Ruth Dancyger and Sue Koletsky Interview, 02 July 2008

Ruth Dancyger, historian of Temple-Tifereth Israel, and Sue Koletsky, director of the temple museum, discuss the history of Temple Tifereth Israel at E. 105th Street in Cleveland, OH. Among the topics covered in depth are the history of Jews in Cleveland, the history of Zionism, the career of Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver, including his role at the synagogue and the important part he played in the early Zionist movement, the art and architecture of Temple-Tifereth Israel, the Coventry neighborhood of Cleveland Heights, and the Cleveland Museum of Art.

Participants: Dancyger, Ruth (interviewee) / Koletsky, Sue (interviewee) / Bell, Erin (interviewer) / Calder, James (interviewer)
Collection: Project Team
Institutional Repository: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection

Interview Transcript

James Calder [00:00:00] All right. Okay. All right.

Erin Bell [00:00:04] This is Erin Bell. I'm in the communications building at Kent State, talking with Sue Koletsky [crosstalk]. What did I say?

Sue Koletsky [00:00:11] Kent State.

Erin Bell [00:00:11] Oh, boy.

Sue Koletsky [00:00:12] I thought we were like. I thought you were trying to pretend.

Erin Bell [00:00:17] You can't trick the audience. I'm speaking with Sue Koletsky and Ruth Dancyger of Temple Tifereth Israel. Both of you could just go ahead and introduce yourselves, state your name and a little bit about your background.

Ruth Dancyger [00:00:32] You want me to go first?

Sue Koletsky [00:00:34] Sure.

Ruth Dancyger [00:00:34] Okay. Well, I'm Ruth Dancyger, and I'm a longtime member of the Temple Tifereth Israel. As were my parents and my grandparents. And my children are now members of Temple Tifereth Israel. That's where I grew up and got all my formal religious training, sabbath school training. What else did you want me to tell about myself?

Sue Koletsky [00:00:55] You're the historian.

Ruth Dancyger [00:00:57] Well, I'm the historian of the temple, having written a book called Temple Tifereth Israel at the occasion of the temple celebrating its 150th birthday in the year 2000. And I hope that I'll be able to answer some questions that may occur to you today.

Sue Koletsky [00:01:17] And my name is Sue Braham Koletsky. I'm the temple director, the museum director at the Temple Tifereth Israel. The temple has a museum that was founded in 1950. And we have over 1500 either religious and fine arts objects, and three venues for that at the Maltz Museum down at University Circle, our landmark synagogue, and also in our synagogue in Beechwood. And I help with the archives as well. So hopefully I'll be able to answer some of the questions as well.

Erin Bell [00:01:50] Let's start off talking about the temple's history. It begins in 1850, correct?

Ruth Dancyger [00:01:57] Yes.

Erin Bell [00:01:58] Go ahead, try to give us. I know this is a huge time span, but maybe a timeline, important dates and events.

Ruth Dancyger [00:02:07] Well, the important date is 1850, which is the year that the temple was first founded by a few hardy souls that came to the United States from a small town in Germany. Its name escapes me right now.

Sue Koletsky [00:02:22] It was in Bavaria, Unsleben.

Unsleben. Yes. Unsleben was the name of the little town from which they came. And at first they met in people's homes, and then they eventually built a small. They bought. Actually, they bought a small building on Huron Road. And that became their temple for a number of years. I'm not sure of the dates of that, but I don't know whether you need to have them. I should have if I'd known that this was going to give you the format today. [crosstalk] Well, anyway, they stayed there for a number of years under a group of several leaders. They had. Sometimes they had a rabbi, and sometimes they didn't. Originally, when they moved into the Huron Road temple, they did have a rabbi whose name was Rabbi Kalisch. And they moved from there to a large temple that they built located on 55th street near Central Avenue. It was called Central Avenue there then. I don't know whether it's still called that or not. It was an elaborate building and a beautiful building. And they were definitely a Reform congregation. And as years went by, their idea was to become integrated into the community in which they were living. So that they dropped many of the old traditions and rituals of the more orthodox community, of Jewish synagogues. And they soon outgrew, began to outgrow even that building on 55th street, which you can still see today. It is now occupied by a black church. I think at least it was [crosstalk]. Friendship Baptist Church. Okay. The rabbi whose name is the most outstanding associated with that mid and late 19th century congregation was Rabbi Moses Gries, who was typical of his period of being a classic Reform Jewish rabbi. They discarded the idea of wearing any head coverings or any shawls. And eventually they gave up the teaching of Hebrew in the Sunday school. And their preference was to have a great deal of interaction with the non Jewish community in which they lived. He was so popular that the congregation began to grow to such a large degree. That they began to outgrow that temple on 55th street. And attempted to find a place where they could house, at least where the sanctuary would seat a couple thousand people. And eventually, it took a long time. They didn't do it in the lifetime. Under the leadership of Rabbi Gries, who retired in 1916 or 1917, at which time they were still on 55th street, still looking for a place where they could move to. Their aim was to move further east into the 105th street area. They had a little difficulty. They found out that there were many owners of different kinds of property that were not interested in having a Jewish synagogue in the middle of the many churches that were there. There was, in fact, at that time, in the late 19th century, a Jewish social club called the Excelsior Club. And there also was a Jewish hospital on 105th street. And the leading powers that be felt that they really weren't interested in having a Jewish synagogue there. When Rabbi Gries retired, the congregation was fortunate to get the dynamic Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver, who was 24 years old at that time, to agree to come from his little synagogue in West Virginia, to come to Cleveland. And by gum, it didn't take him long to decide that he was going to pick out a place and they were going to move. They had waited for so many years. They had raised all kinds of funds to finance the building of this new building. The piece of property that he was able to obtain was not the most felicitous because it was on two levels and it was a challenge for an architect to really build the building in the way that would be comfortable. The religious school was on one floor and the sanctuary was on another floor. But Rabbi Silver was able to find an architect whose name was Greco, Charles Greco from Boston, who came here having already previously built a synagogue in Cleveland Heights on Mayfield Road called the B'nai Jeshurun, which was a conservative congregation. And he built the temple that is presently there to this day on 105th street. Do you want to add anything?

Sue Koletsky [00:07:48] That's great.

Ruth Dancyger [00:07:50] Under the leadership of Rabbi Silver, the congregation grew. I think at one time they had a membership of 2500. I guess it would be families, 2500 families that belonged. And they attracted the more social German Jews at that time, although there were plenty of people who put claim to being German and they really were Hungarian. That's one of the things we laugh about. Rabbi Gries, who was married to a prominent young lady from a prominent German family, would enjoy the fact that people thought he was German, but he wasn't. He was born in this country, but he came from a nice Hungarian family somewhere in the east, I think New Jersey or something like that. Anyway, that was the beginning of its roots. And the attraction that Rabbi Silver engendered by virtue of his persona cannot be described. You have to really hear his voice and really see his presence to understand why he was so attractive to people. And the interesting thing was he came here with the positive point of view that Zionism was what he was interested in. He felt even before Hitler, this was long before Hitler, that the Jewish people needed a haven because they were never going to be, never going to be accepted fully in the other world outside. And people might as well make up their minds to understanding what their history was, to understanding their language and to understanding the fact that if they had a homeland, it would be better for them all the way around. In today's world, that's another story. He immediately reinstituted Hebrew in the classrooms, although he never ever again. They continued not to wear the kippah or the tallit or anything. And he never did either. He always appeared formally attired in a vest, in a business jacket suit. When he stood on the pulpit, he was over 6ft tall and had a leonine head. He had a full head of beautiful hair, and he had a widow's peak. And he was a very imposing figure. And eventually became internationally known for his contributions to the creation of the modern state of Israel.

Erin Bell [00:10:40] Can you describe what his involvement with that?

