Author Archives: shapcomp18

About shapcomp18

After thirty five years in education, I have retired and am free to pursue my lifelong dream of becoming a freelance writer. Inspired by my mother, who was the family historian, I am writing down my family stories as well as publishing stories my mother wrote down throughout her life. Please feel free to comment and share.

Even small mitzvahs count! Feeling good while doing good!

My granddaughter getting her postcards from her family’s mailbox.

Do your little bit of good where you are; It’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.” Desmond Tutu.

This morning, as I have done almost every Monday morning for the past four years, I mailed out a small stack of postcards. Just call it my very small attempt to do little bits of good.

In January 2012, my husband Larry and I were still living in Upstate New York. Doris Calderon, who had recently been diagnosed with cancer, needed to undergo extensive treatments at Sloan Kettering in New York City. She and her husband Marty recruited several friends to make weekly visits with Marty’s 99-year-old mother-Rose, who resided in the Memory Enhancement Unit (MEU) at Daughters of Sarah Senior Community in Albany. 

Thus began a friendship between Rose and me that continued until her passing over two and a half years later.A couple of months into my visits, I coordinated with the social director for the MEU to conduct activities with other residents. Doris returned, thankfully healthy, but I continued my visits with Rose and residents of the MEU.

In the fall of 2012, during one of my visits,  I struck up a conversation with a young man whom I had seen maneuvering his wheelchair around the building. This began a a second friendship at Daughters of Sarah in which I visited every week. Marc was thirty-four years old and had become a quadriplegic after a freak motorcycle accident when he was 16. After many years at home, he had moved to Daughters eight years earlier.

When Rose passed away after her 101birthday, I continued my weekly visits with MEU residents as well as Marc. Most of the time, Marc and I chatted in his room. When I finally got the courage to take him for outings in his fully equipped handicap accessible van, we took impromptu field trips —a Chinese restaurant, Five Guys, Walmart, a local mall. I treasured each of those visits with him. 

When Larry and I decided to relocate to Florida, telling Marc about our impending move was one of the hardest conversations I had during our transition. On the last visit before we left, I promised him that I would keep in touch with him. It is a promise I kept, mostly through postcards.

The first one I sent was corny: “Greetings from Florida!”with a picture of an alligator wearing a bikini. Soon after our move, we headed out to Colorado to await the birth of our grandchild. Marc received postcards reflecting the Rockies—moose, bear, majestic mountains. I scribbled out a short note telling him about our hiking adventures, and then about our beautiful new granddaughter.These were followed by postcards from San Francisco—cable cars, the Golden Gate Bridge— when we visited our son before returning to Florida. 

When we came back to Albany for Thanksgiving in 2015, the first stop was Daughters of Sarah to visit Marc. On his wall were all the postcards that I had sent him from around the country. While there, I connected with the social director and arranged that I would also send weekly postcards to the MEU.

My message on Marc’s postcards usually were comments about the front image as well as personal updates and questions about how he was doing. Those addressed to the residents were aimed to foster discussion. “Have you been to Colorado?” “What winter sports did you enjoy?”.“What is your favorite Disney character?” “Have you ridden the cable cars in San Francisco? If so, describe what it was it like.” 

Most of the time, however, I was sending postcards from our home near Orlando. I became concerned that too many were Florida-centric.After all, how many pictures of alligators and Mickey Mouse could anyone want? Through the president of our community’s local travel club, I asked members for help in obtaining cards from other places. Soon, members were providing me with dozens of interesting postcards from around the world. . I let Marc and the MEU know I had not just returned from an around-the-world trip, but it has helped vary both the places and the messages I provide. 

By this time, my granddaughter was two years old. Living almost two thousand miles away from her was a challenge. Larry and I FaceTimed often, but I wanted to show her in writing that I was thinking of her. Eureka! Why not sent her a weekly postcard? Soon after we returned from Colorado in August 2017, I sent her a  postcard with a message saying how much we loved seeing her and signed “Love, Gammy and Zayde.”

When we visited in March, she proudly showed me a box with all the postcards she had received. One of my favorite pictures from that trip is the picture of her gleefully holding three postcards that were awaiting her in their mailbox in the town’s post office.

Now three postcards were being mailed out every Monday morning. Most of the time, they were triplicates, but Larry and I had fun finding some that were uniquely for our granddaughter. She got more than her share of Disney princesses and cute animals. 

My favorite? Our 2018 summer visit to Colorado fell during our granddaughter’s toilet training, and Larry and she had spent-(according to not only me but her parents) too much time watching a Pac-man Pooping video. Less than two weeks later, while on a tour of Norway, we mailed her a scatologically themed postcard which featured a little blonde Troll sitting on a potty seat with a big smile as the overflowing poop fertilizes flowers. Judging from both the wear-and tear and its prominent position on the bookcase in her bedroom, it is her favorite as well. 

Sending out weekly postcards takes little time but provides me with much joy in that I am keeping connected to friends and family no matter what the distance. 

First published in (Capital Region, New York) Jewish World, August 2019

The pooping troll that my granddaughter loved to receive!!


