Recently, I had the opportunity to meet with Toby Brief, when she talked to the American Association of University Women, about the Columbus Jewish Historical Society and showed us around their little museum in Bexley.
The mission of the Columbus Jewish Historical Society is to collect, preserve, and publish materials on the history of the Jewish people of Columbus and central Ohio; to encourage projects, celebrations, and activities which spread authentic information concerning Columbus and central Ohio Jewish history; to create a Society concerned with the past, present, and future; and to enlighten the membership of the Society, the Jewish community and the general public on the achievements of our people and the growth of Jewish community life from the days of the early settlers.
They began this organization in 1981 but the work toward Jewish refugees began after the 1830’s when Jewish people first came to the Columbus area. Anti-Semitism was not as huge in Columbus as in other cities, so they were able to start businesses (such as the Lazarus Department Stores), rent and purchase homes without much issue.
In around 1910, organizations began to develop to support the hundreds of thousands of Russian Jews (and other Eastern Europeans) that were now surfacing in the Columbus area. These organizations made sure that these people did not go on welfare and could find jobs and learn the language. Jewish women were politically
active but their focus was mostly on birth control and poverty with regard to the refugees. While suffrage was the main focus of women around the nation, their priority was to their people’s needs first. This does not mean that they neglected suffrage however, as there were many Jewish women involved. In Ohio we had Pauline Perlmutter Steinem from Toledo (aka Gloria’s Grandma).
There are other Jewish Historical Societies within Ohio including the Maltz museum (Beachwood, Ohio) and the Skirbal museum which is at the Hebrew Union College (Cincinnati, Ohio). Toledo and Dayton are currently working on museums as well. If you can get a chance to get down to Bexley and visit this museum, their exhibits rotate every six months. Currently, they are featuring a Prohibition collection featuring Jewish people who were involved locally in this this era. In the past they had an exhibit about women and their hats which apparently was quite an elegant and well received show. The Bexley museum is in the Esther C. Melton building around the corner from Jewish Family Services. They are open to the public, Monday through Friday from 10-3:30 or you can make an appointment for groups. Please note that all of the photos here are from CJHS or their website, with the exception of the Pauline Steinem photo which came from a google search.
Author’s Note: Acculturation has been an important aspect of welcoming refugees to our country until more recently when the push has been to assure they have welfare and not much attention is paid to learning English. Now, it is easily perceived by many as having no concern for acculturation at all. It is a great disservice to our country and creates a lack of respect toward newer immigrants. This is sad to me, as I grew up in the Hungarian-American community where they continue to help immigrants settle in the Ohio area. It seems strange to think we wouldn’t want to focus on acculturation as this would assure success for all of us.