Marcia Riklis, daughter of Israeli mergers and acquisitions innovator Meshulam Riklis, dreaded the day her mother, Judith, had to go to the hospital for one last time. She got lucky when she found Jewish Home Lifecare in Upper Manhattan. It has been helping elders live a dignified life for 166 years.
Marcia’s mother, who was Meshulam’s first of three wives, spent a month at the facility on 106th Street. “Although the building was shabby,” Marcia said, “the care was anything but. That last month of her life was happy and productive. She went cold turkey on all her medications that were making her so weak and she proudly showed us how she had begun to walk on her own again.”
On the last night the whole family was in her room. They turned on the electric menorah and sang Chanukah songs. “It is a joyous memory,” Marcia said.
Marcia told the story last month at the Mandarin Oriental in Manhattan, where she chaired a gala to benefit the Jewish Home Lifecare. The theme was “Eight Over Eighty,” celebrating eight remarkable lives: Dominic Chianese of The Sopranos; Richard Eisner of EisnerAmper accounting firm; Emily and Eugene Grant of the Eugene M. Grant real estate investment firm; Joan Wachtler, who’s been active in various social service agencies before retiring as associate executive director of the Samuel Field YM-YWHA; Edith Windsor, LGBT trailblazer who changed the course of history when she challenged the Defense of Marriage Act and won when the U.S. Supreme Court last year declared the law unconstitutional and Klara and Larry Silverstein, the real estate powerhouse.
Everybody had a story. But only Silverstein brought the house down, even though he was not present. Speaking on videotape, he related how his parents sent him to an educational summer camp in 1951, because it was free. He was assigned to the kitchen. As it happened, Klara was his boss and she was relentless. She made sure that every spoon, every fork, every knife was clean as a whistle. Larry bristled at her instructions. “She’s a bit meshugah,” he thought. “She’s overdoing it.”
At summer’s end Larry was relieved he could escape from his oppressor. “I had a terrible case of dishpan hands,” he complained on the tape. “Unbelievable what my hands looked like. I never wanted to see her again.”
Next thing he knew he got an invitation to Klara’s surprise birthday party. “In those days,” he said, “when you had an opportunity for a free meal, you went. Besides I couldn’t help but notice how good she looked.”
Of course they started dating. It was difficult at times. Her father had an attitude: “No chupah, no shtupah.”
The video ended with a stunned Klara whispering, “I trust that will not be on the tape.”
Peals of laughter erupted from the audience, which included Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen, UJA president Alisa Robbins Doctoroff, Nancy and Morris Offit, Alliance for Downtown New York president Jessica Lappin, Pat and John Klingenstein, Carole and Jerry Levin, Judith Stern Peck, Susie and Jeff Stern and UJA-Federation chair Linda Mirels. They helped raise $1.25 million at the gala.
Tim Boxer was a columnist at the New York Post for two decades. He has been writing a column for The Jewish Week for 35 years. At the same time he is a writer/photographer at 15MinutesMagazine.com. He is the author of “Jewish Celebrity Hall of Fame,” interviews of Hollywood stars about their Jewish roots, with an introduction by the non-Jewish Bob Hope.