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  • My Mom

    2018 - 08.02

    On Tuesday, July 31st 2018, my Mom passed away after a long struggle with cancer. She was 81 years old, and still very much lucid, funny and active with her kids, grandkids and friends. In fact, one day before she passed away she was out having lunch with friends, enjoying life and having fun. My mom had a very close group of girlfriends that go all the back to high school called the “Top of the Hill” gang, and she would meet them very often for brunch and chitchat. It always made me laugh that my mom never had an email address (and would never even discuss having one), and someone from the group would always have to physically call her on the telephone to let her know when and where the next brunch would be, even though they all arranged it over email or facebook.

    The main theme of my moms life would definitely be music. She taught herself to play the piano at age 2, and continued playing and composing music up until her death. Mom could play by ear, meaning if she heard a song once, she could usually play it on the piano immediately and effortlessly. It was an amazing talent, and something that always impressed me. Her life was filled with musical performances, compositions, bands, education, and especially singing old songs with the elderly at the Heritage Center at the JCC. Here she is doing something she has done thousands of times; playing background music for an event.

    Click the image below to watch:

    She taught a class for kids called Fun With Music for many years at the Beth Shalom nursery school, played piano in the Zimrah orchestra with my dad on drums. Her musical compositions are incredibly vast. Mom wrote and performed an original song at our prenuptial dinner while Vicki sang. She worked so hard on this performance and was so proud to be able to perform it for everyone at the dinner. Listen below:

    You Made Me Laugh:

    She wrote an original song for each of my kids when they were born as a very special birthday present. She wrote out the music and lyrics and framed it for each child. Click the images for larger versions, and you can listen to her playing the songs below:


    Jacob’s Lullabye

    Vicki singing Jacob’s Lullaby


    Brianna’s Lullabye

    Mom got together with Cantor David Barash and created a CD of original jewish music specifically for kids called “Big Jewish Songs For Little Jewish Kids”. At the time she created this, it wasn’t as easy to publish things on the internet. But now it’s much easier, so her music may be available on Amazon or somewhere soon. I’m going to go through all her stuff (that she meticulously curated and wrote out) and see if maybe a music catalog or cd could be available for sale.

    Every year my mom would have the family Hanukkah party at her house as well as Passover. Each year Leslie and Mom would make tons of homemade potato latkes. For years we thought her recipe was some secret recipe passed down through the generations. A few years ago my mom admitted that the recipe was from the back of the blender box. Here’s a video from the wonderful Brianna’s Cooking Show series on YouTube with the complete “secret” latke recipe.

    My mom also loved animals and always had a dog that she was extremely close with. It started with Blackie when she was a child, then we had Missy, a Dalmation we got when I was in grade school. Then Sadie, Charlie and finally Sarge. Mom hand painted a portrait of each dog, and was still working on Sarge.

    Sarge really helped my mom be able to live at home, giving her a friend to take care of and be with her in these last few years. He was always excited to see her when she got home, and she looked forward to his kisses and attention. Towards the end, poor Sarge needed insulin injections twice a day, and was completely blind and incontinent, but that didn’t matter to her at all. Sarge was really the reason she didn’t want to move into Village Shalom (she wouldn’t have been able to take him with her). She couldn’t stand the thought living without him, and thankfully she didn’t have to.

    My mom was widely known in the community as the person that played the piano for the “old folks” in the Heritage Center at the JCC. She had this job for over 25 years, and always joked that she was the youngest person there. She would come in for a few hours a week, and play old songs that the elderly people remembered from their childhood or from old musicals. She believed very strongly in the power of music to help heal and enrich the lives of older people, and we talked a lot about music and memory, especially when my father was going through Alzheimers. She educated many people from nursery school through old age on the power and importance of music.

    Throughout my life, music was the language mom and I spoke. While I was getting into computers in junior high school, she had no interest at all until I showed her how the computer could help in creating and performing music. She would let me record her so I could digitally mix, layer and alter the music, and she was always amazed by the technology, even if she didn’t understand it, and had no interest at all in learning how it worked. When I started taking drum lessons at age 7, she was the one I would practice with, playing my dad’s old classic drum kit to Beatle songs so I could learn to follow along. She took me to every lesson, every band practice, every performance. She never tired of playing, discussing or listening to music. She came to many of my current band’s gigs and always had suggestions of new songs we could learn.

    Here’s a video of mom doing the same thing with Jacob and a great Billy Joel tune. Click the picture to play.

    Here are a just a few images I pulled out of my photo library that I think really showed my mom in her element.

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    2 Responses to “My Mom”

    1. Gary,
      A beautiful piece about your Mom. We thoroughly enjoyed the stories and pictures. Our thoughts are with you, Leslie and your entire family. Thank you for sharing these memories with us. What a special lady she was.
      Love Darin and Nancy

    2. Beverly Newman says:

      Gary,
      What a beautiful tribute to your Mom. We communicated very sporadically the last few years. I did speak with her about a month ago. When my Mother, your Great Aunt Rose Pittell Levine developed dementia toward the end of her life, your Mom was always available to help or just listen to my frustration. I will never forget how wonderful and patient she was to my Mom. Your family has great memories to hold dear. Don’t be a stranger to us. Stay in contact.
      Love, Cousin Bev

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