Ruth Dancyger [00:10:44] What his involvement was with that? I'm in the process of writing work right now about it, and of course, there's all kinds of details. He eventually. I can say this, that I'll start at the end, just before the state was declared by David Ben-Gurion, just at the end. Let me back up a little. He is described in textbooks as the fiery Rabbi Silver. He was as militant about the need for this state. By that time, the Jews were being exterminated in Europe. As you know, the state came into being in 1948. That was three years after the end of the Second World War, just before the United Nations declared that there should be a state of Israel. He and Ben-Gurion shared the chairmanship of what was then called the Jewish Agency. Ben-Gurion was in Israel, and Silver was here. And Silver came upon the scene as an important figure at the time that there was a transition of focus, of activity from Great Britain. Great Britain had been the home of Balfour. You want this whole lesson. You don't want this whole lesson on the formation of it, because we're getting away from Cleveland, of Israel. [crosstalk] Well, the thing is, it's one thing leads to another, so it makes it very difficult for me to edit myself as I'm talking. You're gonna. That's gonna be your job, right?

Erin Bell [00:12:36] Well, we should. We should. I know that especially when you're in the midst of research, you could probably go on.

Ruth Dancyger [00:12:41] Forever, and that it's not. That's moving away from Cleveland.

Erin Bell [00:12:46] Well, let's keep talking about Rabbi Silver and maybe we can do a different interview.

Ruth Dancyger [00:12:49] Well, what I want to say is that Rabbi Silver replaced Chaim Weitzman, the focus of Zionism, moved to the United States, and in the United States it moved to Rabbi Silver in Cleveland. However, his offices during those years were not in Cleveland. He traveled between New York and Washington constantly. Between the years 1942 and 1948, he maintained his contact with the temple, came home every Sunday to deliver an address to the temple. There may have been a few times when he didn't come home, and he did used to take, during my lifetime as a child and a young lady growing up, he took, I would say, three or four, what was called sabbaticals, where he stayed away for several months at a time . During those times he traveled to Israel and he traveled to different places in Europe. But there was no question that Rabbi Silver was from Cleveland, Ohio, and that he was really the backbone of the Zionist movement in the United States. Now, there will be some people that will dispute that. I know from my own research that if he hadn't done what he did, he was a great organizer. He organized rallies at Madison Square Garden. He organized rallies at Lewisohn Stadium. He arranged for a whole Christian coterie of people to be Christians, for a Jewish state, that kind of thing. A terrific propagandist for that kind of thing. And he addressed the congress several times because he wanted a congressional resolution to the effect that the United States approved the idea of the need for a Jewish state. That failed time after time, he spoke to the congress. It took three different efforts to finally get that through, but he did that, and he addressed the United Nations. He made a key address to the United Nations, making the case for the establishment of the state of Israel. That was in May of 1947. So he was a very important man, and I feel, actually, that he lost his health during those horrendous years. In the first place the task of his goal was overwhelming, but there was an enormous amount of political bickering in the innards of the Zionist movement itself. Rabbi Stephen Wise, for example, felt that he knew President Roosevelt better than Rabbi Silver knew President Roosevelt. And Rabbi wise. It just made me so furious. When I would read, Rabbi Wise would refer to President Roosevelt, how is the boss doing? You know, that kind of icky stuff. That would be beneath the kind of thing that Rabbi Silver, he was the most dignified person in the world and the most private. A public figure. Private life. Totally private.

Erin Bell [00:16:20] So what was the. How was he received by Clevelanders outside of the Jewish community?

Ruth Dancyger [00:16:27] He was. I would say that he was extremely popular, and not in a back slapping that kind of way, but he was popular in a way of respect. People respected. And if he said something, they were pretty sure it was the truth. He wasn't always right. Nobody's perfect. And he made certain judgments from time to time that I have come to see were not particularly meaningful or of great importance. But he was. He was a. He was a real. The kind of character that I wish we had that kind of leadership in. I don't think that kind of thing exists. It was a different world. And, you know, you didn't have a 24/7 news which talks about trivia, because there's so much when. When somebody said something in those days, it was very meaningful. When President Roosevelt spoke at those fireside chats. There are people today who really feel that he was on television. There was no television in those days, but there are people that would swear that he was on television because it was infrequent and it was punchy. When he said something, it meant something. They didn't giggle and make jokes at each other as they were doing it. And Rabbi Silver was of that particular era. I don't know what he would be thinking of, what's going on today? I've often thought about that, but many of his pronunciamentos that I have read are very timely. Very timely.

Erin Bell [00:18:04] So my understanding is that, well, first of all, the temple is the result of the split with Anshe Chesed, correct?

Ruth Dancyger [00:18:17] Well, you could say that, yeah, you could say that.

Erin Bell [00:18:20] Okay. Is there anything that you want to add?

Ruth Dancyger [00:18:24] Well, the Anshe Chesed, it had been in existence of just a very short time, I think maybe about a year before that, that split came. And the story is that Anshe Chesed was a little bit more conservative. And so there was a small group that split away. That kind of thing happens all the time and all I think any religious organization sees that happen. It isn't only the Jews, although we do like to make fun and say Jews, you get two Jews together and you get five opinions, you know, that kind of thing. But that's true. Anything that has to do with religion is touchy that way. Yes, it did split.

Erin Bell [00:19:01] Okay. And then my understanding is that during the Silver era, there was another split that led to the creation of suburban temple in Beechwood.

Ruth Dancyger [00:19:11] That's correct.

Erin Bell [00:19:14] Was that a disagreement over Zionism or was it more.

Ruth Dancyger [00:19:17] It was definitely a disagreement over Zionism.

Erin Bell [00:19:21] Okay, what was. Can you summarize that?

Ruth Dancyger [00:19:23] You want me to talk about that? Oh, sure. There always, when you're in a community, there are always more than one point of view. And Zionism was an emotional issue as well as a practical issue. And many of the descendants of the early founders of Temple Tifereth Israel were those German Jews, and they were. They thought, there was no question about it. They were a snobbish group. They wanted to continue the kind of relationship with the community that Rabbi Gries had. They really, there was a lot of intermarriage. They really would have preferred it, I think, if they could be Unitarians instead of Jews. But they felt a certain loyalty to the fact that their antecedents had founded this temple, and the temple had been founded by people who were not interested in Zionism, their Zion. When that temple was founded, their promised land was the United States of America. And that's a worthy point of view. That's okay. They always objected to the fact that their children had to learn the Hebrew alphabet and had to recite the prayers in Hebrew. They felt if they said the prayers in Hebrew, that should be enough. They didn't have to learn all these other things about it. So there was a split in a philosophy about what should be taught in the Sunday school. And Rabbi Silver was unbending. I will say that he really didn't know how to make a case in a way that would appear to be compromising and yet wouldn't compromise. He was more honest than that. He said, I will not compromise. I came here with the understanding. Everybody understood that I was a Zionist. And that's going to be the point of view that I'm going to express, and I'm going to express it worldwide. And they said, tough. We don't want a state of Israel. The irony is that the very year that that temple, Suburban Temple, was. What would you say? Consecrated or when they consecrated the sanctuary, that very year was the year that Israel was declared a state. That's what happened. And for a long time, they struggled. They had a rabbi that was. Well, I know he didn't know any Hebrew, because I took a trip. I personally took a trip with a group. Many of my friends went over to that temple. And I went to Israel in 1971 with a group from that temple led by that temple's rabbi, who was a nice guy. But when the guides over there wanted to speak Hebrew to him, he didn't understand them. He didn't know Hebrew. Rabbi Silver spoke Hebrew, not Yiddish. He could speak Yiddish, but he spoke Hebrew from the time he was a child. Now, Suburban Temple is just as much, if not more Conservative than Tifereth Israel. You just can't buck it. I mean, that's the tide. They were bucking the tide. But it was an emotional slap in the face to Rabbi Silver. He felt that very deeply. However, I must tell you that there were 150 families that left our temple, and there were 150 families that left Anshe Chesed. They were the backbone of Suburban Temple. So they left the other temple, too. It wasn't only ours, but because Rabbi Silver was the man who he was. People were not even aware. This community thought that Silver’s temple was falling apart, which, of course, it didn't. But it did take away from some of the families that Rabbi Silver had been very friendly with their parents. So that was a very sad moment in his life. And I do feel that even though the war ended in 45, and he lived until 1963. I always felt that physically, he aged quicker than he should have. He was only 70 when he died, and that's very young, especially from my perspective.

