Of Blessed Memory

Beverly Auerbach Pressman z''l

sweet voice, kind smile
mother, wife, mentor, friend
singer, teacher, dreamer, doer
no, never
never gone
always, always, always living, loving, longing, learning, leading
not long
dear bev, dear friend, dearly departed
don't go

Sylvia Wubnig z"l

Mrs. Wubnig was the best teacher I ever met. She was brilliant, witty, insightful, honest and entertaining. On the first day of Sophomore English at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, MD she informed us that our purpose in being there was to entertain her. And she meant it. She truly enjoyed her job, sponsoring school-sanctioned and unofficial activities on her own time and often in her own back yard. She taught us to write, edit, criticize, analyze and appreciate the beauty of written words. Many of us went on to enjoy her insights in AP English as Seniors. She was flexible in our tracked education system, teaching the most gifted as well as the most challenged students. She brooked no nonsense from the juvenile delinquents and no second-rate work from the whiz kids. When a paper was still-born, she sent it back. When a student excelled, she offered happy praise.

Her husband Arthur died young. Although she suffered with him in his illness, she maintained her professional standards and survived him for almost forty years, passing away in the Fall of 2008 at the age of 100, outliving a daughter and some of her former students. She retired from the county school system at a normal age and then went on to teach in Jewish schools for many more years. She was scrupulous in segregating her Jewish community life from her public school teaching but it became clear years later that she was dedicated to repairing the world through involvement in community projects and charitable giving.

I last saw Mrs. Wubnig about ten years before her death, perched on a folding chair outside the main office of the school as its alumni from all classes took their final tours of the campus prior to the school's relocation to a new site. She still remembered me and my classmates by name, even recalling our adopted personae from Greek mythology. She had assigned us those alter egos more than 30 years earlier based on a few weeks of acquaintance. Many of them were insightful reflections of our true personalities!

I was a tech geek in high school, destined to study engineering at MIT, but Sylvia Wubnig instilled in me a passion for writing that never subsided. I am retired now. No one ever hired me to write. But every company for which I worked received an extra measure of attention to expression as I wrote my own papers and presentations and helped others with theirs. An employee once honored me with the compliment "You give good review." That was Mrs. Wubnig working through me. 

Rest in peace, Sylvia. You inspired generations of students with your passion for teaching and learning. We dedicate ourselves to perpetuating your ideals of clarity, accuracy, charity and good humor.

Norman Joseph Tavan z''l

January 8, 1928 - November 19, 2010, Aged almost 83

My Dad, Norman Tavan, was born on January 8, 1928 in Washington, D.C. His father was in the wholesale liquor business and later in the retail automobile business. His mother was a homemaker. In high school he developed interests in photography, aviation and the love of his life, my Mom, Evelyn. Dad worked part-time during high school as a news and studio photographer, earning enough money to finance flying lessons and to earn his private pilot's certificate. After high school graduation, he enlisted in the Navy as an Aviation Cadet. The Navy sent him to college at Yale but the war was over and he and Mom soon left college to get married. Although they regretted dropping out of school, their marriage resulted in the birth of their two sons who remain eternally grateful. 

Dad worked a variety of jobs, always returning to his passion, photography. He worked for several studios in Washington, D.C., ran his own commercial photography business for a while and finally settled in to the photography department at the US Department of Health, Education and Welfare which later became Health and Human Services. He worked there until his retirement around 1993. He particularly enjoyed the many opportunities his government job provided to photograph celebrities - politicians, athletes and entertainers. Often he managed to get himself into a picture and these became his favorite souvenirs.

Dad’s photography did not end when he left the studio and did not stop with his generation. My brother and I both spent many hours with him in his basement darkroom, learning the ins and outs of film and paper photography. The lessons really stuck with Steve, who remains an accomplished artist photographer to this day, with several one-man exhibitions to his credit. And Dad’s grandson Jeremy is also an avid photographer with exhibition credentials.

I got interested in radio as a child and nagged my father to build me a shortwave receiver. With that, we discovered amateur radio. This led to us both earning our amateur licenses in 1961 and embarking on a fascinating, life-long hobby. Dad particularly enjoyed building electronic kits, including that first basic receiver, a more serious transceiver, an RF power amplifier and a television set. He also developed a large circle of radio friends with whom he chatted on the air, weekly while working and daily after retirement, until he could no longer follow the conversations. For years he was a volunteer grader at license examination sessions conducted by the Laurel (MD) Amateur Radio Club. Although they are not active, both my wife and my son Jeremy also earned amateur radio licenses.

