Kivel couples

Family photographs line the walls of Samuel and Beatrice Green’s room where they hold hands while relaxing in their recliners. The Greens exchanged their wedding vows 63 years ago in Brooklyn, N.Y., where they raised three children and spent most of their married life; Samuel Green practiced optometry until his retirement in 1999.

Now the Greens are one of many couples who live together at Kivel Campus of Care in Phoenix.

“Recently Kivel has been experiencing a trend for couples moving into the nursing home and independent apartments,” says Hank Arens, Kivel’s director of community services. “Double occupancy rooms have been converted into homey environments for the couples to share their living quarters, much like they have at their homes.”

The Greens chose the Gimel Unit in the care center building of Kivel Nursing Home because it provided accommodations for them to live together, says Samuel Green. “We have been together our whole lives, it seems, and nothing was going to separate us.”

Alvin and Anne Plotkin, married for 65 years, also live together on Kivel’s campus. However, Alvin Plotkin lives in the independent apartments, while wife Anne lives in the care center’s Gimel unit. Each day, they eat meals together and Alvin takes Anne for walks through the building, sharing jokes or showing photographs of the couple’s earlier years. Alvin says he is grateful that he is healthy and able to take care of his wife, since she took care of him during much of their life together.

Jack and Inez Golden also both live in the care center, but in different units. The couple spent the majority of more than 60 years of married life in New York City. Now Inez lives in the Aleph Unit, a specialized unit for memory-impaired and Alzheimer’s residents.

“When I visit her, she doesn’t recognize me anymore,” Jack says. “But love conquers all. It is very important that we are together, that is all that matters.”

Arens can think of several couples that come to live at Kivel. “Their lives were rich simply because they were together,” he says. “We are delighted to be able to provide a caring, homelike environment for couples who wish to share their golden years together.”

Currently, there are nine couples who live together in the independent apartments; two couples that share a room in the care center; and four couples where one spouse lives in the apartments, the other in the care center.

This article first appeared in the Oct. 11, 2002 issue of Jewish News of Greater Phoenix.

A tale of two worlds: Ernest Michel

Some people collect sports memorabilia; others collect art. Ernest Michel collects history.

Michel’s collection – ranging from personal Holocaust artifacts to an autographed photo of Yitzhak Rabin, Bill Clinton and Yasser Arafat – is on display through April 28 in “Birth of Two Democracies,” the current exhibit at the Sylvia Plotkin Judaica Museum.

The exhibition contains artifacts from two exhibits: “The Promise: The Ernest W. Michel Historical Judaica Collection,” featuring documents and photographs from Germany and Israel; and “Parallel Visions,” on loan from the Kaller’s American Gallery, featuring documents dating to the American Revolution.

Curator and Holocaust survivor Michel says he collected his first item after working as a German News Agency correspondent during the Nuremberg War Crimes trial.

During the trial, Nazi leader Hermann Goering’s attorney arranged an interview between his client and Michel. After Michel entered Goering’s cell, Goering stood to shake Michel’s hand. Michel reached out his hand then quickly retracted it and asked the attendant to let him out.

“I thought to myself – what the hell am I doing here?” Michel says. “I never said one word to him,” he remembers. “He stood there with his hand out, with his mouth open. I’ll never forget how he looked.”

The next day, Goering’s attorney brought him Goering’s autograph. After that, Michel collected autographs of 12 of the 22 defendants in the Nuremberg trial – the start of his collection. Although the autographs are not included in the exhibit, a picture of Goering in his cell is, along with one of Michel’s articles about the trial, with his byline: “Special correspondent Ernest W. Michel, former Auschwitz inmate #104994.”

“I insisted that my articles show the fact that I was an Auschwitz survivor,” Michel says.

German-born Michel was sent to his first concentration camp at age 16 in 1939. After almost six years in Auschwitz, Birkenau, Buna-Monowitz, Buchenwald and Berga, among others, he escaped from a death march before the end of World War II and arrived in the United States as a displaced person in 1946, with the aid of funds from United Jewish Appeal.

Items in the exhibit echo aspects of his life, including the belt he wore while in Auschwitz -the only item he was allowed to keep from the camp – and photographs and autographs of Israeli and American leaders he met during more than 50 years working with the UJA.

“This has been a lifelong hobby,” Michel says. “More than a hobby – an obsession.”

