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                                               In Memory of Lottie Morris

Bennington was a wonderful place to be a kid. In the winter there were pristine white snowbanks towering over our heads. In the spring lots of black mud which to dig little holes perfectly crafted for shooting marbles over the soft earth into those muddy holes. The summer brought swimming in the ice cold creek, which was my father’s delight, and for the kids, swimming in the pond in our friend’s backyard. The autumn brought cool winds with a visual treat of painted trees and busy squirrels hiding their acorns.

There was the good: going on Sunday mornings with my father to buy the Sunday newspaper and if I deserved it, a small package of marbles; sometimes the small marbles for a dime and sometimes large ones for quarter. The bad: Peter (my friend who lived next door) whose father was a severe alcoholic,

a drunk, and an abusive parent. As a child I had hardly grasped my friend’s situation, now I can only imagine what a horror his life must have been. The ugly: one of the few black children in Bennington elementary being blocked into an exterior nook in the building structure by a mob of about 10 to 20 boys and then pelted with stones. Wow, did I learn a personal lesson! I was pulled in front of the principal and asked to explain why I had joined the mob. I was shocked by the accusation and I vociferously explained that when the mob formed I ran over to see what was happening from beyond

the edge of their violent activities. I watched the pelting but had nothing to do with it. Fortunately, the principal accepted my excuse. Unfortunately, I was hit over the head. The principal explained that my excuse was lame and that one does not just stand by and watch such an event (that taught me something for life) and second, as a rabbi’s son,I was to be held at a higher standard (and that taught me something for life).

So now you might guess that I was Rabbi Chaim Gross’s son. The son of the rabbi described in the

CBE brochure (during the 80s and 90s) as the last Orthodox rabbi of CBE. My name is Yaacov Gross back then it was Yaki. And my idyllic childhood was about to vanish with a rude awakening.

 I remember that cloudy day in November 1970 when Mrs. Lottie Morris, my mother’s best friend in Bennington (and afterwards), ran into school and rushed myself and my sister home. We discovered that our father had passed away. The blur of the next day was a funeral in CBE with me watching my father’s casket draped with an Israeli flag, followed by the burial at the Jewish cemetery south of the city (where you can see his grave near the upper opening to the Jewish section) and where at the age of eight I said Kaddish for only one time in that year, in his memory. The next year was excruciatingly painful and a deeply sad time, especially for my mother. She reiterated to me that one of the few positive assistances that she received was the support, comfort and friendship of Lottie which helped her make it through the sorrows of the year after my father’s passing. My mother was ever-grateful for that. In fact I saw how the friendship lasted when years after we moved from Bennington, after a visit

to my father’s grave, we stopped by the Morris home to greet Lottie, in person, and to have a heart to heart talk discussing the events of the intervening years.

 In the past three decades I lived in Boston and now Miami but in the summer I make a pilgrimage to visit my father’s grave. With beautiful green mountains surrounding and towering over the cemetery,

an incongruous thought often crosses my mind: this must be the most inspiring and beautiful place to be buried. My sister and brother usually do the same visit in the autumn, closer to our father’s yahr-

zeit which occurs in late October or November, and so they even have a chance of seeing the beautiful mountains capped with snow. After visiting the cemetery (and praying there every year to G-d that our father should always be proud of his children and grandchildren) I generally wander around town looking at how things have changed (lots of new stores, no Pennysaver etc.) and how things have remained unchanged (Deer Park, monument etc. ). I also visit CBE usually from the outside, but sometimes I’m able to see the hallowed inside and how it too has changed over the years.

 I’ve been fortunate to meet some of the rabbis over the years and I even once crashed a board

meeting in the basement of the shul. One year in the 80s (?), in fact I was lucky enough to arrive as

the shul basement was being set up for a rummage sale and I was able to say hello to one of Lottie’s daughters who was there. That was the last time we had contact with the Morris family. Over the years my sister tried to reconnect and once went to their home (and probably ended up at the wrong add-

ress) and was told that “they had no idea of who the Morisses were.”

