“Call me Myrna”

My family, after three years of living in Israel, moved back to the States and settled in New City, New York during the summer of 1974. (Was that really forty years ago???) My father went to work for IBM in White Plains; my mother worked for TWA (now a defunct airline) in their Manhattan office; my siblings and I were enrolled in the Clarkstown school system; and we joined the New City Jewish Center (NCJC).

NCJC assumed a central role in our family’s life outside of work and school. My dad regularly attended services, joined several committees, and gradually took on leadership roles. My mom got involved with the Sisterhood and consistently went to the synagogue on Saturday afternoons to help the other ladies prepare tuna fish and egg salad for Seudah Shlishit, the light meal before the final services of the Sabbath. We kids attended the religious school and joined age-appropriate youth groups. And, we all participated in various year-round activities, holidays, and other events.

It was through our synagogue membership and involvement that we met the Hirsch family.

Our families, as I recall, connected pretty quickly and easily right from the start. My three siblings and I overlapped in ages and grades with the three Hirsch kids (though they went to Clarkstown High School South and we were at North) so we saw and hung out with each other often as the friendship between our families grew. Even after we kids grew up, went to college, and moved on, however, my parents and Mr. and Mrs. Hirsch remained close friends.

Over the years, Mr. and Mrs. Hirsch attended every Bar/Bat Mitzvah, wedding, or other family celebration of ours except one. (They missed my daughter’s Bat Mitzvah, but had a VERY good excuse for doing so!) As a matter of fact, Mr. Hirsch even served as a witness and signed the Ketubah – marriage document – at my wedding (and my siblings’ too!).

From the get-go, I liked Mr. Hirsch. He was the first Jewish man I ever met who was a weightlifter and loved a good suntan. He had an easy laugh, was quick with a joke, and just seemed like a nice guy from Day One. But, Mrs. Hirsch used to scare the teenaged me. She always seemed to be strict and someone to take very seriously. I believed that somehow, if you did something wrong, Mrs. Hirsch would find out.

*   *   *

Mrs. Hirsch has always been “Mrs. Hirsch” to me. I think I was in my early forties when she first said, “You know, you’re a grown woman now. You can call me Myrna.” “No, I can’t” I replied. Despite the tremendous informality that exists today, I simply can’t bring myself to call my parents’ friends by their first names. It just doesn’t seem right or respectful.

*   *   *

A few years ago I found myself sitting at my brother’s kitchen table alone with Mrs. Hirsch. (I was no longer afraid of her!) It was the first time we really talked woman-to-woman. We got into a conversation about children and grandchildren, and the challenges of maintaining good relationships from afar. She shared a beautiful story about how she decided to start calling her granddaughters on the phone every single Wednesday afternoon – from wherever she might be in the world. She didn’t stand on ceremony, expect the call to be answered or even returned. She just wanted to take the initiative, reach out, and share her love across the airwaves. Her consistency and commitment paid off; she created and fostered a bond that has stood the test of time.

The nature of Mrs. Hirsch’s perspective and the way she shared it really moved me. I learned about an approach to building connections that I hadn’t considered previously. It was the first time that a friend of my mother’s became my friend too.

*   *   *

As I started writing this blog a few years ago, Mrs. Hirsch became one of my most loyal and faithful readers. What I love most, however, is her willingness to push back and question my position on some of the topics I’ve tackled. She’s not bashful about sharing her opinions. I welcome them. She doesn’t beat around the bush. I appreciate her directness. Regardless of the differences in our ages and life experience, I know I can count on her for openness, honesty, and friendship.

*   *   *

It never occurred to me that I could be in a position to have an influence or make a real impact – now or in the future – on my kids’ friends. The evolution of my relationship with Mrs. Hirsch, however, has helped me see that possibility. Serving as a positive role model, teacher, guide, or mentor for others is a true mitzvah. I hope I will have that privilege one day.

Mrs. Hirsch – okay, Myrna – I hope you know that you your words, actions, and deeds have made a difference in others’ lives. Thank you for almost forty years of love and friendship.

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