The Remarkable Zalmen Zylbercweig
and his Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre

 

Interview with Shirley Zuckerberg
Daughter of Leon and Celia Zuckerberg and stepdaughter of Zalmen Zylbercweig
Conducted on 14 April 2012
 

L: Interviewer: Steven Lasky; Z: Interviewee: Shirley Zuckerberg. Transcribed, edited and adapted by Steven Lasky.

 

Z: My name is Shirley Zuckerberg. I was born in 1930 in Baltimore, Maryland. My parents, Celia and Leon Zuckerberg, were two magnificent actors that came to the United States from Argentina, and the only way they could stay in this country is if they had an American-born child. So I was born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1930.

However, the government -- they did not want give them permission to stay here indefinitely -- they only gave them a work permit. So they traveled all through the United States. And in 1933 or so, we went to Cuba, and then after that we had to go to Mexico City where they had a tremendous Jewish community that was anxious to see Yiddish theatre. Unfortunately, my Dad, who was gorgeous and very, very talented, caught pneumonia on the stage, and he passed away in 1935 at the age of thirty-five. I was five-years old at the time, so naturally we stayed in Mexico.

L: Do you remember the day that you found out that your father had passed away?

Z: I found out when I was probably six years old, or maybe not quite six years old, that my father had passed away. I remember being extremely upset. Very, very upset. I remember that very clearly. My mother told me. For a while she didn't tell me where he was, what had happened to him. I kept asking about him till she finally told me.

L: After you found out -- between then and the time your mother married Aba (Shirley's affectionate name for her stepfather, "Lexicon" edition Zalmen Zylbercweig -- ed.), what transpired?

Z: Well, we stayed in Mexico. Mother continued with her theatrical performances. She brought a lot of people over from the United States to act with her. She also had a little store that sold ladies' beautiful hats, gloves and purses, because she wanted to bring over her relatives from Poland, and the only way she could do that was to show the government that she had steady income. So in 1936, I believe it was, when I was six years old, by the end of 1936, she was able to save her oldest sister, Genya, and her daughter, Manyala, and brought them over to Mexico.

L: Did your mother opened the shop before or after your father passed away?

Z:  No, it was during....I guess it was during that time, the period between 1935 and '36. She had to open the store because my father had passed away.

L: Where did your parents first meet?

Z: They met in Argentina in the 1928, I believe, or in 1927. They met in the theatre. My father was an actor with the Morris Brown company, and my mother was in another company, and they met that way. They fell in love, got married and acted together with the Morris Brown theatre company.
 
I don't know if they were introduced. I think that my father had heard that there was a lovely young woman who was a soubrettin, they used to call it, I guess he saw her, that she had a beautiful voice, and that's how... Either he went to see her, or to see her performance, and that's how they met. They got married in Argentina.

They went all over South America. They went to Chile. They went, I think, to several countries and several states. And then after that they came to the United States in 1929. They had a contract here. I have the original contract where they paid them one hundred dollars for the two of them, for a week. (Morris Schorr's troupe at the Embassy Theatre in Baltimore, Maryland -- ed.)

L: Being five years old at the time, do you remember if you ever saw your parents act?

Z: I remember my mother, but not my father, no.

L: So you remember your mother acting in Mexico?

Z: Oh, sure.

 L: How old were you when you left Mexico?
 
Z: Seventeen years old. I was educated in Mexico.

L: So you spent about ten or eleven years after your father passed away in Mexico?

Z: Yes, actually twelve years.

L: When Mom was acting in Mexico, was she acting mostly as a soubrette?

Z: No, she was a soubrette, but she was also a very fine dramatic actress.

L: Did she have a contract there? Did she work there for only one company?

Z: I think she was she was the general manager of that company. Wherever they could do a little theatre, she did.

L: When your parents was alive, they were part of the Morris Brown troupe, but when Dad passed away, what happened?

Z: She continued playing with Morris Brown, and Bertha Brown, and the Gelbers, and she brought a lot of people from the United States. She brought over Abe Lax and his wife, and the Dorfs; I don't remember other people. But these people I remember vividly, because they used to come to our home, and they stayed.... I was able to spend time with them. But the others, I don't remember their names.

L: Was your mother able to make a living as a Yiddish actress, or did she really need that store?

