Family and Friends Remember Judi Singer
Heidi: I remember going to the Prospect Park Zoo to see the lions. I remember her folding laundry in the hallway outside my bedroom door where I could see her as I tried to fall asleep, scared of the dark. I remember beautiful trips to the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens. I remember her reading to me in the children’s library at the Brooklyn Public Library. I remember her reading me stories all the time. It was one of my favorite things. She was theatrical and fun. I remember marshmallow snowmen on my 3rd or 5th birthday cake. I remember Christmas cookies and the excitement of holidays. I remember her wonderful laugh. I remember battles over clothes as a teenager and her buying me the red coat I wanted in the end. I remember her saying “poor baby” with sympathy and care when I was sad. I remember her calling me “cookie pie” and “sweetie pie”. I remember how joyful we all were when Solomon was born, our baby boy. I remember our annual Christmas shopping excursions. Lunch followed by hunting for stocking stuffers and fun presents for everyone. I remember how she insisted we have Chanukah parties and invite all our friends to share the holiday. I remember how she told the story of Chanukah and led the candle lighting and singing. I remember how happy and excited she was when I got married. Infectious joy. I remember how she was when my babies were born. The most gentle and serene I’d ever seen her when holding them. She was the only one I wanted in those first difficult post -partum weeks. She took good care of me. I remember the last birthday gift she picked out and gave me — a beautiful Italian pottery sugar bowl and creamer that she knew I’d love. Similar to a pattern I’d chosen for my wedding registry. It was more expensive than usual for birthday gifts but she was getting sick and she wanted to give me something special.
Rachel: All parents leave a legacy and my mother’s legacy to me was grit and determination. And these traits are what made my recovery possible. What I have learned from my mother’s passing is that the more complicated a story, the more essential it is to remember what is important. And so I have chosen a memory to hold in my heart that I would like to share. For as long as I can remember, a family tradition was to go to the botanical gardens when the cherry blossoms bloomed. One year there were taiko drummers among the cherry blossoms and as they performed the blossoms fell and blew around them and this was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. I looked forward to cherry blossoms all. Year. In Japan, cherry blossoms are symbolic of renewal, and of the fleeting nature of life because they bloom for only two weeks in the spring. And that trip was a time of renewal, a time of connection for our family. And so as I move forward in my life, when I think of my mother I will think of cherry blossoms. I will think of the taiko drummers. And my memory of her will be a one of the renewal of love, and of healing. For me grief is a process of letting go, of embracing healing and forgiveness, so I chanted a Shinto prayer at my mother’s bedside. The prayer tells the story of the creator of the land of Japan who purified himself at the mouth of the river after following his beloved to the underworld and realizing she would never return. It is a prayer to the Shinto deities, Kami of heaven and earth to help us purify our spirits and cleanse of sin. It is a prayer of spiritual purification. So I thought it would be good to chant to mom. It helped me access grief I was having trouble feeling.
Solomon: Judith Yanowitz Singer was born October 23, 1943. According to my grandmother, it was very carefully planned. She wanted three children and she wanted the middle child to be a girl. She also wanted a reason for my grandfather to not be drafted, and the draft board accepted that a pregnant wife who already had an infant son should not be without her husband. While my entire life she lived in arguably the most urban city in the world, my mother always had a connection to nature, possibly stemming from her youth on the farm. As a child, she taught me the names of every tree and flower we saw. When I’m working in my garden now, I always think how much she’d love it. A whole new group of flowers to learn and love. My love of music and musicals comes from her. We could fill hours and hours with songs. Singing with my mother is my childhood memory. It’s how we passed the time on long drives, or hikes, or in the kitchen, or on any and every holiday. My mother only cooked on special occasions and only very specific dishes, but they are the dishes I remember that always brought me comfort. And she loved special occasions. We celebrated holidays from every culture she discovered. We celebrated Jewish Holidays, American Holidays, Christian Holidays, Hindu Holidays, Shinto Holidays. Anything that had a unique ornamental expression, or song, or food. A world of festivals in our Brooklyn apartment. When she lost the strength to celebrate, I took up that mantle. The dishes she no longer cooked. The ornaments she no longer found. She has missed so many years of celebrations at this point, but I imagine she would be happy to see her legacies continue. Judith Yanowitz Singer left this world on October 17, 2021.
