We dedicate this project to the memory of those who are no longer with us; may they rest in peace. And may they be remembered by those whose lives they touched. We will be marking these Yahrtzeits during our year of collaboration:
Seymour Fromer (3 October 1922–25 October 2009)
The Tzaddik was by far the wisest person I have ever known. I’ve been writing about my memories of him here, as a way of capturing and preserving some of that wisdom. I’m not quite sure that I’m up to the task. One of the things he did for me—from the time he adopted me as a small child—was that he told me stories. These were the stories of his adventures as well as of his imagination. But as I grew, he began to take me on those adventures, and I began being part of the story. A lot has been written about the Tzaddik. His founding, with my mom, of the Judah L. Magnes Museum in Berkeley, California. His influence in the founding of Lehrhaus Judaica and its programs in adult Jewish education, and in the founding of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, and the Fromer Fund in support of innovative young Bay Area artists. He also founded the Cemeteries Commission, preserving the Jewish cemeteries of the ‘old West’ in the California Motherlode of the Sierra mountains. The stories I tell here are different. They’re a daughter’s eye view of my adventures with my father—from childhood until his death. And my dreams of him, since his departure. I cannot pick up the phone and ask him my next million questions. I don’t channel his ‘energy’ or do any of those mystical things that help humans hold onto those we’ve lost. All I have are words of memory. Objects he’s given me that require ‘more research.’ Manuscripts and amulets and sacred objects that he rescued from oblivion in the junk stores and flea markets of the world—so that their own tales could be told. He built a museum from the detritus of cast off objects, knowing that when we ourselves are gone, only these ‘things’ are left to tell the tale. It’s obvious that I miss him. But I’m not sure that my personal loss is all that important. What matters more is what he did, and what he was on a larger scale. He was one of the 36 righteous ones of his own time—a lamed-vavnik —who roamed the world restoring the broken fragments of our collective history. And for this, I hope that he is remembered. —mira
Addendum: The Magnes Museum, currently The Magnes Collection at the Bancroft Library, posted this yizkor, which was tied to the ‘wedding’ between the Magnes and the University of California, Berkeley on the first yahrtzeit of my father’s death. See: http://blog.magnes.org/opensourceblog/?p=1132 See also the New York Times obituary: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/02/us/02fromer.html
Rebecca Camhi Fromer (16 January 1927–1 January 2012)
A teacher, poet, playwright and art lover, she could always be counted on to tell the truth as she saw it, and expected nothing less from those around her.
“She was a unique character,” said Fred Rosenbaum, a close friend and the founding director of Lehrhaus Judaica. “Rebecca was someone very strong in her opinions, and not shy about expressing them; someone who epitomized the expression of ‘speaking truth to power.’ ”
Fromer, together with her husband, Seymour Fromer, who died in 2009, launched the Magnes in 1962. The two made a striking pair: he the courtly public face of the museum, she the woman whose love of beauty fueled the couple’s passion for collecting Judaica.
That passion found its counterpoint in Fromer’s career as an English teacher at Castlemont High School, located in a tough Oakland neighborhood. She wrote about her experiences in her 2007 book, “One Voice, Many Echoes.”
“She would really stick it to the white liberals in the Oakland hills,” Rosenbaum remembered. “These were people she socialized with. She would say to them they were not truly open to mixing with African Americans socially. This was during the civil rights movement but before a lot of the social mixing.”
Born in New York and raised in Los Angeles, Fromer was deeply proud of her Sephardic background. She spoke Ladino and knew Sephardic culture. She met her husband of more than 50 years when he was working in Jewish education in Los Angeles. In 1957, the couple moved to Oakland.
They founded the Magnes Museum in a $75-a-month loft over Oakland’s Parkway Theater. Initially, the Magnes specialized in ceremonial art, posters and paintings of Jewish themes. The couple expanded the collection by personally rescuing artifacts from endangered Jewish communities in places such as Czechoslovakia, Morocco, Egypt and India. All told, they collected some 11,000 pieces of Judaica and fine arts, 10,000 rare and other Jewish-themed books, along with papers, photos and other documents. Much of that material was housed in the Magnes’ Western Jewish History Center, which they helped establish in 1967. That same year, the Magnes moved to Russell St. The Fromers lived right next door.
“In the early years they worked very closely as a team,” recalled Harold Lindenthal, a longtime friend. “As the years went by, Seymour was the director, but when big decisions had to be made, he would run them by Rebecca.”