Z: No, we needed the store because she was supporting my aunt and my cousin, and she needed to have this steady income. As an actress or actor, they didn't have a steady income. That was a problem with them not being able to stay in the United States.

L: What became of your aunt and your cousin?

Z: They stayed there. I still have second cousins there.  Not my first cousins, but her children, and my cousin's children, are still alive. I am in constant touch with one of my cousins, yes.

L: When you were living in Mexico with your mother, were you living in an apartment, or in a house?

Z: No, we had an apartment. People in Mexico, they were not wealthy enough to own homes. Most people had apartments.

L: Do you remember the address of your apartment?

Z: Yes, I do. We had two apartments...When my aunt came in 1936, the address was Calle de Tacuba no. 74.

L: When your father passed away, you had to get a different place?

Z: In between '35 and '36, before my mother brought over.... We got that apartment so that my mother could bring over her sister and her niece because we needed more room.... We got that apartment so that we could go there and have the family join us.

L: What else do you remember about your father?

Z: I do remember the little things. The one thing I remember is that he once got a little doggie for me. I remember him bringing it to me and putting him on my lap. I also remember when he was in the hospital, that a maid took me to visit him.

L: When he was in the hospital with pneumonia?

Z: With pneumonia. But then, after he passed away, I was put into a boarding school. Now that I'm talking about it, I remember; it comes back to me. I was in a boarding school for one year before my mother brought her sister and niece over. I was in a school that was a French school, a French boarding school.

L: Do you remember the name of it?

Z: No, I'm not sure.

L: You were in boarding school because Mom had to work?

Z: That's right.

L: And then, once the rest of your family came over, they could watch you.

Z: That was the end of [my time in] the boarding school, yes.

L: So you learned to play piano? When and where?

Z: Yes. When my mother started giving me private lessons, when I was about six years old. And then I started taking piano lessons when I was about six-and-a-half. Mother got me a wonderful piano, an upright. And my teacher was Francisco Ochoa. O-c-h-o-a. He was a fine pianist. He was a pianist for the symphony orchestra in Mexico that was conducted by Carlos Chávez. That was the name of the conductor. Carlos Chávez.

L: So you never had musical training before that? There were never musical instruments in your home?

Z: No. But my mother always sang. We had radio going on all the time. So I grew up all my life with music.

L: What kind of music did your Mom like listening to?

Z: Well, we used to go to the opera. I was introduced to the opera in Bellas Artes.... I saw Helen Traubel singing "Valkyrie". I saw it in person; now I was a little girl, maybe eight years old. We saw "Madame Butterfly", "La Traviata", a bunch of operas. We always went to the opera during its season. And of course, there were the concerts, because my piano teacher was the principal pianist with the orchestra, with the Philharmonic.

L: Tell me how the piano lessons came about. Did you ask to learn, or did your mother ask you if you wanted to learn....?

Z: No, no, my mother.... My mother felt that I had to have an instrument in my life, so I got the piano, and she said you're going to learn to play the piano. And I'm very gifted. I had a fantastic ear, and whatever my mother wanted to me to play, I did. She would sing a song, and I was able to go to the piano and play it for her. Even to this day, I can do that.

L: So it was always the piano. There was never a choice....

Z: And she got me interested in ballet. Mother introduced me to wonderful ballet lessons. I don't remember my teacher's name. I was excellent in Spanish dancing, and I learned how to play the castanets. To this day, I can still play castanets. I have a wonderful collection of them. And so I have all my pictures of all the beautiful dances that I used to do as a growing-up child.

L: So Mom didn't have a lot of money, but she wanted you to be a ....

Z: Yes. Always the very best -- the best education, the best music instructions, ballet, and private Yiddish school that I went to.

L: Do you remember the name of the Yiddish school?

Z: Yes. Colegio Israelita de México.

L: Do you remember your teachers' names or the other schools you went to in Mexico City?

Z: In elementary school, I went to public school. And for that I also remember the name. Licenciado Miguel Aguirre.

L: From age five to about nine, you were in this school?

Z: No, more like from age nine to about ten-and-a-half, because at eleven, I already went to high school.

L: High school, was that a public high school?

Z: No, that was a Jewish high school.

L: So at ten-and-a-half, you first started a Jewish school.

Z: About eleven....1941, yes.

L: And (for) how many years did you study in the Jewish school?

