Interviewer: This interview for the Columbus Jewish Historical Society is being recorded on June 22, 2017 as part of the Columbus Jewish Historical Society Oral History project. The interview is being recorded at the Melton Center. My name is Flo Gurwin and I am interviewing Seymour Raiz.
Interviewer: Seymour, what is your full name?
Raiz: Seymour Eli Raiz, Schmuel Eli.
Interviewer: I was just going to ask you what your Jewish name was. Who were you named for?
Raiz: I was named for my uncle, my father’s oldest brother. He was the first in the family to come to the United States. He came just before World War I. He moved to Galveston, Texas, I believe, which is where there were some cousins. He immediately became involved, had a job, stayed with the family and then World War I broke out. I’m going to tell you this because, believe it or not, there’s an ending to it which is kind of interesting. He wanted to prove what a patriot he was even though he hadn’t been in the United States so long so he enlisted in the army, I guess it was a Texas regiment, and fought in France where he was killed. He was killed outside of Verdun which is where a very famous battle, a series of battles in World War I (were fought). Fast forward, Seymour, later his namesake, was drafted into the army during the 50’s when they drafted people.
Interviewer: That is you?
Raiz: That is Seymour Raiz. Where was I stationed? Verdun, France. As soon as my father learned that that was where I was going, he asked me please to get a photograph of his brother’s grave and tombstone. Of course I said I would. Shortly after I arrived there I went to an office called Graves Registration. They directed me to the one of many cemeteries that just abounded in that area and I checked in there, gave them his name, looked it up, and they said “I’m sorry but there is no single grave for him. There were so many thousands of soldiers killed, French, American, German, British that in many cases the bodies were all interred and there was no way of getting identification. In his case if you go to this chapel, they gave me the directions, you’ll find a plaque on the wall that lists his name and his company and you can see that and you can take a photograph of that.” Of course, I was shocked and very disheartened but I went to this little chapel and surely, indeed, I found what the person described was on the wall, many, actually, plaques. There was one for his outfit and his name was listed and I took the photograph and I sent it back to my father with an explanation. Of course, you can understand the reception it got. My father was terribly upset but there was nothing he could do. I’m sorry there’s a long story about really a Jewish thing I think. This Jewish boy from Vilna in Lithuania wanted to prove that he was an American so he enlisted in the army and this is what happened and then I was named after him.
Interviewer: The name Raiz, does it have another origin?
Raiz: No, not as far as I know. Indeed his name on the plaque, it may have been spelled a little differently but it was pronounced either Raiz or Reiz. I have an uncle, my father’s youngest brother, who after World War II, the only one in the family who survived, made his way along with his wife and son from a displaced persons camp and they emigrated to Canada. Their name was spelled, and again I don’t know if it was by the customs person, or the immigration person, or the way they spelled it. He spelled it Reis and gave it a harder sound Reis rather then Raiz. As far as I know, that’s the only deviation.
Interviewer: Tell me about your parents. You were born, I remember you once told me you were born in New York.
Raiz: Yes. My parents made their roundabout way there in a strange way. My father, kind of like his older brother, wanted to be in the army and this was World War I. He was still in Europe, of course. He enlisted in the Czar’s army, the Russian army, to fight the Germans. Because he was Jewish, they did not want to let him in battle. There were two reasons for that. One, the Jews were among the few in the army who were literate and they liked to use them in offices and in headquarters. The other was they thought that Jews couldn’t fight. My father was frankly kind of a roughneck. He said, “I want to fight. I don’t want to work in an office,” and blah, blah, blah. So they sort of said, “Okay, big shot,” And they assigned him to what was in essence was a commando unit where the fatalities were very high. Sure enough, it wasn’t long before he was wounded and came back to a hospital, recovered, and then they said, “Okay now we’re going to put you in an office.” He said, “No, I want to go back to battle.” So he went a second time and, wounded a second time, recovered from that, and then a more sinister thing happened. Again, because of the Jewish component. In his company was a sergeant who was a vicious anti-Semite and he used to make my father’s life miserable.
It finally reached a breaking point for my father one late afternoon and he turned on this sergeant and almost killed him. He was down on the ground and my father was just pummeling him.
