RIP Cousins Alan (Friedman) Siegel (January 19, 1935 - March 18, 2019) and Alan Friedman (June 28, 1944 - March 18, 2019)
On March 18, 2019, my paternal Aunt Fannie would have been 101. She used to say that it could still snow on her birthday. She died when she was 75. I knew her all the years of my life to that time and I knew her very well. She plays an important part in Kitchen Talk.
Ironically, my two maternal cousins born Alan Friedman died on her birthday this year. Maybe it didn’t snow, but there was a cloud over my life.
I only knew Alan Siegel, age 84, for scant over eight years, even though he was my first cousin, born “Alan Mendel Friedman” as he announced to me the first time he called to tell me that I found him. I knew my second cousin Alan Friedman, age 74, for 15 years. I searched long and hard and found them both through my genealogy research. There were mysteries in both cases. Sadly, the two cousins named Alan never met.
“First cousin” Alan’s biological father, my uncle Al (born Aaron, who took the name Alfred and was known as Al) was divorced and started a new family; so had “first cousin” Alan’s mother. My cousin, estranged from our family, had taken his stepfather’s family name of Siegel.
In the case of Alan from Chicago, his grandfather and my grandfather had broken ties and their families never knew each other. Yet, some of their children had the same given names, most likely named for the same deceased ancestors. The first time we met “second cousin” Alan and his wife Karyl was at Sunday brunch in Chicago, when they readily took us up on a last minute invitation with Alan pointedly questioning, “What else do people have to do on Sunday morning?”
After that opportune meeting in the outskirts of Chicago, over the years we had several happy reunions. We vacationed in Cave Creek, Arizona, where we enjoyed an early morning hike with a small entourage of other newly discovered cousins; Chicago, where we gallivanted around the “Windy City”; Austin, Texas, for the wedding of his younger sister Carol’s daughter; Santa Fe, where we were hosted by his son Ron for one of the family reunion dinners; and most recently, Houston in October, where we all enjoyed an interesting and informative afternoon tour of NASA by a working astronaut, among other fun stops and socializing while having meals together that weekend. One time when we were in Chicago for a wedding, Alan and a few others joined us downtown for dinner.
His obituary published in Chicago Suburban Daily Herald on Mar. 20, 2019, tells more: “Alan Friedman, 74, beloved husband and best friend of Karyl, nee Schulman, for 52 wonderful years; loving father of Ron and Mark; cherished Papa of Alex, Sydney and Jake; devoted son of the late Temma and Jack; dear brother of Myrna (Ed) Frankle and Carol (Sherwin) Field; treasured uncle, cousin and friend of many. Alan was an extreme bowler, a card fanatic and an avid fan of television, movies and theatre. Of Alan's many joys in his life, his family was his greatest, followed closely by bowling. Chapel service Thursday 10 AM at Shalom Memorial Funeral Home, 1700 W. Rand Road, Arlington Heights. Interment Shalom Memorial Park. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Autism Speaks Chicago Walk at Alan's team page "Alex's Advocates."
While also ending with an obituary coming too soon, my tenacity paid off, as well, when I found “first cousin” Alan. Days later he and his wife Sandy were at our home for dinner, followed by a much-anticipated visit to my then 95-year-old mother, his aunt, whom he had the opportunity to meet for the first time when he was 75. Soon after, he and Sandy had us for dinner at their luxurious New York City apartment. That summer, we visited at their Woodstock, New York house, next door to his son Jeff’s, where we met Jeff and his family and Alan’s sister Bonnie, also my first cousin, for the first time. Each time, we were able to meet more family and get more acquainted.
Our forays continued with dinner at some of the finest New York City restaurants, many in their swank neighborhood near Gramercy, Madison and Union Square Park, culminating with our final get-together at their social club, the National Arts Club, in May 2018. There, Alan so proudly pointed out all the various eloquent Tiffany windows and beautiful artifacts around the landmarked brownstone building. In April 2015, we were awed by Alan’s paintings and pastels at a personal show he had at the American Watercolor Society Patrons’ Gallery.
