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Molly Goheen Oral History Interview, August 13, 1991

Oregon State University
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Judith Berlowitz: This recording was made in Corvallis on August 13, 1991. The interviewer is Judith Berlowitz. The interviewee is Molly Goheen, Mrs. Harry Goheen. When did you and your family come to Corvallis?

Molly Goheen: We came in the fall of 1955, just in time for public school to start, so our children would be here in time.

JB: What brought you here?

MG: Obviously my husband's job, which was a professor in the mathematics department.

JB: Did you have a career at that time?

MG: I had worked, but I was here just a short time and a woman whose name was 00:01:00Goheen came to visit us, and we went out for lunch and she asked me how I liked Corvallis, and I said I liked Corvallis, I had wonderful neighbors, but all we did is have coffee in the morning and have tea in the afternoon and I was getting a little bored with that. And my youngest child was in nursery school, I mean kindergarten, so I got a phone call from the public library asking me if I'd like to come work part time, so I did.

JB: Did you have a degree in . . .

MG: No I don't, I have a degree in education, I was a teacher.

JB: Oh, I see. Where did you come from?

MG: Seattle, but we lived all over the United States. I was born in Seattle, my husband in Bellingham, and we met in college.

JB: I see. And he had various jobs before you came here of course. Who were the members of your immediate family at that time, in 1955 when you came here?


MG: The ones who came with us? Well it was my husband Harry, and my oldest son David, and Mitzi, whose name is really Miriam, and Mark.

JB: How old were they?

MG: David was 15, Mitzi was 13, and Mark was 5.

JB: What would you say was the approximate population of Corvallis when you came here?

MG: Well I imagine it was around 30,000, counting the students, but I'm not sure.

JB: So it really hasn't changed in numbers so terribly much between then and now.

MG: Well I think there are about 45,000 now.

JB: Well that is a considerable change. How many Jewish families would you say were here in '55 when you came, roughly?

MG: Well it would have to be roughly, because some of them didn't identify as Jewish, but I'd imagine not more than 10 if that many.

JB: Would you say they represented diverse approaches to Judaism, that is . . .


MG: Oh definitely. Definitely.

JB: What would you say your approach was, as a family?

MG: Well my husband decided early on that our children were going to be called Jewish, though he isn't Jewish, wasn't Jewish. And so they went to, he decided they should have a Jewish education. So I think our family's approach was cultural rather than anything else. We did celebrate things like Hanukkah, and we had a Seder, and taught our children the bible stories, and we identified as Jews always, the children as well as Harry and I.

JB: How did you feel about being part of such a small minority in relation to the rest of the community?


MG: Well you see most of my life I lived in a small town when I was a girl, there were only about five Jewish families, and then I went to school and lived in a dorm where there were no other Jewish people, so I didn't even think about it, really, except that I would have liked to have a Sunday school for my children or something, so they would learn something about Judaism.

JB: How did the children feel being among a small number of Jewish kids here?

MG: I should really have Mark -- well I'll tell you about Mark's bar mitzvah later -- Mark decided to have a bar mitzvah, and his speech, which I think he has, was on what it means to be a Jewish boy in a non-Jewish community. I think that would tell you more than anything what it was like. But I didn't have any feeling one way or the other.

JB: You can tell us the gist of what Mark had to say.

MG: Well he just said that most of his friends just ignored it, they were one religion he was another, and it wasn't until he had a teacher who was 00:05:00anti-Semitic that he got interested in having a bar mitzvah. He decided that he was going to show that teacher he was really Jewish. Although his teacher was never mean to him or . . .

JB: Could you tell a little bit more about that particular situation with the teacher? You don't need to mention any names. But how did this become evident to him and so on.

MG: Well he just, he never did tell us exactly what the teacher said, he just would come home, he was only in about the sixth grade, and he would come home and say, "My teacher's really anti-Semitic." We'd say, "How do you know?" "Well he says things."

JB: He's a he? The teacher?

MG: The teacher was a he, yes. And so Mark -- he knew Mark was Jewish, Mark told him he was Jewish, and he never discriminated against him. And one day he came home and said, "My teacher isn't anti-Semitic, he said some of his best friends were Jews," and we all laughed and it hurt his feelings. And Ruth Goldberg at 00:06:00the time had a book called, "Some of My Best Friends are Jews," so she gave it to him to read. And he decided he wanted to have a bar mitzvah. We decided that was kind of silly because we didn't belong to a congregation, but Ze'ev heard about it and he said, "If he wants a bar mitzvah, he'll have one." So we did.