Of course, other soldiers came running and they pulled him off. My father, very quickly, was sent to be executed the next morning because in combat you do not attack a superior officer. Although the sergeant was not really an officer, he was still in command of the privates. My father was going to be executed the next morning. As it happened, there was an officer who for some reason had admired my father. So that evening he very quickly had them draw up orders for my father transferring him to a far away unit in Siberia, and he got him on a train that night. That way my father escaped execution and he ended up in the Russian army in Siberia. Well, again I think this is part of the Jewish story in those days. When the war ended, there he was up in Siberia right near the Chinese border, as a matter of fact, in a unit. Shortly after the war ended, of course, came the revolution. Here they were, soldiers in what used to be the Czar’s army, and there was no more Czar and there was no more government. So they are stranded there, no food, no money, nothing. They decided the only way they could survive was to try to make their way across China to Vladivostok which was the Russian port on the Pacific Ocean but it was a long way away. It took them a year and the way they did it was they went from province to province and in each province they hired out to the war lord as mercenaries. They did their thing and said, “Okay we’re moving on.” It took them a year and they got to Vladivostok. That’s why my father was one of the few European Jews who emigrated to the United States across the Pacific Ocean rather than the Atlantic Ocean where almost all of the Jews came through because they were from Europe. Anyway, you asked about my mother and father. He also went to Galveston, couldn’t manage it at all, didn’t like it. He had another cousin, a second cousin, in New York City, in the Bronx so he went there. The only job he did get, semi-skilled, was as a house painter which he took. Meantime, my mother, also from Vilna, but she was much younger than my father, something like seven or eight years. She knew him. They were from the same neighborhood but he didn’t know her. He was much older. She was a little girl and admired him and his brothers. He didn’t want to know from her. They met at a Vilna reunion. As you may know and as many people know, in those days almost all of the immigrant groups had their clubs. They went there to feel reinforced and supported and of course to speak the old language. They met there. “Oh you’re from Vilna, I don’t remember you.” Long story short, they got married and they had three children. I was the youngest of the three and I was born, of all times in 1933 which was the Depression. I wasn’t exactly welcome.
Interviewer: You had brothers and sisters?
Raiz: Older brother, older sister. My older brother was eight years older. My older sister was six years older.
Interviewer: What are their names?
Raiz: My older brother was Bernard, Bernie, and my older sister was Muriel.
Interviewer: You had said your father was a house painter and I know he had brothers or sisters.
Raiz: Yes. They were all in Europe. He was the second and only one from the family who came to the United States before World War II. He came, as did my mother, right after World War I.
Interviewer: What were their names?
Raiz: Whose names?
Interviewer: The brothers?
Raiz: I have no idea. It was a large family. The father was Orthodox. He was a tailor.
Interviewer: Do you know his name?
Raiz: No. I should but I don’t. I never knew either of my grandparents, again because of the Holocaust. He was, I don’t know the names of the siblings either but I know there were several.
Interviewer: Did they survive the Holocaust?
Raiz: The only one who survived was that youngest brother whom I described to you and his is another Jewish story. He grew up in Vilna. Shortly before World War II broke out, he was a businessman, a merchant, he started the first and only, I guess you’d call it a department store in Vilna. It was downtown and it was the first one that had a fixed price. You didn’t go in and haggle, bargain. There was a price on everything and that’s what you paid and there was no discussion. For some reason it became very successful. He did well. Most of the family worked there, the brothers and the sisters and the aunts and uncles. Then World War II broke out. Before World War II really got going, the Russians invaded Lithuania and took over Vilna and some of the other cities. My uncle, my father’s brother, was deemed to be a capitalist because he owned a business and he was making money from it. He and his wife and little boy, five years old, were exiled to labor camps in Siberia. They were sent to different camps, had no idea where the others were. That’s where they spent World War II but ironically this is what saved their lives. Everybody else in the family who remained behind in Vilna was killed during the Holocaust. They were all sent to the camps. Because he was Jewish and a capitalist, he was exiled, his life was saved as was that of his wife and child. After the war, the Red Cross somehow was able to bring them together. As I told you earlier, they emigrated to Canada where he ultimately somehow worked his way up, owned a clothing factory. He did very, very well. His son became a lawyer, a very successful lawyer. He sort of lived happily ever after. I owe it to my mother to tell you a little bit about her immigration because that too was a Jewish story. It was a story you would see so often in the pages of the Forward where they had the ‘Bintel Briefs.’ They people would write in and say what shall I do, I have this problem. My mother was one of four or five children. She was one of three daughters. She was the middle and they had two brothers. During World War I, shortly before World War I their father emigrated to the United States and said, “I’m going to go there and relatives I’m going to send for you as soon as I get myself established.” Never sent for them. World War I broke out and there they were. The mother had no source of income so she somehow got a hold of little things and went out in the streets to sell them. That’s how she eked out just barely enough for them to survive except they didn’t all survive. The mother would bring home a little bit of food, a potato and this or that, and she would give it to the girls. The girls said didn’t you, “I ate, I ate.” She died of starvation. The girls were left orphaned and somehow they made it through the end of World War I. After World War I then the quintessential Jewish story. They somehow got word through a relative to an aunt in the United States. She was the sister of their renegade father, who by the way became married even though he had a wife and children in Vilna. She, the sister felt so guilty at what her brother had done and she sent them money to buy fare on a ship to come to the United States. That is exactly what they did. They were down on the lowest level, of course, on the ship but they made it to the United States and when they somehow processed thru Ellis Island without a problem, this aunt and her husband were there to meet them and to take them to her home. Then they just began the usual immigrant odyssey and I think they all became seamstresses and made their way. They each got married and you know part of the rest. I warned you with all of that because I think it’s important for people in the future to know what their forebears went thru in those days.
Interviewer: Do you know what port they came from when they entered the United States?
Raiz: I do not.
Interviewer: That was your mother?
Raiz: That was my mother.
Interviewer: She came with her three sisters. What ever happened to the brothers?
