Sunday, December 2, 1973. I was 19 years old and a junior in college. My father’s older brother, Izzie died. Uncle Izzy was a bachelor who lived his adult life with his older sister, Ella Freedman Klein and her family. He worked for RCA in Camden, New Jersey. He had a factory job, but amassed a small fortune of about $60,000 in savings. He left a will bequeathing his entire estate to Aunt Ella. My father was infuriated. He believed that his brother, who executed a will during his final illness (he had diabetes his entire adult life), was the victim of his sister’s undue influence. My father accused his older sister, my Aunt Ella, of greed: of wanting to appropriate the entire estate, when, no doubt — at least according to my father — his brother, Izzy, would have wanted all his siblings to share equally.
My sister’s husband, Eddie talked to a friend, a lawyer, about the family situation. The lawyer recommended that my father and his siblings hire a lawyer to challenge Irwin Freedman’s will. According to the lawyer, my father could make a creditable case of undue influence, invalidating the will, and allowing Uncle Izzy’s estate to pass equally to the surviving brothers and sisters. (My father had five surviving siblings). The lawyer recommended a colleague, Martin Herring, Esq. My father proceeded to corral his brothers and sisters into agreeing to hire Martin Herring to contest the will, at the urging of my brother-in-law. And so a will contest was had. In the end, Ella Klein settled, agreeing to pay about $1,000 to each of her siblings and keeping the remainder of Uncle Izzy’s estate.
The will contest caused a schism in my father’s family. Aunt Ella became a pariah. It was as if she had been placed under a decree of banishment. My father and his brother and four sisters never spoke to her again. Years later, in July 1976, my mother didn’t even inform Aunt Ella of my father’s death. Presumably, Aunt Ella learned about her younger brother’s passing in the Jewish Exponent weeks later.
Saturday, April 29, 1967. I was a 13-year-old eighth grader. In the afternoon I listened to the opera, Die Walküre, the second in a weekly series of radio broadcasts of Wagner’s four-part Ring of the Nibelung. Late in the afternoon my mother, sister, and I visited Aunt Ella, my father’s older sister. It was Passover week. Every year, my mother prepared a large, traditional Jewish meal for the holiday, though we didn’t have a Seder.
When I was a small child in the 1950s, just before Passover, my mother used to take me to the still extant Jewish market in my father’s old neighborhood in North Philadelphia to buy carp and whitefish for gefilte fish and a kosher chicken for soup. In the early years of their marriage, my parents lived in an apartment in that neighborhood, near Aunt Ella, who taught my mother the art of Jewish cuisine. There was a vibrant street life on Marshall Street, a bustling marketplace in the heart of the Jewish Northern Liberties community. Jewish merchants set up pushcarts or worked in storefronts selling a variety of goods and services. The pushcart area was basically a bazaar. It was akin to what you think of the mall today, but all outdoors. There were pushcarts on both sides of the street – one right next to each other. There were pushcarts for bananas, a pushcart for potatoes, one for produce. As a small child, I witnessed that world.
On this April afternoon in 1967, I chatted with Aunt Ella about my eagerness to start high school in the fall. Like Aunt Ella’s son, Leonard, I would be attending Central. She mentioned that she did volunteer work at the Widener School, a school for disabled children, which was near Central’s campus.
Later in the week, Aunt Ella spoke with my father. He said she gushed to him about what a fine young man I was turning into.