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Friends to the End: Seniors Reminisce About Lifelong Buddies
BFF takes on a new meaning for the following believers in the “buddy system.” Because these friends have been just that — if not forever, close to it. Here are their stories:
When Carole King and James Taylor sang “You’ve Got a Friend,” Steve Katz understood.
Take the night when Katz and Dave Sternberg were on their way home from Atlantic City and a scene unfolded that Katz would later describe as “pure David.” That episode reminded Katz why he considers himself so fortunate to have counted Sternberg among his closest friends since the late 1960s, before either had celebrated his Bar Mitzvah.
“I’m driving, and I’d just stopped to pay the toll at the Ben Franklin Bridge,” related Katz, an Elkins Park resident. “All of a sudden, David, who’s in the passenger seat, leans over and asks the toll collector if this is the Golden Gate Bridge. The toll collector tells him the Golden Gate Bridge is in San Francisco, that we’re in Philadelphia, and this is the Ben Franklin Bridge. Without missing a beat, David smacks me and says, ‘I told you a long time ago we were going in the wrong direction!’
“I looked over at the toll collector,” Katz continued, “and he’s doubled over laughing. What happened that night wasn’t really unusual. He’s so funny and so quick on the uptake that he makes people around him laugh all the time.”
Katz actually remembered the exact day that his friendship with Sternberg commenced.
“It was Oct. 1, 1969,” he said. “I’d just moved here with my family from St. Louis, 12 years old, this total Midwestern geek, wearing white socks and black shoes. He was the only person who would talk to me.”
The two played Little League baseball together and graduated from Abington High School in 1975. They eventually bought houses a few miles apart, joined the same synagogue — Beth Sholom Congregation — collaborated on family vacations, sent their children to Solomon Schechter and Perelman day schools, and played in the same poker game for more than 30 years.
Each also maintains a kosher home.
“We like to play practical jokes on one another involving kosher issues,” said Sternberg, who resides in Melrose Park. “After I’d scavenged around his house one time, telling him I was looking for any evidence I could find of non-kosher items, he decided to get back at me. So he purchased a can of pigs’ feet, carefully drew an ‘OU’ on it and had it delivered to my house along with a letter that said I’d been invited to sample this new kosher product.”
Recalled Katz: “He called me up and said, ‘You’re not going to believe this, but I’m sitting here with kosher pigs’ feet.’ For me, it was a priceless moment.”
Michelle “Micki” Rothstein and Robin Greenbaum, a pair of Bucks County residents by way of Northeast Philadelphia, have had more than their share of priceless moments since meeting at a summertime program known as Teen Tours back in 1963.
“We’d go on different day trips, from lakes to amusement parks to senior centers,” recalled Rothstein, a Furlong resident. “The program was based in the Northeast, right by Max Myers Playground. Every morning, Robin and I would start the day by going to Bronstein’s Deli for a pickle. That was before breakfast, by the way. Then we’d play ‘Truth, Dare, Consequences or Repeat,’ on the bus. I’d describe that as good, clean fun involving the girls and boys in the program.”
After both graduated from Northeast High School in 1968, they lost touch, but their friendship was renewed at Albert Einstein Medical Center, where both worked as medical technicians. Since then, they’ve walked down the aisles at each other’s weddings, spent holidays together and become parents and grandparents.
“We’ve always been there for each other, in good times and bad,” said Greenbaum, who lives in Bensalem. “Sometimes life gets in the way, and we don’t see each other as much as we’d like, but we talk on the phone regularly, and we text all the time, so we’re always connected. I couldn’t picture it any other way. Micki is someone who loves life, who always has something fun to do. I consider myself more of a homebody. I always joke that I live vicariously through her.”
Last year, the two celebrated the 50th year of their friendship with food, drinks and a show in Atlantic City.
“Everybody should have a friend in their lives like my Robin,” Rothstein concluded.
When Ian Zeitzer and Josh Miller first met, neither imagined they would go on to forge a close friendship that would survive Zeitzer’s relocation to Las Vegas — a work-related move — approximately a decade ago.
