For the Love of Shirley
One Woman’s Challenges and Choices in Postwar Jewish America
Table Of Contents
- Title Page
- Copyright Page
- Dedication Page
- About the author
- About the book
- Citability of the eBook
- 1 The Genesis of a Book
- Who Was Shirley K. Tydor?
- Identity and Self-Definition
- The “Silent Generation” and the “Lucky Few”
- Shirley K. Tydor and the 2.0 Generation
- Sources and Methodology
- And Finally Acknowledgement and Thanks
- 2 On the Shoulders of Giants
- Mihova, 1895
- New York, 1911
- Kiev, 1888
- Max and Bertha
- Married Life
- 3 Shirley’s Early Years (1929–1939)
- Shirley’s First Year
- The Great Depression
- The Early Years
- Elementary School Years
- The Kraus Family During the 1930s
- 4 The Making of a Socialist: Shirley’s Education During the 1940s (1940–1950)
- Junior High and High School
- Brooklyn College
- 5 Shirley the Travel Agent I: Patra (1950–1957)
- A Family Business
- A Family Dissolution
- A Family Courtship
- A Family Wedding
- 6 Shirley in the Wild West (1957–1959)
- A Couple Apart
- A Couple Together
- The Wild West in Retrospect
- 7 Shirley the Mother (1959–1974)
- Motherhood and Financial Security
- The “Mobility Revolution”
- The “Orthodox Revolution”
- Shirley and the Holocaust
- The Search for a New Personal Identity
- 8 Shirley the Travel Agent II: General Tours (1963–1974)
- General Tours and Golf Tours International
- Golf Tours International
- Jewish Mutual Assistance, and the Jews of Silence
- Israel and Aliya
- How Did It Really Happen?
- 9 Shirley Makes Aliya (1974–1982)
- American Aliya to Israel
- First Years in a New Homeland
- The Bubble Begins to Burst
- The Sandwich Generation
- Moving Mother Back Home
- “Life Without Mother”
- The First Years in Israel in Retrospect
- 10 Shirley’s Florida Adventures (1982–1993)
- Bay Harbor Island
- A Year of Transitions
- Life Without Mother
- Bay Harbor Island
- The Gulf War
- A Change in Plans
- 11 Life Without Haskel (1993–2014)
- The Lucky Few Grow Older
- Florida Without Haskel
- Grieving, Growing and Redesigning
- The Beginning of the End
- A Life in Letters
- After the Fall
- The Last Days
- 12 Epilogue—Life Without Shirley (2014–)
- Who Was Shirley K. Tydor?
- Writing “For the Love of Shirley”
- Why Did I Write This Book?
- How Would My Mother Have Written It?
- Family Tree
- Glossary of Foreign Terms
At the end, everyone said it was one of the best parties they had attended in years. The atmosphere was lively, the buffet was laden with delicacies, and a continuous flow of guests entered the house all evening. Braving the winter chill, over three dozen friends and relatives had gathered at our Ramat Gan apartment on the night of January 14, 2009, in order to celebrate my mother Shirley’s 80th birthday.
The guests were a living testimony to the various stages of my mother’s long and somewhat unconventional life. One American cousin, my mother’s age, had known her since childhood. Three English relatives from my father’s side had met her as an adult during my parents’ six-week European honeymoon. A few of the guests had entered her life during her newlywed year in Rapid City, South Dakota and Deer Lodge, Montana. Some had befriended her in New York during the 1960s. Others had made her acquaintance in Israel of the mid-1970s, soon after we immigrated. Four were my close friends, for whom she had been a fixture since their own childhood. Two were my in-laws, visiting from America. More recent friends included members of her Seniors’ Club with whom she spent her Wednesday mornings, and some of their aides. Finally, there was my mother’s aide Vicky, who after five years with us had become part of our family.
It was also a party that almost didn’t take place. The previous evening we had married off my stepson, and the past four months had been filled with wedding plans. Three weeks earlier, my stepdaughter had given birth to her first child, a boy. For weeks, our discussions had revolved around the birth, the bris (circumcision), and my octogenarian in-laws’ month-long visit from overseas to celebrate the family festivities. With event following event, plans for my mother’s 80th birthday party had been postponed and almost overlooked until Vicky gently reminded me in early January how much my mother was looking forward to some kind of celebration. In the absence of any program, she had even mentioned to Vicky that she might just take a friend or two to lunch so that her 80th birthday would at least be marked in some way.
