Interview with Julius Gutter in his home. Julius is a long-time member of Tifereth Israel and we’re just going to find out some of his early memories of the Temple. Okay, Julius.
Gutter: Well I can go back as far back as 1937.
Gutter: And not such a long time, but 50 years anyway. At that time when I joined the Temple, I. H. Schlezinger was President and A. J. Gutter, an uncle of mine, he was the Treasurer.
Interviewer: He was treasurer for many years, wasn’t he?
Gutter: Yeah, he was Treasurer for about, well all of, as long as he lived. I think he passed away in 1951 and at that time, Rabbi Zelizer was Rabbi. We had a Cantor Halpern. And, well I don’t know, what else do you want to know about it?
Interviewer: Well you were on the Board during some of those years, weren’t you?
Gutter: No, not of the Congregation, but I was on the Board of the Men’s Club.
Interviewer: Men’s Club?
Gutter: Men’s Club. I was Vice President of the Men’s Club and we had lots of activities over there. Although it wasn’t as big as the Temple is today and the membership was about half. I don’t think we had more than 350 or 400 members at that time, which was a pretty good part of the Congregation. And the Congregation had been remodeled already. I think this was about the third time.
Interviewer: . . . .
Gutter: Since. And the HebrewSchool wasn’t so well known ’till Sam Melton came in with his institutes of the HebrewSchool.
Interviewer: Uh huh.
Gutter: And that’s when he brought in Wachs . . . .
Interviewer: Saul Wachs?
Gutter: Saul Wachs.
Interviewer: Uh huh.
Gutter: Saul Wachs. And he grew. And that was the time when the HebrewSchool started to flourish and the name of Tifereth Israel became the institute of Columbus in the Jewish community. It was quite a progress from the early days after the 50s and the 60s and the 70s.
Interviewer: What are your memories of the HebrewSchool back in the 30s and 40s?
Gutter: Well first of all they didn’t have no qualified teachers. They had teachers which . . . . of teaching at that time was mostly only for boys, the ones that had to come to Bar Mitzvah. And the Cantor, he was the main person to help the child prepare for his Bar Mitzvah. Maybe six months or a year before his Bar Mitzvah, they would hand the kid over to the Cantor and then you adjusted . . . . Most of the time, the kid was not happy. The child, he couldn’t understand the function of the Bar Mitzvah and he didn’t know, he wasn’t experienced what Bar Mitzvah is all about. So he had to know that he was talking, he was drilled to say the blessings and to tell the Haftorah and some kids would rather go out and play ball than go to the Temple or to the Cantor’s house or whatever it was. Or the Cantor would come to the kid’s house. But anyway, that was the best they could do at that time with what they had, and after Sam Melton . . . . with the Theological Seminary and he brought in the teachers, the qualified teachers from the Seminary. So things have changed. At that time the children were on the road to go to HebrewSchool. They had people to teach them in their own language in their own speed and they became enthusiastic about it. And in the long run, those kids went to school for about four or five years. They had some knowledge of it. It was different even where I come from. When I was a youngster, I had to go to cheder. When I got through with the cheder, I went to the Yeshiva. But that was a different way of learning. We started out at 8:30 in the morning and we didn’t get through ’till around six or seven o’clock in the evening. And no kids in America would do that.
Interviewer: Right. So they definitely had had an improvement in the group?
Gutter: Yeah. It was a big change. It was a big improvement. We have the proof of it. Today the kids, the ones who are bearing the fruits of the, and taking advantage of the educational system that we have now and the kids with their parents or grandparents missed all that education. But some of the parents, some of the grandparents, are taking lessons or they want to compete, or they want to have the same knowledge as the kids. They enroll, maybe not enroll, but I mean they are taking an interest in . . . . and they are studying with the children.
Interviewer: Yes, and it’s all an improvement. Julius, what do you remember during the different regimes, the different characters – you say that Rabbi Zelizer was the first rabbi that you remember?
Interviewer: But . . . .
Gutter: Now the first Cantor I remember, we had a young man, he was a Hungarian by the name of Gottesman.