Erin Bell [00:24:22] What is the meaning of the name of the temple?

Ruth Dancyger [00:24:26] What is the meaning of that? What is the translation?

Sue Koletsky [00:34:30] The glory of Israel.

Erin Bell [00:24:34] So that name was established well before?

Ruth Dancyger [00:24:39] Yes. There are many temples that are called Tifereth Israel, and many that are called Anshe Chesed. All of those have histories.

Erin Bell [00:24:49] You mentioned a couple times about the distinction between German Jews and other Jews in the early 20th century and before. Can you talk about Why that is?

Ruth Dancyger [00:25:03] Yeah, because the German Jews lived in a country, believe it or not, that was very liberal as far as the Jews were concerned. And they were educated. And although the Russian Jews and the Polish Jews were educated in Torah, they were not worldly, because they weren't permitted. Very few were permitted. That doesn't mean that there were no schools or secular schools available to certain Jews. But the Jews were definitely isolated in countries like Russia and Poland, in little places called pales of settlement. And in Italy, they were isolated into little communities that were called the ghetto. They didn't have. Although there were Jewish sections and Jewish neighborhoods in Germany, there was the possibility of them getting out and mingling. And there was an enormous amount of intermarriage in Germany. That's what part of the problem was. And those people were all highly educated. So I think it had to do with education, because with education comes so many other amenities. It has to do with your culture. And that was the reason.

Erin Bell [00:26:16] And so then when Eastern European Jews start coming over in the later era, it's perceived as kind of a threat to their reputation. Is that...

Ruth Dancyger [00:26:27] I don't think they ever felt a threat. No, I don't feel that they were seen as a threat. They were just seen. As a matter of fact, there were German Jews. You know, the Jews mostly went to New York. There were German Jews in New York that set up, like, the Jewish educational alliance. What am I thinking of? Settlement houses where these eastern Jews should come. They were encouraged to come, to become educated there. They wanted to bring these people along, but at the same time, they felt that there was a difference in their culture, but they were kindly to them. They never felt threatened by them. I never felt that that was the case. They didn't feel threatened.

Erin Bell [00:27:13] Okay, and what about interactions with other ethnic groups? In Cleveland's earlier history, Jews often lived with Italians and other European immigrant groups. And at some point, those groups kind of split up or gelled into more distinct.

Ruth Dancyger [00:27:32] You know, that's something that occurred in my lifetime. This ethnic thing when I was a child. Now this has nothing to do with the Euclid corridor, but this is about life. When I was a child, the household help that we had in the north here was not black. They were Europeans mostly. And many of them came from Eastern European places. And those girls that used to work in my parents home and in my parents home was no different than many others. Used to hurry through doing the dinner dishes so that they could go down to John Hay high school where classes were given in English and American speaking English and American history. Everybody knew what it was to be an American. That's not so today. This ethnic thing, I don't know why they did that. I don't know why that happened. But I think this business, nobody would think that you should have. That I should pick up the phone and someones going to start talking Spanish to me over the phone. That was unheard of. You came to this country to become an American. I don’t think the kids today know what it means to become an American that are coming from these other places. They cherish the isolation. These are cycles. I hope its only a cycle because I think its to our detriment.

Erin Bell [00:28:59] Let's go back and focus on the actual building of the temple. You mentioned that it was designed by Charles Greco.

Ruth Dancyger [00:29:08] Greco.

Erin Bell [00:29:11] What are some of the amenities in the building? Well, first, can you describe the architecture?

Ruth Dancyger [00:29:19] Well, the architecture is certainly what we would call Middle Eastern. You know, have you ever been to Turkey? Have you been to the Middle East? Well, you see a lot of domes there. Well, we have a dome. So it's a Byzantine architecture, I would say, and I would say that the accoutrements inside. What would you say? That's Sue’s field.

Sue Koletsky [00:29:46] It is a Byzantine building. It has some kind of. Almost has a Moorish feeling. Also there's, as Ruth said, a dome. The dome that you see from the outside is, has a beautiful golden look to it. And it's made out of individual tiles that have a gold aspect to it. [crosstalk] No, not an aspect. A glaze. An actual glaze. It's ceramic, so it's glazed and so it actually glistens. It happens that it's a double dome. So that the outside dome is on the outside, obviously. And then the interior there's a dome, but you can walk in between. There's a hallway between the two domes. And there are stained glass windows that are there that some of them get natural light and fluorescent light. So the windows on the top are always giving the effect that there's light pouring through. And the windows on the bottom near the balcony actually came from our last building, which was described on east 55th. And one of those sets of windows that are memorial windows, are from 1900, and another one is from 1903. They were donated by the Temple Women's Association and also the Hayes family. So we brought some things from that building, from the other building. Another thing that we brought from that building is a plaque that Judah Touro had given our congregation $3,000. And he was a Jewish merchant that lived in New Orleans. And when he passed away, he bequeathed many congregations money at the time, which was a huge amount, so that they could continue to build new buildings for their congregation. So that was very helpful for our temple. And there's a plaque in that building in honor of that gift. On the inside of the building, there's a beautiful bimah, which is carved out of walnut. And on the bimah, which is the platform where you have the ark. And the ark is central to the architecture of the synagogue. So that's carved out of a beautiful, beautiful walnut. And there's, on each side of the ark are the ten commandments. And then at the top of it in an arch is the Shema. And then there are four Torah scrolls in the ark that we have in that building. There's a lot of. There's a balcony in that building that's also carved out of. And it's reformed congregation. So the balcony was not intended for women's seating, but for family seating. And the seating is 1900 people. What else would you like to know about the interior of the building?

Erin Bell [00:32:41] I understand there was a library and a gym in the original plan.

Sue Koletsky [00:32:46] Do you want to talk about that? The original plans?

Ruth Dancyger [00:32:51] I don't think that the gym was ever built. Would you say that Mahler Hall was not the gym?

Sue Koletsky [00:32:56] No, Mahler Hall was downstairs, they said. I mean, there was a book written that was called the Shul with the pool, actually. And that was.

Ruth Dancyger [00:33:03] That was not our temple.

Sue Koletsky [00:33:04] Well, but our temple was involved with that. Yeah, because it was the idea of institutional Judaism with Rabbi Gries. Exactly what you were talking about.

Ruth Dancyger [00:33:13] Certain plans and certain ideas had been expressed during the lifetime of Rabbi Gries. But when Rabbi Silver came, he turned it around, abandoned the idea of the gym. But you're right. I remember we did go back to the inner workings of the temple, and I think that we saw what appeared to be showerheads and stuff. They were planning to put a gym there, but the gym never materialized.

Sue Koletsky [00:33:40] Actually, it could be where the. Where the museum gallery is now, which is kind of a middle floor in between, could have been considered where the pool was going to be, because that's where the showers are very near, or some kind of gym. It's not that big. But that was never. It was never.

Ruth Dancyger [00:33:57] It never created that way. But there is a huge hall there, which is a social hall. It's also in the building. And at one time in my childhood, and even when I was an adult, there was a stage there, you know, that came down. I don't know. I think it came down when they built Luntz Auditorium

Sue Koletsky [00:34:14] In the fifties, the building was expanded in the fifties to house a very large religious school and an auditorium. Luntz Auditorium.

Ruth Dancyger [00:34:26] And that's modern.

Sue Koletsky [00:34:28] That's much more modern. I mean, it fits onto the building, but it's in a very much more modern style.

Erin Bell [00:34:35] And is that where the orchestra performed? There were orchestra performances in the temple, or is this.

Ruth Dancyger [00:34:41] Oh, there were chorus, choirs and members participation in the orchestra? Yeah, it was in my lifetime, as far as I know, it may have existed, but I was unaware of it. I think there was extracurricular activity, having an attachment to the religious school. Maybe people could come down there and they did have an orchestra. I remember. I think I have a picture of it. But that orchestra, the orchestra was viable mostly during the time that they were on 55th street, because Rabbi Silver stated when he came that it was going to be a house of worship and study, and we were not going to have secular activity there. He did allow dances of the confirmation class dance and that kind of stuff, but he did not want frivolous things going on in that building.