Raiz: She came with two sisters, three sisters all together. The one brother also came and the other, I think, was lost in the Holocaust, later on. The one brother who came though, interestingly, had a beautiful singing voice. Not too long after he arrived, he auditioned and was accepted into the chorus of the Metropolitan Opera. He didn’t sing solo but he was in the chorus. He later became, his occupation was I think they call it dental technician. He made false teeth. His daughter became an accomplished musician and for all of her career she taught music in the New York Public Schools.
Interviewer: What was your mother’s name, her full name?
Raiz: Sarah Hannah Horowitz.
Interviewer: That was her maiden name?
Interviewer: What was your father’s name?
Raiz: Israel Harry Raiz. He was always known as Harry.
Interviewer: They both came from Vilna, now called Vilnius?
Interviewer: Did you ever hear of any stories your mother or father told when they were young in Europe, any stories, family stories?
Raiz: Yeah, but they’re not happy stories because they lived in a ghetto and were very poor. One story my mother tells, again that’s the way people lived in those days, was my mother, when she was I think an early teenager, was sent to do one of the chores. She had to go to this central place to get hot water for cooking or for whatever they needed in the house because they didn’t have hot water, of course, and no way to heat water. So she went with whatever receptacle she used and it was winter time. She was on her way back and she slipped on the ice and poured this water on her. Of course, there was no money for doctors so they got her home and she had a terrible recovery and she told about how her brother, the singer, always tried to help her. He spent a lot of time with her. He’d sing with her and try to keep her spirits up. She survived however she was scarred. My father was a different story. We didn’t know this until we met his younger brother after he emigrated to Canada.
Interviewer: What was his name?
Raiz: Samach. He told us, and my father just sat there, that my father was a roughneck and to such an extent, I ought to say first that my father, physically he was short but he was extremely strong and very well built, very muscular not like a lot of the Jews, if I may say, and was a troublemaker. At night, when most of the Jews in the Ghetto locked their doors and their shutters to make sure that the goyim didn’t come in and beat them up, my father would sneak out and he would look for goyim to beat up.
Interviewer: Goyim being non-Jews?
Raiz: Yes. That’s the story I know. I also know that when he was about 15, 16 his father finally couldn’t handle him and threw up his hands and sent him to live with a relative in Germany. I think it was Leipzig, I’m not sure, where he spent a year or two and then the war broke out and he came back to Russia where he was in the Russian army, as I told you. So that was a story I know from my parents in Vilna.
Interviewer: You had an uncle or an aunt who lived in Canada, an uncle?
Raiz: This is the one I just described, the youngest brother.
Interviewer: Where in Canada did he live?
Raiz: Montreal, where there were many Jews. He lived there till his death and his wife’s death.
Interviewer: Is there any family left in Canada?
Raiz: The son unfortunately died prematurely, died very much like his father. He was found dead on the couch. He was in his 50’s, very prematurely. Of all ironies, he had been, at that time we lived in Columbus. He had been in Cleveland for my son’s wedding, he and his wife, the week before he died. He and I were very close over the years. He was a wonderful young man.
Interviewer: Okay, do you know the names of your grandparents?
Raiz: No. I never knew them. My paternal grandfather was killed in the Holocaust and as I said, the rogue grandfather, I never heard. The family wanted nothing to do with him. When they finally got to New York, the sisters, they did not even invite him to my Bris. I think you can understand why.
Interviewer: Yes. Do you have brothers and sisters?
Raiz: Oh yeah. I have an older brother who is 92. He made Aliyah shortly after he retired, he and his wife, and he’s lived in Jerusalem ever since.
Interviewer: What’s his name?
Raiz: His name is Bernard. My sister unfortunately passed away. She lived in Cleveland.
Interviewer: What was her name?
Interviewer: Tell me about you going to school. You were raised in, well you were born in New York in the Bronx?
Raiz: Yes in the Bronx in a tenement which is a charitable way to describe it. It was an immigrant neighborhood. Everybody was poor. There were many Jews from Europe but there were also many Italians, many Eastern Europeans, Russian, Slovenians, Latvians. In our building they were all represented although I would say probably more Jews than the other groups. We lived in three rooms on the second floor, obviously no elevator. The three children lived in the one bedroom. My mother and father slept in the so-called living room on a fold out couch. There was a tiny kitchen and a bathroom and that was it. Of course, everybody did have, I think, an ice box. It wasn’t a refrigerator. It was one that took ice. Of course, a stove and we had hot and cold running cockroaches which my mother could never solve much as she tried. The laundry she washed somehow inside and then there were ropes out in the, the building was u-shaped, and there was a rope from a pulley just outside our window across to the apartment on the other side. That’s where you would hang your clothes. If you were down in the courtyard and looked up, all you saw was a sea of clothing because there were these ropes crisscrossing all the way across this courtyard. That was the way we lived. When I was very young I would play down in the courtyard where there were always mothers and they always looked after all of the children to such a degree. You have to understand that most of them came from a shtetl someplace in Europe and most of the shtetls were dark and they lived places where the sun didn’t come thru and a lot of kids died of resulting diseases, Tuberculosis, etc.. Why do I tell you this? My closest friend with whom I played, a little boy, and I was a little boy, the child with whom I played in the courtyard was named Phillip Berkowitz. His brother was Jordan Berkowitz and his apartment also overlooked the courtyard, as did ours. Ten times a day his mother would stick her head out of the window and yell down, “Philly face the sun.” (Laughs) Early in my newspaper career when I was going to write the world’s great novel about the Bronx, I was going to call it ‘Philly Face the Sun.’