The exhibit started as a personal collection, but then friends suggested he make it public so he displayed it in the UJA ballroom in New York for two years. “I never thought it would go beyond that,” he says. Then, in 2000, a guest from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., asked to exhibit it in Florida. Since then, it has been to Boca Raton, Fla., Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Rockland County, N.Y. After its run in Phoenix, the exhibit is scheduled to go to Denver and Los Angeles.

Some of the items are from his life, such as photographs from the1981 World Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, an event he organized which drew 6,000 survivors and their families from 23 countries and four continents to Israel. Other pieces he purchased, such as a letter by Theodore Herzl from 1890 and a reproduction of the Israel Declaration of Independence.

Through his career with the UJA, which culminated in his position as the CEO of UJA-Federation, Michel says he met all the leaders of Israel since the state’s inception. “Because of my role, I knew all of these people,” he says. “I was the only one who always came with my photos and papers and (asked them to) sign it.”

Michel says one of the most interesting things that happened during his career was negotiating with the Mormon Church in 1995 to withdraw from church records almost 400,000 names of Jewish Holocaust victims the church posthumously baptized.

Afterwards, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) offered to introduce a resolution in Congress, “concerning the fact that Jews were killed and people who denied the Holocaust are absolutely wrong,” Michel says. Congress presented Michel a copy of the resolution with the autographs of each of the sponsors of the resolution, passed unanimously in the House and Senate.

“It’s a very meaningful thing that I was glad I was able to participate in,” he says.

His autobiography, “Promises to Keep,” published in 1993, covers his life story beginning with Kristallnacht in 1938 Germany.

The second part of the exhibit, “Parallel Visions,” includes a reproduction of the U.S. Declaration of Independence and letters from George Washington and Ben Franklin.

A third segment of the collection is from Annelese Winterberg Nossbaum of Pennsylvania – the mother of Tempe resident Ivette Maoz. Nossbaum is a survivor of the Theresienstadt camp. Her collection includes a pair of Shabbat candlesticks that a German woman hid and later returned, money from the camp and a passport.

One item in Michel’s exhibit is the only photograph he has of his parents, Otto and Frieda, with his sister, Lotte. His sister survived the war and lives in Israel.

On one wall is a note from Michel, written in 1995, which describes a conversation he had with his sister in 1955, when they met in Israel for the first time after the war: “If only our parents could have known that we survived. … If they only could have died with that knowledge.”

Between Michel and his sister, they have 54 descendants. “Despite what happened between the two of us, we created new Jewish life,” he says.

Michel says he realizes that he was a part of Jewish history and wanted to preserve as much as possible for future generations.

“Many people only know about this period as history,” he writes of his collection. “I lived it.”

This article first appeared in the March 29, 2002 issue of Jewish News of Greater Phoenix.

For all time: Photographer Morris Berman

Most people’s memories remain inside their heads or within the pages of family photo albums. But 51 years of Morris Berman’s memories are now framed and hung on the walls of a West Valley museum.

The faces of John F. Kennedy, Harry Truman, World War II soldiers, The Beatles, Eleanor Roosevelt, Muhammad Ali, Mother Teresa and Jonah Salk are among the images Berman captured on film during his 51-year photographic career.

Berman, a youthful 91, was a combat photographer for the United States Army during World War II and a photographer with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette from 1937-1979.

An exhibit of the Sun City resident’s work, titled “In Our Time: Photographs of Peace and War,” is on display through Feb. 18 at the West Valley Art Museum, 17420 N. Avenue of the Arts in Surprise.

The exhibit spans Berman’s career, with more than 160 photographs from World War II, well-known sports figures, United States presidents and everyday life.

Berman started as a reporter in 1928 at the Wheeling Daily News in Wheeling, W. Va., earning $15 per week, and soon became a telegraph editor, which is similar to a news editor. Since the newspaper didn’t have a photography department, he bought a small camera and took photos to accompany his feature stories. Soon, other reporters asked him to take photos for their stories.

After nine years at the paper, he moved to Pittsburgh to begin what he thought was a job as a reporter at the Pittsburgh Sun Telegraph.

When he reported for work, he was surprised to find out that he had actually been hired as a news photographer.

“I didn’t know anything about a speed graphic,” Berman says, referring to the dominant portable professional camera from the 1930s through the end of the 1950s. The camera would allow only one shot to be taken at a time.

“When (Franklin Delano) Roosevelt was in Pittsburgh, we (were able to shoot enough film for) 12 holders with 24 pictures of the president of the United States. Today they (would use) about 12 rolls (of film). That shows how things have changed,” he says.