Sue Koletsky [00:35:39] Yet when you read the Temple Times articles from those years, there were amazing people that came in and spoke. So there was a variety of programming where he brought in political speakers and historians and artists. So there's always been, and that's been a very important part of our congregation to bring in a lot of culture and have lively discussions and learn.

Ruth Dancyger [00:36:08] That was before the days of television. And any famous author who wanted to sell his book would welcome an invitation from our temple to come and speak. And we had MacKinlay Kantor, who was a Pulitzer Prize author, wrote a book called Andersonville. He spoke there. And Bennett Cerf, who was the editor of Random House, spoke there. All the kinds of people that you would see on television today used to be registered out of New York to come and speak at various venues. And our temple was one of the major places they came. The Temple Women's Association had a major meeting every month on Wednesday from September to May, during the winter fall and winter spring season.

James Calder [00:37:05] Can I ask a quick question just before we get too far away from the actual building, along with sort of the description, what was your, I guess, maybe more of an impression, or what was like sort of the emotional response to the building? Do you have any memories, either of you?

Ruth Dancyger [00:37:21] Absolutely, and I'm sure that Sue does. To this day, when people come, particularly people who are not Jewish, they are bowled over with that sanctuary. And I will tell you it's in great need of rehabilitation. But part of it is, of course, its vastness, that domed feeling when you come in there, for one thing, and also the fact that even if its a cloudy day, the stained glass windows, illuminated artificially as well as from the outside, are always visible. I don’t know if you’ve been to any churches in Europe. Well, you go into these wonderful chapels in Europe and cathedrals in Europe. If you go there at night, you don't see anything. It's just like blanks. That's not true in our sanctuary. And, you know, the Jewish holidays begin in the evening, so you're in there in the evening, and those windows are always illuminated. The reaction to that sanctuary is totally emotional, and people adore coming in there. There's one other temple that I've been in, and that's Temple Emmanuel in New York City, that gives you that same effect. And it isn't as the architecture itself in the sanctuary isn't as beautiful as ours, but their windows are beautiful.

Sue Koletsky [00:38:52] It has a very spiritual feeling to it. When you walk in, you just kind of pause and kind of drink it in. And even though it's large in the sense that it can seat 1900 people, there's an intimacy, too, because it's a seven sided building. And I don't know if that's what makes it kind of feel enclosure. Right.

Ruth Dancyger [00:39:17] It envelopes you.

Sue Koletsky [00:39:19] Yeah, it almost hugs you in a way. It makes you feel very secure. And if you happen to be up on the bimah and you look out, you can actually make eye contact with every person that's there. So you feel, whether you're sitting as a congregant and you're looking at the rabbis or at the canter, there's eye contact. There's a connection there as well, you know, a horizontal connection, as well as the dome being so high, it's kind of a spiritual connection. So it's a very interesting dynamic that's going on in that building. And people, when they do come in, immediately feel it. There's something palpable, empty. Yeah. I've gone in with people with the lights off, and so you just see the light from the windows shining down. And it's very quiet and serene, and it's just a very, very special spiritual feeling that that building has.

Ruth Dancyger [00:40:15] We need a Warren Buffet to put that place into shape very badly.

Erin Bell [00:40:23] Well, yeah, I mean, that's one of the things I was going to ask about for the building, is maintenance. What kind of problems are you guys experiencing?

Ruth Dancyger [00:40:31] Major, major problems. That's what my interview, that's several years ago that I told you my son in law is working on. I talked about that.

Sue Koletsky [00:40:40] Well, we have an executive director, our current one, and our director in the past have been very creative with trying to have different tenants in the building. And we lease the building currently to a wonderful charter school, which is Citizens Academy. And they've been in the building probably eight years, I'm thinking. And they are in the former religious school, the new wing. In the new wing, and have done an enormous amount of renovation and are doing wonderful things with the students there. In the area that we told you about before, which is the Luntz auditorium, we have Amani Church, that's there on Sundays, our specific religious area, which is the sanctuary. And we haven't told you about the chapel yet. The thing that's another very amazing part of the building is that we have original Arthur stained glass windows, which are totally unique. Arthur Szyk was a Polish Jewish artist. He was specifically known for his political cartoons that were on the covers of Collier's magazine all the time during the war. And he was a very well educated political cartoonist. People really knew his biting cartoons, and he really helped people understand what was going on in the war, actually. And he also was an illuminated manuscript artist. So he did beautiful, very detailed illustrations from things from the Declaration of Independence to Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales. He illustrated many, many books. And he was a Zionist. And he came to America right before the war. And then he lived in New Canaan, Connecticut, until 1952, when he passed away. But after the war, Abba Hillel Silver felt it was very important to honor the 22 young men who died from our congregation in the war, during the war, in World War II. So he commissioned Arthur Szyk to do a painting, do small paintings of three Jewish warriors and historic figures. That was Judah Maccabee, Gideon, and Samson. And then those were created into stained glass windows by the studio in Philadelphia. And they are in the synagogue now, along with this huge book that has the names of over 730 congregants from our temple that served in any way during World War II. And there's a beautiful little alcove there that was designed by Rorimer-Brooks, Cleveland.

Ruth Dancyger [00:43:29] Rorimer-Brooks was an interior design studio from Cleveland.

Sue Koletsky [00:43:32] From Cleveland, Ohio.

Ruth Dancyger [00:43:33] And they were located on Euclid Avenue at about 18th street. So they have on the south side of the street.

Sue Koletsky [00:43:42] So it's a beautiful little alcove there. And then in the Gries Chapel, there are twelve windows, and the names of the 22 young men are in the windows there. Their names are listed in the windows. And the windows at the bottom have different symbols for the twelve tribes of Israel. And then there are a variety of Jewish symbols, from crowns to the tablets to shofars to the star of David, all designed throughout those windows. But in terms of stained glass, this is only stained glass that he was commissioned to do. So. If you're a fan of Arthur Szyk, this is a very unusual and unique thing to have in Cleveland, Ohio. And we're very proud of that. So we have those windows and the windows in the sanctuary together make quite a beautiful collection. And then we also have another set of stained glass, another stained glass window there that was taken from the east 55th synagogue, and that we think is done. We were thinking it was a Tiffany, but it's actually a lamb, we're pretty sure. And it's of Charity, a painting by Bouguereau, the French artist. And it's called Charity.

Ruth Dancyger [00:45:00] And it's very non hebraic.

Sue Koletsky [00:45:03] Right. It is very non hebraic, but it was on the front of what's now Friendship Baptist Church. And if you go by Friendship Baptist Church, you'll see that it's boarded up in the front, but the petals of the rosette is still in that building. But we have the window in the.

Ruth Dancyger [00:45:17] Middle, and it represents the point of view of the congregation at that time. That was non hebraic.

Sue Koletsky [00:45:27] It's a pastoral scene, but it definitely does not look Jewish. It's a mother holding two babies.

Ruth Dancyger [00:45:38] Not quite the Madonna.

Sue Koletsky [00:45:39] Right. Two babies.

Erin Bell [00:45:42] You had mentioned the stained glass depicting the Jewish warriors and how that related to World War II. What was the feeling during the war at the temple? I mean, obviously not a good one, not a good situation. But how is that expressed by the congregation?

Ruth Dancyger [00:46:04] Well, the Temple Women's Association would assume the visible and active participation in the support of the fighting forces. That social hall that I described to you was used by the women of the congregation. Who rolled bandages and did all the kinds of things that. That they're working in conjunction with the Red Cross. They did that, and they also sold war bonds. They volunteered to sell war bonds around the city. There were stations around the city of Cleveland for that. So they were actively involved in the support of our troops. Absolutely.

Erin Bell [00:46:52] Let's talk about the museum. Can you describe the collection and the gallery?

