This interview is taking place at the home of Sylvia and Joe Schecter, on
December 15, 1986. Yetta Minkin is also being interviewed. The interviewer is
Interviewer: Sylvia, in your previous tape, you had mentioned some of
the families you are related to. Let’s run through those again because
I think you’re related to everybody in Columbus but me.
Schecter: Just about. I do have a large family here. My father was
one of seven brothers. Yetta Cohen Minkin’s father, who is sitting
with me, William Cohen, who was the head of the Reliable Wet Wash
Laundry at that time, was a blacksmith before that on Grant Avenue.
Yetta Minkin’s sister is Sayde Kooperstein and there was Minnie Minkin
– two sisters who married two brothers. Then there was Jacob Cohen. He
was the one that had a club foot and had a high shoe and everybody in
town knew him. He was sort of a real estate guy.
Minkin: He was in real estate and he had six boys.
Schecter: One was Benny Cowell, another was Lottie Cohen – Lieberman
now – who worked at Tifereth Israel for many years. Ben Cowell is now
married to Bunny Putack. Flora Cohen worked at Madison’s, her husband,
Yace, we used to call him Joe-Joe. Then there was Leon and Eddie. Eddie
was the youngest. Then there was Sam. Sam is still living and he has
children. One of his sons worked for a restaurant food supply. One of
Ben’s grandchildren works once in awhile for Martins. Then there was a
sister and her name was Goldie Himmelstein. The Himmelsteins are Minnie
Himmelstein Goodman, Rae Schlonsky, Label Schlonsky’s wife. Jack
Shilling was married to Anne Himmelstein. Bertha Himmelstein is married
to a Pollock, Abe Pollock’s brother who lives in Washington, D.C.
There’s another one who called himself Gladstone, who left home very,
very young and joined the Navy and he just wanted to disappear. When
Bert was married and moved to Washington, D.C., she found some help from
the government and they found him by the name of Gladstone. He was very
welcomed back into the family and he was glad to be back into the
There was Joe Hammel who changed his name from Himmelstein who is now
________. Then there was my Uncle Archie Cohen who was considered the
motorman – he ran a streetcar. His children were Leonard Covel, Harold
Covel, the insurance man, and Elliott Covel. The sister is married to the
famous Rabbi Borowitz of New York. Her name is Estelle. And that’s the
Minkin: They told us that their original name was Covalchick which
means blacksmith and that’s what my father was. My father was the
first one over here and he brought the whole family. The name was
changed to Cohen because when he got off the boat at Ellis Island, a
relative picked him up and asked him to please take the name Cohen
because he did not have sons. My father obliged. It was easier than
Interviewer: I have heard this. Maybe Ben Cowel told me that.
Schecter: Then there was Morris Cohen who had a son and a daughter.
Ben Cowel lived here for a short time in Columbus and now lives in
Chicago. He has a sister who lives in Tucson whose name is Silverman.
There was another sister who lives in Akron and her name is Kolls. I think
you know the Kolls family. They lived here for awhile. They have three
daughters who live in the Akron area. There is another one – Max Cohen.
The Cohen family have been ardent Zionists from way back. They came
to this country before 1900 and they were Zionists in those days. I
remember all of us, on our mantles having little statues of Hertzel.
They were Hertzel believers. I think they came from the same area as Ben
Gurien came from. So when my uncle, Max Cohen, who had no children – all
these Cohens, incidentally, lived on Stauring Street, which was put in
Raphael’s book. He selected that street and you’ll find that four or
five brothers lived right next to each other with a sister across the
street. Why he chose that street to go into detail on, I don’t know
but I was very excited.
Minkin: Because it was very colorful. The people were very colorful.
They sold smoked fish out of boxes. For 15 cents, you got a huge smoked
fish as long as my arm.
Interviewer: In your interview, you said your mother sold fish. My
mother sold chicken and eggs.
