Susie Schulman-Mamaroneck, NY September 11, 2011
It is hard standing here today. It is a day you always know will come, but somehow you just hope it will be sometime far in the future.
How do you eulogize a mother? Where do you start to honor a mother whose life was filled with challenges and accomplishments that began long before you were born?
While mom never considered herself a “survivor” she was born in Germany before the rise of the Nazis. Her parents were Polish immigrants living in Germany. Not long after the rise of the Nazis, one of the many racial laws passed banned non-Aryans from swimming pools. The same day that law was passed my mom went to a pool, not knowing of the new ban. A bunch of young boys, Nazis, tried to drown her for being a Jew. At that moment my grandparents, my Bubbie and Zaydie decided that Nazi Germany was not a place for Jews to remain. They left as soon as they could to come to the United States.
My mother came to the US at the age of ten year old. When she entered school my mom was placed back in 1st Grade, since she knew no English. In a matter of months she advanced through the grades, so that the next school year she began 6th grade. Mom attended the prestigious Hunter High School. She went on to City College and became one of the first women Civil Engineers.
For the past year I have been scanning all sorts of my parent’s papers and photos, in preparation for our moving to Israel. In the process of scanning, I came across a certificate from the Red Cross commending mom for her volunteer work during WW II. Of course I also found many documents and photos from her involvement in the Young Zionist of America in the days before the State was founded. When the State of Israel was founded she wanted to make aliyah. However, at the time, her father, who was a Zionist his whole life would not allow his single daughter to go. Being a good daughter, she stayed in America. This was the first time her dreams of living in Israel were thwarted.
Beyond working on behalf of the creation of the State of Israel, my mother accomplished something else very important; she met my Dad who was also active in the Young Zionists. They married in 1954. While all this was happening, my mother had an active professional career. My mom was involved in the rebuilding of the Manhattan Bridge. She also worked on the building of the Major Degan Highway.
When I came along, my mother did what was expected of her in that generation; she stopped working to concentrate on raising me. While my mother had the reputation as someone who would accomplish whatever task she set for herself, life was not always accommodating or kind to her. In my recent attempts to digitize my mother’s documents I came across a sad letter from a major adoption agency denying my parent’s request to adopt. It seems, after she could not give birth to a second child, my parents tried desperately to adopt a child. However, backs then, couples who already had one child were denied the opportunity to adopt a second child.
Of course, as any child, I have vivid memories of my mom as a mother. One of my most vivid memories is from my first year at WDS. A hurricane hit New York. I remember my mom braving the storm to drive up to Mamaroneck to personally retrieve me from school and bring me back to the Bronx, where we were living at the time. And for my mom, just being an anonymous mother in school was not enough for my mom. Soon after I enrolled she became involved in the school. By the time I was in 6th or 7th grade she was President of the school’s PTA. What most impressed me then, still impresses me now. My mom was not the traditional PTA President, who worried solely about bake sales and other similar fundraising events. Instead, as head of the PTA, she used her seat on the WDS school board to actively voice her opinions on school policy (often going against the views of Mr. Plotnick, the Headmaster. I learned a lot from how seriously she took her responsibilities.
My mom was also a mother who never knew how to say no. By the time I was a senior in HS, I would routinely ask her if we could host 2-4-6 or even 8 visiting Israeli HS students at a time. She never said “no”. While I am sure she had mixed emotions about my decision to move to Israel immediately after college, she never showed anything but support. Several years later, after Yael, her first grandchild was born; she made herself available for whatever tasks were necessary to help. Pick up Yael, drop off Yael, and help Yael in whatever she wanted.
My mom was a force of nature, always being the first to get a task done, never waiting to be asked. But through it all, her family would always come first. Whether, at first, it was our small family of three, or the larger number counting all three grandchildren Yael, Tali and Eytan. Nothing gave her greater pleasure than providing Zucchini soup for Tali and Eytan.
My mother generally made things work her way. Even in death, she was partially able to achieve that. She died at home, in bed, with my father and myself surrounding her in her final hours of consciousness. However, there was one thing she was unable to achieve. In the last few months she was excited to finally be making aliyah; something we were planning to do all together in the next few weeks. She will not be with us physically, however, mom we will surely take you with us in our hearts as we begin our next life adventure.
Mom, you will be missed terribly!
