Faith Alive: Dr. A.J. Kravtin, member of Shearith Israel Synagogue

What are you reading? I really do very little light reading. Most of it is centered around Jewish ideas and philosophy. I am fascinated by the Bible and what the Bible is trying to teach us. The Bible is the anatomy of the Jewish people and the anatomy of God. … My friend Dr. (Louis) Levy and I meet every Monday and Thursday morning and we pray together and we discuss theology. We struggle with it. Theology is a very difficult field. We do a lot of questioning. It keeps the brain alive to question. Faith is a ladder of growth. I question people who can get faith in a matter of 10 minutes. Think about religion itself: Every religion engages in myth. Each of them has a sacred myth that means something. There are many truths. None of us can prove any of it. I try to take a rational approach to the Bible and to theology.

What is a personal philosophy? I never ask myself whether I want to do something. If it’s the right thing to do, I am going to do it whether I feel like doing it or not. If I accept a responsibility, I have to live up to it. I might have a headache but it is my responsibility to do what I need to do. There are duties and responsibilities that anybody in leadership must do, whether they feel like it or not. That has guided my life.

When did you retire? In 2000. I practiced 47 1/2 years. My wife Florence became very sick with Parkinson’s, which prompted me to retire. She had been become incapacitated after about 14 years. She passed away in November 2007. We had so many plans to travel, but they never panned out. The lesson is: Do it while you can.

Did you always know you wanted to be a doctor? My daddy and brothers were merchants on Broadway. I had trouble selling things I didn’t like. Maybe I was naive, but I didn’t like to take advantage of anybody. I understand everybody has to make a living; but what is a fair profit? Our Talmud says 33.3 percent, but greed leads people to exploit. I didn’t want to take advantage of people. That’s why I went into a service profession.

How did you decide on pediatrics? I didn’t particularly like surgery. Sixty or 70 percent of the class liked the glory of surgery; but if one-third of the class ended up doing it, that’d be a lot. I always felt comfortable with children, maybe because of my size. I received much gratification from my work. I first practiced with Dr. (Mercer) Blanchard in 1952. He had been my pediatrician. I enjoyed guiding families and rearing their children. I wasn’t a businessman. I enjoyed taking care of people. In those days I made a lot of house calls because that’s what people did.

Where was your family from? My folks, Philip and Rachel, were from Lithuania. They came from Vilna. Daddy came to the U.S. in 1910 and went right to night school to learn English and become an American. His uncle was an itinerant photographer and he came South and told my Daddy there was opportunity here. He came to Albany (Ga.) first, and didn’t like it, then he came to Columbus and peddled for awhile. He sold clothes from a buggy, from house to house, and then he opened the novelty shop with a partner. All the members of the family worked there from time to time. I’m the oldest of three children; my two brothers have passed.

Did you have children? I have three — two girls and a boy. My oldest daughter lives in Murphy, N.C. My son is in New York and works in New Jersey. And my other daughter lives here in Columbus.

How long were you married? Fifty-nine years.

How did you meet Florence? She was a dietician at King County Hospital in Brooklyn, N.Y. I was there for my first-year internship. It was a big hospital with a large intern quarters. I was chairman of the entertainment committee. I had to arrange parties for the house staff and I’d go to the dietician to help me out. Both our parents were first-generation Jewish people from Europe who were culturally the same. If you are culturally the same, it’s my opinion it makes for stronger marriages.

Talk about your time at Shearith Israel. Prior to 1950, Shearith Israel was an Orthodox synagogue on 7th Street and 1st Avenue. Then we joined the Conservative movement. Now our problem is, all of our children have gone. We have diminished in number. Our children grew up and most of them moved away, and we could not support the synagogue anymore. We had to sell it. Since we had no place to hold services, Temple Israel was very nice to offer us the use of their facilities.

Do you think Shearith Israel and Temple Israel will unify? I would love to see it. The Temple is very lively with wonderful youth programs; and they’re getting a very good rabbi (Jeffrey Salkin). He is so smart and knowledgeable and such a good teacher. I think he can help bring these two congregations together. … The fact that we have separate organizations doesn’t make sense in the 21st century. We have such a small group of Jews in Columbus.