Fromer earned a master’s degree from San Francisco State University, writing her thesis on the Yiddish author Isaac Bashevis Singer. During and after her teaching years, she turned to writing as her primary creative outlet, including Holocaust histories and biographies, numerous poems and stories. When the work day was done, Fromer kept up her garden, which was one of her passions. Entertaining was another.
“Rebecca was a bit of a salon lady,” Rosenbaum said. “She liked to have people over to that beautiful home, people who were artists, musicians and storytellers. That home was a vibrant center, bubbling with life and ideas.”
Added Lindenthal, “She had an uncanny eye for beauty. It could manifest in multiple ways: art, literature, music and interior design.”
Though growing more infirm in her last years, Fromer never lost her sharp wit, and was scheduled to attend the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new Magnes in downtown Berkeley later this month.
Rebecca Camhi Fromer is survived by her daughter, Mira Amiras, and two grandchildren. Donations may be made to the Fromer Fund through the Jewish Community Federation of the Greater East Bay.
Phyllis Greenwood (29 March 1936–19 November 2010)
I might have Phyllis to thank for Victoria becoming my wife. Victoria thought we were good friends having a nice fling, until her therapist, Phyllis, pointed out to her that she had fallen in love with me. I got to know Phyllis a bit when Victoria invited me along for a few sessions. I’ll never forget the moment Victoria said something that made me start to go down a family-history-analysis rat-hole; I was getting ready to say something complicated and unhelpful about childhood baggage when Phyllis chuckled and said calmly, “But you know that’s incorrect. That’s a cognitive mistake.” Victoria paused. She nodded. We moved on. Phyllis wrote a better bio for herself than I could: “Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, four Russian grandparents, one sister. Nine aunts and uncles. A prodigy, attended special school for prodigies, public high school, Brooklyn College, Antioch College, U. C. Berkeley, John F. Kennedy U. Four master’s degrees. Licensed therapist, teacher, meeting facilitator, organizer, administrator, artist, writer and editor. Three husbands. Two children, two grandchildren. Lived in Ohio, Chicago, Oakland, Berkeley, Alameda. A lefty. An enthusiast of the spiritual life. Started reading and writing at 3, still doing it. Body old, mind young and full of fervor.” —Erin
Cynthia Schroeder Brochman (6 June 1965–27 December 2009)
I met Cindy our senior year at St Olaf College, in a math class—a combinatorics seminar taught by Laura Chihara. It was our last semester as math majors, so I’m not sure how it was that we hadn’t met before then, but it might have had something to do with the fact that I wanted nothing to do with her. She was one of those tall, lean, pretty, outgoing, jock types that I never trusted. One of those people who likes everybody, whom everybody likes. She was probably a cheerleader, even—you know the type. Laura taught the class like a graduate seminar, assigning ridiculously hard problem sets after nearly every class, so that we would have no choice but to work together. She had the dozen of us over to her apartment for beer and silly math games several Friday nights that semester. Laura was determined to make us all become friends with each other, and it worked. That’s how I came to realize, despite myself, that Cindy was hopelessly likable—even though she was a tall, lean, pretty, outgoing jock. She was smart, too. Our problem-solving sessions went well into the wee hours most nights, so at midnight when the Green Army came around to lock up the Science Center, we either had to hide together and wait them out or adjourn to someone’s dorm room. My dorm was on the other side of campus, but I had a single, so it’s often where we ended up. One night we made a side trip to my car to retrieve what remained of the case of Rhinelander Beer (“Refreshing as Wisconsin’s North Woods!”) in deposit bottles I’d bought a week earlier, after I’d smuggled as much of it as I could fit into my backpack into the dorm. Unfortunately, that week we’d had temperatures well below the freezing point of beer, so what we retrieved and smuggled to my room that night was frozen solid. Undaunted, we set the bottles near the furnace and dug back into our problem sets. When we could take it no longer, we uncapped our beer Slurpees and worked on, draining slushy beer into our mouths whenever we could get another few swallows to slide down the neck of a bottle. I think that was the night that I realized Cindy wasn’t just pretty and funny, the one who made the rest of us get along with each other—she was also the one who got us all to push a little harder when none of our ideas seemed to be working out. Either of those traits would have been enough to make her the most important member of our math gang, but she also held her own in generating ideas and cranking through them. Best of all, she made us laugh, hard. Cindy died of a rare form of stomach cancer at the age of 44 last December.