Into the Woods—a place for contemplation and renewal

Neva and I at Rainbow Lake July 2019

The mountains are calling, and I must go. John Muir

Across the street and behind the houses on the other side of my Upstate New York home was a wooded area. I remember it as a mountain . I am sure it would not look so imposing  if I viewed it now from my adult eyes 

On many a summer day I would take a path to the right of the Douglass’s home and head into the oaks and maples. I would sit on logs and imagine myself as Heidi or Lcittle Red Riding Hood.

This was a lone adventure. Although we were perfectly situated between the shores of Lake Champlain and Adirondack Mountains, our family never headed for the woods. 

When my parents purchased a cottage on Willsboro Bay, I replaced the trips to the woods with walks to The Point, an area about a quarter of a mile from our cottage that offered views of Lake Champlain and Burlington, Vermont. It was my get-away, my place to sit and think and deal with teenage angst.Even as a adult, I viewed The Point as one of my favorite places. I shared it with friends and, of course, Larry the first time he visited me in the summer of 1973. 

And then I finished college and married and started a family. Larry and I purchased a home with a private, wooded backyard. We biked along quiet country roads in Saratoga County. We took occasional short hikes into  the woods in Lake George or Vermont or Williamstown in the fall. But I felt that I had lost touch with the woods, with the mountains.

That all changed in 2003. Our daughter Julie moved out to Colorado after graduation  from college She took a “one-year” job as an environmental education teacher two hours west of Denver and in the middle of the Rockies. 

Julie soon fell in love with Colorado, the mountains, and Sam, not necessarily in that order. On our first visit in June 2004, she took us on easy hikes in Eagle and Summit Counties. By the following summer, Sam and she were trusting us to accompany them on longer, more challenging heights.

As our hikes became longer, so did the length and frequency of our visits to the mountains. Julie and Sam completed grad school degrees, got married, found jobs, and bought a house in Frisco, elevation 9096 or 9097 feet above sea level, depending on which tee shirt you purchased. In anticipation of the birth of our granddaughter in the summer 2015, we rented a place for several weeks, a tradition we have continued every year.

Frisco, located in Summit County, is amazing in the summer—once it stops snowing! This year a long hard winter gratefully came to an end June 21.Even my then three-year-old granddaughter had had enough. “I’m so over winter,” she said. “I am ready for summer and my birthday!”

When we arrived June 30, the still-snow topped mountains had already exploded in shades of green Our first hike was to Rainbow Lake, only a mile up an easy trail near Julie’s home. As we got more acclimated to the altitude, we hiked such colorfully named trails as Lily Pad Lake, Shrine Pass, McCulloughs’ Gulch, and Cataract Lake.  Creeks churned through meadows and fields. Columbines and wild roses and cone flowers peaked out between fallen logs and rocks on trails that led to waterfalls and lakes and vistas that took my breath away.

We often share the trails with both locals and others who have found, like us, that it doesn’t get much better than a beautiful summer’s day in the Rockies. We pack water and a snack and find a spot in the middle of the hike just to sit and take in our surroundings. 

Larry has found a pickleball league in Summit County (“We Play with an Altitude!”), and several days a week he heads out the courts. On those days, I get ready for my alone time to Rainbow Lake. 

I apply the only “make-up” I need, liberal amounts of sun screen. I put on my hiking clothes and lace up my boots, fill a small backpack with water, bug spray, dog treats and poop bags. I then pick up our granddog Neva, and we head up a trail to Rainbow Lake. Neva pauses frequently to sniff at her “pee mail” and to check out a squirrel or magpie. I savor the beauty surrounding me—the columbine growing from a dead trunk, the sunlight reflecting through the aspens, logs stretching over a small stream.

Once we get to Rainbow Lake, I let Neva off her leash and toss a stick into the lake. After a few dog paddles into the chilly water, Neva settles down next to me on my favorite rock. A beaver paddles away from its lodge and few ducks swim across the still water with its reflection of trees and mountains. A woodpecker hammers away on the bark of a pine tree. 

Images of Heidi have been replaced with images of Cheryl Strayed on the Pacific Ridge Trail or Bill Bryson on the Appalachian Trail. It is my time. I am grateful to G-d for the opportunities open to me in the mountains and for the health to enjoy it. I am at peace. I am back to my Adirondack roots.

First published in The Jewish World, July 25, 2019. 

Malkah, the Queen of the Canine Sabras

Malkah, the Queen of the Canine Sabras.

Can a dog save a life? Marilyn Glaser knows so. Malkah, the Queen of the Canine Sabras, saved hers.

Marilyn had always wanted to live in Israel. When a blind date with a South African widower with the same wish to make Aliyah turned into a romance, the two  found a place just outside of Jerusalem and moved in together in 2005. Five years later, Marilyn was shocked when he announced he was leaving her. Angry and depressed, she knew that she needed to regroup and move on. 

Five weeks later, Marilyn was walking in her neighborhood  when a little girl came by holding a small brindle patterned dog. Marilyn hadn’t owned an animal for over twenty-five years since her two sons were children. But something inside her knew that she needed a canine companion to fill the emptiness she had felt since the painful breakup. She asked the girl for her mother’s number and made arrangements to claim one of the puppies in the litter. 

