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?
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
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.
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
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
L: When Mom was
acting in Mexico, was she acting mostly as a
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?
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
Was your mother able to make a living
as a Yiddish actress, or did she really need
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
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
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?
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?
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
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
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
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.
it was always the piano. There was never a
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
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
L: High school, was
that a public high school?
Z: No, that was a Jewish high
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....
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.
you had to learn to speak in Yiddish and in
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
L: In other words,
when you were just having a casual
conversation, that's the way it was?
That's the way it was.
L: Why didn't she
speak in Spanish to you, and why didn't you....
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
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.
Did you ever play piano for your mother in the theatre, or was it always
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
L: What were the
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
my father was buried. I have pictures of him
at the cemetery by my father's matzeve
Zalmen Zylbercweig at Gravesite of Leon
Mexico City, Mexico
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
Oh, by the way, something important.
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
Z: Mother came in, I think in
May of 1947.
L: Where did your parents
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....
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?
Yes, yes. I was an excellent secretary and
L: What was your degree in?
Z: In Business.
L: And that was
the last schooling you did, or did you do
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
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
Celia Zylbercweig (Silver) Column "In der
froyen-velt (In the Woman's World)"
interview with Molly Picon
L: And this was for the same
newspaper your father was working for?
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.
L: Did she do it because she had to do
it to make money, or because she liked to do
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
L: Then you were in
New York for only two years?
Z: A couple of
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
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?
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....
How did your mother feel moving out of New
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
L: How did Aba feel about moving out of
Z: I guess he was pretty okay with
L: When Aba was
living in New York, did he have a lot of friends?
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
L: Did Aba spend
time at the cafes where Yiddish actors used to
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
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
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
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
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.
often did they go to the Yiddish theatre?
Z: Quite often, especially if some of their
friends, some of Aba's friends, were
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
How did Aba feel about
Z: He loved it. That is what
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
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
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
L: When did she
first start acting again? Did she act at all
when she was in New York?
Z: No, not in New
L: But eventually in Los Angeles.
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,
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
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
Z: Right. And then they
sold that home and moved to (6517 -ed.)
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.
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
L: So all those recordings that you sent me
from their radio program were
from the broadcasts in the studio in their second home?
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
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
L: Who paid for the
Z: I guess they did.
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
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
L: Who was the brains, or who
was the "pusher" for the radio program?
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
Los Angeles, California
L: They say the
"Yiddish Radio Hour", but it wasn't always an
hour. It sometimes was a half-an-hour, most of the
Z: Later on I guess, when things changed a
little bit, they went to half-an-hour.
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?
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.
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.
Were there rehearsals for the program?
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
Z: They came. They came
to the house, they came into the studio,
absolutely, yes. It was a very busy life.
L: So did Aba ever have any
regrets? He liked doing his work so much....
no, no, no. No regrets, no regrets.
L: Obviously he
did the radio program at the same time he
was working on the Lexicon.
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
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
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.
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 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
Z: Ah, he had cancer.
kind of cancer?
Z: Cancer of the
L: And between the time he was diagnosed,
and the time he passed away....
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
L: What can you tell me about what Aba,
about what he loved about Yiddish? Did he like to listen to
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
L: When you
spoke around your
house with Aba and your mother, did you speak in Yiddish, or in
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.
What did Aba feel politically?
Z: Aba was a Democrat. I mean,
then you had to be a Democrat, after all.... Aba
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
Z: Richard Tucker (chuckle).
tried to sing opera?
Z: Yeah, yeah.
Z: No, no. He
couldn't even carry a tune, but he thought he
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?
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....
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