On the Occasion of Eleanor’s 100th Birthday Celebration

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Eleanor Tobis Silverman (ETS):  A Short Biography

Eleanor Sylvia Tobis was born September 16, 1918 in Syracuse, NY.

Eleanor’s parents were David George (DG) Tobis, born in Dubasari, Rumania (now Moldova), and Anna Feinberg, born in Philadephia, PA.  David’s parents were Bathsheva (Sophie) Grobokopatelle and Mischa Tobis, both from Rumania.  David, his mother Sophie, and sister Tillie immigrated first to Toronto, Canada, and then settled in Syracuse, NY, where he met and married Anna Feinberg. Anna’s parents were Rebecca Shapiro, born in Baltimore, MD, and Max Feinberg, born in Vilna, Lithuania. Eleanor had two siblings she adored: her older brother Jerome and younger brother Marvin.

In Syracuse, Eleanor’s father owned “The Tobis Quality Shop,” a fine women’s dress shop. After the crash in 1929, the family moved to Brooklyn where most of her mother’s family lived and where Eleanor’s father held positions in small businesses. He was active in the Masons and Pythians and attended synagogue.

In Brooklyn, Eleanor attended New Utrecht High School, where she was in the Madrigal Society and sang with famed maestro Peter Wilhousky.  At Hunter College, she majored in German and minored in Speech Pathology.  In high school and college, she was active in student government, working for social justice.  At Hunter College, she was President of the American Student Union.

In her sophomore year of college, she met the love of her life, Sidney Israel Silverman (1913-2009).  Sidney, born in NYC, was the son of Hillel (Hyman) Markus (who took the last name of his half-brother, David Silverman, upon arriving in the US) and Bracha Alta (Ida) Kalmanowicz, both born in Sokolka, Bialystock, Poland. Hyman and Ida were green grocers in NYC, and Sidney and his siblings, Herbie, Sarah, Sol and Josie, all worked in their stores in their youth.

Eleanor’s Aunt Virginia Feinberg, doing some matchmaking, had given Eleanor’s name to Sidney, who was Virginia’s young dentist.  Sidney’s brother, Sol, was performing in Awake and Sing and asked Sidney to bring a date. He wrote to invite Eleanor to join him, and his note was so endearing and impressive that Eleanor agreed.  After a day of working part-time at Lord & Taylor, Eleanor prepared for her date half-heartedly.  But from the moment they met on April 1, 1938, they both knew this was something very special.  They married 2 ½ years later on June 9, 1940, at the Jewish Community House in Brooklyn, shortly after Eleanor’s college graduation.

The newlyweds moved into their first home in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, but shortly afterward, America entered WWII.  Sidney served as a Captain in the Army, stationed in Virginia, where he oversaw dental services for soldiers going abroad and returning from battle.  Eleanor joined him in Virginia, returning to NY to give birth first to their son, Mark Tobis Silverman (1943), and again to give birth to their daughter, Beth Alda Silverman (1944), 17 months later.

The 1940’s were very difficult for Eleanor and Sidney with the deaths of Eleanor’s younger brother Marvin (1942) and her father David (1942), Sidney’s parents (1943,1944), son Mark’s death from childhood Leukemia (1947) and Eleanor’s mother Anna (1948).

During the War Years, they made many life-long friends who shared their ideals and commitments to social justice and progressive politics.

After WWII, they returned to Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, where Sidney had a dental practice and they had their home. In 1948, Eleanor and Sidney welcomed their daughter Deborah Gail Silverman.  During these years, they lived across the street from Jerry and Hazel Tobis and their children.  In fact, most of the Feinberg clan lived in Greater NY, enabling family bonds to continue and grow in the post-war years.  Eleanor returned to school, attending Brooklyn College for an MA in Speech Pathology.

In 1955, while continuing his work as professor and chair of Removable Prosthodontics and Research at New York University, Sidney moved his dental practice to Manhattan and the family moved their home to Great Neck, NY.  Shortly after the move, Eleanor and Sidney lost their infant son Eric Alan, who passed away after birth.