Schecter: I remember. This family was a unique family. _________
supported his wife’s sister through Ohio State University and she
married a man by the name of Kesselman who graduated in agriculture
which was unique in those days. That’s got to be about 65 years ago.
They did aliyah to Israel – it’s got to be 60 years ago, because I’m
married 55 years and he was already coming back for another visit. They
got money from William Cohen who was sort of the head of the family. He
invested with them in orange groves in Israel which today is Ramat Gan.
Minkin: Today the Elite Chocolate Factory stands on that lot.
Schecter: When I went to visit them, they had this big apartment
building built right next to the Elite Chocolate Factory and the
chocolate came over. They had the Kesselmans. This is interesting
because it is historic. He was the one who cleared the Hoola Valley. He
drained the swamps. He was considered one of the finest engineers in his
time in Israel. He had a daughter, Shoshana, who had married one of the
Robins boys from Columbus and she divorced him. When I went to visit her
in Israel in 1959, she was married to Yaka Yadim. This is historic
stuff. It ties in with Israel.
Interviewer: No kidding.
Schecter: See, this is historic and it ties in with Israel.
Interviewer: I remember Shoshana.
Schecter: Beautiful girl. She is married to Yaka Yadim and she showed
me archeological digs – artifacts that her father-in-law had given her.
He, himself, was an actor. They were married 27 years and they got
divorced. When I went to visit her, I said, “Why do you want to
stay here, Shoshana? When you could live so much more beautifully”
Although they had a gorgeous apartment in Ramat Gan. She said,
“In this livingroom, last week, Isaac Stern played. When the big
people come from the United States, they visit our home.” I thought
that was interesting. They were original Zionists from way back. The
whole family. William Cohen and all of them had invested their money in
those orange groves and today it is Ramat Gan.
Now my mother’s side – my mother is one of four sisters and a
brother. My mother’s brother was C.H. Furman, Mel Furman’s father.
He came to this country on his own and my mother followed him. He had
sent for his brother but he wouldn’t leave Russia so my mother came
with her sister who is now Lena Margulis. She’s the only one living
and I think she’s around 98 years old. She is Julius Margulis’
My mother was a widow at the age of 23 and she had three children –
myself, married to Joe Schecter; my sister, Ruth who married Dr. Harold
Unger of Cleveland (they lived in Kansas City for many years); and my
sister, Sophie, who married Jay _________ from Youngstown. She was a
sick woman and after many years, moved to Tucson, Arizona.
Then they sent for my Aunt Minnie Peer. She was Adele Hellman’s and
Isabelle Rosen’s mother. She brought my Uncle David Roth. Benson Roth
is the son of Irwin Roth who came with my aunt who brought her five
children. Her oldest was Jeannette Roth whose son is Alfred Freedman,
the famous accountant in this city. Another is Hinda Riker who is
married to Dr. Alan Weinberg. So you can see how this keeps spreading
out. Benson Roth is Irwin Roth’s son. Jack Roth is with Consolidated.
These are first cousins once removed. Another child is Carl Roth.
Families branch out – they marry and inter-marry and you find yourself
with a large family. Most of us are still in the Columbus area.
Interviewer: Where in Russia did your folks come from?
Schecter: My mother came from Austria and my father came from Minsk,
White Russia. They used to do Jewish plays here in Columbus at the old
Chamber of Commerce building and they met while in one of these plays.
My mother was only 12 years old when she came to this country. She used
to be a candy dipper and she was fired because they found out she was
under 16. She originally came here and was a maid in the Greenberg
household. They lived on Long Street and had the Long Street Green’s
Store. That’s the Greens who afterward had a clothing store on Broad
Street. And they are now the Shamanskys. She said the Greenbergs were
very good to her. She got a good job because she was older. This is
typical of what happened to the people who came here. My mother who’s
been dead about 8 years, ended up at Heritage House.
Interviewer: What did Lena do?
Schecter: I think she was a seamstress. My mother got a job with her
Schecter: How did you know?