When I’m gone, Don’t think of me
Don’t notice that I’m not there
Let my memories fly from you
Don’t give me a moment’s care
Things you should remember
are vast and are numerous
There is never a need
To wallow, to mope, or to fuss
These moments of bliss
Or things of their nature
Close your eyes and reminisce
That time you laughed so hard you cried
That time you wept but felt calm and right
The morning after, when the rainbow came
The senseless joy, no reason could tame
The smell of flowers, overpowering
Being covered in sweat, and finally showering
A taste so sweet, you immediately felt sick
But having seconds and thirds, after waiting a tick
Remember sunshine, Remember clouds,
Remember nights, Remember days
Remember every hope and plan,
Forget we ever parted ways
Don’t waste your hours
Wishing I were near
Rejoice in your life;
Each happy thought hold dear
Don’t think of me when I’m gone
David: I was looking at several photos of Judi as a child. She looks so delicate to me. Very shy. My sister did not share her feelings about her life journey with me. As a result, although I was aware of her work to some extent, there were many things that I did not know about her and that she did not know about me. Our family was the 5 Musketeers. Very closely knit in a way. I think she idolized our parents in their political activism, and outspokenness. My father’s acting and presentation skills. My mother’s ethics and intelligence. And, to me, she was an interesting combination of my mother and father. Though, as Heidi once said to me, she was just like my mother. Worked long hours. Never stopped. Devoted to raising her children well. And although, I think she was also pretty shy, she learned how not to let that hold her back. While in Junior High School, she hosted a Halloween party at the farm. We have some film footage (no sound) of that party. I sort of hung around and she never asked me to “go away.” As I did in high school with the National Conference of Christians and Jews, she became involved with some group of people her age who cared about the world, especially equality. There is no idealism like that of teenagers. She hosted a reunion of sorts at our home, where everyone slept on the floor, some boys smoking pipes (very cool to me), and lots of fun. They were very inclusive of me and loving. Again, she allowed that to happen. That group invited me to a subsequent reunion. Again, she seemed to have no problem having her little brother tag along. I loved it. That was probably the closest we ever were, except when we planned my father’s 60th surprise birthday party. At the party, when my brother called my father up on the phone (allegedly from California) in order to wish him a Happy Birthday, then told my father to “hang on a moment,” (my father incredulously telling Judi and me that my brother had stepped away from the phone and “Oh My God, this call is costing my brother a fortune!” — little did my father know that my brother was actually in the upstairs apartment of their duplex in New Jersey- and walked down the back stairs to where my father was standing and WAITING with the phone in his hand. We all had planned this delicious moment. My father could not comprehend it for a moment. Tears spurted, literally, from my sister’s eyes, straight forward, and then down, as my brother HANDED him a bottle of champagne. I’d never seen tears do that. She loved our Dad a lot! Adored him, I think. For a long time, she expressed disapproval of my career choice and how I was living my life when we were both adults. But, years later, she did not resist my coming back into her life. She had come to accept, perhaps even understand and accept my choices — that I cared about the world, too — “forgive” me?, and even be a bit proud of me. I’m glad we had those final years together.
Alan: Judi and I met and became friends when we worked together at Camp Hurley in the early 1970s. We later became neighbors when we worked together at the United Community Centers and eventually we became more than friends. When our special relationship started we discussed whether it was a “maybe” or a “for now.” Gradually it became a “forever.” Judi made me part of her family with Heidi and Rachel and then we added Solomon. We were friends, travelers, celebrators, lovers, partners in struggle, and most importantly, family. As Judi became increasingly ill, the last decade became very difficult. I made a promise to her, to the family, and to myself, that I would care for her until the end. I hope I lived up to my promise. As an early childhood educator, Judi always loved children’s picture books, especially those which contained a message, which taught as well as entertained. The Banza, based on a Haitian fairy tale, was one of Judi’s favorite children’s books. In her doctoral dissertation, Judi called the MLE Learning Center by the “Nom de Guerre” Banza. Banza is the story of Teegra, a little tiger, and Cabree, a young goat. They became friends despite their differences. Teegra gave Cabree a small banjo, a Haitian banza, to carry with him so if ever Cabree was in trouble he could summon help. But in the end, Cabree did not need protection from Teegra. The banza gave Cabree the strength to stand up for himself. I think Judi loved Banzi because she was Cabree. Her bangos were her family and friends and her ideas, her dreams, for a better and more just world. As she grew, Judi did not need a Tigree because she had her own vision and she had us and we were all lucky to be part of her Banza. We are here today to thank Judi for sharing her life with us.
Anita: I’ve had a long time to think about today, but even though I knew how sick Judi was, and even though we’ve been losing her for a while, and now she is no longer in pain, I’m still devastated. I’ve also been wondering what I should speak about when this day came: Should I talk about the time Judi drove me home from camp when my mother died, with a 4 year old Heidi, and an 18 month old Rachel in tow? Should I mention the time I had dinner with Judi and the girls in their apartment on Eastern Parkway, when Judi said it was nice to have an adult to talk to, and I thought, “Wow, Judi thinks I’m an adult!”? Or how much it meant to me to be included in the Singer-Kling household, watching the Muppet Show and Wonder Woman with Sol, sharing Christmas morning? Or when Steve and I, with and without our kids, vacationed in Maine with Judi and Alan? Or the times we shared the joys and tribulations of parenthood? Should I talk about the 20 years we worked together in the Learning Center, with Judi always pushing for a curriculum of social activism, demonstrating for a just world, which would probably be called Critical Race Theory today? Did she know the many teachers who moved on to the NYC schools, and other school systems, some of whom are here today, who have told me that Judi was a major influence not only on how they taught, but how they see our country and the world? I guess that’s the point. Judi was such an important part of my life for the last 50 years. I will always miss her. Heidi, Rachel, Solomon and your families, I also mourn for your loss. In one of the last substantive conversations I had with Judi, she was upset with me. It was soon after Hurricane Katrina, and Alan and I had a disagreement, actually an argument, about whether people should give to relief organizations in New Orleans. As she realized that she was declining, she wanted me to be kinder to, and more patient with, Alan. As she worried about her health, she also worried about Alan. I don’t know how successful I’ve been in being patient, but I am so grateful to Alan. He promised that as long as Judi was aware of what was going on, he would keep her at home. He did that and more. Thank you, Alan. You deserve all the happiness in the world.
