Thursday, August 09, 2007

Bernard Shuman

I received word yesterday that my uncle, Bernard Shuman, whom everyone called Ben, of Jerusalem Israel, passed away suddenly at the age of 85. He was the last child of my grandparents.

Here are some pictures of Uncle Ben. He is most often seen here with my Aunt Marion. These pictures come from family albums, photos emailed to me and my own shots. Hold your mouse over pictures for a little more explanation, click for enlargements.

Ben & Marion Shuman - Jerusalem 2005Ben & Marion Shuman with Liberty Bell - Philadelphia - 2004
Ben and Marion raised three children, Ellis, Debbie and Judy. Each of their children has had three children. Ben was eagerly awaiting the first wedding of a grandchild this fall. He had many reasons to be happy. His life was a good one. We should be so lucky.

He was the family chronicler, eagerly researching the many branches of our family tree. He and Marion traveled from Israel to California in 1992 to serve as my honorary parents when Leslie and I were married.

Ben Shuman the child - they called him Bennie - in Lake Minnetonka
He grew up in Norfolk, Nebraska. Fought in France in WWII. Married Marion in Minnesota. They started their family in Sioux City Iowa where his Mother lived. My family too. About three decades ago Ben & Marion moved to Israel where their life was not as easy, I'm sure, but more meaningful.

You're not going to find a better role model than Ben Shuman. If I had to pick the best person from my family to leave behind a large pool of ancestors, he'd be the one.

Ben Shuman in 40's signed 'With Love, Ben'
The next snap shows newlyweds Ben and Marion with the Thanksgiving Turkey, Tallulah. For a while every Thanksgiving turkey was named Tallulah. The Tallulahs were given numbers. I'm not sure which number Tallulah is shown here.

Ben & Marion Shuman - Sioux City Iowa - Thanksgiving 1950's
Ben worked as a newspaperman for such diverse institutions as the Sioux City Journal and the Jerusalem Post. Lately he took to the Internet quite well. At the end of this post I'm including the last email I received from Uncle Ben - just 2 days ago! It's a forwarded meditation on the word "up". The subtext (which I can read quite clearly) says "Haven't heard from you in a while, David, what's UP?".

The Internet has made the world so much smaller. But when something like this happens, the true meaning of "half a world away" hits home so strongly. Leslie and I will miss my Uncle and our thoughts are with Marion and all the members of their family.

Shumans - Constitution Hall 2004
The 3 photographers above are Ben and two of his children Ellis and Debbie. Aunt Marion and an unidentified brass founder of our country are peeping out from behind. This trip in 2004 was the last time I saw him.

Below they talk to an actor at Constitution Hall, still bundled up against the January weather. Below that is a picture of Uncle Ben wearing a tri-cornered hat himself (for a part in a play.)

Ben & Marion Shuman with costumed actors Constitution Hall 2004Ben Shuman in Tri-corn Hat Costume - acting in a play
The Meaning of UP (the last email I received from my Uncle Ben)

Lovers of the English language might enjoy this . . .

There is a two-letter word that perhaps has more meanings than any other two-letter word, and that is "UP."

It's easy to understand UP, meaning toward the sky or at the top of the list, but when we awaken in the morning, why do we wake UP? At a meeting, why does a topic come UP? Why do we speak UP and why are the officers UP for election and why is it UP to the secretary to write UP a report?

We call UP our friends. And we use it to brighten UP a room, polish UP the silver, we warm UP the leftovers and clean UP the kitchen. We lock UP the house and some guys fix UP the old car.

At other times the little word has real special meaning. People stir UP trouble, line UP for tickets, work UP an appetite, and think UP excuses. To be dressed is one thing but to be dressed UP is special.

And this UP is confusing: A drain must be opened UP because it is stopped UP. We open UP a store in the morning but we close it UP at night.

We seem to be pretty mixed UP about UP! To be knowledgeable about the proper uses of UP, look the word UP in the dictionary. In a desk-sized dictionary, it takes UP almost 1/4th of the page and can add UP to about thirty definitions.