Interviewer: I don’t know. I grew up with Lena.
Schecter: The Cohen family was very unique and the Cohen and Furman
families were always very involved in the community. Mr. William Cohen
and Mr. C.H. Furman were two of the initial contributors to the original
Federation before it was the Federation when they were trying to raise
money right after World War I for the poor and then afterwards, before
World War II.
Interviewer: I feel left out. You’ve included almost everybody in
Columbus but me.
Schecter: You know the Levy’s, to me, were very close because you
were in our area of life. The ghetto I talked about is listed in one of
my previous themes. Of course, your sister, Yetta, was very close to me.
We were very close friends. She was the first person to come to Columbus
with a Maj Jong set. She brought it from New York and I remember she had
a farm out there and she had us come out and taught us girls how to play
Maj Jong. She was married to Joe Weisman.
Minkin: I used to drive you girls out to the farm for your game.
Interviewer: It’s interesting to me because we have similar
backgrounds. We all grew up in the ghetto.
Schecter: The Beims. Do you remember the Beims? They were very close
with us and Mrs. Beim, Buddy Beim’s mother, was a seamstress on Ohio
Avenue. Before that, they lived on Main Street, off Washington Avenue.
Interviewer: I don’t remember that. I was telling Rich that’s Yetta’s daughter,where her grandparents lived on Ohio. The corner of an alley and the building had big white pillars in front. It was on the east side of the street.
Schecter: The Solove family – Dick Solove’s father was my father’s
best friend. My father sent for him and brought him to this country. He
stayed at my mother’s house. He came to my mother and father, as a
young man and my mother made a shidach for him with the
Abrams woman who was a sister to Mrs. Furman. Richard Solove, Dickie
Solove, and Al Solove – they have two other sisters, Florence Herwitz
and _______ Goldstein, she was a dancer. That’s the Solove family – we
were very closely tied up with the Jerome Soloves.
Interviewer: Jerome. Mrs. Solove’s name was Rae. I had trouble
coming up with her name.
Schecter: All you have to do is think of the Rae and Jerome Solove
Clinic at the Tower which I convinced Richard to make an investment in
so we could name it in memory of his parents.
Interviewer: Jerome Solove had a hardware store, as I recall.
Minkin: Yes, on Livingston and Parsons.
Schecter: Before that, he worked at the Zettler Company which was on
Main and Third Street and it’s there to this very day. Then he opened
up his own on Livingston and Parsons.
Interviewer: When I see his son, you say Alvin – it’s Booby.
Schecter: I only call him Booba.
Interviewer: Every time I see him, he looks more like his father.
Schecter: Exactly. He said that when he went to Israel, he met some
of his uncles and they looked just like him. Their name was Soloviechek.
Interviewer: Maybe I shouldn’t say this, but Florence was my first
Schecter: They lived on 17th Street across the street from
us. When we moved from finally, Fulton Street (that house was converted
into Harry Center’s Grocery Store), we moved to 17th Street
and across the street were Rae and Jerome Solove. Next to us lived the
Soomskys. The Finkelsteins lived two houses down. Down the street lived
Mrs. Cohen, the Klessmer, we used to call – with three daughters.
Minkin: Arthur, where did you lived at that time?
Interviewer: In this area. When I dated Florence, we lived on
Schecter: Gilbert is where I remember you – I don’t remember you
Interviewer: We lived on Engler, the third door east of the flats.
Schecter: Yesterday I went to Izzie Cabakoff’s house and he said,
“Sylvia, I look at you and laugh.” I said, “Why?”
and he said, “Did you know that my mother suckled you? My mother
always told the story that when your mother ran out of milk, my mother
would take you and look what you turned out to be.”
Interviewer: His mother was Tanta Lea, my wife’s side of the
family. Izzie is my wife’s cousin. My son bought Izzie’s practice.