Assignments from his years at the newspaper, which was bought out by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 1960, include celebrities, sports events and hundreds of local stories.

“It was up to me to shoot whatever was interesting,” he says.

His photographs not only captured the essence of stories, they also sometimes advocated action.

For instance, when an orphanage needed diapers, his photo of a toddler standing in a crib without a diaper provoked such a large donation of diapers, the paper had to run an article saying that no more were needed.

Once, Berman and a reporter were covering a story about a brand new housing development that hadn’t yet provided its new residents with water.

When Berman asked one of the residents how they take their baths, he was told that they walk half a mile to a pump to get water, reheat it and then bathe in a metal tub.

Berman asked the man if he would take his clothes off and pretend to bathe in the tub for a photograph.

The man complied, and the residents got their water.

Berman’s most famous photograph was one of New York Giants’ quarterback Y.A. Tittle,

Berman won several awards for this photograph of Y.A. Tittle.
Photo by Morris Berman

for which he won several awards, including first place in the sports category from the National Press Photographers Association in 1965.

His editor chose not to print it because there weren’t any other players in the shot; Berman entered it into contests on his own.

In 1942, at age 33 and married seven years to his wife, Ruth, Berman was drafted into the U.S. Army, where he was assigned as a combat photographer.

On duty in Africa and then Italy, Berman shot color transparencies, which were picked up by diplomatic pouches, shipped back to the Pentagon, sent to the Eastman Kodak company for processing and then back to the Pentagon for screening and distribution to magazines and newspapers using color.

World War II was the first war filmed in color. Many of his photographs were used in National Geographic, Pageant magazine, Popular Photography and several others.

His mission, planned to last just 90 days, stretched to three years.

“I roamed around the different outfits in combat with a driver and a jeep loaded with camera gear. It was a great way to see beautiful Italy if you didn’t mind the enemy throwing shells your way,” Berman said in a press release about the exhibit.

American soldiers, dead German soldiers, German prisoners, equipment, explosions and destruction of World War II are among the images captured in Berman’s photographs.

“Everything that happened that I took a picture of is etched in my brain,” he says.

During the war, he also took pictures of celebrities such as movie star Marlene Dietrich entertaining the troops, King George VI of England and Pope Pius XII.

In 1945, on the outskirts of Milan, Berman photographed the Italians celebrating the downfall of Benito Mussolini. An old American woman climbed into the back of his jeep and directed the driver to the pavilion where bodies were hanging from the marquee of an unfinished gas station.

Some bodies had been cut down.

“Mussolini and his mistress were laying on the ground,” Berman recalled in a press release. “They had beaten him, put bullets in his dead body and spit on him. One of the partisans had pushed them together, placed their arms together and the undertaker rushed up and placed tags on their bodies. On it read ‘Mussolini, Benito.’ On her tag she was merely listed as ‘Petacci.’ It was a sight I shall never forget.”

He was awarded a Bronze star for his work.

In late 1945, Berman returned to his wife and the Pittsburgh Sun Telegraph.

“It was good to be back … covering the usual fires, murders, sports, check passings, trophy passings and just plain head shots,” he says.

Berman retired from the newspaper business in 1979 and moved to Sun City, where he does free-lance photography. His first wife died 10 years ago, and three years ago he married artist Diana Tollefson Berman.

Berman says that he still always carries his camera with him and takes pictures for friends or for events at Temple Beth Shalom and Jewish Community Center of the Northwest Valley in Sun City, where he and his wife are members.

For the past 20 years, Berman has visited a professor friend’s photojournalism class at Arizona State University, where he gives a slide show presentation to the students.

The exhibit includes Berman’s comments and World War II memorabilia. Berman will conduct a slide show lecture about his photographs 2:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 26, at the museum.

This article first appeared in the Dec. 22, 2000 issue of Jewish News of Greater Phoenix.

A place to belong: Friendship and faith for seniors

Bill Peerce stood on the bimah in Beth El Congregation in Phoenix during the celebration of the 70th anniversary of his bar mitzvah last July.

He confessed to his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, who sat in the first two rows, that he had been living a double life. He asked them to stand up, turn around and face the members of the congregation.

“Meet my other family,” he said.

This feeling of community draws many adults 75 and older to participate in synagogue life.

Although many adults maintain membership in the same congregation for nearly a lifetime, others join following retirement or a move to be closer to family members.