Interviewer: Uh huh. Eugene.
Gutter: You remember him?
Gutter: He was a handsome young man.
Gutter: I don’t know what happened but anyway, he was gone. . . . So right after him, Cantor Halpern came in and he was there until they retired him. After him, we had quite a few of them. But, Rabbi Zelizer I think he was there about 40, 45 years . . . .
Interviewer: Uh huh.
Gutter: And after him, we had about three or four different rabbis.
Interviewer: That’s right. Do you remember anything about the different presidential regimes or any of the realizations, or . . . .
Gutter: Well every regime, you know, came in, like in 19–, I don’t know, I think it was 1946 or 1947 when Joe Gutter, my uncle, he gave the lot next to the Congregation when they built the Educational Building and, in fact that building was dedicated on my birthday, August 6. I don’t know, I think it was 1946 or 1947, and at that time, I think Bill Wasserstrom was President. Bill Wasserstrom or David Goldsmith. No I think it was David. No, Bill Wasserstrom I think. No, Lou Schlezinger. Yeah, Lou Schlezinger I think he was President. And they built that new building, they called it the EducationalBuilding. That was a big improvement from having regular classes in offices for the Temple to function and to do their daily work. And before that they had a little corner in the basement over here and a little corner in the basement someplace else. They made enough room, they would have maybe eight or ten children used to go to school and . . . . from 15 or 20 kids going to school they ran into 150 or 200 kids going to school. That was a big improvement and . . . . Now every president that I know or, and there were quite a few of them. It would be hard for me to remember every one of them but, like President Dick Lieberman. He was . . . . President. And the one before him, I think it was Blank, Al Blank . . . . They all played a big part in the Congregation. It proved how big the Congregation got since the 30s. At that time they had to besides making the payments on the mortgage, they had trouble to pay the rabbi. They had trouble to pay, they were having games, from the Men’s Club, and whatever money was making the games night, they turned it over to the Congregation to buy coal, to keep the place warm. To heat it. And all that – big trouble.
Interviewer: Big trouble?
Gutter: Big trouble. But they came through. Good many groups and good people which people have an interest and each generation brought something new in there. The older generation, they were, they have some system of their own. It wasn’t business-like, but every 15-20 years, there was a new generation took over. And they had some different ideas how to run an institution like this.
Interviewer: Have you seen a change in the religious aspect or . . . . services or . . . .
Gutter: Yes, yes. I would say in those days, when Rabbi Zelizer was the rabbi, the main services were held mostly, the people would come to shul would be on a Friday night. I know some . . . . but I wouldn’t say that was the final reason why they would come on Friday night. But Saturday morning wasn’t much, I would say in the last 15-20 years, our services has improved. The attendance has, not in the numbers of 40 or 50 but . . . . Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah, you’ll see anywhere between 250 to 400 people or maybe sometimes even it looks more like Rosh Hashonah or Yom Kippur. And kids are more active, like I would say a good part of the young kids going to the Hebrew School, are capable to conduct the services of any Shabbos or holiday. In fact, we have more youngsters are capable to read the Torah in any congregation in the city or even in the country. I don’t think, and I’ve been around in quite a few congregations in different cities. You very seldom will see any youngster who would be called to read the Torah. But in our congregation we have young boys, young girls. And the biggest change I think, of the experience in our congregation in the last 10 years, is the women are equal to the men and we have some of, especially the young girls coming up today, which they’re going to be the future leaders, they’ll be able to do as good of a job than any young boy of today and maybe when the young boys grow up, maybe grow up to be full-fledged men and the girls will be able to do as good, if not any better.
Interviewer: That’s right. How about daily minyans?
Gutter: Now daily minyans, we’ve been having, I would say, in the last six-seven years; now I retired about six years ago and I’ve . . . I’m a member of the group. I haven’t missed a day going to minyan since I retired with the exception when I’m not in town. But we’ve been having very, very nice attendance. You know, I would say most of the time, we’ve been having almost two . . . . if not more. But we have, and which is important, we have a lot of people who have a Yahrzeit or people have lost one of the, somebody in their family and they want to say Kaddish and they know they have a place to go to observe and to say Kaddish . . . . And the attendance from the congregation is pretty good. There’s always room for improvement.