Schecter: Yes, I know, over on Hamilton. Izzie does gorgeous art
work. He is just magnificent. This is Dr. Cabakoff. Cabakoff is a
brother to Bella Wexner.
Interviewer: Bella is coming to my granddaughter’s naming. I would
like to know what organizations you worked for.
Schecter: Let me get away from the organizations. Let me go to the
other contributors. I thought the prohibition days were very colorful
and should be recorded. The things that went on. Prohibition was not
taken seriously in this country. The government was sometimes serious,
but the people didn’t accept it. I think it was the only constitutional amendment that was retracted because it was not
acceptable to the people. People wanted to drink and I guess it was one
of the freedoms that was denied them and they weren’t going to stand
for it. There was high bootlegging and there was low bootlegging and we
had samples of it in our area which became a joke. Now I think Yetta
should take over about some of the things on Stauring Street.
Interviewer: What was the difference between high bootlegging and low
Minkin: The high bootlegging was when they had their stills out in
the country and they would manufacture all this liquor and bring it into
the city to be sold. There were mobs – Italians, Jews that were murdered
like you see on television today of the Capone days. A Jewish man was
gunned down right on the corner of Parsons and Livingston
Interviewer: I had no idea.
Minkin: The low bootlegging was when the people would buy raw alcohol
and burn some brown sugar in a skillet to color it. It was hidden
underneath the table boards and they would sell it until they were
caught. And they were caught because the person that heard all of this
going on under their windows had a telephone. But the house they were
going to raid did not have a phone and this poor woman could not get to
these people to warn them. They were caught. They hid the liquor in
tables, in closets and covered it up with pillows. They sold it in
pints. Mrs. Cantorelli heard it and she warned some of the people.
Interviewer: The reason I was laughing is I was very friendly with a
fellow that lived near us on Fulton Street. He lived across from the
Eisemans, next to the Schlonskys. His father had a little machine and I
used it. I didn’t know what I was doing. I was capping beer. People
came in with these little wood grape baskets covered with paper. They’d
take the paper off, take the bottles out, put them down and he would
fill the bottles. I had no idea. They would pay him and off they’d go.
Minkin: That was one of the low forms of bootlegging. It was a way
for them to make money.
Schecter: They would cover for each other. It was really exciting.
This one woman was caught and she was brought to court. She brought all
the children in the neighborhood with her (she had six of her own) and
she stuffed herself with a pillow to indicate that she was pregnant. She
said in Yiddish, “Children, when you come before the judge, scream,
make with your fists so the judge will hear you.” And he did, and
the judge let her go.
Minkin: This was a way they had to make extra money. Nobody had very
much. It was like moonlighting. It was a wonderful time to live because
everybody lived for each other. No one was jealous of each other. At
least that was the Russian Jews. The German Jews were a different story.
Interviewer: I told Sylvia, we must have been stupid. We thought we
were happy. We didn’t have cars, we didn’t have television, we didn’t
have telephones, we didn’t have hot water, we didn’t have electric
lights. All we had was love and good food. We thought we were happy. Can
you imagine that?
Schecter: We were happy. If there was a Bar Mitzvah or a wedding,
everybody did for each other. Nobody heard of hotels, caterer. Everybody
Minkin: I remember the tables laden with cakes with all different
colored icing. It was enough to drive you crazy.
Schecter: The picnics we used to go to. Hymingdale Grove, Olentangy
Park, Indianola Park. It was colorful. Mr. Heschel Schottenstein lived
on Donaldson Street and he had a cow in his backyard. He would walk that
cow down Donaldson Street.
Minkin: Which Schottenstein?
Schecter: I think it was an uncle to the Schottenstein brothers. And
the cow didn’t care where it did its business. He would walk that cow
up and down Donaldson Street and no one thought anything of it.
Interviewer: Now, Sylvia, let’s get to the organizations you worked
Schecter: My original contact with an organization was when my mother
was president of the Beth Jacob Sisterhood. She would take me down, as a
little child and I’d help set the tables. We’d all set the tables.
