Sharing Memories of Toby

Members shared these memories with Rabbi Julie. If you would like to share your memories of Toby, please add them as comments (at the bottom of the post).

Sara Kravits (presented at Toby’s funeral)

Thank you for the opportunity to share memories of Toby. Everything Toby Stein was, she was FIERCELY. I don’t think she could be any other way. Fiercely authentic, always completely herself. Fiercely perceptive, and would tell you exactly what she was perceiving, even if you weren’t quite ready to hear it. Fiercely loyal to the people in her life. Fiercely angry at injustice. Fiercely brilliant at putting thoughts into words. I’ve had a lot of challenges in my family life and Toby was fiercely present for me and for my three unique, creative children. She said something about them once that struck me so much I wrote it down: “They are fragile on their way to greatness.” I’m still learning fierce — but I have Toby to thank for any progress I’ve made. She will always be teaching me.

Toby sent me a poem once that I put on my wall, it’s fabulous, and so very Toby!  Here it is:

I asked God if it was okay to be melodramatic
and she said yes
I asked her if it was okay to be short
and she said it sure is
I asked her if I could wear nail polish
or not wear nail polish
and she said honey
she calls me that sometimes
she said you can do just exactly
what you want to
Thanks God I said
And is it even okay if I don’t paragraph
my letters
Sweetcakes God said
who knows where she picked that up
what I’m telling you is
Yes Yes Yes
— Kaylin Haught

Sharon Hurwich

Years ago Toby and I bonded over our love of shoes. I think she may have admired a pair of boots I was wearing to services. We had quite a few conversations about our fondness for specific brands of shoes. I remember taking Toby shopping a couple of times, not just for shoes, but for general shopping. On one of these trips she directed me to a huge second hand, or thrift store, I’m not even quite sure where. I vaguely remember traveling on Route 22 to get there. We had a delightful morning picking up bargains together. I will remember Toby fondly for her love of fashion and design, especially when I snuggle under the Yankees fleece blanket that I bought for a song at that gigantic thrift store.

Linda Ariel
One memory is that of Toby Stein chairing the annual auction. She has had clear ideas of the setting, the ambiance, the items to be auctioned, who the auctioneer would be, and who would be working with her. It always was a fun evening, and it was always very profitable. Toby convinced her the owner of a salon in downtown Montclair, who was actually the person who did her hair, to donate a service, and he has been the person who has taken care of my hair for the past 30 years.
Over the years, I intermittently volunteered to drive Toby to various appointments and to the synagogue. I learned that similar to my experience of engaging in meaningful conversations with each of my sons while shuttling them to events, Toby and I were able to communicate most clearly and personally about feelings and perceptions. I always came away from each interaction learning more about myself and Toby.
After conferring with Merrill Silver and Judy Wildman, we believe that either for her 70th or 75th birthday, Toby decided to celebrate this milestone in the Social Hall with the community on a Sunday. Board games, including Scrabble, were set up on many tables, and the agenda was to gather together and have fun in celebrating with Toby. And I indeed had fun with her and all of her friends. What a great idea!
John Lasiter

I used to take Toby to and from medical appointments. On almost every trip, during the drive, she’d talk non-stop and tell me some story about her past. Being a woman copywriter in an all-male advertising firm in the 60s, something about the book she was writing, a tale from her difficult childhood or her journey from Judaism to Catholicism and back to Judaism. I couldn’t get a word or question in edge-wise! I came to call the drives the “Toby Show.” At first it annoyed me, but soon I found myself wondering what the next episode would bring! Goodbye Toby, I’ll miss you.

Gail Reikin Tuzman

I was saddened to hear about Toby’s passing. When I was teaching at Barnard, Toby shared with me how important Barnard was to her when she was a student and faced some personal loses. She also taught me the correct way to pronounce Barnard. I was reminded of her whenever I heard someone pronounce it the wrong way. (The wrong way, according Toby, is to pronounce it to rhyme with barnyard, without the y, with two distinct syllables. The way Toby said it, the emphasis was on the first syllable Bar. To me her way sounded more like Barnerd.)

She was a fixture at Shomrei when I lived in Montclair and attended services regularly. May her memory be for a blessing.

Judy Wildman

Toby suffered great loss in her life because of the death of her father when she was 9 years old and the death of her mother just after she started Barnard College.  She soldiered on and was forever grateful to Barnard for helping her fund her education and giving her the moral support she needed to get through.   Toby was throughout her life a very principled person– she was smart and thoughtful, she always sent a thank you note and always brought a present– and fiercely loyal to her friends and to this community.   She became close with several families with young children and she developed meaningful relationships with every member of the family, including the children.  She enjoyed all their special occasions and she kvelled and swelled with pride at their accomplishments.    She had strong opinions about everything and everyone and stood up for what she believed in.  Toby always spoke her mind no matter the consequences.  She praised lavishly and spoke the truth as she saw it.