Eleanor opened a private speech pathology practice in their home, seeing both young children with cleft palate, cleft lip, and stutter and older adults with aphasia. Over time, Eleanor became active as an advisor and speech pathologist to five local public schools and taught speech and language at Hofstra College.  She became active in the North Shore Child Guidance Association, serving as Program Chair for speakers on child advocacy.  For her successful leadership in organizing a major child advocacy conference, the Superintendent of Schools invited her to serve on the Board.  She also served on the Nassau County Department of Health Advisory Committee and the Economic Opportunity Council.

Eleanor has a life-long love of the arts, particularly music.  In the 1950’s and 60’s, she traveled to City Center in NYC to sing with Dessoff Choirs, which she continued for many years.  She and Sidney were regular attendees at the Metropolitan Opera, and all her life, Eleanor has sung German lieder to her children and grand-children, even in their adulthood. Eleanor and Sidney also worked together at the North Shore Community Arts Center, interacting with local artists.

Eleanor was appointed the Director of the first Speech and Hearing Clinic in a school of dentistry (at New York University), often working in collaboration with Sidney.  For 10 years, Eleanor was an assistant research professor and taught college classes in Speech.  In later years, she taught in the Department of Neurology in the NYU Medical School, bringing insights into speech and language to medical students.

Eleanor and Sidney loved to travel and visited over 40 countries over the years.  Always eager to imbue experiences with both fun and meaning, Sidney would arrange for them to renew their marriage vows at varied ports of call, engaging whole cruise ships and their captains in the proceedings.

Over the years, Eleanor and Sidney welcomed first Tom DeZure, Deborah’s husband, to the family in 1968, and later David Yam, Beth’s husband, in 1991.  Each brought new constellations of loving relatives to the family who were all welcomed with open arms.  Eleanor and Sidney joyfully welcomed grand-children Jessica and Adam DeZure and Shana and Brendan Yam. Eleanor has opened her heart to Jessica’s spouse Josh Butchart, Adam’s spouse Chandani Patel, Shana’s spouse Alex Outman and Brendan’s spouse Raquel Carvalho.  And last but not least, Eleanor takes special joy in news of her great grand-children Landon and Brynlee Butchart, Ryan DeZure, Elijah and Chloe Outman and Benjamim, Olivia and Alice Yam.

In their years since retirement, Sidney and Eleanor endowed many scholarships, including the Eleanor T. Silverman Award for Speech and Language Pathology to recognize the work of neurology students in the NYU Medical School who conduct research into the connection between speech and language disorders and neurological function.  To this day, it is with great joy and seriousness of purpose that Eleanor reviews the research of the applicants for this award and attends the awards ceremony to present this award to its recipient.

In 2009, Eleanor lost the love of her life, Sidney, who passed away at the age of 96, after almost 70 years of marriage.  Since then Eleanor has been a remarkable and inspirational model of resilience and how to go on, rebuild, and create life anew after loss.

Eleanor continues her love of the arts, attending concerts, opera and plays regularly with family and friends.  She is an avid devotee of cultural events and gives special meaning to the term, “life-long learner.”  Most recently, Eleanor participates in the Dorot classes conducted by conference call for seniors on topics ranging from politics to the arts.  Eleanor begins each day with reading her NY Times, enabling her to engage in in-depth discussions of issues from scientific discoveries to world and local politics, with particular attention to the editorials.

But a picture of Eleanor’s remarkable life would not be complete without mention of her devotion to her family, particularly her daughters, which is central to her life, revealing her infinite capacity to love and to welcome each new member of the family and each new generation, including her great-grand-children, into the circle of her love and life.

Eleanor’s life has been remarkable in so many ways:  certainly for its longevity, but even more so for her resilience and capacity to live fully, waking up each day ready to build new relationships and find great meaning in them.  It is no accident that one of her favorite quotes, and she has many, is Ben Jonson’s “Speak that I may know thee,” because it is key to how she lives her life and interacts with others.  She is always eager to hear, know and understand others, enabling her to empathize with and support them.  Surely, it is one of the reasons that at the age of 100, she has so many devoted family members and friends, old and new.

Happy 100th Birthday, Eleanor, and thank you for being a beautiful part of our lives!