For some, synagogue services and activities reactivate childhood memories.

Being active in synagogue life offers some seniors “a feeling of spiritual fulfillment, an identification to their heritage,” friendship and a sense of satisfaction of being part of a community, says Rabbi Arthur Abrams of Temple Beth Shalom and Jewish Community Center of the Northwest Valley in Sun City.

Family and tradition

What draws seniors to a particular synagogue?

“A lot of times relatives of family members who (belong to a synagogue) move here to retire and they join because their kids are here,” says Joni Cohen, program and membership director at Beth El Congregation.

They often are “looking for something they had back home, wherever that ‘back home’ may be,” says Rabbi Alan Bright of Beth Emeth Congregation of the Northwest Valley.

Many Beth Emeth members moved here from the East Coast.

“They’re used to traditional services; they’re looking for the old traditional style that takes them back to their childhood,” Bright says. “Even if they weren’t necessarily observant, they may have traditional vibes in them from when they grew up and that’s what they’re looking for.”

Lee Shalek, head of the Friendship Club at Temple Beth Sholom in Chandler, says she joined the synagogue almost 30 years ago mainly because “it’s small, which is what I grew up with” and she wanted a Conservative congregation because she grew up in a Conservative home.

She adds that she also joined because it was close to her home and her daughter is a member.

Terry Taubman, executive director at Temple Beth Israel in Scottsdale, says what draws seniors to temple life is “a need for community, a link to Jewish community (and) a link to Jewish family.

“Because of our 80-year history, many families are more than three-generation” members.

Continuity is also important to members of Beth Emeth.

“Many of our people are the original founders and the builders of the current building,” Bright says of the 36-year old congregation.

Sometimes the answer is location.

Peerce, 83, a retired commercial artist, joined Beth El Congregation five years ago because his late wife, Peggy, wanted to live closer to the city.

Abrams says many of his congre-gants moved to the Sun City area because of affordable housing and the way of life.

Social interaction

Adults 75 and older look toward the synagogue to build friendships.

Although they have friends out-side the synagogue, Efrem Melnick of Temple Chai in Phoenix says that most of the friends he and he his wife, Jetta, have are through his synagogue “because that’s where our interests are.”

What draws him to Temple Chai is the feeling of “Jewish community, services and the congregation in general.” He tries to attend services regularly and has participated in adult education programs.

Seniors are “looking also for a social and spiritual activity like chavurahs (friendship groups),” Bright says.

Some social groups are open to the community, while others are limited to synagogue members.

Beth El Super Seniors is open to all seniors over 65. The group, organized by Irving and Frances Horn through Beth El Congregation, holds a luncheon with entertainment once a month.

Emanuel Seniors, for members in their late 60s and above, is run through Temple Emanuel of Tempe. It meets twice monthly, once for a program such as a lunch excursion or guest speaker, and once for a lunch-and-learn session with Rabbi Andrew Straus.

Temple Beth Israel’s Free Spirit Club, open to congregation members, offers trips, parties, theater outings and other events.

Temple Chai’s Dor L’Dor group, for members 62 and older, presents guest speakers, game and card socials and evening affairs.

Synagogues also offer several other ways for seniors to get involved, from sisterhoods and men’s clubs to attending classes.


Educational programming tends to be directed toward people of all ages.

“We try to balance the year with things that will attract different ages,” says Cohen of Beth El.

Taubman says that many seniors attend classes because “they have the time and the interest.”

Classes throughout the Valley range from Torah study and Hebrew to current events.

Temple Beth Shalom, where few members are younger than 60, “has programming just like every other congregation,” Abrams says. He says the synagogue is the “most energetic congregation I have been associated with in my 40 years as a rabbi. We have committees on committees, and we have people here all day because they are retired.”

He also notes that his congregation probably has more participation than those with a wider age range “because our members have more time, they’re more mature and they’re more interested in Jewish life at this age.”

Cohen says that members 75 and older seem to enjoy “more programming in the daytime because they’re not comfortable with driving at night.

“They’re hesitant to go out in the evening unless there is prearranged transportation,” she says.

In some areas, such as Sun City, transportation is arranged for those who can’t drive to classes and services. Many of the 30 or so retirement homes offer transportation to and from the synagogue.

At Beth El Congregation, Linda Barzilai coordinates carpools for Saturday morning services. Synagogue members pick up seniors at their homes and drop them off afterward.