Lisa Pendola

Toby was a character! She had New York style. That’s a favorite of mine. She became one of my first friends at Shomrei, decades ago.

Thank you, Toby, for making this congregation a place where I could begin building my Jewish home.

Nick Levitin

Six or seven years ago Shomrei kindly offered me the opportunity to have an exhibit of my photographs. I felt very honored to have more than 25 of my prints on display. Toby had expressed an interest in my work and was very eager to see the exhibit, but wanted to look at it with me during the week, not on a busy Shabbat morning. I picked her up and brought her to Shomrei and took her to the gallery where she went from one photograph to another, spending several minutes at each. After a half hour, she came full circle, and I asked if she was ready to leave. “No,” she replied, “I want to look at them again.” And, she did.

To have an exhibit of one’s work is very flattering, but to have someone engage with every photograph in the way that Toby did was for me one of the most meaningful expressions of appreciation that my work has received. Toby was a great champion and supporter of my photography work. I will always remember her keen interest in it and think of her often.

Alex Kent

Toby was quite the character! She was a strong, opinionated woman who also had a soft side. As someone who I believe started out Jewish, converted to Catholicism, and then back to Judaism, she always was curious about my feelings as a convert to Judaism, and was supportive of ways to help converts feel comfortable in the Jewish world.

She was always very complimentary to me and my husband, who she seemed to hold in special esteem for his role as a doctor at New York Hospital where she was a sometime patient.

But I think the story that stands out the most was her love for my car, which I drove to often take her to Doctor’s appointments for the Mensch Squad. It is a bright blue, and she seemed to love the panache of being chauffered around in such a distinctively colored car. She never failed to mention it, and Dale and others have heard about it as well! She was a stylish woman, and I think she liked to cut a dashing figure. Somehow, my car fit into that narrative.

There was never any shortage of conversation when you were with Toby, among topics far and wide, and she had strong opinions on all of them. She was always entertaining and thought-provoking, even when I couldn’t always follow her logic.

She was one in a million, and a woman who set a unique path for herself, and carried it off with panache. May she rest in peace.

Aileen Grossberg

Toby was a complicated and complex woman. She was sophisticated and worldly but inside was still that teenager who had just lost her mother and was now an orphan.

Toby was a wordsmith: she used words carefully and precisely. She wrote several novels as well as a cookbook called How to Appeal to a Man’s Appetite. How very mid-20th century.

Toby’s first language was Yiddish and she went to Yiddish summer camp. But her work was in flawless and precise English. At Barnard – the college which she was always faithful to – she won an English writing prize. And it was Barnard she credits for saving her when her mother died, leaving her poor, alone, and homeless.

Toby did have some family- a much older brother Sol but the relationship was fraught. And there were friends.

As a child many people passed through the Stein household which was rich in ideas if not in money. Jimmy was like an older brother. And who was âJimmy? James Baldwin.

Toby had a successful career in advertising in the days when women were few and far between. And later she was a superb editor.

Toby loved kids although she had none of her own. She knew how to talk to them. At Shomrei, you could often see her in deep conversation with the young children and this continued as they grew older.

Toby was always asking me about my grandchildren whom she had briefly met. And she really was interested in Suzanne and Max. She had been a guest at Rebecca’s wedding. Her takeaway – how good-looking my son -in-law’s father was!

She was sentimental: birthdays were a big thing. She gave herself a couple of memorable parties which she hosted at Shomrei since her small apartment couldn’t hold all her friends.

But what is most striking about Toby is that she was a seeker. She spent many years looking for a spiritual home. But finally found it where she had begun – in Judaism and, at last,  at Shomrei. Toby wrote many a fundraising letter for Shomrei, ran several successful auctions and even helped in the kitchen. When Toby asked, it was difficult to say no.

Her last project was her memoir. But it was not simply a record of her life. It was the story of her spiritual journey. I, and some others, were privileged to have read a draft or two. Unfortunately this project was never completed and we will never hear all those stories that Toby had bottled up inside her.

Yes, Toby was complex and complicated, and even difficult at times. But she was talented, hard-working, and made an impact. She did not hesitate to praise and she was generous to a fault within her ability to give.

She loved people all her life: those around her became her family. She had many stories to tell and led quite a life.