My mother was an offshoot of Mrs. William Goodman Cohen. They were
better than sisters. They were sisters-in-law. I’d lost my father when
he was 26 years old and he left three children and my Uncle William
Cohen took over as a surrogate father. He was marvelous to me all of my
life. That’s the reason Yetta and I and Sadie and all of us are so
My Uncle William Cohen was the president of Beth Jacob. So was C.H. Furman. I was involved in congregational activities when I was a little child. They would come to my mother’s house on Fulton and Washington and talk about all the
politics that went on with the synagogue. The Soloves were involved, the
Beims were involved – they ran Beth Jacob synagogue. Mr. Schwartz, of
blessed memory, and all those guys, of blessed memory, used to talk in
our house because it was accessible and in the center of everything. Mr.
Furman would come from the westside – he lived on West Broad Street –
during the flood – that’s another deal – they rededicated Broad Street
and I remember when they dedicated it after the first flood in 1913. I
was a little child but I’ll never forget that.
I got involved in and served as president of the Sisterhood of Beth
Jacob for seven years, as a young bride. When they decided to move and
decided to buy some property, they were going to get together with
Agudas Achim. Rabbi Greenwald was the rabbi at Beth Jacob at the time.
We had a big meeting and we voted to get together with Agudas Achim.
They were moving out here. I was already living here – I’ve been in
this house 46 years. They were going to move over here on East Broad
Street, and I said “That’s the best news because this area is
getting bad and we might as well do it now.” Two Orthodox
congregations were losing their members right and left to Tifereth
Israel and Temple Israel and they decided to unite. Then all of a
sudden, there was a movement afoot – somebody had given them a piece of
land on Bulen Avenue and they were going to move there. I said,
“That’s not the move to make. It’s too close to where you are.
Property values are not good there.” They insisted that they were
going to go there and we had a big knock-down fight.
Schecter: We had a big meeting. Willie Goodman was involved. He was a
past president at Beth Jacob. Lou Levin was with us and all of a sudden
he was afraid he would become the city rabbi and Rubenstein had just
come and he didn’t want to go in with any other rabbi. So I stood up
and said, “If you’re going to split, we’re going to have to
leave you.” Willie Goodman and his whole family, my Uncle William
Cohen and our whole family, the Furmans, all the Schlonskys (and that’s
a big family). The Solove family had already gone to Tifereth Israel.
Tremendous numbers of us decided we were going to Agudas Achim. They
said “Wait until we build.” And I said, “I don’t go to
a set-up table. If I’m going to go, I’m going to go now.” I had
already become involved with B’nai Brith Women. So I went over to the
Big, Old Shul, we called the Agudas Achim and I joined there before they
ever made the move. I became very active. Yetta’s sister, Minnie and I
did the first fund raiser for the Sisterhood and we had a big luncheon
at the Jewish Community Center which had just been built. It was SOS –
Save our Shul. So we joined before they ever moved out here.
B’nai Brith Women was formed 55 years ago. When they were taking
the old Progress Hall on Parsons Avenue, Mr. William Cohen was there
when the men decided to start a women’s auxiliary. He signed up all of
his nieces for one dollar a year so all of our names are on the charter.
All the Himmelsteins, all the Cohens – we’re all on as original
I was in B’nai Brith about three years and I had been working at
Midland Mutual Life Insurance Company for about seven years after I got
married. When I was ready to have Beverly, who will now be 48 years old,
I decided I wasn’t going to work out anymore so I went to work for my
husband in his bar on West Broad Street. I cooked. I had more time to do
what I wanted so I got involved with the B’nai Brith Women. I was one
of the shyest girls you ever saw. I couldn’t talk. I loved to work, I
loved to do things. Ann Shilling and I were chairmen of a card party at
the old Neil House. Pearl Sillman got to a meeting and said, “I
resign from being Vice President.” Tillie Rosenthal got up and said
“I nominate Sylvia Schecter.” The president was Eva Goodman,
Jimmy Goodman’s mother. Before I could get up and say “I’m
sorry, I don’t know anything about it,” they had me in and that’s
how I started my career. I went on to be a state president and then I
went on to be a district for eight states. I was chosen to be the only
representative to the 1959 first convention ever held in Israel B’nai
Brith ever had. I was chosen as the one representative from District 2.