JB: So that's Mark's story, but my next question would be did you and your husband sense any prejudice against Jewish people?

MG: Not really. Not among our friends.

JB: Or any time during your life here?

MG: No, not really.

JB: Did you find the non-Jewish people at all knowledgeable about Judaism?

MG: No. Completely non-knowledgeable. They asked questions about, "Is Hanukkah the Jewish Christmas?" and they didn't really know. Well some of our good friends did, obviously, but many people were really ignorant about Judaism.

JB: Were you or your husband ever asked to speak about Judaism to any groups or 00:07:00anything like that?

MG: Well I had people come and interview me, students, at my work, when I worked at the university.

JB: In the library?

MG: In the library, yes.

JB: In connection with their . . .

MG: Well they had papers to write.

JB: Ok, well you've already mentioned, I think, something about holiday celebrations, but I was going to ask what holiday celebrations you celebrated at home. You did mention you had a Seder.

MG: Well we had a Seder with the Orzechs and other people, and the Schecters, and sometimes it was here, and sometimes it was at Orzechs'. And we celebrated, we lit the Hanukkah candles. But I'm afraid that's about what we did.

JB: Where did you go for the high holidays, since I know they were not celebrated here.

MG: No. Well we went only once to a high, a Rosh Shoshanna service, and that was 00:08:00in Salem. And we were invited there by a student of mine who was Jewish who lived in Salem, and the family invited us.

JB: I understand that in 1957, 10 Jewish families in the community had a Hanukkah party. Were you part of that?

MG: Oh yes.

JB: Tell me about it.

MG: I can't remember exactly -- it's all kind of in together. But we had a Hanukkah party for the . . . we had a Purim party here one time, we had about 30 people, and they were not all identified as Jews, although some of them, one member of the family was Jewish. We also had something, well it was before we moved in here, so it must have been in about '58, Harry decided that it would be nice to have all the Jewish people we knew over and they asked him to give a 00:09:00book review. So it was Hanukkah, so he reviewed Howard Fast's "My Glorious Brothers." And there were a lot of people there. Even the Malamuds came, and the Levines. And people who didn't really identify. Not that they were trying to hide their Jewishness, it was just that they just didn't seem to be involved.

JB: Let's go back to that Purim party you mentioned a little while ago that was held here at your house. What were some of the activities you did to celebrate?

MG: Well, people brought hamantaschen and we had good food, but the most fun was the telling of the story of Esther, and we had noisemakers and other loud things, and everyone booed every time Haman was mentioned. It was all adults, it wasn't a children's party! And it was, I think, fun, I think people had fun, I 00:10:00know I did.

JB: Let's go back to Mark's bar mitzvah. You mentioned that the situation in school stimulated -- that's not the good word -- caused him to want to go through the bar mitzvah ceremony, so let's talk about it -- how it was conducted and who was there and all of the elements that relate to that.

MG: Well I should start earlier, when he learned earlier, so he would have a background. When Mark was about 10, there were four children who were good friends, their families were good friends, and two were Jewish families and two weren't. We tried to get someone to teach the children French or German, and we couldn't really find anyone, so Ze'ev said, "I'll teach them Hebrew." Well all four were interested, but I think Mark and David Katz, who was the other Jewish 00:11:00boy, were the only ones who kept on. Then when Ze'ev got too busy, he found an Israeli student to teach them Hebrew. So Mark actually knew enough Hebrew by the time he was bar mitzvah age to be part of the ceremony.

Well then he decided he wanted this bar mitzvah, and Ze'ev said that we could do this. So I went to Portland and talked to one rabbi and he was not a bit interested, he said that we didn't belong to a synagogue and he wasn't going to have anything to do with it. Then we went to Rabbi Rose, I think it was, at the reform, and he said "Fine," and he lent us a torah and prayer books. And Ze'ev conducted the whole thing. It was at the Unitarian Fellowship, the women in the Unitarian Fellowship helped us very much, they helped with the food. We brought the food, my mother and my sisters from Seattle brought food, and people from Portland . . . we knew a lot of people in Portland at that time. There was a lot 00:12:00of food, there were about 75 people at the bar mitzvah and about a third of them were Jews and the rest of them were our friends here. Quite a few of our relatives came from out of town. It was I think a very successful . . . Ze'ev conducted the service, my son David came up from California and he was part of the service, and Larry Schecter helped too, and I can't remember all of them, cause a lot of the people were from Portland. And we had a big feast afterwards. I think it was a very nice ceremony. I think it was the first bar mitzvah in . . .