Sally: I have so, so many. We met when we began the doctoral program in the early childhood-elementary education program at NYU — two “mature” students with early childhood backgrounds. Although I eventually transferred to the English Education program, we became close friends, often sitting in Prospect Park talking about our two teenage sons, sharing ideas about the courses we taught there, supporting one another through the courses and dissertation process. She was a wonderful teacher — I observed some of the classes she taught at NYU. She was a careful and empathic listener, creating a supportive classroom atmosphere. Once we graduated, we began to do research together, she representing LIU. We looked at and compared the responses of our teacher education students . Our students were from diverse backgrounds — urban and suburban. We looked at their responses to multicultural children’s and YA literature. We wrote articles and presented at conferences together — I loved going to her thoughtful presentations– and went to Cuba, Grenada, and Paris…presenting both together and separately — exhilarating stuff! Once Judi became ill, and was wheelchair bound and then home bound, we enjoyed singing and reading favorite children’s books together. Judi’s insights and background in community work and social responsibility influenced my own writing and our collaborations. Her friendship was precious to me — over these last years, I have missed having her in my life. Her life as an educator was a model for me, for her students, for the world. She was truly a person who made a difference.
Mel: I met Judi in Camp Hurley in 1968. I soon learned that Judi was a hell of an organizer and educator. Judi organized the UCC committee for child-care in East New York. Local parents were demanding quality, safe child-care as working-class women entered the work place in great numbers in the late 60s and early seventies. They got a response from our local Assembly member, Ed Griffith, who helped push through our grassroots’ initiated bill through the legislature, which was signed by Governor Rockefeller, (a Republican!). This campaign was not just for our Center, We were one of 5 centers in the initiative, the opener for government supported and community run daycare in New York. Ultimately, we got our Children’s Learning Center, Griffith became known as Mr. Daycare in Albany, Judi became the first Educational Director While organizing the campaign, and in the curriculum planning period, Judi worked as an unpaid volunteer, 7 days a week. At that time, she was a single mom with 2 little girls and with no day care help. She paid out of her pocket for baby-sitting in the long evenings she worked. We owe her for her contribution of time, energy, and creativity. Think back to 1973/74 at 613 New Lots Ave. “Merry Christmas Judi”
“Christmas doesn’t make me merry.” “OH, sorry I forgot” Happy Chanukah Judy.” “Chanukah doesn’t make me happy either” “We should learn about all the people, customs, and holidays of the world our children grow up in and inherit.” “But there are no kids or teachers here from Thailand or Uganda” “You don’t have to have people here present to value them, and learn to fight alongside them for a better world.” “But Judi, that will be a real struggle” “That’s it! Let’s build a Celebration of Struggle!
Carol: When Judy enrolled in our doctoral program at New York University, she was assigned to me as a graduate assistant. Officially, she as doctoral student, but it was immediately apparent to me that the term applied to Judy only in its broadest interpretation. She committed to learning, exploring new ideas, and investigating issues. In that sense she was a student. But if the term implied being a novice, it did not apply to Judy. She entered the program with long and successful experience with children as a mother, teacher, program administrator, and advocate. Using this rich background as a springboard, she excelled in the program as she explored new directions and acquired research skills and completed her dissertation. At the same time, she served the department admirably by supervising student teachers and conducting classes. We regarded her as a colleague. Once she received her degree, we became personal friends. I cheered her professional accomplishments and heard about the activities of her family. When her illness was diagnosed, I admired the ways in which they gathered around her and found ways to help her live her life as fully as possible. The last time I visited Judy, we sang nursery songs. Her illness had advanced, but her concern for children, so deeply embedded, remained intact.
Rozella: My most vivid memories of Judy were the multi-cultural events and displays I attended at the Learning Center and the workshops she led at our professional Social Studies conferences illustrating the creative the use of children’s books. Judi brought a love for people, a welcoming inclusive perspective to every thing she did years before it had become part of the greater social movement. And I remember you both opening your home to my children and me around holiday times sharing the traditions of the Seder. When I mentioned to my daughter Laura that Judi had passed. Laura recalled going to your apartment in Starrett City where she learned about the Seder.