I learned a lot. Those were my “college” years.
I was president of B’nai Brith Women of Columbus when they decided
to organize the women’s division of the Federation. Frances
Gundersheimer was sitting next to me at a Hadassah donor dinner and she
said to me, “If you’ll come in and work with me, I’ll become
part of it.” We joined and organized the women’s division of the
Federation of the United Jewish Fund and Council. My uncles had all been
involved in it before that and we worked in E.J. Shanfarber’s office
on Broad and 4th with Leah Rosenfeld. She was his secretary
and she was the only person who took care of all the details for the men
and women’s campaign. We did everything ourselves. There was a core of
us originators, Bernice Levy, Frances Gundersheimer, myself, Amy
Lazarus, Eleanor Restler, Rose Schiff (Mrs. William Schiff), Sara
Schlonsky (Sam Schlonsky’s first wife), Reva Gordon. That was the
nucleus. The first chairman of the women’s division was Mrs. Kobacker.
We needed someone who was well-known and well liked in the community and
she served for two years. We did all the work – she was out of town most
of the time, visiting her daughter in California. The next chairmen were
Frances Gundersheimer and myself. I haven’t stopped working for the
Federation. I have two plaques right now – last year’s and this year’s
– from the United Jewish Appeal. I’ve been working on collections for
the Federation for at least 30 years. This has to be since 1940 or ’41.
Interviewer: You say you haven’t stopped working for the Federation
– you haven’t stopped working. We haven’t gotten to the
Heritage House yet.
Schecter: I was very involved with Hillel. Being in B’nai Brith,
you had to be involved with Hillel. Before we had this building, we had
another building that was torn down. But the original building was here
when Rabbi ________ and his wife were here. Sara Schlonsky, of blessed
memory, and I and another woman, sewed the draperies in this big house
that had a real long livingroom. We sewed the draperies by hand in that
Hillel. Then they tore it down and built this one big auditorium then
Shanfarber died and Yassenoff said, “You build this building at the
Hillel.” And we named it in memory of E.J. Shanfarber.
That’s a story in itself. In those days, there was a terrible
division within the community among the Zionists and non-Zionists. There
was a Council of Judaism and these were people who fought against
Israel. There are still a few people left today but they’re pretty
extinct by now. E.J. was very involved with B’nai Brith on a national
level, which was the big organization of the day – bigger than the
Federation. He got very upset because he heard about what was happening
in Europe and he came back and had a heart attack while trying to
convince people in Columbus that we had to be supportive of Israel’s
needs. He died and they named the Hillel Foundation in his memory. I
think Yassenoff gave the land. I was involved with Ed Schlezinger as
co-Chairman of the building of the Hillel Foundation. Ed was the
When it comes to Torah Academy, I want you to know, we started the
first Torah Academy meeting on my back porch with Rabbi Rubenstein. At
that time, Dinah Zisenwine was supposed to take over and be the head of
Torah Academy because Rabbi Rubenstein wanted to have a Jewish day
school and he should be given credit. I get very upset when other people
are recognized instead of him because he was definitely responsible for
the Torah Academy and it should be recorded.
Minkin: He worked very, very hard to house them for 17 years, free of
charge, at Agudas Achim. He had to fight a few people to do that but he
Schecter: He had to fight the few people at the school who thought it
was an expense. Which it was. My son was one of the first students to be
enrolled. It was very exciting. ________ at Torah Academy and I was
involved in that.
