(eulogy by Greg Saltzman, June 24, 2016)
My mother was born as Martha Helen Schneider on Valentine’s Day, which is totally appropriate, as she was such a loving person. Her parents, Barney and Jenny, had immigrated to the U.S. from Czarist Russia shortly before World War I. Martha was born in 1921 in Brooklyn, NY. She grew up speaking both Yiddish and English. Her Yiddish name was Hinda Merka.
When she was six years old, Martha and her family moved to Manasquan, a small town on the Jersey shore where there were only a few Jewish families. When relatives from Connecticut came to their house in Manasquan for Pesach, young Martha slept on cushions in the bathtub so that one of the visitors could use her bed. Her parents were Zionists; one of Martha’s childhood memories from the 1920’s was of a blue-painted metal box that her family used to collect coins for the Jewish National Fund.
When she was a young adult, Martha sometimes went by “Martha,” sometimes by “Mary.” But her brother Moe and her sisters, Rose and Mona, called her “Mem.” Their mother, Jenny, would summon her daughters by calling out, “Rose, Mary, Pearl!” (Pearl being another name used by Mona, though Martha called Mona “Biggie”).
Martha was an excellent student, skipping a grade in school and graduating from high school in 1938 at age 17. The Great Depression was still on, and her family, though not poor, wasn’t rich either. Fortunately, Martha won a full scholarship to Rutgers University, where she went to study pharmacy. She shared an apartment at Rutgers with her brother Moe, also a pharmacy student there. Her Rutgers yearbook described her as “Full of effervescent spirits which can not be held in.”
After graduating from Rutgers, Martha worked as a pharmacist – first in New Jersey, and later in the Georgetown area of Washington, D.C. One of the customers she dealt with in the late 1940’s in Washington was a young Congressman, John F. Kennedy. Martha frequently visited her sister Rose and Rose’s husband, Harold, who also lived in Washington.
In 1948, Martha met the love of her life, Bernie Saltzman. He was working in Washington then for the U.S. Public Health Service (earning less than Martha did at the time, though that didn’t daunt him). They met at a Jewish Community Center dance. Bernie had a moustache then, which made Martha think that he was a “wolf” not interested in a long-term relationship. But her first impression was wrong. Martha and Bernie got married in 1949, and they remained a devoted couple. They celebrated their 61st wedding anniversary in 2010, several months before Bernie’s death.
She and Bernie moved to Cincinnati in 1950. They frequently played bridge with friends, and Martha became active in Hadassah.
Martha and Bernie had three children—Phyllis, Greg, and Barbara—and Martha became a stay-at-home mom. When Martha and Bernie wanted to speak privately, they conversed in Yiddish, which their kids did not understand. Both of them were very devoted parents. Though Martha set high expectations for her children, emphasizing the importance of working hard in school and behaving ethically, I still felt bathed in her unconditional love.
Martha was remarkably tolerant with her kids. When I was about 6 years old, she sent me to my room as punishment for misbehavior; and I peevishly threw my shoe at the mirror on the inside of my bedroom door. The mirror shattered. Martha heard the noise and came in to see what happened. She made me help sweep up the broken glass, and she did not buy me a new mirror, but there was no further punishment for my smashing the mirror. In similar circumstances, many other mothers would have given their child a thrashing that the child would long remember.
During a two-year interlude in Salt Lake City from 1960-1962, Martha and her family admired the spectacular sunsets over the wide mountain valley. But Martha felt isolated in an overwhelmingly Mormon city, and she did not like the pervasive efforts there to convert Jews to Mormonism. To maintain her children’s Jewish identity, she prepared a special Shabbat meal every week, and the family regularly attended Shabbat services at a Reform synagogue (both of which had been only occasional occurrences before when they lived in Cincinnati). At Martha’s request, Bernie told the U.S. Public Health Service that he would take early retirement on his commissioned officer’s pension unless they transferred him out of Salt Lake City. In 1962, the Public Health Service transferred Bernie back to Cincinnati, where Martha and Bernie remained for the rest of their lives (other than winters in Florida after they retired).
When Martha’s youngest child, Barbara, reached 7th grade in school, Martha returned to working as a pharmacist two days a week. She worked at University Hospital, commuting with Bernie who then worked at the nearby University of Cincinnati Department of Environmental Health. Martha was deeply committed to helping teens avoid pregnancy, and she was an ardent advocate of birth control.
Martha subsequently worked as a geriatric social service worker at the Jewish Community Center in Cincinnati, where she enjoyed helping many senior citizens. When I visited her there, I noticed that all the people’s faces lit up when she entered the room. She knew their life stories and the names of all their children and grandchildren. They felt her loving, caring touch every day.
Martha and Bernie spent five months living in Tel Aviv during 1977, when Bernie had a sabbatical at Tel Aviv University. They also made many trips to Israel during the decade when Phyllis lived there. After Phyllis moved from Israel back to Cincinnati in 1991, Martha and Bernie cheerfully spent countless hours with Phyllis’ children, Shira and Barak. Martha and Bernie also served as loving grandparents to Greg’s children (Daniel, David, and Jonathan) and to Barbara’s children (David and Sarah). Martha was the proud great-grandmother of Sophie, Dana, and Oliver.
After Martha retired from the JCC, she volunteered in elementary schools and as an English tutor for immigrant families of Russian Jews. She and Bernie spent many winters in Florida, just north of Ft. Lauderdale. Ten years ago, they moved into the Cedar Village Jewish retirement complex just outside Cincinnati.
Martha’s mother, Jenny, sang to her as a child; and Martha sang to her children. Martha loved Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals, and she also listened to Alan Sherman records from the early 1960’s.
Martha was profoundly devoted to family. She had a powerful lifelong bond to her brother and her sisters, and there was nothing more important to her in her life than her husband and her children. She welcomed into her family her daughter-in-law Audrey and her son-in-law Jeff. I and others who have been touched by Martha Saltzman’s caring heart will miss her dearly.
Let me conclude by playing a song that was played at Martha’s and Bernie’s wedding in 1949, the Andrews Sisters’ hit song, Bei Mir Bist Du Schöen.