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Remembering Shirley Yetta Lubin

by Helen Lubin, Shirley's Daughter


February 26, 1929 – April 27, 2024 

Shirley was born in the winter in Brooklyn, NY, into the years of the Great Depression. Her mother,  Regina Riss, was from Austria-Hungary, and her father, David Riss, was American. Growing up with her  three-years-older sister, Dorothy, there were various aunts, uncles and cousins on her mother’s side. As  Shirley tells it in a write-up about her life: “The [early] Depression years were not bad for us, as my  father worked for the post office. However, he died of TB when I was six. Then came difficult years.”  



In their Brooklyn apartment they had a piano that the father played, and when the father died at the age  of 32 or 33, the family moved to the Lower East Side, less than a block from where Regina’s parents  lived, so they could help take care of the children. This meant leaving the piano behind because it was  too expensive to move.  


It seems that Shirley was closer to her father than to her mother. Although she remembered little of him  in the last years of her life, she did recall visiting him in the hospital. When sharing that recollection, she  also voiced that she had hoped to learn to play the piano.  


“We moved to Manhattan and settled on the Lower East Side close to my [maternal] grandparents half a  block away. The plan was for my grandmother to take care of my sister and me while my mother worked.  However, my grandmother died of a stroke shortly after.” Shirley recently recalled sitting on a curb playing marbles with the gypsies, waiting for her mother to come home from work. From the time she was six years old, “I sort of took care of myself already. And we survived!”  


Then they moved to an apartment on 5th Street. Regina tried to put Shirley and her sister in day care, but  they didn’t want to go. A widow upstairs with two boys looked after them after school.  

Shirley attended Seward Park High School. At age 14, in summer, she went to a ‘settlement house’ during  the day for crafts and swimming. Down the street from where she lived was a laundry business. The  owner knew that she would be glad to have some work, and this became Shirley’s first summer job.  


“My mother worked in a factory to support us. We moved a lot, always looking for cheaper rent. When I  was 14 – still too young to have work papers - I started to work during summer vacations. My first job was at a laundry – mangling flat pieces and minding the store when the owner was out picking up and  delivering laundry, and helping the people that came in. I earned enough money to go to summer camp  for two weeks to get away. [These were summer getaways from the heat of the city. One of these was in Tallman, NY. It was still there when the Lubins moved to Tallman 21 years later – “maybe it wasn’t a  camp anymore; the cabins were still there”.]  


“The next year I worked all summer at a factory [where her mother worked] that made children’s undies. The following summer I worked as a mother’s helper [at her dentist’s summer home] in Tannersville, NY  in the Catskills. It was nice being out of the city for two months.”  

Shirley was close to her grandfather “and used to visit him all the time. He was a furrier; he sewed  together pieces of curly Persian lamb in his home, then took them to the furrier district to sell to a coat-maker. It was a bad neighborhood, but busy. It quieted down in later years; storefronts were boarded  up.”  


As Shirley put it, she and her mother didn’t have a good relationship. The mother “always” told her:  “You’re just like your father – fussy and finicky.” When Shirley was tempted to drop out of high school,  her mother said “You stay in school – if your father was alive, you’d probably go to college.” – This was  something Shirley would have liked to do, but later, when she had her family and was also working full time, it wasn’t possible – beyond one English course at Rockland Community College.  

On the patio of the Lubin home, now Orchard House at the Fellowship Community, August 1968.

“I graduated from high school when I was 18 and looked in the New York Times all of July for full-time employment. At the beginning of August, I went to an agency and found a job with Dutchess Jewelry, a  company that made watch attachments – watch bands, watch bracelets. But there was no advancement.  They wouldn’t teach me anything – they wouldn’t give me a chance. – I wrote work orders and packed  attachments to send back after repairs, and did some typing for the bookkeeper. After six months, I  asked them for five dollars more per week, but they said they couldn’t. They wanted a trained bookkeeper.” So Shirley looked for another job, and saw an ad for: ‘Bookkeeper – will train.’ She went during her lunch break for an interview. Before she could give notice at the job she was leaving, Dutchess  offered the five dollars after all, but Shirley left anyway to have the chance to learn bookkeeping at the  new job, where she stayed for four years until a month before her wedding.  


“In 1950 I met Seymour. He was a handsome man…. Seymour’s teenage years were taken away from him  by Hitler. Having gone through the Holocaust and losing his entire family – mother, father, brother and  sister – left him bitter. He felt an emptiness inside. – Seymour never showed his anger during our  courtship. I always listened to his stories about the concentration camp with great compassion. – When Seymore asked me to marry him, I questioned in my mind if he was right for me. My present situation at home was not good. Marrying was a way out.”  

