JCC in Manhattan


Gently into the Jewish life, or
My summer with Uncle Max

By Sandi Isaacson with Susan Rogers

This could also be called "how I became an Orthodox Jew." The story goes back to my grandfather, Sam, who was very active in his synagogue. I treasure the prayer book his synagogue presented to him in 1946, for making its 60th anniversary celebration such a success.  Because I was named for him, I felt a bond between us.  He died before I was born, but through Judaism I have always felt a connection to him.

Full of questions
The summer before my fifth grade year, our family took a cross-country trip, and in Denver, I met my grandfather's middle brother.  Uncle Max was very warm to me because I was such an inquisitive 10-year-old, and also because he had no girls. His son, Harris, was then in high school.

After that vacation, the adults arranged things, and before going into the seventh grade, I spent the whole summer with my substitute grandfather and his wife, Aunt Malvine. I had been told that Uncle Max was very observant, and that I should "just put up with it." But it turned out to be a something special.

Sabbaths were magical
Max encouraged my interest in Judaism in a way that was just beautiful. Malvine would start talking to me on Tuesday about what we should have for the Sabbath and how should she cook the chicken. They made the Sabbath the highlight of the week in a magical way I'd never seen anybody else do. I was not allowed soda during the week, but they would buy a six-pack of my favorite kind just for the Sabbath.

Peers lined up
Before I arrived in Denver, Max obtained from the Jewish Community Center the names of kids my age.  He even spoke with their parents and learned what kinds of activities they were involved in. Soon after my arrival, he took me to the JCC and got me a guest pass. It wasn't long before I began to meet all these peers with common interests.

Soda and chips
Max did set rules. It would get very, very hot in the afternoons, although I didn't notice the heat without the humidity that accompanied it back home. Max instituted rule requiring that I take a quiet rest hour with one or two friends. But on the Sabbath, I was allowed to invite 4 friends in the house, and we could have soda and chips.  Max even worked out something special with Malvine for the time period when she would lie down for her Sabbath nap.

Nap-time chess
That would be my special time with Max, and that was

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Sandi poses with Uncle Max by the lake at the famous Broadmoor Hotel, in Colorado Springs, at the foot of the Rockies, one of his favorite tourist day trips from Denver.

when he started teaching me to play chess.  I was amazed at their gift for getting me to do what they wanted.  For example: I was not to go out because that was our chess time.

Cousin Harris may well remember me as a pain. He is almost six years older than me, but there was one occasion when he was nice enough to show me what he was doing with his model building.

Shul with Max
On Friday, I would go with Max to shul. I was little, so he could take me, and that was OK up to a certain age. He taught me the structure of davening, but I never learned enough to keep up with him. 

On the way back from shul, we would have a nice leisurely walk and pass by other synagogues, which he would point out and tell me all about.

Faberman clan around the table at Max's

1964 Worlds Fair brought Denver's Fabermans to NYC.

First boyfriend
On Shabbos morning, Max and I would go to shul. After shul, he encouraged me to socialize, and he would let me invite a kid for lunch. That's how I met my first boy-friend.  He was a newspaper carrier, and he had won a full tuition scholarship to Exeter for the coming year.  We had a chess match going and corresponded for a while.

Back in New York 

by Susan Rogers   

The die was cast, and when Sandi returned home to New York after that summer in Denver, she looked up organizations for Jewish young people.  

Found rabbi
"Uncle Max had hooked me up with a Young Judea group in Denver.  When I came home, I found the nearest Young Judea group met in an Orthodox synagogue," she said. Its rabbi got Sandi involved in Yeshiva University's community outreach program.  After a couple of years, Sandi began working with handicapped Jewish youth.

Wheelchair repair
Sandi's earlier volunteer work at Cerebral Palsy had taught her how to lift disabled people and such essential skills as how to pull apart a wheelchair. She even learned to do minor repairs such as tightening wheels.

Sandi began integrating into Yeshiva University's outreach program disabled young people 14 and 15 years old.

Tradition, tradition
Sandi regularly attended shabbaton In high 

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1969 vacation group

school. This Friday-night-to-Sunday-morning event spent learning, praying, celebrating and socializing in a Jewish environment was often held at Yeshiva University.  A shabbaton there usually involved about 150 high school aged youngsters supervised by about 25 college students.

Likeable kids
When friends who drove came into the picture, it wasn't unusual for one of them and Sandi to take a disabled shabbaton-attendee out for the day. "I liked those kids," she said.  

That summer Sandi came up with the idea of throwing a party in the backyard of her parents' house for those disabled kids from the shabbaton.        

Next:  Sandi's party