Interviewer: There’s room for more?
Gutter: Yeah, room for more.
Interviewer: Julius, do you remember any of the, other than the financial problems, any of the big problems of the congregation through the years? Financial problems I think were always, but . . . .
Gutter: Well there’s political. I think they were selecting men to run the congregation with good character and there were . . . . there’s enough men belong to the congregation which are able bodied and good character and . . . . the ones selected to become president or vice-president or to be on the Board turned out to be pretty good . . . . they just . . . . I think they are pretty sound, pretty sound. Now the rabbi we have now, he’s a wonderful man. He’s, I don’t know if he’s a good politician, but he’s a, I would say that 99% of the people belong to the congregation, they come to the services and they hear his sermons, are pretty well pleased. Not only from our congregation but you talk to people from the city, Jewish people from the city, they hear about Rabbi Berman and he’s a dedicated man.
Interviewer: Anything else that you can think of through the years and been particularly involved with the synagogue, with your family, with . . . .
Gutter: Well they’ve been hav—, they’ve been having, now the rabbi today, now you take like 20 years ago, a rabbi would not be allowed to give a get. I don’t know, do you know what it means . . . .
Interviewer: Uh huh.
Gutter: a Jewish divorce. Now I’ve been witness to a few of them in the last five years, which you don’t have to go Cincinnati any more, and you don’t have to go to New York any more. A rabbi is qualified . . . . I mean . . . . the halachas, you must . . . . activities. He’s allowed to do it. Now there’s lots of changes . . . . changing around some of the services. A little bit different and the encouragement of the people to come to the services which, it’s more, they have the Temple is sending out bulletins . . . . you know, for the people to know what’s going on in the congregation and the response is pretty good. The response is pretty good.
Interviewer: Do you notice a difference in the Hebrew that is used . . . .
Gutter: Yeah. Now . . . .
Interviewer: In the form of it?
Gutter: Yes. They have a lot, the Hebrew which is important. Kids going to school and learning Hebrew, they should practice it. Not only the kids but even the adults, the parents, but . . . . sometimes you take the generation of, even before the war years, it was more like a lost generation. They didn’t have a chance to learn, the only thing there was a Bar Mitzvah. Nothing else was for them to learn because there was nobody to teach them. Now that was a lost generation as far as the Hebrew was concerned. Now the survival of Jewish people is not only to learn or to be prepared for a Bar Mitzvah which now, we have a Bat Mitzvah which, you take twenty or thirty years ago, a girl was not allowed to go in to have any part in the services. Like my daughter, she went to HebrewSchool and she graduated from Hebrew High and she was prepared for her Bat Mitzvah. In fact, she was the first one to have Bat Mitzvah on the pulpit. She was the first girl. But they wouldn’t let her say the Haftorah on Saturday but she had to do that on Friday night. But they wouldn’t let her do the Friday Evening Services or say the Kiddush for Friday night. And she questioned me, she said, “Dad, I went to HebrewSchool and I learned everything and I’m just as good as my brothers, if not better than some of the boys. And yet they have all the rights and I don’t have anything.” So I told her the best I could have told her at that time, that maybe some day maybe there’s going to be some changes but right now that’s the way the congregation is working. You have a certain place to be accounted for in the congregation but that’s not in the pulpit . . . . But it took a few years and after a few years they changed it. It came out, there are girls or a woman could have an aliyah. There are girls who have, who they will, if she’s capable to perform the services and . . . . but I think that’s good, it’s healthy, to keep the Jewish . . . . the Jewish people will be able to survive if . . . . to practicing and studying it and learning and if they are learning it and practicing, that’s how the Jewish people survived all through the generations. It’s not through the language or the knowledge they learned from the countries they lived in. They survived because they learned the Torah and the Torah was with them wherever they went.
Interviewer: Uh huh.