The following Saturday night after sundown,  Marilyn was handed a blue dishpan covered with a blanket. A tiny puppy, the only female of the litter,  peaked out from an opening in the blanket. Marilyn was in love from the first lick the three pound bestowed on her face.

When she had moved to Israel, Marilyn had thought about changing her name. Malkah, Hebrew for queen, had topped the list. “You are Malkah, my queen,” she told her new friend.

The first day they took a walk, Marilyn secured the tiny dog in a backpack and joined her friends, many also with their pets, who were doing their daily circuit. By day two, Malkah had enough of not being part of the action. She hopped out of her  doggie prison and strutted along with her longer-legged canine friends.

Malkah’s paternal lineage was unknown—Marilyn referred to him as a “traveling salesman”—but her mother was a French bulldog, a breed known for its high intelligence. She also exhibited the breed’s surprisingly high levels of communication and personality.“Malkah doesn’t just bark; she talks,”  Marilyn claimed. “If there is such a thing as reincarnation, Malkah would have been in her previous life a very intelligent, very talkative human.”

By the following winter, Marilyn had decided to return to the States and relocate to Kissimmee, Florida, where her brother Zach Siegel owned a home. With the help of a realtor, virtual tours on the Internet, and a February visit to the Sunshine State, she found a house in a fifty-five plus community a stone’s throw from her brother’s. She began packing up her house outside Jerusalem.

Marilyn briefly considered finding a new home for Malkah to spare the puppy the arduous move, but she couldn’t say goodbye to her constant companion. She went through the hours of red tape that was necessary to obtain government permission to bring a pet to the States. The hardest part was the 6,500 mile flight from Israel to Florida, which included a five-hour layover in Frankfort. Rules prevented the owners from seeing their pets, which were crated in a special department, until the plane landed in its final destination. In Orlando, Marilyn was relieved and delighted when Malkah exited from her crate happy and healthy.

The two of them quickly settled into their new house. “Malkah didn’t care where in the world she lived as long as she was with me,” said Marilyn.

In the meantime, Marilyn had reconnected with Lazar Lowinger, a Boston lawyer whom she had met through the Maccabi Games, she as a nurse for the USA team and he as a competitive Master’s tennis player.  When Lazar was widowed in 2011, Marilyn sent him a note of condolence. Their friendship, based on their mutual love of the international Jewish games and their strong commitment to Judaism, soon blossomed into a long-distance romance. In October 2015, Lazar retired from his law practice in Boston and moved in with Marilyn and Malkah. “Malkah didn’t care that Lazar joined us as long as she still slept on my side of the bed,” laughed Marilyn.

Marilyn, Malkah, and Lazar fell into a comfortable routine in Solivita. , took turns allowing them to walk her. She coerced them to feed her so much food that the vet finally put her on a diet. She “picked up some Spanish” and a few other languages from Lazar, a multi-linguist. And she charmed her way into the hearts of everyone who met her.

In April, Marilyn found a lump in Malkah’s throat. The vet broke the bad news. Malkah— eight years old and only middle age in small dog years—had lymphosarcoma, an aggressive form of cancer, and had less than six months to live. Malkah had been there for Marilyn when she was most needed. The two of them vowed to make sure they are there for Malkah until the end. 

Initially, Malkah showed no signs of her illness.Only three weeks later, however, Malkah’s health seriously declined. More tumors appeared on her body; she only ate when she was hand-fed, and she didn’t have the strength to meet them at the door, an eight year tradition. On a Friday, as Marilyn was preparing their Sabbath dinner, Malkah stumbled into a wall. She had gone blind. Marilyn called the vet to make arrangements to put Malkah to sleep. She shared the sad news with the congregation that night at Shabbat services. 

The next morning, Malkah lay in the back seat  on their car while Lazar stroked her and told her, “You are the best dog ever. Soon you will not be in pain.” While she drove to the nearby animal hospital, Marilyn reflected on Malkah’s life story from her first few months in Israel through her immigration to the States to her last wonderful years as a pampered, plump pooch who interspersed walks with her adoring owners with ear-flying rides in Marilyn’s golf cart. 

At 10 am, in a small sterile room at the animal hospital,Marilyn and Lazar said their last goodbyes. Malkah was so weak that it took almost no medicine to end her suffering. After she took her last breath, Marilyn and Lazar sobbed in each other’s arms.

They made the sad drive home in silence. No Malkah was there to greet them at the door. A half-opened bag of dog treats lay on the counter, and her dishes lay empty on a mat on the floor. Marilyn made scrambled eggs with lox for lunch. Both of them wished they could be sneaking Malkah a bite. 

Safe journey, Malkah. You are and will always be to those who loved you our queen, our Malkah.


Published May 31, 2019 in the Heritage Florida Jewish News. 

Finding My Voice

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

In the Passover story, Moses, despite his initial protests to G-D that he was “slow in tongue,” confronted the Pharaoh with the admonition “Let my people go!” After years of slavery, the Jewish people finally had found someone who spoke  out. I myself am finding my own voice.