Sue Koletsky [00:47:00] Sure. The museum began in 1950. Rabbi Silver was always interested in the arts. And actually, before the museum began, he had an exhibit at the Temple of Isidor Kaufmann’s paintings. So that was kind of predated the inception of the museum, which he wanted to do as a celebration for the hundredth anniversary of the synagogue. And it was a museum of art and music at the time, and he wanted it in that specific space. It's kind of 13 steps down from the main floor. It's a beautiful gallery with parquet floors. And the wood is a beautiful kind of warm, almost yellowish brown wood that I think came from South America. It's a beautiful room. I think it's about 2400 square feet. He started the collection with some pieces that he was able to get from what was called the Jewish cultural reconstruction at the time. They were pieces that were airlifted from the war and being distributed or redistributed to America and to some of the museums in Israel. And he worked with a gentleman by the name of Stephen Kayser from the Jewish Theological Seminary, which then became the Jewish Museum, and was able to get about 70 pieces that began the collection. Some of them were from. They were from all over Europe, but they were synagogue pieces. They didn't belong to specific people. They were from synagogues that were destroyed. And unfortunately, the communities no longer existed. So we have some pieces that are from Torah scrolls, let's say the Rimonim, that are ceremonial silver pieces that go on the top of the staves, some tassels that go onto the scrolls, seder plates, a few menorahs that would be used for Hanukkah. And then he was able to also procure a lot of pieces that were given to him as gifts when people would travel, that he would see at auctions from Sotheby Parke-Bernet, or at that time, it was just called Sotheby or Parke-Bernet, rather. And the collection grew. So the collection is now at about 1500 pieces. And we have contemporary pieces, fine arts, archaeological pieces. We have a beautiful collection of Israel stamps. From the beginning of Israel. We have archaeological pieces. Rabbi Daniel Silver was very interested in biblical archaeology and worked with the Israel Museum to create a very interesting exhibit in 1969 called Atikot. And they did a variety of casts from some of the pieces. So we have some replicas of important archaeological pieces. So it's a combination of fine arts and ritual art. Most recently, we've had a wonderful donation from a woman artist from Boston whose name is Judith Weinshall Liberman. And she's done 45 wall hangings that have to do with the Holocaust, called the Holocaust wall hangings. And they depict in fabric, in textile art, maps of the Holocaust and scenes and also her epilogue pieces where she asked, where was God during the Holocaust? And we have an exhibition space at the main synagogue for those pieces that is called the Hannah Myers Gallery [?]. And we rotate those pieces and do a lot of education.

Ruth Dancyger [00:50:53] How many pieces did you say there were?

Sue Koletsky [00:50:55] There are 45 that we have in the collection.

Ruth Dancyger [00:50:57] We have to rotate them. We don't have the space there for all of them. It would be overwhelming to have them all at once.

Erin Bell [00:51:05] Do you have. Wow. Sorry, you already answered the question that I was about to ask.

Sue Koletsky [00:51:13] Okay. [laughter]

Erin Bell [00:51:18] There were at one period, if not now, am I correct in thinking that high holy day services were held at Severance Hall?

Ruth Dancyger [00:51:26] At the time that they had their peak membership of about 2500 families? They could not all be taken. They couldn't all find seats at the time of the. Because the families could be times four. If there are four in the family, it's certainly more than just two. And so, yes, they had to use. They had to use Severance Hall as a supplement to have the. When they had the high holy day services, that was the time that there was a big controversy about moving out away from 105th street, building a huge temple out in the suburbs. And that was the kind of thing that Rabbi Silver definitely opposed. I don't know how he thought it was going to get taken care of as far as the membership was concerned, but these things all sort of tumble around together. But I do remember his famous words when there was a big meeting, the entire congregation must have been there, because I was there and I was a young woman, and I wasn't in any position to be on an advisory committee of any kind. And the talk was about moving away from what was happening. There were slums all around, and things were deteriorating and things were very bad. Oh, I know what it was. It was before they built the wing. He said that we could handle everything, that they could have the services being held simultaneously in the social hall. I know they did that in Washington. My children's synagogue had to do that. And that was just one week out of the year. But we were going to. Wanted to build another temple would be out of the question. He said, the great cathedrals of Europe don't move to the suburbs. He had built this temple, and this was a. Cut off his arm. I mean, it would be part of him that they would leave behind. He forgot that Cleveland is in Paris, unfortunately. But the wing, of course, was never. The branch was never constructed until after his death.

Erin Bell [00:53:53] This is in the sixties.

Ruth Dancyger [00:53:57] No, it was before the sixties because the wing was built in 1958. Our peak was right after everything got so big right after the war. So this was, I would say, in the late. In the early. The decade of the fifties, because there began to be a decline in religious membership, religious institution membership by the seventies. So there was, I mean, visible. I mean, you were aware of it. And it began in the. In the. In the sixties, actually. So this was in the fifties.

Erin Bell [00:54:37] What was the problem in the fifties then? It was. You said there were slums. I guess I never think of Cleveland as is entering that kind of deteriorating era until later.

Ruth Dancyger [00:54:48] It was in terrible shape. It was in terrible shape. And the reason that I'm so aware of it, remember I told you that I went to the. I got my master's degree and. Well, that was in response to what I told you was the Watts Riots. And we had our riots here. It was called the Glenville Riots. Well, Glenville was next door. I mean, that was the neighborhood. That was the old Jewish neighborhood that had deteriorated very badly. There were slum lords that owned that property. That was long before the Cleveland Clinic was anything more than a one building operation. It was definitely surrounding the temple. The temple bought property that is. Now there's a property. I don't know. Are you familiar at all with the location of the temple?

Erin Bell [00:55:36] Yes.

Ruth Dancyger [00:55:36] Well, you know that there's this grassy area there that was a street that was filled with terrible buildings that we knocked down, and we turned that into something called Silver Park. There was a big fundraising drive for that, so that we were trying to increase our acreage in that area so that we would be protected to some degree there. But it was bad, actually. The rescue came from that started to come through the expansion of the Cleveland Clinic.

Erin Bell [00:56:09] Did you grow up in Glenville?

Ruth Dancyger [00:56:10] No, I grew up in Cleveland Heights. I hadn't told you that. That's one thing. I don't think I'd gotten that far. You told me you lived in Cleveland Heights.

Erin Bell [00:56:19] Yes, I did. Was Glenville a time where you spent time?

Ruth Dancyger [00:56:27] No, by the time we didn't, my family moved from the city to Cleveland Heights in 1919. I'm going to be 90 years old on my next birthday. So, you know, I go back a long way. So I was not. I was really. Except for the fact that I went to the temple to go to Sunday school. And in the early days when I went there, it wasn't a slum. I mean, when I was in the early years in Sunday school, it was a Jewish neighborhood. 105th street was a Jewish neighborhood, and it included, I mean, abutting it was the Glenville area. And Glenville High School was still. It was a major high school in the city of Cleveland, but it was filled mostly with Jewish kids. It was a big Jewish neighborhood, but they had, on 105th street, they had absolutely fabulous delicatessens. There was a wonderful delicatessen there, if you like that kind of food. It was fun. We used to drive down there on Sunday night to have.

Sue Koletsky [00:57:23] Tasty Shop, is that what it was?

Ruth Dancyger [00:57:24] Well, Tasty Shop was on 100 or Euclid and 105th. This was on 105th street down towards. Going down towards Superior, [crosstalk] Solomon’s was what it was called.

Erin Bell [00:57:39] What else was in here?