Interviewer: I love that name. Tell me, how old were you when you left? Your father was a painter there and your mother was a seamstress.
Raiz: Yes, then she wasn’t because she had three kids at home. The reason we moved and for my mother was like the world was coming to an end. The reason we moved was that my father who I’ll tell you now was a real left winger as were so many of the Jews in Vilna. Vilna was then the center of the Jewish diaspora not only to secular Jews but to religious Jews. The famous Vilna rabbi was operating at that time. My father was a left winger and it was natural then when some painters decided hey we have to form a union. They’re really treating us like slaves, etc. So my father was one of the pioneers and he would walk the picket line. What happened though was those early rabble-rousers, if you want to call them that, were blacklisted by all of the contractors in New York City. They had a list of them and they were not to be hired so my father could not find a job. This was already late in those early 40’s before World War II. I want to come back to something in a moment. Fortunately, he had a friend in Cleveland whom he wrote to. The friend said, “I can get you a job here as a painter. Come on out.” So, we moved to Cleveland. My mother thought it was the end of the world. She didn’t think there was any civilization west of the Hudson River. She was leaving her sisters, etc., she was just beside herself, but we resettled in Cleveland. I want to go back to something though. Again, it’s both a Jewish, an immigrant, and an American story. We were so poor and by the way I’ve got to tell how I learned this. My mother’s younger sister, aunt Rae, tante Rae, we would bring to Columbus once a year to visit. We would send her tickets, etc.. This one year she came and the kids would always ask her questions about their father. What was he like? Was he this? Was he that? They wanted gossip. I’ll never forget, one evening we we’re sitting there and they asked for the usual stories. Understand that we were sitting in this suburban Bexley home. There were three bicycles out in the driveway, two cars in the garage, and it was, you know, a pretty good life for these kids. Anyway, she’s telling them, “Well I remember when they brought your father home from the charity ward in the hospital, the Bronx hospital, and I was there. In the corner of their little living room was a large cardboard box.” The kids are sitting there looking at her and wondering where this is going. She said they opened the box, and in the box which came from, I don’t remember the official name, it was The Department of Welfare or Health or something in the City of New York. They sent this out to impoverished people who had babies. In the box were diapers, bottles, formula, the kinds of very basic things that you’ would need for a newly born infant that most of the immigrants could not afford. Of course, my parents were just beside themselves having this. This is my aunt describing this. Then she said, “And do you know what your father’s crib was?” Yeah, they’re wondering. They said, “No.” She said, “It was that empty cardboard box.” Of course, they looked at each other, they looked down at the floor, and then they sort of peeked at me and didn’t know what to say.
Interviewer: Interesting, that bothered them.
Raiz: Of course. it did. At that time, in the United States, the term welfare had a real stigma. Oh my god, my grandparents were on welfare. Oh my god.
Interviewer: But it was also during the Depression.
Raiz: That’s right. This was 1933. Now we’re talking about the 1970s.
Interviewer: Tell me, now let’s fast forward again. Now you’re living in Cleveland and where did you go to school in Cleveland?
Raiz: I went to school, I was in the fifth grade when we moved, went to Robert Fulton Elementary School. This was off of Kinsman in a heavily Jewish neighborhood. Although again, there were many other immigrant groups, Italian, Slovenian, Asians. Then I went to Alexander Hamilton Junior High School. Then I went to John Adams High School. You smile, because I know that you went to Glenville. Glenville was almost completely Jewish. John Adams was different and I’ll tell you about that in a moment. The Jews in John Adams made fun of Glenville where all the Jews were. Our favorite joke was that the Glenville marching band was made up of 99 violins and a piano.
Interviewer: (laughs) Probably true.
Raiz: John Adams was a school that almost could have been planned by a sociologist with a slide rule, 20% was Jewish; 20% was Italian; 20% was Eastern European, Hungarians, Slovenians, etc.; 20% was Black; and the other 20%, whatever you want to call them, a mixture. Almost all of the Jews, Italians and Eastern Europeans were first generation. Almost all of their parents were immigrants and were coping with the language, coping with jobs, coping with this whole business of assimilating in a new culture, a new society. In fact, my mother went to night school to learn English. The night school was at Alexander Hamilton where I had gone to junior high school. By that time, I was in John Adams. In one of those strange little ways that fate works, the month that I graduated from John Adams my mother also graduated from her night school, from Alexander Hamilton. Our family, of course, went to Alexander Hamilton for the graduation ceremony. They called my mother’s name and, of course, she went up. The man who was principal of the night school was the assistant principal at John Adams, a nice man who knew everybody, had been there forever. When he called her name and she came up, he said to her, “By any chance, you’re not related to Seymour Raiz, are you?”She said, “Yes, he’s out there.” He looks out and sees me and waves to me and says, “Well you should be very proud. He was one of our best students and he belonged to this and belonged to that, was president of this and president of that.” Of course, my mother just kvelled and didn’t know what to say. He made this big fuss and she was just so thrilled to be singled out and then came back to her seat.