I had an inauspicious beginning. When I was two years old, my mother had gall bladder surgery, necessitating a week’s hospital stay and no lifting—including her toddler—for several weeks. I stopped talking.  My mother told me again and again that that she could still feel me holding on to her apron strings as if my life depended upon it. 

By the end of kindergarten, I not only got my voice back but also some courage. When a classmate backed out of reciting a poem at the graduation ceremony that was to be held in only three days, I volunteered to take her place. Like Moses, I was “slow of tongue.” I can’t find the poem—something about being big and small and growing up—but I remember clearly stumbling over the last few lines and having to sit down in embarrassment.

I grew up a noisy household, with talkative parents and three chatty siblings. To this day, my sister-in-law tells us, “You get the four Cohens in a room and you can count on at least six conversations.” (Larry says it’s closer to ten) So by high school, I was not afraid of raising my hand and talking up in my classes.

 In my second attempt at public speaking, Mrs. Clute’s speech class in eleventh grade, I gave an impassioned speech against  the new leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee who was promoting a more violent path for the Civil Rights organization.  “It is people like Storky Carmichael who give….” My speech was cut off by the hysterical laughter of my classmates. They didn’t let me ever forget my mispronunciation of Stokely’s name until I graduated. My tendency towards malapropisms—inherited from my mother who will be remembered for calling “organisms” “orgasms”—have kept me leery of unscripted public speaking my whole life.

Despite my early tainted history, I did find my voice as a teacher, gaining confidence in my ability to share knowledge with my English students.I gave presentations at several state and national teacher’s conferences, and spoke at a state-wide Hadassah luncheon in Albany, New York.

When I began writing for publication  in the 1990s and, more regularly for The Jewish World in 2013, I felt that found my true voice. Writing about growing up in a small Upstate New York town, getting married, raising a family, balancing a career and private life in the Capital Region of New York, and easing into a wonderful retirement became topics of gentle pieces—ones that people have compared my writing to  “Chicken Soup for the Soul.” And more recently, I have been the grateful voice of others through sharing the stories of Holocaust and cancer survivors, Jewish POW’s, a Renaissance man, and other menschen.

The recent political climate, however, has brought me back to the Passover story and Moses’ reluctant ascent into leadership of the Hebrews as they obtained their freedom and began their forty-year sojourn in the desert. Moses spoke out against social injustice. Can I do the same? And can I do it in a way as to not offend those whose political views are different from my own? 

In “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, “ an article I wrote in 2016, I shared my decision that I would not lose friends and relatives over politics. I am proud to say that it is a promise I have maintained. But there are times that I cannot remain silent in the face of bigotry, racism, anti-Semitism, and any form of hatred.

I could not remain silent after the Tree of Life massacre when I received one of those blanket emails sent to numerous recipients warning us that Jews must support Trump. With my husband Larry’s help, I wrote a response to the email that I subsequently sent for publication in the October 31, 2018, Orlando Sentinel. “Any American president who refuses to denounce Neo-Nazis, spouts rhetoric that incites hatred and violence, and defends attending a rally while Jews lie dead on a synagogue floor—‘we cannot let our schedule or our lives change.”  — is a disgrace to (alas) the six million and eleven Jews s a disgrace to the over six million and eleven Jews who died due to anti-Semitism.”

I could not remain silent when I was told by an idiot that he felt little sympathy for the federal workers impacted by the government shutdown as most of them “just sit of their duffs and do nothing all day.” I gave him a dressing down that included references to my own family members who were suffering from the impact of not getting a paycheck for a unneeded work stoppage that stretched out for thirty-five days. 

I could not remain silent when, after Representative Iihan Omar’s controversial comments regarding Israel, Democrats in the end released a spineless resolution. Phone calls and emails requesting money to support the Democratic Party are answered with my statement, “Not until the Democrats have the backbone to truly call out anti-Semitism. “

I could not remain silent when the president tweeted out disparaging remarks about John McCain and Barbara Bush (May their memories be a blessing). Even more disconcerting to me was that Congressional leaders , including McCain’s supposedly best friend Lindsay Graham, refused to call the president out for his inexcusable poor behavior. “It is just plain wrong,” I wrote in an email to Senator Graham. 

And finally, I cannot remain silent when well-meaning friends forward to me offensive emails. One was headed by the note, “Interesting video.” Attached was YouTube video originally published in 2009. As summarized by Snopes.com,  regarded as a highly reliable fact-checking source, that warned that Islam will overwhelm Christendom unless Christians recognize the demographic realities and begin reproducing again.” Snopes regarded the information as “mostly false;”  I regarded it as pure Islamophobia.

