NOVEMBER 1, 2018 – Many of us leave temple or synagogue after services with feelings of peace, comfort, and perhaps camaraderie. This past Yom Kippur I left with something more: a new cousin.
It all began just prior to the Yizkor service. I had looked through our memorial booklet, focusing on the names of loved ones, recalling happier times when they were physically with me, when we were making our own memories and not just reflecting on them.
Although there were many vacant seats at the temple for this service, I noticed that two women and a man sat directly behind me. Since I didn’t know them, I returned to my thoughts and prayers, tears already welling up in my eyes.
They also were looking at the memorial book. Suddenly I heard one of the women say, “Rose and Max Liftman. I know they must be related to me but I don’t know who they are.”
I was stunned. I turned around and said, “Excuse me, but did you just say Rose and Max Liftman? Those are my parents; I’m Myrna Liftman Fearer.”
She was Gloria Liftman Mezikovsky, who lives in Wakefield, but grew up in Lynn just like my mom’s family. I also lived in Lynn during my college years and during most of my teaching career in Lynnfield. But Gloria and I had never met even though her dad, David Liftman, was my father’s first cousin once-removed. The only Gloria Liftman I knew was my first cousin, who lived in Chelsea. She had worked for John F. Kennedy in his Boston office when he was a senator and continued through his presidency in Washington. He even acknowledged her assistance in the preface of his book, “Profiles in Courage.”
Gloria Mezikofsky is really big on genealogy and was working on a Liftman book. With her thorough research, she discovered relatives in Chile by emailing all the synagogues in Santiago. After much waiting, she was connected with Chilean relatives and showed me their picture on her iPhone. Heading the family was another cousin, Myrna Liftman Schwartz. And here I thought I was the only Myrna Liftman growing up in North America. Now I find out there was another Myrna Liftman growing up in South America. Is there really a parallel universe?
Gloria and I continued our talk at the break-the-fast dairy dinner at the end of the services.
“Did you know my Uncle Hershill?” Gloria then asked.
“If he was really Harry the president who carried a briefcase with him everywhere he went, then I certainly did know him,” I replied.
No one knew why Harry Liftman was called the president, but I assume there was once a Liftman Family Circle and Harry was the forever president. Cousin Harry, however, was never without his briefcase.
As soon as I returned home, I called my brother Ted Liftman in Canton and asked if he remembered Harry, the president. “Of course I do,” he replied. “He was the one who always carried a briefcase. We thought he must have had his lunch in it.”
Then I contacted cousin Beverly in California to see if she remembered Harry. “Of course I do,” she said. “I once tried to open his briefcase but they caught me.”
If you knew Harry, you knew that ubiquitous briefcase. Only my newfound cousin Gloria was privy to its contents after his death. There were copies of letters to the editor, poetry, and stories he had written. It was an eclectic but erudite combination that reflected his intelligence, she said.
Harry managed to get around, although I can’t ever remember him having a car. If there was public transportation, Harry found it. I recall he even came to our third floor apartment in our Mattapan triple decker just before my brother’s bar mitzvah. Harry brought him five shiny silver dollars.
To most of us, cousin Harry was an enigma. Where did he live? What did he do? Why did he carefully guard that briefcase?
According to Gloria, Harry Liftman lived in the Brookline area with his cousin, Sarah Lucas. As for his occupation, Gloria seemed to think he collected rent money from different places.
We do know, however, that Harry was close to my zayde who, as Frank Liftman, was one of the signers of Harry’s petition for naturalization awarded Jan. 19, 1920.
“I remember Hershill [Harry] in 1957 when we lived in Milton and Zayde Liftman stayed with us because he had what my mother called, ‘hardening of the arteries,’” Beverly said. “Harry would come almost every day to be with zayde and they would sing. It was like a love affair.”
And that’s when a cousin by marriage revealed he knew Harry well and that he was in the “numbers racket.” We may never know for sure.
Myrna Fearer writes from Danvers.