The nomination form says Toby Brief, “lives the mission of the Columbus Jewish Historical Society: to collect and preserve the history of the Jewish people of Columbus and Central Ohio; create a society concerned with the past, present and future; and enlighten the membership of the society, the Jewish community and the general public on the achievements of our people and the growth of Jewish community life from the days of the early settlers.”
According to the form, Brief “is the creative genius behind the society’s exhibits and associated programs.”
How did your Jewish background inform your interest in giving back?
Growing up in Columbus with a strong Jewish family identity and tradition of giving back to the community in many ways, I was first drawn to genealogy. But the experience of “Jewish community” was instilled even more in experiencing Jewish life in the many places that I have lived – from a tiny synagogue in the mountains that accommodated members from all Jewish backgrounds, to celebrating various holidays at synagogue gatherings on an island in the Caribbean, in each of the locations there was the sense that we are all here together helping each other. Building on this feeling and collecting the life stories that everyone has are my way to give back.
What advice would you give your 14-year-old self?
I would tell my 14-year-old self to dream big then travel the world to fulfill the dream.
What’s one takeaway you have learned from the COVID-19 pandemic?
The pandemic has reinforced how important it is to document our community. Our responses to this changing world are bringing new methods to our everyday lives. We continue to adapt and shift as a community. Some of these changes will be permanent – and we must record it all for the future.
What inspires you to give back to the community?
Columbus was the place that my great-grandfather chose to remain after his horse died here in 1885. He became a leader in the Orthodox Jewish community as well as maintaining strong ties to the Reform and secular community. His wife was an equally strong woman who established Jewish organizations and worked for the betterment of the local Jewish population. Their drive and accomplishments are a continued source of inspiration.
Regularly talking to people who have some tie to Jewish Central Ohio and meeting with archive donors who are giving us their family stories to protect and care for is both a responsibility and an honor.