Another forwarded email, a musical video took us on a nostalgic trip down memory lane. “If only I could go back again/ to Mom and Dad and all my friends/I would feel safe with the people I know/From once upon a long time ago.” The stream of pictures that accompanied the Jesse Goldberg song showed slide after slide filled with only white faces. Another friend shared a list of the Shortest Books 2018, including Things I Did to Deserve the Nobel Peace Prize by Barack Obama; My Complete Knowledge of Military Strategy by Nancy Pelosi, and To All the men We Have Loved Before by Ellen de Generes and Rosie O’Donnell. In all three cases, Larry and I have decided that face-to-face discussions with the senders would be the most effective way to fight the implicit—and explicit—hate that is peddled in such material.

Recently, I attended a presentation by given by the Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization whose mission is to fight bigotry and seek justice for the most vulnerable members of our society. On the way out, I picked up their brochure, “Ten Ways to Fight Hate”  (https://www.splcenter.org/20170814/ten-ways-fight-hate-community-response-guide).  I thought of our own ten commandments, our Aseret ha-Dibrot, which give guidance on how we each can lead an ethical life. This Passover, let us all resolve to model our behavior after Moshe Rabbeinu (Moses Our Teacher): To speak up, to act, to pressure leaders, to educate ourselves and others, and to do all we can to combat hate in all its forms. 

A Memorial Day Tribute to a Jewish Hero

Albert Gellman Circa 1944

Private Albert Gellman was mad as hell.  It was June 1944, and his United States army unit of the 34th Division had been cut off behind German lines. Two of his buddies had just been killed in the battle, and Gellman knew “someone had to do something.”

This was not exactly the life a Jewish man from Albany had imagined. The son of William and Tilli Gellman, the twenty-six year old private first class had grown up with his parents and two sisters in a house on Washington Avenue that his father, a Russian immigrant, had built in 1923.

After attending Phillip Schuyler High School, Gellman became a partner at the Modern Food Market on New Scotland Avenue. In 1940, he married Marion Rosenthal, and their son Stephen was born in December 1942. Thirteen weeks later, Gellman received his draft orders and reported to basic training with the 135th Infantry Regiment, 34th Infantry Division.

Initially stationed in North Africa, the regiment was soon sent to Italy to participate in the Battle of Anzio, a massive campaign launched in 1944 to capture Rome from the Axis Powers. Gellman and his regiment were given orders to push through the boot of Italy. “My father later told me the conditions were horrific,” his son Steve Gellman recounted. “Rain and snow impeded their path, and they often encountered mountainous terrain where the infantrymen had to climb hand over hand up cliffs.” Gellman, terrified of heights, was not comforted by his commander, whose only advice was as follows: “Don’t scream if you fall because you will expose others.” Many lost their lives falling silently to their death. 

On June 1, 1944, Gellman’s regiment was engaged in an assault against strong enemy forces in the vicinity of Castelleone, Italy. Four US tanks preceding the attack were knocked out of action by enemy anti-tank guns holed up in a group of Italian farmhouses. Gellman and fellow members of his  squad withdrew to a shallow ditch in front of area.

The  Americans shot at the enemy soldiers who were seen inside the buildings. One of the Germans hoisted a white flag of surrender, but the enemy soldiers refused to leave the safety of the farm house. 

The lieutenant asked for volunteers to take the guns out. Gellman had learned Yiddish while growing up. He believed this language skill, along with his very limited knowledge of German, would help. The 26-year-old private first class volunteered with Private Smith, another member of the regiment, to charge a machine gun emplacement guarding the left flank of the farmhouse. 

In his haste to reach the building, Gellman forgot his carbine rifle. That didn’t stop him. Brandishing a .45 revolver and loaded grenades, he ran into the yard yelling  “Komm raus Mit deinen Händen! (Come out with your hands up!)” Four Germans were so  startled that they dropped their weapons and immediately surrendered. While Private Smith was taking those prisoners back to their platoon  Gellman sprinted to the first house and told the solders in Yiddish to surrender.  By the end of the day, with the help of more Yiddish and some strategically lobbed hand grenades, Gellman had almost singlehandedly taken over thirty prisoners and had destroyed some of the German anti-tank guns.

 Using the information Gellman provided,  the army notified US navy destroyers off shore. The ships’ artillery leveled the farmhouse, taking out the remaining guns and any German soldiers who had refused to surrender.

Three days later, Gellman used the same technique to single-handedly capture an additional four German soldier who were holed up in an Italian farmhouse near their abandoned German tank. 

Gellman and his regiment saw more action in Northern Italy through the next several months. In the spring of 1945, Gellman was hospitalized with back pain and extreme battle fatigue. It was in the Italian hospital that Gellman was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the second highest award for combat heroism.The award included the following, “Private First Class Gellman’s intrepid actions, personal bravery and zealous devotion to duty exemplify the highest traditions of the military forces of the United States and reflect great credit upon himself, the 34th Infantry Division, and the United States Army.” He was also presented with the Italian Military Valor Cross.

Gellman returned to the United States on a hospital ship. After a brief respite in the Army’s reassignment center in Lake Placid, he finished out the war as a military policeman in Albany. 

He was later presented with New York State’s Conspicuous Service Cross, three Bronze  Stars, and numerous other awards. Asked later how he felt about his actions, Gellman downplayed his moniker as a war hero. Gellman said, “I was shaking in my boots,” he later recounted.  “After all, I’m still a civilian at heart.” 

