to clean the house with me. Their rooms had to be neat. We would sit down for dinner every night as a family. No TV allowed at all in the kitchen. They learned how to cook and all three of them do the cooking at home. Eddie’s friends wanted to back him to open a kosher chicken store, fast food.
Interviewer: I jotted down notes here. I know there is a lot more you could tell and a lot of stories we could share together, but the thought had come to my mind a little while ago that talking about a family, there was a point that Al and you and the boys opened a deli. Let’s talk about the deli, and then we are going to start wrapping up. I know you have a lot more stories and I love listening to them.
Cohen: How it happened with the deli was that we were friends with Harold and Ruth Edelstein. He knew of Hepps’ Deli that was for sale. He talked Al into giving up the furniture business and opening up Hepps. Eddie was young. I used to work there and Eddie must have been about seven or eight years old. He was a good friend with Howie Brenner. Barbara and Jim Brenner were very close friends. Barbara would help me out by Eddie playing with Howie so I was able to work then. Eddie is now going to be fifty, so it was forty-some years ago. Harold then said that he would be an investor. He wanted us to open it up. He thought that Columbus would be ready for a deli. Al got all hepped up about it. Mrs. Hepp had Paul, who was a big help to her. He did some of the cooking for her. He was an African-American. We had to keep him on because we didn’t know anything about deli. Al went to New York to Katz’s Deli to see how they ran that. He decided to make it all delicatessen. No canned goods. Mrs. Hepp had all canned goods. There was the bread department. You could come in and have a sandwich and then could make trays. I learned how to make trays. There were two Cuban ladies who moved to Columbus when they started placing Cuban refugees in different cities. I became friends with both of them. They were both into designing. The trays were a lot different than they are today. They were very helpful to me. I paid them, but they showed me how to do it. I learned how to make chopped liver. To this day I can’t make a small amount because I made it in bunches. Same thing with potato salad, which was made fresh all the time and cole slaw. Then the boys had to work. They were in high school then. It was a difficult time because they went to school and then came to work. It was very difficult running it. And then we did trays. We were very busy with that. It was located on East Broad Street where the Torah Center is, between Broadleigh and Chesterfield. We got a lot of customers from Athens, Ohio, who would come and eat. Harry Wexner was a regular to come and eat practically every day. They would sit and kibbutz. My Al did not have the temperament for that kind of business. It is demanding, plus you really have to schmeer the people. He didn’t have the patience. You would make a tray for ten people, the minimum we would make a tray for. Maybe ten people would go in on that tray. Then if there were pickles left over, they would want to bring them back for a return. That doesn’t work in a restaurant. That would really upset him tremendously. People didn’t realize that even when have the bread, maybe you would only make a nickel on the bread. The profit was not great. And then we had difficulty with the rabbis because everything was kosher, the meat was kosher, the food we brought in from New York was kosher, they had barrels of pickles that were kosher. But they wanted the mashciach to be there. We didn’t have that kind of money to have the mashciach stand there.
Interviewer: Did you have dairy products there? Blintzes?
Cohen: No, it was strictly lox, corned beef and pastrami and cole slaw, potato salad, etc. It was things people would buy for the home. It was amazing to me because at that time the Jewish people would come in and ask for a “beagle” instead of a bagel. You were not exposed to that kind of food at that time.
Interviewer: When Block’s came to town, that opened a whole different thing.
Cohen: And when _______ came into town with the breads and all, it was a different thing. But at the time that we had the deli, you didn’t have that. Everything had to be brought in then. The rabbis would not allow us to take trays into the synagogues at all because we didn’t have a mashciach who would supervise dietary laws. But people would buy trays. We were very busy during the holidays. It was difficult for me because I had to work there, not all day, but I had to come in and prepare the food. That’s why I don’t like cooking now, making potato salad, cole slaw, etc.
Interviewer: But you still have family to be concerned with.
Cohen: It was difficult because Eddie was so young. Sidney and Billy worked there. I think that kind of business at that time, too, had to be a family business. You couldn’t hire anyone to come in because you would lose money. The rent became very expensive.
Interviewer: How long were you in that business?
Cohen: I think we were in that business maybe three years.
Interviewer: What was the name of it?
Cohen: Al’s Deli. Maybe it was four years.
Interviewer: Well, I remember it with fondness.
Cohen: A lot of people do. A few of the old timers remember. It was a hard business and demanding. It was hard for me working in the back. Very small back kitchen that we had. I think if the children had been older it would have been a lot easier and taken some of the pressure off of Al. After he left that business, he became a salesman at Schottenstein’s. He did not go back to managing.
Interviewer: You know, Sarita, I’ve really thoroughly enjoyed this and hope you have too. Again, I know there are a lot more things we can talk about. But in all fairness to you, I think we will start wrapping up.
Cohen: I think the only thing I can say about it, Naomi, is that as I grew older, I realize the sadness in my mother’s life and my father’s life and how things could have been so different for my brother. Again, it could be fate because we would have never come to the United States, we would have been in Puerto Rico. Our lives would have been different.
Interviewer: But I see how you are attached to so many family members out of town. Your friendships here in Columbus are like family. I can speak for that. Maybe it made you stronger in some ways.
Cohen: Thank you. That is true. I realize how naïve I was and how young. Your mind is different when you are young. But it worked for me anyway.
Interviewer: Thank God your kids saw what you went through, and that’s why they are so caring to you, too.
Cohen: I am very blessed in that respect. At least I have three of my children here. So when you wrap up the lives, sometimes you wonder how things in life have changed for a person.
Interviewer: That’s kind of like I try to go to the end of our interview by asking your feelings about your life ahead and what your life was like in the past. I think you have pretty much expressed that.
Cohen: I am very content. I have to say that. I’ve really not regretted anything that has happened in my life. Maybe if I had done things differently. But you can’t change life. I’ve been blessed with children that are wonderful, and I’ve been blessed with wonderful daughters-in-law and grandchildren. What is more to life than to see your life continue?
Interviewer: On behalf of the Columbus Jewish Historical Society and your friends and family, I want to thank you for the time we spent this afternoon.
Cohen: Thank you. I hope my children will be able to hear it.
Transcribed by Phyllis Komerofsky on August 30, 2013.