Interviewer: It’s a good story. Tell me what happened after you graduated from John Adams.
Raiz: I graduated early. I was 17. I skipped half a year and I won a half scholarship, which is the most they would give, to Western Reserve University which today is Case Western Reserve because Western Reserve merged with Case which was right next door on Euclid Avenue. I got a scholarship for the first year, half a scholarship although we had to pay for the other half. Tuition was very tough there. I did not have my scholarship for the rest of my time there. I knew my parents just couldn’t handle it. It was hard enough for them to do half. They just could not handle the whole. So, I decided I was “going to work my way” thru college. The first summer I went to work in a factory, a factory called Tamko Thompson Products where I worked on an assembly line. I worked the whole summer and then when school started I was fortunately able to switch to the second shift. I was working first shift during the day. Second shift was 3:00 to ll:00. So for the rest of the second year in college I worked full time, 40 hours a week, Monday thru Friday, 3:00 to 11:00 and took a full load during the day at Western Reserve. In those days there wasn’t this business of well, I’ll take three courses and maybe so it will take me five or six years to graduate. You didn’t do that in those days. You took a full load and you graduated in four years. Then, in the summer between my second year in college and my third, I was able to get a job in the field where I wanted to make my career. I was in the newspaper business. I got a job as an office boy. They call them copy boys. I worked there.
Raiz: At the Cleveland Press which was the afternoon paper and at that time was one of the largest papers in the country. Time Magazine named it one of the top ten newspapers in the country. In those days the afternoon papers were the strong ones. The morning papers were not.
Interviewer: There were three papers I believe?
Raiz: Yes, the Press, the News, and the Plain Dealer. The News was the afternoon paper which tried to compete with us but we frankly outsold them by a multiple. The morning paper was the Plain Dealer which owned the News. Anyway I got a job as a copy boy during the summer and then, fortunately my mazel, they also had three shifts of copy boys at the Cleveland Press so I took a job as a 4:00 to midnight copy boy. Just as I did with the factory, I took a full load during the day and I worked 4:00 to midnight at night. Then the following summer I switched to days during the summer and in my senior year the same thing. I went back to 4:00 to midnight. That’s the way I got my way thru college. I worked full time in the evenings, night, for my second, third and fourth years and I graduated. When I graduated they immediately made me a reporter because I’d certainly put in my time 2 ½ years as a copy boy.
Interviewer: What kind of reporting did you do when you were there?
Raiz: When you began you were what they call general assignment. You did anything that had to be done. They’d start you off on stories that weren’t very difficult or major. My job started at 6:30 in the morning. I was actually the first reporter in, along with the first photographer. We would go on whatever the important story was over the night that the Plain Dealer did not have, the morning paper. They were almost always police stories, three-car accident, two people killed, terrible fire, this or that. That’s what I did. Then during the day they would send me out on whatever popped up or generally needed to be done. I did that for a year when suddenly the Selective Service remembered that I hadn’t been in the army yet. In those days everybody was drafted, universal military training. They would get you right after high school unless you went to college. They would defer you through college and then get you when you graduated. Well it took them a year after I graduated from college to remember Seymour owes them. So I was drafted for two years.
Interviewer: Where did you serve?
Raiz: I served, as I mentioned earlier, in Verdun, France, where I was a clerk. My mazel, I was able to bring my wife over. We had been married for about a year when I was drafted. We were married as soon as I graduated from college. I had a job with the Press, saw no reason to wait. We were going together and then engaged for some time so we got married.
Interviewer: Let’s go back. Tell me about your wife. How did you meet?
Raiz: The first time we met was at a house party. She was with somebody else, I was with somebody else. We just barely knew each other. The next time we met though, it was a little different. In those days, over July 4th, all of the college kids, not all of them, many of the college kids in Cleveland, especially the Jewish college kids, I have no idea how or why, went to Cedar Point which was an amusement park and a resort on Lake Erie. Nobody had the money to go to Hilton Head or wherever the kids go now for spring break or summer. Anyway, this was over spring break and we were out there. I went with a friend. We didn’t have enough money for a room so we slept in his car in the parking lot and during the day we were out on the beach with all the other kids. Marlene was there with some friends. Four of them shared one hotel room. I saw her on the beach and, real cool, just casually said hello and said hello more each day. I was there for I think three days. Then, when we got back to Cleveland, I knew that I wanted to take her out. This is not a very nice story. I did not have her telephone number and her name was Markowitz. I looked in the telephone directory and there were 20 Markowitzs. I had no idea how to reach her so I called one of her roommates whom I knew and whose telephone number I did have. I made up this maise, this story, about having left my tee shirt in her room. I hadn’t left it, Marlene had borrowed it and I guess she must have kept it or left it in the room and I wanted it back and could she give me Marlene’s telephone number because I tried to find it and I couldn’t. She said, “Oh sure” and she gave me the telephone number. She said, “Oh by the way Seymour, didn’t you say we were going to go out?” “Yeah, yeah, I’ll call you very soon.” Well, nasty me, I never did. I called Marlene and that was the beginning of the story.