As far as Heritage House was concerned, I was very involved in
national ________ in B’nai Brith. It was one of the most wonderful
experiences in my life which I called “getting my master’s
degree.” I called working in the community, my bachelor’s
degree and my master’s was when I was sent to New York to
the first Adult Jewish Education meeting by B’nai Brith. I sat at the
feet for four days, of people like Lilyveld, who was reformed; Rabbi
Rackman, who was Orthodox; Rabbi Duker from the Chicago Institute,
Mordecai Kaplan from the Reconstructionists and the Conservative
Movement. I’ll never forget those days. The finest rabbis in the world
were assembled for four days in this hotel and I sat with my mouth open
and I learned. I did the Adult Jewish Education for the district for
I got so involved in that, my aunt, Mrs. Roth, said to me, “You
should be working for the old people. We’re trying to get a home for
the old people.” and I said,
“Tanta Chia, I give you my word, when I’m through being
district president,” which was when Benson was born. My husband
adopted a baby when I was president of the district and brought him home
when I wasn’t expecting a child of any kind. When I got through being
president, I said I would start and I did. I got involved because our
parents, Mrs. Cohen, my mother and I’m sure your mother and Ethel and
that gang of ladies and Mr. Mellman of, blessed memory, and Mr.
Topolovsky, were involved. They bought that home on Woodland Avenue and
that’s when I got involved. Eleanor was already involved – that woman
is really amazing – if you want something, she’s really something.
I have to tell a story that I told at a meeting of the 25th
anniversary a couple weeks ago at a board meeting. When we had the
women, Laz Brenner was working as a Jewish Family Service director. We
decided the Federation should take the sponsorship of the Jewish Home
for the Aged as we called it. They didn’t know whether they would do
it or not. We had a big meeting at the Jewish Community Center and there
was this long table where Troy Feibel sat, Charles Lazarus, Amy Lazarus,
Max Robbins, myself, Abe Wolman, Sam Schlonsky – several more of the
leadership of the community. Whether they should accept it or not as a
part of the beneficiary agencies of the United Jewish Council. Mr.
Bernstein was here and I reviewed this with him a few months ago – he
was here for the 50th anniversary celebration – he recalled
They didn’t know whether to take it over or not and I remember very
well, one woman saying under her breath, “I think it’s terrible.
The first thing you know, they’ll want to build a house, a
place.” At that time, we took care of our elderly by – the Orthodox
sent them to the Jewish Home in Cincinnati, the Reform went to the
Montifiore Home in Cleveland. Some of the people felt it was too far for
families to travel to go to see older people. Troy Feibel got up and
said, “I’m against it because the first thing you know, they are
going to want to build another home.” I got up, shaking, because
here I was in the presence of all these big leaders and who am I? I’m
not that big a giver – I always contributed but I wasn’t a big giver.
I didn’t have it. I said, “I think it’s a shame if you people
consider yourselves leaders and you think there’s a need in this
community and you don’t meet it. There’s something wrong with us as
leaders if we don’t meet this need.” And they passed it.
Laz was chosen to be the director of the home on Woodland and we sat
there and had two groups of women who were a Twig and Club 21. Children’s
Hospital Twig decided to do some extra work on the side and use the Home
for the Aged as a project. Mrs. Erkis was involved, Mrs. Goodman – so
many people in the community were involved in this. You can see in this
picture of the ground breaking, some of the women and men who were
We used to “schnorr.” I remember the first Passover, I had
to go to Mrs. Speisman, especially. I was one of the few young people
around who had a car – none of the other ladies drove and I would go
with them on Thursday to all the commission houses on Town Street and
that’s how we got our fruits and vegetables for the week. When
Passover came along, they had to have new dishes and I went along with
Mrs. Feible and we got everything at the ten cent store on Main and 4th– the Woolworth Company. That’s how we got our dishes for Pesach. I would do the driving, take these ladies around when they had to sell
tickets – they were wonderful ticket sellers – boy, did they make money!