Dad never returned to aviation after marriage and career interrupted it, but he did take Steve and me along when he flew occasionally with friends. His interest in aerospace rubbed off on us both and we each enjoyed a stint at MIT's C. S. Draper Lab in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Steve works now at the Army Natick Research Lab, managing the development of guided parachutes for precision air drop. After years of procrastination, I finally earned my private pilot's license in 1996. My proudest moments as a pilot were taking Dad for rides, once in Maryland in a rented Cessna and later, on one of his visits to California, in my own airplane. He was already fading mentally but he noted to my surprise and delight one time, “Hey, you’re leaving the pattern.” (We don’t usually do the sort of short approach that was de rigeur in his day.) And Dad’s grandson Dan is also a licensed pilot, making aviation another three generation family affair.

My folks loved their home town, Washington, D.C. where they both were born, and were avid fans of the Washington Redskins football team. They followed the Redskins religiously, watching every game and enjoying game day and Super Bowl parties with their neighbors. They lived most of their married lives in the D.C. suburbs, mainly Silver Spring, MD. They enjoyed a beautiful home in the Peach Orchard Heights subdivision where they were surrounded by wonderful friends. They stayed in close touch with family in and out of the Washington area and with fast friends they had known since high school. In October, 2008, at the urging of their sons, they moved to Saratoga Retirement Community in California. They enjoyed a year in an assisted living apartment and then transitioned into the Special Care Unit as Dad’s Alzheimer’s disease made living more difficult.

Dad was the archetype good patient.  In the early stages of his disease, he would joke about his failing memory by asking “What’s a memory?” For a few years he would repeat routine questions over and over. “Did I bring in the paper? Have we picked up the mail?” Later, he seemed to realize that he was repeating himself and simply stopped asking. His case progressed very slowly. Already showing signs of memory loss in his mid 60’s, he declined gradually and did not lose basic living skills until over the age of 80. For many years he retained his excellent driving skills, although he needed my Mom to remind him where they were going. He swam almost daily at the community pool, from the time he retired until he moved to California, although my Mom had to do the driving after he was no longer able. Towards the end, he could no longer remember how many laps he had done, so he would just do two which was, by then, ample exercise. Sometimes he had trouble finding his locker, but the other retirees at the pool would help him out. He loved his “paddle in the puddle” and it was one of the few activities he remembered well enough to miss when he moved to California. In fact, he never really accepted that he was in California, preferring to believe that he was still at home in his “castle” in Maryland. In the last year of his life, the disease accelerated, robbing him of one skill after another. But as his devoted wife, my Mom, would continuously proclaim, “He never complains.”

No, Dad never complained. He loved his family and did not want much else. When asked what he did want for an upcoming occasion, his standard response was the light-hearted “a ten inch stack of hundred dollar bills,” one of a modest repertoire of jokes that he never tired of repeating.  He knew his responsibilities and met them without a whimper. When photography jobs were scarce, he never sat idle, accepting less interesting jobs in order to keep bread on the table. When he had two sons in college, he sold his house and moved into an apartment, with no regrets. When he got back on his financial feet and was able once more to buy a house, he smiled in satisfaction and kept on working. When his sons pursued careers out of town, he didn’t complain or nag us to return to D.C., but he basked in our presence on every visit in both directions. He set an example of persistence and dedication that the rest of us still try to follow.

In ham radio parlance, Dad is now a “silent key.” In aviation circles, they say he has “gone west.” But he will live forever in the hearts of those who love him.

Evelyn Migdal Tavan z’’l

September 1, 1927 – March 17, 2017, Aged 89 ½

There is no greater love than the love of a mother for her children and my Mom demonstrated that with her every breath. She had two sons, my brother Steve and me. She cared for us, taught us, guided us, saved and sacrificed for us. She loved our dad just as much, of course, but only her sons and, by extension, her daughters-in-law, were perfect.

My folks were inseparable. They dropped out of college to marry and raise their family. Initially a stay-at-home Mom, once my brother and I were both in school, she went to work to supplement the family income and pay her share of household expenses. She served loyally at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab in a series of increasingly responsible, administrative jobs until she retired at 67.

Her adult children could do no wrong and, in her old-age memory, we never had, even when young:  We never cried as infants, never fought with each other as children, never missed an opportunity to do good, even as teenagers, and we both excelled in our professions as adults. She exaggerated the good and I’m pretty sure she forgot a few of our missteps, but who’s counting? She was so proud that she considered raising us to be the primary accomplishment of her life. We’re skeptical about the hyperbole but pleased with her work – thanks, Mom!