Interviewer: That’s a nice story.
Raiz: Well not so nice.
Interviewer: Well it could have been worse. Okay, you started to date. You were telling me a story the last time we spoke about how when you were dating and then you got married and you got a job offer. This was, I guess, after you came back from the Service. You were working in Cleveland.
Raiz: Yeah. That was 25 years. I was at the Cleveland Press for 25 years. I worked my way up.
Interviewer: Let me ask you first. How long were you in the Service, 2 years?
Raiz: Two years, in those days the requirement was that you served two years of active duty and two years of what they called active reserves which meant you go to a meeting or practice once a week and for two weeks every summer you had to go away to an army camp. I did that for two years. The unit it was in, in the Reserves, was of all things a psychological warfare unit. Anyway, I was at the Press for 25 years including my two years in the army for which they gave me credit at the Press which I thought was very nice. Then I was given an offer to come to Columbus as managing editor of the Citizen Journal which was the morning paper. It was also a sister paper of the Cleveland Press. They were both owned by the Scripps Howard chain which had papers all over the country. They tried to promote from within. The man who was the editor and who offered me the job in Columbus had been the managing editor at the Cleveland Press and we worked together for 25 years although he was always a level above me. He called me one day and said, “Seymour I need you. You’ve got to come down here, blah, blah, blah.” I was very hesitant. He said, “At least give me a chance. Come down and look at it and see what it’s like and bring your wife, etc.” I figured I owed it to myself to at least go down. So we drove down and visited the paper and Marlene had a cousin who lived here. She had spoken with them. Anyway, I was still kind of torn but the summary looked pretty interesting. I will never forget when we were getting ready to go back, my car would not start and I didn’t know what to do so we called her cousin. Her cousin offered to pick us up and take us to the bus station, the Greyhound bus station, and he would arrange to have my car towed and fixed. Then I could come back down and get the car. So, all of this happened and we’re in the Greyhound station. We’re standing in line waiting to get on to the bus. Marlene is standing behind me. I hear someone and I turn around. My poor wife was crying. I said, “What’s the matter?” She said, “Look what they’re bringing us to. I can’t believe this.” We got back to Cleveland and we talked some more, more and more. We finally decided that for my career I had to make this move because there was a tremendous difference, not necessarily in salary because the Press is a much bigger paper than the Citizen Journal, but I would be moving up into what they call management which meant I would get a management pension when I retired which was a multiple of what I would get if I remained a reporter and retired from the Cleveland Press. We didn’t know where it would lead me. Maybe some day I would be an editor. Anyway, we made the move. Our kids, of course were distraught. My oldest child, my daughter, fortunately for her had just graduated and she was going off to college.
Interviewer: What’s her name?
Raiz: Her name is Lisa. The other two were still in school.
Interviewer: What are their names?
Raiz: Michael was the second and he was a sophomore in high school.Danny was the youngest and he was a fifth grader.
Interviewer: What schools were they going to when they were living in Cleveland?
Raiz: Danny, the youngest, went to Maryland. We were in north Bexley.
Interviewer: I said in Cleveland.
Raiz: I’m sorry I thought you said Columbus. We were in University Heights then. Danny went to, I’m blanking, it was an elementary school on Fenwick. Michael went to, I can’t remember the names of these schools. It was a long time ago. He went to the junior high school.
Interviewer: Marlene was originally from Cleveland.
Raiz: Yes. She was born and grew up first on Kinsman where I did. Her father was a carpenter, built the house in University Heights. He somehow bought a lot and he built the house. She grew up there.
Interviewer: She went to Heights High?
Raiz: She went to Heights High and Roosevelt Junior High.
Interviewer: So, then you moved to Columbus and the kids didn’t want to move. They were not so thrilled because they had friends in Cleveland.
Raiz: Of course, they’d grown up there. Fortunately, Michael is a wrestler, the older one, so he got onto the wrestling team right away and that gave him a ready-made group of friends.
Interviewer: What school was that?
Raiz: That was again, junior high school. They had a wrestling team in the junior high school.
Interviewer: Do you know what school it was?
Raiz: Oh here, yeah it was where Cassingham and the high school are. I don’t know what it’s called. Montrose was an elementary school. That’s where Danny went. I remember that, Danny went to Montrose and Michael went to the junior high school. I don’t think it had a name. It was the Bexley junior high school. He went on to Bexley high school where he was also on the wrestling team. By then he had friends and life was okay.
Interviewer: And Marlene was okay too?
Raiz: Yeah, as soon as Danny moved on to junior high school, Marlene began working. Her first job was as an occupational therapist at Lutheran City Center which then was a, still a home for senior citizens. That was something she had begun in Cleveland. She worked at a nursing home in Cleveland. It was a nursing home that was sort of an adjunct of Case Western Reserve, University Hospitals I should say. There she was an occupational therapist so she got the job in the Lutheran Senior City, worked there for a few years and then got a job at the JCC. She started as a secretary. Alan Finkelstein, who was the director, I guess saw something in her that he liked and he thought was very promising. She at that time was a secretary to the senior adult division. The director left and he made Marlene into the director. It was a job she held for 15, 18 years.