Z: I graduated in 1945, so it was about four years....

L: What constituted a Jewish high school there?

Z: Jewish children. It was just for Jewish children, but all the subjects were taught in Spanish. We took English as a foreign language. We took Yiddish. We had to learn how to read and write in Yiddish, and learn to converse in Yiddish, and in Hebrew, though Hebrew was never my language.

L: But you had to learn to speak in Yiddish and in Hebrew?

Z: Oh, yes.

L: How did you speak to your mother when you were (at) home? In what language?

Z: With mother, I think I actually spoke Spanish, and she would speak to me in Yiddish.

L: In other words, when you were just having a casual conversation, that's the way it was?

Z: That's the way it was.

L: Why didn't she speak in Spanish to you, and why didn't you....

Z: She also spoke Spanish fluently. As you know, she had a little store and she spoke Spanish fluently.

L: So, why did she speak to you in Yiddish?

Z: She wanted me to know the language.

L: Right. And why didn't she want you to speak to her in Yiddish?

Z: Well, I guess I did, but I remember more than anything the conversations went that way. I might have spoken to her in Yiddish too.

L: What other schools did you go to?

Z: After that, I went to a school for girls. It was called the Maddox Academy. It was like a commercial school to learn typing and shorthand, and mostly English. The school year started in February. I went there for two years.

L: Did you ever play piano for your mother in the theatre, or was it always at home?

Z: No, I did play....as a matter-of-fact, when she married Aba, they had me play as a guest at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre, in a couple of their shows called "benefits".

 L: During these benefits, were you just scheduled to play a piece on the piano?

Z: Yes. Just straight piano; just something, either Chopin, or a Beethoven, or a Mozart, something like that. I don't remember exactly what I played, but I did.

L: What were the benefits for?

Z: For the Yiddish Radio Advertising, for the presentations when my mother was performing.

L: In other words, at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre (in Los Angeles, California --ed.).

Now let's talk about Aba, your step-father Zalmen Zylbercweig. Tell me the circumstances of how he and your mother met. Did they meet by chance? Were they introduced? When did it happen?

Z: It was a wonderful meeting. My mother and I had gone to a lecture, and who was the guest speaker? Mr. Zalmen Zylbercweig from the United States. And that's how they met. He came to us, and he said to my mother, these words. He said, "Mrs. Zuckerberg, I met you and your late husband when I was collecting information for my Lexicon."

 My mother was pregnant with me when they first met, and I guess it had to be in 1929, when Aba was collecting information for his Lexicon. He met both my parents. And when they met again during his lecture in 1945, he told my mother that he was very sorry to hear that my father had passed away, and he fell in love with my mother, there and then!  He then started to court her.

L: Did he start courting her right away? How did he manage to court her, since he was living in New York at the time?

 Z: He sent her flowers. He also talked to me, and he also wanted me to take him to the cemetery in Mexico where my father was buried. I have pictures of him at the cemetery by my father's matzeve (gravestone).


Zalmen Zylbercweig at Gravesite of Leon Zuckerberg

Mexico City, Mexico
26 July 1945

Z: And he went back to New York and started writing to her. He started writing to her, and a couple of years went by and he proposed to her, and she said "yes", and of course I.... I was (chuckle).... I told her, absolutely, she's got to get married and we'll all leave Mexico, and I'll get to go back to my country where I was born.

Oh, by the way, something important. While I was growing up those twelve or thirteen years in Mexico, I had to be registered with the American Consulate. Every two years or so, they.... I used to have to keep with me an I. D. card, that I was Shirley I. Zuckerberg, an American citizen living in Mexico, as a minor with my mother.
 
L: So now Aba went back to New York City, and you two were still in Mexico City. What happened then?

Z: Aba said that the next time he would come to Mexico, they would get married. And that's exactly what happened. He came back in January of 1947, and they were married January 7, 1947.

L: What's your earliest recollection of Aba, besides the fact that he came in 1929 to gather information for his Lexicon? How did he feel about creating the Lexicon?

Z: First of all, I adored him. When I met him, I said to my mother that this man is wonderful. I encouraged my mother to marry him, and my dream was to come back to the United States, because I didn't want to stay in Mexico. And I had to be back at the time became I was turning eighteen. So I came to the United States in 1947. I arrived at Grand Central Station by myself. Then my mother followed later, because she had to transfer a lot of stuff from the store to somebody that was going to buy the store. So I came first in 1947, and I arrived at Grand Central Station on April 4, 1947. I came by train, after five nights and four days on a train.