Daniel Schulman Tel Aviv December 15, 2011
It was only three months ago that I stood in front of a different group of friends and family to deliver a eulogy for my mom. There, I was not alone in telling her story, since there were two rabbis who knew her well, and we were enveloped by many of her friends, and relatives. Today, my father is surrounded only by my friends. Many of you are my dearest friends. However, unfortunately, there is no one here who really knew my dad or mom well. It is really difficult to lose two wonderful parents in such a short time. But today is not to be about me. Today is about my father, Daniel, or as he would proudly say to people in Israel, “David Ben Haim Halevi”.
There is little in my Dad’s childhood that would make one imagine we would be standing here in a cemetery that claims to be in Tel Aviv, (the first all Jewish city), but is really in Petach Tikva (one of the oldest of the Zionist settlements of the land.) My father grew up during the great depression in the US. However, he was privileged to have a father who was an accountant, and whose practice continued successfully throughout the great decline, with only a small contraction. Both of his parents went to college, which makes my daughter Yael (who is standing here) a fourth generation college graduate. Thus, my father grew up in a rather privileged middle class home. From a young age, my father was “tinkerer”. He was always designing and fixing things. His summer job was being the projectionist at the movie theater. He attended Bronx High School of Science, as a member of its second graduating class. As he graduated HS during a time of war, he joined the US Air Force for the final two years of World War II.
After the war my father went to NYU to become an Electrical Engineer. At this juncture his story starts getting a little more complex. Those were years of intense political activity for Israel. My father became involved in the Young Zionists of America, working for the creation of the State of Israel. There, he met my mother. After a long courtship, they married in 1954. By that time my father had managed to work for a company developing color TV sets. He later went on to found his own firm, Superex Electronics. Over the years Superex was best known for the headphone it produced.
That being said, it was not his professional accomplishments for which my father is best known, but rather for his commitment to the Jewish world. My father was the President of our local synagogue twice. He was also very active in the UJA. I remember well the second day after the Yom Kippur War began, being sent as a youth representative to hand a huge bag of one-dollar bills collected at a rally to a gathering of top UJA givers. Even though my father was not in the league of the Tishes and the Tishmans of the time, he had dug so deep into my parents’ finances to be invited to that gathering of top givers.
My father’s most profound impact on the Jewish world, and on me, was his involvement with Westchester Day School, in Mamaroneck, NY. My father became the Administrative VP for W.D.S. the year I graduated. That fact, in and of itself, tells an important story. As I have seen first-hand, people often become involved in Jewish schools, primarily, when their children are in school. My father, on the other hand, spent 18 years, after I graduated, working as a volunteer for WDS trying to improve Jewish education. My proudest moment, and the one that affected me the most, was when my parents were honored at a WDS dinner. As is traditional, my father gave the thank you speech. Though instead of the usual platitudes that everyone was expecting, he gave an impassioned speech, on how every child deserved a Jewish education. In his address he attacked the very institution that was honoring my parents, for its policy of counseling out difficult students.
Dad, these last months have been hard. Our plans called for all of us to embark on a new adventure. You and Mom would live for the first time in the state you worked to found. The rest of us would be coming home, after too long a hiatus, in time to be there for Tali as she begins her army service in ten days. There is an old saying “man plans and God laughs”. Well, our plans were far advanced, our furniture was on a ship, and our apartment was already rented when mom died suddenly. She was adamant in wanting to come to Israel. You were a little reluctant to leave your house in New Rochelle. But for us, there was no turning back. Tali had her draft date. We were living on borrowed blow up mattresses on the last days of our lease in Mamaroneck. You said, “when mom died everything changed”, and internally, for you and for the rest of us it did. Yet, you were ready, despite that fact, to set off on this last great adventure. Unfortunately, despite making it to this land, you never had much of a chance to enjoy it. Soon after we arrived your health took a sudden turn for the worse, and for the last 6 weeks you health got ever worse. Throughout this entire ordeal, you kept your sense of humor. You found the good in everything. In the last moments of your life, I apologized to you for bringing you on this great adventure. For although you received excellent care while here, the final outcome for you, speaks for itself.
Dad, we will miss you greatly-- in the coming months and years, but you will be with us in everything we do. David Ben Haim Halevi, from the Bronx, New York, you have reached eternal rest here, not far from the cradle of Zionism. In front of your three grandchildren, who stand here with you, I promise, in the coming years, to do our best to give meaning to that adventure.