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February 14, 2014     Heritage Florida Jewish News
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February 14, 2014
 

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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, FEBRUARY 14, 2014 r PAGE 11A Seeking kin: What's in a namer.,, How about a family reunion By Hillel Kuttler The "Seeking Kin" column aims to help reunite long-lost relatives and friends. BALTIMORE (JTA)--For Rich Lindemon III, the brunch for six that Benita Schwartzman hosted in her Baltimore townhouse was a reintroduction to long-lost family and a chance to fill in some gaps. Lindemon, a mechanical engineer from nearby York, Pa., had long known of the Schwartzmans and remem- bered them fondly. His late mother, Susan, was Benita's niece, but except for a brief period in 1981, the families had little contact going back to the late 1960s, when Susan at 17 married Lindemon's father, Richard Jr., her high school classmate and a Christian. Susan's life was marked by tragedy. Her mother, Shirley, abandoned the family when Susan was 7. Susan spent sev- eral teenage years living away from home and her father, Bob Cohen, committed suicide in 1985. A dozen years later, by then long divorced and remar- ried, Susan also committed suicide; she was 49. Lindemon believes his mother's marriage at a young age probably represented an opportunity for a fresh start, and that included abandon- ing her Jewish upbringing. Lindemon and his older sister, Barbara, were raised without religious orientation, but the Catholic family of their stepfa- ther eventually led to the boy's decision to become baptized. Now 45, Lindemon is grate- ful to find his Jewish relatives and stunned at the coincidenc- es that brought them together. To Benita, their reconnection was "bashert," fated. An electronic malfunction, a football conversation and a name uttered at the end of a chance encounter were responsible. It was a frigid November morning. My son and I were heading to downtown Balti- more aboard a trolley to attend the Ravens game against the New York Jets. Lindemon, a Ravens season-ticket holder, was riding the trolley, too, as was his wont on game days, but couldn't follow his practice of listening to radio sports talk to prime him for the game: The battery on his iPod had died. So instead he launched into football chatter with the strangers sitting alongside, drawn by my Jets garb. Fifteen minutes later, the trolley stopped and we de- scended to the platform at Camden Yards prepared to go our separate ways. During a final handshake we exchanged names. Mine prompted Linde- mon to remark that a long-lost cousin was named Hillel. He fumbled for the cousin's surname. "Schwartzman," he blurt- ed. "Rich," I said, breaking the handshake and touching his left shoulder, "the guy who gave my son and me the tickets for today's game is Hillel's brother, Mark." Mark Schwartzman, I explained, attends my synagogue. Lindemon, gazing in dis- belief, then offered the names of the Schwartzmans' parents as his Uncle Alfred and Aunt Benita. Correct, I confirmed, having visited the shiva house upon Alfred's death in 2006. The next day, Mark wel- comed the news I conveyed. With his agreement, I con- nected the two, and they took it from there, corresponding by email and arranging the Jan. 26 gathering at Benita's. "I haven't seen you in years, but I remember you," Lindemon said, stepping in the home in the Pikesville neighborhood and shaking the hand of David, Benita's youngest son. Lindemon clearly recalled attending David's bar mitzvah 33 years ago, even mentioning the delicious food, and visit- ing the Schwartzmans a few weeks before the rite, when Davidwas practicing his Torah reading and Lindemon swam in the pool. Benita brought David's bar mitzvah album to the table, and over bagels and spreads she introduced him to the images of her and Lindemon's family, although he and his mother did not appear in any photo- graphs. Nor were there photos of Shirley, yet she dominated the brunch conversation. No one, in fact, knewwheth- er she was even alive. Linde- mon mentioned a brief search when he worked at Social SecurityAdministration head- quarters, having heard she was employed there, too. He even found Shirley Schwartz- man--she'd apparently gone back to her maiden name--in the agency's directory. But she worked in a building to which he did not have access and he did not pursue the search. "I was this close to going to the building to find her," Linde- mon said of his grandmother. "I regret it to this day." "Don't regret it," Benita said. "She didn't want to be found." Lindemon said his mother determined laterwhere Shirley was living. "She knocked on the door and a voice said, 'Go away.' My mother was devastated," he recalled. The often-difficult conver- sation around the Sunday table would encompass a family history that included mental illness, abuse of prescription drugs, teenage pregnancy andspousal abuse alongwith suicide, divorce and estrange- ment. "Every family has its dys- function," Mark Schwartzman said. The information exchange was matter of fact, the Schwartzmans filling in Lin- demon's gaps--or as many key ones as possible in two hours. Further opportunities await. "I'll have to come back and get all the names and stories," Lindemon said, putting away the iPad on which he had displayed photos of his own family. "You're in our life now. We're not going to let you get away," Benita said. "I'm not going to say we'll keep in touch because that doesn't [convey] it. We're blood." The next day, Lindemon emailed the relatives he'd just met. "Words cannot describe the feelings of joy and satisfaction I have, now that I have had the opportunity to sit and learn a little bit more about who I am--where I come from--and who my family is," he wrote. "From the moment I walked into Aunt Benita': house, I immediately felt comfortable, as if I was around true fam- ily. You guys aren't just new friends that I am just making acquaintanc with. We really are family and I am grateful to have you." Please email Hillel Kuttler at seekingkin@jta.org if you would like "Seeking Kin" to write about your search for long-lost relatives and friends, please include the principal facts and your contact in- formation in a brief email. "Seeking Kin" is sponsored by Bryna Shuchat and Joshua Landes and family in loving memory of their mother and grandmother, Miriam Shu- chat, a lifelong uniter of the Jewish people. FIRST WE LISTEN... THEN WE DELIVER! LET MY 47 YEARS OF INSURANCE EXPERIENCE WORK FOR YOU I WILL REVIEW YOUR COVERAGES AND INSURANCE EXPOSURES TO PROTECT YOUR BUSINESS BY MEETING YOUR SPECIAL NEEDS! We offer All Forms of Insurance Products for Every Business - Large and Small Retailers, Manufacturers, Contractors, Service Industries, Restaurants, Child Care, Physicians, Attorneys, Engineers, Builders Call Today To Schedule A No Obligation Appointment At Your Convenience Marshall L. Helbraun Representing The Sihle Insurance Group, Inc. An Independant Insurance Agency Phone: 1-800-432-6652 (407) 761-3521 (cell phone) Hillel Kuttler Benita Schwartzman and her son, Mark, left, welcomed Rich Lindemon !I! back into the family circle. Schwartzman is holding a picture of her with her late husband, Alfred. i i Lifestyles Issue March 7, 2014 House and home,real estate, travel, food and dining,cars,fashion,jewelry, Judaica, entertain- ment, books, sports, games, music, art, crafts, hobbies and leisure, clubs and organizations, volunteering. Advertising Deadhne. February 26, 2014 For More Information, Call: 407-834-8787