If you are UP to it, you might try building UP a list of the many ways UP is used. It will take UP a lot of your time, but if you don't give UP, you may wind UP with a hundred or more. When it threatens to rain, we say it is clouding UP. When the sun comes out we say it is clearing UP.

When it rains, it wets the earth and often messes things UP.

When it doesn't rain for awhile, things dry UP.

One could go on and on, but I'll wrap it UP, for now my time isUP, so............ Time to shut UP.....! more thing:

What is the first thing you do in the morning & the last thing you do at night? U-P


Peter (the other) said...

A sense of humor, and interest, until the end (or close enough), he seems like he was a good uncle. I grew up short of them so I am a bit jealous. I love the fact that your family came over to the hard and cold plains. My taste in geography is such that I imagine them somewhat desperate to live somewhere so cold. Then I think of their success in growing and moving on to better places, I like that, life can improve. But that you are from Sioux City, and found your way here makes me happy too, although there is no denying that Sioux City is a cool name, and I imagine that with the internet and FedEx it might even be livable now.

My condolences, and thanks for the great bio.

David Ocker said...

Thanks for your comment Peter. It's much appreciated.

My four Grandparents - including Uncle Ben's parents - all immigrated from the Ukraine to the US over a century ago. (Of course they were Jewish not Ukranian.) One set ended up in Ohio, the other moved through various towns in Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota.

My theory - completely undocumented of course - is that they decided to move to an area of rolling hills, farms, grass-land and small towns similar to how I imagine where they came from. (But not to the Plains - which is a bit farther west).

Of course the real reasons they picked their destinations have been lost to history. But it was the right move; America has been good to my family.

My grandparents never again saw the relatives they left behind. A century later Ben & Marion traveled to New Jersey every year to visit their daughter's family. The world is so much smaller. My mind is still boggled a bit by the idea of a fax machine - let alone overnight delivery or a video conference on the Internet.

The best part happens every January, when I walk outside in a short-sleeve shirt and I just laugh thinking about all those people living back in the snow and cold. It's a free country - they could leave the cold too.

If they come to California they can help keep real estate values up. The thought of cashing in on our home's appreciation in order to live more cheaply elsewhere has come up once or twice.

But frankly I like it here - the whoosh of the multi-ethnic society all around me seems to be the source of some sort of creative energy (which I then squander on blogs and digital pictures of trash and thirty-second long pieces written at Starbucks) - but I can't be sure I'd still have that anywhere else.

(P.S. Why is "Sioux City" a cool name? I'm sure the Sioux don't think so. Leslie and I recently watched the movie Sioux City Sue which wasn't about Sioux City at all, just about the song and a girl named Sue. There's another movie called Sioux City which, as I remember, isn't the slightest bit about the real Sioux City either.)

Peter (the other) said...

Sioux City sounds romatically American. It is not a name you could get anywhere else.

We both represent a line of people looking for a place, and I too, like this warm, shirt-sleeve January, hodge podge, wild west, last resort of many peoples from all around the world. My grandfather, also a Jew from Minsk, a bit north of your ancesters, came straight to New York, and stayed there.

Your music and photos seem a lovely response to your surroundings. If they are drowned out by the general noise of life that seems the condition of our time. We live in a tower of Babel, out of the maestrom of noise pop different bits of flotsam and jetsom that have their fifteen minutes. May you have yours. I am always surprised that what humans seem to have to say has not changed in millenium (at least) but our technology for broadcasting it improves. The fact that you are producing seems healthy, considering the alternatives which always beckon.

Unknown said...

Thanks for sharing this. We adopted your Uncle Ben and Miryom - They are what we call our kids adopted grandparents, and our third son's godparents.

We saw Ben the night of his death, enjoying life, at a wedding, with his twinkling eyes, his wide smile and his silent, wise strength.

You should know that those of us in the community all love your Aunt and Uncle and while they are surrounded by family here, they also have a huge extended support system.

Thanks again for sharing

May his memory be a blessing

Right said...

Just found this. Thanks for posting. Ben/Marion were also my uncle/aunt! My father was Marion's brother.

Howard Rubin, Fortaleza Brazil