In other areas, such as in the East Valley, congregants’ homes are so spread out distance-wise that it’s difficult to arrange transportation, says Evan Du Bro, administrator of Temple Emanuel.


Although Leah Rosenbluth, 87, would like to attend more classes, the distance between her home and Temple Beth Israel often dissuades her.

However, she does tries to attend Shabbat services as often as she can.

“When we sing and chant together in the synagogue, I have a wonderful sense of belonging,” she says.

She says attending services also brings a positive dimension to her life.

“Most of the prayers and poems that make up the service are expressions of gratitude to God for our lives and what we have in our lives. … Without perhaps our even realizing this, this gratitude opens the floodgates to a sense of well-being.”

At Beth Emeth, members participate in the services by reading English passages Bright assigns beforehand.

At Temple Beth Shalom, Abrams tries to keep the services upbeat with music and singing and says he likes “people to feel that this is a family congregation and each person is very important.”

Rabbi Zalman Levertov of the Bais Menachem Chabad Lubavitch in Phoenix says that for seniors, “coming to shul is like (visiting) extended family, especially if the person is alone.” On Friday evenings, congregation members invite widows and widowers, or seniors whose spouses are sick or in nursing homes, for Shabbat dinner “so they’re not by themselves.”

“When they have a community where they can go to and meet people and socialize, they look forward to it,” he says.


When members can’t make it to synagogue events, synagogues let them know that they aren’t forgotten.

For instance, as part of the social action committee, the Temple Emanuel Mispocha Family visits the ill and brings food to them during Hanukkah and other holidays, says Du Bro. This year, children from Eman-uel’s religious school made Rosh Hashana cards for seniors at Kivel Campus of Care.

Temple Chai’s Bikur Cholim (visiting the sick) program also provides a network between its members, and volunteers call, send cards or visit the ill or homebound.

“It’s not just taking care of the ill. … We also try to support the caregivers,” says Barzilai.

Temple Beth Shalom has a Caring Committee of some 40 members assigned to call and visit people who need assistance. “It’s a very important part of our outreach program,” Abrams says.

For seniors who have experienced loss, the Shalom Center for Education, Healing and Growth at Temple Chai provides support groups.

Volunteer work

Peerce is one of a number of volunteers involved in pioneering an intergenerational group at the Beth El Center for Early Childhood Education.

“I love kids. They’re all precious,” Peerce says. The program also gives him a chance to spend time with his grandchildren, who attend the school.

The volunteers work with preschoolers in the classroom, playing games and reading books.

“(The volunteers) have what we as teachers and parents often don’t, which is time,” says Carol Bell, preschool director.

“The children want to be listened to and heard, and the same is true for the older generation. Sometimes (seniors) have the time and skills and love but nobody to give it to.”

“We embrace them and they embrace us,” Bell says.

Another intergenerational program is “Pieces of our Past,” a program headed by Linda Feldman of the Bureau of Jewish Education in conjunction with the religious schools at Beth El, Beth Israel, Beth Shalom, Chai, Emanuel, Har Zion Congregation and Temple Solel.

Seniors in the program meet with fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders to discuss their past.

The four-week program gives them “an opportunity for them to interact together and for the seniors to share their Jewish history with the students. We want to determine what events in the seniors’ lives helped to develop the Jewish identity that they have today.”

“Seniors share their experiences with students and develop a relationship with them,” Feldman says.

“The elderly tend to volunteer a tremendous amount,” says Bright. “The synagogue could not survive on a daily basis without our beloved volunteers.”

At Beth Emeth, volunteers help run the synagogue’s office, publish the bulletin and work at the synagogue’s fledgling Hebrew school.

Volunteering is becoming “part of the community,” Bright says. “It comes as part and parcel of them being uplifted spiritually and socially.”

Seniors spread their work throughout the community through synagogue-sponsored programs. One example is Melnick, 77, who is active in a literacy program for elementary-age children through Temple Chai. Every week, he visits Phoenix public elementary schools to help students learn to read.

Efram and Jetta Melnick have also attended a Bikur Cholim training program at Temple Chai, and will donate their time to visit sick members of the congregation in hospitals and in their homes.

From volunteering and learning, to building friendships and continuing traditions, seniors 75 and older want from their synagogue what people in all age groups want – a place to belong.

This article first appeared in the Oct. 20, 2000 issue of Jewish News of Greater Phoenix.