Shirley and Seymour were engaged on her 22nd birthday, six months after they had met, and had a Jewish wedding in NYC in early February 1952.  


They had met on Labor Day weekend in September 1950. Later, back in the city, they would visit Shirley’s  friend, Leah, and her husband at their Manhattan home for Friday night get-togethers. – Later, when  Shirley met Alvin, the owner of the house that was the first place where the newlyweds lived in Ohio, he  mentioned that his cousin is a lawyer in Manhattan. Shirley asked ‘What’s her name?” – Leah - and the  same Leah. Co-occurrences or serendipities of this kind made an enormous impression on Shirley (“Well  I’ll be darned!”), and captivated her lifelong in the retelling, including the story of how she and Seymour  met:  


The cutter at work, a custom tailor for whom Shirley did the bookkeeping, told her about a summer  camp that was part of the Labor Zionist Organization, and gave her a brochure about it. That first year (she was 20) she met two sisters at camp, Leah (possibly a different Leah, it seems, than the one  mentioned above) and Esther, who lived within walking distance from home. Everyone was nice and  friendly and Shirley had a good time. Most were older than she – in their 30’s. There was only one other  without a college degree, Shirley noted. She was there for the last week of August and through Labor  Day weekend and met Lenny, whose interest in her wasn’t reciprocated. “He wasn’t that good-looking.  That’s how stupid I was – I put too much emphasis on looks.” He was a printer and lived in Philadelphia.  Not long afterwards he came to dinner at home. Shirley’s mother liked him: “What a nice young man.” 


The Zionist group got together every other week, and the in-between weeks they would gather at  someone’s house to read together and socialize.  


The next summer, Labor Day weekend was coming up, Leah was in Israel, and Esther asked Shirley if she  wanted to go to camp again. She didn’t want to go because of Lenny. (“I would feel strange”, she said, recalling it near the end of her life.) Esther replied “He’s [getting] married”, so Shirley said OK to camp.  Esther and Shirley met at the train station on Friday. They took the train to Philadelphia (as that’s where  most of those heading to camp were from), and from there took a bus to the camp in Ottsville, PA.  


In Ohio, April 1959

Seymour had become friends with a young man in a restaurant in the Bronx where he used to eat, who  asked Seymour, “What are you doing this weekend?” – “Nothing; no money.” – “There’s room in the car;  it won’t cost you anything.” At camp, he sat down at the table across from Shirley and Esther. At some later point, when Shirley and Esther were by the lake, Esther took off and Seymour came along. At the  end of that weekend, he asked her what time she gets home from work. – 6:00 if she takes the bus, 6:30 if she walks. - “It was 1950 and the neighborhood was getting bad. My mother insisted that I always ring  the bell when getting home and she would come down to meet me. The Tuesday after, Seymour was on  the phone when I rang the bell. ‘There’s someone on the phone for you.’ I had taken the bus because it was so hot.’” – Later that same evening, another young man, who lived half a block away and had also  been at camp and drove some of Esther’s and Shirley’s belongings back to the city, called to go to the movies. “I told him I already have plans.” He did bring over Shirley’s belongings that evening. – Shirley  and Seymour “met the following Saturday evening and walked and talked, and stopped to have  something to eat. He used to talk a lot about the Holocaust. He said he had put his name on every list [after the liberation of the camp] to go anywhere – he just wanted to get out of Europe.  


“Just think if the cutter hadn’t given me the brochure: I wouldn’t have gone up – I wasn’t so particularly  into Zionism.”  


In February 2009 she told me: “In the Jewish religion they say ‘It’s all there for us – all laid out.’ I don’t  know how much you can believe. But it’s strange – interesting – eerie when you think about it. – A lot of  anthroposophy goes way back to the Jewish religion.” She referred to the Kabbalah that she had  borrowed from Hanna Dreifuss, her neighbor in Pine Lodge. “There are such close ties between Judaism  and anthroposophy.”  


“Life is strange, very strange. He [Seymour] didn’t want to go because he had no money, and I hesitated  because of Lenny.”  

At the 'White House' (Green Meadow grades), April 1960

“Seymour did not want to live in NY[C]. He had friends in Lorain, Ohio. They told him construction work  was booming there and the need for carpenters was great. So off we went to Lorain.” There Shirley  found a job working for Singer Sewing Center as assistant manager and bookkeeper. Daughter Helen was  born in April 1954, and Irene in 1957.  