L: And then your mother came how much later?

Z: Mother came in, I think in May of 1947.

L: Where did your parents get married?

Z: In Mexico.... On January 7, 1947, they were married. Aba came to Mexico, but he didn't stay.  He had to go back to New York because he was the editor of the newspaper, the Amerikaner (Jewish American -- ed.), so he couldn't stay. He also had to look for a place for all of us to live.

L: Do you remember their wedding in Mexico?

Z: I think that the American Consulate came up. It was in my auntie's house. The American Consulate came in, and I think there might have been a rabbi, I'm not sure. I think there was, but I don't remember the rabbi's name.

L: So at some point, you were all in New York City. What was your life like then in New York City in 1947? You and your mother had settled in, and Aba was still working for the newspaper....

Z: Yes.

L: And were you still going school, or were you working?

Z: I went to Brooklyn College, and also a business school in Brooklyn, but I can't remember its name.. Then I got myself a wonderful job, and I worked for Sorority Frocks as a receptionist.

L: When you went to business school, did you get a degree?

Z: Yes, yes. I was an excellent secretary and  bookkeeper.

L: What was your degree in?

Z: In Business.

L: And that was the last schooling you did, or did you do more schooling?

Z: That was it, yes. I had to make a living.

L: Right. Where then did all three of you live?

Z: We lived in Brooklyn. I think it was at 1357 East 12th Street. It was a duplex. I think that's where my folks found a place.

L: So when Aba worked, did he have to commute into Manhattan?

Z: Yes, so did I, and so did my mother because she started writing a column for the newspaper, and she interviewed all these magnificent actors and actresses. Mostly women. She had a regular column every week or month, I can't remember. She had interviews with Stella Adler, and Celia Adler, and Molly Picon. And with the other woman who had a program on television. I forget her name (Gertrude Berg of "Mrs. Goldberg" fame -- ed.) All these were very gifted women....
 


Celia Zylbercweig (Silver) Column "In der froyen-velt (In the Woman's World)"

An interview with Molly Picon
date unknown
 

L: And this was for the same newspaper your father was working for?

Z: Yes, yes. My mother was a very gifted person. She had a wonderful way of speaking and writing and was just great.

L: So she really enjoyed doing all of this.

Z: Oh yes.

L: Did she do it because she had to do it to make money, or because she liked to do it?

Z: I guess both, yes.

L: How long did she do that for?

Z: She did that for the couple of years that we were in New York.

L: Then you were in New York for only two years?

Z: A couple of years, right.

L: And what about their Yiddish radio program?

Z: Well, the radio program started because, I guess somebody approached Aba to come to L. A., and both of my parents and I then came over to Los Angeles from New York, and that this person -- I don't remember his name -- told him that they had an opportunity to have this Yiddish radio program, and they decided to do it, and then "bing, bing, bing", we gave up the apartment, the duplex apartment in Brooklyn, and we moved.

L: How did you feel about moving out of New York to Los Angeles?

Z: I was not really happy because I I had a wonderful life in New York. I loved New York. I loved all the excitement. I had a fellow that I used to go out with. I don't know if you could call him a boyfriend. but we were good friends. I used to go out with him, and I also had made friends in school, and I had a nice little job, and I thought "Oh, boy...".

L: So your father was not on the radio in New York?

Z: On the radio in New York, no, they never had a radio program in New York.... My mother had been the guest of Seymour Rexsite, on his radio program in New York, with his wife Miriam Kressyn. So they knew more or less how the radio business worked, because they had been invited....

L: How did your mother feel moving out of New York?

Z: She didn't mind because the weather was better here.

L: She didn't like cold weather?

Z: She didn't mind it. She adjusted to things very well.

L: Did she write for a newspaper when she moved to Los Angeles?

Z: I don't think so.

L: How did Aba feel about moving out of New York?

Z: I guess he was pretty okay with it.

L: When Aba was living in New York, did he have a lot of friends?

