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
Sweetcakes God said
who knows where she picked that up
what I’m telling you is
Yes Yes Yes
— Kaylin Haught
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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