Faced with that reminder, I was aghast at my own lack of priorities. With those words, the family sprang to life and rapidly began planning the 80th birthday party of a lifetime. Within a week we had put together a guest list and program in which each element would remind my mother of something meaningful in her past. Under a banner reading “The Way We Were,” pictures on the dining room walls charted her life from junior high school through her wedding and honeymoon. As she was big on countdowns, a sign on the ←15 | 16→door read “78, 79, 80!!! Happy Birthday Shirley!” That same sentiment was echoed on a ten by ten foot banner made by her older granddaughter Beki, which we hung from the living room curtain rod. Food was chosen to recall incidents and places that had shaped her life. Pineapple upside down cake, reminiscent of Hawaii and its palm trees, one of her favorite destinations as a travel agent. Eclairs, her best-loved dessert, recalling how before they were married, my father, her boss, would “bribe” her to work late by bringing her boxes of them to the office. “And I still weighed 118 lbs. no matter how many he would feed me, until you were born!,” she would always say, making me feel guilty for having ruined her girlish figure by entering the world.
Once the guests were all in place, holding plates laden with finger food, we began the program. Thanking everyone for coming, I spoke about the significance of turning 80, a birthday that many of them had already celebrated, and its relevance as a milestone within the timeline of the traditional blessing: “may you live until 120.” Noting how the guests encompassed much of my mother’s life story, I mentioned that two of the most important people in that tale, my father Chaskel Tydor, and my mother’s best friend, Lisa Lawrence, my “Auntie Lisa,” were no longer with us. “But they are still going to give you birthday presents that will connect past and present,” I continued.
“Every year when I was a little girl Daddy would buy you a light blue blouse, soft and silky, for me to give you on your birthday. I remember how excited you were each time, even though you knew it would always be a blue blouse. I couldn’t find a silky blue blouse because it’s winter, but had Daddy been here, he would have certainly given you this instead,” I stated, as I presented her with a light blue fluffy winter sweater. A second gift, to be worn with the sweater, was a filigreed Star of David on a long gold chain, “just like the one your father gave me before we were engaged,” she exclaimed in delight as I took it out of its box to show her.
The next present was more a whiff of the past than a tangible gift. Going through papers that my mother had given me a few years earlier, I had found a letter that her best friend had sent her for her 65th birthday. Now I read it out to my mother, who could no longer read it herself, already suffering from the macular degeneration that would rob her of most of her sight within the next five years:
“There is no one alive that I can think of that I have known so-o-o long.” Auntie Lisa had written. “I believe the image burned into my brain is you at about 14 years old with wild red hair, tons of junk jewelry, and second hand rose clothes … another image is of you standing on the kitchen table screaming—Get it! Get it!—to me, as a mouse ran across the room. I didn’t have to. He dropped dead from the pitch of your voice in the middle of the ←16 | 17→kitchen floor. I had to dispose of him before you would get off the table. Now is that ever love! You bet. And the love is still there and when we’re gone our atoms will probably recognize each other and kiss and on and on and on it goes.”1 Listening to the words and thinking of her best friend whom she had buried several years earlier, tears came to her eyes. “Yes, that was Rosie,” she said, using her childhood name for her best friend, who had adopted the stage name “Lisa Lawrence” when she became a singer. “And every word of it is true!”
After my older daughter spoke briefly and humorously about the lessons she learned from her grandmother, it was time to bring in the birthday cake. Years before, when we had celebrated my grandmother’s 80th birthday in the same house, my mother and I could only fit 18 candles, representing the numerical equivalent of the Hebrew word Chai (life), on the small store-bought cake we had gotten her. Thirty-three years later, not only had I learned how to bake, but I also owned a baking pan large enough for a cake that could hold 80 candles. Walking from the kitchen into the guest-filled living room, I brought out an oversized chocolate sheet cake, ablaze with birthday candles, which my mother only succeeded in blowing out with her granddaughters’ assistance.
By 10 PM almost all the guests had left the party. Not having filmed the speeches, my daughters Beki and Rina decided to hold an “after party” and record my mother’s impressions of the evening. “How did you like the party, Baba?” they asked her, using the family term for grandmother. “It was incredible,” she answered. “Look at all those people who came! It paid being 80, but when I say that I want to shudder. I’m not really 80 am I?!” “Yes you are,” Beki answered, “and you even have the presents to prove it!” Taking the small box holding the filigreed Star of David from the large pile of presents my mother had received, she lifted it up towards the camera asking: “So what do you think about the present that Mom gave you, the gold necklace?”