Life composed of harmonies: Pianist Nicholas Grabow turns 95

Just three days after arriving in New York, 17-year old Miklos Grabovsky sits at a piano to audition at a New York silent movie theater. The room is dark, illuminated only by the film rolling on the screen.

The boy, watching the movie for the first time, plays music to capture the movie’s mood. He adapts selections from opera, classical and other complex compositions to accompany a rainstorm, a traveling train, and a love scene.

Grabovsky, who speaks only a few words of English, lets his fingers speak for him. He gets the job.

In the following years, he plays in exclusive New York clubs such as The Versailles Club, performs at Carnegie Hall, composes and arranges nearly 90 compositions, and plays piano in “Platinum Blonde,” a Columbia production starring Jean Harlow.

The composer and pianist, who later changed his name to Nicholas Grabow, has lived in Phoenix since 1977. He will celebrate his 95th birthday Saturday, Aug. 12.

Grabow, who currently teaches four piano students, was born in Odessa, Russia. When he was just 6 months old, his family – his parents and at the time nine siblings – escaped in a hay wagon to Poland, later settling in Budapest, Hungary.

He discovered his love for music when he was 3 years old.
“My older brother, who was a violinist … used to practice in the morning and I would sneak in, open the door and (go) to the piano. I would play (two keys) with two fingers,” Grabow says.

“My brother went over to my mother and said, ‘He has to be a pianist.’ ”

Both of his parents played piano, and they and their 12 children filled their home with sounds of music from violin, cello and piano and voice.

When Grabow was 12, he played with a band of gypsies performing at a restaurant outside of Budapest.

“I learned the gypsy life and I was very proud,” he says. “They’re tough people to please.”

He joined a Budapest musical band at age 15.
Grabow speaks five languages: English, Hungarian, Yiddish and a “little bit” of German and Russian.

When he was in his mid-teens, one of his sisters married a Canadian, and his mother – his father died in Budapest – moved the rest of the family to Canada. When he was 17, he and his brother, a violinist, moved to New York.

A large scrapbook holds memorabilia from his performance life. Printed concert programs from Jewish organizations, musicals and beauty pageants grace the scrapbook’s pages. He has kept menus from Moskowitz & Lupowitz, a New York Romanian restaurant where he played piano from 1939-1953, signed by Milton Berle, Eddie Cantor and Sid Caeser.

Grabow played at the Versailles Club restaurant from 1936-1939 and performed on a New Jersey radio talk show called “Pick a Tune” in 1950, where he played any song a listener requested.

At age 27, he married Esther, a ballet dancer from Rochester, N.Y. The couple were married for 61 years until her death in 1993.

He has a son, Howard, in Florida; a daughter, Diane Goldy, in Paradise Valley; two grandchildren and a great-grandchild.

Soon after his wife’s death, Grabow was introduced to Leah Rosenbluth, 87, through mutual friends. The two have been together since.

“Leah gave me more life,” Grabow says. Grabow and Rosenbluth enjoy dancing, performing and traveling. They try never to miss a family wedding or bar or bat mitzvah, wherever it is in the country, Rosenbluth says.

When he listens to music, Grabow prefers something “lively.” He enjoys playing “everything.” “He’s never gone after fame and fortune,” Rosenbluth says. “He’s very, very modest about his skills.”

Grabow shares lessons he’s learned throughout his life.
“I get along with everybody, that’s the main thing – to get along. Listen, listen. Give a little, take a little.”

Pamela Nilsson, 54, has taken piano lessons from Grabow since 1989 and admires him greatly. “He has such a positive outlook on life,” she says. “He’s always looking at the good side and stressing being happy and healthy.”

For his 90th birthday, Rosenbluth threw Grabow a birthday party at the Sheraton Crescent Hotel in Phoenix. Sixty-one of his relatives from eight states came to celebrate.

He will commemorate his 95th birthday with three parties – two with friends and one with family. “We’re saving the big party for the 100th birthday,” Rosenbluth says.

This article first appeared in the Aug. 11, 2000 issue of Jewish News of Greater Phoenix.

World traveler settles at WV Valley – for now

The tapestry of Jolana Von Fabian’s life is as colorful as the art pieces in the West Valley Art Museum gift shop she manages.

Von Fabian, who recently relocated from Cleveland, has worked at the museum, located at 17420 N. Avenue of the Arts in Surprise, since February.

Von Fabian was born in Czechoslovakia, survived the Holocaust, traveled extensively throughout the world collecting art and buying clothes, owned art galleries and clothing boutiques, and has been married and divorced twice.

