We buried my mother this past week.

Next to my father in the tiny Ozorkova Cemetery in Paramus, NJ.

Thirty-four years almost to the day that I stared down at my father’s coffin and listened to the dull thud of dirt against a pine box as I shoveled the traditional three spades of soil to honor his passing.

Ninety-seven years and 21 days from her birth in 1919.

This cemetery where we laid her to rest is a place out of time.

A diorama of 18th century Poland created by the original immigrants from the village of Ozorkova who came to Paterson in the early days of the last century to work in the silk mills. Cheap labor to work industrial looms powered by the Passaic River.

My father’s family was part of that group.

My mom and dad, his mother and father and his grandmother are all there amongst the weeds and tilting grave stones. Yiddish phrases chiseled in stone.

My mom’s resting place next to my dad is like a chapter closing in her large book of life.

She outlived almost everyone she touched in life except for the 18 people gathered to honor and bury her.

Her passing has been very tough for me.

A palimpsest of sorts, peeling back memory after memory of her life, mine along with it.

Waking dreams distracting my days. Sleeping dreams that have been waking me up.

My mom was in the corners of my memories when I was growing up.

Very much in the shadow of my father at one end of the kitchen table, his pipe constantly in hand, a physicist who dedicated his life to teaching in the high school he attended as a way of giving back.

And of Pop, my mom’s father, at the other end of the table, cigar perpetually smoking, who came from Russia in 1905 at 13, and worked in the garment district his entire life. Without a day of education, he was a rock of strength to us.

In retrospect, beyond these dominant and wonderful patriarchal role models, beyond the barking of the family dog, the perpetual horsing around of my two brothers and I, there was always my mother.

Working as a secretary during the day till 3, then in the kitchen making home made soups, kasha varnishkas, tongue and brisket. Chopped liver and food made to please her husband and father, and to keep all of us healthy and strong.

She made the Jewish home we lived in.

It was after my dad passed away that we grew closer. After my divorce and her friendship with my son Asa deepened that we started to talk.

It was then that I began to truly understand the formative part she played earlier in my life. It was then that we became friends.

It was also then that I started to put together the strings of our family history as part of who I am.

Pop’s family from Russia and the migration from Rivington Street to the East Bronx. The sacrifices of my mother and Uncle Herb to not pursue college but to work and help move the family to the West Bronx on the Grand Concourse where I was born.

The stories of three families with children and my grandfather living in one apartment waiting for the men to come back from the war. And the deep bonds of sisterhood amongst those women that was the center of all extended family activities throughout my youth.

It was then that I started to internalize the importance of my immigrant roots and the dedication of my parents to family, to extended friendships, to community and I think also to the country.

And in the face of everything, I began then to look back to my childhood as being really happy and unsoiled. And to my personal connection to my mom over the last 30 years as a rare gift.

To me she was a role model to my son Asa above what I could provide on my own.

To me, someone who basically her whole life had sacrificed anything and everything for the family with never a complaint.

To me, someone who would support me no matter what. In trouble for smoking pot and endless stupid things I did that required the family to fix.

Someone who truly loved people and celebrated life with endless gatherings and parties. Food and laughter, yelling and crying. She was at one and somehow in control of both the supreme joy and eternal messiness of life, and made it seem right and normal.

I’m going to miss her terribly but I’m not sad she is gone.

She was so proud. So spunky. So stylish that when I had to help her the weekend before she died with mundane physical tasks, she told me this was not a life she wanted to live any longer.


Rest in Peace Mom.

It is a very long and worthy life that ends with laying you down next to your husband.

A great story that should be akin to the oral tradition of our family. And passed down and retold.

From Osorkova Poland to Paterson. From the shtetls of eastern Russia to New York’s Lower East Side and the West Bronx.

To here today.

I’m a tough character by nature but this is tearing me at my very core of my soul.

I keep reaching for my phone to call her and say hello.

That will pass but the pain of this, the joy of her–this is something to hold onto forever.

It’s a large part of who I am and I simply won’t let it fade away.


Snapshots of my mother

Picture at the top of the post
My mom standing in front of their trailer in Hondo, Texas on the Army base. They knew my father was shipping out the next day. They did not know that she was pregnant and that my brother Jay would be 2 years old before he saw his father for the first time.

1930, the day that parents met in Oakland,NJ, Shirley is 20

The day my parents met in Oakland, N.J in 1930.



Mom and Dad in Grand Rapids when Dad was commissioned and becam a 2nd Lieutenant

My dad and mom.


Mom in the West Bronx with her mother at 18.

Harry with Shirley and Molly. Anna, Shirley's mom is in the background

My Uncle Harry at his place upstate with my mother and Aunt Molly, my mom’s closest friend.

Screen Shot 2016-12-31 at 5.09.27 AM









Pop and my mom on her wedding day.

Screen Shot 2016-07-17 at 4.50.15 PM

Probably ten years ago at MoMa, one of our favorite spots.