Izzi and Howie Abrams grew up in Worcester and Brookline, respectively, and have been active members of the Swampscott and Salem communities for decades. They met in high school through USY and later at Clark University, which they both attended. They live in Salem and have two children, Alex and Alisa, and four grandchildren.
Can you tell us a little about where you each grew up? We know Izzi hails from Salem and Worcester and Howie from Brookline.
Izzi: I was born in Salem and moved to Worcester when I was 5 and when father’s pulpit changed from Temple Shalom to Congregation Beth Israel. I went to high school at the Bancroft School in Worcester where I was the president of my senior class and also continued my Hebrew education at the Prozdor from Hebrew College.
Howie: I was born in Boston, lived in Dorchester, started Hebrew school at Temple Mishkan Tefila before it moved to Newton and now Brookine, and moved to South Brookline when I was 9. I continued at the 5-day-a-week Hebrew School at Temple Emeth and graduated Brookline High School with a class of 600, many of them from Jewish families with strong interest and support of education. I was always active in sports, especially enjoying playing soccer in high school and college.
How and where did you meet each other?
We met through USY at the Spring regional convention at the old Hotel Bradford when we were 16 years old; sat together on a birthday hayride from one of Izzi’s Camp Yavneh friends, and then reconnected when we were both freshman attending Clark University in Worcester. We got married right out of college, and despite our youthful beginning, have celebrated 52 years of marital bliss.
Izzi, you grew up as a daughter of a rabbi (Temple Shalom in Salem and Congregation Beth Israel in Worcester) and the niece of Rabbi Kazis (from Mishkan Tefila in Newton) and Rabbi Gorrelick (from Detroit). What role did Judaism play for you – and how has your pedigree as a rabbi’s daughter affected your life?
Growing up, I frequently felt that I was being watched very closely and often judged by the Jewish community. It was not easy being a rabbi’s daughter as well as one of the few Jewish students in my high school. On the plus side, Jewish culture was an essential and natural part of my life, including celebrating holidays with my extended family, attending Camp Pembroke and Camp Yavneh and being an active member in USY.
Howie, how and why did you gravitate to psychiatry as your chosen field in medical school?
As much as I enjoyed science and the workings of the human body, I was always drawn to learning more about my patients’ thoughts and feelings. Psychiatry gives me an opportunity to practice both. Through the years I have appreciated the many advances in pharmacologic treatment, but have been frustrated that there haven’t been the hoped-for breakthroughs in the treatment of our more serious psychiatric disorders. The reduction (but not elimination) of the social stigma of mental illness has been gratifying to experience and I am concerned about ways to better respond to the current unmet demand for mental health treatment.
Your son, Alex, and daughter, Alisa, both attended Cohen Hillel Academy (now Epstein Hillel School). How did that experience help your family to become part of the entire North Shore Jewish community?
CHA was not only a terrific investment in our children’s education, but also served as a portal for us to connect to multiple other Jewish organizations and a place where we met what have become many of our long-term friendships. We had the good fortune of knowing Bennett Solomon (former head of school and visionary) even before he came to the North Shore and witnessed his impact on the growth of the school. Neither of us were products of Hebrew day schools and it was Bennett’s infectious enthusiasm that helped us make the initial connection.
You are the proud grandparents of four grandchildren near and far. Tell us how you stay connected.
We have been blessed to be part of the lives of our four grandchildren (two in Wakefield and two in Boca Raton, FL) and especially enjoy watching them play sports, travel with us and celebrate Jewish holidays when and where they can. We try to pass on the wonderful traditions that have been given to us.
Izzi, you had a long career at the JCCNS, and are now Children’s Librarian at the Swampscott Public Library. Tell us why you care about books as passionately as you do.
My grandfather and namesake, Israel Pollock, was a founder of Hebrew Teacher’s College, my mother was a college librarian and my father a rabbi, all of which contributed to my love of reading and teaching. I never tire of watching children and adults learning something new and exciting. I teach a number of mini-courses and lecture at senior adult communities in and around Boston and I run four separate book clubs around the community, and my current reading list numbers 820 since I began these groups close to 20 years ago.
Howie, you have served as the president of Epstein Hillel School and now trustee, and later as president of Congregation Shirat Hayam. Any lessons to impart about leadership to those coming up behind you?
The main lessons for me include the importance of stepping up and giving back to the community that has nurtured you, recognizing that you can never please everyone (especially in Jewish organizations), and that setting and achieving organizational goals can be extraordinarily rewarding. I remain connected to the mission of these organizations.
Izzi, you have been president of the JCCNS, president of the Jewish Journal, chair of Y2I, president of ORT, chair of the Holocaust Center, an officer at CHA and now you are involved with Sea Glass Village. What motivates you to lead?
I feel that I have been blessed with leadership skills that have given me the privilege of being part of a number of wonderful and collaborative organizations. I particularly enjoyed being the founding chair of the JCCNS International Jewish Film Festival, soon to be in its 10th year, and working on the Jewish Book Month Committee for a number of years. Being president of the Jewish Journal introduced me to the importance of a Jewish newspaper and its community impact. Currently, I am on the board of Seaglass Village, a nondenominational volunteer organization focused on helping seniors stay in their homes and live independent and fulfilling lives.
Howie’s internship in Pittsfield began your love affair with the Berkshires. Can you tell us a little about the Berkshires and why it means so much to you both?
It’s hard to imagine not having access to the wonderful cultural and recreational features that the Berkshires offers, including Tanglewood, Jacob’s Pillow, Barrington Stage, the Norman Rockwell Museum and others. An added plus is sharing our small lakefront compound (named Rosewood after Howie’s mother) with Howie’s sister and her family. We get there as often as we can to rest, refresh and renew ourselves.
Besides reading, what activities do you both enjoy?
We love to get together with friends and family, exercise (especially our beautiful Berkshire and Oceanfront walks), travel, shop (Izzi), watch sports (Howie) and read the Jewish Journal. Θ