 Z: Oh yes. I met a lot of people.... He was very friendly with Maurice Schwartz. He was very friendly with Rumshinsky, the composer. He was very friendly with the other composer Secunda. We used to go to the theatre on Second Avenue, and all the actors there, my God! As a matter-of-fact, what was his name? Lebedeyev, Lebedeyev (Aron Lebedeff -- ed.). He was crazy about me. He thought I was gorgeous (chuckle). I was a very pretty girl. So I met a lot of interesting people, and he was friendly with a lot of these people.

L: Did Aba spend time at the cafes where Yiddish actors used to go, and....?

Z: Oh sure, on Second Avenue.... The ladies there.... I remember going many times to have coffee with them, and I met a lot of people. It was wonderful. I went to Molly Picon's home. She had a home by the Hudson River. And I remember that she had a cabinet with all these dolls, dolls of all the roles and characters that she used to play. They were these little dolls that she collected. It was a beautiful home. 

One time we had gone to Maurice Schwartz's home. It was a very special evening, because that's the evening that he introduced his two adopted children. He had adopted a boy and a girl who were sister and brother, from France. And he and his wife, they had a big party to introduce their adopted children to everybody. I was there with my parents.

And when we moved out here to California, my parents also had a lot of people coming to their home. My mother used to entertain a lot.

L: Did you like going to Yiddish plays? You didn't really understand it that well.

Z: Oh, I understand it perfectly.

 L: How often did you go to a Yiddish play when you were living in New York?

Z: Whenever Aba said, "Let's go", and I would go with them. Oh yes, I understand the language perfectly.

L: So when they went to see a show, they generally invited you.

Z: Mostly, yes. Most of the time. Or if they had something else to do after, if I didn't want to be a nuisance, you know.

L: How often did they go to the Yiddish theatre?

Z: Quite often, especially if some of their friends, some of Aba's friends, were acting.

L: Did they have any particular actors or actresses they liked the best?

 Z: I think one of their favorites must have been Maurice Schwartz, with his dramatic plays. And of course, Lebedeyev, Aba liked Lebedeyev a lot.

L: How did Aba feel about Yiddish theatre?

Z: He loved it. That is what he loved.

L: Let's return back to the time Aba and your mother were invited out to Los Angeles to lead a Yiddish radio program.  You and your parents went straight to Los Angeles; you didn't come back to New York. You just moved there, and that was it.

Z: Yes. When they decided to come out, they moved over here bag and baggage, and that was it.

L: So, they didn't buy a house right away. You lived in an apartment.

Z: When we first came out from New York, we lived in Santa Monica for a few months, at the Kensington Hotel.

L: Why in Santa Monica?

Z: I don't know. I don't know. I don't know why in Santa Monica. Maybe somebody told him come to Santa Monica. He didn't know from borscht.

L: Right, right. Was your mother acting at that time?

Z: No.

L: When did she first start acting again? Did she act at all when she was in New York?

Z: No, not in New York.

L: But eventually in Los Angeles.

Z: Yes.

L: So the man wanted your parents to do the radio program in Santa Monica, yet the studio your parents eventually broadcast their own radio program from for more than twenty years was built in the back of your house in the Fairfax area of Los Angeles. So after Santa Monica, you went where?

Z: From Santa Monica, from the Kensington Hotel, they bought a beautiful home in L. A., in the Fairfax area. The address was 825 South Orange Grove Avenue.

L: And that was the house they lived in until....

Z: That's what the house they lived in. That's where I got married. We had a garden wedding.

L: You got married in what year?

Z: In 1951.

L: Okay, so, in other words, the only time you were not living your home was for a few months, and then they bought the house.

Z: Right. And then they sold that home and moved to (6517 -ed.) Drexel Avenue.

L: What year?

Z: That had to be around 1955. They moved to that home where they had the studio in the back.

L: Between the time they moved out of Santa Monica to the first home, and the time you got the second home, obviously they had no recording studio. So when the radio program started in '49....

Z: They used to go the radio station, and one radio station was in Santa Monica; it was KOWL. And maybe that's why we lived over there for a while.

L: So initially, their program was only being broadcast on one radio station.

Z: Yes.

L: And at some point you moved to your home where your parents built a studio. Then they started to record out of their studio. Do you remember the year of the first broadcast from the studio, in your second home?

Z: Well, KOWL was owned by Gene Autry, and he sold it, and then at that time my folks changed to go to another station, KALI. That was probably sometimes in the fifties. I don't remember the exact year.