Ruth Dancyger [00:57:40] Oh, my God, there was a skating rink. There was an Elysium skating rink the kids used to go to. When you entered 6th grade at the religious school, you started to go Sunday school on Saturday. And we used to go to Sunday school on Saturday and carried our ice skates with us. And we used to walk from the. Our parents used to drop us off, and we would walk from temple to the Elysium skating club and have a hot dog and skate there until around 03:00 where our parent, when our parents would pick us up and take us home, or a lot of kids used to take the streetcar in those days. Public transportation hadn't vanished completely in those days. And 105th street and Euclid Avenue, my god, it was filled with all kinds of wonderful things. There were at. Well, there were two theaters that had vaudeville in my day. It was a lively neighborhood. It was Midtown. It was called Midtown. Very approachable. There was a streetcar that went up and down Euclid Avenue, stopped right in front of the Elysium skating rink. They had wonderful organ music. We used to skate to that. Organ music. It was a real live organist. Played the organ. Those movie houses were fabulous. The two with the vaudeville were wonderful. One, it was the RKO circuit, and the other, I don't know what. I think it was a Lowe's. RKO and Lowe's were the two top ones. And there were other movie houses there that had just movies that were wonderful. There were wonderful restaurants there. There were fabulous hotels there. The Wade Park Manor, which is right near, it's right off of 105th street. That's now Judson park. It was a super duper deluxe hotel, and around the corner from it was one that's just been rehabilitated, called the Park Lane Villa. Those were family hotels, both commercial and families lived there. And on the corner of 105th street and Euclid Avenue was the Fenway Hotel, smaller, but very first grade, first class. Later on, it became more commercial and not near as attractive because there were elements that moved in there that weren't so great then. They used to have black and tan clubs. Those were where you'd get a mixture of high school kids that were white mixing with the black community. I think Art Tatum used to play there. You ever heard of Art Tatum? Used to be. Come to Cleveland. There was a female pianist, her name was Rose Murphy. Fabulous pianist. And these were dives. I used to go to those when I was in high school. I don't think my parents knew I did that.

James Calder [01:00:35] Can I ask a couple more? Just about that area? This might be before your time. Do you remember the zoo in the University Circle area? That was the original site of the Cleveland Zoo.

Sue Koletsky [01:00:46] I remember that, though.

Ruth Dancyger [01:00:48] Why would you remember it? In 105th street?

Sue Koletsky [01:00:51] No, not at 105th street, but by the art museum.

James Calder [01:00:55] Yeah, exactly.

Sue Koletsky [01:00:56] Yeah. There was a monkey house there when I was really little. I remember that. That would have been like I was born in 53, so. And we didn't move here. It must have been in the early sixties. There was a monkey house there.

Ruth Dancyger [01:01:07] See I was an adult and long married.

Sue Koletsky [01:01:10] Yeah.

James Calder [01:01:11] Really? That's weird.

Sue Koletsky [01:01:12] Have you not heard of that before?

James Calder [01:01:13] Well, I've heard of the zoo there and I think. When. When did the zoo move to.

Erin Bell [01:01:18] Oh, I talked to someone at the Metroparks and she thought that they started moving in the twenties to the current location, but she didn't know. She thought maybe they had some stuff in University Circle for a while but I didn’t think that late.

Sue Koletsky [01:01:33] Well, I have. You know what? You know why you remember that? I remember that because I took, when I was little, I took classes at the art museum, and we would, like, go over there and sketch it, I'm pretty sure.

Ruth Dancyger [01:01:46] Funny. I don't remember it at all.

Erin Bell [01:01:48] I’ve heard other people say that too. I think that was the Joseph O’Sickey interview that we have on file.

Sue Koletsky [01:01:53] I don't remember a lot of other.

Ruth Dancyger [01:01:56] Joseph O’Sickey is my age. I have one of his paintings.

Sue Koletsky [01:01:57] But I definitely remember the monkey house. It was white and it had monkeys.

Ruth Dancyger [01:02:02] You know what I paid for it? 350 dollars.

James Calder [01:02:09] I guess. Another thing I was thinking about, or wanted to ask about in that general area, although it's a little farther up Cedar is, especially since you're from Cleveland Heights, do you remember the Alcazar hotel? Can you offer any descriptions of that? Kind of off the topic of what we're talking about, but.

Ruth Dancyger [01:02:27] Well, the Alcazar was the Cleveland Heights location of an echo of the Wade Park Manor and the Park Lane Villa. It was quite elegant, and it too was a family hotel. And I think that they probably. I'm sure they had a ballroom, and I think that that would be the kind of place that dancing school classes would be held, ballroom dancing for young teenagers. So the Alcazar hotel, yes, was an important entity. It had a very nice dining room, but. So that's all I can tell you. It was in the same class as those others that I described that had previously been occupied on 105th street.

James Calder [01:03:13] Did you ever go there?

Ruth Dancyger [01:03:14] Yes, I did.

James Calder [01:03:15] What was. I guess like the same thing, kind of. What was the impression you got from the hotel going in there?

Ruth Dancyger [01:03:21] I felt that it was an elegant environment. It's. I'm. I think that I remember that the floor was tiled with beautiful. Have you seen it? And are there tiles on the floor?

James Calder [01:03:32] Yeah, it's almost like Moorish.

Ruth Dancyger [01:03:33] Yes, it is. Yes, it is. Well, the name Alcazar, of course, you can see where they were coming from. Yeah. I didn't go there frequently, but I did go there occasionally.

James Calder [01:03:44] Okay, excellent. That's just kind of a random question.

Ruth Dancyger [01:03:47] Yeah.

James Calder [01:03:50] Get back to you.

Erin Bell [01:03:51] Here's another one that also doesn't relate. [laughter]

Ruth Dancyger [01:03:54] That's all right. You know something? You need the periphery, because if you want to put a focus on it, you have to have the periphery.

Erin Bell [01:04:00] You had mentioned Art Tatum and jazz, and do you remember Leo's Casino? I believe that was in the area.

Sue Koletsky [01:04:09] I've heard of it, but I never. I was.

Ruth Dancyger [01:04:11] God, I wish I could think of the name of the one that was really there. The guy that I remember who was a black guy and a very good pianist. His name was Poison Gardner. I think Poison was the singer. God, there were three. There was a woman and two men.

Sue Koletsky [01:04:24] Was that the Theatrical Grill?

Ruth Dancyger [01:04:25] Theatrical Grill, was downtown. This was 105th street. Oh, God. And my friends who used to go there with me are all dead.

James Calder [01:04:33] The Coliseum was down there. Trying to think of other names.

Ruth Dancyger [01:04:37] The coliseum?

James Calder [01:04:38] I think they just tore the building of the coliseum.

Ruth Dancyger [01:04:42] The coliseum, honey, wasn't downtown.

James Calder [01:04:43] Not the Richfield Coliseum, but there was a bar called the Coliseum.

Ruth Dancyger [01:04:47] I don't remember any bar called the Coliseum. It may have been there, but I was not. I don't know anything about it, but I'm trying to think of the name of the. There was definitely a nightclub, black and tan, that was on 105th street. And what name did you give me?

Erin Bell [01:05:08] Leo's Casino.

Sue Koletsky [01:05:09] Yeah, definitely. I mean, I don't know, but I remember.

Ruth Dancyger [01:05:12] But I don't think I ever was there that much. See, once I was married, my husband and I weren't interested in that kind of stuff, but.

Sue Koletsky [01:05:20] And when I was here, like when I was in high school, in the late sixties. Sixties. And so the area was not one that your parents would necessarily say, oh.

Ruth Dancyger [01:05:30] No, you wouldn't want to go down there.

Sue Koletsky [01:05:32] But I definitely know that there was a Leo's Casino.

Ruth Dancyger [01:05:36] Yeah, I remember. God, I wish I could remember the names of those. It'll come to me tonight, of course. But I remember Poison Gardener. Then there was a girl, there was a threesome that they. It was a real hot spot right there on 105th street. And there was also one in that area where you had to go downstairs. Maybe that's where Leo's Casino was. Had to go down steep stairs. I think that's where I heard Art Tatum. That's going back a long way. And I wasn't a devotee of those places, so that's why it's not as clear in my mind as it could be.

Erin Bell [01:06:16] Okay, one other one, and then we'll get back on track, is the Arena. Did you guys ever spend any time at The Arena?

Ruth Dancyger [01:06:26] A lot. Cleveland had a 12th rate hockey team, and my husband was a big athlete and a big fan. A sports fan. And we used to have season tickets to go to watch the hockey team. I can't remember, what were they called? Was our hockey team?

Sue Koletsky [01:06:42] The Barons.

