By Jack Levine
Aaron Cohen and Minnie Golub, both Russian immigrants, lived in the same five-story tenement house on Mercer Street in New York’s Lower East Side. They knew each other only by sight. Since a formal introduction was the respected custom, Aaron’s sister dutifully introduced them in the Summer of 1915.
At ages 25 and 24, Aaron and Minnie were the oldest single children in their families. Many around them wondered “What are they waiting for?” as most of their peers were already married. Once the spark was ignited, however, they courted, married, and Minnie became pregnant in three months’ time.
Minnie’s pregnancy was without any unusual problems, but it was it decided she would not deliver at home in their apartment. She arrived at the Lying-In Hospital of New York on Second Ave. a week before her expected due date and was led to a bright and airy ward which she shared with seven other women.
Two of the women had already delivered their babies but stayed on just to be certain all was well. Minnie, at 25, was the eldest. The two youngest were 16 and 17, one of whom had a complicated pregnancy. That girl was two weeks past her due date, hurting and afraid.
It was early morning when the sleeping women were jolted awake by the screams. Two nurses rushed in and wheeled the 17-year-old girl off. The others were silent, filled with fear. They looked to their “new big sister” Minnie for comfort.
After 20-minutes punctuated by painful moans, horrific shrieks, and a brief chilling silence, there was a baby’s yelp. A nurse came rushing in to Minnie’s beside and whispered that the young mother died after delivering a healthy girl. Minnie immediately told the others who were paralyzed with shock. She ending the news-telling with plans for a breast-feeding system for the hungry newborn. Minnie was a natural networker before the concept was defined in the advocacy literature.
The next night, June 30, 1916, my mother, Ruth, was born.
News of the birth spread to out-of-town family via telegram. The next morning with telegram and sack lunch in hand, Minnie’s cousin Hannah took the ferry from New Jersey to pay a visit. Entering the large room she saw two babies at Minnie’s bed – one suckling at the breast, the other crying bitterly in a rattan bassinet.
The cousin said, “Minnie, the telegram didn’t say twins!” Minnie chuckled, and told the story of the young mother who died in childbirth.
The cousin looked at the nursing baby, then briefly examined the crying creature in the bassinet, and said, pointing to the baby at Minnie’s breast, “Your baby is far prettier.”
“That one is mine,” laughed Minnie, pointing to the crying one.
“You leave your own to cry while you feed a stranger’s baby?” the cousin whispered.
“Yes. There’s a baby with no mother, maybe no home. Mine can cry for a few minutes. She has both.”
She motioned the cousin to draw closer, her eyes darting around the room. “This is to show an example to them, those other girls. If we think just of ourselves and our own babies, not only will others needlessly suffer, but so will our own. We all need someone else at sometime. This is good practice for being a good mother.”
Hannah understood. Minnie’s philosophy was simple. Care for your own, but care about others, too. Minnie believed we are all connected in some way under God’s watchful eye, but we are obligated to take action to help others. The gifts we give reward the receiver and giver both.
Please honor me by sharing my message with family, friends, and colleagues in celebration of Mother’s Day.
Jack Levine, Founder – 4Generations Institute
850.567.5252 (mobile/voicemail) P.O. Box 1227 Tallahassee, FL 32302
The Advocate’s Credo:
Thou art my child, my parent, and my elder,
I love thee best,
But could not love thee half as much,
Loved I not all the rest.