Patricia “Patsy” Bolt (–8 January 2011)
I knew I’d made it with Patsy when she had a second helping of my panzanella at the English Dance Week committee meeting. She was an outstanding cook and didn’t bother with more than a polite taste of dishes that weren’t worthwhile—and hers always were. As I write this, I’m craving her curried chicken sandwiches. Her attention to detail was legendary, whether she was making the most perfect angel food cake or working on a bookbinding project, and what else could we expect from an electron microscopist? Patsy was a beautiful English country dancer and brought her grace to Morris dancing with Mayfield Morris & Sword and Northwest clog Morris dancing with Bufflehead. When her knees went the way knees go, she taught herself to play melodeon, and it was playing tuba next to her in the Bufflehead band that I got to know Patsy. We had lots of great talks while we waited for the dancers to be ready to dance again. Patsy’s grace belied incredible determination: she even managed to reform a tech geek’s lousy dietary and exercise habits. Thanks to her influence alone, Fred Perner is healthy, rides his bike many miles a day, and has worn a smile for most of the days since they first met on a dance floor long ago. —Erin
Candy “Pants” Vang (27 July 1997–30 March 2010)
Candy was the smartest labrador retriever I think I’ve ever known. She was originally my parents’ dog, but in 2005 when she blew out her second knee, Mom and Dad reluctantly agreed that it was time for her to retire from hunting. They adopted a new black lab puppy, Flicka, and after a few weeks of running around after not one but two dogs, they asked if we wanted a black lab, slightly used. Victoria and I quickly said yes, and then we didn’t hear another word on the subject. A few months later, Mom, Dad, and both dogs came for a visit at Thanksgiving. That first evening, I was sitting on the couch, and Candy crawled up onto my lap. This wasn’t like her—she’d been trained to stay off furniture—but she got comfortable on my lap and didn’t budge for hours. For days, she paid special attention to me and to Victoria, who’d never lived with a dog and didn’t entirely know what to make of the experience. The morning before Mom and Dad were to drive home, Dad asked if I was sure I was ready for a dog. That was the first I knew it was actually up for discussion, but I said yes without hesitating. Candy, better known around here as “Miss Pants,” spent her retirement years with us, made us a better family, healed me from a trauma, and eventually trained up her successor, our chocolate lab puppy Kjersten Kjøttkaker. She left this world in March, and the hole she leaves in our lives will be the subject of several kaddish meditations this year. [Photo by Dee Rogers] —Erin
Nancy Ring (7 May 1962–15 May 2010)
I met Nanc in the early 1990s in Evanston, Illinois. We’d both done graduate work at Northwestern University and had mutual friends. We got to be fast friends in our evenings together, cooking, eating, drinking, solving the problems of the world, and playing madcap games. I fell in love with Nancy from the start; she was one of the most brilliant, funny, goofy, loving, passionate women I’d ever met. Eventually we both became single, but by then she was living in Ontario. When she came for a visit a few months later, it took us about a minute to fall the rest of the way in love. Our time together was marked by endless conversations, long letters, frightening phone bills, long weekend visits whenever we could, cooking and eating together, delighting in friends and art and books and music and fun together. We couldn’t overcome the distance and weren’t together long, but we were together well. We stayed in touch over the years, and during her last year, we were in nearly daily contact through compulsive online Scrabble play, always carrying on a multi-threaded long conversation (as was our wont) extremely slowly (as had never been our wont) in Scrabble’s chat thread. Nanc died far too young this year after a long battle with ovarian cancer. She left behind a husband, a daughter, her parents, a large extended mishpacha of passionately devoted friends, many grateful students and colleagues from her distinguished career as an art history professor in Chicago, London, Ontario, and Montréal, and numerous brilliant, thought-provoking writings on art, history, performance, sex, and sexual politics. —Erin
Galina Lindquist (1955–Memorial Day, 2008)
I met Galina before I met Galina. I was putting together a conference for the Society for the Anthropology of Consciousness, and read her abstract. And didn’t understand it. The ironic part, I suppose, is that I got stuck on the word ‘ludic.’ Terrible, isn’t it, that I should know nothing of the ludic. And so, when she arrived from Stockholm, she began to teach me. I guess that’s the best way to put it. Her specialty was healing. The study of healing, I should say. For when it came time for real healing, there really wasn’t any to be found. Nevertheless, her books documented that ephemeral search for healing, from neo-pagan covens in Stockholm to voudon practitioners and energy workers in Moscow (her home town), to the shamanic and Buddhist practitioners of Tuva, Siberia. Her place at Beit Malkhut was always ready for her, and for her son Anton it remains ever ready today. I loved Galina from the moment she introduced me to the ludic—and I was not alone in this. Galina is loved and remembered across the globe, not just for her brilliance, her drive and her prolific body of work—but also for that elfin smile—always ready to engage in the exploration of the next step … that no one else had thought of, or had dared to take. Intrepid anthropologist, curious about absolutely everything, and willing to take it on. Were there a god, or two or three—or any number of spirits or energies beyond the living or metaphor, surely she is there, notebook in hand and computer by her side. Transcribing notes, doing the analysis—and the book will come out shortly. —mira
