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  • Writer's pictureAmy Stein-Milford

Fully Vaccinated and At Home Together

Updated: Mar 25, 2021

Roberta B., Naomi, Roberta K., Barry

This week’s All Dressed outing was particularly joyous. I met with longtime friends Roberta Berken, Barry Feldman, Naomi Gat, and Roberta Koza: our lunch at Barry's apartment was the first in-home gathering any of us have had following the March 2020 lockdown. All four are fully vaccinated.

Though I have only just had my first shot (hooray!), I relished the in-person camaraderie sitting a little distance away by an open window. I also enjoyed Barry's delicious Bellinis and the smoked salmon!

We have met weekly via a Zoom cocktail call during the entire year of the pandemic. The happy, the sad, the feelings of isolation and loneliness, we share it all. Roberta B got and recovered from Covid; Roberta K became a grandmother; Barry led Zoom classes for museums and his synagogue; Naomi had knee surgery; and my husband and mother-in-law were hospitalized. We discussed it all, along with our coronavirus worries, politics (we are all rabid progressives), TV shows, books, food, ways to mark the holidays, and so much more. (I should add that two other people, Lyla Glener and Hanna Griff-Sleven, are also a core part of this weekly call but they could not join us today.)

What struck me early on was their feeling, that, at this stage of their life, time was of the essence, and it was particularly poignant to have to put so much on hold – from visits with grandchildren to world travel to the simple joy of having a meal with a friend.

Here are some of the things that got them through: For Barry it was neighborhood walks, solo and with friends, which he started taking a month after the lockdown began. Very few people know more about New York City history than Barry (he leads tours for museums and historic societies), and his walks connected him with the city he so loves. More recently he has also enjoyed trips to the New York Society Library. "Ten minutes in the stacks is all I need."

For Roberta K. it was the birth of her granddaughter and seeing her slowly blossom in photographs and then in person. In the evenings during the first months of Covid, Naomi would sit outside her apartment door and swap news and stories with other neighbors down the hall. Roberta B. would see family – her early bout with Covid gave her some sense of immunity. Also, she recommends good food, alcohol, and Netflix shows.

According to Barry, "There is nothing like the return of spring. Being vaccinated is a route to the return of socialization."

I first met Barry, Lyla, Naomi, Roberta B., and Roberta K. at the Museum at Eldridge Street where they serve as docents – they are the people who greet visitors, give tours, and make the building’s 133-year history come alive. (The Museum is housed in the 1887 Eldridge Street Synagogue, a magnificent Lower East Side landmark that tells the story of Jewish immigrant life.) All gave tours of the synagogue in the “old days,” before the building was restored, and you needed to wear long underwear in the winter because there was no heat.

To get a taste of those days, check out this 2006 video that shows Barry, Roberta B, Lyla, Naomi, and other docents giving a tour of the Eldridge Street Synagogue pre-restoration. The footage is amazing! Very Miss Havisham, with shots showing the synagogue’s time-riven glory. Sadly, two of the docents, Beulah Buchwald and John Heller, are no longer with us.

As to our All Dressed outfits: without planning, we all coordinated, wearing black, white or midnight blue. There were some very special touches: Barry wore a signature bowtie – he often wears one when leading Museum tours. Roberta B. wore a beautiful necklace that an artist-friend made for her (there is a steamy backstory to this necklace which I will not share, but I will reveal that Roberta B. often has intriguing stories and is a great fan of television shows with sex and violence). Roberta K. wore her pearl earrings and pearl necklace purchased in 1998 when she was on the first Educator's Tour sponsored by the China Institute. (Roberta worked in the NYC public schools as a teacher, staff developer and Assistant Principal, Supervision of Humanities.) She has a vivid memory of the attendees running amok in a Beijing market and overwhelming the pearl lady. When fitting on the necklace for our lunch, she looked at her décolletage and said, “Now, that’s old spice!”

I especially appreciated Naomi’s effort. Knowing that I love clothing and jewelry that have a backstory, she pulled out her jewelry box, dumped all of its contents on her bed, and picked out necklaces, rings, earrings, and a pin that once belonged to her mother and that have special meaning for her. She recalls the antique shop on a narrow street in Jaffa where in the 1970s her mother found the drops for the earrings she is wearing. This was not an organized shop with displays, but rather boxes of things through which one sifted. The owner was impressed with her mother's good taste and ability to poke through it all and find a treasure.

My only disappointment for this week's visit is that Lyla and Hanna, our two other Zoom call members, were not able to join us. Lyla appears in the photo below, and as you can tell from the leather pants she is an incredibly stylish person!

When I asked the group what were the bright spots during this year of Covid, their answers ran the gamut, but there was one common denominator: our weekly Zoom calls. I one-hundred percent feel the same.

Barry, Roberta B, Amy (me), Roberta K, Naomi, Lyla - our last 3/8/2020 gathering took place just before lockdown

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