It was “first cousin” Alan who also introduced us to the Park Avenue Armory at 66th Street, a fine New York institution, which he took a major role in restoring to its original grandeur. On Sun, Jul 10, 2011 - 7:35 pm, I sent Alan an email: Subject: Wow! Hi Alan, Arnee and I just came from seeing Romeo and Juliet at the Armory with Moss [who was an intern at the armory at the time, thanks to cousin Alan]. Not only was the production wonderful as expected (and reported in The New York Times yesterday), it is amazing how much you've enriched our lives in the 1/2 year since we've connected.”
Heartwarmingly, on one occasion Alan wrote to me, “Well Sharon, I feel the same way about you...as I have told you, I remain very grateful for your persistence in finding me as it brought closure to a lifetime of wondering about identity as well as introducing me to a very lovely and loving family.”
“First cousin” Alan never forgot that I was the one who found him and was able to answer his first chilling question, “Could you please tell me, do I have any brothers or sisters?” Upon meeting his sister Bonnie he wrote on 1-11-11,
“Dear Sharon, …I went to Naples Florida last week to meet Bonnie and stayed at her apartment for the night. She is delightful to know and have as a sister. We got along splendidly, liked each other and expressed our remorse over the years of secrets which kept us apart. We will keep in touch and find other ways of being together. We owe this to you and my gratitude grows every day. Of all things, after this reunion of the long lost, my Aunt Ruth ‘discovered’ she had a photo of the Rose family and the Friedmans taken probably 1934 in Cleveland…”
In one of the many memorials posted in The New York Times, the Thompson Family Foundation posted on March 27, 2019:
Alan Siegel, director of The Thompson Family Foundation, a charitable foundation with a goal to give back to America - through arts, culture, education and science, and in particular, cancer research, passed away March 18th. Alan was one of those truly remarkable individuals who thrived on supporting scientific and humanitarian innovations as well as artistic endeavors. He traveled the world many times over and created powerful partnerships like the one between Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and the Weizmann Institute which resulted in successful clinical trials for an early-stage of prostate cancer therapy. Among some of the charitable entities close to his heart were also those that were Woodstock based, including the Maverick Concerts, Woodstock School of Art and the Woodstock Film Festival, where his support went specifically towards the festival’s Youth Initiative.
Together with his childhood sweetheart, his wife Sandy, Alan experienced life to the fullest. No one enjoyed and appreciated culture, art, scientific discoveries and helping humanity more than he did. An accomplished artist in his own right, Alan was a man with many stories to tell, many adventures to have lived, and has accumulated countless grateful individuals and organizations along the way.
We send our deepest condolences to Alan’s family and friends as we mourn the passing of a truly remarkable man. Rest in peace.”
This is a man who was forever grateful to me. I am so humbled.
The two Alans are the epitome of the changes in family life in America since Papa came to this country in 1906, from Mozyr, White Russia (now Belarus). In America, Papa labored as a deliveryman of ice in summer and coal in winter. Within the past ten years, someone introduced me to a man who grew up in shtetl-like Roselle, New Jersey, where I was raised.
The man was from my mother’s generation and he gave me a pictorial of my Papa Harry Friedman selling ice with a burlap apron wrapped around his body, he explained, so the ice was not too cold for him to handle. With a chuckle, the man made a point of telling me that, as a young boy in the neighborhood, he would pay Papa first and then my grandfather would cut the chunk of ice. From his description, I could just picture him running past the apartment I grew up in to get home before the ice melted to turn it over to his mother to refresh their ice box. An immigrant, Papa had 11 children with two wives. His firstborn son, Aaron (aka Al), was married to “first cousin” Alan’s mother. Papa’s brother Gus was “second cousin” Alan’s paternal grandfather.
Luckily for me, I got to know both of these charitable Alans in the years since we met. I’ll remember their hugs, their love, and their laughter. It was a true joy to see these handsome, debonair men with their families. They taught me so much. No, it didn’t snow this March 18, but a cloud came over me as I got the news of losing two cousins on that one day, both born Alan Friedman.
I feel so blessed for finding and spending time getting to know my two maternal cousins named Alan. Anyone can see that I carry the fondest of memories culminating from 30+ years of devotion to my genealogical research. I don’t know what Papa would say, for he died before I was two, but whatever he would say, I know that it would be spoken in Yiddish.