Ruth Dancyger [01:06:43] The Barons. They were a terrible team. But we did used to go down there, and then after that, the Elysium that I spoke to you about was torn down. And the people that used to skate at the Elysium arranged to be able to rent The Arena ice rink every Thursday night. And my husband and I belonged to that. So that was in the 1950s. It was after the war, because during the war, you didn't do a lot of driving. There was gasoline rationing and everything. But we belonged to The Arena skating club for a long time. And we did use the arena. I felt terrible when it closed. Then it moved up to the heights. I mean, an ice rink was built at Thornton.

Sue Koletsky [01:07:28] And also at Northfield Road.

Ruth Dancyger [01:07:31] Well, maybe it's the same one.

Sue Koletsky [01:07:36] I think.

Ruth Dancyger [01:07:37] Northfield.

Sue Koletsky [01:07:39] Northfield Road. There was an ice rink there we used to skate at.

Ruth Dancyger [01:07:44] Well, maybe that's what I'm talking about.

Sue Koletsky [01:07:45] Maybe.

Ruth Dancyger [01:07:46] Anyhow, the Elysium group moved from The Arena. From the Elysium to The Arena to this one up in Northfield.

Erin Bell [01:07:56] I was browsing through the Cleveland Press collection, and I found this picture of people ice skating at The Arena to celebrate FDR's birthday. Everyone was dressed formally.

Ruth Dancyger [01:08:08] I don't think I did. I don't think. Well, that would have been. That certainly would have been before the war, because he died before the war ended. Well, I don't think. Well, I'm sure that I didn't go then, and I'll tell you why. I was a bride and I was having babies, so I didn't do it. So we didn't go down to The Arena till after the war.

Erin Bell [01:08:27] But it was striking how well everyone was dressed just to go ice skating.

Ruth Dancyger [01:08:31] Was that normal, to be dressed formally? Of course not. It must have been a special party. That's why it was in the newspaper. No, no, we dressed in sports style and skating stuff.

Erin Bell [01:08:42] Okay, so let's get. I kind of want to talk about just the Jewish history in Cleveland. Different neighborhoods that you guys know of that you might remember spending time in, aside from what we already talked about on the 105th.

Ruth Dancyger [01:09:02] Well, I don't. The central Jewish neighborhood was the 105th street neighborhood, and that was the home of several temples and synagogues up and down that area. And of course, the Jewish hospital was there, too.

Sue Koletsky [01:09:18] And the Jewish center.

Ruth Dancyger [01:09:21] Well, the Jewish center was Park Synagogue, became Park Synagogue. So I said there were Jewish temples and synagogues. Yeah. And it was. And it was called the Jewish center, but it was. It was a temple like ours. A big one, huge. That's where it was the shul. That's where they had the pool in that. In that building. Now, Park Synagogue has three buildings in the Heights. But I don't. I never felt that I was living. when I lived in Cleveland Heights I didn't feel that I was in a Jewish neighborhood at all. I mean, I'm thinking of the street. I lived on Washington Boulevard when we moved on to Washington Boulevard. Are you familiar? Where did you live in Cleveland when you lived there?

Erin Bell [01:10:09] Coventry.

Ruth Dancyger [01:10:10] In Coventry? Well, I lived between Lee and Cottage Grove. And I frequently walked from my house down to Coventry to go to the picture show. There was a picture show down there. And I didn't feel that I was living in a Jewish neighborhood. But when I first. When we first moved there in 1919, there was a trolley in the middle of the street. Washington Boulevard has a park in the middle. Those were tracks originally. And on those tracks was a streetcar that ran from Coventry Road to Lee Road. And the man that ran the trolley was named Tim, and he was the janitor for one of the apartments on Euclid Heights Boulevard. That's how primitive it was in those days. I mean, that's how leisurely life was. I remember when the streetlights on Washington Boulevard were lit by a lamplighter that came by and lit those streetlights every night. And I remember when our milk was delivered by a wagon led by a horse, pulled by a horse. You know, 90 years is almost 100 years. A hell of a lot happens in a hundred year span.

James Calder [01:11:25] As it should. Can you actually describe Coventry when you were growing up as a destination?

Ruth Dancyger [01:11:35] Yes, I can really. I don't remember it when I was real little, but I know that I wasn't too old when my grandparents. My grandparents were not well to do people. And they lived in a. They rented it a little two family house in the city. And I remember that when I was maybe about four or five, they moved to Coventry Road. And they had a little apartment which was above a dry goods store. Below were commercial entities down there. There was a dry goods store, and there was a butcher shop there. And they lived in a little apartment up there on Coventry Road. It was near Mayfield. Across Mayfield were two. On the west side of the street, there were two huge, elegant apartment buildings, in one of which an uncle of mine lived. He was very well to do, and he lived in that building. Isn't that an interesting contrast? I just thought of that this minute. But Coventry, the Coventry that you're referring to is south of Mayfield, between Mayfield and Cedar. The commercial part of Coventry Road, of course, had Coventry School, which I think was. Except for the one room schoolhouse that was on Superior and that I went to when I was in kindergarten. I think Coventry was the first full fledged school building. It was an elementary school. And in the basement of that school was the Cleveland Heights public library, your field. The library was down there. And my mother used to go there all the time because she was a big reader. She had been a school teacher. And she used to go there and take me with her when I was a little girl to that library. I can't tell you how many times I went there in my childhood. The building across the street was built many years later, which is now the library. And it had several drug stores on that street. Several. I can give you the names of two of them. One was the Standard Drugstore and the other was called Marshall Drugstore. And it had a movie which was called the Heights Picture Show. And it had a beauty parlor there called. There were two that I can think of. One was called Poynter’s. P-o-y-n-t-e-r-s. Poynters. And the other was called Dabney’s. And Dabney’s was run by a mulatto lady. And all her help was black. And thats where I used to go. They used to give the. I had long curls and my mother couldn’t wash my hair. It was too thick and wild. So I went to a beauty parlor. Very young. And Mrs. Dabney used to do my hair. I had hair ribbons that were so big I couldn't wear a hat. I had to have a hat that was knitted because you had to find a knitted hat for me because it wouldn't fit on top of my ribbon. I was a sight. I had a mouthful of braces. [laughter] I’m from another planet.

James Calder [01:14:56] Do you remember the name of the butcher shop?

Ruth Dancyger [01:14:59] Sharansky's. He was Jewish, but there was one that wasn't Jewish. There was another butcher shop there called Cousins.

James Calder [01:15:10] That’s my great grandma. Cousins. Dorothy Cousins, yeah.

Ruth Dancyger [01:15:12] And they were in the butcher business.

James Calder [01:15:13] Yeah.

Ruth Dancyger [01:15:14] And guess what? They had a radiator in there. In that room. In that. When we went into. I don't know why we would go to cousins when Sharansky was Jewish. But we were ecumenical. We didn't care. They had a radiator in there and it had a cover on it. And one day when my mother was in there buying something, I was looking around and I wanted to see what was under that cover. And my eye fell underneath onto the floor. And there was a pearl snake bracelet there. And I found it. And I said to my mother, could I keep this? And she said, yes. And every time we went in there after that. I always looked under, hoping to find something else. I never did. But that's how I happen to remember Cousins. Isn't that a funny thing to remember? Across the street from Cousins was a barber shop. And it was called Bergman's Barber shop. And there were a couple of bakery stores. I think one of them might have been called Weiss's. There was another name. Several. There were always two or three. And the forerunner of the supermarket was also located on Coventry Road. And it was called Piggly Wiggly. Did you ever hear Piggly Wiggly? Well, that's where it was. And I remember it as clear as day.

James Calder [01:16:36] That's so wild.

Erin Bell [01:16:39] What about the Centrum that you. You said. You said you to go see movies there. Was it called. It was called the Centrum back then.

Ruth Dancyger [01:16:45] Never heard of it.

Sue Koletsky [01:16:46] Coventry. No, it was Heights Art Theater, wasn't it? Heights Art Theater?

Ruth Dancyger [01:16:50] It was Heights Picture Show.

Erin Bell [01:16:51] Heights Picture Show. Was it in that building?

Ruth Dancyger [01:16:53] Yes. Was that. Was it? Was it? Yeah.

Sue Koletsky [01:16:55] Yeah. Centrum is new. The name Centrum is new.