JB: It was, I read that fact, that it was the first one that was conducted here.

MG: Well I should tell you how we met all these people in Portland. We had some friends who moved here from California, Bob and Rose Sabaroff, and they became 00:13:00very good friends of a lot people in town, the Schecters and the Orzechs, and they were particularly good friends of ours, and they got acquainted with some people at the Jewish Community Center in Portland. The Jewish Community Center conducted what they called an egghead weekend every year at the coast, and they had a speaker, and then there was a lot of fun too, but we had discussion groups and we had plays, and we met a whole group of very interesting people from Portland that way. And they're still our friends, these people. The first year we were there, the president of Portland State talked. It didn't have to be a Jewish subject, in fact it rarely was. He talked about the street cries of London, which was his specialty. One year Harry talked about his specialty and one year Ze'ev talked about his specialty in economics. And we went up as long as they kept them going. They were discontinued after a while, but we met a whole group of interesting people.


JB: A little while ago you mentioned something about wanting Sunday school experience for your kids. What kind of efforts were made in that direction to establish some kind of training for the kids, in the years before there actually was . . .

MG: Well there was -- my son Mark came home one day when he was in about the second grade, and he said he was the only child in his room that didn't go to Sunday school. Well we had a very good friend who was the superintendent of the Unitarian Sunday school, so he said, "I'll take Mark." So Mark went there for about two years, and we had a carpool with the Malamud children, we took turns taking the children, and then when he was old enough, he went by himself, and then he decided he wasn't interested anymore so he just quit going. But about that, well it wasn't till a few years later that we started the Sunday school.

JB: We being . . .


MG: Well the Schecters the Orzechs and the Loneys and the Konicks . . . a do-it-ourselves Sunday school, and we had it in people's homes. And we had it by age group. There were about three people Mark's age and then there were younger ones. By that time my older two children were in college.

JB: I see. Did all the kids meet at the same place, the same home, wherever that was?

MG: No, no they didn't. The younger ones met one place. I think Larry Schecter had Mark's age at his house. Yes. It was really very nice.

JB: How did you manage books and other material?

MG: We bought books. I didn't have anything to do with the older ones, but they had books, and they had bible stories.

JB: Did they do crafts too sometimes?

MG: Well the little ones I think did. The older ones didn't. But they learned about the holidays.

JB: So we're still in the years before Hadassah. OK. I understand that there was 00:16:00a Jewish organization, I should say an organization for Jewish students, on campus. What can you tell me about that?

MG: Well Hillel here was run by Joe Ellison, who was a history professor, and it was his baby. He didn't want outside interference, he didn't want the Jewish professors involved, and he kept it pretty much to himself, so I can't tell you too much about it until after he left.

JB: I see. So that was back in the '40s, I think I read. I think I read that it was established in '46.

MG: Well I'm sure it was here before we got here.

JB: So what happened after he left, and about when was that?

MG: Well it was about, I can't remember exactly, dates all run together for me.

JB: Late '50s perhaps?


MG: Yes I think the late '50s. It was after we got here.

JB: So then what?

MG: They had a Hillel and I can't remember who the advisor was, but it think it grew. And the professors got more involved. The other Jewish people in town got more involved.

JB: Yes that was my question. How did Jewish families in the community interact with the students?

MG: Well, most Jewish families in the community except for the Konicks and the Loneys and the Goldbergs were part of the university. And there were very few Jewish professors on campus when we came. Even in the math dept, which was very unusual. Usually there are quite a few Jewish people in the math dept., there were none. There was another professor who was married to a Jewish woman, and she was laughing, she said, "We're infiltrating." But there were very few Jewish 00:18:00people before the 1950s. I mean Jewish faculty. In fact there were very few Jewish people in town.

JB: So when did that begin to change?

MG: Well about the time we came. About that time, Ze'ev and Larry came -- Ze'ev came right after we did, I think Larry came at the same time we did. And then there were other Jewish professors, more and more.

JB: Was there any particular reasons for this increase in the number of Jewish professors?

MG: No, it's just that . . I think the reason for the dearth was gone. I think Kerr was the one who kept the Jewish people out.