Suddenly my mother became pensive. “I know what she was doing. She was replacing something very precious that I got from your Zeide (grandfather), many years ago which was stolen in a robbery. Even before we were engaged, he asked me what I wanted for Chanukah and I said I wanted a chain with a Mogen Dovid, a Star of David. Why did I want one? When I was younger and everyone wore one, I wouldn’t, because I wasn’t a Zionist. Now I wanted to have one as well.”←17 | 18→
“You wanted one because you had become a Zionist, Baba?!” Rina asked incredulously, knowing more than a bit about her grandmother’s history. My mother laughed. “I wanted one to show everyone that I was Jewish. Here in Israel it’s easy to be Jewish. But when you live elsewhere, there are times you have to decide who you are, and not be afraid to show it to the world. That’s when I decided who I really was. Not a communist. Not a socialist. Just Jewish. And that’s the story of the Mogen Dovid. Being a Zionist came long after that. Now maybe you’ll understand why every time you tell me to do something this way or that way, I always say … ” and before my mother could complete the sentence, my daughters and I recited her credo in unison: “Remember! I was Jewish before you were born!!”
Shirley Rosalyn Kraus Tydor was indeed Jewish before I was born, and she was also a woman of many identities. As a child during the Great Depression she was a mischievous tomboy. As a teenager during and after the Second World War she was a flaming Communist whose high school yearbook opened with a missive from her homeroom teacher: “Come the revolution, Shirley, don’t forget to take care of me.”2 As a young adult she remained a Russophile and staunch supporter of “Students for Wallace,” but mellowed into a more socialist outlook. After meeting my father she slowly became a believer, and after marrying him, she rapidly adopted an Orthodox Jewish lifestyle which she kept for the rest of her days.
During her first year of marriage she became a pioneer in the American Midwest, and during her seventeenth year of marriage she became a “pioneer” in the Israeli city of Ramat Gan, or so she liked to describe herself when speaking about her immigration adventures. In between, she was a mother, a travel agent, and a specialist in Golf Tours, even though she never played a single game of golf in her life. Somewhere along the way she also became a Zionist, although her disillusionment with the “Zionist experiment” played havoc with her plans to spend the rest of her life in the State of Israel. Consequently, in her “Golden Years” she became a snowbird, dividing her life between Israel and Florida. At some point in her later years she also began to define herself as a “proud Israeli,” but only when in Dade or Broward County. Above all, she was a Jew, even in her early days when she still believed in competing ideologies. That was how she defined herself publicly and most likely how she thought of herself privately, although her definition of being Jewish underwent more than one metamorphosis throughout her life.←18 | 19→
Identity is not only a matter of self-definition. It is also one of perception. How one defines oneself is not necessarily how one is seen by others. If someone asked my mother’s friends or relatives who she was, it is uncertain that they would refer to her identity at a particular juncture, but rather to her personality and fiery temperament, personified by her flaming red hair. It was her trademark, and remained as such until the end of her life. “I will never go grey,” she declared to me on more than one occasion, and indeed she did not, neither in mane nor in personality.
Shirley K. Tydor, as she signed her name for the last fifty-eight years of her life, was not a woman of mild responses, nor were most people mildly inclined towards her. “You either loved her or couldn’t stand her, but most people she met adored her,” recalled her closest friend who had known her since their teens.3 This feeling was echoed in a statement that my mother often made to me while I was growing up. “If you don’t like someone, just keep away from them. But if there is someone you care for, then love them with all your heart.”
My mother was a woman with many friends, and indeed she loved them deeply. The same held true for her extended family, her own from birth, and the one she married into. It was a love that was usually reciprocated. With a seemingly innocent but well-practiced look from her luminous green eyes, another one of her striking features, there were people who ended up doing her bidding “just for the love of Shirley.” That love would lead them to participate in adventures they had never imagined, including the kind that would have them waking up in a different country 24 hours later. She, too, would change her entire life because of love, entering into adventures that she had never dreamed of. “She was one of a kind, a true rip,” said her oldest step-nephew at her funeral, and she would have been the first to agree to that statement.4
That was the Shirley that many people knew, but was she always that person? Scholars of human psychology have long shown us that people often undergo a process of identity change over time, not only during childhood, but even after reaching adulthood. No one can be the same at 30 as they were at 15, at 50 as they were at 30, or at 80 as they were at 50. Life experiences leave their mark on a person’s psyche, guiding their decisions about who they are and who they want to be. One of the best known descriptions of this process ←19 | 20→can be found in Eric Erikson’s eight stages of human psychological development that describes and analyzes the changes and flexibility of human identity over one’s lifetime.5
What composes our identity? Rooted in our self-definition, it is formed through the choices we make in a number of domains such as gender, vocation, spirituality, political orientation, family values, ethnicity, and sexuality. Comprising our values, goals, and beliefs, it provides us with direction, purpose, and meaning.