But in the end, Toby was still that college freshman all alone – an orphan – who needed to make her way in the world.

Addendum from Aileen Grossberg

I forgot one of the most important things about Toby – maybe someone else has mentioned it.
She loved chocolate. Even before dark chocolate was popular here, she was a devotee. No milk chocolate for Toby. I would often bring back French dark chocolate for her- even supermarket chocolate is better than most American chocolate- and she loved it. That’s why she had a chocolate cake for her last birthday at Shomrei.

More Reflections on the Civil Rights Trip

Editor’s Note: Trip participants were asked to share one powerful and specific impression from the trip.

Fern Heinig

For me, the trip was about learning what I thought I had already learned.

Being born in 1959, the Civil Rights movement was part of my Social Studies classes throughout my Junior and Senior High School years.  This trip made me realize I learned about select people and events presented in isolation of actual history and the movement in its entirety.   I gained a different perspective of Black history in this country and a new understanding of current issues facing Black Americans in this country.  You can only try to understand  “walking in someone else’s shoes”, but you can never know what it is truly like.

SUNDAY SERVICE AT EBENEEZER BAPTIST CHURCH, ATLANTA GA

Sol Bernstein

Actually, I was seriously impacted by the Pastor’s sermon at the Sunday morning service at the Ebeneezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.  The message was the Garden of Gethsemene.  And having one’s troubles while in the garden and being able to rely on faith and g-d and time and one’s inner strength to raise up and rise out of one’s misfortune and find the strength to prevail and overcome.  While others saw this as just a prayer of hope for someone down on their luck in the black community, I saw it as a personal message to each individual (no matter from what community) to find strength in any challenging period of time in their lives. It was universal and spoke to me as much as any other sermon could.

Michael Legman

Prior to entering the church we met in the park across the street. It was Veterans Day weekend, and our guide mentioned that during the church service they were going to honor veterans. Our guide went on to mention that after WW II black veterans were excluded from the GI bill. I had never heard that before. I had been taught that the GI Bill was the major economic driver that substantially expanded the middle class after WW II. Being excluded from the GI bill meant an entire generation of Black veterans did not participate in one of the largest economic expansions in US history creating a huge wealth gap between Black and White Americans. I grew up during the civil rights movement but never studied it in school. This trip open my eyes to both the overt and subtle ways of racism.

As I entered the church, this stark reality was juxtaposed by seeing many parishioners in uniform, proud to have served our country. The service was upbeat, full of joy. They made us feel welcome. A hopeful sign that we are learning to live together.

EQUAL JUSTICE INITIATIVE’S MEMORIAL TO PEACE AND JUSTICE, MONTGOMERY AL 

Risa Bernstein

The Civil Rights trip to the deep south was so powerful, it impacted me in ways I couldn’t have anticipated until being there.  There were so many visceral and memorable moments, it is hard to pick one.  But perhaps the place that was most transformative for me personally was the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama, that I only wish were more accessible for every American who needs to bear witness.  The combination of the Legacy Museum and the Lynching Memorial embody the whole experience with raw and naked pain.  One can read about the horrors of random and mass lynchings for years, and not begin to experience the atrocity as you do when you cannot even see past all those columns literally hanging from above.  Every state.  So many names.  So much complicity.

And then, to enter the actual Legacy Museum, which is made even more powerful by all its modern technology that enables full immersion through site, sound, holograms, virtual reality, time travel, etc.  The narrative of slavery to emancipation to reconstruction to Jim Crow/Lynching to mass incarceration is so clear and linear, it cannot be ignored.  Nor forgotten.

And as we stand at the brink of hatred and bias still, AND again, it is such a powerful reminder that silence is complicity, and in humanity, there is no room to curse the darkness but only to be the light.

Sarita Eisenberg

I knew about The National Memorial for Peace and Justice – dedicated to the victims of racial terror lynchings but reading about it did not prepare me for experiencing it. There are 805 slabs, one for each county in which at least one lynching occurred. Some of the slabs have just one or a few people listed but others have so many that they had to be listed in two columns in smaller-sized letters to fit. It’s chilling to see a slab with so many individuals listed on the same date – often with the same last name or listed as unknown. The slabs are suspended overhead, initially at eye level and then farther and farther overhead, so that it seemed like masses of bodies strung up above me. There was a wall listing reasons for the lynchings some after accusations of rape or other crimes but many for violating arbitrary codes of conduct – not moving aside, not looking down, not saying ‘sir’ – or for reporting crimes by white people against themselves to the police. And lest I felt inclined to think of this as just a Southern issue, there was a slab with a lynching in New Jersey as well as in other Northern states.