Erin Bell [01:16:59] That marquee is. I just assumed it had always been called that.

Ruth Dancyger [01:17:03] No, no, it was Heights Picture Show.

Erin Bell [01:17:05] Was that kind of architecture typical of movie theaters in Cleveland at the time?

Ruth Dancyger [01:17:09] That was a neighborhood picture show. The movie houses in Cleveland were elegant palaces. You've seen them.

Erin Bell [01:17:19] I've seen the Centrum. I've never seen any of the old.

Ruth Dancyger [01:17:22] Well, honey, all the movie houses downtown are from that era.

Erin Bell [01:17:26] Oh, well, Playhouse Square.

Ruth Dancyger [01:17:27] Yes, well, that's what movies. And the movies on 105th street, though they were smaller then, the ones downtown were quite elegant.

Sue Koletsky [01:17:36] They don't exist anymore, though, do they?

Ruth Dancyger [01:17:39] No, I don't. I don't think the buildings are either.

Sue Koletsky [01:17:41] No, that's what I'm saying. They don't exist.

Ruth Dancyger [01:17:47] But. And I must tell you that Coventry Road really did, in my childhood, during my childhood, did become a Jewish. Also a Jewish area. That was a Jewish area.

Erin Bell [01:17:58] What about Tommy's?

Ruth Dancyger [01:18:00] Tommy's.

Erin Bell [01:18:02] It's still there now.

Sue Koletsky [01:18:03] Oh, yeah. Tommy's went what used to be in.

Erin Bell [01:18:06] The front of a drugstore. It was just. I think that was in the fifties too.

Sue Koletsky [01:18:10] Not in the fifties. Cause Tommy isn't that old [crosstalk]. I think it was in the late. Maybe the seventies. Mid seventies. Cause I lived on Coventry. I lived in Lancashire in the late seventies, and Tommy's was there.

Ruth Dancyger [01:18:26] My best friend lived on Lancashire. And I used to walk from my house to her house on Lancashire.

Sue Koletsky [01:18:32] That's a great street. And what was kind of neat about Coventry then was Arabica started. Carl started Arabica in this. Like, you had to go kind of behind Coventry. There's a little thing called Coventry Yard that I don't think exists right now. But it was like in. Literally in the middle of that area. And you could smell the beans being roasted, which was very new to Cleveland at that time. You didn't really smell roasted coffee beans. It kind of smelled burnt. Always over there. And he, Carl Jones, he started that whole kind of coffee movement in Cleveland from Coventry Yard. And then there was a fire there, and then there was a fish store there afterwards. And it was kind of like a little back alley there where everything was happening. Like it was right behind Lancashire.

Ruth Dancyger [01:19:24] That was long after my time.

Sue Koletsky [01:19:26] Yeah, that was in the late seventies.

Ruth Dancyger [01:19:27] I just remembered the name of the bakery that I said it was next to the barber shop. Dembowitz. See, those were all Jewish. Those were all Jewish vendors. So, yes, I would say the Coventry became a Jewish neighborhood. You're absolutely right.

Sue Koletsky [01:19:42] That was in when. The fifties.

Ruth Dancyger [01:19:44] Oh, no, that's in the twenties and thirties.

Sue Koletsky [01:19:46] The twenties and thirties.

Erin Bell [01:19:49] So you spent time there in the seventies. Can you describe what it was like culturally? What kind of people hung out there?

Ruth Dancyger [01:19:57] Hippies, I think, at that time it was hippies.

Sue Koletsky [01:19:58] Yeah, the hippies hung out there. That's when I think Passport to Peru was there. It's still a store that's there. And that was there, I'm pretty sure. Then people just hung out, you know, hippies. There was a lot of drugs.

Ruth Dancyger [01:20:12] And there was that wonderful candy store. Candy store right next to the movie house they're now on Lee Road with the house.

Sue Koletsky [01:20:20] Mitchell's. Mitchell's was down there. You're right. Mitchell's was down there. And that's right. You could walk into Mitchell's and you could smell. It was like. You know, it was kind of like. You could smell the coffee. Then you'd go smell the chocolate. Chocolate. You smell the dope. It was just. There was. There were dry cleaners. It was. You know, it was a wonderful area. There's. There were coffee shops. I think there was an art supply store there. People walked. I mean, it was really kind of a real pedestrian place. So you were always walking. What was on the corner there where Marc’s is now? I'm trying to remember what that was. It was a grocery store. There was a grocery store there. It's a Kroger or something like that. There was a grocery store there at one point. There was a food co-op there. So I think the food co-op might have been there at that time, but there were a lot of students that lived there. It was predominantly students who lived at Case or were in their early twenties with their first jobs down at the university. I worked at the art museum at the time. So you could either bike down there, walk down there, drive your car. It was a really nice. It was a fun neighborhood.

Erin Bell [01:21:39] You worked at the art museum, tell me about that. What was your role there?

Sue Koletsky [01:21:46] I worked in the education department, and it was a very vibrant education department. We had. People gave tours to adults and to children. People were writing books. The education department was kind of in the forefront because they did a lot of hands on art, studio art, with kids and adults at the time. And that Adele Silver was there at the time. She wrote a really important book called the Art Museum As Educator. So we really kind of were a hotbed for being an educational center, using art as education to get people in. And then the museum it was under, Doctor Lee was there at the time, and Evan Turner. We were. It was very exciting.

Ruth Dancyger [01:22:35] Were you there when Bergman was there?

Sue Koletsky [01:22:37] No, no, I was there under Doctor Lee and Evan Turner. So.

Ruth Dancyger [01:22:45] Well, then there was a gap.

Sue Koletsky [01:22:50] I moved and came back. Yeah, I worked when I was there in high school, and then I worked when I was, I came back in the 80s.

Ruth Dancyger [01:22:54] Bergman's years were brief, but very exciting.

Sue Koletsky [01:22:57] Very exciting.

Erin Bell [01:22:59] What happened during that era.

Ruth Dancyger [01:23:05] He opened up the museum to more than just Cleveland's elite. Cleveland Museum of Art was really belonged to the social elite of Cleveland. Gentile social elite of Cleveland. As a matter of fact, I had good friends who were from Baltimore. I had gone to school in Baltimore and taken a lot of art trips to Europe with that group. And I brought them to Cleveland. I wanted. They were coming through here, a bunch of them, and I took them to the Cleveland Museum of Art. Now, you know, on the walls of all of these institutions, they have the names of donors. Now, these people came from Baltimore that has two or three very wonderful collections, two or three different museums. But the Baltimore Museum of Art claim to fame is their so called modern art that was donated to the museum by a family by the name of Cone. Two sisters. Cone sisters. Jewish. So there was a lot of the Jewish community was very supportive of the art in Baltimore. These people came to Cleveland and they said, my God, don't the Jews want to support this wonderful institution? I said, we'd love to. They don't want us. Bergman, who came from Baltimore and is Jewish, overnight, changed the complexion of the Cleveland Museum of Art. Before he knew it, we had a president of the museum who was, when the Silvers were active there, Daniel and his wife. They were the token Jews.

Sue Koletsky [01:24:42] And Daniel was on the board of trustees. Rabbi Dan.

Ruth Dancyger [01:24:44] He was a token.

Sue Koletsky [01:24:45] Yeah. And Adele worked in the education department, which, you know, she earned to be in the education department. She was a professional. So.

Ruth Dancyger [01:24:58] So that's the story of the Museum of Art.

James Calder [01:25:01] Interesting. We're going. We've gone pretty long, too. We're in like an hour and 25 minutes.

Erin Bell [01:25:06] Okay, well, we should wrap up because you’re in a one hour parking spot. [laughter]

Ruth Dancyger [01:25:08] Pack it in, right.

Sue Koletsky [01:25:10] Which I hope I still have my car.

Ruth Dancyger [01:25:11] We'll send you the bill. We'll send you the bill.

Project Team

This series comprises a wide range of interviews conducted by Center staff since 2005 in support of the Euclid Corridor History Project, Neighborhood Connections, and a number of mostly short-term collaborations. It also includes a number of standalone interviews by Center staff.