After the war, the Gellmans had two more children, David and Toby. Gellman initially ran an open-air fruit stand on Upper New Scotland Avenue. In 1948, he opened Al’s Market, adjacent to Modern Food Market, which he operated until 1955. Gellman continued to work the wholesale food industry for Service Food Company and Archway Bakery until his retirement in 1980. The family were members of Congregation Ohav Shalom.  He was also a member of  Jewish War Veterans Albany Post 105, the American Legion, the Disabled American Veterans and Albany City Lodge of Knights of Pythias. 

His son Steve said that his father rarely talked about the war while he and his siblings were living at home. If he did, Gellman emphasized to his family his role. “I never killed them,” Gellman insisted.  “I just captured them.”

Steve, however,  clearly remembers one incidence in which he saw another side of his father. Just before his bar mitzvah, Steve was walking with his parents to synagogue when a drunk yelled an anti-Semitic epithet at his mother and then kicked Gellman. Steve watched as his father changed from the gentle man he knew to a killing machine. “Dad picked the man up, slammed him against a car, and put him in a headlock.”  The Gellmans did not press charges against the man, but Steve never forgot the expression on his father’s face. “It was like he was back in Italy,” Steve said.

It was not until forty-eight years after the war that Albert Gellman was able to confront his own demons. In 1998, the 76-year-old decorated World War II veteran entered counseling for post traumatic stress disorder.  The memories of horrors of war and the guilt and shame he carried for “leaving my buddies behind” finally surfaced and left him frequently in tears. 

It was after he had been to counseling that he was able to finally talk to his family about what he had endured. He had seen men blown up, had been begged by fellow GI’s in flames to be shot; he had killed German soldiers. These memories haunted him until his death at the age of 83 in 2001.

In 2006, Albany County Executive Mike Breslin and the Honor-A-Veteran Committee commemorated Gellman at a ceremony which included flying a flag in the late soldier’s honor. And the honors may continue. Gellman is currently one of 157 World War II Jewish War Veterans being considered for an upgrade to the Medal of Honor. Steve, who served in the US Air Force from 1960 to 1964, is working with the JWV to realize this goal. “With or without the Medal of Honor, I regard my father as a hero, a man who was bigger than life,” said Steve. “He sacrificed so much for this country, his time, his physical and emotional health. He truly represents The Greatest Generation.”

Thanks to Stephen Gellman for providing newspaper articles and other documents that were used to write this article.

First published in (Capital Region New York) Jewish World, May 16, 2019

A Banjo Player with a Jewish Soul

Bud Black was regarded by fellow musicians as a walking encyclopedia.
Bud Black on his beloved banjo!

John “Bud” Black career as a musician began in the 1930s as an 8 year old in bars near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Bud’s grandfather Bert loved to drink even more than he loved the Pittsburgh Pirates. So he would tell his wife he was taking his daughter’s “little buddy”  to a game. Instead he took him to local taverns. Bud would play the ukulele that his grandfather had purchased for him.

For the past five years,  people who came to services at Shalom Aleichem in Kissimmee, Florida, were met with an unusual but wonderful treat. They were greeted by a pair of musicians—Bud Black on the guitar (and occasionally the banjo) and Bill Willner on the snare drums. They played mostly songs from the 20s, 30s, and 40’s. Bud and Bill usually packed up their instruments about fifteen minutes before services began, but on occasion they would accompany Rabbi Karen Allen on songs from the Friday night service. 

While still in high school, Bud began playing the guitar professionally and performing on WKPA, Pittsburg’s hillbilly radio station. (Was this the station? It is now listed as a ministry station out of Lynchburg, VA) After graduating, Bud went into the US Air Force, where he worked on computers. After he completed his service, he took a job at RCA working on technology. Bud realized quickly that his first love was music and began working the nightclub circuit around Philadelphia and Atlantic City. 

By the age of ten, with a minimal training from one of his grandfather’s fellow barflies, Bud not only had added the guitar to his repertoire but also helped Bert make some money. Bud had an incredible ability to remember the name, lyrics, and artist of every song he played. As William Miller wrote in a 1997 article, Bert  took him from bar to bar, challenging anyone to name a tune his grandson couldn’t play. When they couldn’t “Stump the Musician”— which was often— Bert passed the hat.

Along the way, Bud married and had two sons, Scott and John. After his divorce, he had a relationship that resulted in the birth of  third son, Wes. .In 1986, the Delta Queen steamship company hired him as the ship’s “interlocutor,” where he would be able combine his talents as a musician, a comedian, and an entertainer. 

His fellow musicians regarded Bud as a walking music encyclopedia. His favorites were songs from the 1920s and 1930s,  but he also knew songs from “as far back as songs were recorded.”   And when he got bored singing the lyrics the “right way,” he would sing them backwards.  “Chattanooga Choo Choo” became “Agoonattahc, Oohc-Oohc;” “My Wild Irish Rose,” “Ym dliw hsiri esor.”