Her entire family, except for Von Fabian and a younger sister, Judy, were killed during World War II. She says that prior to being sent to a concentration camp, her mother had arranged for her daughters to receive papers that stated they were Christians.

Although she was only 13, Jolana (pronounced “yo-lah-na”) went to work as a housemaid for Christian families. Judy, 10 years younger, lived in a convent.

After the war ended, Von Fabian had a visa for the United States, but since the quota was filled, her choices for immigration were Israel, South Africa and Australia. She says she didn’t want to go to Israel because at that time she “was very bitter. I couldn’t imagine living just with Jews. I blamed everybody for what happened to us,” she says.

She didn’t want to go to South Africa because, “my knowledge of Africa was that they would put me in a kettle and cook me. I was so ignorant. It’s a shame to think of it like that.

“(People) said that in Australia, there were wealthy men waiting for you at shipside (who would) marry you off immediately. So that’s where I went, with my sister.” When the two arrived, “It was nothing like that,” she says.

In Sydney, Australia, she went to the Jewish Welfare Society, where she was told to seek factory work. She refused and learned dressmaking instead.

A Jewish family adopted her younger sister.

Von Fabian worked as a dressmaker during the day and as a waitress at night, “Life was very colorful,” she says.

While working at the restaurant, she met her first husband, Jimmy King, who worked in the fashion industry during the day and as a cook in the evening. They were married three weeks later. She was 21.

After marrying, Von Fabian went into business, traveling internationally to barter-trade fashion. Because she missed her husband during her travels, she opted to work closer to home and opened a delicatessen in Sydney. Within a few years, she sold the deli and returned to traveling the world, “selling, wheeling, dealing,” she says.

Meanwhile, she studied art.

When she was 34, she and King ended their 13-year marriage. A few years later, she married Kurt Barry, a wealthy widower with two young children and a factory owner. They married about a month after they met.

Von Fabian says that gradually, her bitterness toward God faded.

“I believe that God is here with us now, watching us this minute. Through living the life I lived, I blamed God for what happened. And then I got out of all that and understood that God maybe had nothing to do with that.”

When she was in her late 30s, she visited her homeland, now called Slovakia. Seeing her by then-dilapidated childhood home, she felt “no feeling. Dead. Nothing.”

“As a child, I had to wear a yellow star,” she says. “We had to say ‘Heil Hitler,’ but instead I said ‘drei liter,’ which means ‘three gallons.’ One guy beat the heck out of me because he found out that’s what I said.

“I had lots of friends I went to school with my whole life. (After the war started) they beat me and they kicked me around. My friends. Because I was Jewish. I didn’t want to have anything to do with them. There’s nothing there. This is past. This is dead.”

After her husband had a heart attack, the family relocated to Australia’s Gold Coast resort community. Von Fabian learned more about art and became an art dealer. She again traveled throughout the world while her husband and children remained in Australia. She met Chagall and Picasso.

“I’m a gypsy, you see,” she says.

Von Fabian speaks fluent English, Italian, German, Czech, Hungarian and Polish and understands Russian and other Slav languages.

Then, after 14 years of marriage, she and Barry divorced.

Von Fabian started an art gallery and then a framing store. She moved to San Francisco only to discover that opening a gallery there would be out of her price range, so she set out for Cleveland, to live with relatives that she had never met. She opened a fashion store and traveled throughout the United States and the world yet again, buying and selling clothing.

Then about five months ago, Von Fabian moved from Cleveland to Surprise to be near her sister, a Sun City resident who works as a private nurse for Alzheimer’s patients.

Von Fabian, 72, has been working at the museum for almost two months and looks forward to – what else? – traveling as a buyer for the gift shop. She plans to visit trade fairs and meet other art gallery and gift shop managers. Her plans for the museum shop include changing the selection of merchandise and incorporating more exhibit-related merchandise.

Her home is filled with her collection of some 50 paintings, as well as sculptures, sculpted rocks and little shoes made of wood, porcelain and other materials.

“There is no extra space,” she says. She says her favorite place to view her art is the bathroom. “I can sit and look and look. Because there is peace; no one to bug me, no phones,” she says.

How does she look at her life?

“To me, life is what you make it,” she says. “I don’t look back at history. I can’t change it.”

This article first appeared in the April 21, 2000 issue of Jewish News of Greater Phoenix.