JB: Oh I think we haven't mentioned him. Kerr . . .

MG: Kerr is the one the library was named for. Now I'm telling you this . .

JB: What was his position on campus?

MG: He was president! Strand was not anti-Semitic. He was president when we came. Now I'm just telling you this -- Sally Friedman, the Friedmans were here 00:19:00-- well I heard it from her. And actually her husband came here because at one time they made a shift in which departments were with the university [of Oregon] and which were at Oregon State, and her husband was sent here because the chemistry department, the science and the engineering were here, and the liberal arts were there, and he came with the group that came from the University of Oregon. He was a very well loved professor I guess. He died the year before we came here but everyone liked him.

JB: Often mentioned in what I read about the Jewish community here are the 13 ladies who were the movers and shakers of this small community. You were one of those ladies. Now can you tell me anything about how this group evolved, and 00:20:00what activities they organized as time went on and there were more of them?

MG: Well we wanted to have -- the Jewish women, and the men I suppose -- wanted to have a Jewish organization, and so we looked into the Council of Jewish Women and Hadassah. Now my family were never Zionists. My mother never belonged to Hadassah, she belonged to the Council of Jewish Women. The Council of Jewish Women turned us down because what they do is more like a settlement, a group helping poor Jewish people, and there weren't any here. I mean everybody was not rich but well off. So it was decided we would have Hadassah. I didn't really want to join Hadassah but my husband talked me into it because he felt I should belong to a Jewish organization. I felt so too, and these were all my good friends. And I enjoyed it, I enjoyed it very much. And I think Mimi was the first president. And I was the president in 1967, because that was the year we 00:21:00went to Ireland and I told them I could only be here half a year, and they said that was all right.

JB: So what was the main reason for wanting to belong to a national organization?

MG: Well because we were doing things hit and miss, sometimes we'd have a Seder, sometimes we wouldn't have a Seder, sometimes we'd celebrate Hanukah, sometimes we wouldn’t. We wanted to have a group that was cohesive and would do things in a more organized way.

JB: And then you could have regular meetings and all that kind of thing.

MG: Yes, we had speakers. And it was a very good group.

JB: In the days before you were organized, was the Jewish community visited by representatives from national Jewish organizations or from Jewish congregations?

MG: Not really. Not that I know of. They may have been, but I didn't know 00:22:00anything about them. I think that people who wanted to belong to something went to Salem.

JB: I read somewhere that at one time, the 10 Jewish families that lived here, or I should say 10 Jewish families that lived here, got together and had a latke party for Hanukah. What do you remember about that?

MG: Well I remember that it was at Bob and Rose Sabaroff's house and the men did the cooking. I don't know if they did the grating of the potatoes, I think they may have got them from somebody. But he had an indoor grill, and they cooked them, and it was really a lot of fun. People came that, well Jewish people I think sort of crawled out the woodwork, people who . . . but it was really fun. It was really not organized at all, except for the food. But it was just a very ____________ [23:01 sounds like "ga-meet-lish"] crowd.


JB: How did the Jewish people who crawled out of the woodwork find out about this thing?

MG: Well they were told. They were invited. A lot of the Jewish people, when we first came here, a lot of the Jewish people, especially mixed marriages, were active in the Unitarian Fellowship. But when they found someplace to belong to, they were willing and able -- not able but willing -- to become part of the group. I can name some names, but that's kind of silly.

JB: Not at all! It's history.

MG: Well, the Krakauers, the Malamuds, I'm trying to think . .

JB: That is the author you're speaking about? I read his book about his life in Corvallis.

MG: Yes. I can't remember all of them, but they were part of the Unitarian 00:24:00Fellowship, because it was someplace for them to go, it was like a club, really, because they didn't have a minister or anything, it was just a fellowship, and they had speakers and everything, and some of the children went to the Sunday school. But when there was something to go to -- and the Levines, Shep and Gloria Levine, were not active in anything Jewish, but they came to these things. They came to the one at our house where the book review was, they came to the latke party. And I can't remember all the people who came. I think Nina and Bill Lowry came. I can't remember. Her mother was Jewish , her mother belonged to Hadassah subsequently. Bill was not. And I can't remember all the people. Maybe Mimi or Larry may be able to. The three men, Bob Sabaroff and Larry Schecter and Ze'ev, I think were the cooks.


JB: Well I'll ask about that when I meet with them. Very interesting story.