As she aged and could no longer recall what she had said to whom, or even who the people around her were, she spoke less. But whenever I came down the hall in the nursing home, she would beam, joyfully exclaiming to the CNA’s (whom I already knew well), and to anyone else in earshot, “That’s my son!”

My mother was personable and lovable and made friends easily, but she was also quiet, shy, and timid. Growing up as a teenager in Washington, D.C. during the Holocaust, her world view may have been shaped by her immigrant parents’ losses of friends and family who had remained in Europe. The news alone was pretty scary in those times. She was afraid of strangers, crowds, dirt, disease, disaster, crime, and war. She kept a coaster on TOP of her always-handy water glass in her immaculate, dust-free home. She worried about every report of natural disaster west of the Appalachians, anxiously calling to make sure her California family was safe. Death was so scary that she could not hold the Siddur open to the page containing the Mourners’ Kaddish. And yet, despite her fears, she met her responsibilities well as a wife, mother, employee, neighbor, and citizen. She was kind to everyone and everyone loved her in return. She held various positions with the same employer for 35 years. After that, she took care of my Dad for 15 years as he slowly lost his ability to care for himself. She saved enough money to fund a comfortable retirement for them both, although health issues, first my Dad’s and then her own, soon challenged the concept of “comfort.”

My Mom may have been timid, but she was also persistent. One of her favorite maxims when facing adversity was “This, too, will pass.” She enrolled in night classes at a local junior college in her late forties to complete an Associate’s Degree, a matter of personal pride. She took care of her health, which was remarkably good. The only surgery of which I am aware was before I was born, when an acute appendicitis attack almost killed her as a young girl in the 1930’s. As an adult, she had a few treatable conditions, but nothing critical, nothing that required family to scurry to her side, until the long series of problems that culminated in her passing last Friday. She was tenacious in her six years of final illnesses, sometimes wishing it over but usually trying her best to take my advice to “go with the flow.” It broke my heart to see her suffer but her love shined through it all. 

Whatever good traits I might possess came from my Mom. The bad ones, … well, I don’t know where they came from. I’ll take personal responsibility for them, just as she taught me. Rest in peace, Mom. We love you.

More about my Mom:

My mother was the middle of three sisters, each seven years apart from her. Her older sister Bertha was born in Europe while my grandparents were en route from Russia to America. Mom and her younger sister Alice were born in Washington, D.C. Their father, Sidney Migdal, was a tailor, eventually owning and operating a small men’s clothing store in Hyattsville, MD. Their mother, Jennie Migdal, nee Moskowitz, was the local Hadassah “tree lady.” They belonged to Congregation Adas Israel in downtown Washington. I vaguely recall discussions during my childhood of my grandfather contributing to the synagogue’s building fund when it moved to its current location at Connecticut and Porter. I took solace in the opportunity to visit Adas Israel just two weeks ago for a USCJ meeting and Shabbaton. When I returned, my Mom’s dimming eyes lit up when I told her I had been to her childhood synagogue. Yes, she remembered Adas Israel.

My mother and father never strayed far from D.C. until health issues necessitated their move to assisted living here in California. Never particularly religious, they nonetheless put Steve and me through Hebrew School at the Conservative shul Montgomery County Jewish Community, now known as Congregation Ohr Kodesh, in Chevy Chase, MD. I visited there last June, noting that it had enjoyed two major renovations since I left town in the 1960’s. When they moved farther out from the city, and recovered from the financial impact of helping their sons through college, my folks joined local Conservative Congregation Shaare Tefila. They were never active but enjoyed senior transportation assistance as their driving range diminished.

When I finally took over my parents’ finances back in 2008, I discovered that Mom had accumulated ample funds to cover their retirement, which began in the 1990s. That’s a good thing, because Dad never saved much at all and, as Alzheimer’s began to take over his life, he had had to retire a little early. Mom kept working for a few more years until they could burn the mortgage, and then devoted herself to being Dad's full-time monitor. After 15 years of managing his life as well as her her own, her energy and cognition had also declined, to the point where they needed to leave their hard-earned, self-proclaimed “castle” in Maryland and move to assisted living at Saratoga Retirement Community. As Dad’s condition deteriorated, he needed the services of the memory care unit, but Mom could not bear to be separated from him, so they got a room together there. By the time he eventually died, she needed that level of care herself. She stayed in that excellent facility until Parkinson’s took away her stability and she had to transfer to the long-term care unit across the street where she spent her final years.