L: So all those recordings that you sent me from their radio program were from the broadcasts in the studio in their second home?

Z: Yes.

L: Why did Aba decide to built a studio in the back of his house?

 Z: It was easier for them to do it, instead of traveling. Aba never learned how to drive. My mother learned how to drive, and she drove him around, and maybe that's why.... maybe they were more comfortable this way. Why not?

L: So how long did they stay with the Santa Monica radio station?

Z: I think that their first radio program in Santa Monica was short-lived, and that was it.

L: What about sponsors for their own radio program?

Z: They had several sponsors. They had Great Western Savings and Loan Association, the bank, and then they had Braverman Brothers, which was a big, big appliance store, and after that they got other sponsors.

L: Who paid for the recording studio?

Z: I guess they did.

L: So Aba didn't drive, and because of this it was easier just to broadcast from their own home. So it took him however many months to build a recording studio, and at some point they had lined up the sponsors.

Z: Yes.

L: How did your mother feel about being part of a radio program?

Z: She loved it. She was wonderful. She was a really pretty woman. She was eleven years younger than Aba. And she was just stunning, and like I say, very intelligent. She spoke seven languages and wrote them, not only speaking, and she was wonderful.

L: Who was the brains, or who was the "pusher" for the radio program?

Z: I think both of them were.

L: So they were both pretty enthused about getting the Yiddish word out. Was it the Yiddish language, the Yiddish theatre, or was it just cultural?

Z: It was everything that that you just said -- the language, the theatre, the culture. There's a big club in Los Angeles, the Yiddish Culture Club on Third Street, where Mother was invited many times to do a reading of her poetry, or Aba would give a lecture. Everything was involved with yidishkeyt.

L: Back then, do you know how many people listened to their broadcasts? What was the range of the broadcast?

Z: Oh, they had quite a few.....it was broadcast to the city of Los Angeles. It went quite a ways. I would say that they had maybe 50,000 listeners, or more. Absolutely. Everybody knew about the Yiddish radio program, the Yidishe shtunde.


Zalmen and Celia Zylbercweig and their "Yiddish Radio Hour"

Los Angeles, California
cir 1958


L: They say the "Yiddish Radio Hour", but it wasn't always an hour. It sometimes was a half-an-hour, most of the time.

Z: Later on I guess, when things changed a little bit, they went to half-an-hour.

L: Didn't they have a half-hour during the weekdays and maybe an hour on the weekend?

Z: I think they had an hour on the weekend. Yes.

L: So who got the guests for the program? How did they decide what to put on the radio program? Do you know anything about that?

Z: I don't know anything about that. I guess they had different guests, as you can tell from the many programs that I sent you. Everybody who came from anywhere always called the Zylbercweigs.

L: When they were in Los Angeles.

Z: Yes, Los Angeles.

L: So I guess that was good publicity for them.

Z: Yes, absolutely. Whoever came, all the actors that came, they knew they had to get to my parents and.... absolutely.

 L: Were there rehearsals for the program?

Z: No, I don't think so. No.

L: It seems to me that they recorded certain events, whether it be at a performance at a day school, or a banquet, discussions by rabbis, or music or comedy, and then they'd insert one of these segments into the main body of their radio program. Did people who were on their program generally come to the studio?

Z: They came. They came to the house, they came into the studio, absolutely, yes. It was a very busy life. Very busy.

L: So did Aba ever have any regrets? He liked doing his work so much....

Z: No, no, no, no. No regrets, no regrets.

L: Obviously he did the radio program at the same time he was working on the Lexicon.

Z: Sure.

L: Did Aba ever talk about the Lexicon, or was it just something he did on his own, and didn't really talk about it much with the family?

Z: No, we were always, both Ben (her husband --ed.) and I always knew about his doings. He traveled a lot, you know, a lot of the time, especially later on as the years went by. He went to Mexico alone, many times to have his Lexicon printed there, and my mother took care of business here. Like I said, she was very smart and she knew exactly what to do with the programs, and how to tape, and how to do all that was necessary to get it on the air.

L: So maybe your father prerecorded....

Z: Some of the programs were prerecorded, and then Mother would get guests for the program.

L: It seems that Aba had to use a lot of his own money to travel, and to do his research.

Z: Oh yes, he had to do the Lexicon out of his own pocket. He didn't need any money. It was a work of love.

