Photo Credit:
Freida Sima, Max, and the author.

“My daughter finally remarries and then moves halfway across the country!” said a rueful Freida Sima. But a year later Shirley was back in New York to give birth to her daughter, Esther Judith, named for Chaskel’s mother and sister, lost in the Holocaust. (I’m that daughter but will continue to refer to myself in the third person for narrative consistency.)

The family took an apartment in Queens and Freida Sima came for a few days to help after the birth. As days turned into weeks, Max joined her and they fell into a routine of spending weekdays in Queens and returning for weekends to Brighton. Winters, though, were still their own, spent alternately in Miami – where they rented a kochalein, one room with a kitchenette, on Collins Avenue – and Los Angeles, where they enjoyed their ten grandchildren.


One winter in Miami they hosted granddaughter Judy, by then five years old, for a week while Shirley and Chaskel, both travel agents once again, were on a business trip in the area. They took her to a Yiddish festival for elderly “snowbirds” held in a local park, and granddaughter and grandfather ended up on the front page of the Miami Herald, one singing and the other dancing.

When they returned to New York that year, Freida Sima and Max began spending entire weeks in Queens. Shirley had returned to work full time, and they had offered to watch little Judy after school while Freida Sima ran the kitchen. Happy in her natural domain, she spoiled Chaskel with Galician delicacies he hadn’t tasted since his youth. He, in turn, treated his shviggerleben and shverleben (beloved mother-in-law and father-in-law), as he called them, with so much deference and love that Shirley often joked that he only married her because her mother was already taken.

During the summer months Freida Sima and Max returned with Judy to Brighton where Max taught her to swim and play cards while Freida Sima showed her how to find bargains at the local shul bazaars. On Mondays, Max would take her to the corner library, where he tried to interest her in books about socialism, a topic he apparently considered appropriate for a young girl.

On Tuesday nights they would sit in the park between Brightwater Court and the boardwalk, watching the fireworks. And on Friday nights Max would put on a yarmulke and make Kiddush for his Orthodox granddaughter, just as he wore a yarmulke all week in Queens, in deference to his Orthodox son-in-law.

“Who would have believed my atheist would be sitting at the table singing zemiros [Sabbath songs] with his einikel [grandchild]?” Freida Sima would ask herself as she sat looking at grandfather and granddaughter.

* * * * *

The years flew by – and then the good life as they knew it came to an abrupt end in early 1969, when Max suffered a stroke while in California. He was hospitalized with partial paralysis. While he recovered the use of his limbs, he was quite weakened, and Chaskel came to Los Angeles to bring him and Freida Sima back to New York.

For the next eighteen months they remained in Queens. Max seemed to gain strength, although he needed a wheelchair to leave the house. “May it never get any worse,” Freida Sima prayed nightly.

Sadly, it did get worse. On Rosh Hashanah 1970, while Chaskel was in the hospital recuperating from leg surgery, Max complained of chest pains. “Oy, Mordche, sha shtill [be quiet],” Freida Sima responded almost automatically, only realizing the next morning when she called an ambulance that these were not his normal complaints.


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Judy Tydor Baumel-Schwartz is director of the Schulmann School of Basic Jewish Studies and professor of Jewish History at Bar Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel. She is the author of, among several others, “The ‘Bergson Boys’ and the Origins of Contemporary Zionist Militancy” (Syracuse University Press); “The Jewish Refugee Children in Great Britain, 1938-1945” (Purdue University Press); and “Perfect Heroes: The World War II Parachutists and the Making of Israeli Collective Memory” (University of Wisconsin Press).