I am writing this story from the Kapiot Café in Haifa Israel. My status in life is that of an oleh chadash or new immigrant to the land of Canaan. I moved here six years ago at the age of fifty nine from Western Colorado. Retirement has many advantages in this splendid city. The balmy Mediterranean climate, the beautiful beach and tiyelet or boardwalk make Haifa a wonderful place for hiking, swimming, fishing, and leisurely walks. There are many historical sites, three major universities, and spiritual shrines including the Bahia Gardens and Elijah’s tomb.
I was blessed to live most of my adult life in the beautiful woods of Western Colorado. Hiking, camping, fishing, and viewing wildlife made life a wonderful experience. My career was servicing the employment needs of people with disabilities for various government agencies. Blessings indeed adorned my life.
That brings us to Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. Life in the steel city of my youth was gray in the truest sense of the word. I often left for Taylor Allderdice High School in a white shirt in the morning. Many times I returned home in a grey shirt which was victimized by the infamous pollution of the era. School was either an hour walk in the cold and rainy climate or a crowded bus ride. The Pittsburgh Steelers were then the goats of professional football, but the Pirates blessed us with their 1960 miracle World Series victory and sadly little more than that.
Dad was a grocery executive and rarely home. Mom suffered from serious medical problems and was very distant from me and my two sisters. Life (except for golf) was bleak and dull. Thank goodness for the Madam.
Mom’s faltering health necessitated the need for nearly full time domestic help. Lulu was an African American woman in her fifties when she first came to our service. She was thin and walked softly. One of many joys that we enjoyed with the Madame was ongoing quips about her age. She was born and raised in Tupelo Mississippi in the late nineteenth century and refused to tell us her true age. We found out when her time came that she was born in 1870. She died in 1971. She was blessed to live a long and healthy life. She was still active at the age of 97! The good do not always die young.
Lulu (the Madam) was raised in a sharecropper’s family of nine children. She married an alcoholic mill worker who abused her physically and mentally. Life for a blacked skinned woman anywhere in America in those days was a disgrace. She ran away from her husband after nine years and settled in Memphis Tennessee where she worked as a seamstress and housekeeper. Pittsburgh became her home in 1955 when her family moved there to work in the steel mills. She came to us through a friend Mrs. Feldman and was a part of our family until the end.
She took care of mom’s health, served as a surrogate mom to us, cleaned our home, cooked, and served as the secretary of her church. Many of us go through life with frowns on our faces; she always had a bright smile on hers. I learned to appreciate Chili Stew with egg noodles, lemon meringue pie, Chicken Fricassees, and most importantly spirituality from this humble yet brilliant and talented woman. She was a wonderful public speaker and outstanding singer. Her greatest talent of course was her ability to motivate and bring joy to the lives of others. Dad often mused about her potential in a world with more equality and justice.
I left Pittsburgh at the age of eighteen and never returned. There were the wonderful visits with family especially Lulu. We spent hundreds of hours discussing the value of faith in life. She was a fervent Christian yet urged me to explore, understand, and adore my Jewish faith. “The Golden Rule should be universal”. She admonished me to live by it. Hopefully, I have not let her down.
Lulu was so humble that she rarely talked about herself. We discovered after her death that she was a passionate civil rights activist and traveled in very famous circles. She refused to fly and traveled by bus to confront injustices in America. “I want to be as far away from my maker when my time comes”, she explained to us often. The only time that she broke her sacred rule was to attend my wedding.
She was born Lulu Robinson but spent her last thirty years known as The Madam. How did this occur? There were many times during my high school years that a man only known as the Bishop called our home to speak to her. “Is The Madam there he would quiz in a deep apparently southern voice”. She was the secretary of his church and her title was Madam Robinsom. I never understood it but loved the title and never ceased to tease my friend about her name.
I think often about my best friend as I pursue my greatest passions in life that of promoting interfaith dialogue and peace in this trouble region. Is there hope for these goals? Who knows” I was blessed to have a great mentor and hopefully can do my small share to bring these blessings to our region.