Tina Wuelfing Cargile (4 February 1953–5 September 2010)
Weird luck threw Tina and me together in the winter of 2008. We’d both proposed talks on project management for a localization industry conference, and the program committee asked us to consider presenting together. When I read her abstract and saw that we were in almost complete disagreement, I wondered how that was supposed to work and suggested to this stranger that we consider doing a point-counterpoint-style presentation. To my chagrin, she accepted the idea, and we had to figure out how to proceed. It was a bumpy process, because we kept spending all our phone-meeting time becoming friends. Eventually we figured out that our thoughts about project management had more in common than not, but the differences in our perspectives and how we came to them were fertile ground for exploration. The talk was a success despite a series of comic mishaps, and we reprised our high-wire act in a series of columns for an industry magazine. We always wrote them at the last possible minute, but it worked, because we knew how to clarify and riff on each other’s ideas. Our collaboration slowed way down last year when a mysterious illness set in and eventually took her from us. I wrote about Tina in greater length in a post on my consultancy’s blog. I didn’t have the privilege of knowing Tina for long, but she didn’t need long to matter to me both professionally and personally. —Erin
Zigurrat (‘Ziggy’) Zussman (24 July 1995–10 September 2009)
Ziggy was my sense of humor, when I needed it the most. He was alternately ridiculous, serious, and astonishing. Just when you thought he was ‘just a dog’ he proved himself otherwise. There were those who insisted he was the quintessential ‘dirty old man’ wrapped in an I-can-get-away-with-it body. Some of us witnessed him channel Jim Morrison, hitting the high notes with perfect ‘Light My Fire’ timing at 3:00 AM one morning while I was painting the kitchen and watching The Doors on the tube. He was a serious shape-shifter. His Jim Morrison phase lasted a number of years, in which he was obsessed with drugs and alcohol — stealing and consuming a lid of grass out of a visitor’s bag once, polishing off a whole jar of Nutella that surely should have killed him, and soaking himself in double shot lattes that he knocked off the kitchen counter and danced to in coffee-muddied circles upon the kitchen floor. Zig took his turn introducing himself at Pesach one year, as with Morrison, exactly on cue. He had a thing for belly dancers, and was an incessant licker of legs and toes (encouraged by teenage girls who thought it ‘cute’, thus encouraging his ‘bad’ habits). He was driven wild by testosterone and got into serious territorial fights with male visitors at Beit Malkhut. His passion for belly dancers was later matched by his excitement around trans-men, especially when they upped their doses of T. Zig, by the end, had lived longer by a year than his illness’ prognosis. He never complained of the pain. But one day, he laid his head down, settled into my arms — and was quietly done. Zig, sweetie, you were always there when I needed you — making me laugh when I couldn’t do it myself. Making our household a happy, crazy place, where nothing could be hard or grim for very long. We looked to you, and you insisted that we laugh. — mira
Richard Schultz (19 March 1967–30 September 2010)
Richard and Tim and I were band fags. That’s what they called you, in North Dakota in those days, if you were in the band instead of on the team. We were brains. That’s what they called you, in North Dakota in those days, if you were on the math track team instead of the track team. He played alto saxophone—and, oh, did he play. Tim played tenor sax—and, oh, did he play. You know what I played. Tim and I were in the same class, and we both went off and got math degrees, and Tim got a few more math degrees while I got another music degree. Richard was a few years younger, and he went off and got a degree in engineering, and then he went off and got a few more of them. By this point in his story, I had long since lost track of him, but Tim and I caught back up with each other a year ago. I learned that we three band fag brains still had a lot in common, all of us working in tech by day and still playing music by night, all of us married with children (in my case furry). I also learned that Richard had cancer of the god knows what that had already spread to the god knows what else, and nobody expected him to have lived even this long, but someone forgot to tell Richard that. In September, Tim sent me a link to Richard’s wife’s blog, and over the next few weeks, I read CK’s story of her life with Richard, which was fast coming to an end. Richard had become one of those profs who changes people’s lives, whose research changes our world. Only the details of how Richard ended up making the world a better place were surprising to me; that he did was not. —Erin