“In fourth grade, shortly after my family moved to Southampton, Josh and I had a schoolyard fight,” Zeitzer stated. “So it wasn’t like we hit it off immediately.”
But hit it off they did. They were neighbors, classmates, Little League teammates and members of the same AZA chapter. When Zeitzer attended his first concert — Blues Traveler at the Mann Music Center — Miller was there as well.
After graduating from William Tennent High School in 1997, they attended different colleges but remained close. Still, Zeitzer confessed, he had no way of knowing if his relationship with Miller or any of the others in their close-knit circle of friends would endure his move out West.
“Fortunately, we have enough in common that, even though things such as living situations and relationships have changed, our friendships have endured,” he said. “When Josh was married a number of years ago, I was his best man. When I was planning the bachelor party from the other side of the country, I saw how much everyone was willing to help out. That’s when I truly got a sense for how much our friends care for one another.”
Just as Rothstein and Greenbaum celebrated 50 years as friends with a trip, Zeitzer and Miller, both of whose parents still live on the same street in Southampton, are planning a weekend excursion to New York City this summer to mark the 25th year of their friendship.
“Ian is coming back East, and while he’s here, he’ll see his family and some of his other friends,” said Miller, who now lives in Warrington. “But we agreed that we have to get together and do something big. Obviously, we don’t see as much of each other as we once did, so we want to make the best of the time we are able to spend together.”
When Northeast Philly’s Ed Shapson and his wife, Rhonda, wanted to do something big for their 25th anniversary back in 1997, they went on a cruise. It was there that they met Dr. Norman Goodman and his wife, Arlene, who lived near Valley Forge at the time.
“We’re in the middle of the Caribbean, seated at a table with a group of strangers, so everyone is announcing where they’re from,” Shapson said. “Norman and his wife said they’re residents of Valley Forge, so when they got to me, I looked at the Goodmans and said, ‘Hello, neighbors!’ That’s how it all started.”
The Shapsons and the Goodmans became frequent travel partners, having visiting locations around the world, including Greece, Turkey, Spain and Venezuela. Whenever possible during their vacations, they’ve attended Friday evening services.
At home, they are fixtures at one another’s family functions, including seders.
“We kid that the trip where we met really was a Love Boat,” Shapson said.
When Goodman, who now lives in Langhorne, secured a pair of tickets for the Philadelphia Eagles’ Super Bowl appearance in 2005, he invited Shapson to join him. The outcome of the game, which was played in Jacksonville, Fla., may have been forgettable, but the trip was not.
“Since we were in Florida, we decided to spend a day in Disney World,” reported Goodman. “We saw all of the attractions. We went on the rides. In short, we acted like a couple of kids and had the time of our lives. If I was with anyone else other than Eddie, it wouldn’t have been the same.”
The person who probably knows more about Elkins Park’s Lisa Krader than anyone is someone she’s met only one time in her life. Krader and Norman, Okla., resident Jamie Burks have been pen pals since 1974, when both were 11.
“We’ve shared things that nobody else knows,” said Krader, who grew up in the Northeast. “In the beginning, we wrote to each other about things like school, our crushes and music. As we got older, the topics became more serious — college, relationships, family. We’re from completely different backgrounds and cultures, but I couldn’t imagine not having her in my life, and I’m sure that she feels the same way about me.”
Their lone meeting came in 2007, when Krader and her husband stopped in Norman during a cross-country trip. The first thing Krader noticed was that she owns the same handbag that her pen pal was carrying.
“Despite our differences, we’re similar in so many ways,” she said. “Both of us were nervous about meeting, but not only did we hit it off, so did our husbands. We were afraid things might change once we met, but that hasn’t happened.
“To this day, I have all of her letters in a box. In fact, the early ones are in envelopes with eight-cent stamps. Yet, even after all of these years, I still get a thrill when I open the mailbox and see a letter from Jamie.”
That’s what friends are for.
Matt Schuman is an area writer. This article originally appeared in The Good Life, a Jewish Exponent supplement.