Melanie Grossberg (daughter of Aileen Grossberg)

Reflecting on my trip, I find myself continually drawn back to the profound impact of the Equal Justice Initiative’s (EJI) Legacy Sites in Montgomery, Alabama. My visits to the National Memorial for Peace and Justice and the Legacy Museum were incredibly moving experiences. What struck me most was the meticulous attention to detail in every aspect of these sites. From their strategic locations to the intricacy of their architectural choices, it was evident that they were designed to evoke deep emotional responses through thoughtful aesthetics.

The National Memorial for Peace and Justice, set against the backdrop of downtown Montgomery, presented a vivid contrast. The beauty of its surroundings sharply juxtaposed the grave subject it honors: the more than 4,400 Black people killed in racial terror lynchings between 1877 and 1950. The transition from the welcoming green of the entrance to the oppressive atmosphere inside was immediate and striking. Upon entering, I encountered rows of over 800 steel slabs, each representing a county where lynchings took place, which corralled me into the somber experience. These slabs, initially resembling coffins, transformed into haunting representations of bodies as the path wound down, eventually leaving me beneath them. This experience was akin to moving through a forest and was both unsettling and deeply moving.

We then visited the Legacy Museum, a separate but connected experience. The museum further explored themes of racial injustice. A particularly striking feature that linked back to the Memorial was a wall of jars, each filled with soil from different lynching sites. This was a poignant connection to the Memorial and a stark reminder of the harsh realities they represent.

EQUAL JUSTICE INITIATIVE’S LEGACY MUSEUM, MONTGOMERY AL

Linda Blume

One of the experiences that continues to resonate for me is the opening exhibit at the Equal Justice Initiative’s Legacy Museum. Through a combination of sound, light, and sculpture we experience a bit of the ocean journey that enslaved people went through.  Each of the realistic and emotionally moving sculptures in the exhibit was handcrafted by an artist and vividly depicts a unique individual and their humanity. As we listen to the waves rolling in, we learn that 12 million people were captured and brought here and that two million died on the journey. While I  had learned, of course, about the “middle passage”, this exhibit gave me a new awareness and deeper understanding of the scale of this historical event, the human lives that were so abruptly disrupted and its continuing impact on our country and the world.

Vicki Comptor Lefkowitz

Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park

I participated in the Shomrei Civil Right trip in order to understand the concepts of slavery, to reconstruction to mass incarceration more deeply. In less than three days, I was exposed to so many of the injustices the black community has had to endure for hundreds of years. My understanding and empathy are greatly heightened, At the Equal Justice Initiative Museum, I found the stories of prisoners who spoke to me on the telephone on the other side of the glass from prison to be heartbreaking. Although they were only recordings and images of the incarcerated, their stories came across loud and clear. They epitomized one of the major issues black Americans are struggling with today, excessive punishment and economic and racial injustice. From meeting Linda Lowrey, who participated in Bloody Sunday and so many other marches, I understood how those who marched were so strong. I was awed how she and others learned to control their anger and how not to be perceived as a threat in any way. For example, they had to remove anything that could be seen as a weapon from their pockets (like a pen) in order to march peacefully. I still cannot imagine how much strength and courage they had in order to do so not only once but time but week after week often being jailed after each march.

I appreciated understanding the issues around the bus boycott —hearing and reading countless stories of enslaved men, women and children who were lynched for nothing at all, to the systemic racism that has our prisons overcrowded. I had not fully grasped the families torn apart when one master would sell the children or spouse of a slave, and the women that were used as breeders to make more slaves, All of the atrocities are shocking and allowed me to feel more connected to their suffering and to understand the challenges the black community still faces today.

Rosemary Steinbaum

The Montgomery sites on the trip were most vivid for me: the lynching memorial and the Brian Stevenson Legacy Museum of the Peace and Justice Initiative.

The depth of research and the visual impact of the lynching memorial moved me as the Viet Nam memorial does, somber, realistic, and transcendent. The names, the locales, dates, numbers  of people lynched, all to enforce a reign of terror on the black population writ large, all memorialized on the rust/black metal hanging caissons — effective intellectually and imaginatively.

The Legacy Museum was overwhelming in its dense specificity, era by era, event by event, person by person. Near the end, I paused to listen to Fannie Lou Hamer’s testimony before Congress on a video reel. Her back story, from share cropping, to voting rights work, to beatings, to jail, and to congress, I knew from reading My Soul is Rested. There she was, speaking, somber, direct, unmoved. The president at the time of her testimony was Lyndon Johnson. So alarmed was he by thoughts of the ramifications of her testimony on the public that he called an impromptu press conference about nothing during her testimony in order to get the TV cameras off her and into the White House. It worked. Viewers and the press were baffled by his maneuver about nothing. And thus was white control maintained and black experience marginalized once more, over and over again.