One of his friends remembered, “Bud was full of bull**, an entertainer and wonderful story teller. He took a 15 second story and turned it into an hour. But it was a stroll down memory lane.” 

“Bud had the largest record collection I’ve ever seen,” Howard Paul, a fellow musician on the Delta Queen, posted on Bud’s Facebook page. “He told an endless stream of jokes (clean and blue). For me, Bud was the missing link between vaudeville and nightclub lounge acts.”

Tim Aucoin, a fellow musician, stated on Facebook that he remembers afternoons playing together in the Texas Lounge on the Delta Queen. “Bud would say ‘Who wants to hear some country music? Great, how about a Lithuanian love ballad?’”

In 1989, Bud was performing on the second night of a three day cruise when Wendy Demby, a young woman on vacation from her job in New York City, approached him and expressed her admiration for his show. When she disembarked in New Orleans for the remainder of her week-long trip, Bud sought her out to share a few hours during a break in his job. Those few hours developed into a long distance relationship that resulted in Wendy moving down to The Big Easy. They were married in May 1990.

For the next ten years, Wendy maintained their home in New Orleans while Bud strummed his guitar and banjo up and down the Mississippi. Once a year, Wendy went along for the ride. In 1999, Bud retired from the riverboat but not from music. They moved to St. Cloud, Florida, when Bud took a job at Disney World, playing a various parks including in a roaming band in the Magic Kingdom.

Bud also entertained nursing home residents throughout the Orlando area. His music transported many to healthier, happier days. One time, after singing a song, a woman came up to him in tears. “My husband has dementia,” she said. “ But when you started singing that song, he started singing along. It is the first time he has spoken in years.” 

Wendy was Jewish and Bud was Christian, but they shared a mutual respect and appreciation for each other’s religion. They attended Sunday services at the Church of St. Luke and St. Peter in St. Cloud and Friday night services at Congregation Shalom Aleichem.  Initially, Bud played and sang with Norm Salinsky a former president, About five years ago, Bill Willner joined them. When Norm became ill, Bud and Bill began their routine before services. Bud had a collection of yarmulkes displaying  musical notes or Jewish holiday motifs—but his favorite was one embossed with his beloved Pittsburg Pirates’ logo. 

This past December,  Bud and Bill were planning to do some Irish songs for the March 15 service, which fell two days before St. Patrick’s Day. Unfortunately, Bud became ill in January and passed away on March 9, 2019, at the age of 88. 

At the memorial service at the Church of St. Luke and St. Peter, Reverend Longbottom played and sang some of Bud’s favorite songs, including many Irish tunes. The clergyman was joined by David Royer, who played Bud’s guitar. David was one of Bud’s first friends in the Orlando area, a friendship sealed by b’shert—David’s parents had sailed the Delta Queen and had spoken highly of a banjo player named Bud Black. In honor of Bud’s close connections to Judaism  and Congregation Shalom Aleichem, Wendy’s brother,Craig Demby said the Kaddish, the Jewish mourner’s prayer.

Bud’s son John passed away in 2011 from complications of diabetes.  His oldest son Scott, a talented musician in his own right, lives in China and was unable to attend the memorial service. His youngest son Wes, sharing news that his girlfriend Daniela was pregnant with what will be Bud’s first grandchild, were there to say goodbye, along with many other friends and family members.

One of Bud’s favorite songs, “Dusty Old Dust, written by Woody Guthrie in 1940, is a fitting epithet for this talented musician. “So long, it’s been good to know ya/What a long time since I’ve been home/And I’ve gotta be driftin’ along.” Drift gently, Bud!

Sources:

Miller, William. “Buddy Black, The Delta Queen’s Colorful Interlocutor.” Vantage. March/April 1997. Pages 10-11.

Lind, Angus, “Life’s a song from way back for Bud Black.” (New Orleans)  Times Picayune. September 4, 1991. Pages E1,E5.

A Jewish neshama shining bright in Alaska

When Dr.  Liz Ross joins her fellow women congregants at Congregation Shalom Aleichem on the bima for the blessing over the candles, she pulls the hood of her kuspuk, her traditional Native Alaskan snow dress, over her head.  And on her neck, her gold Star of David catches the light of the flickering flames.   A business woman, a college professor, and a black belt in karate, Liz Ross also carries with her the love and respect of her double heritage: Judaism and Native Alaskan.

Dr. Liz Ross

Liz’s great-grandparents had fled their native Kyrgyzstan in the late 19th century to escape the pogroms. A fur-trapping family, they were nomads who lived throughout the then-Russian territory. Out of fear of discrimination, they rarely spoke about their Jewish heritage to their only child, Ola. “it was a taboo subject,” said Liz. “We were told there are some doors that should not be opened.”

In the 1920’s, Ola married Joe Nashoalook, a Native Alaskan who served as the chief of the Inupiaq village of Unalakleet in the Bering Straits region.Their daughter Anna, the oldest of the Nashoalook children, met her husband Arthur Ellis when he was stationed in Nome, Alaska during World War II. He continued in the Army for thirty years, a career that took Anna and seven of their children, including Liz, to military bases throughout the United States, Europe and Asia.