 This was true until this past summer. My son and his wife, on their way to vacation in northern Vermont, decided to detour a little and stop by my father grave. Returning, he called me to tell me about his trip. He stopped in a local store in Bennington and something interesting had happened

when a man came over to him and after commenting on not seeing a yarmulke in town for so many years asked him why he was in town. After responding, he told my son he remembered his father Yaki who had been his son’s, best friend and Yaki’s father who had been the rabbi in town. What I heard

next I could not believe. The man’s name was Morris. That meant that the Morris family was still there. Quickly, I made up my mind to see if I could track down Lottie.

 A few days later, being that it was summer-time, I made my yearly pilgrimage to the cemetery. On my way out of town I stopped by CBE, rang the bell on the office building, and was brought in by Susan (aka Susala, your wonderful administrative assistant). I explained to her that this building had been

my home and I showed her where my bedroom had been and where my grandmother who was paraplegic had lain in bed for the last few years of her life. Then we started talking about what was happening in CBE and she brought me up to date. After talking for a while, I asked if she knew the Morrises which she did. Then I asked, “Is Lottie still alive?” She gave a sad look and said “Lottie had been in the Veterans Home for a while due to an illness, but I think she has since passed.” That was

an awful moment. I had missed my chance to say thank you one last time. Disappointed, I was ready

to drive home.

 As Susan kindly walked me out, a little miracle occurred. Another woman was walking in with whom Susan stopped to chat for a moment. As they talked Susan brought up the sad occasion of Lottie’s passing. The other woman responded, “No, that’s not true, and I have never heard anything of the

sort!” So back we went to call the Veterans Home. Moments later we had verified that Lottie was quite alive.

A few minutes later I was in the home making a right down the hall then a left down another hall and then another left in the opposite direction of the first hall. Arriving at Lottie’s room, I called out if I could enter and she gave me permission. As I stood in front of her I said, “Hi, Mrs. Morris, my name is Yaacov Gross. You might remember me as Yaki.” She responded, “Sure I remember you.” Her face scrunched up and was contorted in anger and she continued, “You’re the one who came to visit with your mom after you left town and to whom I offered milk to drink and who was scared to drink it be-

cause it might not be kosher.” I almost turned white in shock and shame, and felt like sinking into the ground would be a good option. Then a bright-as-the-sun-smile shows up on her face (ha ha on me, a real I finally gotchya moment after more than 40 years!). “Of course I remember you. Please sit down.” As I sat down to talk I was overcome by feelings of an emotional, surreal and real dramatic moment, accomplishing my quest at close to the last possible time, as I saw her ravaged by disease, but tenaciously holding onto life. As we talked she told me how proud she was of her children, grandchildren and their accomplishments. I revealed to her that my mother had passed away two years earlier. Most importantly, I thanked her one last time on behalf of my mother as I knew that we would

be saying goodbye for the last time.

Recently, I saw on the CBE bulletin that Lottie had truly passed. I called Ira, her son and my former best friend and we talked for a short while and caught up on a synopsis of the events of five decades. I added my condolences and wished him and his family all well with the traditional Jewish blessing for every mourner, “May God comfort you together with all the Jewish people who mourn the destruction

of Zion and Jerusalem” (if you’re not familiar with that blessing it definitely beckons explanation). I

also told him that I knew that the Morris family would have a hard time finding a minyan to say Kaddish in memory of his mother. So I volunteered to say Kaddish in her memory for the year. Jews are all

about gratitude. It’s the very least I can do. Hopefully, our mothers, the two best friends are friends again.

                                               

                                                                                                           _____________________________

               

                                                                            Beth El Community Profile

                                                                             Alice and Alan Greenspan

                                                                      (aka Al and Al by family members)

                                                                                                                                               As told to Susan Armstrong

 

Alice and Alan both grew up in Perth Amboy, NJ, around the corner from one another. Al is four years her senior. When they were young, the Depression was in full force, but both considered themselves privileged because they had comfortable lifestyles, despite all the want and need throughout the country. Their families belonged to the same Conservative temple – Beth Mordechai. Alice’s father was Treasurer of the board, “forever.” Al was bar mitzvahed and tutored in Hebrew by Cantor Efron, a well known composer of liturgical music. Because bat mitzvahs were rare at that time, Alice was confirmed.