Gutter: Now I also belong to the Chevra Kadisha from our shul. Now even this is a non-paid organization. This is a tradition been going on since the days of our old forefathers and performing of the traditional preparing of the burial is, that is a big mitzvah. Nobody wants any compliments on it. No it’s done because it’s commanded by the Jewish law to have the body prepared for burial. And there’s some, about six or eight dedicated men are doing this work. Now I’ve belonged to the Chevra Kadisha since 1939. It’s almost, almost 50 years, about 48 years. Now, not that some of them are gone, there’s always new people taking over their places but we always look for an extra one which is not publicized and it’s not awarded, it’s only the kindness of the person, and the kindness of his heart to perform something which is not so common, to some people. And we hope that nobody should never need anyone but whenever there’s a death in the family, they always call on the Chevra Kadisha first. That is one of the functions which is important. And that’s about it. What else? Now you want to . . . .
Interviewer: Whatever else you would like to talk about.
Gutter: Now when Saul Wachs came in and took over the administration as Principal of the school, he brought in qualified teachers, Adelman . . . .
Interviewer: . . . .
Gutter: Adelman and Anne, I don’t know . . . .
Gutter: Anne Bonowitz today but I don’t know, I forgot . . . .
Gutter: Schiffman, yeah Anne Schiffman. And there was a, he always brought in some different people. And then there were different professors coming in or different rabbis coming in to give lectures and the place was always jumping; he was on the goal. There was always some kind of activity, one kind or the other. And he was here for about, I think about ten years. And after he left, there was qualified people to take over and do the same thing what he started.
Break in tape
Gutter: We got married in 1943 and she came as a young bride to Columbus and in fact, before we were married, Myrtle Katz, who was my first cousin, and she invited my bride to come to Columbus and to meet the family. So she stayed with Myrtle for about a week or ten days. And they had a board meeting in the house and Muriel . . . . house. And Evelyn was there and she was introduced to the people who came to the board meeting and I happened to be there myself. And she had to serve and after she got married and she moved to Columbus, she joined up the Sisterhood and she attended the meetings quite often. In fact, she was pretty active there. Now what her function was there, I don’t know. You’d have to ask her.
Interviewer: (Laughs) Okay. Since the suggestion was to ask Gutter herself, that’s just what we’re doing.
Evelyn G.: What I did is, I was put on the Hosp—, I think it was called Hospitality Committee or something. Anyways, it was up to me and my committee to see that food was prepared for the Sisterhood luncheons, Sisterhood meetings. And I remember working very . . . . with Ann Pollock. And Ann Schilling was there. And we used to have a ball. We turned out pretty nice lunches. And this went on for a couple years, I guess and then I noticed that I was neglecting my family a little bit so I said, well I’ll give that up and I’ll go on the Telephone Committee which I could do from home. Which I did for a number of years. And then after a while, the kids got older and they needed more of my attention than the Sisterhood did really. So I sort of became a little lax in that. And I thought my children and my home needed me a little bit more. I know one person who remarked to me, “So you give up your husband and children for a day and give it to Sisterhood.” But I’m not that type of person. My home and children meant a little bit more than that. We had a good time. But then, I guess the last ten years or so, I just hadn’t really attended the Sisterhood meetings. I mean I’m a staunch member but I just hadn’t had the desire, let’s put it that way, to go there. I’ve cut myself down now to belong just to two organizations and . . . . I just don’t go to any of them. I just don’t find the time for it. I find that I have a lot of other interests. Shame on me. (Laughs) And I do love our shul. I think there’s not a better shul in the city than the Temple, really. And I think that there’s no one like Rabbi Berman and the more you get to know him, the better you love him. And, well I guess I’m just familiar with the people in our Temple; not familiar with the other shuls. Although on occasion, I’ve had to go to them, but it wasn’t because I liked it. It was because I had to. (Laughs) So. And that’s about all I can say for my life here.
Interviewer: All right.
Evelyn G.: I think it’s a pretty good life. I’ve been happy with it.
Interviewer: Well we thank you.