After graduating from high school in Colorado Springs, Liz began her post-secondary education in a community college before enrolling in the University of West Florida. During this time, Liz often visited her older sister Nancy who had been raised by a childless  aunt and uncle from Nome, Alaska, who were observant Jews. Experiencing this “taboo” subject for a first time sparked in Liz an interest in learning about Judaism that has lasted a lifetime. 

In 1979, Liz met her husband, Jeff Ross, and they were married in 1980. Over the next several years, they had four children. All of the children attended private schools through eighth grade. Their oldest son attended public school from eighth grade through his graduation. The other three of the children were home schooled, where they received an “eclectic” education which gave them the flexibility to join Liz on her trips to Alaska as well to travel around the world as a family. “I wanted them to understand all backgrounds,” said Liz. “There was so much prejudice, and I wanted them to be open-minded.”  Liz and Jeff are proud that all four attended college or trade schools.

A self-confessed “Type A” personality, Liz continued with her education despite her arduous schedule, She completed her bachelors and masters degrees in business administration in New Hampshire and a doctorate in finance and management from the Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale.

In addition, the time spent with her observant relatives led Liz to study for eight years with a rabbi to reconnect with her Jewish roots, opening a door that her mother had kept closed. Her learning culminated in her formal conversion, complete with the mikvah, or ritual bath, in 2003. The rabbi said that since my mother was Jewish it was unnecessary,”said Liz. “As I wasn’t brought up with a traditional Jewish education, however, it was important for me to undergo a formal conversion.” She chose Leah as her Hebrew name, which is as important to her as her Inupiaq name, Kanuk (snow goose).

While the family established their home base in New Hampshire,  Liz split her time between New England and Alaska. She worked as a board member of the Thirteenth Regional Corporation, where responsibilities included procuring and implementing government contracts to invest in local business ventures.  She also volunteered as the CEO of the Native Village of Unalakleet Corporation, her way of giving back to her grandparent’s home. 

Being the only practicing Jew in this remote rural area of Alaska provided challenges.  Liz often observed the holidays and festivals on her own—baking challah, lighting Shabbat candles, and drinking grape juice—the best alternative to wine in a “damp” community that set limits on the amount of alcohol a person may fly in per month. Determining the Sabbath candle lighting time was difficult, as sunset happened as early as 3:30 in the winter and 1 a.m. in the summer. If Liz was in Alaska during the High Holy Days, she would travel to Fairbanks, the closest place with a synagogue. 

In 2005, Liz took a position as the program director of the master of business program at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks. She also was the business and karate instructor for Rural Alaska Honors Institute, mentored the Native Alaskan Business Leaders, a student organization, and founded a martial arts class.

Liz also became the first Native Alaskan to teach the business class for the Rural Alaska Honors Institute. The six week summer-program was developed by the University of Alaska Fairbanks at the request of the Alaska Federation of Natives to encourage Native Alaskan high school students to finish college so they could bring back new ideas and business expertise to their villages. “You need to use your time here so you can grow, and then give back to your own communities.” Liz told her students.

Liz stated that most participants had grown up in small remote villages that could only be accessed by air taxis or dog sleds. “Many had never left their home villages,” said Liz. In addition, some students having grown up in a subsistence lifestyle  where all their food was obtained through planting, hunting, and fishing. “The students experienced culture shock the they found they could buy meat and vegetables in a supermarket.”

While in Fairbanks, Liz established her first official membership in a synagogue when she joined Congregation Or HaTzafon. Rabbinical students/cantors lead services during the summer months, while an ordained rabbi oversees the High Holy Day services. During the rest of the year, members of the Ritual Committee plan and oversee the Sabbath including, including the weekly oneg. 

The congregation has established that candle lighting time was 7:30 pm, no matter when sundown officially occurred. Long, cold Alaska winters, however, impacted many Jewish holidays.  Liz remembers building a Sukkot in several inches of snow and eating the traditional meals with heavy coats and snow boots.

In 2015, Liz took a position as executive director of the Small Business Development Center at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado. Similar to her position in Alaska, Liz mentored members Native American tribes in Southwest Colorado through business education classes and entrepreneurial support. The move was, in part, driven by the need to be closer to her widowed mother, who was living in Colorado Springs. 

Liz in Alaska

After contracting an infection during a trip to Vietnam in 2017, Liz retired and moved to the home in Florida that  she and Jeff had purchased several years earlier. Her mother and her sister Karin live near by. A member of Congregation Shalom Aleichem in Kissimmee, Florida, Liz continues to teach classes in Jewish ritual to its congregants. 

 Liz strives to keep kosher, satisfying much of the requirements by keeping to a fish and vegetarian diet. Jeff, who is Catholic, follows Liz’s dietary restrictions up to a point.  “After almost 40 years together, we both have found a middle ground,” said Liz. “ Our values are conservative with a strong faith in G-d.”

Meanwhile, Liz keeps learning about both her Native Alaskan and Jewish heritages.  A Chinese quote, “Learning is a treasure that follows its owner everywhere” is embedded on Liz’s email signature—and in her heart.