L: It was a work of love, right. Do you have any anecdotal information about the Lexicon and your father? Did your father ever talk about the Lexicon that you remember, or did any incident ever come up, or...

Z: No, no.

L: Who sold the books? I noticed that there's a lot written about "subscriptions." People paid anywhere from so many groschen to many tens of dollars....

Z: I really don't know. The people, the listeners of the radio program all knew that he had all these books, and I guess he sold them, advertised on the program that he had a number of the Lexicons. They were for sale, or so many books had been printed, and whoever wanted one, you know....

L: Did he have books at home that he would he send out books from home once he got paid, or would someone else take care of that?

Z: I don't remember that. I don't know. 

L: On another subject, do you remember when Aba passed away? Wasn't it in July 1972?

Z: Yeah, oh God, yeah (sigh).

L: He was already working on the seventh (volume of the Lexicon) at the time. Did he get to the point where he was finished with it, and it was just in the editing form, ready to be published, or did he have more work to do on it?

Z: I really don't know.

L: Had Aba been sick for a long time?

Z: Ah, he had cancer.

L: What kind of cancer?

Z: Cancer of the stomach.
 
L: And between the time he was diagnosed, and the time he passed away....

Z: They operated on him, he got double jaundice. They operated on him, and they sewed him up right away. They told us that it wouldn't be more than a few months. And that's what happened. He had started to complain that his stomach was bothering him. It wasn't a long illness.

L: What can you tell me about what Aba, about what he loved about Yiddish? Did he like to listen to Yiddish music? In what way did he express his yidishkeyt?

Z: He had a wonderful sense of humor. You know, my husband Ben was an opera singer, and every time they would come over to our house, they would spend Sundays together with us. He loved my children, and he used to play with them. We used to have barbecues every Sunday. Ben would barbecue. And every time we would put on, let's say.... By the way, he used to love, Jan Peerce and Richard Tucker. He used to love both of them. So we used to listen to them. We had quite a collection of operas here.

 L: When you spoke around your house with Aba and your mother, did you speak in Yiddish, or in English, or....

Z: Oh, in English, because Ben doesn't understand Yiddish. So they used to speak in English, of course.

L: But when it was just you and Aba and Mom?

Z: Oh, he would speak Yiddish to me, and I would answer him in Yiddish, or in English, whatever . He would speak in English when he was with us, mainly when Ben was around. We used to have the most magnificent conversations about politics. My husband is very bright.

L: What did Aba feel politically?

Z: Aba was a Democrat. I mean, then you had to be a Democrat, after all.... Aba had a terrific sense of humor. And like I say, he always tried to imitate the singers... these two (chuckle).... He was a funny guy. I loved him, I loved him. Yes, yes.

L: Who did Aba try to imitate?

Z: Richard Tucker (chuckle).

L: He tried to sing opera?

Z: Yeah, yeah.

L: Could Aba sing?

Z: No, no. He couldn't even carry a tune, but he thought he could.

L: Did he tell jokes?

Z: Yes. He was wonderful.

L: Jokes in English or in Yiddish? Mostly Yiddish, right?

Z: We spoke in both languages. He used to make fun of my accent. I remember that. In Yiddish. He used to make fun of my accent.

L: What did he say?

Z: He used to say that I looked like a Russian. He said, "Di ost an accent ven di redst yidish". But he enjoyed talking to me.

L: What would you say were some of Aba's most endearing traits? His sense of humor?

Z: Yes. He was so intelligent, so wonderful. And like I say, he loved my children.... and when he would come over to visit, he'd have five or six newspapers under his arm, folded newspapers....

L: English or Yiddish?

Z: Oh, always Yiddish newspapers. Every newspaper....

L: Did he always read the Forward?

Z: Oh yeah, yeah.

L: What else did he like to read?

Z: Well, I don't know of all the Jewish newspapers that he read. We got rid of hundreds and hundreds of newspapers when he passed away. A lot of the stuff was sent to Israel, you know. That's what he wanted (sigh). He was wonderful. You know, I was fortunate enough, that he was in my life longer than my birth father. Aba and my mother were married for twenty-five years. My husband Ben and I have been married for sixty years, and we have two wonderful kids, Laura and Ron, and six grandchildren, with one great-grandchild on the way.

 


 


 


 

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