While adolescents go through natural changes of identity as part of their maturing process, one can also find major identity transitions among adults of all ages. Over a period of time people may modify their goals, values and beliefs as a result of personal choice, altered circumstances, or external events. In his study of identity flexibility among adults, psychologist and identity development specialist Alan S. Waterman lists and explores the major factors in adult identity change: the loss or gain of a romantic partner, job burnout, life disruptions, difficulties in maintaining religious or political idealism, and generational differences in ethnic identity expression.6 How many of these factors affected the changes in my mother’s identity over the years? Were there any other issues that came into play? These are two of the questions that I will explore in the following chapters.
People aggregate numerous identities during their lifetime, but there are two which almost everyone embodies both continuously and simultaneously: their external identity and their internal identity. The first is the identity that one reveals to the world, defined by one’s social interactions, and often dependent on the role one is playing at the time (i.e. parent, partner, teacher, etc.). The second is predicated on one’s cognitive processes and personal perceptions, such as one’s national identity, sexual identity, or changes in identity. Is there a correlation between our external and internal identities that automatically attempts to mitigate a clash between them? What if one’s personal perceptions conflict with the role one must play at a particular time? This is another issue that I will examine as I discuss and analyze my mother’s choices and experiences during the various stages of her lifetime.←20 | 21→
A final issue pertaining to identity is that of introspective perception, in other words, perception of oneself as a person. In her study of identity stability, psychologist and mindful cognition specialist Evangeline A. Wheeler notes that people usually have a sense of remaining the same person over time (internal identity), even if they have chosen to make a radical change in their external identity.7 But do they really remain that same person? Do their traits and personality not change over time either as a result of conscious choice or due to the experiences that they undergo?
In terms of her traits and personality, was my mother at 40, when she was an Orthodox Jewish wife and mother, the same person that she had been at 20, when she was an unmarried college student and a radical socialist? What about when she was 50, when she was a burning Zionist living in Israel? Or at 60, when she was much less burning and dividing her life between Miami and Ramat Gan? And what about at 80, when she already suffered from early stages of vascular dementia that would cloud her mind during the last years of her life? The dominant philosophical view posits that the answer to “who am I” is predicated upon memories which are central to one’s identity and perception of self. What happens to one’s internal identity when the ravages of age and disease alter or wipe out some of those memories? These, too, are among the questions that I will pose at various junctures of this journey in order to chart and analyze the various shifts in my mother’s identity throughout her life, and their significance both to her and to others.
How much of my mother’s identity was a factor of personality and how much was a factor of belonging to a particular generation? Born in January 1929, my mother was part of the American generation known both as the “Silent Generation” and the “Lucky Few.” There are no precise dates for when this generation begins or ends, but most researchers and demographers choose a starting point somewhere between the mid-to-late 1920s and an endpoint from the early to mid-1940s.8 A Time Magazine article from November ←21 | 22→1951 coined the term “Silent Generation,” stating that many of its members focused more on their careers than on activism, and were largely encouraged to conform to traditionalism and social norms.9 In his 2008 study Ellwood Carlson renamed that generation the “Lucky Few.” “Lucky” alluded to its members’ material good fortune, and the fact that they were the last, and possibly fullest example of the traditional family. “Few” referred to its scope: it was the first American generation to be smaller than both its predecessor and its successor, and whose numbers were barely augmented by immigration.10
When looking for early signposts in the development of the “Lucky Few,” it appears that the twin emergencies of the Great Depression and the Second World War shaped the minds and fate of that generation.11 They were the first generation to have been born in a hospital, quite a number were only children, and many were overprotected by their parents because of the Depression and fear of war. Because of their exceptionally low birth rates, they had more parental attention, smaller class size in school, and more opportunities for extracurricular prominence than their predecessors.12 Pressured to conform and marry early, as a generation they married younger, had more children, and more stay-at-home mothers than the “GI Generation” (also known as the “Great Warriors”), that preceded it.
