After their retirement, my husband’s parents sang in a senior citizen choir. Their chorale group was headed by a woman named Evelyn. My father-in-law would say she was a tough taskmaster as he diligently studied his performance songs. My mother-in-law tirelessly scouted out their closets for the appropriate attire to wear at their concerts. Evelyn was adamant about their white tops and dark skirts or slacks.
When I saw a man with Evelyn’s uncommon family name on the front page of our newspaper, I quickly worked to find out if it was her son. Indeed, it was her youngest of four children who was scheduled to perform in a one-man show in our area. The article detailed his impressive training and the context of the show, which mimicked lots of the same life my husband and I lived in Elizabeth.
Remembering that my brother-in-law once penned a piece about my father-in-law’s singing, I quickly went about finding his pamphlet of short stories, which my in-laws had saved. With my husband’s parents and their choral director Evelyn long gone, it’s nice to have these memories reignited. I felt certain that her son would agree.
In order to tell the man that my husband and I planned to attend his performance and ask that he save us seats, I sent off a quick email with the subject matter, “Evelyn Takiff was a name we heard often,” sure to get him to open the correspondence. In the body of the email I wrote, “Hi Michael, Talk about legacies. I explain in the attached. Looking forward to seeing you perform on Saturday.”
The attached letter stated, “Your mother gave my in-laws, Hilda and Isadore (Is) Cohen (Is, an Elizabeth native, 1911-1998, is interred with Hilda and their son Jeffrey at Gomel Chesed [where the newspaper article showed Michael visiting the graves of his own family members], along with many other members of our family), years of joy, as they sang their hearts out under her respected tutelage.”
My brother-in-law Bryan Cohen wrote about his parents’ singing group, in 1992. Part of the piece, as shown in the clip to Michael, is below.
“My husband, Arnee Cohen, was a year behind your brother Howard at Hamilton and Jefferson. He recalls that Howie played an instrument. Funny, the things that stick with you. Arnee grew up on Pennington Street and I moved from Roselle, to Cross Avenue in Elizabeth, in 1965, when I was in 6th grade. Arnee and I met in 1969, and have been together ever since. I graduated from Battin.
“Your website accentuated our similar backgrounds. If you go to sharonmarkcohen.com, you can read some of my pieces, which explore our mutual interests, and note my bio, ‘Sharon Mark Cohen, MPA, is a seasoned genealogist and journalist. A contributing writer at The Jewish Link, Sharon is a people person and born storyteller who feels that everyone is entitled to a legacy. Sharon was acknowledged by two authors in their recently published books and is looking forward to the publication of her family history book.’
“My literary agent has submitted my book to several mainstream publishing houses. It contains lots of talk about our Elizabeth, with words on Rabbi Teitz, Gomel Chesed, Warinanco, and more. Arnee and I plan to attend your performance in Maplewood on January 26. We look forward to meeting you and seeing you perform. Hopefully, we can speak for a bit after the show or arrange to speak soon after.”
Michael did not disappoint. He gave a stellar two-hour, one-man performance. We got to meet him as he approached us right after the show. When we returned home I quickly sent off an email saying, “Good to meet you tonight Michael. We enjoyed your performance enormously. which was fun, funny, thought-provoking, and visions of sugar-plums danced in our heads as we relived our parallel worlds growing up in Elizabeth.”
I suppose you had to be there. Like Michael, Arnee and I hope that many, many others will see his performance of Jews, God, and History (Not Necessarily in That Order). In our humble opinion, the show with Michael performing is destined for Broadway. We’ll look forward to seeing it again.
I also know that I cannot wait for Michael to read my book, Kitchen Talk, and to help get the word out. Now that our paths have crossed, we’re able to move ahead and help one another tell about our Elizabeth. To get started, Michael will be a guest on my husband’s weekly radio show, The World of Work. Tune in Friday, March 22, 2019, to hear the interview by going to www.wdvrfm.org, at 4:00 PM EST. In the meantime, be sure to visit michaeltakiff.com.