Eight years later, Lorain was no longer a booming steel town, and construction was at a standstill. “On a  job site, Seymour met Peter Dukich [known later as one of the ‘three musketeers’ of biodynamic  composting], who knew the senior Scharffs, Dr. Scharff’s parents. They asked Peter if he would help fix  up a house that Paul and Ann had bought, now Garden House. Peter took the job, and was told a lot of  work needed to be done. He told Seymour about it and said there was enough for two. So Seymour left to Spring Valley the early part of April 1960.” Between then and the family’s move, Seymour came to  Lorain twice, and Shirley went to Spring Valley three times – twice with the two children, and once alone  “to put up a stone” for her mother, who had died in April 1960. “One of these times we drove there with  Peter Dukich – he was planning to also drive us back. We ended up flying back because he met Charlotte [Ann Pratt’s sister]!”  


During the early part of those 15 months between Seymour’s first visit to Spring Valley and the actual move, “the senior Scharffs were visiting in Spring Valley and met Seymour, who said that his family was  in Lorain. Soon afterwards, in July 1960, Fritz Scharff, who lived 10 minutes away, picked us up for dinner  at their home. Their [special needs son] Karl and [his caregiver] Margaret Deussen were there.”  


“I stayed in Lorain with the girls until early July 1961. It took that long to sell our house there. We rented  a small place in Tallman (Airmont), NY. Helen went to Green Meadow School. She entered the second  grade. Irene was four and happy at home.  


“Seymour continued to have work in Threefold Community and the area at large. There was one parcel  of [Nancy Laughlin’s] land to be sold on Indian Rock Lane. We bought it. Because of the limited time  available [Seymour was working at his livelihood full-time], it took a while before construction was  started.  


“In September 1962 we moved into the basement of the unfinished house. Now two were attending  Green Meadow School. More tuition and no money to finish the house. [This is now Orchard House, a  home to Fellowship coworkers, with beautiful interior woodwork, including light ash cabinetry and  natural-finished open-beam ceilings throughout.]  


Connections formed with the Scharffs (elder and younger), the Ringwalds, Ruth Baumeister, Hilda  Deighton, Margaret Selke, Charlotte Parker, the Wetzls, the van Oordts (our neighbors), the Leichts  (neighbors above), the Mieruchs (neighbors below) and others, and later with Lucille Vogel and other  faculty, staff and parents at Green Meadow.  


In winter 1965 Stephanie Jones (Green Meadow, early childhood) became ill and Shirley was asked to  step in. “I started to help at the school. I did some typing and substituted in the pre-kindergarten. It was  not enough to pay towards tuition.  


“I applied for a nurse’s aide job at the hospital. Because of health reasons, I could not do that work then.  The school called. The faculty wanted someone in the office all day – would I be interested. I met with  the faculty chairman and the job was given to me.”  

She worked at Green Meadow from 1965 to 1980. During the first years there, she could remember all of  the parents’ addresses and some of their phone numbers – as she recalled near the end of her life. “For  the first eight years I was the only office worker. I did admissions, finances, and everything in between. It  probably affected my personal life. The marriage ended in 1976.”  


Later on, Shirley moved to Whiting, NJ with Ray Hoehl. For the first couple of years, she cleaned houses  and, after completing a nurse’s aide training in 1985, did home health care until finding a full-time job at  Health West, where she worked for 15 years until retiring in 1998 at age 69. During her time there, one  day a patient’s brother, an attorney, visited, and mentioned that he had a business partner who was  originally from Ohio. Shirley asked where. - Lorain. - What’s your partner’s name?” – “Jacobi”. – This was a cousin of Alvin Jacobi – Seymour’s and Shirley’s first landlord in Lorain and then close friend for years –  who was this visitor’s law firm partner.  

After retiring, Shirley volunteered for six years in the office of the active adult community where she and  Ray lived until, two years after Ray died, she moved to the Fellowship Community in May 2004.  


After the dedication of the new wing of Hilltop House, she said to me in amazement: “Isn’t that  something – that I should be at both dedications: at the original Hilltop and then at the new building now.”  


Some weeks or months after attending a gathering in Copake in 2008 for the burial of Seymour’s ashes,  she said to me on the phone: “Why we take that road or that path instead of another, I don’t know. It’s  eerie if you think about it. What’s eerie is: I see that flower garden where the ashes are buried – I see it  constantly before me all the time.”- I said “It’s a beautiful garden.” – “Very beautiful – like paradise – a  beautiful garden. – OK, I better go”, i.e. end of phone call.  


Many of Shirley’s sweetest friendships – and in a way the best years of her life, with an abundance of little nourishing moments – were in community at the Fellowship. On a small piece of paper found in her  belongings soon after she died, she had noted the following from Kahlil Gibran: “And in the sweetness of  friendship, let there be laughter and sharing of pleasure. For in the dew of little things the heart finds its  morning and is refreshed.”  


 

To make a gift to the Fellowship Community in honor of Shirley Lubin please visit

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