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Interviewee: Eileen Isenberg
Interviewer: Carolyn Comai|
Interview Date: November 04, 2018

Location: Troy, MI
Interview No.: 11.04.18-EI (audio digital file)(Approximate total length: 36 minutes)

Themes: Jewish Identity, Upbringing, Jewish Gentile Relations

Summary: Growing up in Cleveland, Ohio, Eileen Isenberg’s early life was clouded by her father’s battle with cancer. Her cousin Dave, a doctor, would make house calls to care for her father but also helped cultivate a love of Jewish-styled joke and story telling in Eileen. This joyous appreciation of Yiddish-tinged humor stayed with Eileen as she and her husband raised a family in Detroit’s Jewish community. Eileen reflects on her early life in Cleveland and fun times with Shir Tikvah in this interview.

Example of proper citation/attribution:Comai, C. (Interviewer) & Isenberg, E. (Interviewee). (2018). Eileen Isenberg: Jewish Journeys [Interview Index]. Retrieved from Jewish Journeys Oral History Collection of Congregation Shir Tikvah:



Note:  Counter index corresponds to track times when loaded into iTunes.


01:14 Color of her life as a child “black” - father had cancer, wasted away little by little over a period of years   

04:54 Bright spots of youth, cousin David Benjamin, the doctor who delivered her, would visit and alleviate stress during house calls while also checking on her father. Brought fun, joy, and lightness with him especially with his impressions.     

09:32 Would listen to a radio program: Can You Top This? Would practice the jokes and stories she heard afterwards, repeating them at breakfast to ease the mood for her family.

11:26 Brother away at Duke University as part of quota program, one of only about 20 jews per semester. One of the “very few lucky Jewish boys who went to Duke University.”

14:19 Grew up in Jewish neighborhood in Cleveland, Ohio. African American families lived in area as well and had great relations with Jewish community. Seventeen Magazine profiled her neighborhood as an example of blacks and whites living together. Yiddish bantered about and shared with African American friends.

19:36 Moved to Detroit after husband finished degree in podiatry to further study surgical techniques.

21:00 Jewish Community was very accepting of them upon arrival in Detroit. Had a son and later had twin girls. Convinced that twins were result of “splitting the egg” from playing volleyball.

23:50 Appreciation of Jewish humor came from cousin Dave and other members of the family, especially the true Yiddish speakers. Yiddish speaking faded away over generations. She speaks Yanglish, a combination of Yiddish and english.

27:27 Mother was orthodox, Father was reform. Father would go listen to Abba Hillel Silver at Silver’s Temple in Cleveland. Was the most liberal of all the Temples and synagogues in Cleveland. Brothers and sisters had had Jewish education but her early interest in piano led to lessons at age 4. Was able to put feeling and emotion into her play and won awards in high school.

31:40 Reflecting on choreography work at Shir Tikvah - joyously insisted on perfection and loved having fun with the people. Made a Jewish version of the Charleston song and dance with Yiddish in it.



Mon, April 12 2021 30 Nisan 5781