Celebrating Our Stories

Jewish Life in Ann Arbor

Israel Woronoff (Z”L) and Marilyn Gallatin (Z”L)

Israel: It reminds me when I first came, which is back in 1947, and I came as a junior to the University of Michigan having had two years prior to that time. I was a returning, what was called, a returning GI at the time from World War II. As I say, I came as a junior and didn’t get the usual orientation to the university.

I went over to the Hillel Foundation and one of the first people I met was the administrative secretary of Hillel who happened to be named Fay Woronoff. No, not yet. Her name was Fay Goldberg. She sort of sent out the word that she was gonna hire returning veterans to live in the Hillel Building and do the whatever was necessary to keep the place running.

She hired nine of us. That’s how many you needed in that big place which was 2101 Hill at the time. It was a big mansion. The nine of us lived in a kind of a dormitory on the third floor. We did all the hauling and everything that Fay wanted to us to do. She was a kind of a very businesslike. Not nasty at all but she wanted something done, she wanted it done.

We did whatever we could. We actually, the nine of us, coop’ed in terms of cooking. We all learned how to burn all kinds of meat and vegetables. We had practice because none of us had cooked before. The result was a little chaotic. At any rate, one day Fay says to me, “Why don’t you ask me out?” I was surprised and flattered. I had no idea she had any particular interest in me. I thought she was kinda cute. I was very pleased to be asked out and I said, “Sure.”

We went out for a date. We never stopped being together after that. From that point on we just were always with each other. The eight other fellas got very jealous and I had to leave, I had to move out. Which I did and I moved about seven, eight houses away from where Fay lived.

Israel: We got into this issue of Judaism a lot. She was very, very much a kosher woman. She kept kosher. My parents were kosher. I wasn’t. I had learned other things in the army. Not that I particularly like them but I got out of that pattern. Well I should ask you this, how did you identify as a Jew?

Marilyn: Well my parents were of course Jewish. My parents expected me to adhere to Judaism and I’ve never felt any interest in doing anything else. Besides, the history of the Jewish people is so wonderful. We go back thousands of years. It would seem you know traitorous even if I thought I wanted to adhere to some other religion. It just would not appeal to me.

Israel: I became, as a result of Fay’s activities, I became very active in the Jewish community, which I never intended to do. I was Vice-President of Education for the Congregation for Beth Israel. I was on the Anti-Defamation League Cabinet for Michigan.

I did a few other things. I was Jewish Federation. I was on the board for six years. Jewish Family Service I was chairman for ten years. I did a lot of things basically because Fay was doing so much. It made me feel like I should be doing it and that’s it. Did you take an active role in the Jewish—I know your husband Vic who was a dear friend also always was involved with the Beth Israel congregation. He was a very important—involving membership and the funds and all that sorta thing.

Marilyn: Well I wasn’t so active. I just liked to back people up and cooperate with other people rather than take leadership myself.

Marilyn: Well I haven’t had too many experiences of anti-Semitism really but when I was living in Ann Arbor and attending school I was married to my first husband, Mark Laniato. We wanted to find a place to live together. We answered an ad in the paper which said that there was a room to rent. We went to the house and knocked at the door. A lady came to the door and she looked at us and she said, “Are you Jewish?” We were very surprised and we said, “Yes.” She says, “I don’t rent to Jewish people.”

Recorded by StoryCorps at Beth Israel Congregation on April 21, 2013