Interviewer: I remember her there.
Raiz: She really built that program, including a travel program which was probably the most successful that she operated. It took senior citizens literally all over the world. They would go on cruises to the Mediterranean or to the north, to the Baltic and North Sea and the Caribbean and we took land trips. We took a land trip to Italy, of course, trips here in the United States too. They were all very successful. In fact, she took a group, sold out, to Alaska on a cruise. When she came back, they were raving so much that people wanted to know more so she booked a second one and filled that and took them to Alaska. It did very well. Then after 20 years at the Center, she decided that she wanted to go into the catering business. She and the wife of the director of the Center at that time, Elana Dinkin, they decided to go out on their own. They started off baking. They would bake just Kosher. They used the Kosher kitchen at Tifereth. Both our family and Elana’s family belonged to Tifereth. First they made all of the baked goods for the weekly kiddish after Services. Soon, they were also making the food, the tuna fish, blintzes, everything. From there they branched out to catering kosher dinners and graduation parties and everything and they would still use the kitchen at Tifereth. She did that till her health got to the point where she couldn’t do it anymore.
Interviewer: Tell me about you again. Let’s go back to when you were at the CJ (Citizen Journal).
Raiz: Well, I was at the CJ for eight years. Then in 1985 something called the Joint Operating Agreement which was a contract between the Citizen Journal and the Dispatch was expiring. It was a 25-year contract which the government had developed because some papers were beginning to close and they figured that if they could have an economy of scale and two papers use the same printing presses and the same printers and the same advertising people, they could both save money and they could survive. So we didn’t move into, we were in the Dispatch building, their printing presses, their what’s called the composing room where they put their paper together, and of course, the editorial department. Well, we were beginning to really soar. Our circulation was really growing and, as was the case with afternoon papers all over the country, the Dispatch’s paper was declining. So, the Dispatch announced that it was not going renew the contract, which meant we had no home anymore. Scripps Howard thought it was just a negotiating ploy by the Dispatch because they wanted a larger part of the pie because it was a joint operation. That was not the case. At the end, Scripps Howard even offered to have us become the afternoon paper and the Dispatch become the morning paper. They wanted no part of it. They wanted us gone because we really grabbed the limelight, grabbed the attention and grabbed the affection of more readers in Columbus. We were I think what you would call an independent newspaper. Politically we would endorse, frankly, probably more Democratic candidates than we would Republican but we weren’t a one party newspaper. The Dispatch was of course a conservative Republican newspaper. They never endorsed the Democrats. So, you know, that also added to our audience, our support group, and ended up being our demise. So after the paper closed, obviously Seymour had to have a job. My first job lasted for about a year. The publisher of something called the ‘Daily Reporter’ which was a business newspaper announced that he was going to publish an afternoon paper because the market was now empty with the Dispatch gone (The Dispatch took over the morning market) and he hired Seymour to be the editor of this new paper. He wanted me to hire a staff and to develop a format, etc. which I worked at for a year. Then at the end of the year he announced, unfortunately, he couldn’t get enough financial support but he wanted me to stay and continue the paper that I had begun developing. I didn’t want that. I was given an offer to work at the Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Columbus Convention and Visitors Bureau. I started as communications director and I ended for most of my time there as vice-president of communications. I worked there for ten years until I turned 65 and then I retired.
Interviewer: What have you done since you retired?
Raiz: I started some of what I did while I was still working with the visitors’ bureau but mostly, afterwards, I worked as a teacher at the JCC for the English as a Second Language program. That was a volunteer job. I did not get paid for that. I taught immigrants English. They had a large program at that time. However, probably a more estimable job, if you want to call it, was a job that I was offered and took at Otterbein university, where I taught journalism. I’d begun doing that in Cleveland. I taught journalism part-time after my day at the Press. I taught a class from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. I can’t remember, I think it was two times a week. I taught journalism and then when I left, I moved to Columbus, and when I retired I thought you know, I’d really enjoy that. There was this opening and they hired me at Otterbein where I taught news writing. Also I started a class in what’s called copy editing, being a editor of stories that were written. I was there for ten years and I really enjoyed that. Then it was time but I continued, and I do to this day, I continued my teaching at the JCC , my English class and I also enjoyed very much my singing in a group called ‘The Harmony Project’ which is a major chorus here in Columbus. It has, if you could believe it, 250 members. We give two concerts every year. We give it at the Ohio Theatre and we sell out the concerts. This year things have changed. There’s such a waiting list that a second choir was formed and it now is almost up to 200. In one week, today’s date is, what did you say, the 22nd. On July 1 two choirs will perform together for the first time in public and that will be at least 400 voices and it will be at the Columbus Symphony’s Pop Concert. It’s going to be on July 1 and the symphony will play the first half of the program and we will play the whole second half accompanied by the Columbus Symphony.
Interviewer: Wonderful, that’s exciting.