Alice had a beautiful sister, seven years her senior, named Jacquie. Alan was quick to comment that she looked like Ava Gardner. On Friday nights she would sit on the front porch and the boys would line up to talk to her. Mischievous Alice sat up in a second floor window throwing notes out to the boys. Alice said, “I grew up in the shadow of my beautiful sister.” 

When asked if anything had ever happened in their lives that changed everything, Alice immediately described a giant explosion that occurred on two barges in the Raritan River, just two blocks from her family’s home. She was talking on the phone on the second floor, wearing only a slip, when suddenly the force of the explosion blew out all the windows in the entire house, including the room where she was standing. She was covered in blood from the shattered glass and ran downstairs to see if everyone was okay. Her mother and father had both escaped injury. She threw on her new spring coat and they all ran outside. Being without shoes, she ended up with bleeding feet as well. The city was put under martial law when it was discovered that the barges that had collided were smuggling arms to Pakistan. First aid stations were set up and Alice was able to receive the necessary care. Her brand new spring coat was ruined by the blood, but her mother dyed it blue and solved the problem.

Congregation Beth El  107 Adams Street  Bennington  VT  05201

 

Tel: 802-442-9645     Email: cbevtoffice@gmail.com

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Both Alan and Alice attended Jewish summer camps, Alice in Monterey, MA and Al at Camp Kiowa in Honesdale, PA. They each had dogs in their families and remain dog lovers to this day. They attended local Perth Amboy schools until Al was sent away to a private school, as his mother wanted to shield him from his father’s illness. He attended the George School in Newtown, PA, founded by Quakers. Two of his classmates were Stephen Sondheim and Blythe Danner. Al tells the story that Oscar Hammerstein’s son, Jimmy, was also a student there. Stephen had written some music for a class play, and Oscar Hammerstein himself just happened to be in the audience. And so began Sondheim’s brilliant musical career. The Greenspans attended Sondheim’s play, "Applause," on Broadway years later, and Stephen was in the audience. Al went over to say hello and was greeted by name immediately. It was impressive to be remembered after all those years.

 

In his teen years, Alan sported a pompadour hair style a la Elvis. Walking by Alice’s house one day, he saw her outside. Al flipped her a nickel and said, “Call me when you’re 16.” What a move! He went off to Washington University, then on to graduate school at Northwestern, where he earned a degree in Macroeconomics. Next Al served in the 101st Airborne Division and fought in North Korea. After putting up with freezing conditions in that country, he was sent to Oklahoma City, where he roasted. There Al taught combat intelligence – how to interrogate prisoners. By this time, both he and Alice had married other people and each had three girls of their own.

 

Al had a sterling career on Wall Street with Rothchild & Co., Oppenheimer & Co. and was a Senior Vice President at Morgan Stanley. For years he oversaw the NYC Pension Fund, where he was tasked with foreseeing the economic future. Alice owned a successful interior design company, all the while raising her girls. In fact, she has an assignment right now to design the interior of a home in Burlington. Her creativity never stops.

 

They had not seen each other for twenty one years, but their parents had their fingers crossed that the two would re-connect, because each was getting a divorce. As soon as they saw each another, Al said, “We know each other well. Let’s get married.” But Alice gave him a hard time. She resisted until they finally wed eleven months later. Together they raised their daughters and shared their common interest in mountain climbing. They even traveled to New Zealand, where they scaled some of mountains in the Southern Alps and hiked the Greenstone Track out of Queensland.

 

It has now been forty seven years that Alice and Alan have been married. Their families have melded together – all six girls. They have thirteen grandchildren and three great grandchildren. They have remained happily together for over half of their lives.

 

They moved permanently to Wilmington, VT in 2003, after having spent years coming up to to Mt. Snow from New Jersey with their family to ski. In 1999 they began their association with Congregation Beth El. Al volunteered to manage the CBE investment funds over ten years ago and has done a stellar job. Alice is a trustee on the Board of Directors. We are indeed fortunate that the Greenspans continue to enrich our congregation.

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