They had the respect of the people they went to. They went to these big
offices and these people were gracious to them and they respected them
for what they were doing. I loved it and I thought it was wonderful.
Then the decision was made to do a campaign for fund raising to build
a home. Abe Wolman was in the forefront and I’ll never forget, when
they decided they had to have the community behind them, here we were, a
bunch of Orthodox, spear-heading the whole thing so we decided to see if
they could get some people from the Reform and Conservative groups. They
went out after Aaron Zacks and convinced him. They went out after Bob
Weiler, Sr. and got him. When we had our first fund raising affair at
the Agudas Achim Synagogue, I’ll never forget that. In walked Bob
Weiler and he had never had a yarmulke on his head and I was walking in
with him and he said, “Well, I guess there’s gotta be a first
time for everything and I might as well accept it.” I always felt
that the ________ of the community was really closed that night at
Agudas Achim when we had people at the dinner from all walks of life.
They raised around 800 thousand dollars which built this building. Now
we have to raise 15 million dollars and we’re not getting near it. But
this was the way Heritage House got started. I was always involved in
We had a luncheon for the cornerstone laying at the Jewish Community
Center. The day cleared up but it was muddy and we had to walk across
the area from the Jewish Community Center to the Heritage House. We had
to walk over boards and I was holding Eleanor’s hand and I said,
“I never thought we would live to see a home here.” And it
worked out fine.
I was one of the originators of the Brandeis Women’s Committee. I’m
just sick that it folded up. I and Mickey Schonbaum did the first live
membership thing. We took in 98 life members in one weekend.
I never got very active in the Council of Jewish Women. I have a
little more in the last couple years because I love the programs they’re
supporting, especially their day care program over at Heritage House.
I never believed in multiple congregational affiliations but I do
believe in being a part of every organization there is. There are more,
of course. There is Hadassah. I was a Hadassah “Bud” which is
what they called us in those days. We used to have the heads of all the
organizations sit at the top table at the Hadassah Donor Dinners. At the
Neil House, I sat at the donor dinner with Frances Gundersheimer who was
president of the Sisterhood at Temple Israel. She had always been
involved in B’nai Brith because the Gundersheimers always were.
That’s how we started that. I was always involved in Hadassah –
supportive. You can’t be involved in everything. I got involved in our
Sisterhood at Agudas Achim right away. I’ve been involved but I would
never take the presidency. They wanted me to but I would not do it. I’ve
worked throughout the years, then ___________ said to me…they
wanted to know if I’d take the executive director’s job. They were
going to pay me such a nominal fee but I said I’d give it a whirl –
they needed one. I was supposed to work six months, be evaluated and
given a director’s salary. I did not get a director’s salary. I was
getting $6,500 and they upped me to $7,000. All the directors in the
city were getting $18,00-20,000. I stayed for two years and then I said
there was no sense in me working for that kind of money. I worked
Saturday and Sunday, I organized the cooking and baking. They never had
cooking and baking, they never had catering. I set up the whole program
for catering and working out everything.
I was out of work six months when Ben Mandelkorn came to me and asked
me to come work for him. I never worked so hard in my life. So I stayed
there five years – people said I’d never stay very long because of Ben
but I found that he is difficult to work for but he is a very fair and
thorough individual. You have to respect him for all of the things he
accomplished. I got into fights with him but I always had his respect
and we still are very, very close friends. I worked there five years and
I was tired of working. I went through the 1973 war and Ben walked up to
me and said, “Sylvia, we would never have gotten through this if
you hadn’t been here.” We worked day and night, sometimes until
one or two in the morning during the 1973 war.
I’m heart and soul sold to Israel. I feel that I got my Ph.D at the
Federation. The synagogue honored me because I did very innovative
programming and projects. At the Sisterhood, I started the Chai Circle,
I started the idea of Kiddushes with other congregations. There were a
lot of things I did that was very unusual. I did it because I was
working there. I enjoyed it very much.
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