Raiz: Sure is. I can’t wait.
Interviewer: What part do you sing? What is your voice?
Raiz: I’m a tenor.
Interviewer: You’re a tenor. So you’re taking after that uncle?
Raiz: Yes. He was a baritone, his voice was lower. He had a good voice.
Interviewer: Apparently you must too. Very nice. Tell me is there anything else you’d like to add?
Raiz: I’m also in a program, and my daughter, who by the way is a professor at Ohio State, she’s a professor of social work. Her specialty is health care. She told me one day about a program that they have. It has a funky name. What it is, we are impersonators of patients. We’re used by various programs in the medical school and also some of the allied schools and we are given identities and ailments, which we have to memorize, and we then go in and we are interviewed by medical students. In one case we go into an examining room and, “What is your name? My name is Joe Schmo. Why are you here? I’m here because I have ulcers, etc.” What happens is, in this examining room there is a microphone which feeds to a loudspeaker outside into the hallway.
The professors in the medical school sit there and not only do they listen to the interview but there is a one-way window, they can see in but the people in our room meaning the medical student cannot see out, so the professor can observe how the student is doing and also can hear what he is doing. So, I do that.
That’s not a volunteer thing by the way. They pay us some kind of a modest stipend, which is nice. I do that during the school year, not a lot, a couple, three times a month maybe. It’s really fun. Sometimes I am with a partner because it’s not always medical students. Sometimes it could be occupational therapists or some of the others. I go in with a pretend wife and the two of us are interviewed by the students in that program. It’s really kind of fun. So I kind of keep busy. I am a widower. My wife died after a ten-year battle with cancer. That was over eight years ago. It helps to fill the time and there’s socializing. It’s all good.
Interviewer: Good. Anything else you want to add?
Raiz: I can’t think of it. If there is, obviously, I live my life as a Jew. I belong to a temple. My granddaughter just came back from, she’s a student at Ohio State, just came back from the ‘Birthright’ program, a visit to Israel and was absolutely enamored of everything she did. She can’t wait to go back.
Interviewer: How many grandchildren do you have?
Raiz: I have four. The one here is the second oldest. The oldest is in
Interviewer: What is her name, are their names?
Raiz: Her name is Marissa. She’s called Mimi. The oldest is Eden. She is in Boston where she went thru music school and where she went thru graduate music school. She is a performer, cello, and a composer. She does very well. She now teaches.
Interviewer: Another musician.
Raiz: Yes. The two little ones who belong to my youngest child, my son, Danny, who is in Cleveland are 10 and 8. They go to school.
Interviewer: What are their names?
Raiz: Their names are Lauren is the girl, she’s 10 years old and Aaron is the 8 year old.
Interviewer: Very nice. You’ve got a nice family.
Interviewer: Anything else you want to add?
Raiz: I think that’s it.
Interviewer: Okay. On behalf of the Columbus Jewish Historical Society I want to thank you for contributing to the oral history project. This concludes the interview.
Raiz: Speaking of living my life as a Jew, one thing I neglected to mention because it’s not only dying. I think it’s probably dead. Because my parents were secular Jews, Yiddishists, as they were called. From the time I was in kindergarten in the Bronx, my mother enrolled me in Yiddish school and I probably learned how to speak and write Yiddish before I even mastered English in American school. I continued going to Yiddish school until we moved to Cleveland. Then, my mother, one of her first missions, track down a Yiddish school in Cleveland. It was at a Workmen’s Circle on Kinsman and 141st Street. I was forced to attend Yiddish school into high school. Then, in high school, this I wasn’t forced to do, I joined a Yiddish chorus which also met at the Workmen’s Circle building, if you will. It was an adult choir. My mother was in the choir so she and I both sang in this choir and that was all Yiddish, not Hebrew, not religious. That was part of the secular movement that came from Europe and slowly unfortunately died out.
Interviewer: Did you ever go to Hebrew School?
Interviewer: Were you Bar Mitzvahed?
Raiz: No. Again, that was because my parents were left-wingers and the religion was frowned upon. If you recall Karl Marx said, “Religion is the opiate of the masses.” As a result, there was no such thing as a Bar Mitzvah in our family and our extended family. Although, my mother observed all the holidays but in a secular way, with the cooking. We always had chicken soup and matzo balls. We had kugel. We had everything on the holidays. In fact, I will never forget. When I was working at the Cleveland Press as the night office boy, it was, I don’t remember what holiday, my mother made my father bring a whole Jewish meal down to where I was working. He schlepped all of these pots and these tureens and everything up to the second floor where I was and spread it out on the desk where I was working. One of the columnists was there working late. There was so much food, I invited him to come over. He was not Jewish. He just had a marvelous meal, as did I, chicken soup, matzo balls, kugel, a brisket, and the whole nine yards. I had a Jewish upbringing but not a religious upbringing. I think it’s again important for succeeding generations to recognize that there was this milieu in the United States back in the 40s, 50s, 60s but unfortunately it went the way of so many earlier customs and so many earlier movements of all kinds.
Interviewer: Anything else you want to add.
Interviewer: This has been an addition to the interview that is now concluded.