Financially, the Silent Generation/Lucky Few made great economic strides during its lifetime, although subsequent generations surpassed its earning power. Termed as going from “cashless childhood” to “affluent adulthood,” members of that generation indeed appeared to have embarked upon an escalator of prosperity. At the time they entered the job market they benefited from an exceptionally long post-war economic boom, and had little significant competition from immigrants. Many preferred working in big operations offering job security. Members of that group often chose to ←22 | 23→take early retirement pensions, something possible due to their small size and economic advancement.
Coming of age too late for war heroism, the GI Generation was their example and role model. The Silent Generation also served in uniform, but its time in the military was not marked by ongoing war or massive casualties as it had been for its predecessors.13 Having a strong sense of social obligation, members of the Silent Generation attempted to humanize and refine those who had preceded them, accounting for the boom in helping professions during the 1960s. Some became facilitators, lending their expertise to the existing institutional order. Wishing to bolster the previous generations’ institutions, there were those who became technocrats like Robert Mondale and Geraldine Ferraro, and even Presidential assistants such as Pierre Sallinger, Dick Cheney, and John Sonunu.
To fully understand a generation’s nature it is not enough to focus on the milestones of its nurturing years but also on those taking place when its members came of age. The Silent Generation came of age during the McCarthy era, and rapidly internalized the logic of “don’t say, don’t write, don’t join.”14 They were not leaders, nor were they looked up to by a subsequent generation for leadership which was still being provided by the GI Generation, long after the “Silent Generation”/“Lucky Few” had reached middle age. The “Silent Generation”/“Lucky Few” was a generation in transition, one that appeared to be looking for its identity.
And yet, more than one scholar has questioned how “silent” the “Silent Generation” actually was in view of the fact that its members included Civil Rights movement leaders such as the Reverend Martin Luther King, feminist activists such as Gloria Steinem, and political pioneers such as John McCain, Joseph Lieberman, Mario Cuomo, and Dick Cheney. It also included Neil Armstrong, probably one of the best known Americans of the 20th century. But it does appear to have less public presence than the two generations between which it was sandwiched. Its members never rose up in protest as a unified political identity. There has never been an American President born in that generation, although there have been several First Ladies.
In many ways my mother was typical of the oldest group in the “Silent Generation.” She was the first child in her extended family to be born in a hospital. She was an only child to her mother, although she had four older half-brothers from her father, all members of the “GI Generation/Great ←23 | 24→Warriors.” She was somewhat overprotected and received a lot of parental attention. While three half-brothers served in the army, she was too young to take part in the Second World War. She married young, at least the first time around. And she indeed embarked upon an escalator of prosperity, but never really left the lessons of her Depression childhood far behind, at least in the declarative sense.
In other things she did not follow the typical pattern of her generation. As a teenager and young adult she was politically active, but left that world behind when she began full-time employment after college. She was never a “follower” and preferred to see herself as an individualist and even a leader. She had a sense of social obligation but it was always tempered with political, and later religious, overtones. She was never a “sentimental pluralist,” a term used in describing that generation’s nature and direction,15 and even when driven by sentiment, she was first ideologically, and later religiously, focused. She was gainfully employed, but never worked for a large corporation. She attained job security, but only by working with her husband, and in a service (travel) industry which in itself was not always secure. She did not begin her family when she was young, and had one child, far from the 3.3 child average of her day. Unlike many women of her generation who remained stay-at-home mothers until their children completed elementary school, she returned to work when I was two and a half. She was an early feminist, speaking about “equal pay for equal work” long before it became a popular slogan. She took early retirement at 45, but only because the family was moving to Israel.
Why was she different in these matters from so many members of her generation? Being born in January 1929, my mother belonged to the generation’s oldest group which still functioned on the cusp of the previous generation’s patterns in certain matters of ethos and action. Being the only daughter of a traditional-devout Jewish mother and a communist-atheist Jewish father, she, like her parental home, was often a personal contradiction in terms. Starting her life on the freethinking left, she ultimately found herself on the religious right, yet never fully abandoned her existential questioning.
- ISBN (PDF)
- ISBN (ePUB)
- ISBN (MOBI)
- ISBN (Softcover)
- Publication date
- 2020 (March)
- American Jewry Gender Great Depression Holocaust Immigration Israel World War II
- Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2020. 404 pp., 61 fig. b/w.