SELMA, ALABAMA

Edmund Pettus Bridge

Lynne Tapper

Our Civil Rights Trip was an intense, educational, eye-opening and unforgettable experience.  Reading & learning about slavery in school did not prepare me for what I learned and viscerally experienced during the trip.  Before visiting the Equal Justice Initiative’s Legacy Museum, I did not fully comprehend the enormity, brutality and inhumanity of the US slave trade, including the overwhelming number (many millions) of people who were kidnapped & brought here as slaves, over hundreds of years.  In addition to the Legacy Museum, hearing Linda Blackmon Lowery talk about her experiences as a 14 year old girl being viciously beaten on Bloody Sunday, along with her pride at completing the Selma to Montgomery march, made an everlasting & powerful impression on me. It was both heartbreaking and uplifting at the same time – I will never forget Linda’s response to a question about whether she felt hatred towards those who had beaten her & mistreated her.  She said that she had “buried her hate in the ground and had only love in her heart” – and it was her faith that enabled her to do so.  WOW!

Rev Calvin Wheeler in Freedom Park

Jeff Chanin

Many aspects of the Civil Rights tour were very impactful. The most powerful events of the trip were talking to Linda Blackmon Lowery and Reverend Calvin Woods, two people who participated in major events of the time. Linda was the youngest person to march the entire way from Selma to Montgomery. In addition to being a delightful person, she described her experiences being attacked and beaten on the Edmund Pettus bridge on Bloody Sunday, marching for mostly rainy five days, her PTSD, her joy at the rally at the Montgomery State House and her activist activities since the march that are ongoing today. During her talk, including a Q&A session, we laughed and cried with her. My emotions during the session were similar to those of talking with a holocaust survivor. I will never forget the privilege of interacting with Linda.

KELLY INGRAM PARK, BIRMINGHAM AL

Susan Kitzen (Friend of Mike & Fran Legman)

One particular part of our trip that I found especially moving was the visit to Kelly Ingram Park in Birmingham. Perhaps because we watched the powerful Spike Lee movie, Four Little Girls, as a group before the trip, I felt true heartbreak when I saw, first the outside of the repaired church, and then the park across the street with several sculptures and reminders of the events that occurred in Birmingham in 1963. First the sculpture of the four little girls frozen in time, just as they looked on the day they died, then the fierce attack dogs that snarled at and bit the marchers, then the bark of a tree, so damaged by the fire cannons that the city turned on the marchers to force them to flee, water streams so strong that they knocked the marchers down and marked the tree permanently–all of these images combined to bring to life the horrific history of the time and remind us that even the youngest were affected and harmed.

FREEDOM PARK, BIRMINGHAM AL

Karen Wirtshafter

On reflection, one powerful memory I have from the trip was  our walk through The Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument on our last day. Being at the site where Civil Rights activists and children marched and persisted despite police, hoses and dogs allowed me to be “in the shoes” of the protesters. As I walked through monuments where dogs were jumping at me from both sides, I felt their fear and appreciated their bravery. I was very aware of the fact that small and persistent actions by many  individuals over time created the tide that swept through to make change. The trip in general was a reminder that we each have power to move ideas in a positive direction and that there is still much work to be done.

Gerry Blume

A particularly memorable part of our Civil Rights trip was a simple tree. While throughout the trip we saw many examples of the bigotry and hatred that wafts across America’s history, it’s essence was captured by a tree in a park in Birmingham Alabama. The tree was there during the 1963 Children’s March during which children from the Black community marched for freedom. 3,000 children were arrested, but that was not the worst that they faced. The local police also turned German shepherds on them and used water cannons to push them back. The force of the cannons was so strong that they permanently damaged a tree in the park, leaving a scar that is still very visible 60 years later. The intensity of that water mirrored the intensity of the hatred that the South’s white society unleashed against its Black population. The tree stands as a testament to the courage of the marchers, even those who were children, to resist that hatred and to improve their lot.

ADDITIONAL REFLECTIONS

Reflections presented at the MLK Shabbat on January 13th: Reflecting on the Civil Rights Trip Experience

Some longer reflections:

A summary of the trip by Aileen Grossberg: Reflection on the Civil Rights Trip: Personal Highlights

 

Images: Photos taken by Risa and Sol Bernstein, Sarita Eisenberg, Dale Russakoff and Karen Wirtshafter.