Shirley Izenberg (Freedman)
Shirley Doris Freedman Izenberg, aged 102, passed peacefully on September 2, 2018 in San Diego, CA.
Shirley was a long-time resident of New Jersey until she moved 11 years ago to La Vida Real, a senior residence close to San Diego and her daughter Lisa Goldberg.
Shirley, and her identical twin Cecile, were born in Perth Amboy, NJ in 1916 to Jessica and Meyer Freedman. Four years later, the family left the east coast and moved to Shreveport, Louisiana to join Meyer’s cousin in a jewelry business. Newly enacted prohibition laws had made Meyer’s job as a liquor salesman impossible.
Eventually, the jewelry business in Shreveport failed – and the Freedman family moved back to New Jersey where the twins, now age 15 and with southern accents, intelligence, and charm, enrolled as juniors in Perth Amboy High School where they rapidly made a splash.
In her high school year book, Shirley – always a social person throughout her life – was voted “the Best Mixer” in her class. Her classmates predicted she’s become an “actress,” but worried that she’d be doomed to be “just” a “housewife.” They were wrong on both counts.
After high school, neither Shirley nor her sister had money to attend college – so both took time off to earn tuition. Eventually, both Shirley and her sister Cecile were able to attend Douglass College in New Jersey, where both received scholarships and graduated in 1937 with honors. Shirley then commuted daily from Perth Amboy to lower Manhattan to work for a bank. At that time, as Shirley later told her family, most banks did not employ Jewish staff.
Shirley met her husband-to-be James Izenberg, at a Bar Mitzvah when he was seated next to her identical twin Cecile. To the surprise of Cecile, Jim called the next day to ask Shirley for a date. Family lore was that Jim heard Cecile talking so much about Shirley that he thought he might prefer going out with her. A couple of their early dates were to the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair, which had just opened 6 months before the start of the Second World War. Shirley and Jim married shortly thereafter.
Shirley’s husband had attended the University of Arkansas as a zoology major. At $15 per year, UArk was then the nation’s least expensive college.
After graduation – and with war looming ever closer – Jim took a correspondence course to become an army officer and was commissioned a second lieutenant. He was posted in New York City with the US Army Chemical Warfare Service as a procurement officer, eventually attaining the rank of Major. While the couple were in New York, Shirley became a civilian Spanish and French cable translator for the US Navy and helped search for coded messages.
After the war, the newly married Izenbergs moved to Clifton NJ where her daughter Lisa and sons Paul and Neil were born. Soon after they moved to Metuchen where Seth was born.
There, as a mother of 4, Shirley’s life was busy, first as a homemaker, then as a substitute teacher, and then for years as a full-time Spanish teacher in Metuchen Jr. High. Shirley’s sons Neil and Seth were students in her Spanish class in 7th and 8th grade, where – according to Neil – he earned some well-deserved A’s.
Shirley also acted as the bookkeeper for her husband’s new pigment manufacturing business, Indol Chemical Compnay in Carteret, N.J. Her children all remember going to sleep each night with the staccato sound of Shirley's addition machine emanating from their home office. It was a responsibility Shirley carried out for all the many years Jim ran Indol.
After her younger children left for college, Shirley commuted to NYC in the evenings where she earned her Ed.D. at Columbia Teacher’s College. An early gender role researcher, her doctoral thesis focused on the attitudes that middle and high school students had about the career choices of women. Shirley continued her own career becoming a guidance counselor in the Metuchen school systems until she retired.
The Izenbergs lived in Metuchen for 42 years where Shirley was notorious as a gracious host and accomplished cook. Those who sampled her eggplant caponata, Country Captain (a southern curried chicken dish), brisket, Passover tzimmes, coconut cream pie, or matzo ball soup would not soon forget. Take-home leftovers were valued parting gifts.
Shirley and Jim eventually moved to Highland Park a few miles away. Both of them had a strong sense of social justice – and, among other things, they remained active after retirement working with Jewish Family Services of Northern Middlesex County, NJ, assisting in resettling hundreds of Jewish refugees from other parts of the world, especially from Russia. Shirley worked with JFS for 14 years. Shirley was also active in Metuchen Temple Neve Shalom’s sisterhood – and worked with Jim to supply dinners to those who needed them through Meals on Wheels. Jim had been one of the early presidents of the Temple's congregation.
Shirley is lovingly remembered by her four children Lisa, Paul, Neil and Seth, her son-in-law Fred Goldberg, daughter-in-law Karen Sanfield Izenberg, her grandchildren Ben Politzer, Rebecca Politzer, Joshua Izenberg, Lia Izenberg, and Jacob Izenberg, her great-grandchildren Maia Politzer and Ethan Politzer, and by the many friends and families she assisted over her remarkably long and productive lifetime.
For those wishing to donate in Shirley Izenberg’s honor, please send to: The Refuge and Immigration Services at Jewish Family Service of San Diego, 8804 Balboa Avenue, San Diego, CA 92123 or to Temple Emanu-El, Social Action Committee, 6299 Capri Drive, San Diego, CA 92120.